The super-fast and smooth gravel roads that make up what soon became known as the 1,000 Lakes Rally, not to mention their blind, flat-out crests, made sure it was as specialised an event as any on the international scene. As a result, it was dominated by local drivers, brave heroes who had grown up on those very roads driving anything whose pedals they could reach from an early age.
So commanding were the Finns that only Swedish neighbours Erik Carlsson, Gunnar Callbo, Stig Blomqvist and Mikael Ericsson managed to upset the Finnish applecart in the event’s first 40 years.
For 1973, the 1,000 Lakes joined the maiden World Rally Championship season, slotting in as the eighth of the 13 rounds that year. And it attracted all the big names, keen to add their name to the roll of honour in the first truly global running.
Porsche sportscar hero Leo Kinnunen, who’d won long-distance enduros in the firm’s Group 5 Gulf 917K, was fastest in his 911 on the first of the 43 special stages that made up the three-day event.
Thereafter, 1971 winner Blomqvist moved his Saab 94 V6 to the front, with Volvo youngster Markku Alén and Ford star Timo Mäkinen scrapping over second place.
The original Stig kept the distinctive three-cylinder, two-stroke Saab out front, despite the onset of heavy rain at half-distance, and a roll, until stage 34 when the crankshaft cried enough.
Mäkinen, co-driven by Englishman Henry Liddon in the Escort RS1600, moved to the front and, over the final eight stages, withstood big pressure from the Volvos of Alén and Hannu Mikkola, as well as Kinnunen’s Porsche that set numerous fastest stage times to consolidate third place.
Mikkola, in his efforts to take a fourth win (he’d scored a hat-trick in 1968-’70), was pushing hard, carrying big speed and big air over the jumps. On one such flight during the final stage, the Ruuhimaki test, he landed so heavily after a big jump that co-driver Erkki Rautanen damaged vertebrae in his back and required hospital treatment. After leaving his bedside, Mikkola got back in the car to take the finish, only to be disqualified shortly after. He needn’t have worried: he’d win it four more times over the next decade, for Ford, Toyota and Audi.
The previous year’s winner, Simo Lampinen, upheld Saab honours, while Brian Culcheth and Johnstone Syer brought their unlikely rally weapon, a Morris Marina, home in 16th to finish best of the Brits.
But it was Mäkinen who took the most plaudits. His maiden WRC victory couldn’t have come in a more appropriate place or at a better time.
1000 Lakes Rally, 1973
1 Timo Makinen (FIN)/Henry Liddon (GB) – Ford Escort RS1600, 4h53m50s
2 Markku Alén (FIN)/Juhani Toivonen (FIN) – Volvo 142, +2m09s
3 Leo Kinnunen (FIN)/Atso Aho (FIN) – Porsche 911, +3m22s
4 Simo Lampinen (FIN)/John Davenport (GB) – Saab 96 V4, +5m38s
5 Antti Ojanen (F)/Heikki Miikki (FIN) – Opel Ascona, +9m40s
6 Ulf Grönholm (B)/Henry Laine (FIN) – Opel Ascona, +10m13s