Fulvio Bacchelli driving a Fiat Abath 131 won the 1977 Rally of New Zealand, but considerable attention went on the Finnish driver Ari Vatanen who took part in a Ford Escort RS1800. Vatanen finished second after having dropped from first place on day one to 32nd following an off-road excursion. Vatanen, who was to become world champion in 1981, spectacularly fought back to second place, finishing just 90 seconds adrift of Bacchelli.

At that time, international rallying had been around for many years, primarily in Europe, and in Africa with the noted Safari Rally. New Zealand’s effort on the international stage began in 1969 with the Wellington Car Club’s Silver Fern Rally – although the event was originally planned to take place in 1968. Run over 29 stages covering 600 kilometres, the event was won by Australian Grady Thompson in a Monaro V8. Jim Richards driving a Datsun 1600 finished fourth.

World rallying, as we now know it with timed closed-road stages, began to gain real traction in the 1970s. However events such as the 1000 Lakes in Finland, along with rallies in Sweden, Greece, Monte Carlo, Portugal and Great Britain (the RAC) had been around for a decade or more. Other events included marathon rallies like the famous London to Sydney.

Fifty years later and a sister car sits within a pristine, autumnal New Zealand setting

From 1970 to 1972 an International Manufacturers’ cup appeared and in 1973 this title received FIA status. Drivers were first recognised in 1977 with the FIA Cup before the full FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) status was recognised in 1979.


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