The RAC Rally had formally become an International event in 1951, but Britain's laws precluded the closure of public highways for special stages. This meant it had to rely on short maneuverability tests, regularity sections and night map-reading navigation to find a winner, which made it unattractive to foreign crews. In 1961, Jack Kemsley was able to persuade the Forestry Commission to open their many hundreds of miles of well surfaced and sinuous gravel roads, and the event was transformed into one of the most demanding and popular in the calendar, by 1983 having over 600 miles (970 km) of stage.
The Snowman Rally took this step in how the event ran during the 60s – and with it increasingly committed drivers and co drivers began to compete in more specialised rally cars. Many of these drivers and co drivers names we would still know to compete for many decades to come.
In 1961 the Snowman was still an overnight tarmac rally, however the event had to be abandoned at around 5am in the morning due to extremely heavy snow which drifted badly and blocked roads!
In one of the early 60s events after a Fort William start, the rally wound its way up the Great Glen using stages, one of which was the old Spean Bridge – Fort Augustus railway line at Laggan.
On arrival at the stage, one co-driver decided to take a “natural break” in the darkness, stepped out of the car and then promptly disappeared down the old railway embankment!
Other years events became infamous for a number of competitors stories - recalls Ormand Smith. Erstwhile top rally driver of the period Tommy Paton in his venerable Mini Cooper ‘S’ with its instantly recognisable registration SD12, managed to crack the sump on one of the “yumps” in Altyre Forest near Forres.
The crew limped down to the service point at Pedigreed Cars in Forres, put the car up on the ramp, somehow sealed the crack and being short of fresh competition spec. oil, spotted a drum of waste engine oil and promptly refilled the sump. Filling a couple of containers with more of the waste oil (for emergency use!!) the crew set off again – they not only finished the Snowman that year - but they also won it!
Iain Sutherland, another 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.
Another competitor appeared on this decade's events by the name of Dave MacDonald – Dave went on to compete in the Snowman Rally over five decades, making him the longest active driver that the Rally has seen. His experience on Snow driving especially making him competitive with several top 10 results over the years.
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 McEwans, 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!