Diary of the London to Mexico in VPI 77

The following diary of events was compiled by Ray Evans from his recollections together with the memories of Cal Withers, lan Harwood, Colin Francis, Les Watkin, and especially Frank Pierson, forty years on.

The diary and these photographs were assembled on storyboards for the exhibition held at Gaydon in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1970 London Mexico World Cup Rally.

Please note that the copyright of these photographs belongs to Cal Withers and cannot be reproduced without his permission.

18 April

Car dropped onto its wheels for the first time. ‘Shake down’, ‘Running in’ and ‘Testing’ all carried out on the overnight drive from Whitchurch to Wembley. Car scrutineered, and then axle alignment problem sorted in Godfrey Davis workshop.

 19 April

Frank burns his hand on the exhaust pipe whilst cleaning the windscreen. Start event and proceed to Dover. Cal Withers had one of his Escort half shafts pull out when following the rally car, leaving him stranded in the middle of a dual carriageway.



 20 April

Propshaft vibration evident. Attempt remedy by adding weights onto the shaft with a Jubilee clip.



 21 April

Identify bell housing now cracked due to the propshaft vibration. Weights moved around to try and reduce vibration. Frank got a speeding ticket which he claims should have been given to Jimmy Greaves. Having gone through the radar trap. Jimmy pulled over, and allowed an unwitting Frank to go past and get stopped by the police who were much further up the road.

22 April  

Steering very bad due to worn track control arm bushes. None available so car driven very cautiously over the San Remo and Alpine primes.

 23 April

New track control arm bushes supplied by Ford, but difficult to fit on the road side. Car running 5 hours late.

 24 April

A new bellhousing had be flown out with Ford mechanics, but it was the wrong type so would not fit. Car has to be push started as cracks in bellhousing now very bad.

 25 April

Passed 13 other cars in the last European Prime, and now back on scheduled time. Major service at Lisbon preparing car for the South American leg as from now on, there is no service crew support. Car is in 26th position. Service crew have a bath and then start their drive back to the UK. (The hired estate car clocked up over 6,000 miles in 8 days.)

 8/9 May

Start South American leg. A new bell housing had been taken to Rio as hand luggage by the crew, but there was no chance to fit it before the rally restarted. Rear brake pipe fractured on Rio Grande prime. No spare, so pipe blanked off and car ran with no rear brakes until Chile. Clutch slave cylinder was hit by a rock and no longer operational meaning no clutch either.

 10 May

The prime in Uruguay was very long and tiring, and Barry went to sleep after telling Frank that the road was straight like a motorway and “flat”. Unfortunately, although it was straight, the road had a drain gulley running across it which Frank hit at speed. It launched the car into the air, and Frank remembers looking out of the side windows and being level with the telephone wires. The car landed heavily, and the road/sump guard/engine all had a coming together resulting in a holed sump. They limped out of the prime by frequently stopping and topping up the engine oil. Eventually a small garage was found and the crew stopped to carry out repairs. It was very difficult to remove the sump guard because all the mounting bolts had been bent in the yump. When the guard was off, the garage owner proceeded to fettle a piece of wood to the shape of the hole in the sump, hammered it into position and with copious amounts of Belzona, the leak was fixed. Although now running well behind schedule, the crew managed to catch up with the rest of the rally for the overnight halt at Montevideo.

 11 May

Leaving Buenos Aires, the crew stopped to refit the sump guard. They could not find bolts long enough for the task, but a local mechanic weighed up the job and proceeded to shave 13mm off the wooden packer with an acetylene torch and a pen knife. Problem solved.

12 May

Rear spring hanger broke in Patagonia, and a replacement sourced from an old American car found in a scrap yard. While the shackle was being changed, a local came up to the crew and asked “who is Barry Hughes” to which Barry held up his hand. “Please say something to me in Welsh?” asked the local, but of course, Barry remained silent as he could not speak any Welsh.

 13 May

Driving up through Chile with no clutch and no rear brakes, and cracks in the bellhousing getting bigger. Car is now up to 13th position.

 14 May

Whilst negotiating some down hill bends on the Chilean Prime, the team had an ‘off’ resulting in major front suspension damage. The front anti roll bar mountings were sheared off, and both the track control arm and the roll bar were bent rendering the car immobile. Frank hitched a lift to the nearest habitation and was taken to the police station where a very sociable senior officer decided to help. He took Frank back to the car and then stopped a passing meat lorry. The front of the Cortina was hoisted and secured onto a step at the rear of the truck and then dragged into a local garage called ‘Garage Williams’. The police chief oversaw the repairs and even took the crew for a wash and meal. Satisfactory repairs were carried out to the suspension, and a replacement clutch slave cylinder fitted. This entailed manufacturing a fitting with UNF thread one end and Metric on the other to match the replacement cylinder. A new brake pipe was also made so the car now had fully operational brakes again. The crew were now 24 hours behind the rally.

 16 May

The car was now running with a working clutch, although the bellhousing cracks were getting worse. Up in the high Andes, the car suddenly lost all drive. Frank diagnosed the clutch centre had failed, probably as a result of the broken bellhousing and clutchless gear changing. With no drive, the car was ‘freewheeled’ out of the Andes all the way to Antofagasta, a distance of well over 100 miles.

17 May

On the outskirts of the town, Frank pulled over to decide what to do next when a voice shouted from across the street “What the hell are you doing here Frank”? It was a chap called Dick Silitoe, the son of a Century Oil director, who knew Frank from his rallying in the UK. Dick was working in Antofagasta on a geological survey, and knew that the crew were miles off the rally route. He helped them find a garage with a pit (open air), so that the gearbox could be removed. The broken bellhousing could now be changed at the same time as the clutch plate. Unfortunately, the bellhousing had been machined for Allan screws and the bolts used on the Cortina would not fit. Dick then found a chap who had a pedal operated lathe, who proceeded to file each of the bolts down so that a smaller socket could be used to tighten them.

20 May

With repairs completed, the crew set off to catch up the rally, but they had slipped to 4 or 5 days behind schedule and the controls had all closed. During this period, there was some concern by friends and relatives back in the UK because no one knew were they were, and this concern got into the press, with the headline “Rally crew missing for 4 days”. The crew themselves were oblivious of this as they had told an official at one of the controls that they would have to divert off route for repairs but the message never got through to HQ. For several days, the crew just kept pressing on North through Chile.

 23 May

Eventually reached Lima and with the rally so far in front, it was pointless carrying on. They knew that they had missed the ferry from Buenaventura to Panama, which left them with no option but to stop at Lima. The car was booked onto a boat called the Pizarro for shipment back to Liverpool, and they arranged to fly back. This involved flights via Kingston Jamaica, Montego Bay, New York and eventually London.



 7 July

Car collected from Liverpool docks and returned to J.C. Withers depot in Winsford, Cheshire.

The Other FordSport Cortinas

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