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Porsche and success in endurance events seem intertwined. Not so in rallying, claims John Davenport

Photography: McKlein

A magician by the name of Antony Noghes once conjured a race track from the thin air of dreams and punctured pride. It was a trick that astonished the racing world, for he was limited by a tiny piece of real estate, hemmed in on one side by the unyielding nation of France and on the other by the indifferent depths of the Mediterranean: the principality of Monaco, nestled between two cliff tops. How could racing cars be expected to perform on the ledges of a cliff, through markets or along a small harbour front in what was the most densely populated square mile on earth? It was a ludicrous idea in 1929 when Bugattis were just 124cm wide and 130bhp strong. Yet Noghes’ dream still lives today when F1 cars are 180cm wide, six times as powerful and capable of lapping the track in half the time.

In many ways Monaco the nation is a preposterous notion, a fairytale carved out of the hard rock and clung on to tenaciously by the ruling family for centuries. The story of its grand prix is very much in keeping with that tradition. 

Noghes’ family were proud Monegasques. In the early 17th century Monaco was under the protection of Spain and accordingly a Spanish garrison was established there. A direct ancestor of Antony Noghes was commander of that garrison. The Noghes were therefore part of the very fabric of their country and had been close to the ruling Grimaldi family for 300 years. At the time of Antony’s race track vision, he derived his income from cigarette manufacture but the family had amassed their fortune in many ways through the centuries. 

As had the state. Initially deriving its income from the harbour, from very early in its existence Monaco also sought to encourage the wealthy to its region by way of zero taxation. It was naturally highly successful in its quest, hence the dense, rich population. But until Monaco’s Prince Charles III’s reign in the mid 19th century, it was a relatively genteel place. Olive and lemon groves dominated the land not taken up by villas as British and Russian nobility enjoyed the favourable winter climate. But Charles wanted something a bit more dynamic and income-generating, particularly as he had been forced to sell-off the surrounding towns of Menton and Roquebrune to France in exchange for cash and French recognition of Monaco’s independence (the Grimaldis having adopted a policy of alliance with France who kicked out the Spanish from the garrison). 

So Charles devised Monaco’s casino. With space so limited, its building involved cutting a tunnel through the rock to preserve the route along the coast. A railway was built into the town, with the station exiting virtually at the casino’s doors.

With its fairytale setting, the casino quickly became the most famous such establishment in the world, its success enhanced massively by Charles decreeing that the hugely popular game of roulette – recently banned in France – would be permitted here. 

Now wealthy clientele began arriving in their droves – and it was no longer limited to nobility. Clinging hard to their foothold on the cliffs, the Grimaldi family adapted Monaco to a new era, and it flourished as never before. Soon, the casino was generating as much as 90% of Monaco’s income. 

In the process it became a somewhat shadier, less gentle place. Somerset Maugham famously described it as ‘a sunny place for shady people’. Industrialists, financiers, sportsmen, politicians, painters, poets and criminals rubbed shoulders around the roulette wheel and card tables, welcome as long as they had money to spend and a set of clothes that passed muster with the door staff.

The Hotel de Paris was built to accommodate the wealthy gamblers from across the square. In its cellar were a kilometre of wine racks, stocked with a quarter million bottles.

The motor car emerged in the late 19th century, initially as a novelty for the wealthy and therefore soon dotted around the principality, even if the early examples did struggle to make it up the hill cut into the cliff side linking the harbour to the square. In 1890 a club was established for local car and motorcycle owners, the Sport Velocipedique Monegasque. Its founder was Alexandre Noghes, Antony’s father. 

As the industry developed, swish cars began replacing horse and carriage at the doors of the casino and hotels. Chauffeurs would wait in Rolls Royces, Packards, Hispanos and Isottas, ready to whisk their employers back to Nice, Paris, Milan or Barcelona.

Anxious always to attract yet more wealthy tourism, a yachting regatta and exhibition was established around the harbour area in 1904, was hugely successful in its aim and became an annual event. Along much the same lines, Antony Noghes and Gabriel Vialon of the Velocipidique club devised the Monte Carlo Rally, first held in 1911. From starting points all around Europe, competitors drove to the principality in January, thus advertising the mild winter climate there after they had battled the elements elsewhere. Naturally, such events received enthusiastic backing from the Monaco royals.

The rally became an increasingly prestigious annual event, and the old Velocipedique Monegasque transformed into the Automobile Club de Monaco. Alexandre Noghes remained the president but a sporting arm was created with son Antony at the helm. With its prestige on the international sporting scene in the ascendant, in 1928 the Commission Sportive of the AC de Monaco club applied to the Paris-based international governing body (then the AIACR) to be upgraded from a regional French club to a national sporting authority with its own voting rights. The application was rejected, much to the pique of the club and the particular embarrassment of Antony Noghes. The governing body somewhat sniffily told the club that to qualify it must host an international event on its own territory. The rally – with most of its duration on the way to, rather than within, Monaco – wasn’t deemed to meet these criteria. Given that its own territory occupied a meagre 482 acres of already densely built-up land, a line seemed to have been drawn under the club’s aspirations. 

But Antony, now in his late 30s and running a successful tobacco business, wasn’t going to take this lying down. Enlisting the backing of ruler Prince Louis II, he announced that there would indeed by an international race on home soil within the next 12 months. He’d made the announcement, but had no idea of how he was going to make it come true.

Earlier in the decade purpose-built circuits had begun to appear all around Europe, moving the sport away from the street or mountain courses previously favoured. It made for easier policing, better safety and, probably most significantly of all, allowed the circuit owners to charge spectators a fee. But now the sport was changing again. By the late ‘20s the car manufacturers had withdrawn from a sport that had become too costly. It opened up grand prix racing to independents, with companies like Bugatti and Maserati providing the hardware. The scene changed from the technical intensity of the car manufacturers with their employed drivers, to one of wealthy privateers. The social scene surrounding the sport became more monied elite than technical. The idea of a race at Monaco was therefore very much of the time.  

Not only that, but there was an explosion of minor events around continental Europe as the independents sought a way of subsidising their activities through prize money. These lesser events were invariably contested around the old-style street and mountain courses. Towns would benefit from the crowds that would gather for the events and would therefore pay good money for the drawing power of big-name drivers. Other small-time races and hill climbs were springing up in towns through the Cote d’Azur that were vying with Monaco for the wealthy tourist trade. A street race was the obvious solution for Noghes’ dilemma. But where? 

After repeatedly wondering the principality’s streets, he hit upon the only circuit that was feasible – as he later recounted. “This skirted the port, passing along the quay and the Boulevard Albert Premier, climbed the hill of Monte Carlo, then passed round the Place du Casino, took the downhill zig-zag near Monte Carlo Station to get back approximately to sea level and from there, along the Boulevard Louis II and the Tir aux Pigeons tunnel, the course came back to the port quayside. Today, the roads comprising this circuit look as though they were made for the purpose.”

Chiron’s friend and rival RenÇ Dreyfus recalled in his autobiography (ital)’My Two Lives’ (-ital): “There were grands prix all over Europe and [Noghes] saw no reason why his ‘country’ shouldn’t have one too. That there really wasn’t an awful lot of room in the tiny principality of Monaco for such an event didn’t concern Anthony in the slightest. After all, the city did have streets and the race could be run on them.

“When he suggested this to the officials of the [non-sporting arm of the] Automobile Club de Monaco, their initial reply [was unfavourable] but he convinced them.” 

He then convinced the sport’s governing body too. His task in this was eased by a powerful ally: Louis Chiron. The Monegasque native, whose father was maitre d’ in the Hotel de Paris, was already a successful grand prix driver with the factory Bugatti team. Chiron’s reputation eased Noghes’ path through the governing body’s Parisian corridors of power. The circuit was duly granted a licence for a race to be held on the 14th April 1929. 

As the weekend approached, the roads were fenced off and big boards and hoardings blocked the view to outsiders without a residence or a ticket. The tram service around the streets was suspended, though the racers would have to contend with the tramlines. A stall was set up outside the casino where bets on the race’s outcome could be placed. Posters for the event, some drawn by Noghes himself – he was an accomplished illustrator – were placed all round the surrounding area. Frogmen were commissioned to stand by around the harbour for the weekend. The harbour master found himself busy making room for yet more yachts – though they had to be moved well back from the harbour sides.

The race was by invitation only. Doubtless aided by Chiron’s campaigning on Noghes’ behalf, the response was good, though not overwhelming. There was no entry from the Maserati team, for instance, nor from the two leading Alfa privateers Achille Varzi and Gastone Brilli-Peri. But the French contingent was very well represented. Marcel Lehoux, ‘Williams’ (William Grover Williams), and Philippe Etancelin were already well-established front-rank Bugatti privateers. Mario Lepori, the veteran Victor Rigal, and Christian Dauvergne had finished 1-2-3 in their Bugattis at the Grand Prix d’Antibes two weeks earlier. From Austria came an entry for Hans Stuck’s Austro-Daimler and from Germany a semi-works Mercedes SSK for Rudolf Caracciola. Although Rudi had performed miracles with this powerful but huge brute on several occasions, his chances around the tight confines of Monte Carlo were expected to be slim in the extreme. 

Grover-Williams, the former chauffeur of artist William Orpen – famous for his portraits of society figures – was already familiar with Monaco. As was the other driver racing under a pseudonym: Bugatti driver ‘Georges Philippe’ was in fact the Baron de Rothschild.   

Ironically the only native Monegasque driver could not be present. Louis Chiron was committed to the clashing Indianapolis 500 for his American sponsor Freddy Hoffman. But Chiron’s protÇgÇ Dreyfus was there – his Bugatti T37A one of the five entries in the voiturette class (for cars up to 1500cc). He hadn’t initially been invited, but with a good run of success in neighbouring minor races and some campaigning on his behalf from Bugatti’s Ernest Friederich, Dreyfus got his entry. 

Not all the residents opted to stay around to spectate, as related by Dreyfus: “Monaco was a favourite winter resort for the monied elite, the older members of which came to have their tea on the terrace, and a little peace and quiet. Their tranquillity had been rather rudely disrupted when the Grand Prix came to town – with pre-race practice scheduled for 5.30am. After a couple of mornings of that, a good many hotel suites became suddenly vacant – which was convenient because this made rooms available for the people who were arriving in Monte Carlo specifically for the race.”

As was the custom at the time, the grid was chosen by ballot. Etancelin’s Bugatti T35C (supercharged 2-litre) drew pole on the 3×3 line-up, with Williams 35B (supercharged 2.3-litre) in the middle of the second row. Stuck had crashed his Austro-Daimler in practice and was a non-starter, while Caracciola began way back, 15th of the 16 starters. But once the race was underway the progress of the white Mercedes was astonishing. While Williams soon established a place at the front, Caracciola came storming through in the 7.1-litre supercharged monster. Twice he hustled the big car into the lead but each time was thwarted by extra pit stops to replace his shredded tyres. Grover-Williams wound up a comfortable winner, over a minute ahead of the Bugatti T35C of Georges Bouriano, with Caracciola third. Dreyfus won the voiturette class with fifth overall.  

The event was adjudged a great success. Cars could race along a track consisting of a cliff precipice and a harbour front after all, people would flock to see them and the Automobile Club de Monaco would get its seat on the international governing body. Monaco had pulled off the unlikely yet again.  

Dust blunts porsche’s might

On the 1972 Acropolis Rally, Björn Waldegård was lent an ex-Monte Carlo 911S for the Acropolis and, as on the previous year’s Safari, he ran on Sears Roebuck tyres. In fact Sears had quite a large chunk of the entry with Hannu Mikkola (Ford), Rauno Aaltonen (BMW) and Shekhar Mehta (Datsun) also using its products. Waldegård drove down with his mechanics from Sweden, picked up the car in Stuttgart, and then went on to Greece. He led the event but an early problem with a  broken throttle cable nearly lost him the lead. Fortunately co-driver Fergus Sager was able to rig up a link using a piece of string. Later on, however, the pair discovered that the air filters fitted to the 911 were not adequate to keep out the dust, with dire effects on the pistons and rings. When oil consumption exceeded petrol consumption, they called it quits.

Bjorn’s shock to the system

Waldegård’s primary memories of the 1973 and 1974 Safaris  concerns damper problems: “One year we came back to half-way at Nairobi and radioed that we wanted all four shock absorbers changed. But when we got to service they told us that the senior engineer reckoned that one set would do the whole rally, no trouble. So we didn’t change and 30km into the next leg, we broke a rear shocker. Another year we tested before the rally, but when the shock absorbers came out from Bilstein there was something wrong in the construction. So it was a disaster and we were looking to take shocks off the practice car. I learned from that mistake. In later years, when I was with Toyota, I put every shock-absorber that was going to be used or carried as a spare onto the practice car before the rally and made sure that it was OK”.

Whitewalls and the works

As part of the deal to take three works Porsches to the Safari Rally in 1971, the team negotiated backing from one of America’s biggest mail order companies, Sears Roebuck. It had just started offering Michelin tyres as part of its range of goods and had appointed Californian Jack Brady to find a way of publicising this through motorsport. The deal resulted in an approach to Porsche, and the sight of three works 911s doing the Safari on whitewall tyres.

Porsche in Africa: Results and car details

Year    Event    Driver/Co-driver    Car    Comp. no.    Result

1968    Safari    Edgar Herrmann/Gerd Elvers    911    22    DNF

1969    Safari    Sobieslaw Zasada/Marek Wachowski    911    15    6th

1970    Safari    Sobieslaw Zasada/Mike Sochacki    911S    6    DNF

1971    Safari    Ake Andersson/Hans Thorselius    911S    1    DNF

1971    Safari    Björn Waldegård/Lars Helmer    911S    33    DNF

1971    Safari    Sobieslaw Zasada/Marian Bien    911S    19    5th 

1972    Safari    Sobieslaw Zasada/Marian Bien    911S    12    2nd 

1973    Safari    Björn Waldegård/Hans Thorselius    911RS    10    DNF 

1973    Safari    Sobieslaw Zasada/Marian Bien    911RS    5    DNF 

1973    Safari    Bill Fritschy/Kim Mandeville    911RS    25    DNF 

1974    Safari    Björn Waldegård/Bo Thorselius    911RS    19    2nd 

1974    Safari    Edgar Herrmann/Hans Schuller    911RS    41    DNF 

1974    Safari    Bill Fritschy/Sir Peter Moon    911RS    36    DNF 

1978    Safari    Björn Waldegård/Hans Thorselius    911SC    5    4th 

1978    Safari    Vic Preston Jnr/John Lyall    911SC    14    2nd 

1984    Dakar    René Metge/Dominique Lemoyne    911SC 4WD    176    1st 

1984    Dakar    Jacky Ickx/Claude Brasseur    911SC 4WD    175    6th 

1984    Dakar    Roland Kussmaul/Eric Lerner    911SC 4WD    177    26th 

1985    Dakar    René Metge/Dominique Lemoyne    911SC 4WD     186    DNF 

1985    Dakar    Jacky Ickx/Claude Brasseur    911SC 4WD    185    DNF 

1985    Dakar    Jochen Mass/Ekkehard Klefer    911SC 4WD    187    DNF 

1985    Pharaohs    Saeed Al Hajri/John Spiller    959    2    1st

1985    Pharaohs    Jacky Ickx/Claude Brasseur    959    1    DNF 

1986    Dakar    René Metge/Dominique Lemoyne    959    186    1st 

1986    Dakar    Jacky Ickx    Claude Brasseur    959    185    2nd 

1986    Dakar    Roland Kussmaul    Hendrick Unger    959    187    6th

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