He didn’t say very much, but whatever rally car he was given, Timo Mäkinen could make it talk. Oh, and he like a party afterwards. John Davenport saw the mighty Finn at work and play…
For most of the 1960s and 1970s, Timo Mäkinen was rallying’s John Wayne. He walked tall, didn’t say much and was the fastest man in the joint. His public adored him. Born in Helsinki shortly before WWII, Mäkinen worked for the family business after he left school in the 1950s. One of its contracts was to distribute national newspapers throughout Finland, and the rally-driver-to-be honed his skills at the wheel of large vans travelling in all weathers through central Finland.
In 1959, the family acquired one of the first Minis to be imported, but this was not to be the vehicle that got Timo started in rallying. He and his brother Harri had a Triumph TR3 — a proper sportscar, worthy of their attention. It was also more likely to bring them some kind of success since an 850 Mini was in the same class as the all-conquering Saabs. They entered the 1000 Lakes only to find that both Erik Carlsson and Rauno Aaltonen had entered their Saabs in the GT class, so the Mäkinens finished third in class anyway.
Mäkinen did the 1000 Lakes in 1960 in an 850 Mini, but its day had not yet come and he retired after just eight stages. The Mini was also used alongside the TR3 for ice racing, national rallies, park races and anything that might fill a weekend with motorsport. And it was at this time that one of his publishing friends acquired, rather cheaply, a D-type Jaguar. “We took it to a trotting track and tried it round the gravel oval,” recalls Mäkinen. “My friend was a bit frightened by the car and didn’t like the right-hand drive, but I thought it handled well. It had fantastic balance and was good in any conditions.” The friend — clearly a very good one! — was persuaded to let Mäkinen use it at some ice races during the winter. Timo’s reputation was growing. He really could drive anything anywhere.
His next step on the rally ladder was a private entry on the 1962 Monte Carlo in a Mini Cooper borrowed from the Finnish importer. His wife-to-be, Tuula, drove the service car and he got it home 32nd overall — and was faster than Pat Moss’s works Mini Cooper on the Monaco circuit test. With BMC’s new competition manager Stuart Turner looking for Scandinavian talent, it was not surprising that, despite another 850 Mini retirement on the 1000 Lakes, Mäkinen was offered a one-off drive on the RAC Rally. Turner was also trying out Bengt Söderström and Tom Trana, so it was significant that both Swedes retired while the two Finns, Aaltonen and Mäkinen, finished fifth and seventh and, together with Logan Morrison, won the team prize for BMC.
Mäkinen’s reward was a place in the team for 1963, but in that year he was used as a wild card, driving Healeys on some events and Mini Coopers on others. For the Monte Carlo he was given a Healey 3000 and, as co-driver, Christabel Carlisle, a diminutive and successful racer. The publicity was enormous: a big Finn with six words of English and a tiny music teacher locked up for a week in the most unsuitable car for the event As it turned out, no-one had told Mäkinen that this was a PR stunt and he drove — like normal — to win. Of course, they didn’t, but they did finish 13th, claiming the GT category by a handsome margin.
It was a Healey again for the RAC Rally, this time with Mike Wood alongside, and they finished an excellent fifth, behind the usual Scandinavian suspects in Volvo, VW and Saab respectively, plus a rising star of the BMC team, Paddy Hoplcirk, in an early example of the 1071cc Cooper S.
Mäkinen got his first taste of Cooper S power during the summer when he led the Tour de France before retiring. He also finished ninth on the 1000 Lakes in a similar car. And he got a greater proportion of Cooper S drives in 1964, finishing fourth on the Monte and taking an outright win on the Tulip Rally with the first 1275S. This was to be his mount of choice; finding a regular co-driver was more difficult…
Timo had an annual commitment with Pekka Keskitalo for the 1000 Lakes, but elsewhere he was trying just about every suit in the BMC shop. For the last three events of the year, Turner signed up Don Barrow, a multiple British champion co-driver, to act as a steadying hand on the Mäkinen tiller. Their first event was to have been the Tour de France but Barrow was unwell…
Paul Easter was drafted in as Barrow’s replacement: “The first time I met Timo was on the Liege-Sofia-Liege the previous year. He was with Geoff Mabbs in a Healey. They were the first car on the road so it was inevitable that they would hit something. It turned out to be a lorry just outside Pec. I was driving with Bob Freeborough in a Mini and we had run out of tyres, so we all went into Pec and had a big party, of which you could say that Timo was the life and soul. Even at dawn he was roaming the streets calling out for more action.
“Then, on the eve of the Tour de France, I got a telephone call about lunchtime from Diana Kirby [Turner’s secretary] to ask if could I come to Abingdon to pick up some driveshafts, money and an air ticket. The next thing I knew I was in Lille as co-driver to Timo in a 970 Cooper S.” This was a surprise in more ways than one for, as a private entrant, Faster had been a driver — but then the lengthy Tour de France did call upon the co-driver to drive considerable distances at different stages of the event. Their first time together was curtailed when they were T-boned by a taxi driver coming away from Monza, but by then the mild-mannered Englishman and the Finn had created a strong working relationship.
Mäkinen did the two last rallies of the year in a Healey 3000 with Barrow, retiring on the Liege-Sofia-Liege with too many horse nails in the tyres and finishing a close second on the RAC. This was the year that BMC used a ‘flying’ pace note service comprising Andrew Hedges at the wheel of a press-plated Austin Westminster, with Jack Scott, Ron Crellin and several quires of NCR paper in the rear.
“Paddy and Rauno were playing hell about the notes, which they reckoned were written for a Healey,” says Barrow. “But inside the car, all I noticed when we were using them was that limo still had the car sideways, only not quite as much as when the road was unseen. It was a measure of his skill that he just took out a little less insurance on the notes.”
The Mäkinen /Easter partnership was cemented for the 1965 Monte — and lasted a further five years. It got off to a great start. They won the rally despite blizzard conditions, a mix of Mäkinen’s choice of studded tyres, driving ability and stamina bringing the Cooper S through to what is probably its most daunting victory. Mäkinen also won the 1000 Lakes, the first of a hat trick in his home event and vitally important in terms of national standing, especially as Aaltonen managed to pip him on the RAC Rally and thus clinch the European title.
It’s difficult to comprehend just how busy Mäkinen was during this period. As well as his driving duties for the official BMC team, which could take him to 10 major events with all their lengthy recce periods, he was also contesting the Finnish national championship, which he won in 1966, ’70 and ’73. Makinen also did a number of motor races, including the Targa Florio, where he finished second in class in ’65 with a Healey 3000 he shared with Paul Hawkins (see panel opposite). Oh, and then there were the powerboats…
Mäkinen had become a very accomplished offshore racer in Finland and had formed a working relationship with designer Don Shead. One of his best results was a win in the 1969 Round Britain Powerboat Race with Pascoe Watson. Mäkinen’s input was more than just a driver, and this was as true in powerboats as it was in cars. “I persuaded Don to make our Round Britain boat with three outboards instead of the normal twin V8s,” he recalls. “I knew that if we lost one engine, we could still race. Later, Pascoe persuaded me to run V8s on the London-to-Monte Carlo race and we retired when one engine went out in the Bay of Biscay.”
BMC closed its competition department in 1968 and some of the biggest names in rallying started looking for employment. David Sutton offered limo a Ford Escort TC for the RAC Rally; Ford was not entering as it had all its efforts focused on the London-Sydney Marathon. Against the might of Saab, Porsche and Lancia, Mäkinen led right up into Scotland before retiring with a blown head-gasket And when Turner went to Ford at the end of 1969 to run its competition department, he soon installed Mäkinen as one of the mainstays of its rally programme.
In the interim, Makinen had taken drives with BMW, Saab and Lancia. But as soon as he was installed in a works Escort, the results started to come. He had a new co-driver too: Henry Liddon. They were a formidable team, and they won the 1000 Lakes and the RAC Rally in 1973— the latter result the first of another hat trick. The Escort could not win everywhere, though, and Ford was not now as interested in the long-distance events as limo and Henry were. So when the opportunity came to mix and match their Ford commitments with some Peugeot drives, they did just that.
Everything was fine and dandy until 1976. Turner had moved up within Ford and Peter Ashcroft had been promoted from the ranks. Put plainly, Ashcroft did not get on with Mäkinen and vice versa. When Björn Waldegård had his spat with Lancia over his San Remo victory, Ashcroft gave him a car for the RAC Rally. The tall Swede finished third behind Roger Clark’s winning Escort; Mäkinen did not finish the event — and his contract was not renewed for ’77.
The Peugeot connection and his friendship with Jean Todt, as team co-ordinator and co-driver (Liddon was now working with Toyota), sustained Mäkinen through to his last event for the French marque, the Safari Rally of 1981. He’d had a brief fling in ’77 with Fiat, driving a 131 Abarth in Sweden, Canada, Finland and Britain, and had his last run on his beloved RAC in ’80 in a Sutton-run Rothmans Escort. At the age of 42, Mäkinen sailed home sixth, behind the all-conquering 1-2-4 Sunbeam Lotuses, Mikkola’s Escort and Anders Kulläng’s Opel Ascona 400.
It was a shame, though, that his rally career could have not continued in a more profitable way. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that his greatest asset became also his greatest drawback. Mäkinen was always ready to express a technical opinion about the cars he was driving. His long and wide experience was often the catalyst for making the cars better. But with the increasing importance of the teams’ engineers during the 1970s, this ability did not sit easily within mini-corporate structures. It was often alleged that Mäkinen was hard on cars, because they seemed to break more frequently under him. It was simultaneously overlooked that he was faster to the point where they broke. And could usually tell you where they had broken and why.
I got a perfect, first-hand demonstration of this during my only event as Timo’s co-driver, the 1974 Safari. We broke a steering arm on our Peugeot 504 recce car just before dusk, miles from anywhere. This item is normally all one piece with the bottom of the strut. To get the stump reattached to the strut looked impossible. But Timo had the answer. He blanked off the brake hose and cut it. The caliper was removed and its pads discarded. It was then used like a gigantic mole-grip to clamp the broken parts together. And on that arrangement we three-braked the 110 miles to Thompson’s Falls in time for dinner.
Mäkinen was — and still is — one of the great men of rallying.
A big man with a big talent.