Out Of Puff

Tish Ozanne contacted me in October 1969 to see if I would be interested in the next ‘London-Sydney’ style rally – but this time to Mexico in time for the start of the World Cup football event to be held in Mexico City in June. Of course, I was thrilled, having missed the first big event.  

Tish was already a very experienced driver, having won numerous international rallies and competed in the Monte Carlo on several occasions.  

I first met Tish and our third driver, Tina Kerridge, at Marshall’s in Cambridge. They were preparing the car for Tish, a privateer, but under the aegis of British Leyland. Most of the work was done by Peter Baldwin, who was always so kind and pleasant to us, and so skilled in what he did. At least he was able to explain what he was doing in words we could understand.

Tish had connections with a fashion house called Jean Allen – so we were given white, flared cat suits (all the rage in the 70’s). Then we visited C & A, and ended up with green mini dresses and red quilted jackets – very stylish for the times.

Tish and Tina visited the Navy to check their abilities at altitude in its pressurised tank, but I couldn’t get away for this. Apparently, very interesting results.

Next was a photo opportunity. We posed around the car in the cat suits, and tried a driving test. The car behaved like a pig: so underpowered for the weight it had to carry – two spare tyres; loads of spare parts and a huge 20-gallon rubber fuel tank. No room for the clothes we took – and paper knickers, (as we couldn’t do any washing during the rally) – they had to be piled on the spare back seat, amongst some food, drinks and more spares.

The morning of the start, Sunday 19 April, dawned bright and sunny. 

My partner Rob brought some champagne to send us off and we gathered round the car in the Wembley park ferme toasting a good trip. Sir Alf Ramsey flagged us off the ramp, and we slowly drove from that amazing old stadium into the big adventure.  

The run to Dover, with people waving us on, was quite exciting. After a fairly uneventful ferry crossing, we reached Boulogne where at 6pm the rally restarted. 

The European leg of the rally was a mix of very long drives, through twisting mountain roads, usually arriving after dark, grabbing a little sleep where possible, then on for the next section. 

On our way from Sofia to Titograd, we were stopped by the police for speeding and had to pay the bribe (sorry, fine) in cash on the spot. Then at the border with Yugoslavia, it was decided that my visa was not valid and I had to pay another fine/bribe/fee for a new one.  

It was a long hard drive to Titograd, along a very rough road in places, lots of landslips and even snowy sections.

Our first speed test, or ‘prime’, came just north of Titograd – 50 miles in 65 minutes, over farm tracks and dirt roads. All I remember of this is the fact that it was an open road: Two-way traffic on a single-track road with, at the end, a series of hairpin bends looking out over the dramatic Adriatic coast. 

At the end of the prime, we caught up with our service crew – faithful, brilliant young men who had helped to prepare the car, and were now following us as best they could around Europe.

Prime 2 - 119 miles in 2hrs 50 mins, from Glamoc, through Sanski Most to Bosanka Krupa. The road map was very confusing, but we managed to make it to the end without much mishap.

We dashed on to Monza for a much-needed night’s rest, leaving the cars in parc ferme at the racetrack.  I think our mechanics, led by the redoubtable Peter B, were quite relieved, too. In the morning Tish took me out on the circuit for a time trial of some sort – most exciting, considering how slow the car was. 

We had taken to calling our car “Puff” – because it actually had no Puff at all and we needed a Magic Dragon to help us along!

From Monza we drove to Menton and then up into the mountains for the San Remo Prime - 72 miles in 2hrs. The usual hairy stuff – hairpins; huge drops; slippery surfaces; narrow and tiring; and many walls to be hit, but we went through the check at Col du Turini in bright sunshine (normally seen in deep snow during the Monte Carlo Rally).

The Alpine Prime, above Cannes – 67 miles in 90 mins was another twisting, tiring drive. Once this was over, we had a long drive through France to Spain – across mostly main roads.  

We crossed into Spain early on Friday morning, 24 April, traversing the north to Arganil for the Portugese Prime – 45 miles in 65 mins. Pitch dark; narrow tracks; not a soul anywhere. We were beginning to feel disorientated, but it was then a doddle into Lisbon and the docks.

On 25 April the cars were loaded onto the SS Derwent and left for the 14-day trip to Rio. A lot of crews went back to England but Tish, Tina and I stayed in Lisbon, playing football with the Russians on the beach. 

Five days later, we boarded a plane with the other crews (all heavily weighed down with spare parts) for a flight to Rio. We arrived in Rio early Thursday evening and were taken to the Hotel Gloria, on Gloria beach, where we were to stay until the cars arrived.

I remember encouraging the Russian drivers to a game of water polo in the hotel pool, which involved them trying to drown me. We went to the movies, but when we left the cinema we were told to avoid a man bleeding in the gutter, because he had been stabbed and you “don’t get involved here”. A strange, violent place.  

After eight days, the cars arrived and, in the late afternoon on 8 May, the rally re-started. 

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The BMC Experience Issue 16. Jan-Mar 2016 Magazine

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