The cost of motoring sport

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6: Rallying

In only one of the previous articles have we discussed a branch of motoring sport in which the driver can use his car on the road as well as in competiticins, namely autocross, and the actual investment in “spare machinery” must be a real deterrent to most people who want to do something competitive but simply haven’t got the money. Rallying was, of course, a thriving sport some years ago though the accent was on “navigators’ nightmares” and as it became faster and more professional, with the accent on driver ability and car performance, so it became more anti-social. Public indignation took real forms when local residents formed road blocks, even fired air rifles at passing cars, so now, rightly, organisers are tending to take cars away to Forestry Commission land for the really serious stages, without needing the persuasion of the R.A.C.

One result of this is that it is more difficult and more expensive for anyone making a start, since all but the most innocent of night runs involve some rough roads which can be taken at five or fifty miles an hour but nothing between, depending on whether or not the car is fitted with a sump shield. This article, therefore, the last in this series, is not so much for the family motorist who might be tempted to try his luck on a club event as for the serious competitor who may be prepared to spend some money, perhaps £50 to start with, on preparing his car for a branch of sport which is as semi-professional (or professional) as racing. There is one consolation in that the car can be insured comprehensively while taking part in the road sections, though not whilst special-staging, so an accident might not be a financial disaster.

Many of the top rally drivers in this country are supported by a garage business; they need to be, since chasing points for an important series like the Motoring News championship involves a great deal of preparation and repair work. In terms of cash it can cost up to £1,000 to complete a full season of national and international rallies in this country alone in a Cortina-Lotus, a little less considering a Cortina GT, and perhaps £750 for a Cooper S 1275, though these rough estimates would be affected by a run of bad luck in the form of accidents or engine blow-ups.

To get some idea of the cost we interviewed John Bloxham, who works with his elder brother in the family garage business at Penn, Wolverhampton. Bloxham is, at the time of writing, leading the Motoring News championship with his Cooper S 1275, navigated by Richard Harper, organiser of the Express and Star Rally. In some ways the 24-year-old driver is not typical, since garage-supported crews are not in the majority, and cannot be expected to relate the cost accurately since they don’t pay full price for parts or labour, but it is necessary to investigate successful teams because drivers who don’t win always complain that the man who beat them spent more on his car!

The driver is typical, though, in the way he started off his career with a treasure hunt a fortnight after his 17th birthday, driving a Renault Dauphine. There were many more events in a variety of cars, outings normally plagued by bad navigating to begin with or navigator sickness later on, when the rallies got faster. Bloxham tended to concentrate on off-the-road events where his own skill was more at a premium, buying a Saab 60 for £750 in 1962 for autocrossing. This was the car that Carlsson drove in the TV mud-plugging event after the Monte Carlo Rally, a sure class-winner every time out. Shortly afterwards he made a very exciting acquisition, the Healey 3000 (URX 727) used by Pat Moss when she won the Liège Rally. This cost £1,250 and was used for a long time on rallies, sprints, autocross, and for towing a trailer carrying a 1,340 c.c. Lotus 7 to various track events. In a fast car like the Healey a pertinent subject of navigator responsibility arises, since a good map-reader will keep up a steady flow of information about the road ahead and help the driver along that much more quickly. Ultimately the driver is always responsible for keeping the car on the road, but a breakdown in the flow of information resulted in the Healey being inverted one night on a rally, luckily without much damage to crew or car. It cost about £200 to put the car right and after a few more outings it was part-exchanged through the business, with a few outright wins in club rallies to its credit and more pots from off-the-road competitions.

The Healey was replaced by a Lotus Elan, in road trim, with a Renault Gordini from stock doing service as a rally car – this managed two second places in rallies in 1964, when Bloxham and Vaughan Bond, his co-driver at the time, decided to launch into rallying properly. A Cooper S 970 was bought for the purpose, costing about £650 – even after the Healey, Bloxham did not want the more powerful 1275, feeling that he wanted to learn front-wheel-drive by stages. A duraluminium sumpshield cost £10, extra lighting about £25, and an auxiliary petrol tank £11. Dunlop C44 tyres for the front wheels and SP41s for the rear cost £25, but preparation was still incomplete as on their first international rally, the Welsh, exposed petrol lines under the car were ripped off along the Dovey stage forcing their retirement.

Then followed the Gulf Rally and more club events before the R.A.C. Rally in November, when they competed in the best private-owner team to finish and collected a £50 bonus from B.M.C. This was just as well since the engine bearings had run, bringing a £42 bill for a reground crankshaft, engine rebuild, and a lightened flywheel. After the car’s next outing, in the second Welsh Rally to be run in 1965, the engine was replaced by a 1275 unit which promptly ran its main bearings while under guarantee. The first big event of 1966, the Gulf, saw them retire again with a cracked sump, the normal sumpshield proving inadequate for the extra speed of the car. It was replaced by a replica of the works sumpguard, costing £35, made in steel this time and weighing half a hundredweight. Bloxham observed that the 970 had been light on tyres, but the 1275 wears the front tyres out on a big rally, or in about three club events, and with inevitable punctures taken into account a big rally can run away with £25 on the tyre budget alone.

Before the 1966 R.A.C. Rally the car was completely rebuilt, since Bloxham wisely follows the advice that it isn’t worth starting an event if the car is not as perfect as possible, a maxim not always followed by other competitors through ignorance or foolishness, and they usually account for most of the retirements on the first night of a long rally. Even the best-laid plans go awry sometimes, for gearbox failure on the second night of the R.A.C. put paid to that run. Fortunately Richard Bloxham, John’s elder brother, is just as keen on rallying and takes a service car so there isn’t the usual bother of wondering how to get home that vexes some crews when they break down far from base. Driving in the Welsh Rally in December, Bloxham and Harper finished 11th overall despite the driver being ill for the first 24 hours. and since then the crew have done three Motoring News championship rallies with 3 second and two third places to their credit. By now the Cooper is nearly 2 1/2 years old, distinctly a veteran with paper-thin floors worn by stones on special stages, but still well polished, serviced, and ready to do more service through the year. Now it has a companion, a new Cooper S 1275, with Hydrolastic suspension, which is being kept in Group 1 trim for the Geneva Rally, Bloxham’s first sortie abroad, and will eventually replace the veteran.

Bloxham does most of his own preparation, so despite his facilities no one could say he has an unfair advantage on rallies, especially since he concentrates more on the national or international events. Standard preparation each year for the R.A.C. Rally consists of new front and rear sub-frames, costing £13 10s. the pair, new shock-absorbers at £2 11s. each, new brake discs and drums, wheel bearings, wiper motor and spindles, tie rods, rear radius arms, and many more small items which bring the total bill for parts to something like £60. Entry fees for internationals range from £25 to £50, so with hotel bills for three nights, petrol for at least 2,000 miles, insurance and so on the cost will be at least £150 to start. Add to this the cost of running a service car and the price of repair work afterwards (which is never negligible), and it can be understood that big rallies are expensive pastimes. Even to do championship events, Bloxham reckons on £10 at least per event, plus the cost of tyres and repairs afterwards. Only once since his days with the Healey has he damaged a car whilst competing, a new wing for his Mini costing £7 10s. fitted.

In the course of time a good many “extras” have been fitted in the rally car. A roll-over bar is a good investment, costing £8 12s., and special seats costing £30 a pair are necessary, too. A list of acquisitions reads like this: laminated windscreen (compulsory), £10; competition exhaust manifold, £12; Downton cylinder head and engine modifications, £26; pair of 1 1/2, in. carburetters, £20; competition-type 510 camshaft (standard on new Coopers), £6 16s.; oil cooler and larger radiator, likewise standard on new cars, £10 and £9 15s. respectively; wing valances, £5 5s.; straight-cut gears, £12; rev.-counter, £10; special steering wheel, £10. The water pump, costing £3 3s., is replaced every six months as a precaution, while the rubbers in the lower wishbones are replaced before each event as part of routine service which includes packing front and rear hubs with grease, re-shimming, and checking brakes and suspension. Add the cost of a new clutch each year, periodic attention to the engine and running gear, and it is not so much a question of how £750 is accounted for, as how the cost can be kept down to that level.

Despite the cost, Bloxham maintains that his real reason for rallying is the enjoyment, and the achievement of finishing in a good position. A lot of spectators who can understand the pleasure of racing fail to see any similar thrill in rallying, but it is there; a different sort of skill is needed, requiring different reflexes and foresight rather than fine judgement. Whereas in racing a driver needs to be very experienced before he can take part in international events, in rallying the entry will usually be accepted by the organisers. unless the list is fully subscribed. Motoring clubs often have enough enthusiastic members to volunteer their services, which keeps the cost down for the competitor, and Bloxham is grateful to the Owen Organisation M.C. for their wholehearted support which went so far as organising a jumble sale last year to give financial support to their members doing the R.A.C. Rally.

Anyone taking part in their first serious rally would be well advised to invest in a good sumpshield and make sure the suspension is perfect, for it goes a long way towards enjoyment to know that the car is not being damaged on unmetalled roads. Seat belts are another must, and if special stages are included a crash helmet will also be needed. Various extras will be added if and when the programme becomes more serious, spreading the cost,. but it is not normally necessary to modify the engine until the driver himself is experienced and competent in the art of setting high averages on unknown roads.

There comes a time when, with the right amount of money and experience behind him the driver feels it is time to concentrate on winning instead of finishing … then it does become expensive.

M. L. C.