Donald Morley's mountain highs

Donald and Erle Morley are synonymous with Big Healeys and the Alpine Rally. But it was a different event and a different marque that sprang these two Suffolk farmers to prominence in the rally world.

“My brother and I did the Tulip Rally for four years as privateers,” says Donald, “and the reason we did this one international rally each year was that the route was always kept secret, which meant the works drivers had no advantage of practicing and making pacenotes.

‘Well, in 1959, we won it outright in our own Jaguar 3.4 saloon. It was then that BMC’s competitions manager Marcus Chambers approached us and said, ‘Come on, you’ll have to drive the Healey for us.’ The first event we did for BMC was the 1959 RAC in Healey SM0745, and we placed fourth overall and won our class.”

An outing in the 1960 Tulip saw the Morley brothers complete a works Healey 1-2 behind Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom. They would also win their class on that year’s RAC. But in between these two events, Donald and Erie revealed a very special talent for the Alpine Rally, an event they would win in ’61, ’62 and ’64.

“You could say that we twice lost the Coupe d’Or [awarded for three consecutive Alpine wins]: in 1960, we had gearbox trouble and lost three minutes, finishing with only top gear; in ’63, we had the differential fail, literally on the start line of the Col d’Allos. They changed it, which took 45min, and that effectively put us out.”

And so a Coupe d’Argent (awarded for three nonconsecutive wins) has to suffice. But what was the Morleys’ secret on this daunting event?

“Some of it was loose, but a lot of it was good Tarmac, and I loved fast Tarmac stages where you could really set the car up for the bends and be very precise. But to really go for it on stages like that it was essential to have very good pacenotes, and have them read very well to you.”

Aside from victory in the 1961 Alpine, Donald and Erle also used X1B876 in that year’s Tulip, again finishing second to team-mates Moss/Wisdom, and in the RAC, where they retired with a broken rear hub.

History shouldn’t link the Morley-driven Healeys with the Alpine Rally only; they won their class every year on the Tulip from ’62 to ’65. “It was always a very enjoyable event,” remembers Donald, “but our problem was that, although we had all the fastest times, we didn’t win overall because it was done on handicap, based on engine size.”

Nor should we think of Donald and Erie only in Healeys: ‘We did the 1962 Monte Carlo in an MGA and won our class; we did the ’64 Monte in an MGB and won our class. And we did one or two events in Minis and Mini Coopers.”

But the bond between Donald Morley and Austin-Healey is unbreakable.

A privilege to drive the car, an honour to meet the man.