1968 brought the first of a series of British-organised intercontinental rallies, the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon, which attracted over 100 crews including a number of works teams and top drivers; it was won by the Hillman Hunter of Andrew Cowan/Brian Coyle/Colin Malkin. Not to be outdone, the rival Daily Mirror sponsored in 1970 the London-Mexico World Cup Rally, linking the stadia of two successive football World Cups, on a route that crossed Europe to Bulgaria and back before shipping out from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, after looping around South America, and a run through some of the most frightening sections of Peru's road race, the Caminos del Inca, they wrap it up being shipped to Panama and a final run up Central America. The Ford Escort of Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm won. These were followed in 1974 by the London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, and in 1977 by the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Rally.
As public interest grew, car companies started to introduce special models or variants for rallying, such as the British Motor Corporation's highly successful Mini Cooper, introduced in 1962, and its successor the Mini Cooper S (1963), developed by the Cooper Car Company. Shortly after, Ford of Britain first hired Lotus to create a high-performance version of their Cortina family car, then in 1968 launched the Escort Twin Cam, one of the most successful rally cars of its era. Similarly, Abarth developed high performance versions of Fiats 124 roadster and 131 saloon.
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Colin McRae began his competitive career in motorsport riding trial bikes at an early age, despite being more interested in four wheeled machines rather than two wheel bikes. At the age of sixteen, through the Coltness Car Club, McRae discovered autotesting, he soon traded his bike for a Mini Cooper and started competing. A year later, he began to negotiate with another club member to use his Hillman Avenger for the Kames Stages, a single-staged rally venue not far from McRae's home. McRae finished the event fourteenth; first in his class although he had run most of the event in a higher position.
Rising investor confidence also indicates a rally, and it is perhaps more powerful than any economic indicator because when investors believe something is going to happen (a rally, for example), they tend to take action (purchasing shares in order to profit from expected price increases) that actually turn expectations into reality. Although it is an objective concept, investor sentiment shows through in mathematical measurements such as the put/call ratio, the advance/decline line, IPO activity, and the amount of outstanding margin debt.
We take rally cars based off front-wheel-drive subcompacts for granted now, but the Mini Cooper was the first of the breed. The humble Mini was originally designed to be an affordable city car, but others saw different possibilities. Race car engineer John Cooper took a 997cc engine out of one of his Formula Junior racers and fitted disc brakes to the Mini to create the Mini Cooper. In hotter Cooper S form, the Mini won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967, setting the template for so many rally cars to come.
In the past, most rally courses were not allowed to be scanned prior to the race, and the co-drivers used only maps supplied by the organization. The exact route of the rally often remained secret until race day. Modern rallies have mostly converted to using organizer-supplied notes or allowing full reconnaissance, as opposed to racing the stages blindly. This change has been brought on in large part due to competitor demand.
However, if you are heading for a spin around your favourite backcountry twister, then there are few cars better suited. Independent suspension all-round, a turbocharged 230hp 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive, mixed with the early signs of Ford’s newfound commitment to handling, meant the Cosworth would devour pretty much any flavour of road in its path.
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When rallying really took off in the ’80s and ’90s it spawned a new type of performance car. These cars were built for tarmac and mud stages, so their road-going cousins were naturally well-suited to real world conditions. What’s more, they often had four doors, plenty of legroom and a boot (trunk) in the back. And the best bit? Pretty much anyone could buy one and, depending on how deep your pockets were, become Blomqvist, McRae, or Mäkinen.