The early years of the Rocky Mountain Rally 


Recollections from Dr. Ian McArthur, 1973 RMR Organizer, 1974 RMR Co-organizer, Manager, Team Sutul (1961-1975).

In the early seventies the sport of rallying in Alberta was in turmoil.  There was a shift developing in the nature of the sport.  Where previously rallying was considered a competition that entailed both driving and navigating, there was increasing pressure to turn the sport into road racing. Canadian Rally Champion driver Walter Boyce wrote to me:

"I think your rally should look like this:  'A rally designed to test the abilities of the driver and secondarily the car.' The co-driver is just along for the ride and as such navigation should be limited to a format of mileages / turns / elapsed time. The rally should be decided on the selectives, in fact the finish of selectives should be the only place at which points are lost."

Many of us in Edmonton did not agree with this concept and considered that, in order to win a rally, a team must be able to both drive and navigate.

Also during this period the camaraderie within the sport was deteriorating.  Some crews considered that the way to win was to protest every section where they lost points.  On many occasions it took longer to resolve the inquiries and protests than it did to run the event. As a result, in the Edmonton Light Car Club we were losing rally organizers at an alarming rate.

Back in the early seventies the Edmonton Light Car Club was mainly a rally club.  There was concern among some of us that the 'great adventure' of rallying was disappearing as short 'selectives' mixed with transport sections was turning the sport into a bunch of short squirts with little in the way of navigation.

We thought that the nature of the sport entailed going somewhere challenging:  really taking a trip from somewhere to nowhere like the Monte Carlo Rally or the East African Safari.  We knew we certainly had the roads and the countryside for it out here along the spine of the Rockies.  But the national rules stated that maximum average speeds had to be 10% under the legal limit and it seemed that the rallies were getting shorter and shorter, looping around the same area.  There were also continuing complaints that the selectives were too short, too crooked and too slow (as a result of the speed restrictions).

In 1968 a few of us started thinking seriously about what to do.  We came up with three main principles for devising the 'Great Canadian Adventure' in the Rocky Mountains. First, the rally had to be difficult and challenging to the driver, the navigator and the car.  Second, the route had to really go somewhere.  Third, the rally had to create a character of its own to develop a reputation and a following over time.

Brian Miles (president of the Edmonton Light Car Club at the time) came up with a brilliant idea.  He suggested that the rally should have a consistent Base Route that would be used as the core of the rally over many years.  The variety in the route would be provided by using suitable roads branching off from the base route.  The start, the finish, the over night stops and the service areas would remain the same year after year.  I suggested that the perfect base route would be from Jasper down the Forestry Trunk Road to the Crowsnest Pass, over to Radium Junction and back to Banff for the finish. The more serious rallyists in Canada were complaining about the slow speeds required by the 10% rule and longed for something faster. We figured there would be enough suitably twisty roads off of this base route to keep the rally interesting (speed-wise) and different for many years. So it was set.



The Base Route

We approached the Canadian National Railways' Jasper Park Lodge and the Canadian Pacific's Banff Springs Hotel for the start and finish locations.  They both expressed enthusiasm and offered some outstandingly low rates especially since we picked the dates to be just after the summer tourist season.

Now the challenge.  We figured the route would probably be in the thousand-mile range.

Since this was a National rally we had to provide a lot of paper work.  I went to the Provincial Building in Edmonton to get copies of the Vehicles and Highways Traffic Act to send to the stewards.  As I explained to the clerk what I wanted and why, he asked where we were going.  When I said "Down the Forestry Trunk Road" the unique character of the Rocky Mountain Rally was ensured.  The clerk explained that the Alberta forestry roads were specifically excluded from the Vehicles and Highways Traffic Act. They were governed instead by the Forestry Act. They had no speed limits. 





Excerpts from the 1971 Forestry Act

I had discovered the only public roads in Canada that did not have speed limits.  Thousands of miles of them.  In the Rockies. I went home and pondered this over a beer or two. We didn't tell anyone.  Not yet, anyway.

At this point we realized that we were really on to something.  10% below infinity is still pretty fast.  So we thought about the implications of running the first truly balls-out fast 1000 mile Canadian rally that really went somewhere on probably the best rally roads in the West.  And it was within the rules.

We contacted the Army to see if they would handle communications for the "selectives." They agreed and pointed out that, while they did not have the authority to keep people off of the stages, it was highly unlikely that anyone would argue with a bunch of soldiers in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

After that it was just a lot of fascinating work setting up the route and getting organized with the Army, the other clubs that were partnering with ELCC and the CASC.

Attached is a write-up (a pdf file) on the history of the Rocky that I wrote in early 1974 after the completion of the inaugural Rocky Mountain Rally in 1973.



The Start at Jasper Park Lodge

The start was at Jasper Park Lodge. After a transport section to Hinton the real rally started down the forestry roads with the first service stop at Nordegg. Then a stop at Mountain Aire Lodge, then at Canal Flats in BC and finally the end of the real route 6800 feet up a mountain at the Paradise Mine, across from the location of Panorama ski hill by Invermere.

Then disaster struck. The first world oil crisis hit.  There were gas station lineups all over the US and parts of Canada. We thought nobody would be able to travel.

Gulf Canada agreed to sponsor the rally. They agreed to give us a tanker load of premium fuel for free. All we had to do was get a tanker to haul it. A friend of Michael Dean had a Turbo tanker and said he would be pleased to be the official fuel transporter for the rally. So off came the Turbo decals and on went the Gulf signs. We told prospective entrants that if they could get to the border of Alberta we would provide all the free gas they needed for the duration of the rally.  We planned on being at the Coutts border crossing, if we got any American entries.



The Gulf Tanker at Ghost Lake

We did gas up everybody entrants, service crews, the Army, checkpointers and still had an embarrassing amount of fuel left after the rally.  I have heard rumours that it ended up in the tanks of an Esso station somewhere in Eastern Alberta. I do know the ELCC had a slightly enlarged treasury.

We decided to publicize the rally as a truly challenging event.  During the initial route setup we took a number of photos of the proposed route and the countryside. Our aim was to promote the ruggedness of the country and the challenge of the mountain roads.  I don't think we mentioned that there were no speed limits. As I recall, we sort of kept this a secret. My motorsport team, Team Sutul, was sponsored by Hertz at the time (in fact, Bob Leonard and Jack Bendle won the 1973 Alberta Rally Champoinship in our Hertz automatic transmission Mustangs).  Hertz gave us a brand new, never been rented, AMC Javelin to set up the route.  Rob Keith and I set out to explore the roads.

We left Edmonton and by the time we reached Edson the driver's side window crashed down into the door.  By Jasper the passenger window disappeared. Coming down off the Skyline summit the drum brakes faded to zero. In the Willow Creek ford the exhaust fell off. When we returned to Edmonton we discovered we had about ten degrees of camber on the front wheels.  Hertz sold the car.  It had never reached a customer.


The HERTZ Javelin in Willow Creek Ford

The actual running of the rally was fraught with dissention.  The senior CASC steward (from down East) never bothered to come out and check the route. When he arrived at the Jasper Park Lodge the night before the rally he was somewhat taken aback to discover the target speeds on the selectives. When it was pointed out that there were no speed limits on the Forestry roads he flatly refused to believe it.  He asked us if we had informed every resident on the route that the rally was coming through.  I told him yes, we had informed both of them.  He could not comprehend the nature of the Alberta forestry country and the lack of any homes.

About three o'clock in the morning at the Jasper Park Lodge, after repeated and heated confrontations with the steward, the organizing committee decided to cancel the event.  It would be impossible to lower the speeds (from around 60-70 mph to the 45 mph that were demanded) as that would set back the times so far that the route could no be completed in the available time and we could not contact all of the checkpoint crew to inform them of the later time frame. It would also be a very boring rally with every competitor zeroing every selective.  I packed up the boxes of route books and headed out the door.

A compromise was quickly negotiated. The rally would run as intended and the speeds would remain. I think to this day the steward still does not believe that there were no speed limits on the Forestry roads.




 
The Finish at Paradise Mine

On the final selective, up to the Paradise Mine across from where Panorama Ski Resort is now, I was sitting by the side of the road watching the cars come up.  To my horror I discovered the senior steward driving his borrowed Datsun up the selective right in the middle of the competing cars.

The outcome of the whole thing was that the crews all commented that the target times in the selectives were too slow. Many crews zeroed the majority of them. We did not realize just how fast these new cars and crews could go.


Walter Boyce and Doug Woods won the 1973 event. 


Boyce and Woods on the Hill to Paradise

After the event there were many accusations and a flood of angry letters between the organizers and the CASC rally folks. I still have all of these.  Rereading them a few days ago was an interesting adventure. I have donated all of these documents plus a pile of other material to the Calgary Sports Car Club.


Addendum: The 1974 Rocky Mountain Rally

For the 1974 Rocky Mountain Rally we split the organizing responsibilities.  Steve Vernon did the route and competition parts, I did the rest of the organizing. 

I have a collection of pictures and all of the route books from the 1974 event.  We had major sponsorship from Gulf (another tanker of gas), Molsons (a lot of free beer) and ACCESS Alberta (the provincial government's educational television network). Hertz did not provide a car.  I had to use the Elan


The Team Sutul Lotus Elan at Banff, 1974 RMR

The 1974 event used the Base Route concept again, but the base route was shortened and did not enter British Columbia. Also, by this time navigational rallies were effectively dead and the RMR became a road race.

We incorporated many ideas gleaned from our experiences in the 1973 event and from some very helpful comments from the 1973 competitors. One of the best was incorporating "check point teams" with a team captain.

Taisto Heinonen and John Bellefleur won the 1974 RMR in Walter Boyce's Toyota.


Hiro Saka's photo made the cover of "Motorsport"

By 1975 the RMR had changed from a traveling adventure into a typical one-night "out and back" selective event. By this time my involvement with the RMR was over. The dream of creating the Great Adventure in the Canadian Rockies was over.  Probably forever.

Earlier, in 1974, Mike Dean and I entered a local rally just to take some footage with my new portable videotape recorder (which was a very new technology at the time).  In the middle of the night we encountered a Porsche stuck in the sand and stopped to help pull him out, getting ourselves stuck in the process. When we finally got the Porsche out, the crew just drove off and left us stranded in the sand.

At the gas stop Mike and I were having a bite to eat in the coffee shop.  We decided that we had had enough.  That night was the end of Team Sutul and my involvement in motorsport. We sold all of the cars and quit.  All that is left are the documents and photos from the 1973 and 1974 RMRs and the remains of our Lotus Elan (still sitting in the garage). I have never competed in a motor sport event since that night. Mike and I and the rest of the team completed our commitment to the 1974 Rocky Mountain Rally and that was it.   Twenty nine years ago.


Team Sutul 1973


The easy way to work on the bottom of a Mini Cooper S 

My wife and I moved to the country and got into trail riding on our Appaloosa horses.  I have spent many enjoyable days riding in the Rockies down the same selective roads from the original Rocky Mountain rallies.  It sure is slower and I don't have to steer.  The only drawback is I have to 'fuel up' my horse even when he's parked.

The "Team Sutul" years from 1958 (when I first rallied in a Sunbeam Alpine on the Calgary Winter Rally) to the fall of 1974 (when the 1974 RMR was over) were the most exciting 16 years of my life.