Lunch with... Andrew Cowan

He won major rallies as a driver, oversaw several successful world championship campaigns and even dabbled in F3... with a factory Lotus

Writer: Simon Taylor | Photographer: James Mitchell

Andrew Cowan is a farmer, and he is a Scot: together, those ingredients can make a man resilient, resourceful and determined. Mix them with the talent to drive very fast on any type of surface, in all conditions of heat and cold, drought and torrent, often without proper sleep for days. Next, stir in quiet courage, and an indomitable will to win. Now you have the recipe for the best ultra-long-distance rally driver Great Britain has ever produced.

Andrew farms 700 acres of mixed arable in border country near Berwick-upon-Tweed. Driving past his land everything is immaculate, the fences arrow-straight, the hedges and verges perfectly trimmed. The farmhouse, large, warm and solid, provides a hospitable welcome on the squally autumn day of my visit. Andrew is a keen fisherman, and politely declines my invitation to lunch in favour of a magnificent meal prepared by his delightful and very rally-savvy wife Linda. 

The starter is smoked salmon, caught by Andrew and locally smoked for him, with prawns, mayonnaise and granary bread from a nearby bakery. The main dish is a hefty fresh salmon he hooked out of the River Spey a few days earlier, sautéed in butter with scallops on a bed of fruity couscous. I have no room for the Scottish farmhouse cheese, but I do manage the lemon mousse with blueberries. 

Andrew was born in 1936. As a farmer’s son, he was inevitably driving tractors almost before he could reach the pedals, and the family VW Beetle soon after. In 1950 local car clubs began to run race meetings on the nearby abandoned wartime airfields of Winfield and Charterhall, and Andrew would pedal over on his bike to watch through the hedge. There was another farmer’s son, almost exactly the same age, growing up on a sheep farm a couple of miles away, and the two boys became firm friends. That friend was Jim Clark.

“As soon as we got our licences, along with other members of the Young Farmers’ Club, we started rallying in little local events. I rolled the VW three times, and Jimmy became a charter member of what we called The Hedgers, Ditchers and Dykers Club. To qualify you had to knock down at least 20 yards of fence. Another local farmer was Ian Scott-Watson, and when Ian realised how good a driver Jimmy was he started to lend him cars to race: first his DKW, and then his Porsche 356, UUL 442. 

“I stuck with rallies because racing was way out of my price range, but I moved on from the battered Beetle to my mother’s Sunbeam Rapier. It had done 32,000 miles, so I took the head off, decoked it, and polished the ports with a bit of emery paper on the end of my finger. In between working hard on the farm I did quite a few events, and in 1960 I decided I was ready for an international. With George Murray as my co-driver, I did the RAC [as everybody always called the Rally of Great Britain], and we finished 43rd out of 177 starters, which quite surprised my father. Mum’s Rapier was pretty tired by this time, so he offered to buy me a new car: ‘But that’s it’, he said. ‘Write that off, and you’re not getting another.’ I chose a Mk II Rapier” – thus cementing a relationship with Rootes products which was to endure through much of his driving career.

When Andrew won the Scottish Rally outright in 1962, and then did it again in 1963, the Rootes competition department sat up and took notice. “They didn’t offer me a works car, but before the RAC they took my Rapier and totally rebuilt it, engine, gearbox, suspension, rear axle, everything except the shell. Right from the start it felt brilliant, and on the first two stages I beat all the works Rapiers. Then on the third forest stage there was a downhill blind right-hander, and doing about 80mph on gravel I found that the corner tightened. I hit a tree amidships, wrapped the Rapier around it like a banana.

“Even so Rootes gave me my first works drive on the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Hillman Imp, co-driving with the experienced Keith Ballisat. We started from Oslo and had all sorts of problems, and in the end we ran a big end. Keith reckoned that was our rally done and dusted, but I insisted we tried to carry on. I dashed into a garage, bought some thick gear oil and poured that into the sump – which took for ever because it was so cold. Somehow we clanked our way to Monte Carlo and finished the rally, in 133rd place.”

There were some non-Rootes drives, too. In the 1965 Tour de France Andrew found himself paired with Peter Proctor in an Alan Mann Mustang, quite a step up from a Rapier or an Imp. “We split the driving, Peter on the circuits and me on the stages like the Col de Turini. Peter’s a great driver and a fine man, and he taught me a lot. At one point on a road section I was really busting the car because we were late. As we rushed into a corner at about 90mph there was an old lady by the roadside waving a red flag. We were used to spectators waving at us, but as I went on round the corner I found a stationary queue of traffic waiting at a railway crossing. No way could I stop, so I got on the brakes, locked up, came off the brakes, shot past the queue on the wrong side of the road, got it stopped right up against the barrier, train came through, barrier went up, and we were first away. So that was all right. We won the touring category outright.

“In 1965 Rootes entered two Sunbeam Tigers for the Monte, Peter Harper in the lead car and me in the other. We had snow from early on, and we only had a limited number of studded tyres. In those days the studs were just screwed into the casing, they got loose very quickly, and we began to run out: quite rightly Peter got the first choice of tyres. There was so much snow and ice that year that only 35 cars survived to the finish. Because of the conditions I decided not to let my co-driver Robin Turvey take over anywhere, and by the time we got to the Col du Granier I’d been driving for 36 hours. I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to keep my eyes open.’ But you develop the knack of having 10-minute cat-naps. I had one of those at a service stop, and I was OK.” Harper finished fourth overall and won the class; Andrew, despite having to compromise on tyres, finished 11th and second in the class.

By now pace notes, and the exhaustive recces that were needed to produce them, were becoming universal in international rallying.

“I was onto pace notes pretty early. At first we couldn’t do them for the forests, because they were closed to traffic, although some people hired motorbikes and sneaked in, or even went round on bicycles. Then the FIA said that it was unsafe to do stages without prior practice, and allowed two passes over a stage at a set speed, once to annotate it and once to check. 

“By now Brian Coyle had become my regular co-driver, and that’s how he remained for much of my career. The relationship between driver and co-driver is absolutely crucial, and the driver has to trust him totally. In fact, you could say the co-driver is more important than the driver. If I was coming up to a corner which my judgement said was going to need me to slow and Brian said ‘Flat’, I had to go flat. You have to be right up to the limit of what your co-driver is telling you. That means if he gives you a wrong call and you don’t crash, you’re not going fast enough.”

Inside the noise, fury and drama of a rally car cockpit, the co-driver’s calls have to be fast, clear and accurate. Any misunderstanding can mean a very big accident. “Different driver/co-driver pairings had different systems, and you could never use somebody else’s pace notes. Brian and I had four grades: Slow, Medium, Quick and Flat. We’d get all that written down in our first recce, and then on our second we would plus or minus each note, so we’d have more grades, like Quick Minus, or Slow Plus. If a corner was Flat Minus, that would mean it was flat, but you had to get the line precisely right. If it was Flat Plus it didn’t matter what line you took. 

“Coming up to a big event like the Monte, we’d recce the route maybe five times. For the night stages we’d recce them at night. We’d go out at the end of November, as soon as the RAC was finished, and keep at it – maybe get home for Christmas, but work on through New Year because you Sassenachs never celebrate Hogmanay. 

“I’d never seen myself as a racing driver, although I’d been lent cars for a couple of minor races at Charterhall and Ingliston, just for fun. But I’d kept my friendship with Jimmy, who was now world champion for the second time, and he was always on at me to try circuit racing properly. One day in 1966 he phoned: ‘I’ve had a word with Colin [Chapman]. I’m going to Silverstone to test our latest Indycar, and there’ll be a works Formula 3 car in the truck for you to try.’ He flew up to Winfield in his plane, collected me and we flew down to Silverstone. I’d never driven a single-seater in my life, but once I got used to the car I got down to some reasonable times, and Chapman said, ‘It’s time we put this chap in a race.’ 

“So I did the Good Friday Snetterton, with all the quick F3 boys of the day. I was running in a tight midfield group on the Norwich Straight and over-revved and dropped a valve, because  I didn’t know that slipstreaming made you go faster. Then we went straight on to Goodwood for the Easter Monday meeting. I remember going into Madgwick with somebody’s left-front wheel between my two right-hand wheels, and I wasn’t enjoying it one bit. I kept it on the island, but I finished well down. It wasn’t a good day: Jimmy retired from the F2 race with a puncture, and then my good friend Peter Proctor had his bad accident in the touring car race and was horribly burned, ending his racing career. When I got home I wrote a letter to Colin Chapman. I said, ‘Thanks very much for the opportunity, but I’ll stick to rallying.’   

“Marcus Chambers was the competitions manager at Rootes, but the man who really made things happen was the team manager, Des O’Dell. He’d been at Aston Martin in the John Wyer days, and Wyer took him to JW Automotive to work on the GT40s before he moved to Rootes. He was a wonderful guy. He was so practical, he would find a solution to any problem. He made the Hillman Imp bullet-proof. When they cancelled the 1967 RAC because of foot-and-mouth disease, they put on a hectic special stage event at Camberley just for the TV cameras, with big yumps, and my Imp was third overall behind Erik Carlsson and Timo Mäkinen. Then Brian and I won our class on the 1968 Monte, the only 1-litre car to get into the top 60 qualifiers for the last night’s 12-hour section. It was a brilliant little car.

“I used to keep an Imp of my own up in Scotland to run in national events. In April ’68 I’d been doing the Granite City Rally all night, and I was driving back from Aberdeen on the Sunday afternoon, with my service crew in the car in front. Suddenly they pulled over, and flagged me down. They’d just heard on their car radio that Jimmy had had an accident in an F2 race in Germany. We weren’t far from where Logan Morrison lived: he used to drive for BMC and Rover, and I’d been best man at his wedding. I drove up to his door and he was standing at the window, and as I got out of the car he looked at me and shook his head. I went inside, picked up his phone and called my father, but when he answered I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t speak. It was a dreadful day. Still, 47 years later, we can’t forget it.

“Straight from Jimmy’s funeral I went to the Circuit of Ireland. I drove the works Imp away from the start line at Ballymena, went 100 yards, and we were hit head-on by a drunken Irishman. Then Des O’Dell said, ‘What about this London-Sydney thing?’"

With the stated aim of raising morale when the UK economy was plunged in gloom and Harold Wilson had devalued the pound, a rally like no other had been announced. Backed by Daily Express proprietor Max Aitken and Frank Packer of the Daily Telegraph in Australia, it was to run halfway around the world, from London to Bombay and then, after the surviving cars had been shipped to Australia, from Perth to Sydney. Several manufacturers, including Ford and British Leyland, announced they would field serious teams, but Rootes didn’t have a fraction of their budgets, and didn’t have a suitable car either apart from their distinctly unexciting family saloon, the Hillman Hunter. 

“But Des was convinced we could make a go of it, and so was I. It was put to the Rootes board, and in the end they said, ‘OK, you’ve got £25,000. That’s it.’ So we took a Hunter, and we tested it to destruction. We drove it and drove it, on the rough at Bagshot, through water, through mud and sand, we did everything we could to break everything that could possibly break. And each time anything broke we didn’t just replace it, we made it stronger. That would then put more strain on something else, and as each part broke we redesigned it. We thought about how tired we would get: seven days and 7000 miles flat out to Bombay, over some really harsh terrain, and then three days and 3000 miles across Australia. I suggested to Des that it would be safer if we could get a fairly light third person who could drive in between the stages. Colin Malkin, British rally champion with an Imp and a fine driver, was the obvious choice. During all the testing, to replicate the weight correctly I carried a passenger, plus two bags of cement in the back to represent Colin.

“Based on the lessons learned with that, a recce Hunter was built exactly to the specification we were going to use on the rally, and Brian and I went over the full route from London to Bombay. After all our testing and modifying it held together, except we broke a half-shaft in Bulgaria. We got a passing truck to tow us to the Turkish border, pushed the car over the line, and then got tied on the back of another truck which towed us to Istanbul, where Chrysler [as Rootes had now become] had a dealership. We got halfshafts flown out to us, and we completed the recce down through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and on to Bombay. Then I flew home while Brian flew to Perth and recced the cross-Australia bit with a Chrysler rep in a Valiant. So now we had good notes for the whole route. Meanwhile Des, via one of his old mates at Aston Martin, got hold of a pair of DBS back axles and diffs, and narrowed them down to Hunter size. All of this was allowed in the regulations. 

“The only other problem we had was that the fuel in several of those countries was dreadful, and we had pinking all the time, burned valves, holed pistons. By Bombay the engine was pretty wrecked. This is where Des’ clever thinking came in. The actual car for the event was built, and I put 3000 miles on it, a bit of rough stuff at Bagshot, a bit of motorway, a bit of Tarmac. Back at the factory the entire car was dismantled, and all the bits that came off it – cylinder head, front struts, gearbox, overdrive, back axle, brakes, everything – were packed into boxes and sent off to Bombay. Then the car was rebuilt with all-new parts. The cylinder head that went on the car for the first leg was low-compression, to deal with the fuel, and the head that went in the Bombay box was high-compression. In Australia the fuel would be OK, and we’d have 20 more bhp than with the low-com head.”

The stories of that run to Bombay, via Kabul, over the Khyber Pass and through a string of places which are now better known for wars and terrorism, could fill several books – and have done. “Colin and I took turns at driving, but Brian was navigating all the way and, apart from the occasional doze, he pretty much stayed awake for a week. At Bombay we found we were sixth overall, so only five cars would be running ahead of us once we got to Australia.” Those five were Roger Clark’s Lotus Cortina, Gilbert Staepelaere’s Ford Taunus, Lucien Bianchi’s Citroën DS19 and the BLMC 1800s of Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen.

“We had just four and a half hours of service time at Bombay before the cars were sealed and loaded onto the ship to Fremantle. Des had flown out all the mechanics our budget could afford, and they descended on the car and pulled it to pieces. All the bits waiting in the boxes, suspension, brakes, transmission and that high-compression head, were fitted within the time frame like a high-speed pitstop. Then we had five days at sea catching up on sleep – although the weather was pretty rough at the end – and we set off from Perth in what was effectively a brand spanking new car.”

In the three-day blind across Australia the Hunter moved ahead of both 1800s. Again there were many more stories and dramas for all the crews: like when, on a twisty section in the wilds of South Australia, Andrew was approaching a tight hairpin at 70mph and the Hunter’s brake pedal went to the floor. They shot off the road but, as luck would have it, ended up in a deep pile of sand without damage. They got brakeless to the next control, where they found that the brake fluid had leaked out not from a broken hydraulic pipe or worse, but just from a union that had come unscrewed.

“After Numeralla we came around a fast left-hander to see the Staepelaere Taunus half on its side in the ditch. So now we were second, with Lucien Bianchi and Jean-Claude Ogier in the Citroën about six minutes ahead of us. The last competitive stage was finished, leaving just 200 miles of gravel road and then the run into Sydney. So Lucien, who’d been driving for almost all of the 3000 miles, handed over to Jean-Claude and went to sleep. Over a blind brow Jean-Claude met a non-competing Mini head-on. We arrived shortly after. Jean-Claude was out of the car, Lucien was still trapped inside. We stopped, but there were several people there helping to get him out, and they told us that medical help was on its way. There was nothing we could do, so we carried on.

“As we drove over the finish line at Warwick Farm we were met by a fantastic reception. Paddy Hopkirk, who was still running ahead of us on the road, pulled over, and then followed us over the line to take second place. There was all the hullabaloo of congratulations and press and TV interviews, and we climbed onto the roof of our faithful Hunter for the photographers. At last I escaped, got to my hotel and climbed into bed for what I hoped would be a good long sleep, having first told hotel reception to block all calls. Three hours later I was woken by the girl on reception, who said there’d been so many calls she couldn’t hold them off any longer.

“We always thought we had a chance of winning, because we’d done our homework. But it was dreadful luck for Lucien, whom I knew well from the Tour de France. He’d won the Le Mans 24 Hours that year, with Pedro Rodriguez in the JW GT40. Three months after the London-Sydney he was killed in a Le Mans testing accident.”

The London-Sydney did happen again nine years later – and, to enhance further his towering long-distance reputation, Andrew won that too. “It was over rather a different route: London to Madras, ship the cars to Malaysia, down to Singapore, then ship to Perth and a massive 8200-mile round-Australia section. By then I was driving for Mercedes-Benz, and I did it in a 280E with Colin Malkin and Mike Broad. It didn’t get the publicity of the first one, but the Australian route was really punishing: deep into the Northern Territory, down the middle through Alice Springs, across the Nullarbor Plain. The outback is wonderful, but it’s easy to get into trouble out there.” 

There were other extraordinarily gruelling enduros, most notably the longest rally of all, the 18,500-mile South American Marathon in 1978, which covered almost every corner of  the continent. And Andrew won that, too. “I was with Mercedes again, in a 450SLC. Their competitions boss was Erich Wexenberger, who was cast in the Neubauer mould: big and strong, everything on full attack. 

“I went out to South America and recced the entire 30,000 kilometres: from Buenos Aires through Uruguay and Paraguay, right across Brazil, up to Venezuela, then Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and right down to Tierra del Fuego. Then we did the rally itself. All of it took three months.” Some stages involved average speeds of 100mph, evoking memories of the Carrera Panamericana road race; there were sections through steamy, muddy jungle, then up to 16,000 feet above sea level in the Andes, and then snow, ice and fog in the southern tip of Argentina. Among several bad accidents, two were fatal: in one the rally doctor was killed. Over the 42 days of the event everyone had stories to tell, but at the end it was Cowan on top. 

Not so fortunate was the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. “I did that in a Triumph 2.5PI, and we lost a lot of time when a rear wheel came off because the studs broke, and we had to take studs off the other three wheels to keep us going. Then in the Chilean Andes, driving through an impenetrable dust cloud behind Jean Denton’s BLMC 1800, I was tracing her brake lights. But I couldn’t see that she was a couple of hairpins ahead of me, and I went straight over the edge. We fell about 40 feet, landed on the roof. 

“Brian Coyle had concussion and a broken arm, and our third man, the Peruvian Larko Ossio, had damaged his back. I felt pretty banged about, too. They got us to a hospital with an earth floor, run by nuns, and a plane came in to take us to a hospital in Buenos Aires. But the weather clamped down and we were stuck there for three days. Eventually we got to BA, and the doctors dealt with Brian first because he seemed to be the worst, then they X-rayed Larko. Meanwhile I was being violently sick, so they took a look at me. As soon as the doctor saw my X-rays he shouted, ‘Don’t move! Stay still!’ He’d just seen my neck was broken. That was the one really bad accident of my career.” 

Andrew twice won the New Zealand Rally, in a works Mini and then in an Avenger, but the Australasian event that meant most to him was the Southern Cross Rally. “That was fantastic. Mainly in New South Wales, no practice, all in the bush, uphill and down among the gum trees. In 1969 I won it in an Austin 1800. It was the first time I’d rallied a front-wheel-drive car: it was a big barge, but great to drive. Then, at a barbecue after the ’71 Southern Cross, a little Japanese guy came up to me.” This was Yukamichi Katane, motor sport boss at Mitsubishi. It was the start of a relationship that was to last for more than 30 years.

So in the next year’s Southern Cross Andrew drove a Mitsubishi Galant: and he won. “The Galant was quite a big saloon, but for the following year they had the 1600 Lancer, which was a magical little car, much better than it looked on paper. Getting into it was like putting on a favourite pair of shoes.” In Lancers Andrew won the next three Southern Cross Rallies, making four on the trot for Mitsubishi and five in all. 

He won the 1977 Ivory Coast Rally for them, and did a string of East African Safaris. “But I never won it. In 1976 we were leading by 20 minutes, and trying to get around a slower car that was blocking us we went into a mudhole, and getting out again dropped us to third. In 1980 I did it for Mercedes in a 450SLC, leading again, and a rear suspension casting broke up.

“In 1983 Mitsubishi was launching its Pajero SUV, and decided to promote it by entering a team of four in the Paris-Dakar, running in the ‘marathon class’, which is for production cars. I knew very little about the Paris-Dakar, but when you think about it, it’s pretty mind-blowing. Going across the Sahara, in a virtually standard car! What a stupid thing to do…

“It was the most frightening event of my life, but also the most wonderful thing I was ever lucky enough to take part in. Down through Algeria, Mauretania, Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Senegal – and it’s almost all desert. The Sahara Desert is already 3.6 million square miles, bigger than the USA, and it’s growing at the rate of a kilometre a week. 

“You’re not on a road, you’re just travelling across this emptiness by compass – no GPS then, of course. And you’re all alone. One year we saw just one car in a 500km section from Chifra to Iferouanne, Henri Pescarolo’s Land Rover – and he was going in the opposite direction! You have to keep the speed up, because the sand in some sections has a sort of crust. If you’re doing 60 miles an hour you sink in, you’re ploughing your way, whereas if you keep above 90mph you stay on top of the crust, and you use less fuel. You may do 250 miles in three hours, across unchanging nothing, and it becomes hard to focus your eyes, you have to keep looking away.  

“Suddenly through the haze you come across a range of sand dunes as big as mountains, and you can’t get over them. So you turn right and maybe drive 15 miles in the wrong direction before you find a place you can get through. Then you need a new compass heading to get across the next stretch. 

“That first year, with Johnstone Syer as my co-driver, we got lost in a sandstorm in the middle of the Ténéré, an uninterrupted area of sand in the middle of the desert which on its own is 150,000 square miles. And we were running out of fuel. In the end we stumbled across a fuel dump for the motorcycles doing the rally, which saved us. We got to the end, we finished 11th overall, and we won the marathon class. That felt good.

“I went on to do the Dakar for Mitsubishi eight times in all. I was second overall in 1985, and the other times I was third, fourth, fifth, eighth and 11th. Twice I didn’t make it.

“In Japanese the word for ‘farmer’ means a poor man who lives on the land, a scruffy peasant who isn’t very important. The guys at Mitsubishi always called me The Farmer, it was our little joke. When they decided to set up a proper competitions base in Europe to prepare the rally cars they did it first with Denzel, the Mitsubishi distributor in Austria, but that didn’t work out. So in 1983 they said, ‘Let’s talk to The Farmer.’ That was the start of Andrew Cowan Motorsports. 

“I set up an operation first in Essex at Maldon, and then we moved to a dedicated facility in Rugby which became Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe. Linda ran it with me, and my father was still alive to watch the farm. We kept a car at Birmingham Airport and a car at Edinburgh Airport, and we flew back and forth. If you’ve got a lot to do you switch off the bits of your brain and your body that you’re not using, plan ahead, concentrate and get on with it.”  Just like an endurance rally, in fact. 

“I carried on driving myself until 1990, but on the Dakar that year I was having problems, and back home we discovered I had bladder cancer, so I had to get that sorted out. But Ralliart prospered, and by the end we had a staff of 170 and an annual budget from Japan of £20 million. I didn’t take anything out of the business. I was paid a salary, and my relationship with Mitsubishi was one of trust. No lawyers, no sub-clauses: I didn’t even have a contract. All I had was a letter from Katane, and we were both happy with that.

“We started with the two-wheel-drive Lancer, which wasn’t very competitive, but with the Galant with four-wheel drive and four-wheel steer we won the Thousand Lakes with Mikael Ericsson, and then the RAC with Pentti Airikkala. Kenneth Eriksson won the Swedish Rally for us twice, and had a lot of success in Europe and Australia. Then in 1995 I hired Tommi Mäkinen. 

“Tommi was irresistible, he was just magic. He was a farmer, too. Between 1996 and 2001 he won 22 championship rounds for us, and he was world rally champion four years running. By then professional rallying was at a high level, and he was the top of the tree. In the end I was paying him a retainer of £4 million a year. In the 1960s, when Rootes said they’d pay me £1000 a year to rally their cars, I couldn’t believe my luck. They were giving me a car to rally, and they were giving me money as well!

“Tommi was in a class of his own. A few months ago, when Toyota announced its 2017 rally programme with him as team principal, he texted me and said, ‘I’m going to do an Andrew Cowan, do for Toyota what you did for Mitsubishi.’ I replied, ‘Only one problem. You won’t be able to hire as good a driver as I did.’

“I picked up Richard Burns in 1996, and at first I got him for £150,000, which was a bargain in those days, although quite rightly he soon got much more expensive. He helped us win the manufacturers’ championship in 1998, he won the RAC, he won the New Zealand Rally, and of course he won the Safari, which was very special for me. He was incredibly quick in the forests, quick and smooth. And he was a team player, polite and friendly, always had time for all the guys in the workshop. His death [from a brain tumour, at 34] was so sad.”

In 2003, when Andrew was 67, he sold Andrew Cowan Motorsport to Mitsubishi, staying on through 2005 to wind the company down. Meanwhile there were a few more outings behind the wheel: he located his famous Hunter in a poor state, totally rebuilt it and did the 1993 London-Sydney revival event. “It was a serious rally, but it followed a slightly different route across Asia to Madras. I took Johnstone Syer with me and we hit a tree in Western Australia, but only about 15 cars got to Sydney and ours was one of them.” The Hunter, now pristine again, sits in Andrew’s private collection at the farm, along with one of his original works Imps and a superb line-up of Mitsubishi rally cars down the years.

“I’ve just been so lucky. I’ve never counted up how many countries I have rallied in, but I know it’s been in every continent across the globe except Antarctica. I haven’t made a fortune, I’ve just had a wonderful, happy life with motor sport.”

Our meal is over and it’s time for Andrew to return to his other world, supervising the next load of barley bound for a distillery to be turned into fine Scotch whisky. He’s no longer a victorious rally driver or a championship-winning team boss, but he’s still The Farmer.