In The ’60s, Canada Hosted An Epic Long-Distance Rally
One of the things I like most about my country, Canada, is that it’s still a pretty new place. It’s also a pretty big place.
Things were a bit newer and no doubt felt even more expansive in the early ’60s, when a small group of enthusiasts held the first long-distance rally in Canada, the British Columbia International Trade Fair Rally. It was 4,075 miles long, it was won by a Studebaker Lark, and it was 1961.
Over the next few years, the event would receive title sponsorship and probably the most eclectic bunch of competitors, ranging from a ’30s Rolls-Royce Phantom III to Pontiac Stratochiefs and D.K.W.s—and these are just cars that ran in the first year! Factory teams mixed with locals, and as a long-distance rally the fast competitors from the likes of Ferrari and Porsche weren’t all that interested in competing.
As a result, American muscle cars, Volvos, and comfortable French sedans tended to do well, and the most serious entries were often quite sedate in terms of outright pace. BMC even sent its star driver, Paddy Hopkirk, to compete in the event with his star car, the unforgettable 1965 Morris Cooper S, registration “GRX 5D”.
As serious as the competitors could be, however, humor found a way to make its mark. The non-factory teams tended to have hilarious names, such as Ecurie Confusion (Renault R8 and Volvo PV 544), The Hedonists (Triumph TR-4 and Morris 1100), and the Ralligators (Lotus Cortina and Plymouth Barracuda). These names are in keeping with the spirit of the event, which tended to be of mutual inclusion (men and women’s champions) and lighthearted humor. Along the way, competitors could win a certificate for eating a moose burger, or scribble on a few pages of the rally’s hilarious coloring book.
Its decline happened toward the end of the decade, with four additional events held between 1971 and 1997, and even as a historic rally event didn’t quite have enough gas to continue through today. Why? To start with, it’s simply a daunting task to plan—just the route itself may take the better part of a year to get right, and if run as a historic rally, few are happy to push their beloved cars to the limit on sometimes-rough roads.
Some do, however—earlier this year, a team did the drive by tracing as much of the original routes as possible, raising money for charity along the way.
So if you’re daydreaming today and a bit tired of fantisizing about the Col de Turini and Stelvio Pass, wish that you were in Canada, in the ’60s, with a well-oiled Volvo 122S at your command and a long ribbon of asphalt to unfurl before nightfall. I have a feeling it’ll be an epic drive.
Special thanks goes to the people who help keep the memory of this event alive today, including the excellent shell-4000-rally.org and canada5000.ca. Head on over and who knows, maybe your car was once driven across Canada in anger.