Tour of Britain

(July 9-11)

Rally Drivers Dominate

This year the fourth BRSCC-organised Tour of Britain was transformed into a very serious rallying-orientated test of the Group 1 production saloons and the “names” who drove them. The 1,000-mile route covered the Midlands, East Anglia, Wales and the West Country containing a scheduled 171 min. 95 sec. of competition. Some 80 minutes were reserved for the four circuit races at Silverstone, Snetterton, Castle Combe and Mallory Park: Cadwell Park was used as a night stage with two laps of the circuit.

In cold fact there was no way that the racing men could come to terms with their forest colleagues, Ari Vatanen/Peter Bryant in their works APG Escort RS2000 winning by 1 min. 52 sec. over the Leyland ST Dolomite Sprint of Brian Culcheth/Ray Hutton. Gordon Spice (Capri 3000 GT) had the lowest aggregate race times (76 min. 28 sec.) while Vatanen took 106 min. 48 sec. to complete the stages.

All the previous winners from previous years—James Hunt (Camaro), Roger Clark (Escort RS2000) and Tony Pond (Escort RS2000) this year in Magnum, RS2000 and Dolomite Sprint respectively, were eliminated before midnight of the first of the three days’ competition.

Such a retirement rate reflected the advanced nature of modifications now incorporated in these production cars as the makers strive to defeat each other with extra homologated equipment. Power outputs between 160 and 200 b.h.p. could be found in the leading machinery. The extra power was accompanied by such useful aids as ventilated front disc brakes and quick-action steering rack, plus Capri 3-litre rear axle, close ratio gearbox, and twin-Weber-carburetted engine (Ford), or five-speed gearbox and double Dellorto carburetters (Vauxhall) or close ratio gearbox, twin sidedraught Weber carburetters (Chrysler), and much more!

Ford have by far the most equipment changes on their new Escort RS2000, and their 155 b.h.p. works cars were all driven by rally stars, Vatanen, Makinen and Clark. Leyland enjoy approximately 180 b.h.p. from their modified 16-valve Sprint engine (Tony Pond’s built by Broadspecd and Culcheth’s by Don Moore) but they use the production brakes and steering rack. One must also remember that the Sprint weighs nearly 2 cwt. more than an Escort.

Since it is the manufacturers who find this event of outstanding importance, we can summarise what happened on the event by the leading marques.

Ford. Once they had overcome the shock of losing two works cars with clutch explosions (the centre plates shattered at over 7,000 r.p.m.) within two laps of the opening Silverstone races (Makinen/Liddon) and Roger Clark/Jim Porter’s while leading a hectic bunch at Snetterton, the surviving factory driver looked unlikely to ever be headed. Vatanen’s race performance improved sharply from his Silverstone collision with Culcheth and he was eventually able to beat the Leyland ST car on circuit, as well as on the majority of stages. Altogether seven RS2000s of varying ages finished in the top twenty, with both John Taylor and Barrie Williams deserving special mention for hold ing third place, and losing it to cruel strokes of luck on the last day. Taylor took a wrong stage turning at Loton Park and Williams had gearbox selector failure in the last competitive motoring at Mallory Park, having led the race comfortably in his battered Withers of Winsford RS.

Leyland. When Pond and Culcheth were running they encouraged each other to greater things, both Dolomites scrapping with Vatanen for the lead on stages. Unfortunately Pond was eliminated before Cadwell Park on the first night, the engine losing all oil pressure following an earlier accident which had shredded the fan and damaged the radiator. Culcheth had a considerable moment at Balderton airfield on Friday, bending the rack and deflating a tyre, but otherwise drove with characteristic grit into his second successive second place on the Tour.

Vauxhall. A trio of Blydenstein Magnums for Hunt, Will Sparrow and Gerry Marshall resulted in Hunt’s well-publicised brushes with the law and a tough Norfolk tree. The DTV regulars scored third overall with Sparrow (despite a Loton Park accident on Sunday) and fourth for Marshall’s car, which suffered spasmodic gearbox problems. Marshall was the only circuit driver to feature in the top five placings.

Chrysler. Well represented by the 1,600 c.c. Avenger GTs of Coventry Evening Telegraph employee Chris Field and the Europat GT for Charlie Wood, Andy Dawson withdrawing his 1.8-litre Avenger GT before the event got under way, which was a great shame for any Coventry hopes of victory.

Field drove neatly through to fifth overall, while Wood showed the talent which has made him a class winner on British home internationals, and he learned a lot about racing, despite the handicap of bending the front wing and suspension in Wales.

Opel. Walter Rohrl’s works GT/E overheated its engine after four laps of the opening race and retired: he was on the Munich aeroplane almost before we had time for lunch! The other GT/Es were suffering from the lack of homologated parts (the FIA withdrew the homologation of their five-speed gearbox several months after it had been granted) and only Richard Iliffe achieved anything with 20th position. Denny Hulme drove out of retirement in Tony Lanfranchi’s regular production racing Commodore, taking a solid 12th overall. Hulme’s easy manner and obvious enjoyment made him a lot of new friends, a Texaco public relations exercise completed by the relaxed co-driving of Pete Lyons.

Mercedes. As usual on the tour Mercedes GB executive Jonathan Ashman had generated enough enthusiasm within the company to borrow a sales demonstrator for the event! This time it was a 450 SLC and Tony Fowkes (who was third on the 1975 RAC Rally with an Escort RS) coped with the driving chores in tremendous sideways style. One of the very few cars that were fitted with Goodyear tyres on the event (Dunlop offered the steel-braced SP4 from Germany for the Avengers and Escorts, plus the SP Sport radial for Vauxhalls and Dolomites to equip the majority of competitors) the Mercedes was an outstanding credit to its makers. In automatic trim, with all the extras save air conditioning in action, the 450 SLC survived three spins and finished tenth overall, showing the wisdom of careful testing (which produced slightly stiffer springs from the 450 saloon and anti-fade brake linings from Germany) and conscientious basic engineering. Really, it was the only car that was remotely competitive and very like the one you could buy.

This year’s Tour was a tough slog, heavily promoted by Texaco. However, some of the racing fraternity may well have to be bribed heavily before they return to do the event, which really did require a knowledge of rallying preparation and driving technique to succeed. With Texaco support promised for the future, and a bold organising team, the Tour has outgrown its early “Mickey Mouse” stages and matured into a worthy motor sporting event—J.W.