A History of the Snowman Rally
(Written in 2005 by Iain Campbell Snr & Jim McGill)
2005 marks the 50th anniversary of the Snowman Rally organised by the Highland Car Club and since its inception in 1955 it has been a stern test for everyone from local motoring club members to future World Rally Champions. And as competing cars have become faster and more powerful, so too has the Snowman Rally changed.
First organised in February 1955 as a closed to club event using tarmac roads and covering over 350 miles, the inaugural event was run overnight with high tea available before the start at 10pm. Finishers could enjoy the luxury of a cooked breakfast for 7/6 (37p). Of course there was no Nomex racewear in those days. Instead the fashionable gear was Norwegian sweaters, with matching "bunnets". Interestingly, bunnets have again become a regular feature of the event since 1999 as a thank you to our volunteer marshals.
While 50 successful and highly competitive rallies have been organised, only three have had to be cancelled at the last minute: in 1969 lack of a sponsor forced the event to be cancelled; the world oil crisis led to a rallying ban in 1972; and two years later the RAC banned rallying because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease across the whole of the UK. In 1962 the mileage covered by the rally had been reduced to 250 miles. It was though still an overnight event starting at 10pm, with a half-hour halt for fuel and refreshments . The entry fee was £1.05 with a deposit of £1.50 for the sealed watch carried in each car. The £1.50 was refundable at the end of the rally when the watch was returned intact to the organisers.
Many of the trophies from that era are still part of the Snowman prize list. The organisers promised "a route of over 250 miles of typically highland terrain, but we have striven to eliminate untarred tracks, impossible time schedules, steep hills, and regularity sections"
In 1959 the rally had two start points, Monte Carlo style, at Inverness and Elgin and such was the growing success of the Snowman that it had become known favourably as "the poor man's Monte Carlo".
In 1964 Iain Sutherland, the outright winner, virtually had to be lifted out of his car as a frozen lump because he had removed the driver's door in something of a farcical but nonetheless rapid manoeuvre. Finding himself in a position where he needed to reverse in a hurry, Iain glanced in his rear-view mirror to find the rear window completely misted up. Undaunted, he threw open his driver's door, peered into the dark, reversed at speed ... and ripped the door clean off its hinges against a rather substantial, but unseen, snowbank. In 1967, the event ventured into the forests: 65 stage miles combined with a number of selectives on public roads to give a total competitive mileage of 300 miles throughout Inverness-shire and Moray.
The organisers permitted the use of studded (but not spiked) tyres. Route books were issued one hour before each competitor's start time. The overnight rally, which was popularly sponsored by beer-makers McEwens, began at 10.31pm on the Saturday from Inverness, finishing at Aviemore on Sunday morning at 11am, where lunch was available for the equivalent of 32p. Entry fees had increased to £4.20, no doubt the increase was due to the cost of using Forestry Commission roads. The following year stage mileage increased to 100 miles, while the road mileage of 250 miles was used only as road sections as we know today. The rally started in Spean Bridge at 10pm and OS maps 27, 28, 29, 35, 36, 37, and 38 were required. Crews were warned in the supplementary regulations that smoking during the course of a special stage would result in exclusion!
In 1972 there were three classes up to 1000cc; 1001 to 1300cc; and over 1300cc. Total mileage was 300 with 100 miles of timed stages. The start was in Fort William at 9pm and the finish was at the Royal Stuart Motor Hotel, Inverness (Drumossie) at 7am on Sunday morning. By now the entry fee had increased to £12. Service cars were allowed, but had to have pre-glued stickers fixed to the inside of the driver's rear passenger window. And as an indication as to how things have changed, the programme advertised a new 2.0-litre BMW for £2,197.
The following year the first Snowman Rally run in daylight Roger Clark won the rally with the Esso Uniflo Ford Escort from a lowly seeding position of five. The highest seeded locals were A. Martin and Fiona Kennedy at 37 in an Imp; Vince Finlayson and Hector Munro, both also in Imps, were seeded 42 and 50; Terry Glendinning was in car 54 in a BMW and Dougie Riach was in car 58, a Ford Escort . Wilson Girvan was entered at 102 in another Escort. The rally attracted a full entry of 120 plus seven reserves and 1973 also marked the introduction of the 60mph stage 'bogey', or target, for competitors.
The Snowman was sponsored for the first time in 1976 by the Mercury Motor Inn (Thistle Hotel). Now in its 29th year of Snowman sponsorship, Highland Car Club are extremely grateful for the company's assistance over one of the longest period of sponsorship in rallying. Imagine clearing up after 29 Snowman parties! That year Ari Vatanen thrilled the spectators on his way to third overall, while fellow Finn Penti Arikkala took the winner's position, unusual for a Vauxhall Chevette.
Two years later some of the worst blizzards in years ravaged the North of Scotland. The rally route down the Great Glen was very badly affected by the heavy snowfalls which arrived late on the Friday evening but undaunted the event ran, although the spectators were kept busy pushing cars through stages such as Mandally.
In 1984 the rally was postponed for a fortnight from its original date of 11th February due to deep snow and packed ice on the stages on the eastern route. The rally was observed by MSA Steward Bill Troughear, and upgraded from Restricted to National status. Bill continues to steward the Snowman each year along with Jonathan Lord and Frank Williams. Forest charges were £110 per mile, and the entry fee was £76. The winner was Ken Wood, Andrew Wood was second and Dougie Riach was third. Raymond Munro and David Falconer were 16th in a Chevette, Andy Kelly 27th in a Sunbeam, and Derek Ringer drove an Imp to 61st. Donald Heggie missed out on a hat trick of wins when a small under bonnet fire meant he did not start, although he went on to record five Snowman wins during the 80s.
Surprisingly no one has managed a hat trick of wins, unless Raymond Munro can do it in 2005. The Snowman must also be one of the few Scottish events not to have been won by a McRae.
In 1986 increased mileage was offered at the reduced cost of £70 due to increased support from the Ladbroke (Thistle) Hotel, despite further increases in forest charges. The winner of Jaggy Bunnet’s ‘Flying Brick’ for the hardest trier that year was won by Highland member Andy Horne.
Dr John Harrington became involved in the Rally in 1987 as a medical officer and we are extremely fortunate that he still continues in the role of Chief Medical Officer. Dr John recalls that in 1987 although the medical kit was OK, the uniform consisted of green waterproofs, wellies and a woolly Cossack hat. Communications were via BT pager, and his transport was a Peugeot 305. Dr Jack MacKellar was the only other doctor on the event, and he also has supported us each year since then. They were required to try to keep up with the main body of the rally, whereas nowadays a doctor is assigned to each special stage along with a rescue unit. Back in 1987 Mac Rescue covered the entire event. Communications have improved dramatically with in car radios and mobile telephones.
The 1987 rally saw sponsorship from MacRae & Dick in addition to Ladbroke Hotels. The rally forum had Malcolm Wilson and John Davenport as guests. 28 Highland members competed including David Sinclair, now Chief Timekeeper. David MacDonald, competing on his 20th Snowman finished 17th after rear axle problems. Winner again was Donald Heggie. Route book diagrams were still hand drawn, and route notes were unheard of. David MacDonald has now competed in 5 decades of Snowman Rallies.
David Gillanders won in 1988; Colin McRae was eighth in his famous Nova with Derek Ringer, winning his class by 1.19 from John Gray, third in the class were Robbie Head and Robert Reid, three minutes behind. Jimmy Christie was 13th and David Falconer, co-driven by Tich McCooey was 85th in an Escort. This year saw another innovative ‘first’ when live action from the stage at Ord Hill was shown on a large screen video link at Rally HQ.
1991 supplementary regulations said ‘As in previous years our sport is again having to endure excessive rising costs from both the Forestry Commission and the RACMSA, but despite this we are able to offer 50 stage miles for an entry fee of £148.’ Our 2005 Forest costs are £475 per mile plus £60 permit and insurance fees per car.
In 1994 our current Chief Marshall, Charlie Campbell, and Clerk of the Course, Iain Campbell, appeared as competitors for the first time in car 95, a very bright yellow Vauxhall Chevette, finishing 42nd.
In the same year Alan Dickson was seeded 54, and George MacDonald was at 74. They now both compete at the top level of the Championship. From the top ten of that year, six are still competing at the head of the field in the Scottish Championship.
1999 saw Highland Car Club become the first motor sport club to achieve Investors in People status.
1998 Iain Urquhart took over from John Findlayson as Clerk of the Course for the next four years, and now acts as Deputy Clerk. In 2001 he and a small team spent the entire Friday night prior to the rally travelling through the stages to try to keep them open, following heavy snow falls and a keen frost. Although the event was extremely slippery, all the stages as far north as Lairg were run. In 2002 he again did an all night patrol following a similar blizzard.
Andrew Wood and Ann Parker won in 2000 and 2001 in their Audi Quattro S2 against much more modern cars, going on to become Scottish Rally Champions in 2000. In 2003, (as Mr & Mrs Wood), they also led the rally until the very last stage, losing victory by one second to Raymond Munro. It was Raymond’s first ‘home win’ after 22 years of competing on the Snowman, but he repeated the achievement in 2004. He also followed up his wins both years by becoming champion.
In 2003 the organising group lost a stalwart of the Snowman for many years with the untimely death of Hector Munro. Hector was the master of quickly turning stages around in preparation for second usage, and regularly checked and closed off the stages in horrible conditions late on the Friday night prior to the Rally, along with Bill Law. He played quiet, but major part in the running of the Rally, we all have our own fond memories of him, and miss him sorely.
The Snowman Rally has changed dramatically since that cold night in 1955 when the first competitors set off, but we still get the same challenges of weather, testing roads, and luck, things just happen quicker than they did in 1955.