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HISTORY OF RAFMSA RALLYING 1969 TO 2002:
A POTTED AND PERSONAL VIEW

Flt Lt Brod Purdy RAuxAF

The Royal Air Force Motor Sports Association, usually known colloquially as 'the MSA', and not to be confused with that other 'MSA' based at Motorsport House in Colnbrook, has been in existence now for a considerable number of years and has covered all branches of motor sport with the aim of 'promoting leadership and technical skills for all members of the RAF and its reserves through participation in motor sport events'. This personal walk down memory lane is a potted view of rallying within the MSA and its changes since my first rally in 1969 when I found myself at a loose end after a posting to Malta, joined the local 'Forces Driving Club' and found a new, and active hobby - Motorsport. A duty free FIAT 125 had already been purchased and was quickly 'rally prepared'…I added a couple of spot lamps and a map reading light and convinced my wife that this is how she really wanted to spend some of her Saturday nights. (Never mind the complications of a newly born son!) I then joined the MSA, as did a number of local RAF ralliers, all of whom represented RAF Team Malta on the local club events.

 
Malta
Malta

At the same time as my first tentative steps into this thrilling branch of motor sport, the scene in the UK was as exciting, but far more widespread, as our efforts in Malta. Championships in the RAFMSA were based on road rallies, the new sport of 'stage rallying' was still in its infancy and, more to the point, very expensive and needed a second car, specially built for stages. However, not to be outdone, an RAFMSA crew consisting of Flt Lts Carrington, Jones and Soames-Waring, was entered into the '1968 London to Sydney Marathon' in a Rootes Group Hillman Hunter, identical to the car which actually won, crewed by Andrew Cowan, Colin Malkin and Brian Coyle. Other RAF contestants were Fg Off Colman, entered by Avon and a crew from the Red Arrows entered by Flt Lt Kingsley / Evan Cook Ltd. (Of those only Colman failed to finish.)

   

In 1970, the Cyprus Automobile Association organized the first 'Cyprus Rally', with a great deal of help from serving members of the RAF in Cyprus, all of whom were members of the Akrotiri and Episkopi motor sports clubs. This inaugural event was won by a Cypriot Driver with an RAF Co-driver, Flt Lt Pete Lawrence, a Vulcan navigator. A few years later the International Cyprus Rally was won by a Cypriot driver in a full works Escort, co-driven by a former RAFMSA road rally navigator, Dave Adams. In subsequent years, the Mitsubishi Team on the Cyprus Rally consisted of 3 Colt Lancers GSIs, crewed by RAFMSA drivers and co-drivers, who usually pulled off the Team Award on these events! Also in 1970 was the 'Daily Mirror' sponsored 'World Cup Rally' on which was a Ford Cortina GT, entered by the RAFMSA and crewed by Don Soames-Waring, Andy Thwaite and George Crighton, but were not classed as finishers. A couple of very high profile years for the MSA and its rally crews.

Cyprus 1972
Cyprus 1972
   

Lest we forget, there were many crews competing in club events in UK proudly wearing the RAFMSA decals on their cars. In those days, it is noticeable that the RAFMSA would provide around 12 crews on each round of the championship amongst a total entry of between 80 and 100 contestants. Other than events organized by civilian clubs, the MSA also promoted, or co-promoted, its own rallies and supplied officials on many others.

On my return from Malta, I presumed that I'd have most weekends off and be able to really hit the RAFMSA rally world. Not exactly, but I did have some weekends off. Through an advert in the station NAAFI, I was approached by a young sgt, recently arrived from Cyprus, who had an urge to navigate for me, his name? Dave Adams. We won award on our first event together, 'Best FIAT', and almost Best RAFMSA Novice…but Dave had forgotten to send in his MSA membership application before the rally, so we lost the award. But by the fuel crisis in late 1973, we were lying in second place in the Championship, beaten only by Sgt Dave Smith and Flt Lt Dave Otridge in a Ford Anglia Estate. I had to bow out at that time owing to a posting to a fuel ravaged Hong Kong, where all rallying had stopped. However, my place was taken by a graduate of the Cyprus rally school with a well-prepared ex-Cyprus Rally Ford Escort, SAC T Byford. And as I left UK for Hong Kong, all motor sport in the UK was stopped owing to the rather severe Oil Crisis, and petrol was still only 37p a gallon!

   

Dignan
Dignan

My memories now move to Hong Kong where I managed to compete a little whilst I finished off my language course with a contract to drive a Simca Rallye II for the Simca importer on the 'Rally Hong Kong', with a willing RAF navigator, whom I advised to join the RAFMSA, and we took this car around the stages of Hong Kong. We had a slight snag with our cooling system and were serviced in the middle of a night stage by the Simca Service Manager who arrived down the stage in his Rolls-Royce, complete with Chinese girlfriend on the back seat, wrapped in furs to keep her warm! (And that's one story that will for ever be a closed book!). Unfortunately, even with this rather luxurious service, we bowed out in a cloud of steam front of the TV cameras after setting one Stage Fastest Time.

 

 

Once rallying had restarted, a Lancia Fulvia Coupé was purchased and suitably prepared by the local Lancia agent. A civilian navigator was found, and the local club championship entered. The British Army Motoring Association was beginning to enter the local rallies, and a deal was struck to permit RAF crews to use Army Landrovers in local rallies. The MTO at RAF Kai Tak also allowed one RAF Landrover to be used in these events, so the RAF started to get known in the local motor sporting fraternity. More so when I was headhunted by the semi-works Honda team to co-drive for them. This led to the Championship win in 1977, just as I returned to UK to restart my flying career.

Escort on ice
Escort on ice
 

 

Mull
Mull

In the UK, rallying was as popular as it had ever been, but more crews were getting in to stage rallying with entries on the (real) Lombard RAC Rally and some of the German events. In 1978, the RAF was invited to contest the British Army organized 'Exercises Roadrunner' which was run to a format that included Highway Code tests; pit work; night road rally and a driving test on a course set out around the tank training grounds at Bovington. The RAFMSA crews shone, winning the lion's share of the awards. But this led to greater things. The president of the RAFMSA was enthused and, as he was also Commandant General of the RAF Regt at the time, suggested that this sort of exercise would be good training for his drivers. One thing led to another, and four Landrovers were taken off the line, stripped and rebuilt as rally 'Rovers and entered in a number of International events. The first event was the Mintex International in 1979 where one crew, modesty forbids me saying which, picked up two awards. One crew, Sqn Ldr Dick Lewis and WO Trevor Gunby, beat all he experienced Army crews on the 1979 Scottish International Rally and won their class on only their third event! Unfortunately this situation did not last for very long, and the last event in which these Landrovers were entered was the 1980 Himalaya Rally for which the single RAFMSA Landrover entry was fitted with an experimental Turbo-diesel engine.

   
 

Some 9 years after retiring from the RAF I joined the RAuxAF, became a full time Reservist and started rallying again with the MSA., But rallying within the MSA has changed, The MSA Rally Championship now features events on all types of surface: road rallies on tarmac; stage rallies on gravel surfaces and airfields; forest rallies on hard and loose surfaces and historic rallies on public and private roads. From Club events to International events. The whole gamut of rallies are now contested by current MSA members. All of whom use their own cars, prepare their own cars and, oh yes, pay for their own cars. Although some luck crews manage to raise sponsorship, these fortunate ones are still in a minority.

   
   

And today? To finish off, the RAFMSA continues to enter a team on the annual Philips sponsored 'Tour of Mull' with one crew, Flt Lts Dave Harris and Ric Hands, usually finishing just outside the top 20 in Dave's 1974 Escort RS 2000In September 2000 I completed the 1500 mile, 14th Classic Marathon from Ypres to San Remo in my Hillman Imp, following the tradition set by Flt Lt Dave Ratcliffe and FS Tim Shooter who used to do Marathon and Monte Carlo events in an open 1937 Bentley Mk 6 Special. In February 2001, the RAFMSA entered a team of three cars on the inaugural Wheeltorque 'Ringmeister Rally' held at Nürburgring in deep snow. Again the team acquitted itself well with the Harris/Hands duo beating many established stars in modern rally cars, coming 3rd overall.

Marathon
Marathon
   
   

This year the MSA members are competing in National events as well as local ones: Flt Lt Paul Heath co-drives his wife in a Seat Ibiza on the Pirelli British Rally Championship; Flt Lt Matt Doncaster drives his Nissan Sunny in the BTRDA Championship (and is currently leading his class) and Flt Lt Brod Purdy and Flt Lt Ric Hands are currently contesting the Historic Rally Car Register's Road Rally Championship in a 1969 Hillman Imp. There are also very many MSA members who compete throughout the year on stage and road events. As formed MSA crews or with civilian friends as drivers or co-drivers. And all are supported by the organizational skills of the 'backroom boys', the Rally Committee.

And that's where I started!

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