The Welsh Hill Rally

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(October 21st/22nd)

The first Welsh Hill Rally, primarily for 4 x 4 vehicles, took place in May last year, sponsored by Senior Service, who repeated it in September with an International event on the same lines, i.e. with difficult observed sections which were timed as well as having to be “cleaned”, as distinct from the excellent but more trials-pattern events organised by the All Wheel Drive Club, ROA, etc. This year Senior Service withdrew their support but the Mid-Wales Tourism Council took an interest, offering the main award, and the event was run on rather less-ambitious lines this year, under a Restricted Permit, for the Cross Country Vehicle Consortium by the AWDC. Roger Fell organised it, aided by Colin Barnett and Mike Francis.

The entry comprised 52 Land-Rovers, six Austin Champs, six Willys-Jeeps and a Volvo Laplander in the unmodified section, eight Land-Rovers, four Range Rovers, three Jeeps, a Haffinger, a Champ and a Rover Special in the modified section, and four in the Buggy class. The Ford Bronco had to be withdrawn as it was not readied in time. Stevens, who should have driven it, spectated in his Honda N.600. In the end 68 vehicles started from Llandrindod Wells; there were 19 classified finishers. Castrol, Pyrene and others lent support and Steyr Daimler Puch (GB) Ltd. contributed a Haffinger course-patrol car.

The Saturday morning was devoted to a seeding-out speed test, to determine subsequent starting order but as I was press-ganged into marshalling on a main road, this must be dismissed as unexciting. In the afternoon, after a lunch stop in Rhayader, with the Cattle Market as the rally parking place, I had a look at a water-splash which followed some very tough going on the common above Lambister. Dry weather had made this crossing tame. This is one of the difficulties confronting a Hill Rally organiser; another is to strike a balance between sections which will not damage a standard 4 x 4 yet will prove competitive to professionals, like the Army, who were strong supporters, probably finding this a good PR exercise. Soon there were competitors returning to look for an elusive check-point and, after a local had opened a previously-closed gate, going away in both directions. The Army had thoughtfully positioned a Land-Rover field ambulance at this point. Davidson took advantage of the confusion to tighten his Haffinger’s fan-belt, Briggs’ Land-Rover, into which a Rover V8 engine has been installed, took it very smoothly, Powell’s Land-Rover had a Daimler V8 engine, its cooling aided by an external electric fan, and Brewis was one who had the benefit of a full-scale hood on his modified Rover 60-powered Land-Rover. Stallwood’s Champ almost stopped in the water but pulled itself out with front wheels spinning, Sephton’s Jeep MB used a lot of revs., Green’s Land-Rover plunged in carefully, there was a slight crunch, and it came out with back wheel spin. McAllan’s Champ stopped before the stream to cure fuel starvation, Hewitt’s “Black Power” Champ was smoking, Hughes’ Champ used squealing brakes before the water, waded carefully and was away, as I admired its “Brooklands”-like silencer, Groom gave his Jeep very high revs., Couzens was fast and very competent in a Range Rover, and Sgt. Lawrence dropped an Army Land-Rover neatly into the water, accidently blew the horn, and was away, a spade on its rear flank. Cpl. Honeysett in another Army Land-Rover made it look easy but Martin’s Land-Rover almost stopped. ASM Webber tail-slid his Land-Rover up the muddy bank. Mild crunching sounds emanated from the front of Temple’s Land-Rover and then we had a little drama. Sallis had gone over in his Land-Rover, somewhat damaging the o/s mudguard. He was unhurt but all the oil had gone. A spectating Land-Rover provided some and he resumed but not before Lt. Adams had pulled up beside him on the far side of the stream with a flat o/s front tyre, which had burst on the rocky steps over which we could hear the competitors crunching on their downward path. It was changed, after a long delay, although the screw jack worked all right on the grass surface. Webber took the splash fast, in clouds of steam, and nearly ran me down as he swung the wrong way, the wrong side of the ambulance. Hesleton’s Land-Rover, with vertical exhaust for wading, was also fast but Cpl. Butler used calmer tactics. One Jeep appeared to have holed a piston and Harris’ Jeep had wrecked its engine when its alloy fan pulley disintegrated. Without a sump guard the lone Buggy had to give up or suffer mortal injury.

The opening round had been tough, very tough, as a Hill Rally should be. There had been some lax marshalling but on the whole those who understood the regulations and navigated properly, like the Army entrants, had no complaints. By Sunday morning only 13 civilian Land-Rovers, five Army Land-Rovers, five Jeeps, three Champs and the Haffinger remained, although some competitors had been eliminated by time-keeping errors, not by mechanical failure. This was sufficient to make it still an open event, make-against-make. More wading, some very testing going above Abbeycwmhir, and long hill-sections on Newmead Farm near Builth Wells, where Mr. Hammond has a potential natural motor-sports centre and the public were paying to watch further, sorted them out, with the results shown below, the Army taking the premier awards.

It had been an interesting exercise, even if such eligible makes as Mercedes-Benz Unimog, Austin Gypsy, Hotchkiss and Delahaye, Jeeps, Toyota 4 x 4, Corneil, Renault Sinpar, Muschange Bimoteur and Auto-Union Munga were absent. The Army must have been impressed by the performance of the Volvo Laplander, brought from them and entered by Major Skinner from Bordon, which lost to the winning Land-Rover by a mere three points. They have been long in assessing it, perhaps dubious of its Jeep transfer box. The Volvo showed up the Range Rovers, of which Willis’ finished without any rear-drive; will the Army now change its mind ? Smith drove a Land-Rover with his own coil-spring suspension, which perched it rather high, and the luckless Walker from Liverpool, with well-braced screen on his Land-Rover, had spent much time getting lost. There were many inversions but no real casualties. Paul crushed a finger when he was holding the roll-over bar as Steen’s Champ went over and cracked its screen, but he was navigating on the Sunday.

The programme made the sensible point that only one Welsh Hill Rally should be held per year, otherwise the novelty will be lost, and it refuted the anxiety (expressed last year in The Times) that it causes desecration of the countryside; with both views I agree. So let us hope the required modest sponsorship will be found to enable the 1973 Welsh Hill Rally to be held. — W. B.