The 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, constituting as it did the third successive victory for Eric Carlsson in the incredible little 841-c.c. 3-cylinder, 2-stroke Saab, and a Team Victory for Citroën, demonstrated convincingly the supremacy conferred by front-wheel-drive under winter motoring conditions.
Not only has a front-drive car now proved invincible in the Monte Carlo three years running, but this year there were 18 cars so driven in the first 50 places; indeed, the first seven places were filled by front-drive cars, the winning Saab from Sweden, four big Citroëns from France and two gallant little Morris Mini-Coopers from England, one of the latter taking third place. Amongst the best-dozen in this exceedingly tough rally only a couple of Volvos and two Mercedes-Benz, both excellent normal-style cars, broke up the front-drive opposition.
Anyone who has experienced the very high-safety factor of the cornering and road-holding built into the Issigonis/Moulton B.M.C. Minis and 1100s, whether Austin, Morris or M.G., will hardly need to be told of the security and effectiveness of front-wheel-drive on snow, ice, rain-coated or merely dry roads.
If we postulate that for maximum safety and cornering speed f.w.d. is desirable, as the Monte Carlo Rally proved, but that a rear-engined car has maximum traction amongst conventional designs in mud or loose sand, as the convincing Volkswagen victory in the last Coronation Safari Rally demonstrated, discerning purchasers of new or recent motor-cars will surely, unless very special aspects of performance, space or appearance over-rule their better judgment, ignore cars in which the power unit is remote from the driven axle, with a lengthy propeller shaft coupling these components. Some skilled drivers dislike the pronounced understeer f.w.d. confers, but the average run of motorists, wishing to drive fast in safety, will no doubt buy more and more front-drive vehicles, especially after their experiences in the severe winter of 1962/63.
The days when front-drive cars were cumbersome, noisy, had difficult gear-changes and were both expensive and experimental, are over. Today, Austin, Auto Union, Citroën, D.K.W., Lancia, Morris, M.G., Ogle, Panhard, Renault, Taunus and Saab between them provide a wide range of models with this form of drive. It has evolved nowhere more effectively than in the Citroën models that stem from the famous Twelves and Light 15s of the ‘thirties and in the B.M.C. small cars, into an effective, foolproof system of transmission, just as, from being tail-heavy, ugly designs whose primary aim was streamline form, rear-engined cars have developed into compact vehicles of shapes scarcely proclaiming the whereabouts of the power unit and which, in the better versions, e.g., Porsche, VW 1500, Renault R8, possess predictable initial understeer.
Front-wheel-drive, up to a permissible limit of power/weight ratio, is the most desirable layout for a normal car. For competition purposes, overlooking very fast pioneering by Miller in the States and Derby-Miller at Montlhéry, this is less certain, due to the upper limit of power that can be transmitted through steered wheels carrying a given load. Nevertheless, lightweight Mini-Coopers in competition trim, said to poke out 100 b.h.p. and probably developing in the region of 85, are extremely fast and safe on the circuits, nor can it have escaped the notice of those former rally crews who disloyally left B.M.C. to join Ford of Britain last year that, whereas the highest-placed British car in the Monte Carlo Rally was an f.w.d. Morris Mini-Cooper, which finished a highly praiseworthy third, with another in sixth place, their reardrive prop.-shaft Fords hardly held the limelight—or, perhaps, the road.
Admittedly two of the three American-entered G.T. 4 1/2-litre Ford Falcon Futura Sprints made a faster aggregate time over the five special stages than any other car, a good show indeed, but one to be regarded in the light of their very considerable engine size and the amount of money spent on their preparation.
The abnormally arduous 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, when all is said and done and the great number of prizes has been awarded, demonstrated beyond any possible doubt the excellence of the Swedish 2-stroke, front-wheel-drive Saab (its only failing that of running out of fuel and thus requiring outside assistance), and of the front-wheel-drive Citroëns—winners of the Charles Faroux Team Prize, the front-wheel-drive, rubber-suspended Morris Mini-Coopers, the Volvos, and the big Mercedes-Benz 220SEs one of which gave courageous Ewy Rosqvist the coveted Ladies’ Cup.
The normal standard and modified series-production touring-car class winners were N.S.U., Saab, Morris Mini-Cooper (B.M.C. taking second and third places in this class), Skoda (beating the Ford Cortina!), Sunbeam, Citroën (a class domination), Mercedes-Benz and Ford Falcon. The G.T. class-winning cars were Morris Mini-Cooper, M.G. Midget, Allardette, Porsche, and Austin Healey 3000.
It was, in fact, Saab’s and particularly Citroën’s rally—and before anyone scorns the victorious Citroëns as French, let us remind you that they are now built almost completely at Slough, to the extent that this is the only foreign design which the Guild of Motoring Writers, in its wisdom, admits to its excellent British Car Demonstration Day at Goodwood. Good show, Saab, viva Citroën! What a turn-up for front-wheel-drive.
The tough conditions under which the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally were held made the Saab victory extremely convincing and caused this classic winter event to register in the minds of more prospective car buyers than ever before. Such excellent publicity was marred only by the expression of opinion in some quarters that the competing cars are drastically removed from their catalogue equivalents and too freely assisted at various points along the route.
Both these allegations are true, particularly of factory-entered teams, although we find it impossible to believe that Ford spent in the region of £2-million, as quoted in a weekly contemporary, on the preparation of the team of Falcon Futura Sprints—or even 2-million dollars, or half that amount, for such would pay for a very handsome Grand Prix team. But vast sums of money are spent, very special cars are prepared, and a great deal of outside help is organised. There are very valid reasons why rallies, any more than races and trials, cannot be confined to absolutely standard cars—if an attempt were made to bring this about there would probably be a scrutineers’ strike and manufacturers’ entries would be seriously curtailed.
There is, however, reason to object to the free use of mobile repair shops, which so freely accompany rally competitors, ready to change tyres, remove gearboxes or bash out crumpled body panels. If vital components were sealed at the start and refuelling and tyre changes permitted only at controls, rally results would be more realistic, and that much more worth advertising. To quote only two instances in the recent Monte Carlo Rally—if the Ford Cortina had not been able to swop its faulty dynamo with that from a sporting Frenchman’s car of the same make, and if Carlsson’s winning Saab had not been allowed to refuel between controls, probably neither would have finished within the time limit.
When the ordinary motorist reads of rally cars experiencing brake fade downhill on ice because of the grip afforded by their studded tyres he and she may well wonder what the cars they buy have in common with those prepared for such highly-developed, intense and specialised competitions.
It would seem too late to change the rules this year but a rally reformation seems indicated for 1964.
Motorists or Criminals?
Motorists in this country are getting ever more tired of being treated as petty criminals by police and magistrates. While we do not for one moment condone serious offences committed with motor vehicles, it is high time some common sense was brought to bear on the harsh treatment of drivers who merely slightly exceed a speed limit, stop for a few minutes at the kerb, or inadvertently cross a double white line for a matter of a few yards. If we were politicians anxious to secure votes we should look around at the vast number of motor vehicles in everyday use, at the crowded factory car-parks, and ask ourselves whether we should stand a chance of election unless our party was prepared to make reasonable concessions to the long-suffering, heavily-fined, over-taxed car owner. Traffic Wardens who report parking offenders in streets free from meters, police who stop drivers who fail to see a pedestrian’s foot on a crossing at the opposite side of wide streets, or who commit any of the other mild technical offences that are almost unavoidable under prevailing traffic conditions, are not only undermining still further the relationship between citizens and police but they are costing rate-payers, many of them non-car owners, vast sums in paperwork and Police Court proceedings. It is very evident that the motorist is being unfairly treated and unjustly convicted in a great many instances, and if the proposed new Road Traffic Bill becomes law how many of us will retain our driving licences in the face of three minor convictions, such as doing 42 m.p.h. along dual carriageways in the early a.m., within three years?
By all means deal harshly with drunken drivers and those who drive absurdly fast or badly in the wrong place. But the country should take heed of the growing unrest amongst road users who resent the harsh penalties imposed on them for small misdemeanours, the acceptance of statements made by casual witnesses, and the long delays in hearing motoring cases, or even in issuing summonses.
Motor Sport would be interested to know how many people would support a fighting organisation to look after motorists’ interests. Such an organisation might do a great deal to alleviate the petty persecution of motorists, providing it was able to gain sufficient financial support. To do this it would need to proclaim practical lines of action, expose and fight a reasonable number of unfair prosecutions and have behind it the names of interested persons whom the motoring public knows and trusts. Indeed, with matters as they are, we wonder whether all road users, or at all events all drivers and owners of mechanically-propelled road vehicles, should not attempt to unite in taking drastic steps to protect their driving licences and stop the enormous waste of public time and money that Court cases involving offences that are offensive only to anti-motor-minded police and magistrates are costing the Nation.