Asking Jari-Matti Latvala about his first rally car is not a straightforward procedure.
The first car in which he did a rally was a Renault Clio, driven on the Dukeries Rally in Britain midway through 2002. But before that, there was a beautifully prepared Toyota Corolla GT he used on rallysprint-type events from the age of 16. But before that came a Ford Escort Mk II.
Which one, Jari-Matti?
“Actually,” he said, pondering the question a moment longer, “I think we take the first rally car I owned – this was a Sunbeam Avenger. And I had two of them…”
We’ll go with the first one.
“The first car was an Escort Mk I,” he said. “I was eight years old, but that wasn’t so much of a rally car – let’s stick with Avenger. This was a good car. I can tell you a story about this car!
“This was the car that got me interested in Henri Toivonen. We thought this was exactly the same car Henri had been driving in the mid-seventies. I remember my father gave me a VHS cassette which was the film: ‘Henri Toivonen, the legend.’
“I watched this film a lot and became a big fan of Henri and the Avenger. When we rebuilt this car, we found out this wasn’t an ex-Henri Toivonen car. But I can tell you another story!
“After it was rebuilt, and I did that in 2008 using all of my salary from driving for M-Sport, Timo Kankkunen (brother of four-time world champion Juha) did a rally in it and won his class. So, maybe it’s not ex-Toivonen, but it is now an ex-Kankkunen car!”
Latvala used the Avenger around the yard of his family’s business. And, of course, when winter came, on the frozen lakes around his Finnish home.
“My parents’ business was in earth moving machinery,” he said. “So we always had some space to move the machines around and I could use this space to drive.
“I liked the Avenger, for me it felt like a better car than the Escort. It had coil springs at the rear instead of leaf spring suspension like the Escort and I think the steering was quicker. The thing that let it down was the engine. It didn’t have the same power.”
And it was the engine that let Latvala Snr. down.
“My father got tired of always having to fix the engine on the Avenger,” said Latvala. “It was always the same with these cars. The problem was with the cylinder head, you would get a leak from the gasket. The water channel [in the cylinder] was broken and it let the water out. It wasn’t good.
“And, like I said, my father got fed-up with it. We put this car to the back of the yard and left it there.”
Almost a decade later, it was rebuilt and running again. Whether or not it’s an ex-Toivonen car, the fact that it’s been lived and loved by Latvala is enough for us.