Rally Review, March 1966

The Monte Carlo Fiasco

The Monte Carlo Rally has long been accepted as the world’s most publicised rally but I imagine that no one would have expected to see such a large amount of press and television space allotted to it as it was given in 1966. To understand the reality behind the thousands of words of pure rubbish that have appeared in the British press since the official results of the rally were announced, it is necessary to go back several months until we reach that time towards the end of last year when the manufacturers were considering what to do about their entries for the Monte Carlo Rally 1966. Perhaps before unfolding our little history, it would be as well to point out—along the lines suggested by the B.B.C.—that certain parts of the story are rather unpleasant and that elderly spinsters and people of a sensitive nature should read no further but turn immediately to the advertisement pages.

To start then, at the beginning. It was evident from the very first transcripts of the new Appendix J that appeared in the Royal Automobile Club’s bulletin that there was going to be trouble in varying degrees, for the new Group 1 cars were to be standard touring cars of which no less than 5,000 examples must have been made within one year, and that for the purposes of competition, the rules allowed nothing to be changed or even improved. Standard seats, standard facia, standard steering wheel, standard engine, standard wheels, only two permitted axle ratios and two sets of gearbox ratios were among the restrictions. Brake lining and pad material could be changed and there was apparently to be a concession with regard to lights which said that only two extra forward-facing lights in addition to the headlights would be allowed. Now this is really a very simple formula and the reader who has had no direct experience of International rallying or racing may be wondering what everyone was so worried about, so that the first thing he should be made to understand is that these rules were just a transcript of the original ones drafted in French, so that all kinds of nuances could be present in the original which were missing in the translation supplied to the British entrants.

For this very reason, representatives of the leading British manufacturers, together with someone from the Royal Automobile Club, went over to Paris to clear up a large number of points with the Federation International Automobile after the provisional entries had been registered for the Monte Carlo Rally. At that time, only a very small number of cars had been accepted as homologated in Group 1, so that a lot of the entries had been made “blind” with the manufacturer concerned not knowing whether, when the time came to start the rally, his cars would have been accepted. As it turned out, the talks in Paris resolved themselves very well and the F.I.A. answered all the questions in the most straightforward way possible, and at the following homologation meeting British cars like the Lotus Cortina and the 1275 Cooper S were accepted as homologated Group 1 cars, as were the Lancia Fulvia coupe, the Citroen DS21 and the Ford Mustang 289. Several cars missed the boat, so to speak, and could only manage to get homologated Group II. and these included the Renault Gordini and the Alfa Romeo GTA. For such cars there could be little hope of success on the Monte Carlo Rally, since they competed with an 18% handicap set by organisers who were determined that one of the new Group 1 cars would win the rally outright.

With the initial worries over there were still a lot more things that kept team managers awake at nights, for though the major points of the new rules had been settled and though the interpretation of them was always to the effect that nothing standard could be changed, rally drivers are notorious for wanting switches where they can reach them with safety belts on and wanting the seats moved up, down and sideways, so that even the detail preparation of the cars required a lawyer to read the regulations before the mechanics could touch anything. For the private owner things were much simpler—he either decided not to do the rally at all, which resulted in the Monte Carlo receiving its smallest entry since the war, or he just bought a standard car and changed nothing. This is how it should have been with the works cars but naturally when a lot of money is being spent, no team manager wants to put his cars and drivers at a significant disadvantage to any other team, which is why the Monte Carlo Rally in past years, with its ridiculous speed tests over Stages with varying ice conditions, had developed into a money race to see who could spend most on tyres. The best thing that the .Monte Carlo Rally could do for the private entrant is to restrict the tyres that it is permitted to use to one ice tyre and one dry tyre. The procedure for checking this is so simple that it is a wonder that it has not been done before. In this year’s rally, however, it was clear that each works team would try to get the maximum advantage from the regulations, not only for the comfort of their drivers but also for the speed of their cars. To do this effectively it was necessary to have the full co-operation of the National Automobile Club, and here the French had their big advantage.

Not only is the F.I.A. centred in Paris but all its communications and regulations are issued in French and, though translations are made, the French text is the only legal one in case of a dispute. The Swedish firms, for instance, suffered greatly, and were eventually not even able to enter the Monte Carlo Rally as their cars had not been homologated by the time the entries closed. In fact, as I write this article, the Saab and the Volvo are still not homologated Group 1 though this would demand far less credulity on the part of the F.I.A. than some of the more exotic Italian Group 1 cars. The situation for the British firms seemed quite clear at the beginning of January as their cars were homologated and the F.I.A. had, to all intents and purposes, cleared up any doubts as to interpretation of the rules of Appendix J.

What happened next is anyone’s guess, but I would think in the light of subsequent events that the F.I.A., out of the goodness of their heart, decided to re-write part of Appendix J as a result of the questions they had been asked about interpretation. Their intention was undoubtedly good but what they did not realise was that if their original rules were liable to be taken two ways then there was no guarantee that the second lot would be any less ambiguous. That was their first mistake, and their second one was in not tolling all the interested parties that these changes had been made. Having read both the old and the new, I cannot think that any works team would have gone with iodine vapour headlamps on the second set of rules without at least going back to the F.I.A. to check the interpretation once more.

To demonstrate how woefully ignorant we in Britain were kept concerning the mere existence of a revised Appendix J, consider the private entrants from this country who entered their Group II cars with the lighting that they had used the previous year. The original transcript of Appendix J that appeared in this country indicated that in Group II the number and type of lights were completely free. Imagine these private owners’ surprise when on reaching Monte Carlo at the end of the easy run down, without even setting foot on a special stage, they were excluded for having more than six forward-facing lights. Now, it transpired that had they read the lighting rules for Le Mans they would have been able to see that Appendix J now forbids there to be more than six forward-facing lights, but nowhere else could a private owner have discovered this before the rally started. Exactly the same consideration applies to those British cars from works teams who were excluded for having iodine vapour, single-filament bulbs in their Standard headlamps instead of double-filament dipping bulbs.

Considering that the organisers seemed to know all about these rules, as did the French competitors, the following observations must occur to anyone capable of thinking for himself. Firstly, knowing that these new rules were bound to be controversial, Why did not both the F.I.A. and the organisers of the rally make sure that everyone entered in the rally was made aware that there had been some changes, especially as the F.I.A., at least, were aware that the British teams intended to use iodine vapour bulbs in the headlamps as this had been put to them before Christmas ? Secondly, assuming that there was no definite attempt of suppression of such information on the part of the F.I.A. and the Monagasque officials, how was it that the Royal Automobile Club did not become aware that such a lighting system was illegal and again inform the British entries accordingly ? From the view of the private entrants using more than six lights in Group II the R.A.C. must appear particularly culpable as it was the R.A.C. Scrutineer who passed the cars at the start in London.

Lastly we come to the sad bit where any tempers that were left intact by what had passed previously finally disintegrated. This concerns the actual motives of the Automobile Club of Monte Carlo in excluding the British cars as they did. Had these British cars, the three Mini Coopers and the two Lotus Cortinas and the Hillman Imp come to the end of the rally and been thrown out on a technical inspection of their lights to determine whether they complied with Appendix J then all the ballyhoo and wild statements about Waterloo and Trafalgar that appeared in the press would have been completely and utterly idiotic. However, the organisers demonstrated their acquaintance with the new form of the Appendix J regulations when they excluded the Group II cars at the first arrival for having more than six lights. After the second arrival, they examined the lights of every car to see whether they accorded with International lighting regulations, as there had been reports of non-competing drivers being dazzled by the lights of rally cars. They made it quite obvious that they knew what lights the British cars were fitted with when they issued a statement on the system of dipping as they had found it to be on these cars. All these cars were then allowed to go out on the second circuit with no talk of excluding them, but when they came in in the first four places, and with the Imp of Rosemary Smith winning the ladies’ prize, what did the organisers do ? Did they examine the lighting of the cars and promptly exclude them ? No. They first stripped them to the last nut and bolt and spent the best part of 18 hours trying to fault the three Mini Coopers that were in first places overall and were also winning the manufacturers’ award. When they could find no discrepancy between the rally cars and the homologation form and not before did they announce that all the successful British entered cars had been thrown out for having non-standard headlamp bulbs, a fact that they had known two and a half days previously. Haying decided to use this regulation to dispose of the indecently successful Mini Coopers, they never even bothered to look at Roger Clark’s Lotus Cortina which had, in fact, been changed onto standard headlamps on the last mountain circuit in order to try and avoid any further carping over the lights used by the Ford team. As his car was not examined at the end of the rally then it is clear that the Organisers were throwing it out on Friday as a result of an inspection made on Tuesday morning. If they had been playing the game straight, then they would have excluded it on the Tuesday instead of allowing the car to go out on the dangerous mountain circuit.

Right throughout this sad history there is nothing but evidence to show that the works teams and the private owners from Britain acted in good faith and tried to use the best equipment that was available and was permitted under the rides. It could be argued that they should have been content to use a perfectly standard car as supplied from the dealer to be sure of keeping within the rules, and that certainly is the answer to any claims that “we was robbed.” However, when it seems clear that the rules have not been drawn up with that exact idea in mind, no one can be blamed for trying to improve driver comfort and visibility within the limits allowed. When it comes down to it, I don’t seem to remember that the British cars were any slower over the daylight tests than the French cars just because they didn’t have their iodine lights to help them.

Lastly, please let us try to remember that although Citroen were a French team, the Monte Carlo Rally is not run by a French Automobile Club but by the Monagasques, whose only interest in running a big International rally seems to be to get a lot of people down to their town and then take as much money off them in as short a time as possible. There is a parable about a goose and a golden egg which M. Tafre and M. Chiron would do well to remember.-J. D. F. D.