Wolverhampton & South Staffs Car Club's major rally has, since its inception in 1958, always carried the name of its sponsor in the title. Over the years the sponsors have changed and therefore so has the name. Despite the changes the the event has remained constant to its concept of a major annual motorsport event in mid-Wales.
The event began with sponsorship from the local Wolverhampton evening newspaper, the 'Express & Star' in 1958, six years after the club was founded, when the newspaper agreed to provide financial support, awards, and cash prizes. The first event took place on March 8/9th 1958 and continued each year as a road rally in various formats until 1966. In that year the event became one of the first national rallies to include forestry stages. Every year from then on, the rally was always forest based. In 1967 a second sponsor, Goodyear Tyres, became involved and the event became known as the 'Express & Star/Goodyear' rally. In 1968 the oil company Castrol joined as a sponsor and the event was known as 'The Castrol-Express & Star'. The last year of sponsorship by the newspaper was to be 1969. Following insurance problems stemming from the 1967 event there was no rally in 1970 and 1971.In 1972 the event was revived as the 'Castrol-Timpson' when additional support was received from Timpson's shoes. Despite the success of the event the problems were not over and in 1973 the lack of availability of suitable forestry roads led to the postponement of the rally for another year.
Things were very different in 1974 when Castrol became the sole sponsor of the rally to celebrate the company's 75 years. This was the first of the two rallies called the 'Castrol 75'. The second ran in 1975 which made the title a bit more understandable. There followed the Castrol '76, '77, '78, '79 and '80, all based in Aberystwyth with a similar format.
In 1981 and 1982 Pace Petroleum replaced Castrol as the name sponsor. The Pace Petroleum National Rally was run to the successful formula of previous years, still based in Aberystwyth.
Audi Sport UK became the title sponsors in 1983 and with the name came a World Rally Team and a massive publicity machine. The sponsorship was much needed it those difficult economic times but with the money came a lot of hard work to keep the event in the top league of cub rallying. This was the only place that Audi would accept and the only way to ensure the sponsorship continued.
The story now enters the years of the super rally cars. 1984 followed the pattern of routes of previous years but in 1985 the changes started with a move to Shrewsbury.
Although Audi no longer had a rally team at world championship level the Audi Sport of 1986 was a classic. There were entries for the full works team of three Ford RS200s, a titanic battle for the National Rally Championship title and a super special stage at Loton Park hill climb course.
By 1987, Audi Sport had been sponsors for five years and the base for the event had moved to Telford with a brand new spectator stage being set up in the Town Park. The outcome of the National Championship was decided on this stage after nearly 70 miles of stages in the usual Welsh forests. The Group B cars had been banned although the 6R4 was still legal at British national level and sure enough there were 6 of them in the top 7 finishers including the winner, driven by David Gillanders.
1988 was the year of the Sierra Cosworth, both the Group A and Group N examples were the cars of choice for the top championship drivers. The rally was essentially run to the same format as the previous year, however there were more entries and more forest miles as the economy improved.
When the rally ran under an international permit for the first time in 1989 the full effect of the group 'B' ban could be felt. There were only a couple of manufacturers with four wheel drive cars homologated in Group 'A', the rest made do with two wheel drive. Whilst the Sierra Cosworths were up to the job on tarmac they were no match for the little Toyota Celica GT 4x4 on the wet muddy stages of Wales. With this advantage David Llewellyn won both the event and with it British Championship after doing battle over 90 stage miles.
For 1990 and 1991 the rally continued as an international in the Open Championship. The Championship itself was struggling to come to terms with the huge costs and falling entry levels. Without the support of Audi Sport and the various one make championships the event would not have been viable.
Just before the 1991 event it was announced that Audi would not be continuing with its sponsorship. For the next year the event was going to need a complete rethink. The result was that the Club decided to take up the challenge of running a British Championship round with no financial support. Everybody played there part, even the weather, and the event ran and was a success. No small part of this was Elonex Computers stepping in at the last minute with a sponsorship deal.
If 1992 was difficult 1993 and 1994 were even more of a challenge to the organisers. A move to Welshpool and sticking to the concept of a properly organised rally for clubmen with a bolt on international was continued. Despite there being no last minute sponsor these years the books were balanced and the struggle continued.
1995 was a year of big changes, the event returned to the National Championship as the last round, the base was moved back to Aberystwyth and a major local sponsor came on board. Things were looking up.
1996 and 1997 were the years of consolidation in the National Championship with Bulldog signing up to a long term partnership as title sponsor. Gone was the international permit event, but in came the British Historic Championship with its own event and the clubman continued with the Meirion resurrected, this time in parnership with Aberystwyth Car Club.
By 1998 the rally had outgrown the facilities in Aberystwyth and the decision to move back to Shrewsbury was taken. This was not all together successful as the Showground down by the River Severn was chosen as a base. A rally show and final stage had been laid out on the site as a high profile finish to the rally. The weather intervened and heavy rain caused the river to flood and the Showground to ultimately be under six feet of water. This was not before the stage was cancelled and a very quick finish ceremony was held on the ramp.
To prevent a reoccurance of the flooding problems the base was moved to the much higher cattle market site for the 1999 and 2000 events.
British motor sporting events were cancelled in their hundreds in 2001 as a result of the devastating foot and mouth disease outbreak. The Government severely restricted access to the countryside for much of the year. After lengthy negotiations the rally was able to go ahead, although the Shrewsbury Cattle Market was not available for pre event formalities and alternatives were pressed into use.
The next three years were a rerun but without the Government livestock controls in place and some slightly different stage routes. The National Championship was in robust health and with the new ANCRO Clubman's Championship running alongside, entries were up in both numbers and quality.
It was a young Mark Perrott who won two of these in consecutive years, 2003 and 2004. A feat only achieved on the event by two other drivers, Penti Airikkala and Malcolm Wilson. He was in great company.
For 2005 there was a change in the start and finish venue to the rally. With Shrewsbury livestock market about to be redeveloped it was Oswestry livestock market that was the alternative. The advantage was that it was nearer the forests, reducing the overall mileages and the time needed to complete the event.
Oswestry remained the base for the rally in 2006, when an eighteen year old Andreas Mikkelsen won with ease.
The innovation in this year was the addition of a "mini rally" to the portfolio of events. It's two stages attracted eight entries and was won by the late Pat Flynn.
After twenty five years there was a new Clerk of the Course in 2007. This major change in the organising team did not lead to any significant changes to the running or format of the rally. It was Andy Burton who finally proved that his home built Peugeot Cosworth had reliability as well as speed by winning the event.
Finally we arrive at the 2008, the fiftieth anniversary of the rally. Much had changed in the World in that time. The technology of 2008 had removed many of the unknowns of 1958, changing the challenges set by competing in British rallying. Some say these challenges had been removed altogether, certainly the sport was very different. This anniversary makes it a good point to finish the project with this year.
It was National Championship stalwarts Marcus Dodd and Andrew Bargery who won the event from Steve Perez again. With only 65 miles of special stages and 30 finishers the club was facing yet more challenges as it struggled to keep on promoting the event.
Today the rally continues to run each year over the same roads, based in the same towns of mid-Wales and it is for others to tell that part of the story some day.
Reaching the fiftieth year does not mark the end of this project, there are many bits of information yet to be found and stories to be told. As the details become available they will be uploaded to fill the blanks.
We hope you enjoy browsing these documents relating to the golden years of British rallying.