How to buy a historic rally car

DirtFish's lead instructor Nate Tennis provides insight on what to look for, how to buy it and era authenticity


Who doesn’t crave the glory of harnessing a vehicle designed before the age of driver assists?

Manual steering, manual brakes, carburetors, points; the stuff of heroes past. One might say the true of heart of rallying lies with the historic rallyist, shirking the modern conveniences in favor of the memories of those heroes past, in vehicles stripped of every convenience save for power adders. A romantic notion similar to a dance with our crush at prom, albeit 30 years later.

So how does one relive such glory in real terms? Although not the contemporary method of attacking a championship, the price of entry becomes considerably lower, and the losses considerably less severe.

Ironically, the physical difficulty required to handle these vehicles actually makes for a more economical car to run. As vintage racing has taken a well-deserved popular slice of weekend racing activities, so too can historic rallying.

The first step, as in any race series, is to read the rulebook for the series in which you wish to compete.

fia historic porsche


The enthusiast in all of us often finds an “unpassable deal” which may not actually be legal for any legitimate form of rallying in your region. Or, may require modifications or adherence to class rules which may dissuade you from the vehicle altogether. So, step one: find the sanctioning bodies in your area, and find what’s legal to run there.

The next step is to determine how competitive you’d like to be based on your experience. In many cases, a well-driven, decently sorted car from the past can be competitive in regional and national events. If your desires are humble, find a vehicle you truly enjoy, and focus your efforts there. After all, the purpose of historic rallying is truly to enjoy the sport and its associated comraderies, play with a fun toy, and enjoy it with your co-driver.

Aside from the obvious upgrades to modern safety equipment, there are several levels of what is considered acceptable in terms of ‘historic’. Some series are fine with a loose understanding of how the vehicle appears in its natural state, while the FIA has very stringent rules to ensure fairness based on how each car ran in its intended year configuration.

However awesome turbos, sequential gearboxes, and 30 inches of suspension travel are, they weren’t available to enhance an original Mini. To be true to form, one must be true to the era.

And although less attractive or “brag-able” at the pub, there’s a beauty here; run as your car was campaigned in 1966. There is no truer essence of your hero than to drive what they did in anger. Nothing creates more respect than doing exactly that!

The real reason is to ensure all cars are true to their design and to eliminate redesigning a vehicle to unrecognizable performance levels. However awesome turbos, sequential gearboxes, and 30 inches of suspension travel are, they weren’t available to enhance an original Mini. To be true to form, one must be true to the era.

Step four is finding our steed. We’ve determined where we can race, narrowed down what we want to drive, now we need to find it. This varies greatly depending on region, as some localities are flush with older rally cars, where others have very few options.

The overall theme is the same when searching for any vehicle – find out as much about the vehicle as possible and be willing to do a considerable amount more.



Nate Tennis offers his tips on selecting the best first ride

Unless the vehicle is from a very reputable source (along with the appropriate price tag), any used rally car will require a lot of work to be stage-ready, no matter how well-prepared or how glossy the photos are in the ad. So, after the purchase, be prepared to spend beyond what is promised when safety, comfort and reliability are concerned.

Please note that our intent is not to create mistrust with sellers, merely to prepare a purchaser for unexpected costs, and not to be let down when our new toy isn’t ready to rally. Leave room in your budget beyond the car and you won’t be disappointed. This is also part of the fun, making the car yours!

Regardless of the chosen vehicle, any choice that suits your needs will undoubtedly be correct. The ultimate result is to enjoy the amazing sport that is rallying, and a historic vehicle is a fun, economical way to do it.

Words:Nate Tennis

Photos:FIA EHSRC, Harald Illmer