Washington Grant James
1933 – 2020
Washington James, the last surviving member of a historic and tenacious 1970s Welsh rally team, died peacefully on New Year’s Eve in Newcastle Emlyn aged 87.
Washington – affectionately known as ‘Washy’ – from Cenarth in Cardiganshire, was joined on the 1970 World Cup Rally by two friends, renown Cooper S road-rally star Alun Rees from Carmarthen, and Neath navigator Hywel ‘The Mac’ Thomas.
In May 1970, the trio’s doughty privateer Hillman Hunter took on the might of the top international works teams and professional drivers in the arduous and unique 16,000-mile event from London’s Wembley Stadium to the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City via the most varied, tortuous, and difficult terrain across three continents.
One hundred cars started with just 23 completing the route and remarkably, ‘Washy’ and co-drivers finished 15th in a car prepared at his Rootes dealership in sleepy Cenarth, which he opened in 1959. The crew’s epic achievement was not underestimated, and they arrived back to a rapturous hero’s welcome at a Carmarthen park, attended by civic dignitaries and several hundred enthusiastic Welsh rally supporters.
The Teifi Valley rally driver originally cut his rallying teeth in a series of quick Hillman and Sunbeam Imps on the demanding Welsh and Motoring News championship road rallies of the era including the daunting Cilwendeg Rally, which started at neighboring Newcastle Emlyn cattle market. When not rallying, ‘Washy’ was a successful local businessman, operating the Cenarth Garage & Carriage bus company as well as being a celebrated Welsh tenor.
Although the world of buses provided his ‘bread and butter’ and rallying was his passion, singing was his first love, with performances that attracted praise from renowned eisteddfod critics such as Meirion Williams for the quality of his tenor voice. Among the many awards he won was the David Ellis Memorial Prize and the Blue Riband, presented at the 1993 National Eisteddfod in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells.
With that infamous 1970 World Cup Rally adventure behind him, ‘Washy’ became an avid eisteddfod-goer. His son, Chris James, said, “His passion was for the small eisteddfodau and he was very supportive of those. So many times, he won the tenor competition at the National, and then of course he was still singing, singing every day at work. Unfortunately, he’s given his last song.”
WheelsWithinWales extends its condolences to Washington’s family and many friends on their sad loss.
© Words Ken Davies & images Washington James Archive