There were several reasons for this decision,
1. All the Avenger mechanical parts fit straight onto a Sunbeam,
2. I still had backing from Gordons of Stonehouse, so could rely on their help as well.
3. We knew the cars and their strengths/weaknesses.
With Glenn Gordon's contacts I was able to buy a brand new Sunbeam shell from the factory. This of course came as a completely bare shell with not even any glass or wiring. Ironically it did come with all the seam sealer and soundproofing pads so they had to be laboriously scraped off before the shell could be seam welded and the roll cage fitted.! A horrible job.
|New Sunbeam on its first ever rally stage|
First event for the new Sunbeam was the Granite City Rally based in Aberdeen, over 500 miles from home. At 3:00am on the day before the rally we were still fitting the exhaust system in Gordons workshops so it was going to be touch and go.
Suffice to say we made it to Aberdeen and finished the rally without major problems.
The 1980 season was a bit of an eye-opener. All the rallies on the Sunbeam TI Champioship were National status events so were on a much bigger scale than we were used to and also much more expensive. Next event after the Granite was the Manx National on the Isle of Man, so that involved ferries as well as hotel bills. We were just getting to grips with the car on tarmac stages when the engine expired in a huge cloud of blue smoke. I had put some standard spark plus in to get the engine warmed up but had forgotten to swap to the harder racing plugs before we started the rally. Result was a melted plug and a melted piston.
A very expensive lesson.
The rest of the TI Chamionship events went much better. We had some good results and usually featured well in the Sunbeam TI Championship class, typically 3rd or 4th. With it being a pretty hotly contested championship we considered this was a good performance for us.
One exception was the Peter Russek Manuals Rally run on the Epynt military ranges near Brecon. The rally uses the very fast tarmac roads and good pace notes are essential to be quick and safe. If you get the notes wrong however it can prove disastrous and there have been lots of big accidents as a result.
We made just such a mistake at the notorious "Deers Leap" and went off at high speed but by a miracle did not roll and was able to continue.
I think we gave those marshalls a fright, they had been standing just where the car is shown in the photo.
Only damage was a bent halfshaft and a dent on the inside of the passenger door caused by Olivers elbow.
1980 was not without its other problems however as you can see from this next photo
The Ebworth Chase Rally was run by Stroud Motor Club and my friend Glenn Gordon was involved with organising it. It is a single venue rally in local woodlands and no actual navigation is required so I agreed to take Sally Prout along so she could see what rallying was like. She was going out with another driver but did not trust his driving and I was considered a safe option!
Francis Tuthill was leading after a few stages with us lying second so naturally I tried a bit harder to catch him on the next stage and the picture shows the result. I recall Sally was not too impressed to find herself upside down and covered in glass splinters. She found out a bit more about rallying than she expected.
Highlight of the year was another non-champioship rally, the Jason Hire Tools Stages. This was another event in a local woodlands and I took along a friend from work called Alan Say. He had never seen a rally except on TV so was keen to see it for real.
He descirbed it as "like being stuck inside a washing machine" and vowed never to do it ever again, but added that he would not have missed it for the world.