Senior Service Hill-Rally—second stage

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Land Rovers dominate an International event which had poor foreign support

Last May the Continental sport of hill-rallying, i.e., subjecting cross-country vehicles not only to a route applicable to their capabilities but introducing timed stages into the contest, was introduced to this country by Gallahers, the Senior Service cigarette people, as Motor Sport reported at the time. This event created so much interest that the same sponsors, who presumably have money to spare since TV advertising is barred to them, decided to hold another such event in September, advertised as of International status. The latter was not very apparent from the entries, which comprised only four (one was a non-starter from abroad, two from France, two from Belgium, all but one in the 2WD Buggies’ class. Compared to last time, the entry was 47 against 45; the route, again contrived by Tony Ambrose, was presumably far more punishing, for whereas 34 finished the course in May, only 22 4WD competitors did so in the September rally. A first prize of £300 and the Senior Service Trophy for the 4WD winner and £150 and another Senior Service Trophy for that in the 2WD (normal rally cars and Buggies) class might have been expected to have attracted a better entry. The entry fee was £20 per car, or twice the previous fee.

This time the route made use of many public roads (which raises the question of how some of the timed stages were permissible) although much of it was over tracks and along river beds which the public would be very unlikely to frequent! The overall time schedule was again found to be very tough, although as low as 18 1/2 m.p.h. on normal A and B roads. Road sections were timed to the nearest minute, hill stops to the nearest second. Some 300 marshals had been recruited, which did not obviate one timed section crossing a Forestry Commission road to which the public had paid access, without any marshals guarding it. The longest and toughest section was the 7 1/2 miles of Strata Florida, a trials track which crossed the River Towy half a dozen times. Here spectators were able to watch from the elevated Forestry Commission road, being charged 50p to go to the top, 20p to park at the bottom. Those who took the six-mile drive found that Good Relations Ltd., who were handling competently the PR aspect for Senior Service, had laid on excellent private and public catering by Hughes of Aberystwyth and a Tannoy commentary. The David Brown Jet Ranger helicopter was again used so that the BBC could film the event. Duckhams sent a recovery vehicle, Michelin put out the route markers. Either Senior Service or Good Relations have excellent contacts with the weather-gods; fine weather had prevailed in Wales for weeks but on the evening before the Hill Rally torrential rain descended, to “improve” the stages!

There was drama early on the Saturday of this two-day contest, when Ford’s Official entry, a 4.7-litre V8 Bronco, with Stuart Turner to administer to its needs, driven by Rod Chapman, was late through Strata Florida and hit some rocks on the stage, bursting two tyres and pulling off its back axle. It resumed for a while, propelled by front-wheel-drive only, but was not seen again. Much electrical trouble was caused by river immersions, the Army Land Rover had frontal damage which fouled a tyre, Green’s Land Rover fell on to its side in a rocky guiley and it was half-an-hour before it was righted, De Ward’s 1957 Austin Champ, which had served the Army for ten years and has been to Turkey and back, broke its gearbox and smashed a wheel-rim but was able to continue, Groom’s Willys Jeep lost 30 sec. when its engine cut out, Milner’s Land Rover broke its throttle control, necessitating the unfortunate navigator having to sit on the bonnet and control speed in accordance with the driver’s signals, Sprang, an American poet over here to learn about Land Rovers prior to mounting an expedition to the Himalayas, rolled over but was able to press on, and Yates’ Land Rover suffered a “fail” when water caused his wipers to cut out and he couldn’t see the hazard. Bloxham’s Haflinger was unperturbed by a flat n/s front tyre.

At the end of that strenuous 100-mile first day Hart and Green, the GKN boys, led from Bashall, whose company is equipping vehicles for an African expedition by the University of N. Carolina, and Johnson—Land Rovers 1, 2, 3. Johnson had bought his 1952 Mk. I version a year previously, discovering that, by a coincidence, it was the vehicle on which he learnt to drive. By Saturday evening seven of the 4WD competitors had retired and by the time the Strata Florida stage was reached on the Sunday Bashall was ahead of Johnson, who had overtaken Hart on the score-sheets.

Thus drama was maintained, especially when Parker’s Land Rover took a wrong slot straight into a lake but, snicking in and out of reverse, extricated himself without a “fail”. Thereafter a marshal was posted, at the request of the commentator, to point out the correct route, which was unfair to Parker, who had lost much time in the absence of such help. Woodcock, leading the BL Range Rover entry, took the wrong route in the water and lost valuable time. His team-mate Crathorne, winner in May, had his lights on and blew his horn. Turner’s Range Rover took a good line, Hart picked his way carefully, likewise Bashall, but Yates was quick between the hazards. Bloxham’s Haflinger plunged gamely through the swollen river, De Ward’s Champ sent up a bow wave, but Rushton’s 980-c.c. 3-cylinder 54-b.h.p. two-stroke Auto-Union Munga, with permanent 4WD, of which only five are thought to be in this country, was very leisurely. Sevier’s Land Rover almost stopped at the diversion, where Cowley’s Jeep rocked sideways. Tomlinson’s Land Rover raced through the stage and MacAllan’s Austin Champ, bought specially for the event, sounded to have lost its exhaust system. Jill Robinson’s Ford Escort had clutch trouble early on the Saturday; at about the same time as Smith’s Austin Champ had axle trouble.

Eventually they returned to the finish at Llandrindod Wells, after a further 115 miles, where the inevitable protests postponed the prize giving. When results were available it was seen to be a Land Rover walk-over, in the order R. S. Hart (17.03), B. S. Bashall (21.50), D. Johnson (27.12), R. J. Parker (37.51) and J. F. Tomlinson (61.48), with J. Bloxham’s 650-c.c. Haflinger (75.01) in sixth place—penalties in brackets. Next were the Official Range Rovers, Crathorne beating Woodcock but both with one “fail”. Of the 2WD vehicles, which had an easier route, J. Perisse from France, in a VW Dune Buggy LM, beat Frenchman J. Duponts’ VW Dune Buggy LM, third place going to B. Ridgard’s Renegade Beach Buggy.

The Dunlop-shod Range Rovers were first and second in the over-3,000 c.c. 4WD class, Hart and Bashall occupying these places in the over-2-litre Land Rover category. Bloxham won the up-to-1.000-c.c. 4WD class for Haflinger, from Rushton’s Auto-Vision Munga, after Sprinzel, who had a bad time at scrutineering with a defective steering box, had retired in his Haflinger. The class for Jeeps and Champs was won by Groom’s Willys Jeep from Ford designer Stevens’ Ford GPW, the latter having an “interesting” time with duff shock-absorbers, punctures in his 10-in. Goodyear Pikes Peak Special tyres, so that he continued on Homerton Remoulds, a smashed battery which still contrived to function, and an engine that shifted forward. He had the 2.2-litre Ford s.v. engine. with Blydenstein head and Mobelec electronic ignition, and he dispensed with a windscreen; the petrol tank had been re-positioned at the rear, as required by the regulations. The up-to-2-litre 4WD class went to Johnson’s Land Rover, from Parker’s Land Rover, the Buggies’ class to Perisse, the 2WD class to Dawson’s Imp from Taylor’s Ford Escort and Pugh’s Escort.

Will this type of event flourish? The combination of speed with cross-country hazards and hard-road work makes for interest but even more spectator appeal would be introduced if really boggy terrain were substituted for trials-type tracks, as at Carneddau in the first Senior Service event. The onlookers would then see the crews working to extricate their vehicles, perhaps winching out, against the clock, which the existing Senior Service regulations prohibit. More variety amongst the entries would also help—foreign competition was thin in this International event and the Unimogs, etc., still too shy, or considered to be too slow to enter.—W. B.