This world champion endurance racer is the little Rover that could

      This Austin Rover-powered racing car is the Pluckiest world champion you've never heard of

      3y ago

      12.4K

      When you think of the Group C endurance racing era, the Porsche 962C, Jaguar XJR-6 and Sauber C8 probably spring to mind - an eclectic mix of turbocharging, natural aspiration and a variety of engine layouts.

      Think back to the '50s and '60s however and the endurance racing scene was a whole different ball game. The team that succeeded in those post-war decades came from Scotland - a team based in Edinburgh called Ecurie Ecosse. Using Jaguar XK120s, C-Types and most notably D-Types, the Scots amassed two Le Mans 24 Hour wins in 1956 and 1957 along with many other notable high-placed finishes.

      The team shut up shop in 1971 but the flame was reignited in the '80s, astonishingly with an Austin Rover sticker merged into the livery. Competing in the Group C2 category (a series that cut team costs by limiting fuel consumption for privateers and small manufacturers), Ecurie Ecosse was back on the scene with its Ecosse C2 racecar - one of a family of three prototypes.

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      Now, the one that interests me most (considering my obsession with British classics) is the 1986 car named 'Reggie', which was powered by the Rover V64V engine. The true name of the car is the Ecosse Rover C286, with 'Reggie' coming from the nickname for the team manager's own Rover road car, in case you were wondering.

      The V64V engine code stood for a V6 layout with four valves per cylinder - the exact engine that had already been shoehorned into the MG Metro 6R4. With the capability to be tuned up to 410bhp, this V6 also used a 90-degree angle between cylinder banks to lower the centre of gravity of both the engine and the car powered by it.

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      The team's main aim was to win in its class at Le Mans, where in 1984 a DFL Cosworth-engined Ecosse car (C284) suffered from low fuel pressure. Then in 1985, a heavily revised car (C285) with a tiny frontal area, a flat bottom, strong aerodynamic efficiency and low fuel consumption also fell short of finishing the race, suffering from DFV engine vibrations.

      For 1986 then, Ecurie Ecosse went for a powertrain that had proven itself on the rally stages of Britain and continental Europe, with reliability being the priority.

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      Image via Martin Lee (Flickr)

      Sadly, despite the trusty V6 engine being used at 3/4 throttle the entire race, C286 led for much of the 24 hours before blowing a rear tyre at 6am that tore through a nearby connecting rod. Despite managing to get the car back to the pits, the driver accidentally refilled the car's radiator with bottled water, disqualifying the car due to strict fluid rules.

      So despite three fantastic attempts, Ecurie Ecosse couldn't rekindle its success of the Jaguar era.

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      There was a rather tasty silver lining to offset the loss at Le Mans however - C286 had won multiple races throughout the 1986 World Sportscar Championship season.

      Taking race wins at Brands Hatch, the Nürburgring, Spa (seen in the footage below) and Fuji, the little Austin Rover driven by Ray Mallock, Marc Duez and David Leslie (a legendary Scottish touring car driver) managed to overhaul the Le Mans result to take the C2 World Championship by a squeaky two points. This also happened to be the year that Derek Bell famously took the full Group C title for Rothmans Porsche.

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      The Ecosse Rover showed that Le Mans is certainly not all about outright horsepower and that downsizing from the 3.3-litre Cosworth unit to the 3.0-litre Metro V6 was an educated choice to ensure the powertrain's reliability.

      So a win at Le Mans in the 1980s was obviously not to be for Ecurie Ecosse, but hopefully you will now see the often-ridiculed marque of Rover in a different light. It had some serious motorsport knowhow back in the day and the strength of the engineering behind its cars shows even to this day as C286 still races successfully at sprint and classic endurance events.

      Ecurie Ecosse themselves still race in the LMP3 category and - through the research I've had to undergo to write this piece - they've swiftly become one of my favourite racing teams.

      Did you know about this Austin Rover Le Mans racer? Are there any other obscure motorsport heroes that need highlighting? Comment below with your suggestions!

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      Comments (9)

      • I've always had a soft spot for Rover, nice to learn about a bit of its past I hadn't heard of!

          2 years ago
      • We had a puncture at Le Mans on Mulsanne which wrecked the rear ended of the car. David Leslie got the car back to the pits where the team rebuilt the rear of the car. Unfortunately David had put water in the car on the circuit trying to get it back to the pits and the car was excluded. The Rover engine initially was not reliable but by fabulous fag packet engineering by John Dunn of Swindon Racing engines he turned it into a reliable fuel efficient race winning package

          3 years ago
        • Hugh, it is fantastic to hear from you. I have contacted your son Alasdair recently in light of this article that I wrote. I would REALLY like to write a follow-up article from this after seeing the car at Ingliston. Is there any chance I could...

          Read more
            3 years ago
      • Just a minor correction - we named the car Reggie because we were running 2 cars at LeMans that year. One with the Cosworth DFV engine and the other with the Austin Rover V64V. To distinguish them we named one 'Henry' (for Mr Ford) and the other 'Reggie' (for Reggie Rover). It was sad to see Reggie excluded for a technical breach of a set of rules which only applied at the LeMans 24 Hr race. Suffice to say the froggies weren't big fans of any British team and they waited until we had feverously repaired the car after it's return to the pits and were all set to re-join the race (still with a chance of a good finish - we were a number of laps ahead of the next placed C2 car when the tyre incident occurred) before informing the team it was disqualified. The infringement was for 'outside assistance', since David had used water from a drain beside the track to refill the punctured radiator.

          1 month ago
      • This was a brilliant team and a fantastic car designed by Ray Mallock and the car is still owned by Ecurie Ecosse man Hugh McCaig. My dad Mike Wilds can be seen driving in the photos above in the yellow crash helmet. Such great childhood memories 😀

          3 years ago
        • No way! That is amazing! Your Dad must have been some driver! Do you have contacts with the team? As I am very keen to write a follow-up piece by seeing the car and interviewing the guys involved!

            3 years ago
      • Heartwarming stuff! It would be interesting to hear what any surviving team members had to say?

          3 years ago
        • The guy that owns the C286 was at the Ingliston Revival competing in the sprint event - I'd return specifically to see that car!

            3 years ago

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