We’re up with the gods today, halfway to the top of a Welsh mountain, and we’ve got some moody, blustery weather to suit. Luckily, we’ve also got an offering of which those gods should wholeheartedly approve – and, funnily enough, it’s come along at just the right time.
Fifty years ago this year, a momentous chapter opened in the history of British motorsport. In 1972, driving a potent little saloon that had already built up a tidy little international rallying pedigree, Roger Clark and Tony Mason became the first all-British driver and co-driver pairing to win the RAC Rally for more than a decade, and they did it in a British-made Mk1 Ford Escort RS1600.
They wrote their success on stages all over Britain, of course, but some were very close to where we are now in Snowdonia: Penmachno, Coed-y-Brenin and Clocaenog – names that bring visions of blurred trees, opposite lock and flying mud and gravel flooding back from somewhere deep in the nation’s collective memory.
There would be plenty more wins like the one in 1972. The Escort’s hot streak would continue with Timo Mäkinen winning in 1973, 1974 and 1975, and then Clark again in 1976. Others among their Ford team-mates would go on to win in the following years, so that no other car but an Escort would actually claim the RAC Rally until 1980. Lesser podium finishes would be almost ten a penny.
Eight straight RAC crowns remains quite the coup: a feat of dominance no other rally car recorded before the Escorts (between Mk1 and Mk2, the car regenerating, Doctor Who-style, in 1975), and none has repeated since. It fuelled Ford’s UK-market sales performance for decades and kindled a fanatical following for the Escort among rallying competitors and fans that few other cars since have enjoyed. 1972 was, in short, the beginning of something very significant, both for British rallying in general and the Ford Escort in particular, even though it came a couple of years after Hannu Mikkola’s famous London to Mexico rally win.