Clan:Manx International Rally September 8-10,1972
Roger Clark winning a seventies British rally in an Escort was the norm. But behind him this time was a kit car that almost broke the mould. John Davenport explains
During the early 1970s the French seemed to have a monopoly on the creation and use of plastic rally cars: there was the Ligier JS2, the Jide, the Bonnet, the Matra 530, and the Simca-CG ‘MC’ – not to mention the all-pervasive Alpine Renault that was shortly to become the world’s first rally champion. But Britain was also involved in the production of motoring diversity via what were designated ‘kit cars’. Partially completed cars were sold to individuals who then finished the construction process. This meant the owner also became the ‘manufacturer’ and so avoided the 30 per cent Purchase Tax.
The list of these cars is a long one and included familiar names such as the Lotus Seven and Elan Sprint, the Marcos Mantis and the TVR Vixen. Although few of the many kit cars available at that time were entered in rallies, there was one that stuck its head over the parapet and had short-lived success in rallying: the Clan Crusader.
Its story starts in the drawing offices of Lotus Cars during 1969, where Paul Haussauer had recently finished working on the Elan S4. He’d noticed that the Hillman Imp was doing well in competition: Bill McGovern was a triple winner of the British Saloon Car Championship and Colin Malkin was a double rally champion. The Imp’s engine and transaxle were light, powerful and ready-to-go in the back of a plastic sportscar a la Alpine Renault.
There were already two kit cars in existence that used this power train: the Ginetta 915 and the Davrian Imp. But Haussauer was sure he could do better. He contacted John Frayling, who had worked on the Elite, Elan and Europa, and between them they created what became the Clan Crusader. Frayling was in charge of the exterior design and chose a wedge shape for the new car, a concept that was shortly to be very much in fashion with the Stratos and the TR7. Haussauer also persuaded veteran Lotus race engineer Arthur Birchell to join them. Birchell was enormously experienced in practical matters and had worked on Chapman’s F1 and Indy programmes.
In early 1970 Haussauer left Lotus and the three men started work on the design and manufacturing detail. They devised a way of making the Clan’s monocoque with just two moulds, which was 50 less than Chapman had used on the Elite. By the middle of the year they had found a new factory in Washington, just south of the River Tyne. (Their choice of such a northern location, far from their stamping grounds, was influenced by large regional enterprise grants.)
To begin with they had no plans to use the Clan in competition; they needed to make and sell cars, most of which were going out as kits. But then, in 1972, Andy Dawson entered the scene. Much involved with Imps, he was a rising star on the British rally scene and a successful engineer. He saw the potential of a 500kg car with 120bhp and convinced Haussauer that they should collaborate on an entry in the International Manx Trophy Rally.
Like so many of the international rallies of the time, the Manx Trophy allowed prototypes or non-homologated cars but the RAC technical regulations insisted that, in order to be able to compete, the Clan should be fitted with an approved roll-cage. It had already passed a crash test at MIRA in May 1972, but this was different. The Clan had an integral roll-cage as part of its monocoque, but it could not be tested other than in situ. Dawson recalls that, “Neil Eason-Gibson, technical guru of the RAC, was dispatched to Washington to witness an unusual test devised by us. The Manx Clan, devoid of its drivetrain, was inverted and a skip placed on its undertray. The skip was then filled with water. Even with a weight of several tons bearing down, the Clan showed only slight distortion.”
It was given its roll-cage certificate.
Sponsorship for the rally came from Solex carburettors – Dawson’s dad was the MD plus Castrol and Goodyear. The co-driver was John Foden, a friend who had rallied with Dawson before – they had rolled in an Imp on the Granite City some months earlier and who was also involved in making commercial pace notes for the Manx.
The car had a 998cc engine fitted with race cams and happily revved to 10,000rpm. Its tyres were an enigma. Dawson tried the car on Goodyear racers, the accepted solution for the Manx and which he had used successfully on his Imp the previous year. But they simply had too much grip for the lighter car. Thus he opted for G800 road tyres, 165s on the front and 185s on the rear. The gearbox was the wide-ratio version, but internal speeds were so high that the needle-roller bearing on first frequently seized, so Dawson built the Manx ‘box using carbon bearings.
Talking today to both Dawson and Foden, their memory is of a rally car that gave no trouble from start to finish. Dawson recalls, “The only things that needed attention were a threadbare fanbelt and the rear brakes. The shoes needed changing because we fitted soft ones to give us a good handbrake and they just wore out”
During a short rest between the end of the night section and the start of the final stages on Saturday morning, it was clear that they were doing well. In fact they were fifth, and a nervous Dawson issued his instructions to Foden: “He told me, ‘For God’s sake, don’t go to bed until you’ve checked all the stage times and the results’.” After various delays, these were only published just before the restart, which resulted in a very tired co-driver. But in the daylight the little car was the best performer, only adding 90sec to its total penalty. Thanks to that, and a couple of retirements, it finished second behind the factory Escort RS 1600 of Roger Clark.
The effect of this success was immediate. At least a dozen people wanted a Clan to compete in, and for each one of those there were a dozen more who wanted a road car.
But then disaster struck. Just when they needed to produce large quantities of cars, and were geared up to do so, the parts department of Rootes went on an extended strike and for months there was no supply of the Imp power train. People who had ordered, cancelled, and the cash flow dried up. Things got going again in 1973, but the world had changed and the rally successes were forgotten. On January 1, Britain had joined the European Union and, in April, VAT was introduced, effectively sealing the fate of a kit car’s Purchase Tax benefit. Clan production ceased in late 1973 and the company and its assets were sold to a Cypriot entrepreneur. It was not quite the end of the story, but as good as.