2EGG AND MEL63 IN THE 1962 RAC RALLY

 

 On the 1962 RAC Rally there were two Sunbeam Harrington Le Mans taking part. Journalist and historian Graham Gauld was co-driver in one of them.
During the 1950s and '60's Scotland was a happy hunting ground for Rootes products in motor sport and part reason for this was that the Rootes distributorships in Edinburgh and Glasgow were owned and run by men who were enthusiastic about motor sport


In Edinburgh you had Alastair Cormack who, prior to World War I had been a factory driver for Alta in motor racing. He was managing director of John Croall & Son, the Rootes distributors and he was active in the development of the Scottish motor racing team, Ecurie Ecosse. Indeed he gave the team the Commer Chassis and engine on which the iconic Ecurie Ecosse Transporter was based. Thanks to his son, Sandy Cormack, they were also instrumental in providing the Hillman Imp engines for the Ecosse-Imp single seater racing cars built by the Edinburgh team.


Over in Glasgow David Melvin built up his Melvin Motors business which had the Rootes franchise and his son John Melvin was also keen on motor sport. He rallied an HRG sports car before he and his father, on a visit to the Earls Court Motor Show in November 1951, bought the Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica on the Frazer-Nash stand and young John raced the car successfully in 1952 before having to buckle down to working in the dealership

 Prior to all of this, another Scot, George Murray-Frame whose family ran a large up-market tobacco emporium in Glasgow was keen on Sunbeam Talbots. George was nominated as a factory driver for Rootes and was a regular member of the team in Alpine rallies and the like, driving the original Sunbeam Alpine.
However, this story has to do with John Melvin who, in 1962, contacted George Hartwell who co-operated with Thomas Harrington the coachbuilders. A red model was duly delivered to Scotland in time for John to compete in the International Scottish Rally in June that year. He took with him his usual co-driver, W Gordon Bennett but they had a miserable time on the rally eventually retiring when they soaked the electrics on one of those fiendish Scottish water splashes where the water was allowed to flow freely across the road after heavy rain.
John, however, was using this as a preparatory event before the RAC Rally in November 1962 where he again entered his Harrington Le Mans with Gordon Bennett as his co-driver. Also competing from Scotland in that event was a young farmer called Andrew Cowan who was probably one of Rootes' most loyal private entrants. Andrew was driving his Sunbeam Rapier on the event and his talent was obvious to those of us in the business of motor sport in Scotland at that time. We were scornful of his devotion to Rootes and when he was tentatively offered a BMC factory drive he turned it down as he secretly wanted to be a factory driver for Rootes. His chance came not long afterwards when Rootes put him as co-driver to the Rev. Rupert Jones on the Monte Carlo Rally in a factory Hillman Imp. Poor Andrew felt frustrated as the co-driver but he was quickly given a full factory drive and of course crowned his career by winning the 1968 London-Sydney-Marathon in a Hillman Hunter
 

But back to our story.


As mentioned elsewhere, I was editor of the weekly Scottish motoring magazine "Motor World" and had done a lot of co-driving on rallies. Just a few days before the RAC was due to start John Melvin telephoned me in a panic to say that Gordon Bennett had to pull out of the RAC Rally due to the fact that one of the directors of his family firm had died and he could not spare the time for the rally. So would I look out the old crash helmet and do the rally. John knew that my job on the magazine gave me a degree of flexibility and I packed a bag, John and I set off for Blackpool and the start

 John Melvin's Harrington Le Mans 2 EGG in Blackpool being prepared for the 1962 RAC Rally. (Photo Graham Gauld)

 It was the first time I had ridden in a Harrington Le Mans and I found it very comfortable and, thanks to it having a closed coupe body, slightly stiffer with less of the scuttle shake you could get in a normal Sunbeam Alpine on rough roads.


There were to be 38 special stages on forest roads - special stages on forests had only started two years before - and there was an entry limit of 150 cars. The favorite was that great Swede Erik Carlsson in his Saab who had twice won the event with Stuart Turner and then John Brown. This year he had David Stone - Vic Elford's usual co-driver - with him and they were to eventually win the
Rally


When we were gathering all our information together at rally control I bumped into my old friend Gregor Grant, founder and Editor of Autosport, who had made me his Scottish correspondent some years before. Much is talked about Gregor who was one of life's great characters. Nobody could write a racy report of a race meeting like Gregor even though he was usually fully tanked up with "hospitality". Indeed such was the fame of Autosport at that time, racing drivers would dash into the beer tent after each race and give Gregor their stories.


When I asked him how he was getting on he told me he was competing on the event. When he then said he was co-driving in a Harrington it immediately captured my attention. He was co-driver to Peter Pillsworth and I think the car had been entered either by Alan Fraser - who was competing in a Sunbeam Rapier - or by George Hartwell. His car was a Le Mans model too.

 The Peter Pilsworth Harrington Le Mans before the start of the RAC Rally. In the background is the Melvin car with Alan Frazer on the right and the tall John Melvin on the left )photo Graham Gauld)
 

 It was ironic that two Harrington Le Mans competed on the same event; both were red, both were co-driven by Editors of motoring magazines, both of whom were Scots and had the initials GG. Confusing? You bet


In those days you did not have a nicely printed route book, the co-drivers were given a list of about three hundred map references in the morning and we had to get down and plot our route for the week. If you were quick you usually could plot the entire rally by the morning of the next day but if not you were doomed to try and work out the later sections when you were tired and pretty well fed up with the whole thing. Luckily I managed to get all of our references finished in good time and so we prepared for the off

.
Just for the record Peter Pilsworth/Gregor Grant ran as number 48 (MEL 63) in the roughly seeded entry and we ran as number 73 (2 EGG) which was fine because it meant we had half the field behind us.


We had a few last minute nightmares when some farmers chose not to give the rally permission to cross their land and so we had to do a bit of re-routing. On the Monday afternoon we all gathered at the starting ramp in Blackpool ready for the off. The first part was to Helmsley but the organizers set up a noise control in the middle of Skipton in Yorkshire. With huge crowds lining the street most of the competitors did a bit of grandstanding, revving their engines, and then to their horror found there had been a noise check. For the next few hours, until the breakfast halt at Peebles Hydro in Scotland, we wondered how many people would be caught but it proved to be a storm in a teacup.

 

 When we arrived in Scotland John Melvin and I felt more confident as we knew most of the highland roads like the back of our hand. Up to then the forestry roads had been very rough and this was typical of that time because this was new to the Forestry Commission to give access to their forest roads but they did nothing to grade the roads. A year later the Commission realized that as each competitor was paying them a levy for every mile covered it was a good little money earner. As a result the Commission was to use metal graders on many of the forest stages which made life a bit easier and less damaging to the cars.


To give you an idea of what it was like during the first night Peter Harper in his Sunbeam Rapier had the wiring torn from under his car by a rock and plunged into darkness, he went off the road and ruined his front suspension on a wall. Peter Pillsworth suffered the same fate with his Harrington Le Mans but got off with a mauled front wing

 Scotland proved to be not a happy place for us because on one of the early stages we hit a rock at high speed and both rear shock absorbers collapsed leaving us dragging the tail along until the Rootes mechanics set them up again at the end of the stage. Andrew Cowan and Brian Coyle had worse luck as they went off and hit a tree to retire on the spot.


Our troubles were not over because in hurrying to catch up we were having to mop up tail enders on stages where there was little or no room to pass. We came upon a Mrs Haggie who was enjoying a pleasant meander in her supercharged Ford Allardette. John took a deep breath and we barged past her but heard an awful clunk down below and then watched in horror as the fuel gauge started to plummet down the dial. We had split the fuel tank but we still managed to pass Des Silverthorne's Ford Anglia before the end of the stage. A kindly fellow competitor with a Triumph TR2 gave us two packets of chewing gum and a gallon of fuel so we managed to glue up the tank with the chewing gum as a temporary measure. We managed to do the next two stages, but only just, as our fuel consumption dropped to 6 miles per gallon! We did get a temporary repair on the fuel tank but it was to come back and haunt us.


Eventually we arrived in the early evening at one of the Scottish special stages at Ordequish near Forres and here I must let the cat out of the bag. Back then everyone knew everyone and we all had our friends and our favorite stages

 Graham is smiling probably at the Stage controller Kenny. (Webmaster comment)
 

 For the Scots on the RAC the stage controller at Ordequish was the late Kenny McLennan who was a regular Monte Carlo Rally competitor. This stage, however, was new to everyone. Kenny was the starter and when we arrived he leaned in the car window and said, "Now lads we have to have a good performance on this stage. Once you get past the first four corners it plunges straight downhill for about three quarters of a mile so don't be tempted to lift off. At the bottom the right hand corner is quite open"


With help like that we set up a good time but what proved embarrassing was that Kenny gave all the Scots competitors the information and as a result Logan Morrison and Ross Finlay in one of their first factory drives with BMC in a Mini set up an incredible time in 6 minutes 12 seconds which was just 21 seconds slower than Tom Trana's fastest time for the stage in his factory Volvo! I think it was the fastest time by any British competitor on that stage. We all had a great laugh over it and Kenny thought it was great fun but I am sure some of our modern Politically Correct people would find this conduct shocking. Loosen up, it was only a rally!


However our fun was short lived as on the next stage White Ash we again bottomed but charged on only to find us slowing down on the next uphill part and the Sunbeam finally stopped. We had flattened the metal fuel line and at the same time had smashed open the fuel tank so we got out of the car and hoofed it to the end of the stage leaving the car there. The next day with the help of friends with a trailer we went back into the forest and got the Harrington on the trailer and headed back to Glasgow


The rally had ended but the memory lingered on. Highlights, for me, I actually hit 100 mph on a wildly flickering inaccurate speedometer on a special stage but for John there were few. The Harrington was, on reflection, a bit too heavy and bulky and the underside was so vulnerable. Once the car had been repaired at Melvin Motors it was sold off and is probably somewhere around, perhaps a club member will know as I am sure John Melvin would be amused to find its whereabouts. *

 

 Biography


Born in Edinburgh, Graham Gauld became a journalist and was made sports editor of the Scottish weekly motoring magazine Motor World at the age of 20. He competed in many events and became Editor of the magazine in 1960. Though he left the magazine seven years later he continued to write and contribute articles to motoring magazines all over the world. He ran his own public relations consultancy and was an independent consultant to Fiat in Britain for twenty years.


In 1993 he was invited to go to Hong Kong and start mainland China's first motoring magazine. On his return he moved to the South of France where he writes books on motor sport history. He is the biographer of Andrew Cowan.

2 EGG has had its life in N.Ireland until recently when it was sold and restored and sold again in 2015.

Photo from Harrington Registry

 

 

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