In the second of our motorsport legends series, we talk to Leon Meijers.
Possibly not so well known in the UK, Leon is a legend in his own right in the European historic rallying scene, as one of the most popular and spectacular drivers, known for his enthusiasm for the sport. He always entertains the thousands of spectators who flock to events such as last week’s Eifel Rally festival, where Leon participated using our carbon positive level of carbon offsetting.
Photo courtesy of Zero Understeer
Leon has a special part to play in the story of Carbon Positive Motorsport, according to founder Paul Glass. "I’ve known Leon for over 20 years, we first became connected through our shared love of Ladas – or more specifically Lada Samaras. I can’t remember how it came to be, but I got in touch with him to buy 12 very rare works magnesium wheels and scarce tarmac competition tyres. As a Lada dealer and competitor in the soviet era – he had a rare personal contact and quite unique access to the works team and some of their very exotic parts.
"I remember him offering me quite a few works parts, that I now regret not buying, but at the time I simply could not afford them - especially after the cost of the air freight that Leon insisted he would only send the wheels by – I think due to the scarcity of the wheels. Little did I know then that it would be the start of a long friendship... but that’s another part of the story to come. In the end only 11 wheels arrived – something that a Scotsman would not forget about!"
Leon was a class champion in the Netherlands driving his immaculate and highly competitive self-built works spec Lada Samara.
"Several years later, I had the chance to move to the Netherlands with my employer IKEA for an opportunity I couldn't say no to professionally. The availability of Lada cars and parts was much better on the continent than the UK, so despite my return to competition driving in Scotland, I thought my passion for the cars would benefit from the move. Little did I know then that a controlled passion would fatefully become an uncontrolled obsession…
"First on my call list was a rather surprised Leon, as I updated him that I was now living in the country, albeit a few hours away, and that I was coming to see him in my recently purchased Lada Samara Carlotta (quite a rarity)... the trip to visit him was soon arranged with the promise from him of a big surprise!
"When I visited I was amazed by the facilities he has, the warmth of his hospitality, and his collection of road and competition cars which at that time included a beautiful Cortina GT in build – which was delayed by his perseverance to find a correct original master cylinder. As he showed me around with a story at every turn of his tour, he proudly presented to me the 12th wheel that I had bought so many years before – finally found in the back of a container!"
"During this visit Leon kept on telling me of this new event called Rally Eifel, and that whatever I do, I should pay the event a visit. A few years later it came to be a regular annual pilgrimage for me of all things rallying."
More on that to come, but first let’s hear from Leon about him, his love for rallying, his devotion to building perfect replicas of very rare historic Fords…. and why he only drives one way – fastly sideways!
Leon Meijers in his signed Gunnar Palm Safari Ford Cortina GT replica.
CPM: What do you think your greatest rallying achievement is?
LM: Despite my competion successes in the Ladas, it must be the ELE Historic Rally 2018, where we finished third place overall with my Ford Cortina GT.
Leon driving his replica Monte Carlo Anglia in the only way he knows how – flat out and sideways.
CPM: You've had a lot of different Rally cars throughout your time, what's your favourite rally car you have competed in?
LM: In competition driving it was my works spec Lada Samara group A, it’s a car I greatly miss especially now it’s eligible for historic rallying - something annoyingly you keep reminding me of! - but for demo and Slowly Sideways events it’s got to be my Ford Anglia 105E. Maybe for my next rally car I'll get another Samara.
In both his cars, Leon has built a reputation as a crowd pleaser and a rally photographers dream.
CPM: What was your Motivation behind the two Ford replicas?
LM: When I decided to build a historic rally car for Slowly Sideways, I didn't want a car which are seen a lot of in competition historic events. But it had to be a Ford - I had some Anglias in my workshop storage and then bought an ex-racing Anglia, and then the rally car project started!
For the Cortina, it’s the same, everybody wants a Mark 1, so I built a Mark 2 GT. - the only Mark2 LHD car which ever was built as a works car. The car never survived after its Safari Rally which makes the replica even more special – to build a perfect replica of a works car that no longer exists, except as a model.
Leon has also built a reputation as building perfect replicas, where his attention to detail and originality has led to many long hours in the workshop, and many magazine features.
CPM: What do you enjoy most about historic rallying?
LM: Slowly Sideways at the smaller events I enjoy the most, maybe when the group is just 10 to 30 cars, where we all stay in the same hotel, and do service together. It’s one big family with lots of fun, and in the evenings a few beers, good laughs and fabulous stories....
When he’s not sideways, Leon likes to take a rest by having all wheels of the ground.
CPM: What was your highlight was from this year’s Rally Eifel? It's an event that you have always been a entrant on, and this year’s theme was celebrating 50 years of WRC.
LM: Too much to mention, but if I must choose, the moment that motivated me a lot was on the start of the shakedown, I had to park next to the road, due to troubles with the tracking system, the next moment Neuville came to the start line with his 306 Maxi. He was right next to me, and after the well known 5-4-3-2-1 he launched off, what a start, what a speed, and what late braking he made for the first righthander. Incredible!
Leon competing at Rally Eifel. Photo courtesy of bvrallypics.be.
CPM: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
LM: We plan to do the East Belgium Rally on 24th September, and Rallye Köln-Ahrweiler in November - we have been told it will be a charity-event for the victims of the flooding in the Ahrweiler area last year – so that’s something I’m particularly happy to support, it shows that rallying can do good things for the communities our sport depends on.
This brings us back nicely to the start of our story, and why Leon plays a part. The idea for Carbon Positive Motorsport came at Rally Eifel in 2018 – an event that promotes the heritage of the sport and celebrates people in rallying, with a huge community and public support. It got Paul thinking about how the sport would look in the future, with all the growing concerns about climate change. Paul explains: "I wondered how we could make motorsport environmentally sustainable, so that future generations could enjoy our sport. Without Leon, I would not have had the inspiration to visit the event, or asked and tried to answer these questions, so Leon - you are forever a part of our story. Keep smiling and stay sideways!"
Photo courtesy of Aart van der Haagen.
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