I was looking through Marcus Chambers’ book “Works Wonders” the other day and I saw a photo that I, as a rally navigator, found interesting. Marcus Chambers was the competition manager at BMC before Stuart Turner had that position. The photo below shows a typical rally navigation set-up in the 1950s. The photo shows John Williamson sitting in the navigator’s seat discussing something with John Milne. John Williamson was a navigator who occasionally was part of the BMC rally team. In 1958, he was the navigator for Bill Shepherd in an Austin A105 during the Monte Carlo Rally and it appears that this rally set-up is in that car. John Milne was an occasional rally driver, but he was not part of the 1958 BMC team entered in the Monte Carlo Rally.
A 1950s Rally Navigation Set-Up
It is important to remember that during that period, the major European classic rallies were timed to the minute. In other words, the teams had to arrive within the required minute. Therefore if you were required to arrive at a control at 11:20:00 am, then you would receive no penalties if you arrived from 11:20:00 am to 11:20:59 am. In addition, there were no intermediate speed changes. The teams were given a total time or speed to travel from control to control. These events were meant to be a challenge to the drivers and the cars to get to the controls on time – not to be a timing event where the teams had to run on time, all of the time.
The equipment that is visible in front (left to right) of John Williamson is as follows:
- Grab handle for use during cornering
- Time-of-day clock
- Two Heuer stopwatches. I suspect that one of these stopwatches would have split capabilities.
- Halda Speedpilot located below the stop watches. The Speedpilot would be used to provide information about how the car’s actual traveled average speed was comparing to the required average speed.
- Speedometer with a total odometer and a trip odometer capabilities.
- On the roof is a movable exterior light for the navigator, so that he could shine it on road signs or some other object during night rallies.
The piece of equipment above and to the right of the speedometer is not clear to me. It could be a navigation light, as there only appears to be a small light above the speedometer. The Halda Speedpilot and the speedometer would have their own internal instrument lighting, but the time-of-day clock and the Heuer stopwatches would have no internal lighting. In addition, the navigator would need a light to read the route instructions, notes, and maps during night rallies. If anyone reading this has other ideas about what that item is, then I would appreciate hearing from you.
In addition to the equipment that is visible in the above image, the rally navigator would have a set of timing tables and maps that would be used for reference during the rally.
I mentioned that teams would be given times or average speeds to get from control to control. There was at least one exception to this approach – the Liege-Sofia-Liege Rally. This was actually a thinly disguised road race. The route instructions gave average speeds that the teams had to achieve, but these were (deliberately, I believe) misleading. An outsider or non-competitor would see that the required average speed between controls was within the bounds of the law. But the key to not getting any timing penalties was to look at the times that the controls would actually be open. In order to arrive at a control while it was still open, the teams had to travel at an average speed considerably faster than shown in the route instructions. This rally was last held in 1964, when the speeds had become just too high for the roads and traffic conditions.
All of this shows what the typical rally navigator’s “office” looked like during the 1950s.