What stopped the start of the WRC?

The 1974 Oil Crisis forced the cancellation of three rounds of the world championship - and delayed the start by months

Rally Montecarlo Monte Carlo (MC) 19-26 01 1973

The World Rally Championship wasn’t even a year old when it became clear the 1974 season wouldn’t be starting when it was supposed to.

Fifty years ago this month, there was no Monte Carlo Rally. There was no round one. And round two, the Swedish Rally? That went south too. Five decades ago, the WRC kicked off in Portugal. In March.

The Monte and Swedish were both planned, but both canned. The early 1974 world championship season was, in effect, derailed months earlier with the start of a conflict between a coalition of Arab states and Israel. Known as the Yom Kippur War, hostilities continued from October 6 to 25.

At that time, OAPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) placed an embargo on oil being supplied to certain nations. Within a month, the cost of a barrel of crude oil had increased by 300% and every car journey was being questioned.

Safari Rally Nairobi (EAK) 11-15 04 1974

The Safari Rally was one of the few early season events which ran as planned in 1974

Running in mid-November, the 1973 RAC Rally was completed with special dispensation, as was the season-closing Tour de Corse in France (with only 50 entries). A month later and French prime minister Pierre Messmer dictated there would be no automobile competition on the roads. Monaco is great for hosting the season-opener, but it’s wholly dependent on its neighbour for the mountain stages. Monte Carlo gone.

By this point, America and the UK had lowered speed limits in an effort to conserve fuel, while other European countries banned driving cars, boats and flying planes on a Sunday as they tried to limit demand.

The embargo was lifted in March, but it took some time for oil prices to drop. Rally Portugal’s legendary organiser César Torres lobbied his government, insisting the running of the event was in the national interest. He also convinced the FIA to share some of the 500,000 liters of fuel Venezuela had allocated to the sport’s governing body. Eventually, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Industry was persuaded by Torres and a scaled-down Rally Portugal started the season.

With Africa’s oil supply unaffected, the Safari Rally ran as planned. The Acropolis was lost, however, with inflation at 35% and the Greek economy struggling with the after-effects of the oil crisis, rallying was understandably put on the backburner for a year.

Rallye Vinho do Porto Estoril (POR) 03-06 3 1982

Portugal organiser César Torres was persuasive in his efforts to keep his event running - and in getting the world championship started

After almost four months, Finland’s 1000 Lakes ran in August and the second half of the season progressed as planned with Sanremo, Canada, Press on Regardless (USA), the RAC and Corsica.

Lancia took the title from Fiat and Ford – the world championship was solely for manufacturer participation until the drivers’ title arrived in 1979.

Words:David Evans