Watch: The YouTube channel saving rally history from deteriorating VHS tapes

Steve Etherington/Getty Images

All hail the YouTube algorithm. On a recent dive down the rabbit hole of vintage rally footage, the ones and zeros responsible for recommending videos served up a goldmine of dirt-flinging action.

VHS Rallies is the channel responsible for these videos and taking up more of my free time than I’d like to admit. The channel has been hard at work digitizing and uploading VHS tapes containing mostly British coverage of rally events from the 1980s–2000s.

Important work, as the magnetic tape in VHS cassettes decays over time leading to a deterioration of quality or, worst case scenario, a total loss of the video. You’re not going to see footage of a pre-Subaru Colin McRae hustling a Ford Sierra Cosworth through Welsh forests on the average YouTube rally compilation. I’m sure the BBC has some of this footage archived somewhere, but coverage from channels like Sky Sports or ITV might not exist in its original form.

Ford Cosworth 4x4 Colin McRae rally racing
Colin McRae pilots his battered Ford Cosworth 4×4 in the RAC Lombard Rally circa 1990. Steve Etherington/Getty Images

There are hours of sideways shenanigans to watch, but one of my favorite gems from the VHS Rallies collection is coverage of the 1988 Motaquip British Rallycross Grand Prix. The late ’80s was a special time for rallycross—a half-dirt, half-tarmac, wheel-to-wheel circuit sprint race.

Group B died in 1986, and the turbocharged, four-wheel drive monsters were suddenly all boosted up without a place to race. However, the no-holds-barred unlimited classes of European rallycross welcomed the cars, and teams took it a step further than even what the FIA allowed in the infamously loose regulations of Group B. The most competitive cars of the day were making around 700 horsepower.

MG Metro 6R4 rally racing will gollop brands hatch
Will Gollop behind the wheel of the #3 Silkolene MG Metro 6R4—a sister car to Tiff Nedell’s entry—during the 1988 Motaquip British Rallycross Grand Prix. Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

Needless to say, the high horsepower cars and short race format made for an exciting combination. In the video above, Tiff Needell (Top Gear and Fifth Gear presenter) gives a turn-by-turn analysis of the course behind the wheel of a 440-hp MG Metro. Murray Walker, a long-time Formula 1 announcer, excitedly calls 50 minutes of close racing from the broadcaster booth.

1988 Motaquip British Rallycross Grand Prix brands hatch
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of the golden years of rally and are looking to add more to your YouTube watchlist, definitely check out VHS Rallies. Just make sure your schedule is cleared, as it’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole.




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    Besides the deterioration of VHS tapes caused by age and less than perfect storage conditions, the remaining VCRs are aging out as well. Though many millions of home VCRs were made, professional-level models that can handle the fragile and failing tapes are becoming exceedingly rare. Hooray for those who undertake to restore and maintain both the equipment and the tapes, so we can continue to enjoy these racing videos.

    The tapes themselves store very well for decades with simple care (cool and dry). The machines a bit less so being bulky, delicate and finicky. What dooms them is the haphazard or non-existent labeling leading to many being disposed of with no consideration for what might be on them. I also suspect anyone handling them might assume “eh, it’s probably already on YouTube so I’m not keeping these any longer”.

    The problem that I have had digitizing the VHS tapes that I have is video and audio sync. I use an Elgato analog A/V to USB adapter. Everything that I converted has audio sync issues, which get worse over time (so I can’t just shift one to line them up).

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