The Car Rallying Days
The “Bultaco Corolla” rally car that Ken Cleghorn & I shared driving during our first year of rallying
Somewhere in these years we bought a “family car”, a Fiat 124 1608cc coupe, which just happened to be a popular circuit race class at the time. At this time I don’t have any records or photos of the car in action, but it was good & without any mods was very competitive.
Just fitted a roll bar to comply & Kerry Grant Motors gave it a rolling road dyno tune up & all go. It was front heavy & under-steered considerably, which I cured by running 80 to 90 pound front tyre pressures & 35 to 45 in the back, according to the circuit direction & corner shapes. Not the “done thing” nowadays but it worked well.
The Car Rallying Days, 1973-78
Ken Cleghorn and Tim shared the driving in this Corolla rally car during the 1973 rally season to get the feel of what we had both dreamed about while travelling in Europe. It was an up and down performance as the car had come from a previous rally team. The Corona pistons were milled to fit into an overbored Corolla block, making the piston tops thin in places, causing the incorrect spark plugs to burn holes in the pistons. Several engine out, replace pistons, replace engine again resulted until we realised the problem. But it was great fun and made us thirsty for more.
For the following season Ken bought an ex Team Toyota 1600cc “Levin”, while I built up a Mitsubishi 1600cc “Galant” which went well.
Our preparation work was made much easier with the help & cooperation of our long time friend & motorcycle builder/racer, Don Lowe, from Bunnythorpe Garage. Don’s fantastic skills in being able to locate remedy or repair any automotive work on the rally cars was never under estimated. He was & is an absolute gold mine when times get tough.
Obviously Don enjoyed the work as he would be on our service team at rallies more often than not, enjoying chasing us to events in my rally service Chrysler “Valiant” Ute. We were never sure that he could see well enough to make the manoeuvres he did or whether he figured if he kept our cars in sight it would be the best way to keep up.
Don frequently was our co-driver, more so with Ken, especially after Ken moved to his own Toyota “Levin”.
Once when Ken “erred a little” running out of road through a fence & over a large mound, my wife Joan asked him “Did you close your eyes when it all went wrong?” His grinning reply was typical “No I kept my eyes wide open in case I missed something!”
Two of Don Lowe’s creations – the Mono wheel & the world’s smallest motorcycle. Both ride-able but both able to remove lots of skin when crashed. Another creation was an enormous sidecar, powered by a VW Beetle engine sitting in a Don Lowe frame with enormous agricultural wheels. Here illustrated with some of Don’s family aboard. These photos were taken at Manfeild during the 1992 “Golden Handlebars”.
At the moment can’t find actual results for these 2 years of getting into rallying. Ken Cleghorn & I shared the driving in 1973, then in 1974 Ken bought an ex distributor prepared Toyota “Levin” 1600cc.
I think our first rally was near Christchurch perhaps Shell rally around Ashley Forest. Seem to think we finished 8th overall & shared driving.
The 1973 Heatway Rally which started in Christchurch, covered most of the South Island before crossing to the North Island to finish in Auckland, was probably the most adventurous & challenging rally we did.
A few of the adventures were >
1. Tim overshooting a corner going through a fence into a paddock, spinning round then driving out again through the same hole in the fence!
2. Through the night between Haast Pass & Franz Joseph Glacier, Tim slid straight on thick black ice ahead over a bank into a ditch almost on its side. We hacked out a path in the bank, attached the winch, when we heard another car sliding towards us in the same direction. Ken & I ran out of the way & slipped over on the ice! It was Hugh Armstrong’s Torana XU1 coming in nose first. We eventually got the Corolla out & on to the road arriving late for the next control.
1973 & 1974 Toyota Corolla 1300cc Rally Car. Purchased from Toyota NZ in supposedly rally condition, but it was not really anywhere near that, despite having been used the previous year by a Toyota NZ supported driver.
3. After crossing to the North Island at Masterton the engine was running badly. We stripped the motor & replaced burnt pistons (caused by overheated piston head from mods when shaping Corona pistons to fit the Corolla head shape, making the top too thin near the spark plug), & took off in a hurry to make up time. The Halda & speedo cable weren’t connected from the rush. Tim driving again, over a brow & the course turned sharp left, but we were going too fast ahead. The corner marshal had parked his car on the road, so swerved to miss that, but crashed into a row of parked spectator cars. Eventually stopped between 2 cars, having hit a Morris 1100 hard enough to break it half. Fortunately no injuries! The Morris 1100 was towed away by 2 tow trucks in 2 bits! We towed our car to Ruahine Panel Beaters in Palmerston North, stripped it down, Ken Davis straightening what he could, then made a list of parts, for Tim to go early to Toyota NZ parts at Johnsonville to get the necessary items. Returned to PN, everyone assembled the car & we rejoined the rally at that night at Napier for the last Division.
4. Ken then got fastest time of the rally through the BOP Stanley Road special stage! What was I doing during that stage? Braced across the backseat area, looking back & filming through the back window to get a good effect of what it looks like to be in a rally car!
More adventures to come as we remember!
1973 Heatway Rally after a new front guards & bonnet + sets of pistons. Probably Ken driving when he got fastest time overall in last Division on Stanley Road, while I was taking movie film out of the back window! Bonnet up & Tim contemplating yet another set of pistons!
June 1974 sometime. Pukekohe CC Maioro Rally - Ken 5th overall, Tim 15th.
June 29/30, 1974 – Rotorua CC Thermal Rally. Tim got lost for a while. Later lost 2nd gear with more gearbox noises so was DNF. Ken rolled the Levin & broke an axle – DNF
July 13, 1974 – 12 Hour Cantarally. Tim throttle cable adrift, then later changed a wheel. Ken & Tim penalized for not enough laps around muddy Kaiopoi Stock Car Track. We both finished but out of top 10. Yet to find the results.
July 28, 1974 – Auckland CC Maramarua Rally – Can’t find any results yet..
1973 Heatway Rally came to a grinding halt on Admiral’s Rd behind Eketahuna, when Tim “wrong slotted” through some parked cars. The Tim Gibbes Corolla was back in the event next afternoon after a 24 hour hasty rebuild by Ken Davis of Ruahine Panelbeaters and a team of helpers. The BMC 1100 went away in two bits! For the 1975 rally season I built up a Mitsubishi “Galant” 1600cc road car, fitting it with a factory “C” special cylinder head. We achieved some quite good results with this car & learned even more about car rallying. The bug was “catching”!
Safari Caledonian :
In late 1973 I heard about the New Caledonian Safari Rally from Ray Stone, team manager for Masport Escort at the time, & became the co-driver for a guy from Wellington driving a Mini, whose name I don’t remember. But let’s just call him “Fred”.
This was to become an experience! Fred was unknown in New Zealand as he hadn’t been rallying at the time, but obviously saving hard from his job as a printer in the Govt. Printing Office for his trip to New Caledonia. He sent his Mini Clubman prepared for the event to Noumea by ship & after a little work we had it released from Customs to do the final preparation for the big rally.
The Mini was a successful car on smooth NZ roads, but New Caledonia is different, the roads once outside of the capital vary from rough to very rough, but the rally roads could only be called extremely rough & demanding, so the low ground clearance would at best, be a handicap.
My first impression when Fred drove on the customary French speaking New Caledonia right hand side of the road from the port to the pub, announcing “this driving on the right hand side of the road is a piece of piss”! His workmates had warned him about the perils!
The Safari Caledonia route book didn’t have much detail to navigate through some isolated terrain!
Off we went on the rally, with me as his co-driver navigating best I could from the French language route book & explaining what the various intersections through one of the Southern nickel mine roads would look like. Holding up my fingers as well as explaining in words for example the next intersection would be to bear right at about 45 degrees from the main track which went straight ahead. Fred had a problem following the instructions & chose to drive half way between both tracks so we ended up on a heap of dirt or rocks, not once but several times, which of course meant getting out & digging, heaving & lifting the Mini back on the road!
Further on we were going down a very steep, narrow hairpin road where the mining trucks couldn’t turn, so they would forward down one section, then reverse down the next, then go forward again, until they got to the bottom. Fred was having difficulty with the sharp turns with a drop of several hundred feet if it went wrong with his maneuvering going from forward to reverse gears on each corner. So I tried to teach him how to handbrake (or “J-Turn”) turn to accomplish the turns better. That was not easy as he chose to put his foot hard on the brakes as well, making the car sledge straight ahead to get dangerously close to the edge!
Further along we came to a river ford where Fred thought it better to get out of the car & pick a line through by foot. Probably wise, but in a rally one is against the clock, so time lost become penalty points. Fred got out & walked through realizing some of the rocks would ground the Mini. But even worse he lost a contact lens from one eye, so couldn’t see much at all. We groped around in the river bed for a while & eventually found the contact lens! His spectacles had glasses about as thick as the bottom of a drink bottle!
After several other experiences of a like nature, with what were now becoming common occurrences we drove on through the night. Just as dawn was breaking, we were going along a narrow grassy track which had a big drop of fresh air on my side of the car, Several washouts made the track tricky. As we approached one fold in the hillside I noticed an even bigger washout on a sharp left corner. I explained to Fred that he’d need to keep the front of the car – his side – very close to hillside as there would be no room for error. Sure enough my advice wasn’t heeded, he turned early & the car lurched as the left side rear wheel dropped into the washout, lifting the front right drive wheel off the ground, preventing any drive at all.
Fred “knew” the problem, the drive shaft must have broken! It took me quite a while to explain to Fred that my side of the car was balancing on fresh air, & that he’d need to get out of the car very carefully, holding the car from toppling over with his drivers side door, then continue to hold tight while I slowly maneuvered my way across the front bucket seats to get out on the right side as well. Any false move would see the car & probably me toppling over the edge into a vacuum of nothingness! Still bewildered Fred fortunately did as I asked, & eventually, with the help of a following car, were able to get the car out of danger! Phew!
By this time we had got so many hours behind rally time that the time controls were closed & gone. So our only alternative was return to Noumea & safety.
To complete my adventure around this beautiful Pacific Island country, Robin Curtis from “Motor Action” & I hired a Renault car, when we were able to drive along some of the rally roads, visit many highlights & cross the swift flowing rivers on the very basic primitive ferry punts.
I returned the following year as co-driver with Brian Andrews who had entered a Fiat 127 in the event. His team of mechanics had “prepared” the car in New Zealand before it left, but on examining it on arrival in New Caledonia I realized that a great deal more preparation was necessary, so we were able to take it to the local Fiat agents garage, where we worked hard for a couple of days before the rally.
Eventually we started, but it wasn’t to be for long, as in the first long stage it all came to a grinding halt. The engine mounts had broken on the rough terrain, so further forward progress was out of the question.
The “Caledonian Safari” is till running to this day, with a great deal of enthusiasm coming from the local organizers to make a good competition. In fact it’s just amazing to see the enthusiasm for all sports that this small & isolated country has.
The pay back for me from these visits was that I met some local motorcycle enthusiasts who made me very welcome. I was able to teach the riders about trials & MX as well as borrow a bike for MX races while there. Then the club paid my fare to re-visit later to do more training which was good for me too.
Tim on a 325 Bultaco training trials schools in New Caledonia.
Their enthusiasm was fantastic & I’ve been able to keep in contact with some of them since, especially Mimi Berthomier & his wife Marilyn, who have also visited NZ for MX, BMX & snow skiing.
Mimi Berthomier still rides very quickly in New Caledonian Super Motard
1975 Results in Mitsubishi “Galant” 1600cc with factory C1-B cylinder head conversion & high compression pistons >
March 29th – Northland Easter Rally – 45th Overall, 5th in class. Too close to the edge on a corner. Winched it back nearly to the road when the winch cable pulled off the winch letting the driverless car career down a steep bank between the trees. We had to cut one tree down to get the car out again!
April 26th – Anzac Rally Hawke’s Bay. 10th overall 4th in class.
May 3-4 R1 Marlborough Rally Series, Christchurch. C1-B Cylinder head fitted. 17th overall, 2nd in class.
May 10-11 R2 Marlborough Rally Series, Oamaru. High Compression pistons now fitted. Flat tyre during rally. 17th Overall, 3rd in class.
May 29th – Lions Super Rally, Masterton. Drowned motor in river. 5th Overall, 5th in class
June 7th – Tokoroa Club Rally. 3rd overall, 1st in class.
June 8th – Pukekohe CC Waiuku Rally. 5th Overall, 2nd in class.
July 6-12 – Heatway Rally, North Island. Ran big ends in 1st Division. Replace big ends & crankshaft during 2nd Division. Slipped on side on peep-o-Day. 10th Consolation Class
August 10th – Rally Cross, Manfeild using Std Tyres. Very muddy. 4 wins & 1st overall
August 30/31 – R3 Marlborough Rally Series, Masterton. Oil filter unscrewed, lost oil but found a tin of oil near a parked bulldozer. Delay 18 minutes. Changed wheel later. 30th Overall, 6th in class.
September 6th – Reid Rubber Rally, Tokoroa. 9th overall, 2nd in class.
September 7th – Rally Cross, Manfeild. 1st Semi & 1st Overall final.
September 27/28 – R4 Marlborough Rally Series – North of N.I. 12th overall, 2nd in class
Marlborough Rally Series Final Position 2nd in class – 1300-1600cc.
October 6th – Rotorua CC Whaka Forest Rally. Joan Co-driver. 6th Overall, 2nd in class.
October 12th – Manawatu CC. Kiwitea Auto Cross. 3rd Overall, 2nd in class.
November 2nd – Hutt Valley CC, Waiouru Rally. Joan Co-driver. 7th Overall, 3rd in class. Ken 2nd Overall, 1st in class in Toyota Levin.
August 4th, 1976 – Manawatu CC. Autocross @ Kiwitea. 2nd Overall. Still owned car.
Manfeild Rally Cross with the Galant