John Buffum

INTRODUCTION

(C) John P. Burrows

John Buffum (born October 4th 1943, in Wallingford, Connecticut, USA) is the most successful American rally driver to date; winning 11 national titles and 117 national championship events. From 1975 to 1987, John rarely did not win a North American event that he entered – losing victories only when his car broke down. In his lengthy career, Buffum however competed in but a few select World Rally Championship (WRC) outings: managing 2 podiums out of 17 events. Buffum is also well remembered as being one of the very few representatives of the Group B era in the United States thanks to his partnership with Audi.


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PERSONAL SUMMARY (WRC)

Personal information
Nationality flag American
Born  October 4th 1943
World Rally Championship record
Active years 1973~1974, 1976~1984, 1986~1988, 1993, 2000
Teams Audi
Rallies 18
Championships 0
Rally wins 0
Podiums 2
Stage wins 14
Total points 38
First rally 1973 Press-on-Regardless Rally (US)
First win
Last win
Last rally 2000 TAP Rallye de Portugal

RALLY BIOGRAPHY

In 1964, when Middlebury College fraternity brother Dave Talbott convinced John Buffum to navigate a time-speed-distance (TSD) rally with him in a borrowed MGA, the most famous rally career in US motorsports history had begun. Buffum married Vicki Gauntlett in 1966 which soon became his co-driver. He would drive a Mini Cooper albeit the TSD events were not focused on pure driving skill but rather on the ability to respect the pace set by the officials. For John, this is what rallying was about, little knowing that his perception would soon change.

After graduating from college and enlisting in the Army as a mechanical engineer, Buffum was sent to Germany as a second lieutenant in a bridge-building company of the Corps of Engineers. It was there that he saw performance stage rallying for the first time. John immediately bought a Porsche 911T to compete in both regional and international rallies. In 1969, he drove the car at the famous Monte Carlo rally, finishing in 12th place overall and third in class.

John Buffum IMSA
John Buffum driving a Porsche 914/6

When Buffum returned home in 1970, he soon realised that the exciting format of European stage rallying hasn’t yet caught on in the US. John had gotten the speed bug, which did not exist in TSD events, hence he tried his hand at IMSA and SCCA road racing in a Porsche 914/6. In 1972, Buffum formed his own team – Libra Racing –  sharing the driving cockpit with the likes of George Follmer, Steve Behr and Brett Lunger. The team eventually had some top 10 finishes in a BMW CSL, but didn’t have the budget to crack the winner’s circle.

By the mid-1970’s, performance rallying was finally taking roots in the US, and, despite the fact that John and Vicki divorced in 1974, they stayed together as a rally team. In 1975, Buffum mixed driving duties between a Porsche 911 Carerra and a Ford Escort RS 1600, winning every rally event that he entered if the cars did not break down – claiming his first SCCA title.

But it was 1976 that proved to be the pivotal year. The pair nearly swept the NARRA events to also win the North American Rally Cup title – the first of many. It was during this period when Buffum’s driving style started to mature, as he went from the reckless mode which saw him often crash, and had earned him the nickname “Stuff’em Buffum”, to his more composed championship mode.

For four years starting in 1977, Buffum drove factory Triumph TR7s and TR8s, and picked up Doug Shepherd as a co-driver. The pair dominated both the SCCA PRO Rally series and the North America Rally Championship until British Leyland dropped out of racing in the US. In 1981, Buffum tried running Audi 80 and Peugeot 504 V6 racers, but could hardly keep up with Rod Millen’s factory Mazda RX7 rally entries.

(C) eWRC-results.com

In 1982, Audi supplied Buffum with its new international Group 4 quattro rally car and this would be the game changer that made him yet again nearly unstoppable on the US rally scene – reclaiming the SCCA title. His good past performances also got Buffum invited to drive select European events in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.

John Buffum – Pikes Peak

Back in the US, Buffum would represent the German car maker by entering his Audi in the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. John and the quattro would dethrone most of specialised V8 machinery that had dominated the event for a long time. Albeit a bit short of the overall victory, Buffum won the Open Rally class two years running (1982-83) with times of 12:20.520 and 12:27.910, respectively.

On the North American rally scene, a well-established rivalry would begin to deepen when team Millen would subsequently update to faster RX7s, and Buffum would counter with ever faster quattro A1/A2 evolutions supplied by Audi Sport.

In 1983, besides continuing to dominate the rally scene in North America, John would continue to rally occasionally in Europe where he became the first American to win an European Rally Championship (ERC) event – the Sachs Rally in Germany. His amazing performances would see Buffum signed by American tire maker BF Goodrich as part of their global marketing programme. Their partnership led to Buffum winning the 1984 ERC Cyprus Rally to great acclaim from his sponsor. John also finished in fifth position at the year’s WRC Acropolis rally in Greece.

(C) eWRC-results.com

In 1985, John would continue his domination back home and would switch to Audi’s new Group B supercar, the Sport quattro, at the end of the year.  In 1986, Buffum would once again reign supreme by finishing every rally that he entered; netting 8 wins and 2 podiums in 10 events. John also participated in the very last WRC event of the Group B era, the Olympus Rally in the US, clinching third place at his home country’s event with Audi.

John Buffum – Olympus 1986

In 1987, while the FISA had banned Group B cars from WRC competition, Buffum would continue to campaign his Sport quattro in the US to great effect; winning 11 out of 12 events he entered and once again clinching both the North American & SCCA titles.

John decided to move away from active competition at the end of his undefeated year since retiring while on top is always a good thing. At this point in time, Buffum had laid claim to the most national championships (11) and most rally victories in the world (104).

John Buffum – Audi Sport quattro 1987

After his competition career was over, Buffum was elected manager of the SCCA Pro Rally Series for five years, while at the same time building and managing his Libra Racing team. From 1995 to 2003, Hyundai became Libra’s main sponsor, and the team was responsible for building and campaigning a special four wheel drive Tiburon – the car soon becoming victorious. This eventually led Buffum to support Vermont Sports Car’s endeavour at jump-starting the careers of the new generation of “X-Games” rally drivers in the US, later becoming rally operations manager in 2014.

John Buffum – Hyundai Tiburon in 2001

Since his “retirement” in 1987, John was never far from competitive rally driving himself as he has since entered numerous historic rallies in Europe, ranging from Spain and Morocco to Denmark and Norway, not to mention adding another 17 wins (16 on the North American circuit). His last victory dating back to 2005 at the Tall Pines Rally in Canada. But John’s affection for the French roads never died out, perhaps dating back to the 1969 Monte Carlo result, and he returned to the event’s Historic Rally on five different occasions; twice being rewarded with second place overall finishes.

John Buffum & co-pilot Fred Gallagher / 1984 Cypress Rally

John considers his surprise win at the 1984 ERC Cypress Rally as the pinnacle of his motorsport career, but he also quite fondly remembers his fifth position at the WRC Acropolis Rally in 1984, and sometimes has difficulty choosing which was the most meaningful. His third place at the 1986 & 1988 Olympus Rally remains the best ever WRC finish by an American rally driver.

When looking back at the Group B era of rallying, John considers these cars as most amazing but also quite demanding to drive. Albeit he states that he never felt unsafe in such cars, Buffum nonetheless was an advocate for Group B to come to an end as the risks started to outweigh the benefits in his opinion. John sometimes wishes that he could have moved to Europe to fully take advantage of his driving talents but in the end he regrets little.

John has a never-ending involvement in the sport he is so passionate about, either as as an event organiser, administrator, or competitor. He also helped restart the Mount Washington Hill Climb Auto Race in 1990 and served as its Chief Steward up to 2000, again in 2011 and 2017.

PARTIAL SOURCES: WikipediaLibra Racing, Car and Driver

(possibly spell-checked, translated, and/or edited; abridged, corrected, and/or expanded)


GROUP B RESULTS (WRC)

(# = finish position / R = retired or DNF / = did not compete)

Y TEAM EVENT PTS
Monaco
MC
Sweden
SE
Portugal
PT
Kenya
KE
France
FR
Greece
GR
New Zealand
NZ
Brazil
BR
Finland
FI
Italy
IT
Ivory Coast
CI
United Kingdom
GB
82 Audi 12 0
Y Team Event pts
Monaco
MC
Sweden
SE
Portugal
PT
Kenya
KE
France
FR
Greece
GR
New Zealand
NZ
Argentina
AR
Finland
FI
Italy
IT
Ivory Coast
CI
United Kingdom
GB
83 Audi 6 6
84 Audi 5 R 8
85 0
86 Audi United States
US 3
86 pts 12

AWARDS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

TITLES

  • SCCA Pro Rally Champion (11 times): 1975, 1977~1980, 1982~1987
  • NARA/NARRA Champion (3 times): 1976~1978
  • North American Rally Cup Champion (9 times): 1976~1978, 1980, 1983~1987

HALL OF FAME


GALLERY


VIDEOS


REFERENCES

 Affiliates Program – (free delivery worldwide!)

 Audi quattro – The Rally History

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(C) Page by Jay Auger – website owner & author

SPECIAL THANKS:

  • John P. Burrows (pictures)

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