Barry Lee, Ford & Rallycross

Cars People

Barry Lee, charismatic king of the UK Rallycross scene of the 1970s, used to own the garage around the corner from where I lived in East London as a kid.

There was something so completely of the time about our Barry. He was like a cross between Barry Sheene and James Hunt – but with a greasier, prole-ish edge.

He represented all that was cool and Ford-like for everyone populating either side of the A13. And this was a mile or so down the road from Dagenham — Ground zero, of course, for all things Ford.

The only surprising thing was that he never got a Brut 33 campaign like the other Barry or our ‘Henry- those other working class media heroes of the age.

Except it wasn’t that surprising really.

Because Rallycross, for all it’s wheel to wheel racing and spectacular shunts; for all its accessibility and the all round driving ability you needed to master it, never captured the glamour of the seventies in the same way as the higher end of motorsport.

Shame. because there was something uniquely appealing about a formula that pitched stripped down cars that you were used to seeing on the streets spanking around tarmac and dirt combo short track — with regular comings together and outrageous overtakes — was something that inspired boy racers from the esturine marshes of Essex to the high roads of Scotland.

But Barry Lee was a true advocate of road safety too. He came and drove his black Ford RS 2000 round our school playground to demonstrate the effectiveness of smooth driving over the screech-and-burn, Halford stick-ons style of those aforementioned boy racers.

It’s not all over for Rallycross. There’s a nascent scene all over the UK and in parts of Europe that continues to entertain and inspire – it’s just that at the moment it’s drowned out by the cacophony of other forms.

Power to its elbow.