Gatsonides (Ford Zephyr) wins the Monte Carlo Rally

Appleyard (Jaguar) 2nd  —  Marion (Citroën) 3rd

The  Monte Carlo Rally attracted enormous interest again this year, the excellent coverage by Raymond Baxter, of the B.B.C., being largely responsible. Luck plays a considerable part in the road section of this great winter Rally but, if it is not true to say that all the cars which are penalised or retire are poor cars, it is true that those which succeed are in every way excellent long-distance touring machines and the sage will note the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally results and buy accordingly.

British hopes were high before-the start, with a very strong team of Sunbeam-Talbots led by Stirling Moss, and Sydney Allard and his crew confident at Glasgow with a V8 Allard saloon similar to that with which they won outright last year, after a quick survey of the route in an Allard Safari. From John Cooper’s first bulletin from Monte Carlo we heard that the conditions throughout Europe were hardly severe and that the traditional blue sky and sea prevailed at the Principality.  In England on the day of the start, with shopkeepers and housewives joining with motoring enthusiasts in debating the Rally, the sun shone strongly, although the cold spell had certainly returned. For the adventure-loving, conditions looked “pansy” as we left for Llandrindod Wells in the photographer’s Standard. Would fog be the surprise factor, for now it could hardly snow, at all events in England ?

Those were the thoughts of observers in this country on the eve of this International Rally, in which 440 cars were engaged, the Glasgow starters comprising the following makes: Jaguar, Lagonda, Renault, Austin, Jowett, Sunbeam-Talbot, A.C., Ford, AIlard, Vauxhall, Singer, Morris, Riley, Hillman, Standard, Porsche, Bristol, Volkswagen, Healey, Lanchester, Triumph, Holden, Humber, Alvis, Bentley, Rover, Jensen and Wolseley.  On which make would the buying limelight fall ?

As it turned out. the weather generally was kind this. year. The fog never became really thick for more than a few yards, although for many, many miles there was visibility low enough to add much to driver-strain, mixed with some ice and a little snow over Shap Fell.

At the Llandrindod Wells control Sydney Allard and his crew were calmly confident, but Sydney was wondering if the brakes were in order and, anticipating some smart negotiation of fog-patches, was having the back ones checked. The girls in the Alvis — Nancy Mitchell, Dorothy Stanley Turner and Mrs. Fotheringham Parker came in for much admiration in their blue and black uniforms which matched their Alvis. The last-named was mecanicienne and efficiently coped with a rather inaccessible dip-stick, before adding a pint of S.A.E. 20 to the internals of the-polished machinery. A stout shovel was clipped to the off-side front wing and les girls had separate hats for sleeping in to keep their day caps uncreased. Most of the male crews had adopted woollen hats, of which Mike Couper’s was the least obtrusive—his Bentley was again fully equipped for the Concours de Confort, even to the wipers on each headlamp glass.

An Esso representative cheerfully waved the cars to the control and at the floodlit Automobile Palace, Ltd., cars were refuelled from pumps and two-gallon cans, almost in a sea of spilt petrol!  Most of them took 80-octane aviation spirit, which, we were told, is inferior to the Premium grades now available. The Motor Sport  conveyance was refuelled here and, like each competitor, we were given an Austin duster.

Equipment of rally cars has grown familiar, and the only novelty seemed to be a vocal recorder in one car, to refresh the driver’s memory of the final stages of the route into Monte Carlo, and hooded headlamps on some cars. The Porsche had an illegal swivelling search-lamp on its roof which amused us by playing anywhere but on the signpost at the right-hand turn in Moreton-in-the-Marsh. Alas, this pleasing little car had clutch trouble before Dover and finally retired from this cause.

All the Glasgow starters apparently arrived on time at Dover and the “Lord Warden” sailed to schedule. Many drivers who should have reported to the caravan control point on the quay waited until they could drive up to it and were penalised accordingly — only to be forgiven and reinstated to clean-sheet status by Col. Barnes of the R.A.C.  It was indicative of the immense enthusiasm which now prevails in this country that, even at 5 a.m., little knots of spectators were seen at every crossroads and roundabout on the route. (The charming undergraduette at the Oxford roundabout must have cheered many of the younger drivers on their long journey.)  Moreover, motor-cycle police escorted all but the late members through London, where the A.A. had efficiently signposted the route in the West End and the R.A.C. less cleverly through the dingy S.E. suburbs. But this was of no moment, for surely navigation should be a function of all rallies ?

Fog persisted into Lille and got very bad beyond Brussels. Wadsworth’s Vanguard went on fire several times. Bertie Bradnack’s Jaguar hit a tree and put its crew in hospital, and one person was killed, another injured, when a Sunbeam-Talbot skidded on tram-lines into a lorry. Pilgrim’s Austin Sheerline was reported no less than 1 hr. 24 min. late at Paris and Greta Molander’s Saab fell out with clutch failure. Another  early retirement was R. K. N. Clarkson’s Morgan Plus Four,  only British starter from Munich, where it had arrived in time to leave only by grace of an immense hustle and Silver City Airways.

Generally, however, conditions were not too severe — Stirling Moss, indeed, well up on time in the Sunbeam-Talbot, pronounced them too easy. Three hundred and forty-nine of 404 starters came through to Monte Carlo, and of these 253 had lost no marks. Fifty-five cars had retired, four had been disqualified and 92 suffered penalties for lateness. Of the Glasgow starters, 59 got in with no loss of marks. From Lisbon, usually a “good” starting point, bad fog had played havoc with six of the seven starters, the only one to come through clean being Tommy Wisdom’s Ford Zephyr — nice work!  All told  66 British entrants had lost no marks and were eligible for the acceleration, brake, reverse test which eliminated all but 100 cars from the Col de Bras regularity test which decided the Rally.

One wonders whether the time has come to stiffen up the Monte Carlo Rally and re-introduce such remote starting-places as John o’ Groats, Omea in Sweden, Stavanger in Norway and Athens in Greece, which, as recently pointed out by a correspondent in a contemporary journal, should be quite practical. Perhaps a thought, too, should be spared for the pre-war competitors in open cars, often with only sketchy fabric-covered bodies bodies, who battled with the elements from such distant starting-places.  This gives to interesting speculation as to how many would enter open cars today, were a suitable class provided. 

Reverting to this year’s rally: Chiron diced happily with Stirling Moss but, alas, les girls in their smart Alvis were baulked in the mountains, the starter refused to function and, in running the car back to try and start it in reverse (Wot! no handle?), the car became snowed-in and was out of the Rally, being late at Le Puy. Black’s Ford Zephyr had a smashed windscreen, Lorna Snow’s luggage-rack went on as her car stopped, and Brinkman’s  Renault lost a competition plate. The Reeces did stupendously in the Ford Anglia and had 22 min. in hand at Grasse, so that it was a bitter pill when their time of 26.3 in the eliminating test was too slow to qualify.

Of the 100 to take this test, Sydney Allard made best time, 21.8 sec. in a smooth run, and 41 other British cars qualified, including Moss, the Holden, Wick, Appleyard, Sims, Couper and Imhof, although the last-named missed a gear-change and only just scraped in.  The driving standard was so high that between Allard’s 21.8 sec. and the longest qualifying time there was a mere 4.1 seconds!

Tommy Wisdom’s Ford Zephyr suffered fuel starvation and was too slow to qualify, and all the Porsches were disqualified for “illegal” body dimensions.

So to the regularity test round the Col de Bras where seal was set to the results. The average was set at just over 29 m.p.h. for the timed sections of the 50-mile route. Maurice Gatsonides found his skill matched by the efficiency of his Ford Zephyr and won the Rally outright  — Dutch victory in a British car. This is indeed a Ford triumph especially as last year’s victor, Sydney Allard, used many Ford components, and it does prove that Ford has all the answers when it comes to building cars for efficient long-distance, winter touring work, particularly as the Zephyr beat a car costing over twice as much, having an engine bigger by nearly a litre, and possessing twin o.h. camshafts — Ian Appleyard’s Mk. VII Jaguar which was placed second.  Third place was taken by one of those excellent f.w.d. Citroëns with a  French crew, and a particularly fine show was that of a little twin-cylinder, air-cooled Panhard-Levassor, which managed fourth place — out of  404!   Vard’s Mk. VII Jaguar was fifth, so that Britain had the satisfaction, on provisional placings, of having three cars in the first five and the magnificent outright victory by the inexpensive Ford Zephyr-Six.  The Ladies’ Prize, was nobly won by Mme. Pochon, in a baby Renault after leading British lady, Sheila Van Damm, in a Sunbeam-Talbot, had been let down by a tyre puncture. The girls did a fine job of changing the wheel in 2-1/2 minutes but all was naturally lost, although they took a token second place.



1.  M. Gatsonides/P. Worledge (Ford Zephyr)

2. I. Appleyard/P. Appleyard (Jaguar Mk. VII)

3. R. Marion (Citroen)

Ladies Award: Mme. M. Pochon Renault)