Competitors in historic special stage rally cars will be able to protect bodyshells to a far greater extent than ever before following a new ruling from the Motor Sports Council.

For the start of the 2009 season, it will be permitted to fit a fibreglass guard to the area between the car's axles in a move that is designed to help reduce damage to increasingly rare and valuable bodyshells.

The amended ruling allows that a fibreglass guard moulded closely to the vehicle floor, fixed by adhesive or bolts, may be fitted. It must not extend beyond the front and rear axle centre lines and the outer 100mm on each side must not cover the vertical section of the outer sills.

As well as cars contesting the 2009 Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the change will also benefit cars in the HRCR Historic Stage Rally Challenge and the Northern Historic Rally Championship.

"This has been lobbied for by many competitors and we are very grateful to the MSA committees for making this rule change possible so quickly," said BHRC championship co-ordinator Simon Marks. "It is a very good step in looking after increasingly rare bodyshells."

The ruling has already been met with widespread approval from competitors. "It's a great idea; anything that prolongs the life of bodyshells is a good thing," said BHRC contender Mike Barratt, the owner of a Mini Cooper S and a Sunbeam Stiletto in stage rally specification.

"Even running first on the road, my Mini took such a hammering in the forests, so being able to protect it is fantastic.

"This is a very positive move and it may encourage more of the older cars to come out again, especially the smaller cars that are lower to the ground. I'm sure the damage sustained to the bodyshell is one of the reasons they are now so few Minis competing in the forests."