Last week I asked what car, when shown for the first time
generated 22,000 orders on the first day of the show? This was easy - it was, of
course, the Ford Mustang.
So to this week. How many finishers were there in the World
Cup Rally of 1970?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email [email protected]
World Cup Rally
I was fortunate to get the following piece from a real
wordsmith, Anthony Howard, by promising that I would make sure his name was
written large, so here is a fascinating item about the World Cup Rally by
TONY HOWARD. I have had to shorten it somewhat for reasons of space, so I
hope he forgives me.
World Cup Rally
“Once upon a time, back in the glory days, Fleet Street
thrived amid rivers of alcohol, old Spanish practices, the chatter of telex
machines and the unmistakable Linotype hot lead aroma. What kept this ramshackle
thriller on the road was its firm grip on national advertising revenues and its
prime position as provider of news and entertainment. However, national
newspapers’ near-monopoly faced an increasing challenge as independent
television began flexing its muscles from the mid-1950s.
In 1970 a proposal was put for the mother and father of all
motoring contests running from the previous World Cup venue to the next - London
to Mexico City - in 1970?
Next question: what kind of organization was big enough and
silly enough to risk putting its financial muscle behind such a hare-brained
scheme? Why, the Daily Mirror of course.
As the complex, highly-politicized worlds of motor sport and
the media converged the resulting ego clashes were analogous to the Large Hadron
Collider. My good fortune was to be a Mirror foot soldier in the thick of all
this, charged with maintaining rally news flow to the 22 countries from which
the 106 entrants arrived.
This involved crucial journalist skills such as smoking,
drinking and keeping very unsocial hours - long before blackberries, sat-phones,
wi-fi laptops, e-mail or digital photography. For I was captive between the
varying time zones competitors were in from day to day and the deadlines of
British and foreign media as far afield as Argentina, Australia and Thailand -
all anxious for stories.
Writing Where they are - day by day for the official
program (price 4 shillings) was pretty exhausting, I quipped to colleagues. So
doing the real thing was bound to be a touch arduous. With exquisite
understatement, IPC Newspapers chief Edward Pickering remarked: “I understand
that the tougher a rally is, the more it pleases competitors. Even as a non-expert,
it seems clear to me that the Daily Mirror World Cup Car rally is going to make
a lot of competitors extremely happy.”
To warm things up, the rally first took a brisk week-long
4,500-mile (7,300 km) tour of 16 European countries, an hour ahead of London.
Once in South America, the remaining 11,500-mile (18,690 km) route was three to
seven hours behind us, which mostly entailed waiting late into the night for any
snippets that could be cobbled into stories and telexed to grateful distant
recipients. So I lived just around the corner in the Waldorf Hotel for a month,
and sustained my stamina by re-fuelling regularly at the Stab-in-the-Back, where
there was a reliable telephone.
Inevitably, the post-mortem found it was a jolly good jape
that underscored the Mirror’s prestige with established readers and advertisers.
But it could scarcely have built new circulation or revenues in Latin America or
mainland Europe. Furthermore, Fleet Street rivals had essayed spoilers by
sponsoring likely front-runners.
Great events invariably evoke widely differing viewpoints. In
his lavishly illustrated new book World Cup Rally, Graham Robson makes a pretty
good fist of telling it how it was from the perspective of the on-the-road
organizing team and the competitors. He was right in the thick of it as one of
the rally controllers leapfrogging along the route. A former competitor and team
manager, he is steeped in the sport, and as author of some 130 books he is a
practiced hand at getting the words in the correct order.
One of his main sources is ebullient rally secretary John
Sprinzel, now 78, who made the first recce in South America. Robson visited
Sprinzel at home in Hawaii, while others in his cast of characters read like a
motor sporting Who’s Who from a golden age. Among them are Paddy Hopkirk, flying
Finns Rauno Aaltonen and Hannu Mikkola (fresh-faced London-Mexico winner in The
Telegraph Magazine-sponsored Ford), Stuart Turner (once Ford of Europe motor
sport director), Peter Browning (former British Leyland competitions manager)
and even HRH Prince Michael of Kent.
As Sprinzel and his two compadres journeyed around South
America attempting to transform a theoretical line on a map into a viable rally
route, they encountered plenty of obstacles. Not least of these was the world’s
longest mountain range, sitting slap-bang along six countries through which the
rally was to pass - Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. With
an average altitude of 13,000 ft (4,000 meters), the Andes extend 4,300 miles
(7,000 km) north to south and 120 miles (200 km)-430 miles (700 km) east to
The implications of high altitude began to become a major
preoccupation for competing teams, concerned lest their crews and cars performed
below par while driving flat-out in thin air. There was the - allegedly -
apocryphal exchange of telegrams between Ford’s Stuart Turner and his driver
Roger Clark, on a recce in the Andes. I paraphrase: Turner - “Need to know
effects of lack of oxygen at altitude. Make love to local girl at 14,000 ft
(4,267 meters). Report back.” Clark - “No girls at 14,000 ft. So tried it 14
times at 1,000 ft. Will this do?”
Robson’s World Cup Rally narrative zips along at a brisk
tempo through the many twists and turns of an epic that began as a simple
brilliant idea over a couple of drinks and took on a life of its own as so much
talent, energy and money was thrown behind it.
I could smell the hot oil, sense the dust in my nostrils,
hear the clatter of stones and rocks in the wheel arches, feel the car sliding
around beneath me, and endure near-hallucinatory fatigue kept at bay by
adrenaline rushes and sheer bloody-minded determination. Hyperbole? Ach-yes-well-no-fine,
as they say in South Africa. All that plus 250 color and mono pictures of the
characters, the action, the heartbreak and my favorites - those incredible
The Daily Mirror 1970 World Cup Rally 40 by Graham Robson
(208 pages hardback, ISBN 978-1-845842-71-0, Veloce Publishing)
Copyright © 2010 by Anthony F Howard