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Rally thrills on the road and in the boardroom

A thrilling and fascinating insight into international motor rallying proved to be an entertaining hour for members and guests of Leicester Novus Rotary when District Governor Rodney Spokes was guest speaker.

Rodney, husband of Novus secretary Pam, was on course to being an accountant but had a lucky break when a car ploughed into his motorcycle shortly before he was due to start his course. In the unplanned ‘gap year’ thast followed, Rodney discovered a love of car rallies and soon found himself being navigator to some well-known rally drivers.

He was involved in the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally but he and his driver were disqualified on a technicality as was winner Paddy Hopkirk. Rodney and others suspected that it was behind-the-scenes machinations by the French who had to adjust the rules to prevent the British teams from winning.

But Rodney was not deterred, competing as navigator/co-driver in 80 international rallies as part of the Dealer Team Vauxhall. DTV, some said, stood for “Don’t Tell Vauxhall” because General Motors, the parent company, did not officially sanction Vauxhall being involved in rallying. But on a family visit to the USA, Rodney met GM staff who helped improve the ‘unofficial’ Vauxhall cars which were then up against the highly-successful teams of Ford and others.

Rodney was not only competing, but had become the DTV manager. It suited him fine,as the HQ was in Banbury, and he was living in Oxford.

He and Pam married in 1972 and they managed a three-day honeymoon before Rodney had to spend two weeks preparing mechanics crews and writing up his — ‘pace notes’ the all-important instructions to the driver on what corners and hazards were coming up — for the 1972 Manx (Isle of Man) Rally. As in many of the rallies of the time, the hazards could have included livestock and photographers too eager to get a close-up view of the action. In those days the RAC Rally would be attended by two million on-the-spot spectators as well as good coverage by the BBC TV.

Rodney’s presentation included some thrilling footage of the stars of the day, including Roger Clark, who was then living in Leicester, and whose two sons still live near their late father’s home.

Against the backdrop of many notable DTV successes, the boardroom intrigues at General Motors and DTV continued and eventually it was agreed to transfer ownership of DTV and it was agreed that it would move to Leicester with Rodney and his driver Chris Coburn as directors. A condition was that Rodney had to stay with the firm for two years.

Partnering Will Sparrow, DTV won the class in the Tulip Rally of Holland. Rodney was also heavily involved in the Tour of Britain which involved road rallying and using race tracks with drivers the late James Hunt and rally champion turned Toyota rally team manager Tommi Makinen.

After his involvement with rallying, Rodney used his skills from organising international as a director of Leicester travel agents Page and Moy which had a staff of 170 and an annual turnover of £100 million.

His year as District Governor (lead Rotarian) representing 86 clubs across eastern central England officially ends on July 1, but he hands over to his successor Peter Berry on Sunday.

Novus members Pradeep Popat and Channi Riyait both recounted how they had watched rallies in native countries of Uganda and Kenya.

All agreed that it had been a fascinating glimpse into the high-powered world of rallying in the 1970s and 1980s.

If any of this has whetted your appetite, try clicking on this link . You might even catch a glimpse of yourself as the cars hurtle around Mallory Park. I think I might have been there, writes Jim Matthews

Last edited: 18:30 on Friday, 26.06.2020