Another Monte Carlo Fiasco



Any Monagesque not conversant with colloquial English must have been puzzled by the frequent use of the word “fiddle” by the British contingent in the Monte Carlo Rally, coupled from time to time with several other short and explicit adjectives. Although the Automobile Club de Monaco presumably had no intention of giving the Panhard drivers an easy ride into the first three places, their dubious handicapping system gave rise to much bitterness on the part of those who were given impossible tasks. Called by the organisers the “factor of comparison,” the system took into account the weight of the car as homologated and the cylinder capacity of the engine. In addition each Group was given a further handicap figure according to the type of vehicle. Thus a series production touring car with four-stroke engine was given the following formula, where r is the factor of Comparison: r = 1 x the square root of C/P where C is the capacity in c.c.s and P is (p + 2C), for which p is the homologation weight in units of 100 kgs. A modified series production touring, car was given the formula 1.05 1 x the square root ofC/P and a G.T. car 1.11 x the square root ofC/P while two-stroke cars were given harsher penalties, so that a series production touring car with two-stroke engine was given the same factor as a four-stroke G.T. car; a decision which caused the Auto Union factory to refuse to enter.

The result of these calculations gave figures ranging from 0.279 for a D.A.F. 600 to 0.470 for an Aston Martin DB4. The times (in seconds) over the five special stages were added together at the conclusion of the rally and multiplied by this figure and any penalties for lateness or damage added to the answer. What the formula did not take into account was engine power as opposed to capacity, and as the Panhards were fitted with the “Tiger” engine giving 60 b.h.p. to the 42 b.h.p. of the standard unit they were not disgraced as regards power. The “Tiger”-engined car is homologated with the F.I.A. as a series production car and therefore had a better handicap than the cars in the modified group. No formula could take road-holding into account and on snow and ice, which predominated during the special stages, sheer power was not essential, so that whereas a TR3 is undoubtedly capable of 110 m.p.h., compared to the 85 m.p.h. of the Panhards, it could hardly be expected to be much quicker on ice, where in fact it was expected to cover a 30-kilometre section some to minutes quicker than the Panhard to get on level terms.

With this formula the French sporting papers were freely tipping the Panhard for a win some time before the event and it was even rumoured that invitations for a Celebration cocktail party had been printed well in advance. However, in compensation for the bothers with the handicap system, the road section was the best for some years. Last year’s idea of driving to Monte Carlo then going out on a classification test was scrapped, and from the eight starting points of Athens, Stockholm, Warsaw, Monte Carlo, Lisbon, Frankfurt and Glasgow, this year’s entrants drove to a meeting point at Charbonnieres, near Lyons, and then took part in a 440-mile drive to Monte Carlo which was split into five stages. On these five stages were five special tests which were to be treated as flat-out blinds. A 30-kilometre test over the Col de Cucheron was included in the first stage, a 33-kilometre test over the Col de l’Echarasson in the second stage, and no less than three tests in the last stage, including the long haul over the snow-covered Col de Turini. In actual fact these tests were quite good enough to sort out the entry without resort to any type of handicapping but the organising committee no doubt feared that there would be little snow and ice about, thus giving an advantage to the more powerful cars.

Despite their misgivings, most of the British manufacturers who support rallying once again acknowledged the publicity value of the Monte and entered full teams, with no less than six Fords, six Sunbeam Rapiers, three Austin A40s, three Mini-Minors, and even a team of Vauxhalls which were entered by the British Army Motoring Association, Several foreign works teams were entered, although a number of well-known drivers had transferred their allegiance to different cars, Erik Carlsson transferring his entry to a Saab 95 Estate car because of its greater weight, while B.M.W. 700s and N.S.U. Sport Prinzs looked to be more popular this year.

Unusual cars in the entry list included the Polish FSO Syrenas, several East German Wartburgs (which were not allowed to cross West Germany to get to the start at Warsaw), and one or two of the more exotic continental creations such as Fiat Abarth Monza, Facel Vega Facellia, D.B. Panhard coupés, Lancia Flaminia Zagato, and the new Ford Taunus, while the American compacts were represented by a single example of Chevrolet Corvair and Ford Falcon. Every year one or two racing drivers make an appearance, then declare the event is too dangerous and are never seen again. This year Henry Taylor drove a works Ford Anglia and Giulio Cabianca drove the Lancia Flaminia Zagato. The trouble is that racing drivers can’t get used to the idea of waiting for complicated sums to be worked out before they know who’s won.

One unfortunate aspect of the Monte Carlo Rally is that the route is printed with the Regulations, so that works drivers or those with enough spare time and cash can go over the route and learn the tricky parts by heart. To even things up, Castrol issued a detailed list of notes for the special sections, prepared by a competitor, which graded the corners so that competitors could take blind bends flat out sure in the knowledge that they would not come to grief, because the notes said it was all right. However, one corner on the Turini was listed as flat-out and several drivers proved that it wasn’t — at least in their car — by giving themselves a few frightening moments. Shell and B.P. also gave route cards to competitors using their products which merely listed junctions on the route so that navigation was reduced to a minimum. In addition, roads which are covered in snow are given special attention with snow ploughs and very often cindered, while Dunlops have perfected their tungsten-steel spiked Duraband tyre, which makes driving on ice almost as safe as on dry roads. However, crews have to pay for this protection in the high noise level which they have to endure on dry roads, and Highways and Bridges Departments probably wonder what’s been happening to their nice main roads after a few hundred spiked tyres have churned down the High Street. At Monaco, where several cars drove in the races with their spikes still fitted, the Gasworks hairpin looked as if a Churchill tank had been practising hand-brake turns.

All this rather detracts from the Monte Carlo Rally as a serious test of a motor car, which is probably why the B.B.C. entered their ill-fated taxi. At least it was no worse than the charabanc which was entered some years ago, and as the rally deteriorated to a mere publicity stunt Peter Dimmock and Tony Brooks did very well for the B.B.C. as the Continental radio and T.V. stations gave them excellent coverage, with Brooks being interviewed on Monte Carlo T.V. We look forward with pleasurable anticipation to the Grand National, when the B.B.C.’s horse-racing correspondent will no doubt ride a kangaroo — pedigree of course. Of the run-in sections to Charbonnieres, the Glasgow and Monte Carlo starters had the worst conditions, manv of the British drivers losing time on the Mauriac to Le Puy section, which was covered in thick ice and snow. The Monte Carlo starters had to traverse the mountains in the reverse direction to get to Lyons and a number of them ran into trouble near Le Puy. The Stockholm contingent, which was the largest, had an easy and uneventful run down, hampered only by a little patchy ice on the German autobahnen. At the Charbonnieres Casino the factory service vans had established themselves and the Renault entries were literally inundated with mechanics and the British manufacturers were well represented, while such people as Ferodo, Castrol, Mintex, Dunlop, Michelin, Pirelli, Lucas, Cibie, Don, Redex, and so on, were anxiously fussing around cars which were in trouble. Amidst all this bustle it was refreshing to see Carlsson’s Saab standing quite untouched, the driver admitting that no mechanics had been sent down by the works despite the fact that seven cars were entered. He had also driven his car to the start, unlike some British cars which had required the services of transporters and ships. Several cars had been put out of the rally by using French-made spikes in tyres other than Durabands which could not stand the heat generated. Pirelli service men were smugly lowering the pressures in their tyres and whipping on new sets of winter treads and steel spikes in very quick time. The disc brakes of the works A40s were given the once over but pad wear was negligible. These were the A40s that a Sunday newspaper had indignantly declared to be nothing like the car that can be bought from the showroom. Somebody had to find out sooner or later! The Panhard success advertisements also state that one can buy a Panhard for £897 17s. 6d., but to get a car in similar trim to the rally-winning car would require a much larger outlay.

The final 440 miles to Monaco provided some exciting motor racing, especially on the third special section from St. Auban to Roquesteron, where some fast downhill work on ice called for strong nerves, and cars began visiting ditches and clobbering walls fairly frequently. However, the roads were supposed to be closed so no danger to non-competitors was involved. The next stage, over the Turini, involved plenty of snow but few cars came to grief. Here, the Mercedes looked to be very fast, while Trautmann in a Citroën and Carlsson in his Saab were driving superbly. Mary Handley Page collided with a wall in her Rapier after a burst tyre, but as Motor Sport were using a Rapier to cover the rally we were able to fit our spare wheel and unbend the coachwork, although they had lost their clean sheet by the time they were under way again. Further on, and nearly at the finish, we picked up the driver of one of the Polish Syrenas who was heartbroken and nearly in tears after losing a wheel and with it the honour of finishing for Poland.

At Monaco the crews checked in and went their respective ways to wait for the almost inevitable results. In the meantime they consoled themselves with a rally ball, a film show, the prizegiving, an enormous gala dinner, a hill-climb at Mont Agel (won by Philip Walton in his 3.8 Jaguar), and the races on the G.P. circuit, the marking of which was altered just before they commenced, so enabling the Panhard which was placed sixth on the road section to move up into third place.

The festivities and grumbling over for another year, the Sunbeam Rapier was headed for Calais on the Saturday after the rally, and this willing car motored to such good effect on wet roads that Calais was reached in the early hours of Sunday morning, the 803 miles being covered at an average speed of 57.9 m.p.h. and consuming petrol at the rate of 24.4 m.p.g. Well prepared by Rootes, the Rapier was fitted with Dunlop Weathermaster tyres and an excellent pair of dipping auxiliary lamps, aimed to left and right of the car. The tyres restricted cruising speed in the dry to around 70 m.p.h. and added to the noise level but gave excellent grip on snow and ice and at no time did we feel the need for chains. The combination of a willing engine, excellent appointments, comfortable suspension and adequate road-holding help to make the Series III Rapier one of Britain’s more desirable sports saloons, and in our hands it covered 2,179 miles, using no oil, and petrol at the rate of around 25 m.p.g. Such thoughtful fitments as two-speed wipers, overdrive, and instruments calibrated in litres and k.p.h. as well as gallons and m.p.h., show that Rootes’ engineers are well conversant with their customers’ requirements. However, after studying the Monte Carlo Rally cars, not only of the Rootes Group, it is surprising that some of the special rally equipment has not found its way into production cars. After all, most Competitions Managers give as their raison d’etre the need to improve their firm’s production cars, and as we found on the Rapier the front-seat occupants began to squirm after 100 miles or so because of insufficient back support, while for night driving a more convenient steering-column-mounted lamps flasher would be much better than the dashboard-mounted switch. An accelerator pedal better placed for heel-and-toe changes would also be an improvement. Luxurious reclining seats are fitted to the rally cars, together with all sorts of aids to better driving. Let us hope the day is not too far distant when the slogan “rallying improves the breed” will be true, and these things will be seen on production cars. — M. L. T.