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RALLY DETROIT / michigan 1973 Press-on-Regardless Rally

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Jeff i was looking through a book 1973 automobile almanac it has been siting on the table

long time. I dusted it off flipped to a bookmark john morton right-up there was something there made me search for that. I goggled tom king plymouth cricket and found the video.

When they came on with the detroit river belle isle remark i got a little rush going.

No datsun search but there they were and in DETROIT.


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Cop from Michigan shows the European rally specialists how it's done.


Press On Regardless

How a Michigan cop sent a shock wave through the 1970s Rally world.

Words: Roger Meiners

It was not supposed to happen. A truck wins a World Rally event. Nobody expected such a thing, much less believed it when they heard that a Jeep® Wagoneer, driven by a Dearborn, Mich., cop was the first American car to win an F.I.A. World Rally Championship event. It happened in 1972 at the Press-On-Regardless (POR) rally in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

Sgt. Gene Henderson.


The Monte Carlo Boys. On the left, Esko Keinanen, the Finnish driver of one of the Valiants; his co-driver, journalist Trant Jarman on the other side of the table. Nearest to the camera are Scott Harvey and Gene Henderson, co-drivers of the other team Valiant.

Henderson and Harvey race the V8 Valiant through The Netherlands during the 1964 Rallye Monte Carlo. The cars had chassis reinforcements from Valiant convertibles. Other features included skid plates, modified engines—and four-wheel disc brakes homologated by Chrysler France just for the event.

Henderson and a V8 Valiant practicing for the Monte event.


From right, in order: History’s first three SCCA ProRally Champion drivers: Chrysler engineer Scott Harvey, Sr., Dearborn police officer Gene Henderson, and professional driver John Buffum pose with SCCA rally officials. A recent SCCA publication quoted Buffum as saying, “Gene Henderson and Scott Harvey are the Lewis and Clark of ProRallying in the U.S. They showed us the way.”

Erhard Dahm in Moby **** II, the second of two Jeep Wagoneers from Henderson’s 1973 rally campaign for American Motors.

Henderson’s 1968 Barracuda rally car at Sandilands, a tough stage in Manitoba on the Shell 4000 Canadian Rally.

Co-drivers Ken Pogue (L) and Gene Henderson with “Running Bear,” Gene’s 320 hp Jeep Cherokee at Michigan’s Press On Regardless rally in 1974.

Click photos to enlarge.

Photos: Henderson Collection

The cop, Sgt. Gene Henderson, with navigator Ken Pogue, beat the World Championship team of Italian Lancias, and all the other rally cars, to become the first Americans to win a world championship event. The Jeep was the first American “car” to do the same. Why such a big deal? The Jeep was a big piece of American iron, not a lightweight, nervous, highly-tuned rallying machine. And the Jeep was driven by Americans, not the high-strung European rally specialists. This was big news back in 1972.

Henderson, with the Dearborn, Mich., police force was also the most successful American rally driver of his time. The POR was his home event, so if anybody was going to break through against the Europeans, it was him.

Henderson started his driving career as a way to improve his skills as a police officer. He went to the nearby Waterford Hills, Mich., road course in 1959—in the family Volvo 544. He also drove his first POR that year—also in the Volvo, but didn’t finish. He kept working on his driving skills, many times practicing on snow-covered parking lots close to home and work. He rapidly improved, and then graduated to more specialized road racing machinery, stepping up briefly to professional road racing in the Trans Am series. He adopted rallying as a way to continue competition in the winter.

Mike Van Loo, a veteran of the SCCA rally scene, and long-time friend of Henderson experienced Gene’s driving ability many times. “His incredible experience made him fast right out of the box,” said Van Loo. “The younger, less experienced, drivers had to get up to speed, but Gene had already opened up a lead.” When the young guns got going, Henderson was far enough ahead to hold on under their onslaught.

In 1961, Henderson and Chrysler engineer Scott Harvey, Sr., were co-chairmen for the POR and Gene got even more involved in the big time rally scene, winning the 1963 event in a factory-sponsored Chrysler 300, on a team of three cars put together by Harvey. Scott was a racing driver and a driving force in Mopar® rally racing history—and in road racing under his Team Starfish banner. That team took Chrysler into the TransAm series in 1966 with a driver named Richard Petty. But that’s another story.

In 1964 Henderson shared a V8 Valiant with Harvey in the 1964 Monte Carlo event, finishing fifth in class. Harvey put the Valiant team together and engineered the car with the V8 engine and the one-off four-wheel-disc brake package. Chrysler France got the brakes homologated for the Monte Carlo event. The cars also had skid plates and chassis reinforcements originally specified for Valiant convertibles.

Henderson didn’t give up road racing completely, though, winning ten of twelve national SCCA races in 1967, but he also won the Press-On-Regardless rally again that year. Then in 1968 he won his class in the Shell 4000 TransCanada Rally, driving a Plymouth Barracuda. His friend and co-competitor Harvey won overall in a Barracuda that year. The ‘Cudas were even more “engineered” than the 1964 Valiants. Everything was special on these cars.

Henderson ran with several teams during the next few years and finally landed with Jeep for the 1972 season and the big international win at the POR in the Jeep he called Moby ****. The next year he managed a two-car Jeep Wagoneer team in the ProRally championship, with himself as one of the drivers. He finished second in the championship to old friend Harvey.

In 1974 Henderson brought a highly modified Jeep Cherokee to the ProRally fray. He won four of seven events (and finished second in the other three) in the 320-horsepower beast, called “Running Bear,” and took the championship. His exploits in rallying led to his induction into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame that year.

Henderson retired from the police force in 1976 to run his rally equipment business, Competition Limited, which he founded in 1969. He also slowed down a bit on his competition program, passing the torch to his sons Garry and Mark.

He passed away in 2005, not soon to be forgotten by the world of rallying or law enforcement.


Edited by black gold man
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I am not to sure about the accuracy of some of the statements in the article quoted here. I am not at home at the moment to check some of my references but a quick google search of the 1973 Press On Regardless World Rally Championship event results gave me :


1. Boyce, Walter Toyota Corolla

2. Walker, Jim Volvo 142S

3. Smiskol, John Datsun 240Z (See additional info on John Smiskol in next post)

4. Buffum, John Ford Escort RS1600

5. Rodgers, John Datsun 1600SSS

6. Mucha, Robert Polski-Fiat 125p

7. Dodd, Bill Ford Capri 2600

8. Callon, Jim Datsun 510

9. Dorr, Steve Datsun 510

10. McLaren, Charles Datsun 510

From memory the best result Jeep achieved was in an East African Safari Rally where I think they gained three places in the top ten but please do not quote me on this.

I do not think that any North American driver has won a World Rally Championship event. The WRC started in 1973.

I am not wanting to denigrate the achievements of those mentioned above and I am happy to be advised that I am in error in my thoughts. I will post again once I have had time to check on a few things.



Edited by boyblunda
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I think that John Smiskol was the North American driver with the highest achievements in the World Rally Championship results of the past century - AND he got those results in a Z.

WRC results for John Smiskol

John Smiskol Career Statistics

Country: United States


Birth Date: 11-Nov-50

First Rally: Unknown

WRC Events: 1973 - 0

Career Results :

Pos Event Co-Driver # Vehicle

8th. 1974 WRC Rideau Lakes Rally C. Smiskol #108 Nissan Fairlady (Z) 260Z

14th. 1974 WRC USA Press on Regardless Rally C. Smiskol #8 Nissan Fairlady (Z) 260Z

3rd. 1973 WRC USA Press on Regardless Rally C. Smiskol #105 Nissan Fairlady (Z)

Some of this information has come up in the Forum some time ago and can be read in http://www.classiczcars.com/forums/showthread.php?18343-WRC-Placegetter-Smiskol-of-USA

Edited by boyblunda
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'It happened in 1972 at the Press-On-Regardless '

I don't know much about it but will do some reading and searching.

I got all in a hoot as the Belle Isle park is a place i know well.

We had a wedding there in September and last weekend a reopening of all the buildings on the island for the day.

And have been to events such as this. And looking forward to racing returning to the

island this year.

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I see.

The article says "It was not supposed to happen. A truck wins a World Rally event. Nobody expected such a thing, much less believed it when they heard that a Jeep® Wagoneer, driven by a Dearborn, Mich., cop was the first American car to win an F.I.A. World Rally Championship event. It happened in 1972 at the Press-On-Regardless (POR) rally in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan"

If it was 1972 then it was not a World Rally Championship event, but rather the fore runner of what was to become a WRC event. Would not be the first time that a journalist did not get it quite right and then prints something that is a little misleading.

However, loved the video clips and thought that anyone who can drive a Jeep like that certainly would have had his hands full. Outstanding.

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Read a Wikapedia post (FWIW) which said :

"The FIA International Championship for Manufacturers (IMC) was a rally series culminating in a champion manufacturer. The championship was run from 1970 to 1972 and it was replaced by the FIA World Rally Championship in 1973."

and "All the nine rallies of the 1972 IMC season were part of the 1973 World Rally Championship season."

There might be some conjecture over the veracity of the last sentence in that I have not found any reference to the 1972 events being included in the 1973 WRC, but whatever does emerge, there is no doubting that a Jeep driven by Gene Henderson won the 1972 Press On Regardless in what was the world premiere manufacturers rally series of the day.

Edited by boyblunda
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My final post to clarify my contribution:


"The WRC was formed from well-known and popular international rallies, most of which had previously been part of the European Rally Championship and/or the International Championship for Manufacturers, and the series was first contested in 1973."

The World Rally Championship began in 1973 and did include on the 1973 calendar all of the events that had been run as a part of the Manufacturers Championship in 1972.

All subsequent references I can find to the World Rally Championship only refer to results from 1973 onwards with no recognition of those makes that won the manufacturer's championship in the previous three years.

As an additional note, a similar situation evolved in the Drivers Championship which did not start until 1979. However, there was a drivers cup run in the previous two years for which the worthy winners, Sandro Munari and Marku Alen, are given little recognition in WRC history.

On the matter of 4WD vehicles, I had an impression that they were not allowed to compete in the WRC until the early 1980's when the Audi Quattro turned world rallying on its head.

I also made a mistake when I quoted the history of results for North American drivers when in fact I should have said USA drivers. Walter Boyce was a Canadian driver when a he won the WRC 1973 Press On Regardless rally.

Sorry to have hijacked the thread away from the achievements of Gene Henderson who, from my reading, was a talented driver of exceptional achievements in a variety of vehicles.

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