One of the most talented amateur rally drivers in Wales, Jeff Churchill, has died aged 76, writes Ken Davies.
Often described as the Welsh Roger Clark in the 1960s and 70s, Jeff was a prolific competition driver from the moment he competed in his first event, showing a prodigious and versatile talent behind the wheel, but although he tried road rallies, he was far happier on gravel.
Born in Tonypandy in July 1943 – where father Bill ran a successful scrap business – Jeff cut his teeth in an open-ended motorsport apprenticeship that encompassed all disciplines but although he was well-known within Ford’s Boreham corridors, his stellar rally performances were never rewarded with a seat in the Blue Oval works team.
How do you summarize such a distinguished rally career that spanned 3 decades – 1960s to 1980s – in a spectrum of cars that included; Anglia, Lotus Cortina, Escort, RS200, Sierra Cosworth and Lancia Delta Integrale?
Jeff’s reputation started building in 1965 on the first Tour of Epynt, driving a 1558cc Ford Anglia and though he didn’t win, he set fastest stage time of the rally, some five seconds under ‘bogey’. He would continue to feature on the daunting Mynydd Epynt’s exclusive podium several times, finishing second to Barrie Malkin’s Lotus Cortina in 1968 and driving Escort RS1800 ODA 622R to third on the 1979 ATS Stages.
As perennial privateer underdog, it was inevitable that Jeff would become a Welsh folk hero on international rallies, particularly the Welsh, Manx and RAC, usually with regular co-driver, the redoubtable Roger Evans.
Just two examples; in 1974 while lying close second to Billy Coleman on the Welsh, his car became hobbled by clutch slip, but despite squirting Coca-Cola into the bell housing to affect a temporary fix, he later retired in Clocaeneog Forest. He also famously beat Roger Clark’s works Escort on the last Llandow stage of one memorable Welsh Rally and in 1981, used ex works Escort Mk II POO 505R for his home rally.
By this time the Churchill family business had successfully morphed into JC Van Hire and later, JC Motorsport, renting out 3 well-prepared Group 4 Ford Escorts, with Andy Dawson, Robert Droogmans and Patrick Snijers as part of JC’s distinguished European clientele. John Green and Ed Morgan won the 1984 Milestone Stages and Snijers the Castrol 80 with Derek Tucker co-driving, all in JC Motorsport hire cars.
Jeff remained a respected part of the Welsh motorsport scene for well over 50 years and latterly a sage and wise pundit who took a keen interest in present day rallying.
He married Gloria in 1966 and we offer her and their two children Simon and Emma, our condolences. Jeff Churchill was the rally driver’s rally driver!
© Ken Davies