Some 20 years ago, the last Austrian Alpine Rally took place. It was forced into oblivion partly by organisational troubles and partly by authorisation difficulties which worsened year by year. So it was that the oldest rally in the book, and the one upon which the French modelled their own Alpine Rally, came to its end.
Historic rallies abound nowadays, but rarely do they attract both the cars of yore and the drivers of the period. Realising this, a bunch of Austrian enthusiasts got together last year and, at the end of October, they ran what they affectionately called an Austrian Alpine Reunion. It was neither a rally nor a competition of any kind. It was merely a get-together of people who were closely associated, in one way or another, with the old Alpenfahrt.
They met at a lakeside restaurant in Lunz-am-See and spent two glorious days traversing parts of the route of the last Alpenfahrt, including a visit to a garage which was the scene of a surreptitious and questionably legal welding job, to a junction of forest tracks where a certain works team manager once placed his car to block a stage short cut (at its exit, naturally!), giving rise to an almighty furore, and to a farmhouse where a shotgun blast once sent the route survey team scuttling for cover, only to discover very soon afterwards that the discharge was not a sign of hostility but a signal to the farmer’s son to return home from his woodcutting chores in the forest
Due largely to other commitments, not all those who were invited were able to make it, but it was disappointing (but not altogether surprising) that at least one well known driver demanded not only all his expenses but a substantial appearance fee before he would even consider coming along. Needless to say, he was not there. This was not a well-sponsored, publicity-seeking event, but a s!mple gathering of old friends who were keen only to retrace some of the steps of the past, and it saddens me to realise that commercialism has advanced so far that someone would demand money for turning up at what was essentially a few nights out with the boys.
Some old cars were there. Herbert Völker bringing his Saab 96, Helmut Deimel his beautiful Alpine A110 and Helmut Neverla his equally attractive Lancia Fulvia, surely the prettiest rally car ever to grace a special stage. Franz Wittman turned up in a well preserved Porsche, whilst Konrad Schmidt came over from Germany with his Lancia Stratos on a trailer, bringing John Davenport with him. Every time I look inside a Stratos engine compartment, complete with its angle-iron framework, I am reminded of that genius of a driver/engineer to whom Lancia owes much of its rallying success, the late Mike Parkes.
Günter Janger came along, as did Harald Gottlieb, whilst among the others were Johannes Geist, Helmut Zitta, Christian Lietz, Franz Nowotny and Peter Karg.
Whatever the pros and cons of historic rallying, the great thing about such events is the people rather than the cars. Humanity still reigns supreme over the machinery it produces.