Sixty years to the day

Editors always disparaged anniversary journalism. Marking a memorial or a bicentenary was, they always told me, too easy. Still, it’s tempting. You need something to celebrate.

It is 200 years since Waterloo; 75 since Dunkirk; 70 since VE Day. It seems to me that celebrations are back. It is now 60 years since I first went to a grand prix. Sixty years since I got drenched watching Archie Scott-Brown win the British Empire Trophy. This week it is 60 years since my first big rally and I met Jim Clark. Anniversary journalism is fine.

British Empire Trophy? There was no embarrassment about the title in 1955 among those of us who had grown up with the Empire Exhibition in 1938. Oulton Park was reachable from Glasgow in Ronald Thomson Abbott’s Triumph TR2. Engaging, wildly comic medical student Ronnie wore thick glasses and spent much of his grant, or whatever you got at the time, bending MGG29 straight again following accidents. I was with him one night when he failed to line up flickering roadside gas lamps and crashed into heavy railings.

It was no big deal but the bumper fell off and the front wing was bent. At Oulton we willed Scott-Brown to win. We knew he came from Paisley. We never knew he was disabled but thought him a hero, and spent the day sheltering under a tree on the inside of Old Hall at Oulton Park.

Sixty years ago I was navigator in Frank Dundas’s Morgan Plus Four, car 103 on The Scottish Rally. Jim Clark was in cousin Billy Potts’s Austin-Healey 100, car 111 so we met often. You waited outside controls and wasted time. Rallying was gentler then and the road section ran at an easy pace. Bill Henderson, who became Autosport’s Scottish photographer recreated the scene at one of the tests, an approach road to Rest-and-be-Thankful with RSAC Secretary AK Stevenson in charge, as he usually was. Frank is the one with the jaunty cap; I have the clipboard. Billy Potts and Jim are in the Healey.

The Rally was based in Oban. The evenings were filled with talk about cars. And parties. It was a sun-drenched week. They all were when you were that age. Jim’s fellow-farmer Ian Scott-Watson, competing in the Ecurie Agricole team with Ronnie Dalglish (TR2) and Jimmy Somervail (Austin-Healey) burst a tyre and rolled his DKW the first day. Frank drove the Morgan beautifully in the decisive tests; we never lost marks on the road and finished fourth in the sports car class over 1.6litres behind Goff Imhof in a fierce 5.4litre Allard J2. There was a sprint on the runway of what is now Connell Airport near Oban that saw him doing well over 120mph. That was fast in 1955. I saved the programmes for 60 years.