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How to go classic road rallying

in English


20 Feb 2010

Classic Cars

One of the great joys of classic road rallying is that you can compete using a 100 per cent standard car - if you're careful with maps and timings, there's no reason why you shouldn't do well because few events are composed only of the timed 'special tests' that best suit fast cars and experienced drivers.

A special licence isn’t always needed; if it is you can often sign up for a Motor Sports Association (MSA) clubman’s licence at the event. Apart from a warning triangle and first aid kit, the scrutineers will only need to make sure your car is roadworthy and contains nothing loose in the cabin or boot that could fly around and cause damage.

And with entry fees starting at less than £30, what are you waiting for?

What’s involved?

Despite its name, road rallying doesn’t take place exclusively on roads. A typical single-day or two-day event includes three disciplines: navigation, regularities and special tests.

For the first of these the navigator is given a route to plot, sometimes before the event but usually at the start and again at lunch. Using a 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map, navigators must guide their drivers along a specific route to a finish point. There’s usually a time limit, but as these events are held on open public roads it won’t be too quick – spotting the control points with numbers to write down is more of a challenge. Taking a wrong turn (‘wrong slotting’) means you might miss time target and route markers, which will incur in time penalties.

Regularities follow the same basic format as navigational sections, but route finding is easier and you have to maintain a tightly controlled average speed, arriving at control points at precisely the right time. You won’t have to drive fast, but the navigator needs to keep a close eye on the tripmeter (or the car’s odometer if you’re on a tight budget) to compare the distance travelled with the stopwatch. You can cross-refer this information to a set of speed tables to see how close you are to your target speed. The further off you are at control points, the more time penalties you’ll incur.

Regularity routes and directions from one special test to another are sometimes presented as a road book with Tulip symbols. These have nothing to do with flowers – they’re simple representations of junctions that were first used on the Tulip Rally in the Fifties.

Jogularities are a form of regularity that provide you with a list of landmarks and the timings you should hit when you arrive at them. This enables crews without tripmeters (but with a stopwatch or two) to compete with those whose cars do have them.

Special tests are held on private land, which might be anything from a slimy farmyard to the carriage drive of a stately home. It’s another test of your navigator to guide you through cones, .barn doors or farm gates in the correct order. You’ll need good driving skills as handbrake turns and rapid acceleration and deceleration on mixed surfaces usually feature. But while special tests are terrific fun, keeping a cool head and not going the wrong way are your top priorities.

How it’s organised?

Many rallies are organised by small motor clubs (look on the MSA website to find one near you) and may be stand-alone events, part of a club championship or part of a regional championship that includes events organised by several clubs. These are sometimes decided on an ‘index of performance’ basis, meaning you only have to do well in relation to your car’s expected abilities, which gives everyone a good chance.

At national level the Historic Rally Car Register’s Clubmans Rally Championship comprises several one-day events around England and Wales featuring a mix of the disciplines described above. These events tend to be more expensive to enter (but still often cost less than £100) and are usually more intense and competitive than local rallies.

The MSA divides historic rally cars into three age categories: Category 1 for cars made up to December 31, 1967; Category 2, 1968 to the end of 1974; and Category 3, 1975 to the end of 1981. Many events also include a category or separate award for pre-1960 cars. Classes within these categories are based on crews’ experience and sometimes engine size.

Drivers must be aged at least 17 (a full driving licence is an obvious requirement) but navigators can start from the age of 12, making parent-and-child crews popular. You can even take a pair of back-seat passengers. To find out more, go to the HRCR’s next open day at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, Warwickshire on January 16,2010.

Night rallies, 12-car events and scatters

Many motor clubs run 12-car rallies, which are shorter events often run on weekday evenings and limited to a dozen vehicles to keep the impact on other road users down. Navigational routes are usually between 75-100 miles and instructions are handed over just before you set off, so you have to ‘plot ‘n’ bash’ – decode the information, scribble it on to the map and get going. The HRCR has introduced an attractively simple and accessible form of 12-car rallying called the 100 Rally formula, with events taking place over an afternoon or evening and specifically aimed at beginners (

Navigational scatters are another popular pastime featuring a mixture of navigation and clue solving and with the emphasis on fun.

Much more challenging are night rallies – a throwback to the days before stage rallying, when a combination of fiendish navigational problems, tricky average speed requirements and all-night-driving fatigue produced some very challenging events. These days they can still feel like a step up from daytime road rallies.

A typical night event runs from llpm to about 6am. There may be a daytime leg too with special tests, which aren’t usually done at night. Your navigator’s map skills and timing need to be pretty sharp as everything gets trickier after dark – especially staying friends with your co-pilot. Like daytime road rallies, food and coffee is usually included. Licences are required (see ‘licences, safety kit and insurance’ section).

Choosing and preparing a car

If you have a classic and it was made before 1982the chances are it can compete, but there are a few points to consider. Cars made after 1967with more than four cylinders, more than two carburettor chokes, more than one camshaft per bank of cylinders or forced induction may need special dispensation. This isn’t usually a problem, but you may be excluded from some events.

Smaller, lighter cars tend to do better in classic road rallies as speed and agility makes up a lot of time on special tests. For this reason the Mini and MG Midget are popular choices, as are the Ford Anglia, Hillman Imp, Saab 96 and Ford Escort MkI and MkII. Lots of near equivalents can do just as well with a bit of skill: the Triumph TR2, 3 and 4, Spitfire and Dolomite, Hillman Avenger, Vauxhall Viva/ Magnum, Talbot Sunbeam, VolvoAmazon and 144, Renault 8, BMW ’02 family, MGB, Sunbeam Rapier, Opel Kadett and many others. But part of the fun of classic road rallying is giving drivers of more predictable rally machines a shock when you compete in a rare or apparently unsuitable car.

Although your first concern will be to find a car capable of reliably covering 100 or more tough miles in a day, you may soon start thinking of improvements. In order of priority these should be a sump guard, better brakes and tyres, more supportive seats and harnesses, better springs, bushes and dampers and – last of all – more power. Consult the MSA Competitors’ and Officials’ Yearbook (known as The Blue Book) before getting into even mild modifications of drive train, suspension, brakes or body shell – its guidance will stop you from making changes you’d be asked to reverse.

More important than any go-faster modifications is getting the correct kit for your navigator. You’ll want an accurate tripmeter if you develop a taste for regularities – £200 will cover the cost unless you’re tempted by a famous brand like Halda. Also consider average speed tables (£30), a pair of stopwatches (£20 or more each) a map light and/or illuminated map magnifier. Map romers (about £10) enable you to plot distances at a glance.

Licences, safety kit and insurance

To take part in many smaller events you’ll need to join the organising club, which works in-lieu of holding a licence. The next stage up is clubman-level events for which you’ll need an MSA clubman licence (£23 for 2010). Or you could move up further notch and get a Non-Race National Blicence (£37), which will cover you for clubman rallies and the higher-level National B events. Apply for one through the MSA website.

Mandatory safety equipment is usually limited to a warning triangle, first aid kit and possibly a tow rope. Afire extinguisher is also a good idea. Roll cages and crash helmets may be actively discouraged – you’re driving on public roads and are expected to stick to speed limits and the Highway Code, so stage rally-type preparations are inappropriate. Novice navigators should take travel sickness pills before the start of an event – map-reading while the car lurches down the lanes can be very unsettling.

Check each event’s regulations for insurance requirements. Most include it in some form, but make sure you’re not required to make your own arrangements. Some insurers can include road rally cover in classic car policies.

Endurance rallying

For enthusiasts with plenty of spare cash and determination the next step is taking your classic on long-distance endurance rallies. Many of the toughest, longest and most expensive of these events are overseas, recalling the days of the Liege-Home-Liege Rally, the Safari Rally or even the London to Sydney event. As well as costing tens of thousands of pounds to enter (covering accommodation and much else), these events require significant investment in a car, which needs to be capable of withstanding extraordinary abuse. These events are competitive, but for many of those taking part the adventure matters more than the result.

Some UK-based endurance events offer a chance to taste the format in a less expensively prepared car. LE JOG (Land’s End to John o’Groats), organised by the Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation (HERO), is the best known, combining navigation, regularity and special tests in a 1500-mile route tackled over three and a half days. The 2009 event ran in early December and cost £2250 per crew. The Rally of the Tests, organised by the Classic Rally Association (CRA) follows a similar format over a shorter distance, but with more emphasis on special tests. The cost in 2009 was £2150 per crew and it will be run again in November 2010.

HERO, CRA and other endurance rally organisers are private companies that are recognised as organising clubs by the MSA. This means the entry fee has to turn a profit, though in return you can expect good-quality accommodation, great test venues and faultless organisation to make the whole experience worthwhile.