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1970: Finland wins the World Cup

Submitted by on August 5, 2010

Imagine trying to organise a six-week rally that took 100 crews on a 16,000-mile route from London to Mexico City, via most of Europe and the Americas, and that comprised the most inhospitable and torturous terrain imaginable. You couldn’t do it, of course – for very obvious political, financial, cultural and logistical reasons.

Forty years ago, however, just such an event did take place – and it was timed to coincide with the football world cup taking place in the Mexican capital.

The 1970 Daily Mirror World Cup Rally was a massive event – and not just on a geographical scale. Inspired by the success of the London-Sydney Marathon two years earlier, Wylton Dickson – an Australian advertising guru – set about creating the  ‘toughest motorsport event of all time’.

With support from the Royal Automobile Club, which officiated then and now over British motorsport at every level, and many of the leading drivers (Paddy Hopkirk, Tony Fall, John Sprinzel) and manufacturers (Ford, British Leyland, Citroen), Dickson organised for competing crews to leave Wembley Stadium – home of British football and the site of England’s ’66 World Cup win over Germany – on April 19 and arrive in Mexico City – host of that year’s tournament – on May 27.

The pre-event hype about this rally being as tough as it gets were well founded. Although much of the early part of the adventure, which took cars across Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy, then back across France and down into Spain and Portugal, was considered a warm-up, it was the South American leg that really sorted the men from the boys.

Driving for 11 hours at a time through Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia and up the Pacific Coast, on treacherous mountain passes with nothing in the way of amenities, and with four nights’ rest every fortnight, just 23 weary crews – from an original starting line-up of 100 – arrived in Mexico City.

And the king of the hill? A 28-year-old Finn about whom the rallying world would soon know a lot more. Hannu Mikkola, partnered by Swedish co-driver Gunnar Palm, brought FEV 1H, his factory-run 1850cc Ford Escort Mk1, home at the front of the field for a famously unique rally victory.

Henry Hope-Frost

Images: wcr40.org.uk

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