Monte Carlo Rally

Before the war the Monte Carlo Rally was THE great winter adventure, greatly enjoyed by the many entrants from Great Britain. In the years just preceeding the Hitler interruption it had become tougher, with good works support and with some freak cars sometimes trying for outright victory. The late TG Moore, who until the present Proprietor took it over, was the owner and Editor of MOTOR SPORT, was no stranger to this winter rally. He had bought new some of the better sports-cars, including a 3-litre Speed Model Bentley, a 1927 4 1/2-litre Bentley tourer which he ran in speedtrials, a 1931 Blower 4 1/2-litre Bentley (GO 1400), several Bugattis and a chain-drive Frazer Nash, the last named raced in the Ulster TT and at Brooklands.

In 1933, Tom Moore went with Donald Healey and FM Montgomery, in the 4 1/2-litre lnvicta from Tallin, Estonia, on oversize 23 x 7 1/2 in Fort Dunlop tyres of some 38 in diameter, to combat the snow, the crew existing on a diet of Pascall’s chocolate, Oxo and barley sugar. They retired after the lnvicta had hit a tree and damaged the radiator when overtaking a sledge whose horses went wild. For the 1934 rally Moore was in Lord de Clifford’s crew in his Lordship’s 4 1/2-litre Lagonda, but it hit a boulder en route in Yugoslavia, breaking the crankcase. In 1935 Moore drove an AC from Umea, coming home 69th out of 102 finishers.

It seems that in 1936 Lord de Clifford would have taken a works Lagonda, but he was in the throes of that historic case to be heard in the House of Lords, the last Peer to be tried before his fellow Peers, on a motoring manslaughter charge (he was acquitted). So Moore was given the car, one of two specially-built at Staines, LG45 4 1/2-litres with M45 mudguards to give more clearance in snow, and with the spare wheels mounted higher than on production cars. The Lagonda allocated to TG Moore was no 12061, Reg No DPE 120. The sister car, for Alan Good, Lagonda’s Chairman, was no 12028, Reg No DPE 121. WO Bentley was going to navigate for Good but had appendicitis, so Mrs Doreen Good, a capable rally exponent in her own right, took his place.

Both these Lagondas have survived. Moore’s is owned today by AG Stephens, a keen Lagonda man and long-time member of the Lagonda Club. The car Good drove in 1936 became known to the Lagonda Club in 1961, when it was in Somerset. It is now owned by NL Webster, in Northamptonshire. I travelled down to Kelvin Price’s house near Cardiff recently to meet up with the ex-TG Moore car. But first let us see how it fared in that Monte Carlo marathon of 55 years ago.

By this time Moore knew all about equipping rally cars and he recommended Dunlop TrakGrip tyres on the back wheels, supplemented when necessary by Parson’s chains and the Swedish Gunnebo spiked chains. He took a Barrus chain-cutter, and a Powerlite torch, the batteries of which lasted for 80 hours. Spot-lamps by Notak, Lucas or Nubulite, to cope with the foggy Rhone valley were advised and Moore was glad the Lagonda had Lucas P100 headlamps. It is amusing to remember that Joseph Lucas were only just introducing screen-washers to aid bad weather driving. But there were heaters by Clayton and Arvin, fed from the engine cooling system, and the exhaust-heated Thermo-Rad.

Moore preferred to rely on warm clothing, such as a Sidcot suit, and warming sustenances like chocolate, coffee and biscuits, and in 1935 he had used electrically heated gloves. In 1936 the Lagondas were shipped from Harwich to Antwerp, where they arrived at 8am. A new route to Brussels was explored, to avoid the pavé in Northern France, and the industrial areas round Cologne. The Goods were flying out, but Moore drove his car, finding that it would cruise at 55mph over cobbled roads entailed by the new route. Pavé was encountered to the Dutch border and at Venlo toll-bridge the fee of 3d was paid with their only note, worth £3, handfuls of Belgian “washers” being given as change.

Darkness fell as the Lagonda entered Germany and a policeman was incensed at their dipping headlamps, so after two more disagreements, the headlamps were extinguished and the fog-lamps used when meeting other vehicles. A night was spent at Munster and they had a dismal lunch in Hanover. Part of the Avus circuit was traversed, the exit blocked by a Nazi procession, six men deep and half-a-mile long — it was said they had been attending a lecture on motor-racing. At Berlin Thornley was left to await the Good’s flight but Moore, Martineau and Wills proceeded, a magnificent highway to the Polish frontier deteriorating to a surface that, even with the Lagondas’ fine suspension, reduced them to 30mph. But 20 miles east of Warsaw the road was again excellent and Wills had the speedometer needle up to 80mph. But it was not to last and after an expensive night in Warsaw only 19 mph was averaged to the German frontier, and not another car had been seen.

At Konigsberg Good joined the others and in the garage of the Park Hotel the Lagondas had
wo more Rally cars for company, a French Talbot and a Ford. Leaving Tilsit, the Germans had inscribed a swastika in the mud on the back of the car. Icy roads after Riga made the crew put a chain on the near-side front wheel. So they gained the start, Donald Healey reporting the dreaded wet ice when he arrived in the Triumph, but entertainment, night clubs at 10/- (50p) for four, with drinks, keeping up the spirits of the 23 crews. All the Lagonda had needed was adjustment to two tappets.

The British starters from Tallin were Moore and Good, Murray (FN-BMW), Dobell (Lagonda Rapide), Light (AC), Harris (Singer) and the experienced Donald Healey. The sort of competition they might expect was seen in Vasselle’s 3.8-litre Hotchkiss with a 9 ft-wheelbase, and a light Hudson. But blizzards were reported to be making it unlikely that the Athens starters would get through.

So to the rally itself. The Lagondas were first to be flagged-off from the Estonian Theatre in Tallin at 9.20am, before a big crowd, with 4000km ahead of them. On chains because of some ice, the Moore Lagonda averaged 34mph for the first four hours, one hour up on schedule, and only Bakker Schut’s Ford had overtaken it. Just before the Latvian frontier Hansa and Vasselle in the fast Hotchkiss had passed, but soon afterwards Vasselle had slid into a ditch. The Lagonda had a close shave with a sled, the horse pulling which shot off across the frozen fields, but at Riga it was 4 1/2 hours ahead of schedule. Alas, Moore was told that Good had gone off the road where Vasselle had done so. The Lagonda’s clutch mechanism had been damaged, causing his eventual retirement. Chinetti’s Ford had also gone off, so had Eijk’s, but Dobell’s Lagonda had towed Chinetti’s back.

The Lagonda averaged 46mph to Kaunas, including crossing the frontier and stopping to take into the back, with Wills and the surplus coats, two Germans who had crashed. But on the bad going the independently-sprung cars like the Hansas got clear away from the Lagonda. The checkpoints were efficiently manned and free supper and rest rooms, interpreters, and guards and Nazi salutes at the German frontier were the order of things. Good was out but Healey’s straight-eight Triumph Dolomite was going well. Aware of rough Polish roads ahead, Moore’s Lagonda did 100 miles in 2 1/2 hours, the speedo at 70-75mph. It proved an uneventful run to Berlin, with 350 miles done at over 56mph average, even Schut’s Ford having been held at bay, its driver delighting in the name ‘Public Enemy No 1’ the others had imposed on him. But eggs and butter were scarce in Germany.

There was fog to Hanover from Avus, slowing them to a 40mph average; Dobell’s Lagonda now had only top gear left, Vasselle’s arm was badly swollen due to his excursion, and there was consternation as the news came in that after all the Athens starters had had an easy time. Route-finding proved a bit tricky in Belgium, where the Lagonda’s sports tyres were changed and the mixture enriched. It had been easy until the last 1000km, when slippery roads from Avignon put everything at a premium. No longer did Wills press on at 80mph. Lamps blazing, horn blowing, the green Lagonda shot away; it had ten minutes in hand at Aix, and on the climb to Brignoles passed one rally car ditched, one upside down in a field, one badly smashed up. At the check, 25 minutes were in hand. Moore then took over for the wild rush over the Esterel. He made it, just!

For the final stretch Wills, fresh again, drove flat-out, navigated by Martineau, in a sort of Mille Miglia race to the finish. They got in with ten minutes to spare. A quick spot of scrutineering of the engine components with a compound that reacted to the sealing varnish, and they were able to carry their bags wearily to their hotel, in pouring rain. Lagonda No 10 was placed 41st (603.8 pts), out of 72 finishers. The overall winner was Zamfirescou’s very special Ford V8, with three-ply 2-seater body, its weight less than a ton, a solid back axle, Silvertop heads, Scintilla magneto, and its rear brakes coupled to the steering track rod for skid turns in the special tests.

If the Lagonda had had a fairly easy run, it had been tougher for others. From Umea drivers had to cope with walls of snow six feet high, deep snow was encountered getting to the Swedish start, and even from John O’Groats it seemed that snow, ice and slush would make the chances impossible. The Hon Brian Lewis lost an hour after ditching the SS but Miss Astbury had lost no marks at Monte Carlo, although her Singer’s gearbox failed in the last few minutes. Whalley’s Ford from Athens, sans brakes, crashed right through a level-crossing, Vasselle was eliminated in a prang at the brow of a hill with oncoming cars, but A Scott in a 1928 4 1/2-litre Bentley got in from Umea only a minute late. And 1936 was considered a mild Monte. Ponder these things, if you are about to do a little winter motoring after reading this!

What I find so interesting is that the Lagonda Moore used for the 1936 Rally still exists, in virtually its original form. On a misty morning I went down to see this car. Mr AG Stephens, who has had Lagondas for many years, starting with a 16/80, met me at Kelvin Price’s, whom I associate with Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars. But this was to be a Lagonda day! The ex-TG Moore 4 1/2-litre rally car had been owned by Gurney who ran it at Prescott and elsewhere. Chelmsford police had had it in 1975. It is still very smart, but deliberately not in Concours order.

Mr. Stephens has the works record-sheets from when it was prepared for the 1936 winter marathon. They show that mainly it was a standard LG45, with the mods already referred to, equipped with twin petrol-fillers, Alto horns, an inspection lamp, opposite-sweeping windscreen wipers (to clear snow?), a trunk with luggage-carrier above it, Champion plugs with six spare ones, a fire extinguisher, and fixed rally plates. The twin SU HV5 carburettors had KY needles and the usual Scintilla GN6 SS and Vertex magnetos were fitted. Other equipment special to the Rally included two fog-lamps, a spot-lamp, two sets of cases with spare bulbs, a screenheater, two spades, a crowbar, a torch and a first-aid kit. The spare wheels carried sports tyres with chains. I believe that for the same Monte Carlo Rally Dobell’s Rapide, light grey with red wheels, had a reserve oil-tank and a plug-in rear windscreen.

The two-door touring body of Moore’s car was in green, with green wheels and mudguards, and LG6 green leather upholstery. When Mr. Stephens found the car it was black but he has had it repainted in British Racing green. I was pleased to find it such an original car. The driving-seat with its cut-away for the right-hand gear and brake levers is as Moore’s crew sat on it during the 1936 Rally (adjusting easily on Leverol slides). The engine has been recently rebuilt, with a Sanction- 3 cylinder head on the 1935 Sanction- 1 engine, and Rapide pistons have slightly raised the compression-ratio, to in the region of 7 to 1. The 19 in wheels put on for the Rally have been retained, but instead of the 19 x 6.00 in tyres, 5.50 Dunlops are fitted, to increase mudguard clearance.

This interesting Lagonda is almost as it was when Moore and his crew rallied it, 55 years ago. There is now an extra core in the radiator, originally with three rows of tubes, to obviate overheating in traffic and the gearbox had to be rebuilt. Otherwise, an unchanged pre-war sports car. I drove the big Lagonda over roads in South Glamorgan which were very much of the 1930s kind. I found the engine smooth and flexible, and the view over the long unlouvred bonnet, with the lever-type quick-action filler-cap on the tall radiator, impressive. Fortunately no heroics were demanded, as the engine is still being run-in, so I was advised not to exceed 2000 rpm, when the speedometer shows 50mph. Both the big Smiths dials are inscribed ‘Lagonda’, with the two smaller ones to their right. The handbrake is of the fly-off type, and the wide doors possess zip-up pockets for the stowage of the side-screens.

Assuming the heavily-loaded rally car was able to pull about 3200rpm, the alleged 80mph attained by Moore’s crew on the rally would be possible. Sitting behind the big Blumells steering wheel, I found the gear-change easy, aided by the synchromesh provided on this Lagonda model, once the long lever-movements had been mastered, the clutch light, and the tiny central accelerator no problem, flanked as it is by sensibly large clutch and brake pedals. The Girling brakes were effective, and altogether our run to lunch at the “Blue Anchor” at Abethaw, if not the 4000km which faced Moore’s crew at Tallin, was most enjoyable. This thatched pub was an appropriate stopping-off place, as it was where Kenneth Neve used to drive to in his 30/98 before the war and where he haggled over the ultimate purchase of the 1914 TT Humber which he has campaigned in Edwardian-class competition motoring so ably ever since (see A Bit Behind the Times, Grenville, p105). So two 1936 rally Lagondas which have survived, in very intact order, a credit to the enthusiastic Lagonda Club. WB