ROHRL ALL THE WAY
This report first appeared on Autosport Magazine, April 4, 1974.
To say that Germans Walter Rohrl and Jochen Berger dominated this year’s Firestone Rally is probably an understatement. Driving their works-built, Irmscher-tuned Opel Ascona 1.9, they took no less than 27 fastest times from 29 stages, finishing at a canter, almost 13 minutes ahead of the Portuguese Antonio Borges in a Porsche Carrera. Third and fourth were filled by Spaniards, Pradera in a works Seat 1600 and Reverter in a BMW 2002. Fifth, after a consistently quick drive, were Paul Faulkner and Mike Broad in a Ford Escort RS. Billy Coleman made up for his disqualification on the Arctic Rally recently, with a steady drive into sixth position.
Eighty-one starters left the ramp in the Bull Ring in the centre of Bilbao on the Friday evening, and only 26 were to return. There were very strong contingents from both Scandinavia and the UK. From Sweden came Leif Asterhag, who was third in last year’s event, and Arne Allansson in BMW 2002s, with Lars Carlsson in an Irmscher Ascona.
From the UK the entry was headed by Chris Sclater and Bob de Jong in a Clarke & Simpson Escort, entered by Sofico, the same car in which Sclater had finished ninth on the TAP rally a few days before. Jack Tordoff was seeded at No. 3, with his Ziebart Porsche Carrera with Phil Short as co-driver, and also Porsche mounted were Marek Gierowski and Tony McMahon, regular Firestone exponent John Lipton and David Booth, and from Northern Ireland, Ronnie McCartney and Peter Scott.
Other British entries which numbered 17 in ail, were Mike Davidson and terry Weaver, Eyers and Clayton. Patten and Lane, Harrop and Dent, and Lester and Kirkham, all in Escorts of some description. There was Ron Anderson in a Datsun 180SS, a sole Vauxhall for Rex Ireland, the Cooper S of Bryan Thomas, Sandy Lawson in her Daf 55, and the redoubtable Messrs Skinner and Rushforth in their ten-year-old MGB.
From the word go, Rohrl went! On the first stage he was 19 s faster than anyone else, and as all others tried to get on terms they fell by the wayside. Marc Etchebers, who came fourth last year started the long list of retirements when he went off on stage 4 and blocked the stage. Lars Carlsson retired on stage 1 with a broken axle and Antonio Zanini in the second works Seat rolled on the same stage, and left the car upside down in the middle of the road for the night!
At time control 4, before stage 7, the first trouble occurred with the marshals, who didn’t seem to know the regulations. Eventually, after a lot of arguments, this particular marshal went home having signed just four cars in and having thrown his watch away! This type of trouble with marshals, and the general inaccuracy of the road book, marred an otherwise good event.
Chris Sclater, who was lying third on the first night, retired after a suspected dropped valve. His problems started at the start ramp, when he had to be push started, and then he went off on the road section on exactly the same corner as last year! The longest stage of all, Palombera, a 26 km tarmac hillclimb (with Snow on the top) was used four times in all, and on the first time round saw three notable retirements.
Jack Tordoff lost it on the way up and plunged 60 feet over the edge, incurring a great amount of damage to the car, but thankfully both Tordoff and Short were unhurt. Marek Gierowski in his 2.8 Autofarm Porsche was lying a good sixth overall, after a one-and-a-half-week “recce”, but on the road section to Palombera, a rear Bilstein shock absorber exploded, punching a hole through the engine cowling and he was out.
Allanson was also out of time here after he took too long to repair a broken rear axle. In all, just 39 cars reached the halfway point but only 34 cars restarted. In the second half the only retirement which affected the first ten was that of Astenhag, who in an effort to try and pull up from his halfway placing of fourth, broke the diff on the roughest stage, La Hermida, and he retired. He, in fact, was in trouble in the first half, finishing the last five stages on three cylinders.
Of the British contingent, Faulkner kept the flag flying after Sclater and Tordoff retired. His car ran faultlessly, only having to change a front bulb in the headlight. Billy Coleman only had time to complete half his planned “recce,” and on the very first stage his new intercom broke and he had to cope without. In fact the same happened to Faulkner later in the event with the result that Mike Broad finished with no voice.
Ronnie McCartney started very quickly but had a driveshaft snap on stage nine and retired, and the other British Porsche, of John Lipton, only survived six stages, with a broken oil tank and suspected big end trouble,
Two success stories of the event went to two cars running at the rear of the ﬁeld. Derek Skinner and Peter Rushforth in the MGB overcame many troubles, including replacing a clutch and having the steering wheel fall off, to finish an excellent 14th overall, much to the delight of the Spanish crowd, who were quite intrigued by these bowler-hatted gentlemen. Bryan Thomas and Les Allfrey arrived in Bilbao on the day of the event and drove with no notes at all. They received some assistance from Leyland Spain during the event but generally went well, only using one set of tyres, to finish 15th overall. Three others finished, the 1300 cc Escort of Lester and Kirkham who were 18th, the Datsun of Anderson and Maning, and Sandy Lawson and Sue Grant took the ladies‘ award in the Daf.
Mike Davidson and Terry Weaver retired early in the first half when the head gasket blew on their Escort, while Phil Wilks, driving the ex-Jack Tordoff Saab, ran out of time after trying to cure a mysterious electrical fault.
One of the most unfortunate retirements was that of Rex Ireland in the 2.3 Viva, who safely arrived at the halfway halt in Santander, but misinterpreted the restart time, and arrived too late to recommence. As the event counted towards the European Championship, Borges and Pradera now share the lead after gaining points on the Costa Brava Rally earlier in the year, but with Walter Rohrl in his present form it looks like his attack on the championship could bring him the title.
1974 Firestone Rally Results
- Rohrl/Berger (Opel Ascona), 18265.6
- Borges/Morals (Porsche Carrera), 19034.6
- Pradera/Comyn (SEAT 1430/1600), 19221.9
- Reverter/Reverter (BMW 2002), 19820.0
- Faulkner/Broad (Ford Escort RS), 19835.0
- Coleman/O’Sullivan (Ford Escort RS), 20231.0
- Gargallo/Lewin (Alla Romeo 2000), 21009.6
- Onoro/Petisco (Simca 1200), 21471.2
- Olsen/Karsten (BMW 2002 Tii), 21336.0
- Gardavot/”Ynad” (Alpine 1600), 21967.1