An Admirable Challenge

The Sixth Monte Carlo Challenge took place mostly in France between 11th and 17th February. The entry comprised 151 competing cars, al I models which could have competed in the Monte in or before 1963. Thus the popular Porsche 911 and the ubiquitous Escort were absent, and the sole MGB protagonist was the Dutch-entered roadster of Rolf Lie and Roy Roge. In 1960s style there were several starting points (Oslo, Bristol, Noordwijk, Rolzano, and Rothenburg) whose punters joined together appropriately at Joigny — a sort of French Marlow, on the Yonne near Auxerre. From there the common route led to Le Mont Dore, a resort town in the Massif a few miles southwest of Clermont Ferrand, where competitors were allowed their first night in bed.

The entry ranged from an Italian-entered 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, crewed by Hanavedi and Jill Aedi, via Peter Maguire's 1930 Austin Ulster to half-a-dozen Volvo PV544s from the early 1960s. That model was favoured by the Swiss team of Portman, Portman and Leumann, and by Brits Stuart and Hilary Williams and Paul and Jane Wignall. The centre of gravity of the entry lay between 1957 and 1965, with the Healey 3000, the Triumph TR3 and the MGA featuring strongly.

Star of the show was M Maurice Gatsonides, who won the rally in 1953 and went on to invent the eponymous speed camera. Gatso first competed on the rally in 1936, and took part 23 times between then and 1970; he has born in 1911, the year in which the Monte-Carlo Rally was first held. In 1995 he used a Ford Zephyr, as he had in 1953, and was placed fourth in his 20-strong class.

On the Tuesday morning the crews climbed eagerly into their snow-covered cars, which in turn ascended from Le Mont-Dore (the town) to Les Monts-Dore (the mountains), where they found more snow with local enthusiasts skiing on it at a height of some 1450m. The route continued through the spectacular Parc Regional des Volcans to the site of the second (and last pre-Monte Carlo) in-bed night at Vals les Bains, an agreeably decadent watering-spot at the northeast corner of the Cevennes.

Route designer Keith Baud had discovered some very attractive roads for the crews' enjoyment. The pity was that, as is the case on many rallies whose timing is their magic ingredient, very few crews had time to appreciate the country through which they were chasing their clocks.

The final day and night's run was among such attractions as the Grand Canyon du Verdon and the Corniche Sublime, none of which had appeared on any coach operator's schedules, but many of which were enjoyed in the dark so that competitors would have seen nothing outside the stoney parameters of the road ahead, lit by their dynamo-driven headlights; alternators attracted an anachronism penalty.

On arrival at Monte Carlo during the morning of Thursday 16th the 75 crews who were to be sent on the Mountain Circuit that night were selected by the results computer. At that point just four cars were free of time-penalty free. They were Ron Gammons/Paul Easter in their MGA, Neil Wilson/John Buffum in their Porsche 356, Mike Corns/Willy Cave in a Volvo Amazon, and Frank Fennel/Kevin Savage in a similar car. Not far behind were Derek Skinner/David Filsell in the latter's shopping A35 — an astonishing performance for a car without significant brakes or grunt.

The final 4-hour Mountain Circuit included such old favourites as the Col de Turini, the Col St Roch, and the Col de Castillon — where the last of the rally's 58 time controls was situated. In the mode of the 1960s most of the time-controls were located within licensed premises. No 56, for instance, was inside the Bar de Paris, in the elegant little village of Moulinet, some 50 miles north of Monte Carlo. The estaminet's normal population was made up of M et Mme Proprieteur and their visually-challenged, aroma-enhanced dog. The route instructions were clear: "Follow your nose". At Ilpm the place started to fill with local worthies eager to see what was going on — which was a lot of door-slamming, card-stamping, and general rushing about. It all made excellent cabaret.

Which properly describes the whole rally, really. It was very slickly run by Clerk of the Course Rob Arthur under the eye of Director Philip Young; he will be masterminding a rally from Peking to Paris in a couple of years' time. The ambition set out in the route notes — that it should be "a sporting event in the proper sense of that word" — was fully realised.

Class winners wore Gammons/Easter, Corns/Cave, Skinner/Filsell, Tony Davies/ Alan Smith (MG 1100), Paul & Jane Wignall (Volvo 544), Richard Prosser/Rob Lyall (Rover 3-litre), Bart Rebergen/Jos Schroeder (TR3), David Ratcliff/Martin Sharp (Bentley Mk6 Spl), Martin Ingall/Bob Brazil (Austin Healey Sebring), Denis Hubble/Jill Cotton (Volvo 142) and Peter/Sue Noble (Bentley Continental SI ).