It’s odd the things you remember. For instance, the car that took us there was a maroon Austin Maxi. Now here’s the really odd bit. It wasn’t ours, it was a friend’s, yet I can still recall its registration number: FHE 340L. I was eight at the time. And it was about eight below zero. My father had stood me on a broken-off branch by way of insulation from the freezing ground. But the chill still got to me and I was poorly. And to compound it all, they were late.
And then they arrived. The first of them was Roger Albert Clark, barking BDA, Cossack hairspray and oversteer. I perked up no end. And then it arrived: the Lancia Stratos (see page 44). The photographer in front of us appeared to be as transfixed as I was, for only at the last minute did he realise that he and a large Swedish gentleman called Bjorn Waldegard were about to share the same bit of Yorkshire grass. He dived out of the way, corkscrewing mid-leap to somehow grab his under-attack camera bag.
The huge crowd was still buzzing with the Stratos spectacle when some fool in an acid green Saab trundled past Where’s Munari?
Here he comes. The thrilling Ferrari V6 note rose in the distance. He burst into view. And spun. And spun again. Okay, so he had blown it on Harewood, second stage of the 1975 RAC Rally, but Waldegard had been clearly quickest.
I waited almost two weeks for confirmation of this. Motoring News was duly bought and I flicked straight to the list of stage times. SS2 Harewood. Huh? Fastest, by a second… that guy in the Saab 96 was no fool. He was Stig Blomqvist I realise now that a combination of slippery conditions and quite possibly the fastest front-wheel drive merchant of all time was a choice combination, and that Waldegard had probably worked wonders to keep within a second. But at the time I was dumbfounded. How could a Saab 96 V4 be faster than a Lancia Stratos ? And how come Waldegard had not won the event when he had set fastest time on 44 of the 72 special stages?
Stratos never did win the RAC. But it had won me over; I was hooked. Today’s WRC men and machines are impressive, but they lack that ‘Harewood buzz’.