Tony Ambrose: Champion rally co-driver


John Anthony Ambrose, rally driver: born Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire 12 August 1933; twice married (two daughters); died Newbury, Berkshire 5 January 2008.

Tony Ambrose was the forerunner of the great British co-drivers who have helped shape successes in international rallying over the last 40 years. Although best known as a member of the remarkable BMC rally team of the 1960s, it was in a private Aston Martin that he first came to fame, as the co-driver in the three-man crew that won the RAC Rally (now the Wales Rally GB) in 1956.

Ambrose grew up in the Cotswalds, where his father owned a small farm-machinery business. He was educated at Chipping Norton Grammar School, gaining a scholarship in 1951 to read Natural Sciences at Jesus College, Oxford, an achievement that won him a 1948 MG TC (red with red leather upholstery) from his father. His interest in rallying began at university, where he sought out fellow motorsport enthusiasts and re-founded the Oxford University Motor Drivers' Club (after a ban by the Proctors), serving as Secretary and then President. The club became one of the strengths in British clubman's rally motorsport in the 1960s.

In 1960 Ambrose was invited to join the fledgling BMC rally team, and competed in cars ranging from 850 Minis to Austin Westminster A105s, though it was the Mini Cooper S and Austin Healey 3000 cars that were most competitive in those days. International successes soon came, with class victories on the 1961 Tulip (in Holland, Belgium and eastern France), the 1962 RAC, the 1963 Alpine (from Marseilles into the Alps) and outright victory on the 1964 Tulip. His greatest win had to be the last traditional Spa-Sofia-Liege event, which took place later on in 1964.

The 1964 Spa-Sofia-Liege was by general consensus the toughest road rally ever held in Europe, an event of a format that could never be held these days. The champion driver Rauno Aaltonen still praises Ambrose's part in their momentous victory in a Austin Healey 3000. Crews faced four days and nights with no scheduled chance to sleep:

Tony planned it all, he forced me to sleep even at moments when I wasn't so tired. He even drove one 77-mile section at night in 52 minutes. We were going at maximum speed, 150 mph, on cobbled roads amid unlit horses and carts, yet he was such a safe driver I slept through it all! He could have been just as good a driver as he was a co-driver.

Nineteen sixty-five was a special year for Ambrose. He co-drove Aaltonen to the European Rally Championship title, then the sport's top international series, and finished the season with a second victory in his home event, the RAC Rally in Britain. During the year BMC concentrated on events in which competition was less daunting but where logistics were very difficult: victories came at the Geneva Rally, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland, and then in the Three Cities Rally, which went from Germany to Hungary.

BMC was the only official team in which Ambrose competed, but it was a classic team made up of the top drivers of the day including Paddy Horkirk, Timo Makinen and Simo Lampinen. Ambrose continued with BMC until 1966, when he succumbed to pressure from his business and his family to spend more time at home. This was the year when the British teams were excluded from the Monte Carlo Rally en masse for fitting a controversial lighting system, so Ambrose's last rally was the 1966 RAC Rally. He drove a Mini with Simo Lampinen, who well remembers them rolling their car.

It was a disaster. When we rolled, all of Tony's maps had flown out of the battered car and were scattered around Wales, but we both saw no reason why we could not carry on. In the end the team manager Stuart Turner said the car looked more like a church on wheels than a car, and for that reason we had to stop.

Ambrose still had a lot of time for the sport he loved after he gave up racing, and undertook much of the organisation for the first inter-continental rally, the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon, and the London-Mexico Rally two years later, both ground-breaking projects in their day. He is remembered as a quiet man, unusually methodical in his work and a great enthusiast. Aaltonen is seen as the thinking man's rally driver but he admits, "I learned all that from Tony.

He taught me so much, like rallying was not just about understanding the sport but understanding the culture of the people in various countries. People from my country, Finland, where we tend to look at the world from the top of a chimney, needed down-to-earth people like him to get the best out of us.

The BMC rallying team was very much an effort where people worked together for the best of the team itself. "Tony just wanted the best results. When he had to give up, he openly recommended me to fellow co-driver Henry Liddon. It was good advice. Henry and I went on to win the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally together. Tony relished a challenge, because it was something to think about and solve."

Stuart Turner said: "I always thought of Tony as being the most intellectual part of our team, and he was also an interesting bridge between the old school of gentleman rally competitors and the coming generation of professionals". Turner's fellow BMC team manager Bill Price remembers Ambrose as a most capable driver in his own right, a great asset on endurance events such as the Spa-Sofia-Liege.

He was also instrumental in developing the science of pace-noting, a technique which was then in its infancy. And it wasn't just a matter of finding ways of going quicker round the corners, it was also about finding the correct route, because the organisers' instructions in those days were far from perfect.

Outside rallying Tony Ambrose was involved a family decorating business in Basingstoke and running a tavern in Wales. He was one of the oldest surviving winners of the RAC Rally event, and had hoped to attend the Wales Rally GB 75 years' celebration last month but ill health prevented his appearance.

Martin Holmes

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried