They’re coming home: the World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

| 14 Oct 2022
Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

In the days when rallying was as much about proving a car’s reliability as its speed, the 1970 Daily Mirror World Cup Rally was the ultimate test.

Just 23 cars finished of nearly 100 starters, the slimmest percentage of all the original marathon rallies.

So named because the route would follow the direction of the Jules Rimet Trophy as the World Cup’s host city moved from London in 1966 to Mexico City in 1970, the trip was hardly direct, taking in much of western and central Europe and the length of South America on its 16,000-mile journey.

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

Genuine and recreation World Cup Rally machines gathered at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon, to belatedly mark the event’s half-century

Ford, British Leyland and, bizarrely, Moskvich all entered works teams, while a semi-official effort was made by Citroën – though thanks to privateer entries many more marques were represented.

Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm’s victory in one of the works Fords would be key in establishing the Escort as a rally legend.

The Historic Marathon Rally Group is dedicated to celebrating the World Cup Rally, and other marathons such as the very first: the 1968 London-Sydney.

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

Cars that competed in the 1970 Daily Mirror World Cup Rally faced a challenging 16,000-mile journey between London and Mexico

Many of the members’ own cars took part in the original events, and on 1 May the club held a belated celebration to mark the World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary – it had been twice postponed because of the pandemic.

Ford, Triumph, Austin, MG, Hillman, Mini and Citroën entrants from the original marathon events were present, as well as roadgoing versions of the competing cars, owned by those inspired by the rallies.

Martin Jones: 1968 Morris 1800

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

The tough bodyshell of the Alec Issigonis-designed Morris 1800 made it an ideal candidate for marathon rallies

While Ford needed to go to extreme measures to strengthen the shells of the Escorts it took on the World Cup Rally, British Leyland had a car in the arsenal renowned for its solidity: the Landcrab.

Previous monocoque cars designed by Alec Issigonis had all used subframes, but the 1800 had avoided this impurity – as the famous designer considered it – thanks to its over-engineered bodyshell, which made it a natural choice for marathon rallying, where warped structures were a common problem.

Martin Jones’ Morris 1800 was prepared by BL’s competition department in Abingdon, but sold off privately early on, to Bob Eaves.

“Supposedly it was a recce car on the Safari Rally, that’s the story, but I don’t have any proof of that,” says Jones.

The car is one of few to take part in both the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon rally and the 1970 World Cup Rally marathon. It came 36th in the earlier event, but didn’t finish the trip to Mexico after being involved in a crash.

Once Eaves was done with the car, it enjoyed a second wind in historic rallying in the hands of John Locks, most notably winning the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique in 2004.

Jones bought the car from Locks a decade ago and the 1800’s bodywork remains as it was at that point, rally scars and all.

Stuart Black, David Gilmour & Ian Dunbobbin: 1969 Ford Escort Mk1

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

The Ford Escort Mk1 triumphed at the 1970 World Cup Rally in the hands of Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm

The one machine the anniversary gathering couldn’t do without, FEV 1H was the Escort in which Mikkola and Palm won the World Cup Rally.

Owned and maintained by Ford, it’s never been out of Blue Oval ownership and remains remarkably original.

“It’s never been crashed,” says Stuart Black of Ford Heritage. “Though it probably had a rebuild after the rally,” adds colleague David Gilmour.

Ford started with the motorsport-spec AVO Escort shell when building a car for the tough marathon, but further strengthened it with even more welding than normal, and those famous ‘buzzard bars’ on the roof.

“In testing at Bagshot they’d do a lot of jumps,” says Black, “and they saw kinking where the shotgun panel joins the A-pillar.

“The bars prevent that, connecting the top of the strut mount to the top of the rollcage. They were only ever used in the World Cup Rally cars.”

The suspension was also upgraded with bigger radius arms, while braking was provided by Lotus Elan discs at the back and a Cortina Mk2 set-up at the front.

Ford had attempted the London to Syndey in 1968, but its Lotus Cortina entries proved too fragile so, rather than use the standard rally engine, the Twin Cam, or the new-for-1970 BDA unit, a humble 1850cc ‘Kent’ engine was used instead.

“It was lower-stressed and therefore better able to deal with poor-quality fuel,” explains Black.

FEV 1H can still be seen at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed – as can its twin, H1 FEV, an almost identical car built for the 1995 World Cup Rally revival event, which it also won, once again in the safe hands of Mikkola and Palm.

Patrick Walker: 1970 Triumph 2.5 PI

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

The works Triumph 2.5 PI had an early exit from the 1970 World Cup Rally

Having won the London-Sydney Marathon, Andrew Cowan was surely favourite for the World Cup Rally, too, having swapped his Hillman Hunter for a works Triumph 2.5 PI – the very car now owned by Patrick Walker.

However, while the big saloons did prove the most successful of the British Leyland entries, taking second and fourth, it wasn’t to be for Cowan, who crashed when he was blinded by the sun bouncing off the dust cloud created by an Austin Maxi ahead.

There was a kink in the road and he didn’t see it, his rally ending in the Andes.

With BL having wound down its works department later in 1970, the Triumph was quickly sold off upon its return.

It was snapped up by Brian Englefield, along with a spare bodyshell, and he somehow managed to get the car ready in time for that year’s RAC Rally.

Walker, a lifelong rally enthusiast who also owns an ex-marathon rally Hillman Hunter, Austin Maxi and Austin 1800, bought the PI in 2005.

“This is one of my favourites, because it has some interesting details,” he explains.

“The fuel metering unit, which allows you to adjust the mixture from inside the cabin as altitude increases, is the only one that still exists as far as I know.

“It’s like a reverse choke, because they were driving at up to 16,000ft.”

John Cadwallader: 1971 Mini 1275GT

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

BMC hoped the 1970 World Cup Rally would be an opportunity to prove the Mini 1275GT’s credentials

A sole Mini took part in the World Cup Rally, with BL at that point having switched its sporting focus from the Cooper to the square-fronted 1275GT.

Though fully works supported, the Mini wasn’t expected to actually complete the rally, but BMC hoped it would lead the European sections, proving the new 1275GT’s speed (crucial, considering that it was a fair bit slower than the soon-to-be-discontinued Cooper ‘S’) before inevitably dropping out in America.

It didn’t even do that, however, after blowing its pistons in Yugoslavia due to poor fuel.

This particular example is an exacting replica of the car that took part, because the owner of the original doesn’t usually attend shows.

“We wanted it here to demonstrate what a broad range BL took on the World Cup Rally,” says John Cadwallader.

“The Triumphs, the 1800s, the Maxis… and the one Mini.”

A committed rally fan, Cadwallader worked as an apprentice at RTS Motorway Remoulds, which entered car number one – a Ford Cortina GT – in the London-Sydney Marathon rally in 1968.

His interest in long-distance rallying grew from there: “I’ve always had Minis, ever since my first car, so it was natural for me to make a replica of the only Mini to take part in the World Cup Rally.”

André Midol: 1970 Citroën DS21

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

The number 12 Citroën DS21 eventually completed the original rally route in 2018 with its new owner, André Midol

Citroën provided some support and funding on the 1970 World Cup Rally for the seven DS21s, which had already proven themselves in endurance events – most famously (and controversially) on the 1966 Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Bob Neyret and Jacques Terramorsi entered with car 12, and were running in a promising sixth position when they reached La Paz, Bolivia, at which point their engine failed and they abandoned the rally.

With most of the marathon cars having been kept fairly standard for the sake of reliability, Citroën didn’t deem it worth repatriating the broken rally car to France, and the DS was left in South America, its whereabouts becoming lost to European Citroën enthusiasts.

At least until André Midol was driving through Bolivia in one of his Citroëns on holiday in 2005, and a local man approached him to ask if he would like to have a look at a classic French car he had in his yard. It was car 12.

It turned out that the man who had approached Midol was the son of Bolivia’s Citroën importer at the time of the rally, who bought the broken car from the parent firm.

It took years of negotiating for Midol to be able to buy the DS, which he finally did in 2017, after which he had the car restored in Bolivia before gathering a team of friends and family to complete the Citroën’s drive to Mexico City.

The car finally reached the finish in Midol’s hands, entering the final stage of the 1970 event, the Estadio Azteca, in 2018.

“Bringing it here, back to England, is the final step in its journey, at least for me,” says Midol, “so it is now for sale.”

John Watson, Graham Dix & Mike Barclay: 1968 MGB

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

After coming across the MGB in 2015, the MG Car Club set about restoring Jean Denton’s former car

Saloon cars dominated the marathon rallies, but one sports car that did prove equal to the task was Jean Denton’s MGB.

Sponsored by Nova magazine, she was the only entrant in a two-seater to finish the London-Sydney rally – and did so with the help of the Perth, Australia, branch of the MG Car Club, which supplied her with a replacement radiator en route.

Denton’s car was long thought to be lost until the MGCC received an email from someone clearing a collection of garages on the English south coast in 2015.

An apparently standard – and rather rough-looking – purple MGB was later discovered to be Denton’s former car.

The MGB Register of the MGCC decided to restore it and, while photos of the car on the rally helped, the car’s builder and co-driver, Tom Boyce, proved essential.

“We found Tom at a nursing home in Guildford,” says outgoing club chairman John Watson, “and he gave us lots of information, though unfortunately he passed away before we finished.”

A Canadian petrol engineer, whose main concern was keeping the car running in areas with poor-quality fuel, Boyce built the MG with four tanks: the standard item, another in the boot and two jerry cans on the rear bumper.

Denton insisted on the long-range antenna so she could listen to Radio 4. Worked on primarily by club volunteers, the car was completed in time for the 50th-anniversary celebration of the London-Sydney Marathon in 2018, and is still owned by the MGCC.

Jeremy Tyson: 1973 Ford Escort Mexico

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

Changes to the World Cup Rally-inspired Ford Escort Mexico were more than just skin-deep

Ford’s success on the World Cup Rally didn’t just play a large part in making the Escort a rally legend, it also spawned one of the most famous and sought-after variants of the model: the Mexico.

Unlike some of the more cynical motorsport tie-ins, the Mexico wasn’t just a set of stickers and some new upholstery: it featured a 1599cc version of the Kent engine that powered the rally winner – a variant that wasn’t available in any other Escort.

This, plus some suspension changes and, yes, a few stickers, turned the Ford into a budget performance car that made it the hot hatch of its day.

Jeremy Tyson has owned his Mexico for 31 years, having picked it up at an auction for £1010 at a time when he couldn’t really afford it.

“It was rotten,” he recalls. “It was pushed through the sale the first time it went across the block.”

A keen follower of rallying, Tyson restored the car himself 20 years ago, leaving off the white stripes it originally came with out of preference.

“I’m a Ford guy and I bought it just as a bit of fun at first,” he smiles, “but the fun has never stopped and it’s become a lifelong friend.”

David Pearson: 1970 Triumph 2.5 PI

Classic & Sports Car – They’re coming home: World Cup Rally’s 50th anniversary

The Triumph 2.5 PI, now owned by David Pearson, was forced to abandon the 1970 rally after suspension and fuel-injection problems

Beyond the works teams, the World Cup Rally attracted a broad cast of personalities as private entries, including the Argentinian SAFRAR team driving Peugeots and even a Trident Venturer.

One of the more colourful characters was Bobby Buchanan-Michaelson, a London playboy who was also chairman of a powerboat association.

Buchanan-Michaelson secured himself a works Triumph 2.5 PI for the event, as well as a British Leyland works driver, Roy Fidler, as co-pilot.

Unfortunately, car number one only managed to compete in the European section, being forced to a stop in Italy when a spring pushed through on the rear suspension, then a fuel-injection problem proved too complex to solve on-stage.

David Pearson has owned the saloon for 13 years and has restored it, although the Triumph has only covered 16,000km from new.

“I’m old enough to have been at school when the rally was happening, doodling 2.5 PIs on my workbooks,” says Pearson, “so this was a real find.”

When he bought the car it had been left outside for years and vandalised, though Pearson stresses that it wasn’t as bad as it looked, with only the roof panel needing replacement.

Flanked by Pearson’s Triumph and the recently rediscovered Paddy Hopkirk car (as featured in C&SC’s Lost & found, April 2021) is another PI he’s helping to restore with owner Bill Bradley.

One of the earliest works cars, it was used for suspension testing and driven by all the aces.

It appeared on BL posters and the cover of the World Cup Rally programme.

Images: Max Edleston


Saab 96 Sport: Swede dreams

10 top rally car flops

Something Special: the quirky world of low-volume British classics