World Ral­ly­cross racer Steve Har­ris re­veals a bizarre col­lec­tion of all­ter­rain war­riors, in­clud­ing a wild Ford RS200 Evo­lu­tion

Ral­ly­ist Steve Har­ris has amassed his cars by chance and ac­ci­dent – all are well-ac­quainted with the rough stuff, from World Ral­ly­cross are­nas to re­mote moun­tain­sides

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words SAM DAW­SON Pho­tog­ra­phy DEAN SMITH

‘It turned out af­ter a few drinks I’d bought three EXWRC Minis, driven by Kris Meeke and Guy Wilkes’

Steve Har­ris has both cars and col­lect­ing in his genes, al­though oddly enough they’ve con­verged later in life. ‘Dad started it, he was a bit of a hoarder,’ he says as he wan­ders around the out­build­ings sur­round­ing his Es­sex farm­house. ‘But for him it was mo­tor­bikes. He built up a pri­vate mu­seum of mo­tor­cy­cling in a pool­house-type build­ing in the back gar­den.’ And yet it was cars that made Steve’s fa­ther Ken’s for­tune and paid for those bikes.

‘He in­vented those hor­i­zon­tally-slat­ted rear­win­dow lou­vres peo­ple fit­ted to cars in the Seven­ties and Eight­ies, and founded Auto-plas to make and sell them.’

Win­dow lou­vres were soon joined by a range of stylish wheel trims, bolt-on boot spoil­ers, fog­light-in­set ra­di­a­tor grilles and any other Eight­ies boy-racer add-on you could care to men­tion. Steve saw the mo­bile-bill­board po­ten­tial in ral­ly­ing to pro­mote the busi­ness, and a new ca­reer be­gan.

Nowa­days, Steve’s busi­nesses in­clude ral­ly­cross prepa­ra­tion busi­ness SH Rac­ing, and you can see him in ac­tion be­hind the wheel of a Citroën DS3 in the Bri­tish and World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onships. But as garage doors start creak­ing open, it’s soon clear that he has a taste for all man­ner of ma­chin­ery.

Saab 96 V4

‘This was my first-ever car,’ says Steve of the dust-cov­ered Saab 96, tucked away in the side of a garage next to a chicken coop, cur­rently be­ing used as a shelf for Steve’s son’s kart­ing tro­phies. ‘My dad saw it for sale, thought it was good value, bought it and gave it to me. I think my re­sponse was along the lines of, “Re­ally, dad?” It was the Seven­ties, and all my mates had Es­cort Mkis. Saabs like this were not very cool. But his at­ti­tude was, “You’ll have it and you’ll like it.” In ret­ro­spect, I’m grate­ful to him for that.

‘It was ac­tu­ally a great car. It took me ev­ery­where – all the way to Scot­land once. Cru­cially, it was the first car I took ral­ly­ing. My first-ever rally was the Ket­ter­ing Stages near Southend – I thought I’d need a spe­cially-pre­pared car with a roll cage, but my Es­cort-own­ing mates said, “No, come along, you can en­ter in any­thing.”

‘As you might ex­pect, it didn’t do very well. It was com­pletely stan­dard, up against mod­i­fied Rs-spec Es­corts and the like. I only ral­lied it twice, but it started some­thing. I was hooked.

Af­ter that rally, I re­placed it with a Group 4 Es­cort MKII, then a Group B MG Metro 6R4, then a Group A Skoda Fa­vorit, be­fore go­ing into ral­ly­cross. But I kept the Saab and it’s been sat here ever since. One day I’d like to re­store it and pre­pare it for historic ral­ly­ing – it’d fi­nally be com­pet­i­tive!’

Tra­bant 601S

‘We did a lot of busi­ness with Skoda in the Eight­ies,’ says Steve, as he moves house-clear­ance de­tri­tus out of the cor­ner be­hind the Saab to re­veal the rear of a Six­ties Tra­bant. ‘You may re­mem­ber things like Estelles and Rapids avail­able with all the kit – fog­light grilles, win­dow lou­vres, spoil­ers, of­ten colour-coded – well, it was all Auto-plas, avail­able from deal­ers as op­tional ex­tras.

‘I was 29 when dad and I went to the Skoda fac­tory in thenczechoslo­vakia to do the deal. The Skoda guy asked if we’d ac­cept a cou­ple of cars as part of the deal; he’d bought some clas­sics and his wife didn’t like them – a Rus­sian mil­i­tary jeep and this Tra­bant. We agreed, and brought them over. We sold the Rus­sian jeep to EON Pro­duc­tions to fea­ture in Bond films, and the Tra­bant came here. I’ve only ever driven it once – to the lo­cal clas­sic car show and back. I just can’t get along with its two-stroke engine.’

Mini Coun­try­man

Steve has three Mini Coun­try­mans, in var­i­ous states of con­ver­sion from orig­i­nal World Rally Cham­pi­onship to ral­ly­cross spec. ‘I went to South Africa for a round of the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship last year, and ended up hav­ing a few drinks with WRX racer Liam Doran,’ says Steve. ‘At some point in the evening he said, “Why don’t you buy th­ese cars from JR Mo­tor­sports?” When I woke up the next morn­ing, I got a call from Liam say­ing, “Now what about th­ese Minis? Don’t you re­mem­ber? You shook the guy’s hand!” It turned out I’d bought all three ex-world Rally Cham­pi­onship Minis, as driven by Kris Meeke and Guy Wilkes.

‘Pro­drive built them for JRM around the 1.6-litre rules, and JRM had tried to re-engi­neer them to take 2.0-litre en­gines but couldn’t get them to fit and gave up on them. Liam had en­tered them in ral­ly­cross and, de­spite be­ing un­der­en­dowed with the 1.6-litre engine, even won a round in Ger­many be­cause it was rain­ing. I’m fin­ish­ing the project JRM started, ma­chin­ing them to take a 2.0-litre engine and a gear­box that’ll han­dle it. Then I’ll prob­a­bly sell two and keep one for my­self, per­haps the ex-meeke car.’

Chevrolet SSR

‘Be­lieve it or not, I bought this from Vin­tage & Pres­tige,’ says Steve of his Chevrolet SSR, the car he drives most of­ten. The Grays-based deal­er­ship is best known for ex­quis­ite vin­tage Rolls-royces.

‘I was sur­prised when I saw the ad­vert, so I went down to have a look. I spoke to one of the sales­men, who said he’d bought two of the things but, “The boss hates them and I’ve got to sell them quick – I’m in trou­ble other­wise!” He wanted £28k. I said I had £20k in my pocket and would drive it away, no war­ranty, in­spec­tion or valet­ing, I just wanted the car. So he shook on it.

‘Chevrolet only made 25,000 of them. It’s got an LS2 V8 from a Corvette, and this one had a su­per­charger fit­ted by its sup­ply­ing deal­er­ship in Amer­ica. I kept it at my place in Spain for a while. It’s great – a con­vert­ible mus­cle car that’s faster than a Corvette, and per­fect for sum­mer cruis­ing.’

Ford RS200 Evo­lu­tion

Steve presses a but­ton on a hand­held re­mote con­trol, and a roller­shut­ter door whirrs up­wards, re­veal­ing an or­di­nary-look­ing work­shop garage with an ex­tra­or­di­nary oc­cu­pant – a ral­ly­cross Ford RS200 with a rear wing higher than its roof.

‘I’d al­ways wanted a Ford RS200, and Pat Doran – RS200 spe­cial­ist, Ly­d­den Hill owner and Liam’s fa­ther – said, “Well, I’ve got an Evo chas­sis, if you can find an engine, we can build one.” My search for an engine led me to a col­lec­tor called Richard Lee.

‘This was in Richard’s car col­lec­tion in Lon­don,’ Steve says of the pride of his fleet. ‘It was just sat there, un­fin­ished, un­used since new, fin­ished in a dodgy Porsche-tribute metal flake sil­ver with Mar­tini-style stripes. I was only in­ter­ested in the engine, but Richard said, “I’ll only sell the whole thing.” I’d been look­ing for that engine for ages, so I said, “OK, I’ll have it.”

‘Richard had wanted to make it an ex­treme road car, but gave up. Most parts were still in their orig­i­nal boxes, or with build sheets still taped to them. Pat and I had to source sus­pen­sion up­rights, hubs and wheels and a roll cage, but other­wise it was like build­ing a kit car. It’s taken two years, but I’ve run it at Ly­d­den Hill, Sil­ver­stone and Good­wood now and I ab­so­lutely love it.

‘The rear wing is un­usual. It’s in­spired by the one on Mark Ren­ni­son’s RS200 Evo, which went to a Prince’s son in the UAE, then to the USA and dis­ap­peared. No one’s seen it since. When I dis­played it at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed, Guy Martin took a photo of it and texted it to WRX driver Mark Ren­ni­son – now he wants to drive it! We keep try­ing to get Guy into a ral­ly­cross car ac­tu­ally, so it’s a promis­ing sign.’

Carmichael Range Rover

We en­ter the largest of Steve’s build­ings, a vast ware­house which func­tions both as the head­quar­ters and work­shop of SH Rac­ing and a huge fil­ing cabi­net for stor­ing all man­ner of au­to­mo­bilia, from un­used Auto-plas prod­ucts to un­usual mo­tor­cy­cles in­clud­ing a su­per­bike-in­spired quad­bike and a fold­ing mo­tor­bike built for the SAS in the Seven­ties. Dom­i­nat­ing an an­te­room is an enor­mous six-wheeled Range Rover, fin­ished in a very Seven­ties cus­tom-car shade of metal­lic blue.

‘Dad bought this, straight off Carmichael’s stand at the 1978 Earls Court Mo­tor Show,’ said Steve. ‘It was built for an Ara­bian prince, who never col­lected it. Dad paid £21,000 for it – a lot of money in those days – but got a lot of use out of it over the years.

‘It worked as a pro­mo­tional ve­hi­cle, at­tract­ing a lot of at­ten­tion for the busi­ness, but it was also prac­ti­cal. Dad and I would sit up front, we could seat two car com­pany bosses in com­fort in the rear, and still have enough room in the back to carry moulds and sam­ples so we could mea­sure a car up for ac­ces­sories there and then. We took it on some long trips, to Ger­many es­pe­cially. It needed an­other oil-cooler be­cause it only had a stan­dard 3.5-litre Rover V8, which could get quite stressed pulling the fire-ten­der-de­rived chas­sis. I want to re­store it as soon as pos­si­ble. It re­ally de­serves it.’

Au­to­mo­bilia – re­flect­ing on ral­ly­ing

Be­fore turn­ing his at­ten­tion to ral­ly­cross, Steve con­tested the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship, en­joy­ing suc­cess to­wards the end of the Group B era in his MG Metro 6R4. He keeps an ex­ten­sive scrap­book chart­ing his time in the lime­light.

‘I was ral­ly­ing the Es­cort MKII when the 6R4 came out. They were £44,000, but I said to my dad, “Come on, it’d be good for ad­ver­tis­ing!” Amaz­ingly, he gave me a cheque. I went up to the MG stand at the NEC with the cheque, and the man said, “We’ve al­tered the price...” – my heart sank – “to £17,000 plus VAT, be­cause we’re not of­fer­ing spon­sor­ship pack­ages any more.’ I thought in that case I’ll have two! But dad said no.

‘We went to col­lect the car from Cow­ley, where all the cars were lined up. Dad said, “Don’t get one from the mid­dle – they’ll be un­sorted, just mak­ing up the num­bers.” He was right – on some of those cars noth­ing had been ma­chined prop­erly.

‘The Metro sported Auto-plas spon­sor­ship and rear screen lou­vres. We got loads of pub­lic­ity when we got in­volved in the 6R4 race sup­port­ing the 1988 Birm­ing­ham Su­per­prix, when the cam­era­man got con­fused and fo­cused on me all the way through the race, think­ing I’d pulled out a mas­sive lead. In re­al­ity I’d spun off early on in the race and was a back­marker by that point. Even Tony Jar­dine, in his com­men­tary, seemed to think I was lead­ing!

‘I had an ap­pren­tice mechanic back then who asked me for a drive in the 6R4. He took it for a spin round the woods and was rather good at han­dling it. Af­ter that, he bor­rowed a MKII Es­cort from a friend of mine and won his first-ever race. The mechanic’s name was Richard Burns – you might have heard of him… ‘My last rally car was a Group A Skoda Fa­vorit. We fit­ted it with our Skoda ac­ces­sories – win­dow lou­vres, spot­light grille, bon­net power bulge, bodykit – only to find our­selves of­ten dis­qual­i­fied be­cause they weren’t stan­dard equip­ment, even though they made no dif­fer­ence to power out­put or han­dling.’

The Keeper

Steve thinks for a mo­ment, look­ing in the Carmichael Range Rover’s di­rec­tion be­fore chang­ing his mind. ‘I know I’ve only bought it re­cently, but it’s got to be the RS200,’ he says. ‘It’s not a car I ever thought I’d own, but it’s turned out to be so nice to drive, con­trary to what all the Ford peo­ple have told me over the years. ‘It’s an ab­so­lute plea­sure.’

Saab 96 was his first car. It did a cou­ple of ral­lies and has been laid up ever since

RS200 was found in boxes

Steve went to buy the engine but ended up with a whole RS200

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