The 1970 London-Mexico World Cup Rally was the first of two World Cup Rallies to be held and the second of four marathon rallies to be held in a nine-year period beginning with the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon. The motor rally started at Wembley Stadium in London on 19 April 1970 and finished in Mexico City on 27 May 1970, covering approximately 16,000 miles (25,700 km) through Europe and South America. It was won by Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm, driving a Ford Escort.
The event was the brainchild of Wylton Dickson, possibly inspired by the earlier 1968 London-Sydney Marathon, and was to mark the fact that the 1966 FIFA World Cup had been held in London and that the upcoming 1970 FIFA World Cup was to be held in Mexico. Dickson approached the renowned British rally driver Paddy Hopkirk and together they went to The Daily Mirror for sponsorship.
The event was organised by members of the RAC and the MSA.
Route and scoring
The course covered approximately 16,000 miles (25,700 km) through Europe, South America and Central America. Two boats were need to convey the rally, one to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro and a second from Buenaventura, Colombia across the Gulf of Panama to Panama to avoid the impassable Darién Gap. Some of the principal towns and cities visited were, in order:
Belgrade, then in Yugoslavia, now in Serbia
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Santiago, Chile, Chile
La Paz, Bolivia
Panama City, Panama
San José, Costa Rica
Mexico City, Mexico
The course included many special stages, some over 500 miles (800 km) long. Time penalties were given for exceeding set times on the special stages, as well as for other infractions of the rules, and the cars’ positions determined by the penalties awarded rather than lowest cumulative times.
Mikkola’s Ford Escort prototype based on the RS1600, from the rear.
Over one hundred cars started the event. The rules about what cars could be entered were not restrictive but due to the demanding nature of the course most competitors were conservative and used modified versions of standard models. That did not prevent there being a wide variety of cars, from Volkswagen Beetles to Rolls-Royces. There were works (officially sanctioned and prepared) entries from Ford, British Leyland and Moskvitch, and semi-works entries from Citroën.
The Ford team ran modified Escort Mk Is, fitted with an 1850 cc version of the crossflow Kent engine and uprated with various other parts from other Ford models. Each Ford car had two drivers. The British Leyland team entered two teams. The first team ran three Triumph 2.5PI Mark 2s, which were more powerful than the Fords but were significantly heavier; two cars carried a three-man crew, Brian Culcheth preferring to stick with a conventional two-man crew. The second Leyland team ran Austin Maxis, Austin 1800s (some badged Morris) and a lone Mini Clubman. Citroën used the venerable DS21.
Rod Cooper and Ron Channon, two extremely brave drivers, decided to sign up for this challenging race as privates.
Without any help from the official Brand and counting only on their own strength. They came first in the private category and aroused great interest in the media. As their vehicle was a Ford Lotus Cortina, Ford decided to reward them with a watch suitable for their sport. Ford Britain sent an emissary to Garrard, the famous jewellery shop where Prince Charles bought Diana’s engagement ring.
The gift chosen for the drivers was the Heuer Autavia cronograph engraved on the back to commemorate the great event. The jeweller even changed the box, giving the watch the official red box typical of their production.
The watch was sold on Ebay in 2009, with the official letters, photographs of the reception that took place at the Ford headquarters and many other documents I have the honour to show to the public. I have in my possession Rod Cooper’s personal watch. It is a collectible and has great historical and cultural value as well as being the spiritual symbol of a memorable enterprize.
The watch has never been polished and still shows the original marks caused by the driver’s daily use.