In the past, Greece has provided the setting for many classic battles, but as tar as the motor sporting enthusiast is concerned there has been little to capture his interest. Over in Greece to report on the Acropolis Rally for the first time, I was surprised to find how keenly the Greeks support their rather small number of events, which range from a hill-climb at Mount Parnis, outside Athens, to a “round the houses” circuit on the island of Rhodes, and include the internationally known and respected Acropolis Rally.
As there are no major car manufacturers running factories in Greece, the majority of the cars in the country are imported and high purchase tax regulations ensure that the home market for exotic cars like E-types and Cooper Ss – yes, a Cooper S is exotic if it costs you about £1,400. – is a very small one. Thus the Acropolis Rally relies to a very large extent on foreign factory teams taking enough interest in it (it is a qualifying round for the European Rally Championship) to send out cars and drivers.
The only drawback is the geographical situation of Greece itself; right at the tip of western Europe it is a long way from Britain, Sweden and Germany, and any manufacturer sending out a team of cars to compete in the rally and probably to do a reconnaissance as well, finds that the bill is a very large one. Against this outlay he has to weigh up his chance of success in what is a very tough rally and decide whether the publicity and advertising copy that he can extract from his team’s appearance is worth the cost.
At the beginning of the year, Ford of Great Britain decided that as they had already got the East African Safari, the Tulip and the Alpine on the schedule for their Cortinas, the expose of taking a team out for the Acropolis was not justifiable. The time factor has a great deal to do with it as well, for mechanics who are out servicing on the Acropolis cannot be preparing cars for the Alpine. The Saab competition department must have been feeling the strain for, to start with, they had four cars entered on the Tulip not long after Erik Carlsson and Pat Moss came back from the Safari, they had another four on the Acropolis and two service crews, goodness only knows how many cars they will have to prepare and service on Sweden’s own Rally to the Midnight Sun, and then, before June can close, they have at least two cars plus recce cars to prepare and service on the Alpine Rally.
All these considerations did not stop most of the European manufacturers making some kind of show on the Acropolis, though the entry still looked a little thin as, apart from three Cooper Ss from the Sporting Owner-Drivers Club, there were scarcely any foreign private entrants.
Last year’s winners, Mercedes, had brought over three cars: a 300SE for Eugen Bohringer and Peter Lang and two 220SEs for Dieter Glemser/Klaus Kaiser and Ewy Rosqvist/Eve Marie Falk. At the last moment before the start, Glemser was taken ill with appendicitis and was replaced by one of Rudi Ulenhaut’s development engineers, Eric Waxenberger, who drove very well to finish fourth overall. Ewy Rosqvist’s previous co-driver, the equally attractive Swedish girl Ursula Wirth, was making her first appearance as a number one driver for her new employers, B.M.W. Both she and Wolfgang Levy were driving examples of the new 1800 TI which the German factory were anxious to try out before the Alpine and the Liège. The French firm of Citroën arrived at Athens with two works DS19s for Lucette Pointet/ Francoise Houillion and Jean-Claude Ogier/Bernard Groll, while Jean-Paul Joly and Patrick Vanson were privately entered in a Group III DS19.
Saabs, of course, had two Group II Saab Sports for Erik and Pat, while Finnish rally champions, Simo Lampinen/Jyrki Ahava, and Ove Andersson were in Group III Saab Sports. The Volvo entries were for team manager Gunnar Andersson and Lennart Berggren, R.A.C. winner Tom Trana, and Sylvia Osterberg, while Scania-Vabis had VW 1500Ss for Pauli Toivonen, Berndt Jansson and Henny-Britt Ehringe.
The British challenge comprised two works 1275 Cooper Ss for Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon and Rauno Aaltonen/Tony Ambrose, and no fewer than four works Rovers for Logan Morrison/Johnstone Syer, Ken James/Mike Hughes, Tony Cox/ Willy Cave and Anne I lall/Denis McCluggage. The remainder of the entry was made up of a team of Wartburgs from East Gertnanv, a very quick D.K.W. F12 driven by the local expert, Raptopoulos, several Greek-entered Coopers and Moskvitches, and a handful of Alfa Romeos from Italy.
I have gone over the entry in detail to emphasise that it was not talent that was lacking in this twelfth Acropolis Rally, and thus the record of only 19 finishers from a starting number of just under 70 cars is all the more remarkable. The route of the rally would have sufficed as a potted historical tour of Greece since it started in Athens, wound up the east coast through Marathon and Thermopylae to Thessalonika, and then crossed to the west coast, passing close to Metorea and Delphi before crossing to the Peloponnese for a sight of Sparta, Mycenae and Corinth before finishing in Athens. Whether a tourist would care to do all that in the space of two days is doubtful, but 19 cars, drivers and co-drivers managed to do it.
To say that the rally was decided on the twelve groups of special stages that it contained would be strictly correct, as it was the times over these and up the three special hill-climbs that enabled the organisers to classify the finishers. However, the thing that really decided who was going to win the rally was the pace that the organisers had set over a particularly testing collection of Greek roads. The rally was thus decided mainly on retirements through mechanical failure, and it is this that has caused people to compare it this year with the Safari and the Liège.
Reconnaissance by the works crews had shown that for most of the Touring category entries, the special stages were on in the allotted time and, while they were going, Bohringer, Hopkirk and Aaltonen were well inside the times. This meant that unless conditions on some of the stages were particularly adverse, especially if this occurred on a stage that was difficult anyway, the rally would be decided on performances on the hill-climbs, where to lose no points you had to be fastest in the class.
As it happened, mechanical failures made the selection, with Bohringer the first main contender to fall by the wayside with a faulty fuel pump on his Mercedes’ fuel injection system. Raptopoulos had already retired his D.K.W. with a broken front wishbone, and the Cooper Ss were to follow suit with broken steering for Aaltonen and for Paddy Hopkirk a battery cable that was chopped in half, as it passed between the chassis and the rear sub-frame. Due to the battering on the bad roads the sub-frame moved, and cut through the battery lead. As Stuart Turner. B.M.C.’s Competitions Manager said “We didn’t win but we did do some development.” Paddy Hopkirk had been leading when he retired in southern Greece only about eight hours from the end, and, by virtue of some very quick driving, despite two stages which had been held in rain and which no one had cleaned, he was leading his nearest rival, Tom Trana, by over 50 marks. Trana had retired the previous year after a collision with a bridge when he was leading with no points lost whatsoever, and was thus treading a little more warily. This policy paid off, for the only man who could catch Trans once Hopkirk had retired was Erik Carlsson and he had the misfortune to go off on one of the last stages, which cost him over fifty minutes of penaltY – thousands of marks.
The Volkswagen challenge had faded quite early when Jansson went off and wrecked his front suspension, while Toivoncn lasted a little longer before his engine bearings went, as they had done during practice. Even the normally reliable Rovers had their troubles and their fastest car, that of Logan Morrison, retired just after the Amphissa hill-climb when a rear wheel fell off. The highest placed Rover, driven by Ken James and Mike Hughes, did very well to finish sixth despite having trouble with their brakes.
The Volvo that Tom Trana was using is one of the “old” PV 544s, only his car is what is called the sport version and carries that letter S after its name. One can look at this ostensibly outdated car and ask how it managed to do what more modern designs failed to do. The answer surely lies in the fact that though something like Alex lssigonis’ fantastic Mini is designed to out-handle and – with the 1300 motor – out-perform a car like the Volvo, more thought and research has gone into the accessories (fuel pump, electrical system, etc.) on the Swedish car to make it more reliable as a complete unit. It would also be foolish to overlook the sheer driving ability of Tom Trana, who has surely now shown that he can win rallies by driving like a rally driver rather than like a racing driver.