1973 Press On Regardless Rally
How did you arrive in rallying?
I did my first rally, a newcomer’s event, in 1967. I was recovering from surgery on my shoulder incurred from ski racing. My brother and I borrowed my mother’s Ford Comet and the only thing I remember is my first off-road incident; I forgot to set the handbrake when we got out at a control and the car rolled into a ditch !
What was the next step ?
The British Leyland importer offered a good bonus scheme for its products so after a session in a rally school, I bought an old MGB and did the Canadian national championship. I got enough bonus money to get a Datsun 510 and buy my wife’s engagement ring. The 1969 season was more serious. I met up with (co-driver) Doug Woods and we won 10 events.
When did Toyota become part of your plans ?
In 1971 there was a trans-Canada rally called the BC Centennial, a revival of the old Shell 4000 concept to celebrate British Columbia’s anniversary. I solicited Toyota’s involvement and was issued with a new Corolla. We had three weeks to do something with it so it was no big surprise when we took off over a big frost heave and put the engine through the radiator. But we won the Canadian title with it.
Was that the car you took to the Press On Regardless in 1973?
No, we had a new car. Toyota were now showing some real interest, though it was another year before we started getting parts through from TRD (Toyota Racing Development). Frankly, that little 1600 Corolla was massively under-gunned, especially for a rally like the POR with so many sand stages in the Upper Michigan Peninsula. We had done all we could by upgrading to two twin-barrel downdraughts and taking the engine fan off and replacing it with an electric one. Things like the gearing were still pretty standard. But it was a strong little car.
What other preparation did you do?
We North Americans were very excited about having a world championship rally in our backyard. You could do pace notes, so Doug went down and drove the route with Bob Hourihan, one of Michigan’s top guys. Just before the start. Doug took me aside and said. ‘Walter, you just do as I tell you and we are going to win this rally.’
With works teams, plus privateers like John Buffum, was it a hard fight?
I tried not to think of those other guys. Doug and I just drove it and I did what he told me. It seemed to work as we set nearly all the fastest times on the first night and were leading easy. The others had problems but the Corolla just went like a bird. We did have a heart-stopping moment towards the end. I think there were only a few stages left and we found we had a water leak. I traced it to one of those silly three-way junctions on the heater hose where it comes away from the block and, as we had a spare, I decided to change it. We won by 24 minutes or so.
What happened then?
In 1974 I got a Celica and won the Canadian title for the fifth time, but in ’75 the POR was dropped from the WRC while our new event, the Rideau Lakes, foundered for lack of funds. The chance for us guys to make our mark in world rallying was gone. — JDFD
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