SAAB Motorsport

Saab Adventure at 13. Western Mail International Welsh Rally 1976

Stig Blomqvist in Saab 99 EMS at Start lineStig Blomqvist in Saab 99 EMS at Start line

This is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the glory days of Saab cars and crews in international rally races around the world. This time, we are reminded of the famous Welsh Rally held in 1976 when two Saab racing crews participated in this event. The Welsh international Rally gained a reputation as one of the best european rallies of the day.

The Welsh international Rally

Organised by the South Wales Automobile Club, the Welsh started out as a national touring rally comprising of road sections and driving tests. It gained international status during the 1960s and soon attracted top drivers and works teams. The intervening years, between 1963 & 1991, secured the event’s reputation as one of the toughest and most enjoyable on the rally calendar. It achieved european championship status in 1973 and the golden years ensued.

13. Western Mail International Welsh Rally 1976

Exactly 44 years ago, on May 9, two Saab teams were on the starting list of the rally, the Swedish team was in Saab 99 EMS and Finnish in Saab 96 models:

One of the observers who attended the rally that year was Geoff Chittenden with his friend Garry, so he tells us his experiences and impressions of this rally.

This one of the hottest May’s that he had watched this rally at the time, some of you older readers may remember the summer of 1976 at least in England as being Hot. This however brought some other challenges while watching, for example dust.

That year, the GB rally was dominated by two drivers, Ari Vatanen and local crowd favorite Russell Brookes. Unfortunately for the Saab fans, in this rally, the Saab crews had problems and did not finish the race.

  • Stig Blomqvist – Saab 99 EMS – Car 2 – SwedenRetired
  • Vanhala Tuomo – Saab 96 V4 – Car 36 – Finland – Retired.
Stig Blomqvist in Saab 99 EMS at Start line
Stig Blomqvist in Saab 99 EMS at Start line

Picture of Stig’s Silver 99 EMS at the start, Unfortunately, this is the only image of that Geoff and his friend has managed to record, they never got any more pictures as he retired early in the Rally. They were really disappointed that they never got to see Stig on any of the stages. At least they got to see some 96 V4’s.

Saab 96 crews in the 1976 Welsh Rally
One of the Saab 96 crews in the 1976 Western Mail International Welsh Rally

The start tag “36” was worn by Saab 96 V4 with crew from Tuomo Vanhala and Jukka Heikkilä, and this crew was also unlucky to finish the race. There was also two another Saab 96, starting number 79 and 86, but we have no information on this cars and its crews.

Saab Adventure after the Welsh Rally

As Geoff and Garry drove home, they were both very tired as after a few days of “sleeping” in the front seats of the car (the Saab 96’s front seats aren’t that good for sleeping). Garry wanted to drive straight home after the event that evening. Anyway Geoff was giving the route to Garry and then “resting his eyes” until the next junction, then all of a sudden the car started shaking and vibrating, Garry woke up just in time to see a concrete bollard appear in front of them and hit the front of the car with steam starting to pour out of the radiator.

Another of the Saab 96 crews at the Welsh Rally
Another of the Saab 96 crews at the Welsh Rally

They were back on the road within a few seconds and stop to inspect the damage. Garry’s expert driving had placed the bollard exactly between the two Cibie Super Oscars and were completely undamaged, the same couldn’t be said for the radiator, front bumper, grill, and concrete bollard. The bollard had been knocked completely down as they drove over it, only remaining in place (but now horizontal) by the steel reinforcing bars.

A Breakers Yard was not helpful

As it was late and nothing was open so duo decided to find somewhere nearby to pull over for the night.
The next day with plenty of plastic padding and an overheating engine, not helped by the good weather being 25 degrees. They could only drive for about 15 mins before stopping to refill the radiator driving for another 15 mins refilling the radiator again etc; you get the picture. After an hour or so of driving they luckily found a breakers yard.

The fourth Saab crew to participate in the 1976 Welsh Rally
The fourth Saab crew to participate in the 1976 Welsh Rally

Unfortunately, there were no 96 V4’s to plunder, in fact no Saabs at all, however after a look around the entire yard, the best fit from what was available looked like a Ford Anglia radiator. Which after a bit of “adjustment” got us back home to fight another day.

Interesting story, and the whole adventure of going to a Car rally. Very often, you plan to stay in an area or event for only an hour or two, and then by unforeseen circumstances – everything turns into an even longer “adventure”.