Many of you will have heard that Mr F1 – Murray Walker has sadly passed away.
I got to know Hannu quite well more or less when he first came onto the International Rally scene driving on a couple of events or so for Datsun. He was already recognised in his home country of Finland as a up and coming driver and maybe because of my own connection with established Finish drivers, Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Simo Lampinen, just to name a few, we immediately connected with each other. At the end of 1968 and because of the British Leyland take over, BMC closed the Competition Department, this meant that almost all the established drivers and co-drivers were out of jobs. However, the Ford Competition Department at Boreham already had their eye on Hannu and signed him up for the 1969 season. They of course needed a co-driver/navigator to sit alongside him and I am pleased to say that Roger Clarke, already a established member of the Ford Rally Team recommended myself as a suitable applicant. I was duly interviewed by the then Ford Comp Manager, Bill Barnet and because of Roger’s recommendation and presumably my own International Rally experience I was offered the position of co-driver to Hannu, an offer I immediately accepted. The full Ford Works Team for 1969 were Roger Clarke and Jim Porter, Ove Anderson, I can’t remember his co-driver and Hannu and myself.
I have to say that year 1969 with Hannu was not all that successful. Our first event would be the Monte Carlo Rally, but just before we were due to start our recce I damaged my knee so I was replaced by Jim Porter, Roger Clarke’s regular co-driver, they duly finished the rally in 6th place I think, Roger and myself did ice notes for the team. Our next event was San Remo Rally which we failed to finish due to a accident. The next event was the Austrian Alpine Rally which we won; we then went to Greece for the Acropolis Rally and failed to finish due to a broken rear brake. Our next event was the French Alpine Rally and we failed to finish that one due to a suspension problem and our final 1969 Rally was the RAC Rally which we failed to finish again due to a big going off in Dalby Forest in Yorkshire, so apart from the win in Austria, not a very good year.
At the end of 1969 my contract with Ford was terminated and I was replaced as co-driver to Hannu with fellow Scandinavian, Swede, Gunnar Palm. Ove Anderson’s contract was also terminated and he was replaced by Timo Makinen. I actually never found out why I was not retained although I think pressure may have been brought to bear by Ford Sweden for Gunnar to sit with Hannu. I have no qualms about this, Gunnar was one of the very best co-drivers around and he was and still is a very good friend of mine. Hannu and Gunnar continued together with huge success, one of which was their win on the 1970 World Cup Rally.
Hannu Mikkola was one of the best drivers in the world and at the time he was competing, probably the very best. Apart from his driving skills he was also a lovely guy, great sense of humour and very easy to get on with, I cannot remember us having a cross word when we were together. We always remained friends and it was a tremendous shock when I heard that he had died, I will sadly miss him.
Phot copyright Mike Wood
This is a video taken of the 1993 event. I edited it and gave a commentary (badly) back then but you will see some familiar cars and some familiar faces.
Another video from the motoring past. This time 1963. The film was taken approacing the Nick of Pendle climbing from Sabden. The event started in the Burnley area and finished at Clitheroe Castle taking in Longridge Fell and Jeffery Hill on the way. As I recall Bill Turner and Ted Heath were part of the organisationa team. I marshalled on this event in 1968/9 and if I recall correctly we started from Gawsthorpe Hall in Padiham. If anyone has other recollections please let us know.
In 2005 Tom put pen to paper and wrote `Tom Blackburn My Life’ and the article below is taken from it.
My thanks to Toms son, also Tom, for passing this on to me.
In Ribbleton, Preston on the 22 July 1932 Thomas and Minnie Blackburn introduced a son they would christen Thomas. Britain was in the grip of the Great Depression with high unemployment, soup kitchens becoming the norm and hunger marches to London from the north of the Country.
None of this bothered little Tom who had a healthy childhood and in 1938 he started his education at Woodland School in Ribbleton. In 1939 the family moved to a rented house on the front on East Beach at Lytham. Tom had a year at St John’s school and then at the age of 8 went to Lawrence House school in St Annes as a boarder. He remembered going to church on Sunday 3 September 1939 and on the vicar’s portable wireless hearing Mr Chamberlain’s announcement that we were at war with Germany. The air raid shelters erected on the green became a play ground for Tom and his friends. Tom recalled that whilst he was at Lawrence House in 1941 or 1942, on a Sunday night at about 8 pm all the young boys were rushing around in a state of undress waiting for their bath when German Bombers came over and dropped two bombs which fell on the school football fields only fifty yards from the school. One house nearby had it’s corner blown off and the bath was hanging out at an angle. Not much work was done the following day and the boys were crawling around looking for shrapnel.
In 1945 Tom continued his education at Oundle School in Northampton a school boasting no less than 3 winners of the VC and in it’s students Sir Peter Scott, the naturalist, countless MP’s and high ranking members of the Armed Forces.
Tom left Oundle in 1950 and started a 4-year student apprenticeship at English Electric, Preston. Whilst at English Elactric he attended the Harris Institute doing HNC in Mechanical Engineering and met a lot of new friends some of which were apprentices at Leland Motors.
Among then was John Lyons (the son of Sir William Lyons who then owned Jaguar cars).
Toms passion for anything mechanical led to an early interest in motorsport and having passed his driving test he purchased his first car an 1932 Aston Martin International for the the princely sum of £250. It had been an ex works car and had been taken to Le Mans as a mobile spare parts vehicle and Tom described it as well used. (That car today would probably be worth well over £100,000).
His interest in motorsport started in the left hand seat as a navigator but as his finances improved he swapped seats and started driving. Unlike most of todays events, the route would cover over 1500 miles with starts on a Friday and finish on a Sunday, with little sleep in between and was more a reliability test of man and machine. It was described at the time as “Timed Touring”” which sounds like just a run out, but who can average 30mph over Hard Knott Pass or Rest and be Thankful in Scotland.
In the early 50`s he competed in most of the major rallies of the day among those was the RAC Rally and it was on that event that in 1952 that he suffered a serious `off ‘ when swerving to avoid an “imaginary‘’ platoon of soldiers marching in the middle of the road. The telegraph pole he hit probably didn’t move very much and it resulted in a fractured skull.
After that accident Tom concentrated on one day and one night events and one weekend he competed on a Friday, setting a new record up Barbon Hill Climb, and a class win. Then Saturday night the Fylde Motor Club midnight Rally, which he won, then home for breakfast on Sunday morning, followed by a Sprint at New Brighton Promenade that afternoon which again he won.
Next he turned to the circuits and started racing first in a Lund Special, then in a variety of Jowett Javelins and Jupiters and his beloved TR2. His success in rallying carried on into racing and he became part of the Standard Triumph Works Team which won the Tourist Trophy Race at Dundrod in Ireland in 1954. He then went as reserve driver to the 1955 Le Manns. That year Le Manns was marred by the horrific racing accident which saw 84 people loose their lives and is still today the worst motor racing accident of all time. Tom had his sights set on doing the three greats, the Tourist Trophy, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia. The latter was renowned for its attrition rate with many race fatalities and the line was firmly drawn by both family and, in particular, Diane who Tom was due to marry in September.
So Tom became a sensible married man and concentrated on his various businesses until he retired at the age of 60.
Tom never lost interest in motor sport so in 1996 the bug bit again, when an old school pal invited him to join him on the Euroclassic, a four day tour of France and Germany taking in many of the major racing circuits, such as Spa, Hockenheim and Nuremburg, to name just a few. His renewed involvement in motor sport provided an invaluable distraction following the untimely death of Diane and Tom continued driving on events in Europe as well as many nearer home until failing eyesight meant he had to give up driving.