RALLIES which are held entirely over surfaces of ice and packed snow are generally easier on competing cars than events which use unmade tracks in the summer time. This is because all the bumps and loose stones are smoothed over by the coating of snow and because the banks left by the snow ploughs effectively cushion cars when they leave the road.
Retirements through mechanical breakages on snow rallies such as the International Swedish Rally are always far less than those on loose surfaced events such as the RAC Rally. But this year it was quite different, and only 35 of the 520 cars which started in Sweden managed to get to the finish. Of course, cars are much faster this year, particularly after the change in the regulation defining group two cars, but the milder than usual Scandinavian winter also had a lot to do with it. Snow banks were lower so that they weren't substantial enough to stop a car and the coating of packed snow on some of the roads was so thin in parts that it wore through to the gravel, causing greater wear than usual to the tyre studs.
Another feature of the 1970 Swedish Rally was the fierce competition. There were works or semi-works teams from Ford, Saab, Alpine-Renault, Lancia, Porsche and Opel, with plenty of spirited drivers in Opels, BMW's, Saabs, Volvos, Volkswagens and others.
It was an extremely unhappy event for most of the teams. Of the four Ford Escorts, the three with dry-sump lubrication retired when big-end balls wore through the sumps, causing oil loss, and the other stopped when the cam follower broke off the distributor contact points.
The Lancias were no less unfortunate, for both Munari and Lampinen left the road and got stuck in the snow and, in the second half. Kållström's car suffered a broken differential. The Alpine-Renault team was in Sweden for the first time, although Renault Gordinis were once very popular there when Svenska-Renault ran a competitions department. Along with the Italians, the French guarded against the cold by fitting their cars with petrol heaters.
All three Alpine also retired, Vinatier's when it left the road and lodged in the snow, Lusenius' when the clutch gave out and Nicolas' when the engine made noises and stopped. The exact cause of the latter retirement is not known at the time of writing, for the cars were sent back to France before being examined.
Saabs are generally reliable, but only one of their five works cars managed to finish in Sweden, that one in second place. Three were fitted with Lucas fuel injection and all three suffered engine failure, two when valves dropped and hit the pistons and one when the crankshaft broke. The other two Saabs were each fitted with two Weber carburetters, but one of them ran badly and the twin layout was replaced by a single Weber at the halfway stop.
There were two Porsches from Stuttgart, but all the servicing was undertaken by mechanics from Svenska VW, the Swedish importers who formed themselves into a company when the original importers, Scania Vabis, merged with Saab. One of the Porsches was driven by Ake Andersson, but that retired when a drive shaft broke. This was explained to me by Andersson himself, but a Porsche press release later gave the reason as a collision with a bridge parapet.
The other Porsche was the one which won, by the incredible margin of some 23 minutes. Björn Waldegard and Lars Helmer now have one of the most enviable records in rallying, with two successive Monte wins and a hat-trick in the Swedish. There was a worrying period for them in Sweden, however, when their clutch became reluctant to disengage and they were obliged to sit at the roadside and wait while mechanics replaced the unit. This involved removing the engine, removing the gearbox, changing the clutch and replacing the lot—all in a lay-by in sub-zero temperatures.
The Swedish Rally can hardly have known such carnage among its competing cars. That so many engines failed is remarkable in itself. Perhaps people should start remembering that old adage that reliability comes first, performance afterwards. But in fairness to mechanics and others responsible for building cars, it should be pointed out that overrevving is uncommonly easy on roads so conducive to wheel spin.
When all the works and semi-works teams left the contest for the team prize, it was left to a trio of privately entered Triumph 2.5PI's in the non-seeded class to take this honour, doubtless pleasing Abingdon considerably.
Porsche is not contesting the International Constructors' Championship this year, but simply by entering one event and supplying a car on loan for another the Stuttgart factory already has two outright wins and maximum points so far. The next qualifier is the San Remo-Sestriere Rally which begins on March 4th, but there are no Porsches expected there; nor works Fords for that matter. Boreham has withdrawn its entry of two Escorts due to many other commitments on time and resources—not the least of which is the World Cup Rally into which Ford is putting a huge effort.