The cheerful champion of Britain’s rally stages always enjoyed a good powerslide. Words James Elliott. Portrait Alex Tapley.
1970s british rally legend Russell Brookes passed away at the end of October at the age of 74. The spectacular three-times consecutive RAC podium man (1977-1979) and twice British Rally Champion – first in an Escort RS1800 (1977), then an Opel Manta (1985) – was synonymous with the livery of career-long sponsor Andrews Heat for Hire, even though many had no idea what the product was.
Like so many of his era, the Worcestershire-born driver began in Minis. Having shone in the single-model Escort Mexico championship, he then secured a works drive with Ford from 1976 to ’79, securing the first of his championships in the process.
For 1980 he moved to Vauxhall- Opel. A few years later he established one of the most thrilling rivalries in British rallying, going toe-to-toe with team-mate Jimmy McRae in the mid-’80s. Ultimately the drivers took a championship each. Brookes returned to Ford in the late 1980s, but further front-line success eluded him.
Drivers today are measured against their World Rally Championship success, but in Brookes’ era the British championship had such status and attracted such stellar drivers that the world event was almost secondary. Even so, Brookes did compete in some world events in a lengthy career that encompassed cars from Minis to Lancia Delta Integrales, including the feisty Talbot-Lotus Sunbeam.
After his official retirement in 1991, ‘Stumpy’ was still seen in historic events and at shows such as Race Retro, where he remained a huge draw for spectators.