A great deal happens in Monte Carlo during the annual speed week, for it now starts off very static with auction sales for old cars and the speed and excitement builds up as the week progresses, culminating in the Grand Prix on Sunday. Apart from the auction sales there are photographic exhibitions, painting exhibitions, book presentations, lunches, banquets, dinners and cabarets, gatherings of old drivers, races for Formula 3 and saloon cars and a continuous movement of the latest and best in production cars, and the biggest and best in motorcycles.
That is just on land; at sea there is an equal show of the latest and best in dinghies to ocean going liners, while the powerboats make Ferraris and Porsches look like toys. There is certainly much more to the Monaco Grand Prix round the streets of Monte Carlo, than the Grand Prix. If you happen to be interested in civil engineering there is much to enthral you in the way of excavations and tunnelling and land reclamation, for the Principality of Monaco is tightly surrounded by France and the Mediterranian and can only expand either up or down. As the tower blocks get higher, obscuring the view of people living in France up behind Monaco, so the holes get deeper to build more and more underground shops, car parks and leisure facilities.
As can be imagined the traffic density in Monte Carlo is bad news and most people find it easier and quicker to walk about town, rather than drive and find a parking space. This year there was a noticeable difference in the traffic scene and that was the proliferation of two-wheelers. Everything from 1200cc Rocket-Ships and 1500cc Honda tourers were as big as a small car, down to very old and grotty mopeds were being used and the big problem seemed to be finding somewhere to park your two-wheeler! One motorcycle on its own never presents a parking problem, but when everyone is on a motorcycle it becomes nearly as bad as having a car, the only difference being that you can usually lift bikes in closer to one another to make room for one more.
Looking around the sea of motorcycles in Monte Carlo it struck me that it could be quite a problem finding your bike at the end of the day. One morning, while walking to the circuit, I saw a police vehicle towing a trailer full of motorcycles and mopeds, which seems a strange thing to be doing, so I watched where it went. It stopped at a cordoned-off area by the police headquarters and all the bikes were off-loaded and stacked in this compound. There had been a purge on casual parking, particular on footpaths. One bike parked on the footpath outside a shop or hotel causes no real problems, but twenty or thirty bikes in the same place soon attract the attention of the police, and this year things had obviously reached saturation point. It was interesting that most of the two-wheelers were small bikes or mopeds and scooters; the police were not attempting to carry away a Honda Gold Wing or an 1100cc Yamaha. They presumably stuck parking tickets on them. As I watched the police van and trailer set off for another collection I could not help thinking of the London dogs-home where you can see the arrival of a van-load of stray dogs that have been rounded up. As I said, finding your bike at the end of the day could present a problem.
If you had the right sort of car and you were the right sort of person then parking was not such a problem, but the problem was deciding what was the right sort of car, and how do you become the right sort of person? Outside one hotel was a roped off area containing four cars which were obviously ‘right’. A Porsche 959, a Porsche Carrera 4, a Ferrari 348ts and a Porsche 928S4 which presented a sight worthy of a Motor Show. The 959 was a silver one, registered in Paraguay (!), the Carrera 4 was dark red and had come from Germany, at high speed judging by the squashed flies on the nose, the Ferrari was Ferrari red (what else?) and he had come from Italy, and 928S4 was dark blue and had also come from Italy. Looking at this quartet of new “super cars” gave me a sense of proportion on events that had taken place earlier in the week. I refer to the auction sales of old Ferraris that had taken place where anything red was snapped up by “collectors” and “dealers” for ridiculously high prices in order to invest money to make a profit in the future. The cost of buying all four super cars” in the row outside that hotel, using them for the purpose they were built, and servicing them for a year of fantastic motoring, would not go half way to buying an old (and fairly unusable) Ferrari at one of the auctions. There have always been strange people in this world, and without them places like Monte Carlo would not exist, but when you get close to some of them because they happen to be in your own motoring enthusiasm world, they are not very pleasant.
Last month WB wrote about a 1957 sports Ferrari that Christies Auction House told him was about to set a “new World Record” and rightly so the Editor queried the use of the term “World Record” as records are established to known and accepted rules laid down by the governing body; in our world, the FIA who looks after motoring. Presumably there is an international Federation of Auction Houses, who set the rules for recordbreaking, though it seems that such records are only involved with figures representing money; speed and endurance do not come into the activity. That much publicized record-attempt was a total failure by all accounts. The sports Ferrari did not sell and the bidding, such as it was, barely passed the half-way mark to the projected “World Record”. Perhaps the car will reappear in a few years time, heralded as ‘the famous Monte Carlo record attempt car’.
There were three big auction sales at Monte Carlo, all three houses trying to establish ‘world records’ and all trying to put on the biggest and most extravagent show, with the effect that they virtually ‘neutralised’ each other. From words inside the auction ‘game’ (I nearly said ‘racket’) it would appear that the Golden Goose is beginning to sit fatly and not lay any golden eggs. After all, a goose egg is a nice large thing to have, much bigger than a chicken or duck egg, but there are limits to its size and if too many people and auction houses want to live off it there is not going to be enough to go round. I don’t think the golden egg had actually broken, though there were people in Monte Carlo with what looked like egg on their face, but it has certainly cracked its shell.
In the middle of “Speed Week Monaco” there was something of a panic among the organisers and Principality officials for the French railways went on strike, as did the air traffic controllers at Nice airport. The panic was that everyone would attempt to get to Monaco on race day by car, and there was visions of the whole of the Cote d’Azur becoming one enormous traffic jam, from the Italian border in the east to way beyond Nice and Cannes in the west. The fact that most of the people involved with the Formula 1 teams had arrived by air and might be marooned in Monaco until Tuesday after the race seemed insignificant in comparison with the vast crowds of public trying to get into the Principality for race day. A big police operation was planned to try and cope with the anticipated problems, but luckily they were not needed as the strikers were called off (more money and shorter hours were the demands, naturally!), and everything was normal for race day. In truth race day was sub-normal, as the crowd estimate was down to 30,000 from the previous years 40,000 and unbelievably there were empty spaces in the car parks. It is interesting that the Monaco Grand Prix can survive on an attendance of 30-40,000 whereas that sort of figure at Silverstone would be a disaster for the British Grand Prix.
PS. Those four super cars were parked outside the hotel for a day or two until the magic was broken by someone parking a brash and vulgar Lamborghini Countach alongside them.