Exactly half a century ago, Erik Carlsson won his first RAC Rally in his factory red Saab 96. It was the first of three consecutive victories in the premier British event, and to mark the anniversary Carlsson, now aged 81, was the guest of honour at a lunch in the Royal Automobile Club in London's Pall Mall on 6 October.
He was joined by his navigator, Stuart Turner who went on to run BMC's and Ford's competition departments, by contemporary rival Paddy Hopkirk with whose Belfast driving school Carlsson got his UK driving licence, and a gathering of family, friends and colleagues including Peter Backström from Saab's museum who brought along one of Erik's rally 96s.
Carlsson won Britain's first forest-stage rally nursing several broken ribs, having rolled a borrowed Morris Minor into a ditch during a recce run. He didn't get to keep the ornate trophy, though: 'They told me I had to come back and win again if I want to keep the cup,' he said. 'Next year we broke a suspension arm, but we saw a new red Saab, just like ours, so we asked the nice old couple if we could borrow a piece of their car. They have sent me a Christmas card ever since.'
And the trophy? 'They changed the rules again and I never got to keep it. This is the closest I've been to it for 50 years.'
Clearly the two-stroke Saab excelled in the forest stages, but what was Erik's winning secret? 'You just stay between 5500 and 7000rpm where the torque is. If you are stupid enough to keep your foot in, you will be very quick.'