…and something blue; SGMW members drive latest Suzukis and remember epic 1980s Rhino Rallies
Suzuki went the extra furlong and treated SGMW members to an event that is becoming rare – a partners’ weekend at the Lingfield Park Marriott Hotel and Country Club, which borders the racecourse in the heart of the Surrey countryside.
Alun Parry, Jade Wells and the Suzuki team greeted around 20 SGMW members on a sunny autumn afternoon last year. We then had a relaxed afternoon to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, with evening cocktails followed by a sumptuous dinner.
SGMW chairman Chris Rees was unable to attend because he was treading the boards with his local amateur dramatic club, so vice-chairman Chris Manning gave a vote thanks to the whole Suzuki team for organising the weekend. With partners’ weekends something of a rarity nowadays within the UK motor industry, during his speech, Chris likened the event to the support Suzuki had given to the white rhino back in the 1980s.
At that time it was an endangered species near to extinction. For a number of years Suzuki held Rhino Rallys on army land around Aldershot. They invited owners of Suzuki 4×4 vehicles to attend and laid on a variety of fun and games for them. The challenges included driving a Suzuki around an obstacle course with a bowl of water fixed to the bonnet; the winner was the vehicle with the most water left in its bowl. Another even tougher challenge wasSJ40 Suzuki fitted with a reverse steering system; when you steered right the vehicle would go left and vice-versa. Drivers had to negotiate a slalom course and were timed and given penalty point for any cones their vehicle knocked over.
Owners of Suzuki 4x4s were also invited to test their vehicles to the limit on specially constructed off-road courses, with tuition available from a field of experienced off-road drivers.
Sunday morning drivesOn Sunday morning after a hearty breakfast a fleet of spotlessly clean Suzuki vehicles waited for us, lined-up in the hotel car park. SGMW members took to the roads for a drive around the Surrey countryside in the autumn morning sunshine.
Chris Manning and partner Vivienne Lauder donned a pair of white Suzuki jackets from the 1980s that had been loaned to them by long-time friend Rob Woodgate. Rob had worked in the Suzuki press garage when it was based in Gatwick, and had been involved in the Rhino Rallys in the 1980s. He’d kept the jackets ever since.
With the driving road tests over, members returned to the hotel for lunch before departing for home, hoping that Suzuki’s lead in organising a partners’ weekend would encourage other car manufacturers to follow suit.