A CUP OF TEA WITH
Maxi rally ace Bron Burrell
It was so close. Had it not been for a servicing delay, the Maxi of Burrell, Ozanne and Kerridge-reynolds could have made it all the way to Mexico. Now Bron plans to finish the job with the same car.
Q What led you to motorsport in the first place?
I was into horses, so I had to learn to drive the horse boxes. But when I went to secretarial college, aged about 18 or 19, I found out there was a racing school at Brands Hatch. So I went trundling along there in my mother’s car, a Hillman Minx estate, and told them I wanted to drive single-seaters. One day, along came Jim Clark and Graham Hill, and I asked Jim if he’d drive me around the circuit and show me the right lines. So he took me around in a Lotus Cortina. I sat there watching him – nice, smooth, quiet driving, but it didn’t feel that quick, no squealing tyres. Afterwards, I asked him if he’d take me around really fast. He told me to go and ask the guys what time he’d done. Turned out he’d unofficially broken the model lap record by nearly a second. What a lesson that was!
Q And after circuit racing came rallying…
I had a bad accident. So it was suggested rallying might be safer and less expensive. I bought an Austin-healey 3000, but nobody told me you needed a sump shield – and on my first rough stage, I tore off the sump. I then bought a Hillman Imp instead, and did the RAC in 1968. Pat Smith rolled her car, Rosemary Smith crashed into a tree and was gone. I was the only lady, with a female navigator, left running. All we had to do was get back to London to win the ladies’ prize and fame and fortune forever. Then in one of the big Yorkshire forests, the throttle cable broke. We got that fixed, but then the head gasket went, and we were out.
Q What led to the 1970 World Cup Rally from London to Mexico?
I got to know Peter Cooper of the RAC Competitions Department and he told me about Tish Ozanne, who wanted to get an all-female team up. She had a Maxi, an ex-demonstrator, one of the first 500 built. Then she got Tina Kerridge-reynolds. Our sponsorship included C&A, the clothing store chain, so we all had matching dresses.
Q How did the Maxi end up being christened Puff the Magic Wagon?
It was partly due to the song (Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary) but also due to a photoshoot when she was first ready. We took her into a field, and were trying to jump ditches for the photographer. All we did though was bury her – she only had the 1485cc engine, two wheels on the roof, a 30-gallon fuel tank and a sump shield that took two people to lift on and off. She weighed a ton without the power. ‘Gosh, we wish she had more puff,’ was our response. So she became Puff the Magic Wagon.
Q A Maxi probably isn’t the most obvious rally car…
There were four on the event, Including one driven by Prince Michael of Kent. He was our team-mate. We were supported by British Leyland and we had the use of their agents on the route. However, we were right at the bottom of their service list. So all the Triumph PIS would come in, and we’d get shoved towards the back of the queue. That was probably our undoing.
Q Another option from BL Special Tuning for the rally was guns, I believe?
Yes, we were offered them. There were areas that were suspect. At one BL Special Tuning meeting, all the teams were given the option, for their protection. I looked at Tish and Tina and asked, do you really think we need guns? We might end up killing each other. And we never did need them, as it turned out. People were so amazingly kind. I remember, we got to Titograd in Yugoslavia (modern-day Podgorica in Montenegro) and all these children appeared out of nowhere, ripping stickers off the car as mementos. The absolute frenzy of it all. Then, when we got to Budapest, we didn’t have any food. But we were running behind a Moskvitch. They very kindly shared their sandwiches with us. We found out later they were all KGB.
Q The London-mexico rally started at Wembley and covered many stages across Europe. At Lisbon, you were lying 35th. That earned your Maxi a place on the ship to Rio.
Only 70 cars could fit on the boat. They knew that the European section would get rid of the holidaymakers. Some even dropped out before Dover. We flew out to Rio with car parts in our luggage. I was sitting next to Paddy Hopkirk on the jet. That was very entertaining; he introduced me to Martini cocktails. When we landed in Rio, there were huge crowds all cheering. I thought they were there to greet us. They weren’t. The national football team was flying off to Mexico for the soccer World Cup.
Q Ultimately, Puff didn’t make it to Mexico. What went wrong?
The car was running roughly by Argentina. We were 20th, but got delayed by servicing in Saladillo, just past Buenos Aires. Two hours late, we set off in pouring rain, at night. After about 150 miles, Tish slid the car off into a ditch. We couldn’t get Puff out. Eventually, along came a tow truck, which did get us out and we made it to the stage finish… but they’d shut it 20 minutes earlier. We were out of the rally. I’m afraid we sat and cried.
Q Post-rally, didn’t you became Miss Castrol?
Well, that was a very unofficial title. But I was in three advertisements for the oil company in 1970 – and sort of got the pin-up status from that.
Q You gave up rallying during the 1970s. How was the spark reignited?
Puff was rediscovered in a chicken shed in 1997. Searching on the internet one day, I saw she had gone up for auction and also noticed Tina had given a talk at a motor club. We’d lost touch and Tish had died in 2009. So I emailed the club and asked to be put in touch with her. Turns out she’d been looking for me. We were reunited in 2013 at the Fenland Fair near Cambridge, where I also saw Puff again for the first time since 1970. I thought it was a shame she wasn’t rallying any more. I mentioned this to her then-owner In 2016, and he offered to sell her to me. I didn’t expect to have a rally car again – but I couldn’t say no, could I?
Q And you now have plans to return to Mexico with Puff in 2020?
It’s to finish the trip, really. We’ve taken Puff rallying and we’ve got more to come. But the big thing is Mission to Mexico 2020, being organised with Liz Wenman and her company Rally Round. We’re hoping to organise a rally that others can also come on. I’m lucky I had so much fun and I’ve got a second chance at it. I intend to grasp it with both hands; it won’t come around again.
ABOVE Bron became the unofficial Miss Castrol after a 1970 ad campaign.
ABOVE Bron aboard the Formula 3 BMC Speedwell, Brands Hatch 1964.
We thought we’d ask... Bron autographs our BMC special magazine.LEFT Bron with admirers – she received the PC Restoration Show Pride Of Ownership runners-up award.
ABOVE World Cup Maxi on the Serbian stage (then Yugoslavia).
ABOVE Puff’s back – Tish Ozanne and Bron are reunited with their Maxi.