ERC legend John Taylor

by Eddi Laumanns |

After its maiden event, on February 4 1967 at Lydden Circuit in England, it took another two years before the sport of Rallycross started to conquer the European mainland by the end of the 1960s. Within a short period of time particularly one driver became THE representative for the new breed of racing. Long before the first appearance of Norwegian Martin Schanche it was that Scotsman John Taylor who was called “Mr. Rallycross” in several countries.

John Taylor was born on October 3 1941 at Inverness in Scotland, on the waterfront of the famous Loch Ness. As the son of a Commander of the Royal Navy, John spent some of his childhood on the Bermuda Islands. Many years later, and after several other removals, he settled himself in the county of Kent, in the south-east of England, not far away from Lydden Circuit. After quite a successful career as a steeplechase-jockey, a sport he had to retire after an accident with serious back injuries, he was for several months in a local hospital. It was there where in 1969 he met a certain Rod Chapman, who encouraged the Scotsman to eventually change from the single horsepower to more than 100bhp. In 1968, however, Taylor had already acquired a bit of rallying experience and now was keen to compete again.

Taylor’s first Rallycross car was a Volvo Amazon with a Ford engine because he assumed, that he would gain more attention with a rather exotic vehicle against his competitors with all those uncounted Fords, Minis, Imps and suchlike. And it all worked out for him, after a few successes and a relatively short time he had attracted the interest of Ford, was invited to a day of testing and subsequently received one of the four new Escorts for the Rallycross Winter season 1970/71. From now on David Haynes of the Ford dealership ‘Haynes of Maidstone’ became John Taylor’s mentor and sponsor, a healthy cooperation that lasted for John’s entire Rallycross career as well as over all his later years of rallying.

In 1973 the first ever but still yet unofficial European Rallycross Championship was held under the banner of the cigarette brand Embassy. At the start of the season, on May 13 at the Leruring near Melk in Austria, Taylor claimed the first ERC round victory with a just 169bhp strong Ford Escort RS1600 (a factory car for the 1972 Safari Rally). Only a week later, during the second ERC event, held at the Estering of Buxtehude in Germany, John became the runner-up of his make colleague Rod Chapman. During the third round of the series, at the Duivelsbergcircuit near the Belgian town of Maasmechelen, the Scot bagged another second place, this time it was Austrian Franz Wurz who turned out to be the better. However, with two more wins from Holland and Sweden Taylor went as the clear leader (59 of 60 possible points) and title candidate number one in November 1973 to the European championship finale at Lydden. For this final round all drivers were able to score double of the usual points, and, beside John Taylor, four other drivers were still able to win the title. The Scot complained of persistent gearbox problems with his Escort RS1600, broke the steering of his car in one of the heats and was claimed to have moved one of the marker cones of the track, which should have resulted in a time penalty, but remained unpunished by the Stewards of the Meeting. However, at the end of the day Taylor was fifth and Rod Chapman was second (behind winner Jan de Rooy), thereby both Ford drivers were suddenly leading the standings with 81 points each. Since Taylor had two more ERC round victories against Chapman, Rod became the vice champion while John was declared the first European champion and received the 1973 Embassy Trophy as well as a cheque of £750.

In 1974 the interests of John Taylor had already changed slightly and at the end of the second Embassy series he was found only as tenth overall in the championship standings. In 1975 John was driving an Escort RS1800, but this new car was not reliable before the second half of the season. After claiming an overall victory at Maasmechelen, a second place at Buxtehude and a third place at Melk the Ford man went with high hopes to the finale at Lydden Hill, but ensured himself only the bronze medal of the 1975 ERA series. With just one point behind he had to leave Gold and Silver to the Dutch team mates Kees Teurlings (champion) and Dick Riefel (runner-up) in their VW Beetles with Porsche Carrera engines.

It was also these two Dutchmen that Taylor later blamed to have robbed him the pleasure to continue of doing Rallycross. During the second round of the 1976 ERC, held at Buxtehude in Germany, reigning champion Teurlings, who had to retire his Porsche Carrera after an argument with the Scot, had thrown his helmet furiously against the windscreen of Taylor’s RS1800. As a result Taylor reduced his involvement in the now by FIA recognised ERC to sporadic appearances. With his last European event win, on November 6 at Lydden, he
finished the 1976 series as sixth overall and then turned to rallying. Another reason of leaving Rallycross has to be seen in the fact that the new front-wheel driven Fiesta Mk1 could not fulfil the expectations of the Ford motorsport people to develop it to a promising successor of the rear-wheel driven Escorts.

However, the following rally career of the first ever European Rallycross Champion was all but unsuccessful and John Taylor managed to claim several good national and international scores with Escort RS1800s over the later years. As his greatest result in rallying one can see the sixth place of the 1979 RAC Rally of Great Britain, after he had claimed the seventh place of the 1978 RAC already (both times with co-driver Phil Short). And, after putting his own helmet aside John worked his way up to become for many a year the well respected rallying coordinator of the Ford Motor Sports Centre of Boreham.


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