From the Potato’s Sack
I was having a chat with a colleague at work a few days ago when the subject of the World Rally Championships arose. It prompted me to think about the firm’s involvement and success (or lack of) throughout the fore-runners of WRC and the WRC itself.
Because of the Mini’s 1965 success in the RAC and Monte Carlo rallies, 1965 & 1966 European rallies and then the again in 1968 at Monte Carlo, we have this legendary halo in our minds of the firm being a big-hitter in the sport.
Prior to the Mini’s successes, there were 4 victories in the 1950s (2 for Jaguar XK120s, a Standard Ten and a Triumph TR2), however these were figuring in competitions where the fields were made up of predominantly firm-related cars anyway, so the chances were incredibly high that a winner would be from ‘our’ stable.
The London-Sydney Marathon of 1968 saw Paddy Hopkirk gain a very credible 2nd place to Andrew Cowan’s Hillman Hunter. Whether this performance spurred BL to enter a combination of Triumph 2.5PIs, Austin/Morris 1800s, Austin Maxis and a Mini Clubman into the 1970 World Cup Rally, it is unclear, however, again, 2nd place was the best the firm could manage, but once again it was a very credible results table which showed that in the top 11 finishers, there were 5 x Escort GTs, 1 Citroen DS and the rest were a combination of the Triumphs, Landcrabs and Maxis.
The 1974 event which followed saw a somewhat strange set of firm entrants, with a Range Rover, Rover P6 and Leyland P76 being utilised, unsurprisingly to many, finishes of 12th, 13th and 14th respectively did little to stir the senses. One wonders what decisions led to these vehicles being selected over seemingly more competent cars such as the Marina TC, Maxi (again as in 1970) or even the Landcrab which had proved itself very useful in the previous two events. Lets go even madder; why not the Mini?That said, the Range Rover went on to win 2 Dakar rallies in 1979 and 1981 and remains the last time a firm car took one of these major honours. While Ford, Vauxhall and Rootes were creating the Escort RS1800, Chevette HS/HSR and Lotus Sunbeam where the hell was the firm? With such a diverse range to go at it’s a real joke no rival was brought from BL, was it a case of not being arsed, not knowing what to concentrate on, being on strike or simply being incompetent?
Then there’s the Metro 6R4. A weapon created for a short-lived class of rallying, finishing 3rd behind 2 Delta S4s in it’s debut season in 1985, a disappointing run in 1986 and the abolition of the class the same year due to the life-ending nature of the sport lead to Austin-Rover’s withdrawal from rallying at the end of the season. Even in private hands it was behind the rest.
Was the lack of development in 4×4 mainstream vehicle technology to blame this time for the firms absence from history after this point? I fear it has to be, amazing really when Land Rover was within group.
Then nothing….. until the MG ZR, which was over before it started.
I can’t help feeling this area could’ve done something along the way, I can’t help feeling the firm SHOULD’VE been more prominent, yet again, it’s another chapter of stupid missed chances in our favourite historical soap-opera.