An eclectic mix of cars gathered at the Holiday Inn HQ Hotel in Taunton as a healthy 84 cars prepared for the final of the three HERO Challenges to take them on a competitive but scenic journey through Somerset and Devon.
Amongst them, sandwiched between two Porsche 911’s is a 1966 MG 1300 of seasoned and experienced rallyists Doug Dawe and Ernie Waldron who have been rallying in Belgium amongst other countries. MG enthusiast Doug’s son has also been driving the car as well but as the duo weighed up the opposition they acknowledged that it would be tough for them with so many competitive cars entered.
Included in that list of tough opposition is one of the rally favourites making a welcome return to the driving seat, Dave Smith of Maulden Garage, the man normally responsible for the technical assistance crews. He is in a Vauxhall Nova with Jo Johnson navigating, the wife of navigator and driver Pete Johnson who is back in the hot seat alongside John Lomas in the Riley Sprite, a car that will also be vying for victory, but in Class 2 for pre 1950 cars.
Dave and Jo are in Class 9 for up to 2200cc cars. Dave Smith who is normally in the Sweeper vehicle seemed pleased at the prospect of being behind a rally car steering wheel again instead of the 4×4 ‘fix all’ wagon; “ I’m happily giving that a rest this weekend and going rallying again! The Nova has been sitting in the corner of the workshop for the last two to three years but slowly I got round to building it, and now it’s finished!”
Asked if he thought with his strong competition record he could be considered the ‘dark horse’ of the event he said; “Not me! You must be getting me confused with someone else.” And on his navigator Jo; “Jo is not a bad navigator, in fact she is good, I’d say she is better than Peter at times, but we don’t really care, we are just out to have a great day of fun!”
Another interesting car and crew is the unfashionable for rallying Austin A40 Farina of Chris Mockridge and John Varney. Chris; “The car was a wreck, it was found in a green house and has been totally rebuilt since! We’ve done a couple of Monte Carlo Historiques in the A40 and it surprises people, but this is our first HERO event, so we are looking forward to it.”
John; “Our background is very much from road rallying, Motoring News rounds but in particular a lot of rallying in the South West. The car is good, it really handles well so we are hoping the A40 will go well here.”
Also spotted arriving was the 1959 Sunbeam Rapier of John and Lynn Ireson then the fantastic 1971 Triumph Stag of Mike and Helen Tanswell which was seen making its way from scrutineering with its hood down, Mike optimistic about the weather for rally day on Saturday.
In a little bit of trouble is Bentley ace Stuart Anderson who arrived here in his Le Jog gold medal winning 1937 Bentley Derby when he is hoping to be navigated by his daughter Emily, also a gold medal winner. But Stuart was walking rather slowly and his challenge will depend on how he gets on in the early part of the event; “ I have done my back in so I’m really under the physio at the moment, the first test was to see if I could get out of the car when I arrived here. We will just have to see how I get on tomorrow, I am hoping that the roads are not too rough!”
From the 8.30 am start at the Holiday Inn HQ in Taunton, cars will make their way to the first regularity called ‘Britty Common’ which Clerk of the Course George Mullins described as a ‘simple affair.’ Hopefully any nerves will be settled in time for the first test at Smeatharpe Airfield the scene for the start of many air battles and launch of the US 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in 1944 for D-Day.
This time the battle will be on the ground with no guns or artillery involved. Let the historic automobile battle begin!
Photos by Will Broadhead