The ERA Story

35 Years of Experience

Back in 1987 Pirelli executives were inspired by Philip’s enthusiasm and persuaded to support his plans for a classic car rally from London to Italy and back. The event was named The Pirelli Classic Marathon.

From the press-launch in the Whitbread rooms at the Barbican in the centre of London the announcement of the first-ever international rally for classic cars was reported in The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Financial Times and the Daily Mirror. The press reception was attended by several former international works drivers who all said to each other “I’m sure I’m too old for all this…” while quietly plotting on where to borrow a car.

The 1988 Pirelli Classic Marathon was filmed by the BBC, whose documentary, “The Great Chase” attracted a British TV audience of 6.2 million. Historic Rallying had arrived thanks to Philip’s vision, Pirelli’s support and the BBC’s rocket in the sky.

Former rally star Anne Hall took part in the first Classic Marathon driving a Ford Anglia, other stars were soon to follow. Stirling Moss competed four times between 1989 and 1992 winning two Alpine Cups. Paddy Hopkirk drove several Classic Marathons in Mini Coopers, winning the 1990 edition with Alec Poole. Roger Clark drove anything he could get hold of, including a Mini Cooper, MGB, and a Lotus Cortina with Tony Mason. The Classic Marathon attracted many other stars from the past include Timo Makinen, Gijs Van Lennep, John Sprinzel, Willy Cave, Paul Easter, John Haughland, and former American rally champion Bobby Unser. After several years in the Alpes, the Classic Marathon ventured further afield and became the first rally to take classic cars into Africa with a drive to Marrakesh. The Classic Marathon continues to this day, now organised by HERO.

The Classic Marathon became the foundation stone for a worldwide scene… Japanese drivers came and drove it, to go home and form their own “Marathon Classico” …drivers from South Africa came and drove it, and went home to create their own Pirelli Classic Marathon… there is now a Classic Rally Association of Australia, and the concept of road-rallying against the clock for older cars is now a vibrant rally scene worldwide. Three years after the first Pirelli Classic Marathon, the FIA sat down to draft a set of international regulations. The FIA’s Max Mosley invited Philip Young to meet him at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone – Historic Rallying was clearly now going to be worldwide motor-sport.

To compliment the Classic Marathon, held each summer, came another ERA initiative, The Monte Carlo Challenge, reviving the tradition of winter rallying and establishing a highly authentic event, with crews in period dress such as duffle coats, and navigating from maps. This produced what is fondly regarded as perhaps the most accurate and historically correct recreation of how events were originally organised, with a highly challenging and demanding route. The first event set out from Glasgow in 1990, Sir David Steel and former BBC Commentator Raymond Baxter manned Time Controls, and ten years later, 234 cars were taking part. After watching cars arrive on the harbour front opposite their offices every January for year after year, it was perhaps inevitable that the Automobile Club de Monaco should finally feel persuaded to start up their own historic revival, and want rallying to Monte Carlo for themselves.

All was not lost, the Rally of the Tests was then created by the ERA to revive the original traditions of the RAC Rally, and a marathon route took cars from Scarborough to Brighton, with numerous test venues along the way, in the style of the RAC Rally of the 1950s. This was for pre-1962 model-types, and it proved an instant hit – Now known as the RAC Rally of the Tests and coming up to the 20th Anniversary of the event ( 2021) it is regarded as a “must-do” event on the British calendar, attracting drivers from far and wide, and another event taken on and run by the team at HERO.

To mark the new Millennium in the summer of 2000 the Endurance Rally Association set out again from London’s Tower Bridge on a truly unique event which was to go down as the longest rally ever organised – the Around the World in 80 Days, driving overland to China, catching a special air-lift to Alaska, driving across Canada and America to New York, flying to Morocco, and then driving back to London’s Tower Bridge. With timed competition every day, it remains the only timed event to ever circumnavigate the globe running in no less than four Continents.

Sensing the trend in favour of smaller and more economical cars the ERA launched The World Cup Rally in 2001, an ambitious attempt to revive the concept of the long-distance epics of the 1970s, in a format within the bounds of the ordinary enthusiast. This event pioneered a new low-cost formula based on standard production cars, with minimal modifications, with an engine-size limit of 1400cc. The first event, supported by the Daily Telegraph, drove from London to Marrakesh, and returned via Portugal and Spain, and was won by a VW Golf. Former British ladies rally champion Barbara Armstrong finished second overall in a works-entered Peugeot 206 in a cloud of smoke, having driven the final day on three cylinders. Other factories to support the World Cup Rally with works-supported entries included Mercedes, Skoda, and MG.

Subsequent ERA World Cup Rallies included the London to Athens in 2002, the first international rally to cross Albania. In 2003 with the ERA World Cup Rally around Tunisia, taking in the fringes of the Sahara Desert. By now, entrants were asking “why can’t we rally these cars in the UK” and this was answered by the British governing-body of motorsport, the MSA, now called Motorsport UK, who in a matter of a few weeks drafted new regulations for “Endurance Rallying” limited to 1400cc cars with standard unmodified engines and gearboxes, and so established the first entirely new rally initiative for the British scene since the arrival of Historic rallying. In 2004 the first major event in this new category ran as The Lombard Revival Rally with support from Lombard Finance and the CSMA. Lombard continued their support for several years, recognising the affinity with the great days of the early Lombard Rallies of Great Britain. In November 2005 over 120 drivers took part in this gruelling around-Britain rally taking in over 60 different venues.

Perhaps the toughest ERA rally to that time came in 2005 when the ERA staged a special event in Africa, the London to Dakar rally in which giant killer Alastair Caldwell beat all comers including the specialist 4x4s in his diminutive Peugeot 205.

The most ambitious Endurance Rally Association event has been the Peking to Paris held in 1997. Ninety years earlier four intrepid pioneer motorists had driven from Peking to Paris establishing the World’s first trans-continental event and proving that the motor-car could indeed “make frontiers redundant now that the motor-car can go anywhere.” However, repeating the remarkable success of Prince Borghese had been impossible. Under Chairman Mao the overland borders remained firmly closed. However, they were finally persuaded to allow cars to drive across Tibet, the first rally to do so, …with the precious permit in their pocket, the ERA Team produced a remarkable route that went on across the Himalayas, camping at the foot of Mount Everest, driving over the top of India and Pakistan, becoming the first rally to cross Iran since the 1977 London to Sydney… to finish with a wild celebration in the centre of Paris. The ERA team repeated the Peking to Paris event in 2007, 2010 and again in 2013, and have continued to run the event on a three-year cycle since.

When Prince Borghese first turned off his engine on arrival in Paris to complete his famous victory in 1907, he announced: “Gentlemen…you said driving such a route would be quite impossible… You are perfectly correct”. Taking on the impossible has become something of a hallmark for the team at the Endurance Rally Association.

To compliment their highly challenging and demanding events the ERA has runs a series of Classic Safari events providing the opportunity for small groups of classic car enthusiasts to drive their cars on an African Safari visiting the best game reserves and staying in the best lodges. The Classic Safari first ran in 2003 with subsequent events in 2006 and 2008, 2011 and 2014.

The Endurance Rally Association is affiliated to the Royal Automobile Club’s Motor Sports Association and is a member of the British Federation of Historic Vehicle Clubs.