Words: Keith Adams Photography: Gerard Brown
We love an adventure at AROnline, and so the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally, which kicks off on 1 January 2012 has certainly caught our imagination. It’s going to be an epic event, and unique in its scope – as it will capture the spirit of the long distance World Cup Rallies of the 1970s. And it’s the team of Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton, who will be competing in their MG Maestro, as prepared by Tony Fowkes, ex-works Mercedes-Benz driver (who finished second on the 1977 London to Sydney) which has really captured our imagination.
The London to Cape Town is not designed as a classic tour, but as a press on driver’s challenge with Time Trials and a time-schedule to be maintained every day. The ambition is to revive the kind of rallying last seen on the 1977 London to Sydney marathon.
There has never been a rally that has linked mainland Europe with a complete drive of the African Continent from top to bottom – in the past, wars, famines, border disputes have prevented this. The route from London will take in France, Italy, then take the ferry to Syria, Jordan and Saudi-Arabia before crossing to Sudan. All of these countries have an infrastructure of national motor-sport Federations and local motor clubs and the intention is to provide timed sections every day.
Jane and Gill already have extensive competition experience. Jane has been rallying for 25 years and has competed in over 300 rallies across the UK, Ireland and Europe, while Gill has competed in all sorts of motors ports, including Production Car trials, Autotests, Classic Car Trials, Historic and Modern Stage and Road Rallies and Endurance Rallies.
Their four-door 1986 MG Maestro, now known as the Spirit of Oxford, has been incredibly thoroughly prepared by Fowkes, and you can read all about its transformation from 15,000-mile one-owner 1.6L shopping car to full-fat rally-car on the running thread on on the Maestro and Montego Owners Club Forum. The girls will be blogging from the rally on their own website, but AROnline will be keeping close tabs on the team, as we quietly fancy the Maestro for a very strong result indeed. But you didn’t hear that from us.
The Maestro’s story
Philip Young, the London to Cape Town’s organiser, and brainchild behind the Endurance Rally Association tells the story of the Maestro – possibly the event’s least likely car…
‘I bought it blind, the only time I have ever done that… the Belfast dealer specialising in low-mileage cars sent some good photos and what seemed an honest enough appraisal. When it arrived just before Christmas, (£200 to send it by transporter), I suddenly had second thoughts about the whole idea – it was simply too good. It did seem on the one hand terrible to cut up a mint car, but then we needed a totally rust-free shell.
‘The car had a full service record over its 15,000 miles, the back seat appeared never to have been sat upon, with Leyland brown paper in the foot wells behind the front seats, and letters to the Essex dealer from its 80 year old owner in copperplate beautiful handwriting saying she was laying up the car for a while…Several on here assured me there were quite few similar cars about in as-new nick, so I started to collect the bits. Just about everything has been cheap – the biggest single item has been going to Southern Carburettors for a brand new carb with separate float chamber.
‘Originally, the idea was for the Oxford Motorsports Foundation, a charity-status set up of fostering interest among university students to get into motor-sport engineering, to rally the Maestro. They looked at it, drove it – and said the driving position was terrible, it drove “terrible”, and all the research they had done suggested it would break drive shafts or do in the VW gearbox, but it would be a lot of expense to put a K-series into it, so, on that basis, turned it down. They had arrived for their road test in a VW Golf. Trying to get the Maestro down the length of Africa to Cape Town, against the clock, suddenly seemed really daunting, a project too far.
‘By the time they turned down the offer, work on the body had started. There was no going back, a different front end was being welded (and brazed) onto the car. Tony Fowkes has proceeded, a bit of of hobby for him (although he runs a body shop!), and a labour of love, as obviously it would be mega bills if there was no sponsorship in kind in this.
‘At first, the idea was for Tony to put some spot welds around the suspension areas and paint the car…he then stripped it totally and lots of round circles suddenly appeared in areas like behind the door rubbers, (additional spot welds that look very similar to the Cowley Robot ones), he then just got carried away…. (see the photos!). He likes brazing, less heat means less potential of distortion in the adjacent area of the panel, we are clearly looking at the work of a very dedicated craftsman. Hours and hours have just run away with it all.
‘The Maestro might end up being one of the best prepared cars on the event, and, the cheapest to have put together. Its now attracting interest from a few drivers capable of giving it a good result, and giving the likes of Owen Turner in the Rover, and others, a hard time…a lot to do in the coming months. The event is very hard-driving, and includes a lot of terrible terrain, the desert of northern Kenyan might only be a day, but is the roughest track I’ve ever seen – and I’ve done one of the original Paris Dakars.’