The B.M.C Rally Legend

Considering the fantastic amount of publicity their many rallying successes have brought them, most people will already know that the B.M.C.Competitions Department is situated only yards from the production lines of the M.G. car factory in Abingdon, that the team boss is Stuart Turner and that the four successful drivers are Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen, Paddy Hopkirk and Tony Fall. Past drivers, past cars, development of them and their relative successes are too numerous to cover in detail in these two short pages, so let us just take a look into what makes a “works” Cooper into the legend that it has become. The first point is that although strategically-placed service crews can often get a sick car through a rally, it is in the B.M.C. competitions “shop” before the event that the answer to the strength and reliability of the Mini lies. Contrary to popular opinion rally cars do not incorporate a host of exclusively special and secret parts that see them through the special stages unscathed. The answer is simply that the preparation is absolutely meticulous. Every nut and bolt is checked, every loose wire is strapped down and above all the cars are tested to destruction over seemingly quite impossible roads, and new sump guards and other protective plates are very carefully developed. Testing over mountain tracks in Wales before the R.A.C. Rally last year enabled the mechanics to build a strong enough guard to save the underside of the Mini in this particularly rough event.

Although not every car is built up from a bare body shell for each event, those that are mean about five weeks’ work for the mechanic into whose care the car is entrusted. This is the time needed for a Mini Cooper but in the hey-day of the Healeys it took an extra week or so. Even if the mechanics are not starting with a new body shell but are preparing a car that has just returned from an event the amount of work involved is not a great deal less. This is not to say that the cars are always in need of a rebuild after every rally but the department insists that each component should be checked before the car goes off again. It would not be fair for a driver to be forced out of a rally because of a weakness caused in a previous event. Incidentally, reports of any rally breakages are passed by Stuart Turner directly to Alec Issigonis himself or to the Development Department.

The mechanic working on any particular car has to go through a check list up to ten foolscap pages long. This includes everything from padding for the driver’s knees and a map pocket for the navigator right through to a guard for the fuel pumps and the fitting of a fly-off handbrake. All the electrical work on the rally cars is done by specialists from Joseph Lucas Ltd., who fit the cars out to both the requirements of the regulations and of the drivers. In fact the lighting requirements and items such as sump-guards, differential ratios and suspension settings vary from event to event depending on the character of the route and the severity of the special stages, now an essential part of international rallying. This past year the situation was even further complicated as the European Rally Championship events varied in the sort of cars eligible. Some, such as the controversial 1965 Monte were more favourable in their handicapping system to the Group 1 or absolutely standard cars, while others like the Polish gave a 5% advantage to an under 1,000 c.c. car although it could be in its more powerful Group 2 form.

These varying factors all have to be taken into account as do the individual likes and dislikes of the drivers. For instance, Rauno Aaltonen prefers his dip-switch on the steering column whereas Timo Makinen prefers his on the floor. The heavily smoking Makinen likes his cigarette lighter ready to hand but in Aaltonen’s car it used to be on the other side ready for Tony Ambrose to use—there isn’t one at all now that Henry Liddon occupies the hot-seat. So it goes on and the list of checks and special modifications on the mechanics’ lists get longer and more complicated, but through some miracle the cars are always ready when it is time to leave for the event.

In looking down one of these lists an insight into the development of the present form of the “S” as we know it comes into focus. One of the most important developments was the strengthening of the centre main-bearing web, which had started to break-up as soon as the 1275s were first “souped.” Bore sizes are 20 thou. oversize to take the competition unit up to 1,293 c.c. and the block is machined 10 thou. which brings it to just 10 thou. above the crown of the latest Hepolite cast-aluminium flat-top pistons. The quality of available petrol determines the compression-ratio and for this reason two of the Daniel Richmond (Downton) heads are in stock, one at 11.5 and the other 12.5:1 cr. The usual cam is the 648 (it’s called the 649 when ordered so that the drive pin is included), while the 510 was used on the R.A.C. by all but Makinen. The 510 has a better torque curve but slightly less “top end”. After 997 Cooper experiences the S’s now use a nitrided crank, a development from formula junior days. A competition extra is the steel flywheel, but the standard diaphragm clutch is retained, also standard are steel con-rods with the thicker casting around the big-end journal. ” Comps ” have never had a rod go, but this may be attributed mostly to the fact that they never use one set twice. Pistons are ” ovalised ” to allow for side-thrust wear under hard work, these prevent hot-spots and the burning which used to happen in a vertical line down the side of the piston. Rocker arms have been strengthened since Makinen broke one on the Czech last year and another standard item is the steel primary gear bush which used to break-up in its bronze form. Oil-coolers are now optional extras to alleviate overheating while the oil-scavenger is now standard— the 1275s are still thirsty for oil. The gearbox with its close-ratio spur-cut gears which cause that characteristic “whine” is an extra while displacer units have appeared in many forms, from yellow through red to blues and double-blues. The main trouble is that “yumping” and landing on two side wheels at once tends to puncture the units, but longer struts and new stronger helper spring on the rear with Sprite-type steel backed bushes on the front wishbones should help cure this. Hub-bearings on the rear gave trouble until taper rollers were fitted while the biggest headache for some time was the constant velocity and the universal joints in the transmission. These are now steel and last a rally whereas in the not so long past it was quite common to see a Mini on its side with a 20-minute-long joint replacement being undertaken. It adds a rather romantic touch to the Tony Fall story that Turner first noticed him because he was the only English rallyist who came to ” Comps ” and complained of coupling failure!

” Comps ” make up their own exhaust system to fit the four-branch Downton extractor manifold, while in Group 2 form 1-1/2-inch carbs replace the 1-1/4 ones. It was ” Comps ” also that changed the 13 gill radiator to the present 16 gill. The E4 European light unit is ernployed which means that the flashers are incorporated with the sidelights. Electrically the alternators still give odd spasms of trouble but now the simulators have been done away with since their main function was merely to actuate the ignition light.

On the 1967 Monte in the above form the little red B.M.C. cars reliably delivered 95 b.h.p. at the driving wheels. It was only last April on the Tulip rally that Rauno Aaltonen’s winning car delivering 92 b.h.p. was hailed as the most powerful yet from the factory, but now Cliff Humphries tells us that he’s seen 100 b.h.p. at least once on his ” rolling road test.” Incidentally, all this power is available to the general public through Special Tuning Department, who under the management of Basil Wales have prepared official entries when Turner’s men have been particularly pressed. One good example of their work was last year’s Scottish where they not only built Tony Fall’s winning car but serviced it magnificently on that rough car-breaking event.

Despite the increases in power obtained throughout the past year the pushrod “A” series B.M.C. unit is near its ultimate limit yet the 1,300 Mini isn’t likely to get any larger due to the unfeasibility of marketing such a “bomb,” therefore workshop efforts will in the future lean more towards development of the 1800 and the larger sports-car range.

Thorough preparation, superb drivers and a brilliant tactician as manager are all essential ingredients for winning events, but a lot of credit must also go to the hard-working and conscientious co-drivers. To the now-retired Tony Ambrose, probably the most professional co-driver ever and Aaltonen’s guide through his Championship year; Henry Liddon, twice winner of the Monte, with Hopkirk in 1964 and just recently with Aaltonen, Paul Easter who is always to be seen calmly reading pace-notes even when Makinen has it incredibly crossed-up, and to the two “part-timers,” Mike Wood, most often with Tony Fall, and Ron Crellin, now with Hopkirk.

Perhaps, though, the real secret lies in the incredible team spirit that emanates from Abingdon. Each rally car is prepared from scratch by one mechanic, he takes it out to the rally, he hands it over to the driver, makes the last minute adjustments and then goes out and services. This personal touch adds that essential element of pride in achievement and, of course, monetary reward comes at the end of the year in the form of an equal share in 10% of all driver’s prize and bonus moneys. Not only that but drivers and mechanics stay at the same hotels, eat together and are always on very amicable and first-name terms. Such is the camaraderie that the boys mix widely amongst themselves off duty and wives will tell that just before any major event the talk centres around rallying and nothing else. Service crews at times have schedules to meet almost as exacting as the rallyists themselves, and one never knows what state a competing car may arrive in at a service point—the request may be just for an oil-check or it might be for a displacer-unit change! Tales of endurance and aptitude are many and varied, from Johnny Organ’s story of standing by a Jugoslav roadside for three days and nights with a can of petrol and a bag of tools waiting for cars to pass and repass on a “Liege,” or of Bob Whittington commandeering a milk float to get to his control on time this past Monte, to Douggie Watts’ famous after-rally party strip sequence! To round off a very successful era under Stuart Turner there couldn’t be a nicer present than for the lone Aaltonen/Liddon entry to win the East African Safari—rallying’s toughest event.—A.E.A.K.