Gulf London Rally

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General Classification

1st: Ake Andersson/Sven Svedberg (Saab) 3,453 penalties
2nd: Pat Moss-Carlsson/Lig Nystrom (Saab) 4,096 penalties
3rd: Bjorn Waldegard/Bertil eriksson (VW 1600 TL) 4,623 penalties
4th: Jan-Erik Lundgren/Geraint Phillips (Opel Rekord) 4,661 penalties

ALTHOUGH the youngest of Britain’s five Internationals, the Gulf London Rally has achieved in only two years at that status, a reputation of which the organisers of even the established R.A.C. Rally must surely be envious. The reason is certainly no secret among discerning rallyists and is simply that its organisation team is led by one who is no mean competitor himself and who uses the experience gained by many successful years at the wheels of factory-entered cars to provide hitch- and bitch-free rallying for all who come along. Generous sponsorship by Gulf Oil (Great Britain) Ltd. did, of course, render David Seigle-Morris’ task an easier one, and it was with little or no trouble that the 120-strong entry list was filled to way past overflowing. The tough, 35-stage rally was considered to be far more physically demanding than most Continental events, for the latter usually have substantial rest halts, whereas the Gulf, although shorter overall, was divided only by two rests of one hour each. The substantial entry from Sweden was no coincidence, for the Gulf company is extremely active in Scandinavia and had ensured that the event earned maximum publicity among Swedish rallyists by offering to pay the entry fees of private entrants. Swedish works entries included RS Gordinis from Svenska Renault, Volkswagen 1600s from Scania Vabis and, of course:, Saabs.

Unfortunately, for themselves that is, the British factories tended to minimise the importance of the event, which shows a very short-sighted policy indeed. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has a ridiculous rule which forbids affiliated companies advertising their success in an event unless it is one for which the S.M.M.T. has given its approval. As this is never given until the event has been held for at least three years in succession, the London rally was not going to be a “trade-supported” event. And this is where the short-sightedness conies in. As they were not going to be able to advertise that they had won (if, of course, they should win) the Ford Motor Company, for instance, chose to completely ignore the event. Their three top drivers, Elford, Clark and Melia, were taking part, but Ford helped pathetically little, both Elford and Clark having to find their own cars, and all three being left completely without service support of any kind.

It would not do for a journalist to underestimate the power of advertising, hut there are other forms of sales promotion than by a lone claim that “We won.” Everybody, by now, knows that Saabs took first and second places, a Volkswagen third and an Opel Rekord fourth, and this despite the lack of advertising. When Carlsson won the R.A.C. Rally so many times in succession quite a large number of Britain’s, nay, the World’s, rallyists went out and bought Saabs. Is this going to happen again? If so, Ford will have cause to regret their decision to shun the Gulf.

B.M.C.’s Stuart Turner was astute enough to see the possibilities of the event, advertising or no, and cars were lent to both Fall and Hopkirk, although they were not official works entries, and they were backed by the presence of one fully-equipped service car. This, as it turned out, was not enough, and it is reasonably safe to assume that things might not have gone the way they did had B.M.C.’s service coverage been doubled. Rootes had three works cars on loan to their regular drivers, but although they provided service backing, it was not as plentiful as it could have been.

In direct contrast, the three Swedish factory teams were providing full coverage, and this was to pay dividends, but it is wrong to assume that the capture by the Swedes of the first four places signified a walk-over victory for the Vikings. On the contrary, British drivers showed themselves to be infinitely quicker on the special stages. But they did not display the strategy of the Swedish crews and went all out from the start. On the rough northern stages these tactics resulted in broken motor cars and, lacking service support as they were, they stayed broken. The Swedes drove not merely to win, but to finish, and when British cars were disintegrating about them, went on steadily to claim the top honours, the last of the British leading drivers rolling his car into a little ball when comfortably in the lead in the late stages of the rally. The first three cars were works-supported, but the fourth, Lundgren’s Opel Rekord coupe, was quite on its own and it is to the driver’s credit, and typifying Swedish strategy, that he drove in such a way that all the car needed was a refilled screen-washer bottle and a change of two punctured tyres.

Perhaps a lesson has been learned. Certainly it is hoped so. When an International Rally is so close to home as this one was, it is bad policy to ignore it simply because it is not a European Championship event and because a union-like body says “thou shalt not advertise.”—G. P.