In 1970 man had only just set foot on the moon, the summer of love in 1969 was the last summer anybody could remember and the electronic device that you’re reading this on existed in the dreams of the sci-fi writer, or maybe a mad scientist in a country that we didn’t like.
Yet in 1970, without a mobile phone, numerous layers of technical clothing, a GPS system, Isotonic drinks, computer aided design or even a decent windscreen washer jet, Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm competed in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally. And won.
Nowadays we’re used to endurance rallies, right? I’d argue against that, the modern day long distance events are gruelling yes, the Paris Dakar stands out as one in particular you’ll recognise the name of. The distance from Paris to Dakar is roughly 3250 miles, although the longest route covered was in 1992, when the competitors battled it out over 7722 miles. Interestingly enough the rally has been held in South America under the banner of ‘Dakar’ since 2009 with the distance covered there being between 5-6000 miles.
Again this is with the aid of satellite navigation and all the other luxuries of the modern age. But if you put the two together, you’re nearly at the mammoth figure of 16,000 miles which Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm covered between the 19th April 1970 and the 27th of May that same year. In this actual Mk1 Escort.
This is an incredible feat, the pair starting out in London before entering France and crossing Germany, Austria, Hungary then into the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia) before making a turn in Bulgaria and coming back across Italy, the South of France and in to Spain.
The vehicles were then airlifted from Portugal to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. The damp spring time of England and Europe in the northern hemisphere, giving way to the warmth of late summer in South America.
The main inspiration for the rally route was actually football, the 1966 FIFA World Cup had been held in London and the 1970 event was to be held in Mexico. So why not link the two with a car rally? Looking at the creature comforts inside the Mk1, you’ll notice the relatively simple drivers seat, no carbon fibre, wrap around action, but then would you really want to do that sort of mileage in something that resembles a body cast?
Don’t let the looks fool you though, they almost did me. Although the shell is based around the Twin-Cam and RS1600 model, the engine’s were ‘Kent’ units. But this is no normal 1600cc Kent crossflow, it’s been taken out to 1850cc and although reliability was of paramount importance, there had to be dirty, nasty speed too.
There were actually four Mk1 Escorts prepared for the event with sequential number plates from FEV 1H – 4H. Prior to the rally the twenty eight year old Finnish driver Hannu wasn’t the team’s strongest hope. That would have been Rauno Aaltonen… Who was looking good until his gearbox tailshaft broke early on in Europe.
The Escorts were tough though, sat here today looking at the Mk1 in the early spring sunshine of Essex, from any angle apart from the front the Escort looks almost innocuous. The small clips securing the specially made heated and virtually bullet proof windscreen and standard rear screen in place, so on a particularly rough landing or section of road if the shell flexed they were less likely to fall out.
Then you catch small details such as the triple fuel caps (one in each quarter and another in the offside ‘c’ pillar), these alone turn the Escort into a mobile petrol bomb.
You can see here the three massive fuel tanks and yes, that is the battery sat there unprotected. Another detail that was unusual and one that there seems to be some speculation over the origins of is the replacement of the rear light lenses with seperate units.
Was this so that they could be replaced easily when broken? Meaning less space needed for spares? In the later stages of the rally when it became obvious that Timo Makinen who was driving 4H couldn’t win, he suggested to team manager Stuart Turner that he stay as close as possible to Hannu and carry a skeleton tool kit, including a portable welder so that when they were miles from the service points they could still stand a chance of repairing anything that broke.
Because of course you can try and protect yourself, but it’s a big bad rally out there. So I suppose the answer in an ideal world…
Would be to have an entire spare car.
But what you see here is no such thing, no this is far more special. Because in 1995 Hannu Mikkola, Gunnar Palm and a Mk1 Escort went back and did the whole thing again… More in Pt2.