Most reckoned the Swede had scalped the big one. But the times eventually told a different story. As he recounts to Damien smith.
To lose a rally by a matter of seconds will always be hard to take. But to accept defeat when your rivals have been telling you all day that you are the victor must really stick in the throat. Even now, after 37 years of success as a driver and team manager, Ove Andersson’s near miss on the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally still rankles.
The future president of Toyota Team Europe was a rising star back then. Andersson was only in his second year of international rally competition as a works Lancia driver, but had already seemingly beaten the cream of his sport in its most prestigious event.
‘When we got to the finish, everyone said ‘congratulations, you are the winner’,” he remembers. ‘We received lots of telegrams and flowers— everybody was as happy as hell. I was at the beginning of my career, it was hard to take in and I didn’t know what had hit me. It was just sinking in when I found out we had lost.”
Andersson and co-driver John Davenport returned to Monte Code’s harbour on Thursday morning at dawn. Until all the time sheets had been brought down from the check points up in the mountains it was impossible to be sure of a result, and the corks stayed firmly in the champagne bottles. But as Motor Sport contributor Davenport remembers, the signs looked promising.
“BMC’s Stuart Turner congratulated us when we got down to the final control. He thought we’d won. When the team manager of the opposing team congratulates you, you begin to think there’s something in it!”
It was thought that Andersson had beaten the Mini of Rauno Aaltonen and Henry Liddon by a scant two seconds. But by early evening, the official times were in and the result had been turned on its head. Aaltonen had beaten Andersson by 13 seconds. “I always tried to find out what happened and why it happened, but I never got an answer,” says Ove.
But the result took nothing away from Andersson’s performance, his charge through the final night stages proving particularly impressive. Davenport says: “Ove was in a world of his own on that rally. I think it was in practice that he used left-foot braking for the first time. He had used it before in Saabs, but it wasn’t so easy in the Lancia. He had it perfected by the start.”
Canny tyre choice also played its part. A special rule, designed (unsuccessfully) to equalise privateer and works performance, limited cars to just eight tyres for each of the two loops around Monte Carlo, and they had to carry them on board; in the Fulvia’s case four fitted to the car, two in the boot, one behind the seats and one underneath Davenport’s feet.
An element of guesswork was required to decide tyre choice. On the final night, conditions were cold with plenty of black ice, but little fresh snow. Andersson chose a special set of studded Dunlop SP3s that had been discovered in a friend’s loft! Davenport explains: “The studs had been fitted some considerable time before, for what purpose I don’t know. The point is that the old way of fixing studs was to drill a hole into the tyre, then fire the stud into it. You always trapped a bit of air between the head of the stud and the bottom of the hole, and that didn’t give you such a good grip.
“But if you left them for a couple of years the rubber hardened and the air seeped out, so you had a better cling on the stud. They proved to be brilliant.”
But despite Andersson’s form, one incident almost forced them out of the rally on the second pass over the Col de Turini. The Swede hit a rock which bent the steering arm. He still managed a quick time, but significantly lost 13 seconds to Aaltonen. Remember Ove’s final deficit to the Finn? Yep, 13 seconds… Andersson made up for the disappointment of 1967 by claiming victory in Monte Carlo four years later in a Renault-Alpine. ‘That made me feel better,” he admits. “In fact that win saved my career because it led to a works drive with Renault. I won four major rallies that year and if there had been a drivers’ world championship, I would have won it.” Too bad the world title was not introduced until 1979. By then Ove had hung up his driving gloves and was at the helm of TTE.