Something A Little Different
1 August 2012
Something A Little Different
There is no shortage of well turned out classic rally cars in New Zealand but spectators at this years Catlins Coast Rally on Saturday 4 August will be able to enjoy a replica of a rarely seen classic.
Tony Aimers of Upper Hutt has entered the event in a Fiat 131 Abarth Replica of the car used by Italian Fulvio Bacchelli to win Rally New Zealand in 1977 - ironically the year Tony himself started competing in rallies.
While the Fiats were dominating Rally NZ that year Tony was starting out in a Mazda RX3. "The RX3 was a nice car and quick but it didn't handle and stop and I was a teenager with no budget!" Tony used the Mazda in the 1980 Motogard Rally in the South Island, the car running in Group 1 trim which had more restrictive rules than the current Group N. "I was getting frustrated that smaller cars were beating me so I bought a Toyota Starlet and learnt how to drive." Aimers did well in the Starlet before leasing an AE92 Toyota Corolla from a previous Catlins winner, Deane Buist. "We had some successes with that including top ten results in Westland and the Mainfreight Rally in Christchurch although we did crash heavily in Marlborough."
The car was eventually used by another driver familiar to southern rally fans, Roger McKay of Winton, after McKay won a scholarship to enter Rally New Zealand and his own car was ineligible. Meanwhile family commitments meant Tony spent the next few years as a co-driver for various competitors including 1999 National Junior Rally Champion Karl Robinson.
"I got back into it in the early 2000's, just as the classic rally thing was starting to happen," says Tony. "I wanted something different. I loved the Escorts but I picked up a newspaper and there was an advertisement from someone selling a Fiat 131R. That was a message. I'll have that I thought so I brought this rusted hulk and set about working out how to build a rally car bit by bit. We learnt as we went."
Ninth place in the 2010 Rally Of Otago has been a highlight but not long after Tony came to grief in the Silver Fern Rally. "I had just started to build a new bodyshell and suddenly the project was accelerated."
Luck has not been with him since. At Rally Wairarapa this year a head gasket went after just 4 kilometres and then the night before the Fiat was due to be put on the ferry for the trip south to the Rally Of Otago a valve spring broke causing much damage despite only running at 3000rpm and 70 kilometres per hour testing the lights at the time. The car was withdrawn but Tony still travelled south to help out some competitors. It was while he was there that Roger Laird of the Catlins Coast Rally organising committee handed him some information on the event. "Catlins was always on my bucket list and I need some time on the road before the 2012 Silver Fern. I wanted to do a 'blind' rally (one with no pace notes). I'm originally from Central Otago and I have an affinity with the area. I come down to the Rally Of Otago each year and I helped Tony Johnston with his Capri at Catlins about two years ago."
Tony's son Jeremy will co-drive for him at Catlins but Tony warns not to expect too much. "I did have a 16 valve engine which I got from a Polish guy when I was in the UK between 2005-2008. However we have had probllems with it so we are running a fairly standard 8 valve engine."
For Tony the rally is about getting some much needed mileage in the car and hopefully securing a change of luck. However for the spectators his appearance is a reminder of a wonderful era of rallying and a real breath of fresh air.
Major support for the 2012 Catlins Coast Rally comes from MWH, the Rosebank Lodge, SouthRoads, Owaka Motors, Vodafone and Century Batteries as well as the many Special Stage and Service Park sponsors.