Menu drop button
Roger Clark and the Dunlop Consul

Pushing Albert

by Jem Shaw

I was in my twenties when I joined Dunlop Racing Division. That's an age when you know you're the best driver on the planet. It's a few years since you passed your test, and your handbrake technique, wheelspins and steering-wheel-twitchery have all been refined to a perfection guaranteed to increase the humidity of any fair maiden with negligible IQ, low self-esteem and poor taste. The fact that I was demonstrating these talents in a decaying Fiat 850 with a sunshine floor did nothing to lower my hubris.

On joining Car Racing, or Dunlop Competitions as it was known in those days, I was occasionally entrusted with a Ford Consul GL Estate. A 2.5 litre powered slug of Dagenham devilment that could be encouraged to around 120mph according to the cheerfully exagerrated claims of the speedometer. By comparison with my miniature Fiat, the bonnet of this thing had a horizon.

I shared the cockpit of this lemon-yellow horror with the redoubtable and greatly missed John Horton on many rallies - there'll be more tales of our adventures in later posts.

And so it was that we sat, engine running, at the end of a forest stage somewhere in Yorkshire. The rally organisers had seen fit to link two stages, totalling around 25 miles, without any servicing allowed in between. The top runners were using our A2 race/rally tyre - a miracle in rubberware that had pretty much rewritten the rulebook for fast forest stages. Unfortunately, 25 miles was beyond its endurance; an illegal service point was vital (and equally vital to all of the other top teams - pretty much everyone found somewhere for a clandestine tyre change. I suspect the organisers knew this and kindly looked the other way). We'd discussed servicing plans with Roger Albert Clark beforehand, and he'd instructed us to wait for him at the end of the first part. He'd then lead us to a good spot he knew.

We arrived in good time, parked up and waited.

And waited.

"He's running late," John said. "That's not so good."

Ten minutes or so later, a works Escort RS1800 shot past the finish marker. Albert saw us and gestured didactically for us to follow. Into first gear, a largely unnecessary geyser of flying gravel, and we were away. It was going to be a fast run, but I knew I was up to the task.

Mr Clark set a serious pace, but I was determined to hold on. That Consul was the size of an aircraft carrier and exhibited similar handling, especially when carrying a dozen or so fitted units in the back. It wasn't pretty, but I was keeping up.

"Blimey, Albert's giving it some wellie," John mused, neglecting to comment on the impressive skill of his driver, who was maintaining the same speed.

As I settled into a rhythm, I began to think I could actually go a tad faster. Hey, I knew I was good, but I never guessed I was this good. I moved a little closer to the tail of the Escort. R.A. Clark responded by speeding up and the fun kept growing. The Consul was now leaning far enough to threaten the wing mirrors, but the pendulum effect of  the rear bumper being 100 yards behind where I was sitting meant that everything happened in slow motion. I had all the time in the world to wind in opposite lock, while the Escort was clearly becoming ever more twitchy. Not only was I able to keep up with one of the world's greatest rally drivers, I was actually driving more tidily. Someone had to notice. I dreamed of motorsport stardom.

Finally, Albert swerved into a layby and stopped. The Consul, on road tyres and half a ton overweight, was less eager to decelerate. After the drive of my life, I was going to blow it all by rear-ending a rallying icon*.

As it happened, forward motion ceased just in time. I collected myself, did two seconds of nonchalance practice and climbed out to receive my deservedly incredulous congratulations. Albert was already out of the car and looking disgustedly at his offside rear tyre.

"Just what I need, a f***ing puncture."

I looked down, becoming aware of a faint hissing noise. Yes, there were unmistakeable signs of deflation, in this case taking the form of the tyre being entirely missing, along with a large proportion of the wheel. He'd been driving on three tyres and some spokes.

You may feel tempted to remark that this would not, of course, account for the hissing noise, and you'd be right.

That was my punctured ego.

* Grow up and stop sniggering. Now.

 ← Back