Rally Review, July 1966

The Acropolis

Advertising and, generally speaking, publicity of any sort are the means by which manufacturers bring their wares to the notice of the public. However, in highly competitive consumer-goods markets where the possibility of substitution is particularly high, as it is in the motor industry, the advertising needs to be more than just slick and “op-artish”; it needs to show to the prospective customer that Product X has all the qualities desired, and not only that, but in greater abundance than Product Y. This brings us to the topic of “success advertising.” By continuing use of this method of advertising the major motor manufacturers hope to continuously impress into the minds of the public that their particular product actually has the best durability, reliability, etc., etc.

Of course, to acquire material for this advertising the manufacturers must first gain the successes, and so it is that nowadays the competitions departments of the three major British manufacturers tend to be more and more influenced by their respective advertising departments, whereas in days gone by they were just off-shoots of the development engineering departments.

In Rootes, and in B.M.C., the Competitions Department is supervised by a committee which sits once a year and the Competitions Manager is responsible to this. Which, of course, means that the Manager has the power to make important decisions instantaneously and whenever necessary. However, in the Ford Motor Company the Competitions Department comes directly under the Public Affairs Department, although there is a supervising committee.

It was because of this set-up that Ford Competition Manager, Henry Taylor, made that fateful telephone call to England at the end of the Acropolis Rally, in which conversation he was instructed to put in the protest against the provisionally winning B.M.C. Cooper S of Paddy Hopkirk and Ron Crellin. One feels that if pressure hadn’t been brought from above then, sporting instincts would have prevailed and the situation of one British motor manufacturer protesting against another on a continental event would never have arisen. In fact, the unhappy Mr. Taylor withdrew the protest within a matter of minutes, of his own volition, it might be added, but the ball had been set rolling and the stewards of the rally, on a four against one vote, decided to penalise the Mini and so reduce it to third place overall.

The incident arose in the very beginning when a B.M.C. mechanic rather carelessly positioned the service “barge” within the control area as designated by the “200-metre” control board, servicing being strictly forbidden in a control area. The mistake was understandable as the control was situated on a rather narrow road near a main road junction and many were the other service crews which did the same. Fords were servicing at a petrol station well before the control. This was towards the end of the rally on the last morning and so there were relatively few cars still running before Hopkirk arrived in the first works Mini. While he was servicing a non-official told him that he was within the control area and that he should move. However, since the car was jacked up having the rear brakes adjusted, the job was finished and then the crew drove into the control. The marshal-in-charge indicated that he had timed the Mini as having arrived in the control 14 min. early, 420 penalty points, and he had also booked 150 points for the servicing offence. When it was pointed out to him by the dumbfounded Hopkirk that the control board was obscured by other cars, he agreed, and altered Hopkirk’s time card and his own control sheet to show the time originally required. As far as everyone was concerned then the incident was forgotten, for indeed a marshal is a judge of fact and his decision stands, and if there is any protest this must be lodged within one hour of the occurrence.

The whole affair at the finish was rather shadily handled by she stewards, for the results, which were due to be published at 6 p.m. on the Monday and finalised after the obligatory hour-long protest period, were delayed three times until at last they were due to become final at 8.40 p.m. Then, with just four minutes to go, a scruffy piece of paper bearing a handwritten message was pinned to the results. Pandemonium reigned while the astonished Secretary of the Meeting read this note written in the fretwork-looking Greek characters. As soon as it was translated even more commotion took plate as the near-unbelieving B.M.C. people demanded to know what was going on, and as frantic journalists and P.R.O. men tried to contact their respective offices and cancel the results previously telegraphed through.

Stuart Turner, the B.M.C. Competitions Manager, immediately lodged an appeal against the stewards’ action on the grounds that they had no power to act in the manner they did. A meeting of the National Club was called, and this higher authority sat throughout the night until in the early hours of the following morning they announced that the ruling of the stewards was upheld.

Stewards of a rally are basically there to make rulings on any protests received, therefore since Taylor had in fact withdrawn his, the stewards, strictly speaking, were exceeding their powers by imposing the 570 penalty points. The shame of it was that since the protest was withdrawn none of the resultant bad feeling or anti-British publicity would have occurred if the Ford Public Affairs Department had not insisted on the protest being lodged. It would be a pity if the success-hungry advertising sections of our motor manufacturers forgot that this, one hopes, is still a sport.

The appeal is now being carried forward to the F.I.A.

Indeed, Fords were extremely unlucky on the Acropolis for with only a few hours and two special stages to go the Lotus-Cortina of Elford refused to select any gear but third. At this point he was just in the lead from the ailing Mini of Hopkirk which had lost 19 sec. on an easily cleanable selective section through stopping four times to fill up with oil after cracking the sump on a particularly nasty hit of rock.

Elford’s box was changed in just one hour but then it was discovered that in fact the clutch wasn’t disengaging, which meant that the car had to be started in gear. It was because of this that on the very next special stage Elford took a 50-metre short-cut between two steep, uphill hairpins, and since he was observed by marshals the organisers had no choice but to disqualify him, thus robbing the Ford team of the coveted manufacturers’ team prize.

Despite all the ructions it was still very nice to see the six British cars unquestionably dominating this gruelling, hot, dusty, two-day, 3,000-kilometre rally, described by many as the successor to the old-style Liege and as the best rally in the European Rally Championship calendar.

Of the six cars, Timo Makinen’s and Paddy Hopkirk’s were the only two with clean sheets after the second group of special stages, Rauno Aaltonen having lost some time with a slipping clutch in the third Mini-Cooper S, while the trio from Boreham had all lost a few seconds each. Hopkirk dropped down the leader board when he cracked the sump after the first night and Makinen relinquished his lead after breaking his nearside rear radius arm bracket. By the time Elford had his troubles the Irishman had reduced the 19 sec. disadvantage to 3 sec.

In the background the other two works Lotus-Cortinas of Bengt Soderstrom and Roger Clark were running along completely trouble-free, except for one shock-absorber changed on Clark’s car.

Rauno Aaltonen, with his chances severely reduced due to time lost through the slipping clutch, finally expired on the morning of the final day when the timing chain broke. Mainly because of the handicap system of different set times for each class for each of the 17 special stages there was little other opposition. The Volvos of Trana and Andersson withdrew when two of their mechanics were killed in a road accident. Skogh in the other works Volvo already having retired with rear-axle oil seals going, while Joghinder Singh, in a Volvo lent to him by Gothenberg, plodded steadily on to win his class.

Amongst the unlucky ones was the Saab ladies crew of Pat Moss-Carlsson and Liz Nystrom who had a piston break up near to where Elford went out, thus leaving the way clear for Rosemary Smith and Val Domleo to take the Ladies’ Prize in their Hillman Imp. Another success from Rootes was the GT Category win for Peter Harper and Ian Hall in their Sunbeam Tiger.

The only other bit of drama came at the end of the rally proper when it was realised that Bengt Soderstrom could just pip Hopkirk if the Mini dripped away all its oil during the night, for on the next day there was to be the traditional Parnis hillclimb and the circuit race of Tatoi for the benefit of the public, and no oil could be added except during the actual test. However, the well-lsoponed sump held together and Soderstrom couldn’t take back more than 10 sec. of his minute deficiency in the 7-kilometre climb. The circuit race was so designed that even a very poor time was only worth 10 sec. difference at the utmost.

Let us hope that next year the event does not have any such tom-foolery and it may well become even more well established.—-A.E.I.K.