New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE - Pho­tos: Paul Smith Col­lec­tion

Ral­ly­ing in New Zealand is cel­e­brat­ing its 50th an­niver­sary in 2017. Over the last five decades, it has seen a driver — Hay­den Pad­don — win a round of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship (WRC), and sev­eral other drivers win in­ter­na­tional events and cham­pi­onships be­yond our shores.

But the sport had much more hum­ble be­gin­nings. Apart from mo­tor rac­ing, the early days of New Zealand’s mo­tor sport scene con­sisted of car tri­als and timed events de­signed to keep to the le­gal speed lim­its. Then, in the late ’60s, the in­flu­ence of Euro­pean ‘spe­cial-stage ral­ly­ing’ (ral­ly­ing on closed roads on which drivers could go as fast as pos­si­ble) started to take over. New Zealan­ders took to this new form of mo­tor sport like ducks to wa­ter. Our smooth, flow­ing gravel pub­lic roads, and the abun­dance of well-main­tained Gov­ern­ment for­est roads, saw the early days of ral­ly­ing quickly build to events that at­tracted up to 135 starters. speed-tim­ing prin­ci­ples, was the 1966 Rally of the Pines, or­ga­nized by the Hamilton Car Club. It is re­ported to have taken place near Taupo, the scene of many early car tri­als. The Auck­land Car Club also or­ga­nized a sim­i­lar type of speed event, in Au­gust 1966, called the ‘Mid­night Mad­ness Rally’. It ran through the night-time, us­ing back roads between Port Waikato and Huntly. Blair Robson won this event in a Mini.

The fol­low­ing year, on May 21, 1967, the Hamilton Car Club or­ga­nized the Rally of the Pines event again, held in the forests north of Taupo. The em­pha­sis was now more on driv­ing, with the 41 en­trants able to ex­pe­ri­ence speed and con­di­tions they would not nor­mally en­counter on pub­lic roads. Drivers in these early events made use of lit­tle more than road-go­ing cars. The 1967 event was won by Bill Purvis, in, of all things, a Ford-en­gined Mor­ris Mi­nor 1000. Drivers voted the event a re­sound­ing suc­cess, and word soon spread about this new test of man and ma­chine.

Sil­ver Fern Rally

The first true high-speed spe­cial-stage rally, us­ing closed roads, hap­pened in April of 1969. The Shell-spon­sored Sil­ver Fern Rally was or­ga­nized by the Wellington Car Club. Start­ing from Taupo, a to­tal of 32 com­peti­tors made their way through a se­ries of closed-road spe­cial stages, some up to 50km long, as they trav­elled north to Auck­land, and then south again to the fin­ish in Wellington. The event saw 22 fin­ish­ers, with the over­all win­ners be­ing Grady Thomp­son and Rick Rim­mer in their Holden Monaro V8. Other no­table names in the fin­ish­ing list were Paul Adams, Neil Johns, Jim Richards, and Colin Taylor. The South Is­land was the venue for the 1970 Sil­ver Fern Rally, again spon­sored by Shell. This time, the Can­ter­bury Car Club or­ga­nized the event, for which there were 67 starters. The 32-spe­cial-stage event cov­ered a to­tal of 740km and was won by Paul Adams and Don Fen­wick, driv­ing a BMW 2002Ti. Mike Mar­shall won more stages than any­body in a pur­pose-built 1600cc Anglia but fin­ished down the field. The me­dia were now be­gin­ning to take no­tice of ral­ly­ing, with ra­dio and tele­vi­sion closely fol­low­ing the event.

Heat­way In­ter­na­tional

In 1971, the Sil­ver Fern Rally be­came the ‘Heat­way In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Rally’, and the name change saw New Zealand achieve some in­ter­na­tional sta­tus. There were 15 en­tries from out­side New Zealand, and sev­eral lo­cal dealer sup­ported ‘man­u­fac­turer’ teams. The New Zealand Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion had a team of Minis, with their lead driver An­drew Cowan, while Todd Motors used Hill­man Avengers, and there were plenty of Fords, Sko­das, and Hold­ens. Aus­tralian

won more stages than any­body, but, due to a se­ries of mishaps, he fin­ished 48th.

In­creased pop­u­lar­ity

In these early days, there were few events other than the large Sil­ver Fern / Heat­way In­ter­na­tional. But, from 1974, this changed dra­mat­i­cally, and there were fix­tures held by many car clubs through­out the coun­try, with events like the Wai­tangi, Wood­hill For­est, Mara­marua For­est, Ngaumu For­est, Toko­roa, and Ro­torua ral­lies, in the North Is­land, as well as events in the South Is­land at Can­ter­bury, Otago, West­land, and South­land. Some of these con­tinue in sim­i­lar for­mats to­day. New Zealand’s largest in­ter­na­tional rally by far was held in 1973, the Heat­wayspon­sored event tak­ing in many night­time spe­cial stages and ex­ten­sively cov­er­ing both is­lands. The Wool­mark Ford team en­tered two ‘works’ Es­cort RS1600S. Hannu Mikkola / Jim Porter were pop­u­lar win­ners in one of the cars, with lo­cals Mike Mar­shall / Arthur Mcwatt sec­ond over­all. Mike had used his own right­hand-drive bodyshell but had trans­ferred the ‘works’ me­chan­i­cals from the sec­ond left-hand-drive car. In the event, Mikkola pulled away and won eas­ily, us­ing his con­sid­er­able Euro­pean ral­ly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Many drivers had learned from pre­vi­ous years about the need for faster bet­ter­pre­pared cars. So be­gan the se­ri­ous im­por­ta­tion of ‘ex-works’ and fac­tory-built cars, with three Ford AVOS built and Ford Es­cort RS 1600s also com­ing to New Zealand for the 1973 event. These cars were se­quen­tial in their reg­is­tra­tion num­bers: GK778 (Ge­orge Kut­tel), GK779 ( Jim Richards — Du­lux Ford Team) and GK780 (Blair Robson — Wool­mark Ford Team). It is in­ter­est­ing that the 780 plate num­ber later be­came a fea­ture of New Zealand Ral­ly­ing, with the

Dat­sun and Peu­geot, and Colin Mcrae, who com­pleted a hat trick aided by his mas­tery of the Motu stage in the east­ern Bay of Plenty in both Subaru Lega­cies and Im­prezas.

This era saw huge crowds fol­low­ing the world su­per­stars and the ef­forts of the top lo­cals, spear­headed by Pos­sum Bourne, who won three Asia-pa­cific ti­tles and nine Aus­tralian cham­pi­onships in his ca­reer.

Car­los Sainz won four times in four dif­fer­ent Toy­otas, while Sébastien Loeb man­aged a three-peat with Citroën. But the win­ningest driver in New Zealand has been Finn Mar­cus Grön­holm, who had five suc­cesses, three in the Peu­geot 206 and two driv­ing a Ford Fo­cus. He has the dis­tinc­tion of record­ing the nar­row­est WRC vic­tory in his­tory in 2007, when he beat Loeb by just 0.3 of a sec­ond, claim­ing the win on the fi­nal su­per stage around Hamilton’s Mys­tery Creek. New Zealand hasn’t hosted a round of the WRC since 2012, but stren­u­ous ef­forts are be­ing made to re­turn the event here in 2018.

Na­tional cham­pi­onship

Be­low this top rung, a healthy na­tional cham­pi­onship has pro­vided an­other step on the lad­der to fame. Rod Millen won the in­au­gu­ral ti­tle in 1975, his first of three cham­pi­onships, all in Mazda RX-3S, which made a great noise on any rally stage in the still of night.

Jim Don­ald won twice in an Es­cort RS1800, while Tony Tees­dale achieved the hat trick, first in an Es­cort; then a Nis­san 240RS; and, fi­nally, a Metro 6R4. Ford man Brian Stokes had two suc­cesses in the late ’80s, and, over the same pe­riod, Neil All­port also claimed three ti­tles, first in an RX-7 and then in Mazda 323 4WDS.

The flam­boy­ant Joe Mcan­drew won three times in the ’90s in a Subaru Legacy, while Ge­off Ar­gyle did it twice in Mit­subishi Lancers, the same mar­que Bruce Her­bert used for the first of his four ti­tles be­fore swap­ping to a Subaru Im­preza STI. In the last decade, Hay­den Pad­don has won three times, all with a Mit­subishi, while Richard Ma­son has been the most suc­cess­ful, claim­ing five cham­pi­onships with Subaru.

The na­tional cham­pi­onship has been un­der­pinned by re­gional events through­out the coun­try, the long­est run­ning be­ing the South Is­land’s Main­land Cham­pi­onship, where the sport is stronger at the mo­ment. In the North Is­land, the Top Half Rally Se­ries and the Cen­tral Re­gion Rally Se­ries have both gone into re­cess af­ter suc­cess­ful his­to­ries dat­ing back to the late ’ 70s.

It would ap­pear that the dif­fi­culty of ac­cess to venues and the higher cost of or­ga­niz­ing events in the North Is­land are hin­der­ing the sport’s fu­ture de­vel­op­ment north of the Cook Strait.

Two six-day-long 50th An­niver­sary Rally Tours have been or­ga­nized — one in the South Is­land, just be­fore the Otago Rally, and one in the north, leading up to the In­ter­na­tional Rally of Whangarei — both de­signed for for­mer and cur­rent com­peti­tors, their crews, and fans to drive some of the stages used in the in­ter­na­tional events. They are non-com­pet­i­tive events that will also pro­vide par­tic­i­pants with the op­por­tu­nity to see some of the coun­try’s great scenery, while rem­i­nisc­ing about the past.

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