For some, the Monte retro rally was a test of navigation; for others, a chance to reawaken the fire of the old days. By Johnny Tipler
There were three sorts of competitors on the 2008 Monte Carlo Historic Rally: the serious ones bent on victory by hitting the regularity targets, those giving their classic an outing on a high-profile event, and a small contingent out for high-speed thrills.
Heading the funsters were Vic Elford and co-driver David Stone in a 2.2E, a ringer for the 2.0 Porsche 911 they’d taken to victory 40 years ago. Fêted in every parc fermé, the veteran Brits relived past glories. Comfortable with their status, Elford and Stone retold tales of derring-do from the halcyon ’60s.
Their 2.2-litre 911, prepared by Martin and Denis Fueller in Nice, was a blood-orange blur as it flashed by on the higher stages. With no limited-slip diff it was harder to power out of corners than their original mount, though the crew had lost none of their former verve.
“On one of the early transit sections back to Monaco we ran flat out for 100km with Jean-Pierre Nicolas,” said Quick Vic. “We didn’t need to go that fast, but it was fun. We must have overtaken 30 rally cars.” When others faltered in the fog they forged on, reprising pace notes devised in the ’60s that enabled them to go full speed with no visibility – “and that formula is still a secret,” said David.
From Valence the Mercedes contingent looked strong, with two saloons and a 190SL heading the field, but fog on the peaks near Valence dovetailed into hard rain, morphing into heavy snow as the retinue climbed the winding Alpine B-roads, tails out on the white-out turns. That meant one Alpine stage was cancelled, though most of the 350 competitors reached Briançon unscathed despite a few contretemps on the Serre Chevalier Ice Circuit.
As conditions worsened, Elford and Stone found their true métier, relishing the prospect of snow. The penalties mounted as the Porsche pressed on, though Vic was dismissive: “We don’t give a damn about regularities,” he muttered while lighting a fag.
David agreed: “Back in ’68 it was all flat-out, and we thought nothing of going 36 hours without getting out of the car – and 96 on the Liège-Sofia-Liège. Our partnership was kind of like a marriage. When we get back together, even after 40 years, we fall back into the old patterns.” Which means Vic’s in charge.
Their rally wasn’t without dramas. At a service halt after Buzet a coil needed changing to cure a misfire, and after Col de Royan heading for Briançon in thick snow they evaded a road blocked by a crashed coach simply by ignoring urgent signals to stop.
“We had to just go for it in the other lane, overtaking lines of crawling traffic,” said Vic. Soon afterwards they were put in a ditch by an errant motorist, then hauled out by a passing snow plough. The car was undamaged, but the crew would pay the price for their gung-ho approach heading out of Monte Carlo for the last night’s stages.
Two other past winners were lured back by the Automobile Club de Monaco – Jean-Pierre Nicolas, driving an Alméras Fréres 911 Carrera 3, replicating his winning mount from 1978, and Bruno Saby, victor in 1988 with a Lancia S4, starting from Turin in a Fiat 500.
Nicolas was playing the game to win, and came away 25th overall, while the time-sensitive regularities meant Saby was also in with a shout, though it wasn’t to be as the tiny white Fiat went hors de combat at Briançon.
The final stages on the Monaco night run caught out many, including Quick Vic. Running number one, he and Stone were first to find the ice en route to the Col de Turini and the orange 911 snarled back to the Principality with a scuff at either end. Plenty of others looked much the worse for wear, though not the winning fintail Mercedes-Benz 300SE of Ernst Jüntgen/Marcus Muller. For the majority, Monte Carlo without busting was good enough.
Monte Carlo Historic Rally
1. Ernst Jüntgen/ Marcus Muller
Mercedes-Benz 300 SE
2. Gert Pfundt/ Gunter Meierer
Mercedes-Benz 220 SEB
3. Rolf G Kienen/Oliver Kienen
4. José Lareppe/Christophe Hayez
Toyota Celica 2000 GT
5. Raymond Durand/ Christian Fine
Opel Kadett GTE
6. Roland Holke/Jorge Beorlegui
7. Tchine/Olivier Sussot
Lancia Fulvia 1600 HF
8. Ivar Moe/Bjorn Lie
Saab 99 EMS
9. Svein Lund/Tore Fredriksen
10. Blas Hermoso/Julian Mendieta
Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV