A CUP OF TEA WITH

Maxi rally ace Bron Bur­rell

Practical Classics (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS RICHARD GUNN PHO­TOS RICHARD GUNN/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.

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