SAAB Wins Swedish Rally
Unlike the Monte Carlo Rally which .started well and then turned into a nightmare, the Swedish Rally had the circus act at the beginning and then with the humour discarded it proved to be a very good competitive event. As in years past, the Swedes proved that no one has yet beaten them on the roads and in the conditions of their own country, though it was possible to see signs that this may not continue for long. For the first time ever, British drivers proved to be a serious threat to Scandinavian domination in a winter event while a Finn finished second overall and, but for a mechanical failure, would have won the rally outright.
Before discussing the rally itself, let us just clear up what I meant by the circus act at the beginning of the rally. This was split into two parts: the “training” and the “scrutineering.” The idea behind the training was to give the foreign drivers some idea of the conditions that they were likely to encounter on the rally and in this respect it certainly succeeded for at times the temperature dropped to minus 26 centigrade and the snow fell almost continuously. In the other respect—that of actually practising some stages—its was a lamentable failure. The first two stages that were open for inspection were very narrow and bumpy and the cars followed one another in a miserable head to tail queue with navigators attempting to make pace notes. The third stage was even more of a failure, though it was intended as the piece de resistance of the rally with no less than 40 of its to kilometres running along the surface of an ice-bound river which had been reached by driving under the main road through a drainage tunnel. The only problem was that the road on the ice had been ploughed too narrow and was covered with water displaced from the river by the weight of snow which had fallen on the ice. The competitors complained vociferously about these stages and by the time the rally had come around, they had been ploughed out wider and on all but the first of the three the surface had been improved, so perhaps the training session did achieve something. Then, at the start in the town of Orebro. came the other part of the act: clowns cleverly disguised as scrutineers. Most of the cars on the Swedish, with the exception of certain of the Opels and British Fords, were running in Group II which permits of more modification than in Group I, so that the first thing that came under scrutiny were the lights, though these boys seemed much more concerned about whether the reversing light was one of the six allowed than with whether the bulbs in the headlights were the original equipment. Once they had been convinced that a reversing light was not a “forward-facing light” within the meaning of the act, they then said that the reversing light could not be screwed to the body of the car unless it was in Group II, although the same bodywork clause applies to both Groups I and II. Having given the Ford mechanics a lot of gratuitous work, they then turned to the Mini-Coopers and objected to the fuel lines being put inside the cars, though again it says under Group II specifically that these lines can be moved and placed anywhere. Of course all this made great interest for the reporters and the cameramen and a small piece appeared on Swedish television, where the amused commentator said that he thought the whole thing sounded crazy as who ever heard of anyone winning a rally by going backwards?
Scrutineering finished very late which was not so had for the seeded drivers who had been scrutineered first, but was really hard on the private boys who also had to make an early start in the morning.
By the start of the rally, the snow had not been falling for almost two days and the clear skies saw the temperature dropping at night to below minus 40 deg. Centigrade. Add to this the fact that the special stages, of which there were only 27, totalled over 680 miles, and that, there was only one rest halt of five hours in the 51-hour rally and it can be seen why this year’s Swedish Rally was reckoned to be a very hard one on both car and driver. From 120 cars that started the event, only 45 were classified as finishers and the battle for the lead saw potential winners retiring at about the rate of one per special stage, though from the end of the second stage until way past the halfway stage of the rally the one and only leader was Berndt Jansson in the Renault Gordini. The B.M.C. Mini-Coopers had a rather poor outing after their devastatingly successful Monte Carlo Rally, for the Swede, Harry “Sputnik” Kallstrom, retired on the first stage with a broken differential while Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen retired at the same point after only five special stages with a broken radiator and broken drive respectively. These retirements left Jansson hotly pursued by Bengt Soderstrom in the Group II works Lotus-Cortina and then a big gap before a gaggle of Saabs led by the eventual winner Ake Andersson, and Erik Carlsson after Lampinen in another works Saab had broken a front suspension unit on the stage that had caused the retirement of the Mini-Coopers. Both the works Volvos had been off for varying lengths of time with Trana spending quarter of an hour digging in the snow on the 10th, stage, while Carl-Magnus Skogh had been off for over an hour on the second stage. Roger Clark in a works Lotus-Cortina was going well and leading the Group I category, but his car suffered from serious icing in the cold on the first night and he was forced to retire, while Vic Elford in a similar car could not hit it off in the snow and spent over half an hour off at various points in the first half. After the first 14 stages he was lying 41st overall, but in the second half, on some different tyres, he really started to go and had his own private race with Tom Trana to set fastest time on the stages and eventually pulled up to 10th overall, while Trana, who had spent less time off the road in the first half, finished third.
The extreme cold during both the long winter nights took a heavy toll of the entry and on the second night the Renault Gordinis ran into trouble with their generators and water pumps which were having to work overtime. Toivonen had already retired his Gordini with a total loss of electrics on the first night, while Jansson joined him on the second night. Soderstrom’s Lotus-Cortina and Carlsson’s Saab had also joined the list of retirements after the Ford had succumbed to transmission failure and the Saab had broken the crankshaft, so the only cars still left to claim first place were the two Saabs of Ake Andersson and Simo Lampinen in that order. With only a handful of stages to go, even this fairly settled result seemed in doubt when it was revealed that Andersson had split his gearbox and had it not been for an enormous traffic jam at Karlstad at the last ice race which caused the organisers to scrub the timing into the finish, it is doubtful if Andersson would have been able to limp in without losing time on the road and thus the rally to his Finnish ream-mate.
The most significant thing about this rally were the comparative speeds of the Group II Lotus-Cortinas, Renault Gordinis, Cooper Ss and Volvos in this type of special stage rally which would indicate very close competition in the rest of the year, with such rallies as the Acropolis, the Polish, the Czech Rally Vltava, and the Finnish 1,000 Lakes, not to mention our own R.A.C. Rally. And then there was the driving of Roger Clark and Vic Elford, who showed that the Scandinavians might not have their own way on ice and loose roads for very much longer.–J.D.F.D.