The pass through Glen Croe has been a vital route from Glasgow to the west coast for centuries with tourist coaches, caravans, motorhomes, cars and bikes now replacing the cattle drovers of the past.
Rising from the neck of the Bute peninsula between the Arrochar Alps and the flanks of The Cobbler and Ben Donich, what’s now known as the old road is a reminder of the importance of military control in Scotland’s past.
There were few proper roads at the time of the 1745 rebellion, but following the Jacobites’ defeat, the government began a road-building programme which would allow troops to march rapidly to the scene of trouble. This crucial route was a top priority but it was a far from easy task. Everything had to be done largely by hand and at the lower level it was fairly straightforward with a slow climb but then followed by a steep climb and a tight hairpin to make it over the 860 ft summit.
That’s what gave the place its name, no doubt heartfelt by the soldiers and their ponies as they reached the top and their efforts are commemorated in an inscribed stone, where you can Rest and Be Thankful and take in the stunning panoramic view back down the glen.
Until the Second War, the old road proved a mighty challenge for the cars of time, many overheating in clouds of steam even before reaching the final hairpin.
Motorsport pioneers love a challenge and in the Edwardian days, the august Royal Scottish Automobile Club organised a series of reliability trials on the route…..and a tough test of the cars it certainly was.
It may have been a great sporting venue, but it was clear it was impractical for the growing amount of traffic immediately post-war. Work began on creating a new road, cut into the side of Ben Arthur in a steadier climb high above the old road.
With what is now the A83 completed, the redundant old road was the perfect venue for a classic hillclimb and the first meeting organised by the RSAC in 1949 saw some of the leading drivers of the day come to take on the challenge. The surface was deteriorating but with some patching, the first record of 68 seconds was set for the 1,425 yards long course, rising over 400 feet with the breathtaking hairpin at the finish line.
Over the next few years mechanical development and improved engineering saw the record time steadily reduced and large crowds turned out to watch the competitions in one of the most spectacular motorsport venues in the country, the most challenging hillclimb and the only one with a real Alpine flavour.
The all-time hillclimb record of 50.09 seconds set in 1964 still stands but maintenance costs forced the end with the final event run by the Scottish Sporting Car Club in September 1970.
It hasn’t lain idle though. It’s been used many times as a special stage on Scottish and international rallies run both up and down, and for historic and classic events including a re-run in the 1990s of the Scottish Reliability Trial which saw the priceless Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost AX 201 climb the same hill it tackled in 1907.
Among those who’ve competed on the Rest in one machine or another include household names like Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Hannu Mikkola, Jimmy McRae and son Colin, Ari Vatanen and Stig Blomquist.
In recent years, the use of the road has been restricted but following a series of landslides which continue to fall onto and close the ‘new’ A83, the Scottish Government has reached an agreement with the landowner to use the ‘old’ road and as emergency diversion. It has been re-surfaced and improved and in the event of the closure of the main road, traffic is taken up and down the glen in convoys.
For some time, motorsport enthusiasts have felt the significant history of the Rest should be recognised and in September 2018 a project to establish a Scottish Motorsport Heritage Centre near the hairpin was granted official charitable status by the Scottish Charity Regulator OSCR.
It is the idea of Douglas Anderson, the Dundee man responsible for the return of the Monte Carlo Rally start to Scotland in recent years. He is one of five trustees who all have a motorsport background and are committed to getting the project off the ground as the ideal place to celebrate Scotland’s impressive motorsport heritage and the part the Rest has played in it.