We’ve got a special treat for you today, as Dave Leadbetter debuts as a guest writer here on ViaRETRO. Not just is Dave a diehard classic car enthusiast like the rest of us, but he also has a profound passion and knowledge for Historic Regularity Rallying. With no further ado, the word is yours Dave…
We all know that cars are meant to be driven and keeping them in captivity is wrong but, in these modern times, where can you drive with intent and enjoy your motor to the full? Track days are clearly nonsense and literally a road to nowhere. The best journeys are all about heading off the beaten track and travelling with a sense of purpose, right? Maybe you need to go Historic Rallying.
Let’s get one thing straight, we’re not talking about throwing £80k worth of Group 4 Escort through the woods, giving it the full Vatanen and treating shells as a service item. That’s beyond the reach of most mortals, but there is a way to indulge your ambitions without needing much in the way of specialist equipment or a bodyshop on speed dial. The UK has a thriving clubman historic scene with an emphasis on Regularity events which demand maintaining an exact time schedule and precise average speeds on the public roads, then going at maximum attack over private land sections such as airfields, farmland and stately homes. Organisers choose their routes with old cars in mind, and rough sections will generally be cautioned or avoided altogether, so the worst you should suffer are a few stone chips. Entry fees are typically around £120 for a full 150 mile route, and you’ll normally get lunch and dinner included too. Speed tests on private land account for 10-20% of the route with rest being held at lower speeds on narrow country lanes. Best of all, you get to go to places the public is never normally allowed, flat out down private tracks at country houses, deep into cold war airbases and sideways in disused missile silos, round reservoirs and through the forests. Do well and you may even come away with a small trophy, so you can prove to your friends just how clever you really are. Sounds good? So let’s look at the basics.
First of all, if you are a friendless misfit you’re in trouble, because there are two people in every car. I’ll assume you want to drive so you’ll need to persuade, beg or blackmail friends or family into coming out with you. If there’s nobody there to read the route, you’re not going to get far. You may find a navigator with some experience at a local MSA accredited Motor Club, but they’re in high demand, so realistically you need to get a mate on board who’s probably as new to it as you are. You need to be nice to this person because the navigator has a tricky job and will make mistakes. You’re not world champion and it’s meant to be fun, so this is no place to be snapping at the poor soul covered in maps and clocks. If you think you can do better, swap seats next time and see how you get on!
There are broadly three types of events to consider. The first are tours which follow a set route, but don’t have a competitive timing element. These events are not rallies, but may be a starting point for a brand new crew, particularly if the navigator has never read a map before or used a road book which defines the route. A tour will be a sedate affair and any red blooded driver is going to get bored, so if you’re still talking to each other afterwards it may be time to step up to your first proper event. This is where the two types of rallies come in, Targa events, and Regularity. Targa rallies are purely based around driving tests, basically mini-stages where the fastest car wins. The route for each section will be defined by diagrams and so it’s easier on the navigator, though still a skill that needs to be practiced. There’s nothing wrong with these events, but we’ll focus on the full Regularity events which combine the best of all worlds and open up the possibility of European and long distance events too.
You’ll need an MSA Competition Licence for most UK Targa and Regularity events, but they’re not expensive and then you’ll be a card carrying rally driver, which is super impressive, like being a fighter pilot or a matador or something. Men will want to be you and women will want to be with you. With the admin done, let’s turn our attention to the car…
The good news is that you can now use nearly anything registered up to 31st December 1985. No, I didn’t think 1985 was that long ago either, but that’s what’s allowed. Cars are split into age categories which no longer define eligibility for an overall win but do define the modifications you can undertake. Basically, cars registered before 1975 have more freedom to be developed than later cars, which are restricted to standard form or the specifications (partly or wholly) laid out in their FIA homologation papers. The later cars are generally more competent in standard form, but some earlier cars can be developed into better rally cars at a lower cost – one reason why Mk1 Escorts are more effective than Mk2 Escorts under the current rules. A guide to all of this can be found at the Historic Rally Car Register (HRCR) website ( hosted by
webhosting vergleich)which is marginally more understandable than the MSA Blue Book of technical regulations. Some of the rules seem contradictory and the whole thing seems almost designed to confuse, but don’t be put off at this stage. Your car is almost certainly eligible in standard form, just make sure you ask questions before committing to any major modifications. European rules differ, so you’ll need to check with your local governing body if you’re reading this from outside the UK.
Come to terms now with the fact that your car may get a little careworn, but it’s normally nothing worse than a few scratches and the need to increase your maintenance regime. If your car is a proper show queen this is not for you. Don’t rally anything so rare that you can’t get consumables. You’ll be putting extra stress on suspension, brakes, wheel bearings, clutch, prop shaft couplings, engine mounts and the like, so make sure they’re in good condition and you can get spares easily enough. Make sure it’s serviced, not drinking oil and the cooling system is in good condition. Some parts can be upgraded and it makes sense to do so, but if you’re an enthusiastic driver your car should be in good shape anyway, right? About the biggest change compared to a road car is the need to shield your engine using a sumpguard, not mandatory but a good idea particularly if your car is low slung. Bear in mind that it’s going to dip at the front under heavy braking and it also helps tie the car together to reduce chassis flex. Should the worst happen, a good one will strengthen the whole front structure. Some people manage without, but as you progress and get quicker it’s advisable to fit one. Whilst you’re underneath, make sure your brake and fuel lines are protected and the exhaust securely mounted. There’s no need to route lines inside the car, but if it takes your fancy to do so, go ahead. It’s choices like this that start to change your car from occasional competition car to dedicated rally car and you can always upgrade as you go. Tyres are important, and part worn gravel tyres are the best, but for most events a good set of all season tyres is a sensible choice, with XL sidewalls if available. Every road tyre is a compromise, but most of the mileage will be on the public road, so you pay your money and take your choice.
Inside the car, and most important of all, you’ll need a rally tripmeter, because the navigator needs to know where and when they are. A fag lighter becomes a power point for their illuminated map magnifier known as a Poti. They’ll thank you for a footrest, a light on a flexible stalk and a door pocket too. Bucket seats and harnesses are welcome for both crew, but get comfortable ones as these aren’t sprint events. You may fit a roll cage (although incidents are rare) which stiffens up the shell for better handling, and if it bolts in it’ll also bolt out again if you come to sell the car.
The rules now allow early Golf GTIs and Vauxhall Astras, but real cars are rear wheel drive so Mk1 Escorts, MGBs, Amazons, Porsches, Dolomites and BMWs are popular choices. I use a BMW 2002 which is strong, reliable and proven to be quick enough for overall victory. As 80-90% of the event mileage is based on accuracy of navigation and timekeeping, the outright power of a 911 or RS2000 isn’t always as dominating as you might think.
We’ve focussed on the driver’s perspective but as mentioned, navigators are at a premium so if you don’t have or don’t want to use your car, you can try life in the other seat and get all the fun for a fraction of the cost. If you get half good, you may find your entry costs are paid for by the driver. If you get very good, you’ll probably get your hotels and travel costs covered as well, and get to ride in some very nice cars. It’s supply and demand. Even my relatively modest navigational abilities have got me from Lands End to John O’Groats three times in a Datsun 240Z and Volvo 123GT, and an unforgettable day in a very well sorted MG Magnette in Ulster. For the more ambitious there are plenty of seats offered for longer continental trips and beyond.
Whichever side of the car you are on and whatever level you aspire to, it’s all about having fun in old cars. It’s waking up at dawn and looking out of the hotel window, to see a row of cars with lamps and stickers in the early morning mist, just waiting. It’s the ceremonial start, pulling away under the sponsor’s banner with the twirl of a flag. It’s the sound of the first test of the day, Webers barking as the tyres slip on the damp tarmac, a gentle slide around a hay bale and on to the next cone. It’s the noise of the gravel on the underside as you brake and flick into a corner deep in the woods, then back on the gas to exit a touch sideways and onwards up the hill. It’s finding the next control just around the bend and pulling to a halt right on your second, knowing when to make up and when to hold back. It’s the heat from the transmission tunnel, the tick of the stop watch all day, and the warm red glow of the tripmeter.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and show it some trees.
All photographs courtesy of http://www.mandhphotography.co.uk/