Obituary: Andrew Cowan, Scottish rally driver who won the London-Sydney Marathon twice

Scottish rally driver Andrew Cowan in his Chrysler Sunbeam during the Bank of Scotland rally in April 1978
Scottish rally driver Andrew Cowan in his Chrysler Sunbeam during the Bank of Scotland rally in April 1978
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Andrew Cowan, rally driver. Born: 13 December, 1936. Died: 15 October, 2019 aged 83

The death of Andrew Cowan last Tuesday was a much greater blow to motor sport in Scotland than most people probably recognise. Part of the reason for this was that he was wedded to rally driving rather than the more glamorous areas of motor racing such as Formula 1 and International Sports Cars but his legacy was not just as a driver but as an International Administrator.

Born in Duns in December 1936 into a farming family his upbringing was similar to that of his near neighbour Jim Clark who was six months older than Andrew.

Like all farmers’ sons they not only learned to drive tractors at an early age but by the time he was able to get his proper driver’s licence Cowan joined the Ednam Young Farmers Club that ran a number of small events and Andrew duly took part with his battered Volkswagen Beetle and his brother Willie as his navigator.

Fellow members of the club at the time were Jim Clark and Ian Scott Watson and Cowan admitted in later life that none of them had any aspirations to go further with the sport. Indeed the three of them formed a splinter group that they called the Hedgers, Ditchers and Dykers Club where membership was granted if you knocked down 20 yards of fence during an event!

His next car was a Sunbeam Rapier and Andrew Cowan began to broaden his horizons winning a number of events. Many fellow drivers tried to persuade Andrew to drive a more competitive car but his hard driving style proved the Rapier stood up to such punishment. He also could not afford to change cars as often as other drivers did and it was four years before he competed in his first major International Rally, the 1960 RAC Rally.

His Rapier was also his daily transport – it had 40,000 miles on the clock before he even started the event but it finally gave Andrew the urge to rally more seriously. His father agreed to buy a new Mark II Rapier and he was on his way but had to pay all his own expenses.

He won the Scottish International Rally two years running and the Rootes factory team manager eventually gave him his first major break, entering him in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally as a co-driver in a Hillman Imp with Keith Ballisat who was a well known competitor. For both drivers it was a frustrating event firstly because Ballisat was concerned at the pace Cowan was setting and secondly because Cowan thought Ballisat was too slow!

He then had a break when Ford Motor Company ran him in the Tour de France Rally with racing driver Peter Procter and they won their class. He was later to drive for Rover and Standard in major events.

However, full international fame came in 1968 when Rootes Group decided to enter one of the new Hillman Hunters for the London-Sydney Marthon, a true marathon event that ran from London through Europe and Afghanistan to Bombay before setting sail for Australia and then driving from Perth in the west to Sydney in the east. Despite the fact Cowan ran with two co-drivers and a load of extra equipment he won the event outright against all the leading international drivers of the day.

He later was to win the event a second time in a Mercedes-Benz.

Andrew Cowan’s most important break came when he joined the Japanese Mitsubishi team for long distance events. He was not only successful but when he eventually retired from rallying in the 1970s Mistubishi persuaded him to set up their entire motor sport programme for Europe and so Andrew became Director Motor Sport for the company.

His role as a businessman and team manager proved to be productive for Mitsubishi and Cowan’s role in the success of the company in world markets was acknowledged as a contributory factory in the development of Mitsubishi.

What is often forgotten, however, is that Cowan, like Jim Clark, also had a taste of motor racing.

At the very first motor race meeting at Ingliston in 1965 Andrew Cowan finished second in his first motor race driving fellow farmer Ian Scott Watson’s Lotus Elan. This caught the eye of Ecurie Ecosse owner David Murray and Cowan raced the Tojeiro-Buick and Tojeiro-Ford Coupes for the team which included a win at Silverstone.

Then his good friend Jim Clark persuaded Colin Chapman to let Andrew Cowan drive his first singler-seater, a factory Formula III Lotus. They agreed that as this was really a racing test for Cowan, he should race under an assumed name. After his second race at Goodwood Cowan decided that single-seaters and racing was really not for him and despite the fact that Colin Chapman of Lotus offered him another factory drive, Cowan tuned the offer down and continued to concentrate on his rallying.

Andrew Cowan in recent years worked hard on his estate near Haddon in Berwickshire with his wife Linda.

Though in recent years he had been beset by poor health he attended the official opening of the Jim Clark Museum in Duns last month. However he suffered a fall, fractured his hip and died suddenly in Borders General Hospital in Melrose on Tuesday October 15.

Andrew Cowan never sought publicity for his efforts and he was quite happy to remain in the background but his role as a true ambassador for Scottish motor sport and rallying in particular will be remembered for many years to come.

GRAHAM GAULD