We recently received an email from our trusty Canadian Rally Championship television producers, TV2GO, asking us if we’d like to post up an old video they had in the vault from 1981, called “Rallymaster”. Sure, it should be a giggle, I thought. Little did I know what I was about to witness! This half-hour blast of rally action stars Rauno Aaltonen, with John Buffum playing a supporting role in his ‘new’ Audi Quattro. The action takes place at the Lobster Rally with a trip to Finland thrown in for good measure. This film’s explanation of rally and associated driving techniques easily stands up to any modern day video’s attempts. Lawrence Partington of TV2GO was kind enough to give us the back story, and you can watch the full film at the end of the article.
I thought it was just old, but now I¹m told it¹s retro. Once upon a time TV2GO was covering ski racing and motor sports for CBC Sports. We pitched the network on a show about rallying and they bought it for broadcast in the fall of 1981. Nissan Canada was running a factory team at the time with drivers Randy Black and Clive Smith. We picked the Lobster Rally in Shediac New Brunswick, mainly because it was the next rally on the schedule and we didn¹t want the network to change its mind. The entry field looked a bit lame, so we invited some ringers to spice up our show.
I¹d worked with Audi Quattro, the very fast but unreliable new contender in World Rally. Just to keep Nissan competitive, and because they¹d agreed to sponsor the show along with Castrol, I approached their star driver . He had a conflict but steered me to , the winner of the ¹67 Monte (Mini Cooper) among many others. Rauno agreed on a fee to to appear in the TV show and Randy Black generously agreed to move into the right seat of his regular rally car.before with his Triumph program and he was always a worthy addition. John had just recently started running an
Carol Patterson and I had already produced a couple of rally shows over the short three year history of our partnership, but the sport hadn¹t had much exposure on Canadian TV . So we decided to produce an instructional program that would tell the story of the Lobster Rally while teaching the audience a bit about my favorite sport. If we could sell some Nissans that would be a bonus. Castrol was involved to cement their relationship with Nissan dealers. They had a global reputation as patrons of motorsport and maintained a wonderful film library which they loaned out to car clubs around the world.
So we all arrive in Shediac, New Brunswick which is about as far from Monte Carlo as you can get aesthetically. Call it charmingly rustic or call it a dump – it was a very fine line. Rauno took it all in stride like a real gentleman: the bunkhouse team accommodations, the picnic tables, plastic bibs and giant crustaceans – he just smiled through it all. Carol shot long interviews with him and we spent two days faking action footage with 16mm film cameras mounted in and on the car. All the heel-and-toe footage was shot in a parking lot with team members bouncing on the fenders and waving tree bows overhead to make the lighting look like we were moving.
At the start of the rally, I asked Rauno if he could beat John Buffum. “Yes, but only if he breaks”, was his perfectly honest and accurate answer. The Audi didn¹t break and Buffum won easily. We didn¹t fully appreciate it at the time, but we were witnessing a sea change in our sport. The AWD revolution had just taken place.
Back to Toronto for editing. The fake scenes and interview material have great potential, but the competition action is lacking and there is the problem of our sponsor not winning. So a re-shoot is called for. We fly to Finland for the 1000 Lakes with help from FinnAir. Mikkola and Blomqvist dominate for Audi again, but at least we get lots of great action that can be used to fluff up our Lobster rally lessons.
Back in Canada, we collected a few more bogus jumps and night POV stuff. Rallymaster debuted on CBC to excellent reviews. The film was added to the Castrol library and Duke Marketing picked it up for global distribution. I sent Rauno a 16mm print in Turku and he screened it for his rally buddies which yielded the flattering promo blurbs from Henri Toivenen and Ari Vatanen that we put on the video cover. It continues to sell a couple of hundred copies annually, 28 years later. Carol Patterson shot the whole thing by herself. Jim Harrison was the editor. Paul Chater provided the narration and Rauno Aaltonen will always be The Rallymaster.