In 1969, or perhaps 1970. A young boy received a Corgi "Golden Jacks" toy of Andrew Cowans' London to Sydney Marathon Rally winning Hillman Hunter. That boy was me, and I remember that toy car very fondly to this day. It came with a full selection of waterslide transfers to add to the car, various sponsor and crew names that you applied yourself. A chest on the roof opened to reveal some shiny tools and a small plastic kangaroo further tied the car to the Sydney, Australia end of the rally. The highlight though was the "golden jacks" that you operated to remove the wheels.
It was a great toy. I put all the decals on myself and I played with it for years. It got very battered and somewhere in my childhood it got lost. I wish I'd kept hold of it, and as I got more involved with rallying here in the US, I found myself wanting to get hold of one. Just for old times sake, and all the memories. But the Hillman Hunter in mint condition, with its original box and all the accessories can fetch up to $400. You read right four hundred. At that sort of price I thought I'd never have one. But when this restoration of one came up for sale on eBay for a tenth of that price I jumped at it. No box, no decals or instructions. But it came with the kangaroo so that was good enough for me.
Once I got it in my hands, the memories came flooding back. I remembered how the car felt as I held it, the sound it made as it rolled along a table top. It may sound strange but that was the effect this had on me as a child.
Andrew Cowan and the first great Marathon Rally
Andrew Cowan was raised in Duns, Scotland, known as the birthplace of Jim Clark. The two had a great friendship from childhood. They were even members of the same Motor club in the 1950's. While Clark moved to F1 to become a legend, Cowan went into Rally because it was cheaper. In 1960 he took his mothers Sunbeam Rapier, cleaned it up, tinkered with the engine and finished 43rd of 177 cars in that years RAC Rally. This impressed his father so much that he bought him a newer, more powerful Rapier for the 1962 Scottish Rally, which he won and successfully defended in 1963. This success brought him to the attention of Rootes Motor Group who offered him a works drive. He ran in several of their cars. Hillman Imps and more Sunbeam Rapiers. He won his class in the Monte Carlo Rally once and podiummed couple of other times.
Then came the London to Sydney Marathon Rally. In 1967 Great Britain was in a depression following a devaluation of the pound. Sir Max Aitken, proprietor of the Daily Express newspaper thought that a great sporting event could raise the spirits of the nation. The Rally could showcase British industry and talents as it passed through countries on the route. His paper would sponsor it of course, offering a ten thousand pound first prize.
So, on November 24th 1986, 98 cars left Crystal Palace in London to cover 10,000 miles in 10 days in the trek to the Antipodes. It is thought that over 100,000 people watched the cars depart from Crystal Palace and a further two million lined the roads from London to the Channel port of Dover where they boarded a ferry to continental Europe. Perhaps the rally did galvanize the nation in a way.
There are many many tales of sportsmanship and adventure from the event. Too many to go into here. But it was Andrew Cowan, Brian Coyle and Des Malkin who led the cars into Sydney to a tumultuous welcome. This Rally ushered in a period of great marathon rallies and Cowan excelled, winning many. Including the longest rally recorded the 20,000 mile South American marathon in 1978. Cowan retired from competitive rallying in 1990.
In 1983 Mitsubishi asked him to establish a base for their rallying operations in Europe. Andrew Cowan Motorsports became Mitsubishi Ralliart, the team that gave Tommi Makinen four consecutive drivers titles from 1996 to 1999 and a constructors title in 1998. Cowan retired from Mitsubishi Motorsports in 2005. Tommi Makinen, as you know is the head of Toyota Gazoo Racing.
I hope you enjoyed the little history lesson.