image

“There was a bullet in the tyre”

22 June 2020

Reanult Megane RS Trophy-R Esteban Ocon

We are saddened to report that John Price, winner of numerous UK rallying titles in evocative Renault 5 Turbos, passed away recently aged 75. His son Steve recalls some fond memories.

John’s business, John Price Rallying based in Hereford, is synonymous with building, preparing and maintaining 5 Turbos, plus another Group B rallying icon of Eighties, the MG Metro 6R4.

 

It’s his exploits in 5 Turbos that we are concentrating on and which, in the Eighties, led to four of his eventual 12 National Tarmac Rally Championship crowns.

 

He started rallying in the Sixties and in the Seventies began campaigning his first Renault with an unwieldy 17 followed by several of the more fancied A110s, one an ex-works example.

 

Steve recalls: “Renault then brought out the 5 Turbo (in 1980). Jean Ragnotti went and won the Monte Carlo Rally in one so dad literally put everything he had together financially and drove to the factory in Dieppe where they made them and told them he wanted one.

 

“They told him none were available, but he told them he wasn’t leaving without one. He stayed for three days and was probably starting to grind them down when they miraculously said: ‘Monsieur Price, we have had a cancellation on an order. It can be here in two days!’

 

“And it was, on the back of a transporter. He paid £7,000 for it – or it could have been £11,000. Either way, it was a lot of money in those days and he was taking a risk. It was road-spec and dad drove it all the way back home. I remember waking up the next morning – I was only about eight – and seeing this thing on the drive. It was incredible.

 

“He took it to the workshop, stripped it and then said: ‘What the heck do I do next?!’ So off he went, back to France to find out and came back with a load of rally kit for it.

 

“When he’d finished it, he parked it outside the local Renault dealership, Browns of Hereford. The manager there didn’t even know what it was but so overwhelmed he agreed to sponsor dad and offered a couple of mechanics and a van for events.”
 

Success on the stages soon followed, from the famed Epynt military ranges in Wales to the back lanes of Ireland and the Isle of Man. An upgraded ‘Tour de Corse’ model was soon acquired and, later, a rare Maxi version – “shell only which he built up back at base as he couldn’t afford to buy it outright!”

 

In total, John racked up 859 events in 55 years – more than 200 of those are reckoned to have been in 5 Turbos.

 

“The 5 Turbo was a breath of fresh air for UK rallying,” adds Steve. “It was good for business, too. 5 Turbos started coming into the UK as road cars – rich city bankers were buying them but the dealerships didn’t know what to do with them so they kept sending them to us!

 

“We’ve remained a ‘go-to’ place ever since for 5 Turbos. The workshop is in the same premises as when dad first started the business. We wanted to keep it period.”

 

Steve, who has now re-named the family business ‘JPR Classics’, has two stand-out memories of his father in 5 Turbos.

 

“He entered the first car (with famed registration plate HCJ 280X) in the Monte Carlo Rally. In the middle of the night on sheet ice on a mountain stage he rolled it down a ravine.
 

Renault Esport
Reanult Megane RS Trophy-R Esteban Ocon

“A local in a standard Renault 5 offered my dad a lift back to the service park. Dad quickly realised this chap was trying to impress him and, you guessed it, the guy rolled it. You couldn’t make it up.

 

“Even stranger, when the crew later checked over the rally car they found a bullet in the tyre. No-one ever knew if someone had taken a pot shot or if the bullet had been lying there on the road and was picked up by the tyre!

 

“If there’s one way I want to remember dad, it’s maybe his performance on the 1988 Manx National event. He had a real chance of winning and finished second in the end. To have made that car go that well on those stages… he’d taken the front and rear bumpers off and must have really given his all. That was a fantastic result.

 

“What he achieved with the 5 Turbo, particularly on narrow, twisty lanes often in changeable conditions and with a lot of mud or gravel down was something else. Its short wheelbase, mid-engined lay-out, the turbo lag and then all the power coming in at once always meant it was going to be lively.

 

“He is going to be missed by all our family and many more people beyond. His knowledge was second to none.”

 

Images: © Steve Pugh & Price family archive