can stay in business so long as you keep on winning events that will give us
worthwhile publicity. And don´t spend too much money“. That was Lord Stokes´
brief to me not long after the Leyland manager during a frustrating period of
uncertainty about the future of the Competitions Department at Abingdon. Mind
you, to keep on winning was a tall order with the model range available to us at
last full season of rallying with the Mini in 1968, it had been a luckless year.
Technically, the car was being stretched to the point of unreliability in an
effort to keep pace with the determined European opposition. The year also saw a
massive effort with the Austin 1800 team on the London to Sydney Marathon, when
we scored a disappointing second overall, and there were many traditional rally
critics who felt that we had spent our efforts in continuing Mini development,
we could have perhaps kept up with the op position for a couple more seasons.
1969 economics found the Abingdon team turn their hands to racing the Minis in
the British Saloon Car Championship which, despite the efforts of John Rhodes
and John Handley, brought little success against the Broadspeed Escorts.
sacked all our famous Finnish rally stars, our Mini rallying programme was
little more than a flag waving exercise for the benefit of Paddy Hopkirk, runner
up on the circuit of Ireland and the Scottish Rally – the latter event bringing
our only win of the year with Brian Culcheth in the 2.5 PI Triumph.
all efforts in the latter part of 1969 were concentrated on the development and
preparation of the Triumphs and Maxis for the London to Mexico Marathon, which
produced another heartbreaking second place when the team so desperately needed
went to Longbridge to explain yet another defeat, Lord Stokes made it very clear
to me that he was not happy with our results. Instant wins and some longer term
plan of attack were essential. Having claimed that I really could not do much
with the present model range, I was proudly shown by George Turnbull the
prototype range of Austin models – the Allegro and Marina – but I drove back to
Abingdon even more depressed!
Triumph, the ever enthusiastic Spen King showed me the new Dolomite which looked
promising but the potentially sporting Sprint version was clearly a couple of
we were aware that Syd Enever was playing around with V8 engined MGBs but these,
too, were nowhere near production.
for no other reason than to support the old saying that „there´s no substitute
for sheer horsepower“ we decided to investigate the potential of the newly
announced V8 version of the Rover 2000. We knew that with Traco or Repco
versions of the engine we could easily double the power output and, although the
car had a Rover reputation of a bit of a „gentlemen´s carriage“, one could
obviously reduce the weight enormously and hopefully improve the handling.
decided on a four stage programme. Firstly, we wanted to try a near standard car
in one of the popular televised rallycross events where we had enjoyed some
success with the Minis. The idea was to instantly evaluate the car and hope
that, if it gave a reasonable showing, there would be some immediate reawakering
of enthusiasm at Longbridge.
two was to build an out-and-out club racer so that we could evaluate the
ultimate tarmac performance of the racer.
three (if we were still in business) would be to use the knowledge gained from
the club car to build a proper works prototype for selected racing and rally
fourth, and more important, stage was then to persuade Leyland to back us by
building the necessary limited production run to qualify for Group 2
homologation. Thus, in the long term, we were pinning our hopes on the V8 Rover
„Special“ for survival through the 1970s.
cautiously went to Solihull to present our plans to the Rover Directors, it was
rather like asking the Queen Mother to come and open a Punk Rock Festival! A
Rover in competition would set completely the wrong image and this was one of
the few models in the Leyland range that did not need sales promotion anyway.
Certainly when we finally got round to the ultimate proposal to see a limited
production run of special equipment V8s (which I suggested could easily be sold
at a highly inflated price as exclusive executive models) I really began to
wonder why I had bothered to ask them in the first place.
I did find one ally at Rovers, Ralph Nash, their former Rally Manager who was
then working on the new Range Rover. Although Ralph, too, was then totally out
of touch with the sport, he was at least excited and interested that someone was
going to do something with a Rover. My trip to Solihull was not entirely wasted
as I came home the proud „owner“ of JXC 808D, a somewhat secondhand 2000 from
the Rover press fleet.
doing too much to the car we whisked it off to a rallycross meeting where it was
driven with great verve by Geoff Mabbs who could not resist placing a bowler
hat, furled umbrella and a copy of the Financial Times on the rear parcel shelf!
In virtually standard 2000 form the Rover, thank God, did not disgrace herself
and one Rover Director actually phoned me on the Monday morning expressing mild
pleasure! Before Mabbs could get too enthusiastic, we started on Stage 2.
was vitally important and we realised that trying to build JXC 808D into a club
racer at Abingdon at that particular time would be fraught with problems. Rover
engineers would probably have a heart attack had they seen what we were doing
and, in any case, we did not exactly want the world and his wife to know about
decided to have the Stage 2 project carried out away from the works.
Competitions Departments often, in fact, find this an arrangement of great
convenience. If the project turns out to be a success you can claim all the
glory and immediately take the operation back under your own wing. If it´s a
failure you can tell the Board that, of course, it was nothing to do with you
and pretend that it never happened! It is a policy that every Competitions
Department has adopted to its advantage at sometime or another and, with great
respect to my former and present friends at Abingdon, I am sure that Leyland
themselves could never have handled the Jaguar racing project as Ralph Broad
did, and today´s racing Rovers would not be winning unless they were in the
hands of Dave Price Racing.
therefore, hand the Rover project over to the partnership of Roy Pierpoint,
former British Saloon Car Champion who had a lot of experience of running V8
engined machines, and master race car builder Bill Shaw. JXC 808D moved to
Pierpoint´s garage in Walton-on-Thames where it was set upon by two ex-Alan Mann
mechanics, Jim Morgan and Jim Rose.
was gutted and upon the standard chassis was built a new lightweight racing body
with flaved wings and wheel arches. The weight was reduced to around 950 kg.
Front suspension was modified with fabricated lower wishbones and PFTE bushes
were used throughout. Ventilated disc brakes were fitted front and rear and
10ins Minilite rims carried Dunlop racing tyres.
power unit, Pierpoint obtained a 4.3 litre Traco Oldsmobile engine from John
Coundley´s McLaren-Oldsmobile sports racing car. Using four Weber carburettors
the power output was 360 bhp at 6.800 rpm. Initially, the standard 2000 gearbox
was used (all that was available) mated to an E-type Jaguar differential. After
a run of gearbox failures, however, an American Muncey gearbox was used.
was ready for the opening of the 1970 club racing season and was entered for the
April Mallory Park Championship Meeting. Driven by Roy Pierpoint in front of a
large and expectant gathering of Rover Directors, the Rover devoured its first
2000 gearbox and retired! Better fortune came in its next race at Castle Combe
(with nobody there to see) when it won outright. In all, Pierpoint contested
some eight races, major success being victory in the 100 Mile Saloon Car Race at
growing confidence and enthusiasm we felt that it was time to move onto Stage 3.
Thus JXC 808D was sold to Alec Poole (not quite in its original race
specification) who raced it with some success in Irish club events.
plan was now to build from scratch a Group 6 prototype car, initially for racing
but with a view to homologation as a Group 2 rally car. Bill Shaw was again
commissioned to carry out most of the technical work although Abingdon put the
final touches to the body, presenting it in Leyland blue and white.
car was ready in time to be entered by the works for the 84 Marathon de la Route
at the Nurburgring in September, the event that had taken over from the classic
Spa-Sofia-Liege Rally. Abingdon had had a lot of experience in this new
„race-come-rally“ having won it outright with a MGB in 1966 and been runner-up
with a 1-litre Mini in the following year.
expect a completely untested car to complete 84 hours around the „Ring“ was
perhaps asking a bit much but we thought that there could not be a better event
to give us a direct comparison against the then current European works team, all
of whom entered.
only a handful of testing laps at Goodwood, the team set off for Germany under
the team management of Bill Price, my assistant, with Bill Shaw in attendance.
The three drivers were to be Clive Baker, Roger Enever and Roy Pierpoint.
Marathon was run over the combined north and south loops of the „Ring“ giving a
lap distance of some 19 miles. Practice for the Rover team was kept to the bare
minimum to preserve the car, one lap per driver. Apart from some concern with a
vibrating prop shaft, everything went well and the team were in high spirits
when Clive Baker took the start at 1:00am in the morning.
familiar with the „Ring“ will know that the 4.8 mile south loop returns to run
along the back of the pits before turning away onto the 14 mile northern loop.
All eyes and ears were thus anxious to see how the Rover was placed on that all
important southern loop. To everyone´s amazement Baker rumbled past the pits so
far in the lead that it was feared that there had been some sort of first lap
incident that had slowed the rest of the field. With the Rover already burbling
away onto the northern loop, the rest of the field eventually arrived with the
fancied works Porsches leading the pack!
Rover´s lead at the completion of the first lap was even larger, despite a
strict rev limit of 4.500 rpm. Bill Price´s only concern was that the car was
going too fast and that it would not be able to comply with the very important
regulation which said that you had to set an average speed during the 84th hour
the same as the first.
running to strict orders, the Rover ran faultlessly for 16 hours until the prop
shaft vibration, which had started again, began to cause concern and got so bad
that it was reluctantly decided to retire the car rather than risk further
damage or an accident. At that time the Rover had an amazing three lap lead (57
miles) over the rest of the field.
had made a truly sensational impression at the „Ring“, it was the talking point
at the circuit and, further afield, the European sporting press were full of
praise for its potential.
home, however, dark clouds had gathered over the Competitions Department at
Abingdon for, on the very eve of the Marathon, the Leyland management had
decreed that Competitions should be closed.
the all important Stage 4 of the Racing Rover project was never even considered.
Who knows what potential there could have been for the future? Valuable
experience was thrown away. Some years later, when Abingdon began to rally and
the race the Rover engine, work had to start all over again.