The Mini Marathon
It may only be three years old, but the Pirelli Classic Marathon has made such an impact on historic motor sport that it seems to have been a permanent fixture for years.
With the likes of Moss, Hopkirk, Clark raising the profile already in this country, the likes of Unser, multiple winner of Indianapolis, Gijs van Lennep, double Le Mans victor and Clay Regazzoni, former Grand Prix driver, there was sure to be even wider ranging publicity throughout the world.
They, however, were not the only points of interest. Throughout the entry list, there were names which were rallying and racing echoes from the Fifties and Sixties.
Whilst Henry Pearman, last year’s winner, was entered in a Daimler SP250 and Unser in a race-modified E-type Jaguar on loan from John Lewis and reputed to be worth in excess of £500,000, the majority of front running cars were likely to come from the ranks of the Minis and MGs.
Hopkirk’s car was a replica prepared by Simon Wheeler Classic Cars while the Hertfordshire based Brown and Gammons MG specialists had prepared Bs for Gammons pére and fils, Moss, Clark and Keith and Anna Guerrier. The most popular car of the event was the Austin Healey 3000, of which there were eight examples entered, but which was unfortunately reduced by one before the event had even started by the last minute withdrawal of the Victor Gauntlett/Peter Livanos car. This was particularly galling for the 70 or so crews whose entry had been turned down due to the over-subscription of the event.
Of the remaining seven, it was the Peter and Tony Butt car which was of most interest since they were competing, for the first time, in the original ex-works Pat Moss car which won the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally in 1960, claimed class wins in the Alpine and Tulip rallies and enabled Moss to win the Ladies Rally Championship outright. A car of considerable pedigree.
After a first night glitch which saw some unfortunates unable to sleep in the room they had booked months before, the first day, the Sunday run, was a relatively gentle affair although it still claimed a few casualties. First to go, embarrassingly for Pirelli, was their managing director, Sandro Veronesi, whose rare 1961 Lancia Flaminia Sport locked up its brakes within a mile of the Tower Bridge start.
Unser was on a steep learning curve. At the first test, at Valence School, he failed to understand that the object of a timed test was to go like a bat out of hell. Having dropped 20 seconds on the leading group, he made up for it by clocking the fastest time on the next timed section at Lydden. Unfortunately, never having seen a cone before, or so he claimed, he drove straight past the slalom course.
Clay Regazzoni had problems when he lost five minutes as well when the handclutch jammed on his especially adapted Alfa Romeo Giulietta which demoted the Swiss driver to 82nd position.
The only problem to afflict us, in car 112, Evan Mackenzie’s works replica Triumph TR4A, was at Valence when Evan found the gear knob in his hand after some fairly fraught gearchanges. It was jammed back on but still kept slipping off so was well and truly glued into position at the end of the day.
Our problem, though, was nothing to those of the Unser/Killian car. Described by Ron Gammons as a mobile firebomb, the E-type’s petrol tank was found to be leaking. In fact it had been punctured by two holes at the top which allowed the fuel to spill out continually. A potential disaster was averted at Dover docks when it was patched up with the aid of Araldite. This was just as well for Unser had a nasty turn in Belgium when, turning on the headlights, the car caught fire! The situation was soon brought back under control before any real damage was done, but it did leave a question mark in one’s mind about the preparation of the sinister black machine.
On the second day, on the run from Ypres to Trier, which took in four timed tests, Paddy Hopkirk maintained his position at the top of the results sheets, some 19 seconds ahead of John Handley/Tony Moy in another Mini-Cooper S while tying in third place, a further second behind, were the MGBs of Roger Clark/Tony Mason and Stirling Moss/Chuck Shields. Ron Gammons was already showing his pace with a creditable fifth place, a further 18 seconds in arrears. In fact, the deficit between Hopkirk and Moss should have been far less but for the Begian marshals at the start of the second timed test of the day who robbed the former racing driver of some 12 precious seconds through their mishandling of the start.
Gijs van Lennep, meanwhile, had dropped way down the running order by the time Trier was reached. He had not settled in too comfortably and found the lanes too narrow for his Austin Healey 3000 on top of which the oil cap had worked loose, the battery cable fell off on the fifth test and then the windscreen wipers packed up for the wet timed section at Spa.
Another casualty of the event at this early stage was the sole Triumph Vitesse on the event, the 1598cc example of John Woolley and Nick Wright. Early manifestations of gearbox problems with difficulty in changing from second to third actually led to the loss of third and fourth gears altogether. With spares not being readily available in Germany, he was forced to retire.
Jim Murray fell victim to the wet conditions on the Spa test and overturned his Aston Martin DB4, without injury to either occupant, but which unfortunately delayed the next car up, Malcolm Gammons in another MGB, who had to stop while the road was cleared. Despite a protest and a Stewards’ enquiry, Gammons’ maximum lateness time stood which knocked him dramatically down the field. The errant Aston Martin, incidentally, was all set to continue except for the fact that a replacement windscreen could not be found.
By the overnight stop at Trier, we had managed to hoist ourselves up to 21st position without too much trouble although the final leg into Trier caused a certain amount of anxiety.
Having reached Germany we stopped at Lutzkampen, a small village near the border with Belgium, for much needed fuel. Beggars not being choosers, we were unable to refill with BP super unleaded and had to make do with what was available. Unfortunately it turned out to be dirty and caused the car to misfire badly as we sped through the Eifel Mountains heading for the compulsory service at Trier. The time allowed for this particular road section was short at only 40 minutes, but when we came across one of the universal service barges, we had no option but to flag it down for help.
By the time the boot was unloaded and some of the fuel tank pumped out onto the neighbouring grass verge and replenished with four gallons from the service car, our time had become very tight, needing to cover the last 24 kms in 9 minutes. We made it, but only just, the car having recovered its deep throated roar which made it so distinctive and easily the noisiest car on the event.
Out of Trier the next day and before the 700 km trek to Merano in northern Italy, there was a timed section through some vineyards, normally a section in the Hunsruck Rally except that the Marathon runners were asked to ascend the 4.27 km stretch of fast sweeping curves interspersed with the odd chicane, not blast down it as they do on the modern event.
It was difficult enough, though, to catch Roger Clark out on a wet bend who was then promptly joined by the Giulia Sprint of Jean-Pierre Magalhaes/Dany Erculisse. Clark lost over an hour there before being able to extract his MGB but was lucky insofar as that the road section which followed the test was just over three hours long which meant that provided he reached the next Time Control on schedule, he was still in the running.
After nearly 150 kms on the autobahn the route followed a scenic path through Austria. It was at this stage that Moss found he had been wrong slotted again, and that he was running further down the order than he should have been. In his determination to keep to the road time, we were overtaken twice by the green MGB, Moss driving characteristically aggressively to catch up. It was on the second occasion, when going through the small Austrian village of Wank, that Moss almost came to grief when overtaking a whole string of cars, managing to tuck himself back in line just before being clobbered by an oncoming car. If he had been put out of the event in this village, the mind gently mused over the dream headline that would have been handed to the tabloid newspapers.
At the end of the third day, Hopkirk was still in the lead, despite having lost his brakes during the day, 24 seconds ahead of Moss who was himself one second ahead of Handley. Ron Gammons, meanwhile, had consolidated his position in fourth place despite problems with a dynamo which had exploded into a thousand pieces. Fortuitous luck meant that a spare fan belt from the following Alfa connected the water pump and crankshaft while just prior to the start of the regularity run test, Peter Banham, renowned for the spares he carries in his 1.5 Riley, had fitted a new pulley to the stricken MG in 1 1/2 minutes flat while a new dynamo borrowed from John Brown was fitted that evening at the service halt.
By several clicks of the knob, the event became much tighter once into Italy, the road sections taken at a galloping pace up and down the Alpine passes despite the legal requirement of fixing a road section below 50 kph. The scenery had become even more breathtaking as the route traversed the Alps, complemented by a blend of German and Italian architecture, culture and language.
For the start of the third day, on Tuesday, the order for the cars out of parc fermé had been rearranged so as to mirror positions overall instead of in chronological order according to the number on the car. Instead of starting 112 minutes behind the first car, we were now starting only 21 minutes behind. This, however, was to work against us. Without paying proper regard to the starting times, we missed the fact it was a 30 second interval, not the usual 60 seconds. The irony was that we had collected the day’s road book on time, at 5.51am, 30 minutes before what we thought was our departure time, and then had returned to the hotel for a last minute cup of coffee.
Upon our re-emergence, it was with considerable consternation that we saw cars which should have been behind us leaving before us. We sprinted to our car, but the damage was done. Instead of checking out at 6.10am, according to our time card, we left at 6.13am, and the time duly noted on our card.
It was a 60km journey to the next Time Control, and we were given 1 hour 13 minutes in which to do it, an average of 49.93 kph on long main roads, free from any traffic at that time of the morning.
Our destination was the infamous Stelvio Pass, an eight mile climb up 10,000 feet through 48 hairpins, a route steeped In tradition and glory.
Evan decided to re-set the points to ensure the car would run cleanly in the thin air at the top of the pass, a feat that a great many cars are unable to do. Unfortunately the points were set too far apart and the damn machine would not start. The sense of panic, which had never really left since our early morning jolt, came back through us with a great surge. The engine churned over — no sign of life. 7.21am. Push the car back down the slope and bump start it. Still it wouldn’t fire. 7.22. Now we blocked the entire road to the Time Control 100 metres away. Suddenly there were a good many anxious people eager to get our car out of the way. “Push it anywhere!” someone yelled. 7.23. Damn. While the recalcitrant machine was being manhandled out of the way, Evan was closing the points while on the trot. Coming up to 7.24. Dive into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key and the beauty fires up. Salvation. Head direct for control. We’ve lost another minute, but it could have been worse.
Out of Time Control and climb a few hundred metres to the start of the next section — the base of the Stelvio. Maybe the ghosts of Peter Riley, who spun a Healey off the road, Anne Hall, who blocked a tunnel with her Ford Zephyr and countless others were apparent in the chilly atmosphere, but we were in no position to worry.
“Fifteen seconds to go gentlemen!” Ten seconds and then the countdown from five. Evan, with the adrenalin pumping hard from the fraught morning which he had kept well bottled beneath his placid exterior, simply stormed up the pass. Within a very short space of time we had caught and passed arch rivals John Atkins/ Rob Lyall, winners of the first Marathon in 1968 in a Cobra, in their stuttering TR4A. Next victim was the Reliant Sabre Six of Richard Prosser/Charles Cormack who kindly moved out of the way.
Mackenzie was on a flyer.The road book gave few clues, but it mattered little. The car performed faultlessly and Evan got the best out of it, having established a rhythm which saw the gearchanging, powersliding and braking all undertaken with smoothness, but with authority. He was in control.
We stormed up to the finish line, 13.2 kms on and the clock, which had to be stopped by the co-driver was, yet again, on the left side of the car, a positive hindrance for us in a left-hand drive vehicle. The button was banged down and the clock stopped, 14 mins 33 seconds after we had set off. A time which saw us set 15th fastest time overall, the fastest Triumph, the quickest TR-engined car, and all on pukka unleaded fuel.
Fastest speed of all was Bobby Unser in the E-type followed, 48 seconds behind, by a quartet of MGBs of Gammons junior and senior, Moss and Clark and then a gaggle of five Mini-Coopers interspersed by a selection of other cars.
If we had hit a high in more than one way, the rest of the journey and the remainder of the day, was to see us plumb the foothills of despair.
After a breather atop the mountain, it was a long descent the other side of the pass. We may have done the Stelvio, but the pressure was relentless. The next leg of the journey was 44.5 kms for which we were allowed exactly one hour.
As we wound our way down, Evan had to pump his brakes more and more to stop. “The brakes are hopeless, there seems to be an air lock in them.” As we reached Bormio, at the bottom of the pass, we were again in luck to see our previous saviours, ex-BMC competitions lads Tommy Eales and Robin Vokins in their service barge.
The brakes were set upon and one by one bled. At long last some bite was brought back into them. Off we set again. Now we had to accomplish 24 kms in 20 minutes, over 60 kph. As the minutes ticked away, I read off the kilometres left to go. We were now ascending again, and every hairpin brought a fresh challenge in that yet another car needed overtaking, but at least they were all other competitors who were sympathetic to our plight and pulled over, for so remote was this road that few members of the public used it. It was approaching 9.16am, our time for checking in. 9.15am and one kilometre to go. God, what a long day and yet in Blighty the day had not even begun for most!
The approach to the Control saw cars who were early pulled over to one side of the road awaiting their moment to check in. We stormed past them. 9.16 and 30 seconds. We had arrived, 29 seconds before it would have been too late and another minute’s road penalty gained.
We now had 87.05 kms to do in 50 minutes, an average of 47.48 kph. At first appearance it was quite reasonable, but once we hit the road, we were quickly disabused of any kind thoughts the organisers might have had. The road deteriorated into little more than a dirt track on occasions, the car bouncing from pot hole to bump. We backed off, but not too much. Finally we got past that rough section, hit some decent tarmac and set off on another upward trek towards another pass.
Bit by bit the car began to be filled with sickly, bitter sweet fumes swirling around. There was oil obviously pouring from somewhere onto the exhaust pipe. Evan stopped the car and we peered anxiously underneath. Had the sump holed, or was it something else?
We got back into the car and crawled to the next hairpin, fearing mechanical carnage, even though the oil pressure gauge indicated a healthy 80 lb in.
Once jacked up, Evan saw the problem — the wretched gearbox plug had been plucked out.
Uncharacteristically Mackenzie showed me two fingers, but my surprise was ill-founded as all he was pointing out to me was the size of the hole which needed plugging as well as indicating that he needed the tyre lever. Fortunately a spare plug was to be found at hand in this Alpine wilderness. It came in the shape of a branch which needed whittling down to fit and then wedged into the hole with the aid of a lever. Less than five minutes later and we were back on the road with a new gearbox plug. Unipart may not have been proud of it, but it enabled us to remain in the event.
The dramas were now over for us as far as the running was concerned. The rest of the day was spent on road sections and a fiendish regularity run before heading back to Merano, a service on the car and the enticing embrace of warm water on bare skin.
There were four regularity runs on the event in which the organisers designated an average speed over an unspecified distance, the speed kept secret until two minutes to the off.
Tuesday’s one down the Rombo Pass was set at a modest 38 kph and working odometer and stopwatch together, we came within six seconds of the target when the end was finally reached 14 kms later halfway down the mountain pass during which a small herd of cows and an angry cowherd had been encountered.
The Wednesday regularity was also basically downhill, but the road was wider and it included a cheeky left turn 8 kms into it. We came under countdown, Evan rolled forward, the odometer moved, but the sodding stopwatch didn’t, nor did the speedo, that had already given up the ghost the previous day. Panic. Look at watch. We had set off at 2.45 precisely. We should do 100 metres in seven seconds, 500 metres in 36 seconds and one kilometre in 1 minute 12 seconds. Quick, what’s that added to 2.45?
One kilometre, two kilometres went by. I was in total disarray.To add to my misery, a Riley blasted by. Christ! We must be going too slowly. Speed up, Evan, speed up! We flew down that road, still we were behind. We even overtook another car. Wow, they’re slow!
8.4km, going fine. Damn, we’ve just missed that turning to the left. First wrong slot all event. While Evan does a three point turn, a quick glance at the confusing chart. Wait! I’ve got the metres and minutes muddled up. We should do 10 kms in 12 minutes, and we’ve done it in 9 1/2 minutes, 2 1/2 minutes too quickly. Stop! Thank God we have not come across the Control yet. As the 150 seconds tick laboriously away, we wait. At last 2.57. Go! We are now back on a par with the clock. When the Control finally comes, we are just six seconds out. Not good, but better than by right we could claim to have earned.
What about that Riley? There can be nothing but praise for Peter and Betty Banham, the crew of that car. One of only five cars eligible for an Alpine Gold Cup, awarded for three consecutive penalty-free runs on the Pirelli Classic Marathon, 200 metres into the test and they have a halfshaft breakage. Immediately Peter is out of the car, strips the wheel and axle, pops in a spare, re-assembles the lot and bombs off down the road. By the time they hit Control, they are just nine seconds out, and the Alpine Gold Cup is still safely in reach.
As we looked forward to a cold beer as we headed for parc fermé, it became apparent that our problems were not yet over. No sooner had Evan entered parc fermé, than he was stopped by Geoff Ward, the chief scrutineer. We were required to undergo a noise test first thing in the morning.
Mackenzie would be the first person to admit that his beloved mistress was noisy, it was doubtless the noisiest car in the field, but, according to a contemporary road test, that was how it was meant to be. That, however, does not take into account modern perceptions and sensibilities.
With regard to the rest of the field, more than 20 cars had left the event. Of the most poignant, it was the withdrawal of Clay Regazzoni which was the most disturbing. The final straw for him was the fact that due to a straightforward error at the end of a very long day, he and co-driver Mandy Mantegazzi had checked one minute too early into the Control at Merano thereby costing a penalty of two minutes, the penalty for early arrival doubled up. Protestations by Maurizio Perissinot, the team manager and former co-driver of the late Attilio Bettega, fell on deaf ears whereupon there developed a full-blown row between Regazzoni and the organisers in the press room.
While details of the row are unimportant, what it did encapsulate was the feeling held by many crews that there was a “them and us” situation. It was felt, perhaps not without some justification, that the scales of justice were weighed a little bit too much in favour of the ‘stars’ when compared to the rest of the field.
The divisions did not end there, though. Apart from the big names at the head of the field, needed by the organisers and sponsors to give the event the oxygen of publicity, there were those who were taking the event seriously, going for Alpine Cups and a top 20 place. The rest, though, happy to compete, were finding the event altogether too demanding, too competitive. Far from being a “tea and buns” amble in the Alpine countryside, many a day went past without time even to eat a sandwich on the hoof let alone stop for a bite, and the Regazzoni incident typified this. Expecting something less competitive, he was caught up in a highly competitive event, but one which did not, in his eyes, reach up to the required international standards.
By the end of the day, Hopkirk still held a 23 second lead over second placed man, but it was the MGB of Gammons, rather than Moss, who was doing the chasing while fourth and fifth places were claimed by the Mini-Coopers of Hadley/Moy and Coulter/Davis. It was Mini-Cooper, MGB, MGB, Mini-Cooper, Mini-Cooper. The battle was raging furiously.
Clark, who had slipped down to eighth place, had to resort to cutting up a tin to wrap around his exhaust. The Anderson/Elvin E-type Jaguar, which had clutch failure on the Stelvio, followed the Bennett/Astle E-type, which had gearbox failure on the Tuesday, into retirement while the bright blue Spitfire of female crew Jo Cooper/Alison Woolley had a front hub failure on the Stelvio allowing Lyn Vinton and Julie Naylor through to lead, and ultimately win, the Coupe des Dames award.
Biggest heartache of the day, though, was the Aston Martin DB3 of Victor Rhomberg/Hervée Rigaud who had been running under protest until Merano when their appeal for reversing over a stop line at Lydden was rejected by the stewards. At least it was not far for the Austrian/French combination to return home.
The noise test — that was the crucial matter for the day as far as we were concerned.
Leaving the overnight parc fermé, we were immediately knobbled by Geoff Ward for a reading. 128 decibels. More than any motorbike. We were now running under threat of exclusion ourselves. The organisers, sympathetic to our plight, but more aware, understandably, of the good citizens of the Dolomites, warned us that unless the noise was reduced by the time of our arrival at the service halt outside Cortina, our exclusion was inevitable.
Already forewarned about this, we had already raided the hotel’s kitchen of all their wire wool pads, much to the astonishment and puzzlement of the staff, and by the day’s end had accumulated enough to stuff up the end of the exhaust pipe.
That, however, was not enough. One good blip of the throttle and anyone standing aft of the car would have had a leg lacerated from a jet-propelled Brillo pad.
To constrain the material, two sets of holes were drilled into the pipe’s end. The wire wool and assorted bits and pieces were shoved in and then a series of gates, made by intertwining wire through the holes in a criss-cross pattern, were put into place. The result: 112 decibels. Hardly sweetness and light, but enough to satisfy the authorities.
Apart from this, the trials and tribulations of Wednesday were a thing of the past, but we were down in 41st place, not the 15th we could have been. The irony of the fact is that after our late departure from the parc fermé the day before, the penalty incurred had been scrubbed as there was chaos further down the field as the 30 second interval caught so many out. What hurt us was that in the panic to get the car into the next Time Control after the fraught time when it would not fire up, we had booked in two minutes early, thereby costing a doubled four minute penalty as I, with my inexperience shining through, had tried to catch up the three minutes lost after leaving parc ferme late and had ignored the new time marked on out Time Card. A silly mistake.
There was slight panic on the run up to the regularity test on the Pennes Pass when, on a single track road, a cement lorry stopped to deposit its load down a shute into the roadworks.
We were tightish on time, but more so a few behind us who were running late for whatever reason. Malcolm Gammons, who had been flying on the event after his second day misfortune, even resorted to issuing a wadful if Italian dosh to move the truck, but the honest workmen of the southern Tyrol turned it down. What they did do, though, was have the cement container on the lorry spinning round as fast as a top, the cement not oozing, but gushing down in torrents. A 15 minute operation in Britain was consequently reduced to two and a half minutes in Italy, the lorry moving forward as soon as it had deposited its load.
Regularity run — loads of sweat, eight second penalty. Not as hectic as Hopkirk though. Navigator Poole thought he had wrong slotted and got Paddy to turn around only to be confronted by Moss bearing down on him in the other direction. Another three-point turn and once again they continued in the correct direction and at the end the Mini-Cooper was only six seconds out. At the end of the day, he was still 22 seconds ahead of Gammons/Easter who were themselves eight seconds ahead of Moss/Shields.
The day saw the demise of two TR4s — one in the rally and one unfortunate holiday maker who was following the event. A head-on, without injury, saw both cars badly damaged and Graham Quick out of the event.
The highlight of the day was the run up the Digonera Pass, one of the great passes of the old Alpine Rally. Unfortunately Evan was not as wound up as the day before so the run, while exciting as a passenger, was disappointing for Mackenzie who felt he should have clocked a better time. Bobby Unser, yet again, and Stirling Moss set equal fastest time up the 3.4 km hillclimb, but the American was handicapped with his Jaguar running on only five at the finish line.
Moss had also had his own minor problems during the day with a bent exhaust while a faulty coil caused his engine to cut out twice, but fortunately not on a speed or regularity test, while Hopkirk’s Mini had developed a small oil leak.
Running further down the field, van Lennep was having an even more fraught time when his Healey went onto 4 cylinders at Digonera having run perfectly on the road section.
Friday, the penultimate day, was the day we hoped to make a bid for the top 20, but as soon as we left parc fermé, having been checked yet again for noise, we knew we were in trouble. To ensure compliance with the noise test, we had stuffed even more wire wool pads up the exhaust, but we had overdone it. The car could hardly move it was so constipated. Nevertheless we were obliged to keep the noise down and had to endure the baffling.
As the day wore on, though, the car became more responsive and began to reach the 5000 rpm red line again without popping and banging. It was not until we went alongside a rock face and could hear the noise bounce back at us that we realised we had lost our silencer.
Naturally we replenished the wire wool balls, but all over northern Italy we had dotted the landscape with Brillo pads, little black sputniks being ejected from Mother Ship, much to the astonishment of following motorists.
The handicap, though, was too much to overcome. It was a pity because the first timed section was of nine minutes duration and we could have picked up many valuable places. As it was, we came 57th overall on the Pura Pass test.
Slightly disheartened, our objective shifted from reaching the top 20 to staying in the Marathon, preferably in the top half.
On the Regularity Run, we were 12 seconds too early, which we realised at once, but unfortunately had crossed the secret finish line and therefore lost 10 more points. There followed one more timed section which, although spectacular through a gorge, was too short so nothing much could be gained or lost.
The third timed section, ten minutes up the road up the side of a mountain, was cancelled at the last minute by the local chief of police on account of the “Green Party” who objected to such practices taking places, despite all the paperwork and bureaucracy allowing the road closure having been completed months in advance.
Unbeknown to us at the time, the police had decided that the timed section through the gorge, along a narrow twisting road, over wooden bridges, without fencing either side to stop cars dropping several feet into rushing water on one side or hitting the rock face on the other, was going to be opened to the public halfway through the event. Thank God reason prevailed or there would otherwise have been a major collision.
Still Hopkirk/Poole kept their lead despite hitting a wall and bending the steering rack out of shape, and still one could trace where the car had been, the oil slick of the car comparable to the slime tracks of a snail.
Moss was lucky to be in third place, 12 seconds behind Gammons, as he had run out of petrol 22 kms before a Time Control. Only the assistance of Gary Hall and Alan Dodge in the Mini-Cooper S, with spare petrol, enabled Moss to reach the next filling station, an act of kindness which the former Grand Prix driver acknowledged at the final dinner.
In fact the Hall/Dodge car was the surprise of the event and by the end of the sixth day was running in a strong eighth place having been in the top ten all week. It was only their persistence which had seen their entry accepted by the organisers. They had bought a tired old clubman’s car, an original Cooper S, which needed a new bodyshell, specifically to do the event. An advert in a local paper was answered by an elderly lady who wished to sell her Mini which had only done 25,000 miles from new.
A six month rebuild ensued during which time they bombarded the organisers with photographs and information and finally persuaded their way off the reserve list and into the event. That perseverance was now paying off.
Hopkirk had nudged a kerb during the day and bent the wheel rim while Moss found his car was cutting out again, but only for 100 yards or so thereby losing a second. That was nothing compared to the fate that befell Unser. Steaming up the field in a car he met a bus head on in a road section. Nobody was hurt, but the two hour delay before the police arrived ensured that the American’s charge up the field came to an abrupt halt. That night in the Cortina service, there lay a very sorry looking E-type with a punched in nose — not quite the £500,000 car at the start (although the fact that it has been driven by Unser on the Marathon will undoubtedly increase its value!). Van Lennep had also retired his very sick Healey when it simply conked out.
Of more concern, though, to the leading runners was the emergence of a running battle between the top ten runners and the marshals.
At the top of the Digonera test, the marshal’s desk had been clobbered by more than one car, not necessarily from the front runners, but by those trying to catch up. Whether the table was too close to the tarmac was open to question, but the marshals understandably became very upset and concerned about their personal safety.
Listening to this concern, Rick Smith, Clerk of the Course, posted a bulletin warning drivers not to stop in a “violent and dangerous manner at the Stop Control of special tests.”
Whether it was a shot across the bows it was unclear, but on Friday, the entire top ten were reported at the end of the Pura Pass test for dangerous driving with one or two “victims” subsequently hauled before the Stewards. Emotions were running high. It was nearing the end of the event, there was everything to play for, and the marshals, who to a man and woman had done a super-efficient job, were getting tired. For guilty and innocent alike, the bulletin and reprimands did the trick and sent a bolt of lightning through the field which alleviated the situation.
Saturday, the final day. The main question had to be whether Moss could make good the 12 second deficit to Gammons and at least come second. There were two superb mountain tests in which to do it, but Gammons, winner of the Pomeroy Trophy in this car in 1989, was on a real high.
After the Giau test, Moss had taken back one second, so the final Tre Cime test was to be the real clincher.
First of all Hopkirk was away, leaving his oil trail all the way up the hill. Next up was Gammons. As the route wound its way up the 4.85 km, twisting and doubling back on itself, it became more and more covered in cloud. In some places the cloud enveloped the road and the drivers had to dive into it not knowing where the hairpin was, gingerly feeling their way around it and then blasting out into the sunshine again, only for another hairpin to direct them back into the bank of fog.
Worst affected was Ron Gammons. A misjudgement of one of those corners meant he had to reverse before continuing. He screamed his way to the finish line, but had he done enough to beat Moss or had he blown it at the last moment? There was rumour and counter-rumour, he had lost out by three seconds, he had beaten Moss by about that time. Finally it all came out. Gammons had done enough to clinch second place 35 seconds behind Hopkirk, but three seconds ahead of Moss. Into fourth place had come Handley/Moy in another Mini-Cooper S, 50 seconds ahead of the similar car of Coulter/Davis. Next up was the Morgan of Rick and Jane Bourne which had missed out on fifth place after clipping a cone on the final test costing them a ten second penalty as well as further time when the driver inadvertently knocked the ignition switch off as well. Roger Clark finished seventh while Hall Dodge had a strong run to eighth overall.
The fastest time on the final test was set by Unser in his battered Jaguar who stormed up the Tre Cime Pass in a sensational 6 mins 19 secs while John Woolley’s 1600cc Triumph Vitesse took just 20 seconds longer in a run that gave some compensation for its earlier gearbox traumas.
With a time 35 seconds slower than quickest man Unser on the Giau test and 46 seconds slower on the Tre Cime, 19th and 20th fastest respectively, we were not going to win or lose many places, but our subsequent final placing of 39th overall was a disappointment.
Every crew, though, had their own story to tell. Gerry Cannon and Paul Tickner driving a 1964 Porsche 356C on this, their first Marathon, were chugging along well in the top 30 throughout the event, keeping their nose clean and looking good for an Alpine Cup. That prestigious trophy, though, was snatched out of their hands just metres from the end of the Tre Cime climb when they ran out of fuel. By the time an extra gallon had been put in, they had exceeded maximum time.
There were several more “hard luck” stories in the event, not least the beautiful 1955 1900 Touring Alfa Romeo of Luigino Grasselli/Franco Gidoni which had come unstuck in a tunnel, slithered along the rock face and come to rest, with a mighty crunch, against a parapet at the other end. Or Ian Grant who slithered wide on some oil on a hairpin and ended up with a badly damaged TR3, a drop from 13th to 80th place and the loss of an Alpine Cup on the final morning.
But the greatest heartache of all was that suffered by the Banhams. Having astonished everyone with their run on the regularity run after their misfortune with the driveshaft, they had a differential failure. Although Peter had stripped it out in just four minutes and fitted a spare in record time, it altered the reading of the Halda which led to a navigational error which in turn led to their being out of time at the next Control. Not only were the hopes of another Alpine Cup dashed but, more tragically for a couple renowned for their universal support of everybody else, it meant the loss of an Alpine Gold Cup.
Not all had “hard luck” stories though. Bruce Stevens and Ian Claridge, both classic saloon car racers, had entered this their first event with a 1963 Ford Cortina GT which they had specially prepared. They encountered various problems on the way — the gearbox on the Halda gave up the ghost on the first regularity run, and halfway up the Stelvio, a plug lead unaccountably came off — which gave them second thoughts about the offer they had received from a stranger on Tower Bridge who was keen to buy their car. As they crested the rise to cross the finishing line at Tre Cime, they were greeted by none other than the fellow who had made that offer. He had travelled to Italy specifically to clinch the deal which, needless to say, was agreed in the smokefilled, airless restaurant, 7500 feet up that mountain.
We had failed in our own quest to win an Alpine Cup, and we had failed to reach the top 20, but at least we had finished relatively unscathed. What made it all worthwhile, though, was the card stuck to the windscreen by Maurizio Cattozzi, President of the Triumph Club Italia: “the best TR4 of the event.” WPK