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

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
Extras
indybest
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
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

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style