Chilly Monte Challenge

Early February saw the seventh running of the Monte Carlo challenge, organised by the Classic Rally Association, aka Philip Young and Peter Browning, with start points from Oslo, Bristol, Noordwijk and St Moritz. A 160 strong entry spanned the 1911 A L F (Edi Schomo and Roman Schlommer), a St Moritz starter which looked like yet another reincarnation of the American La France fire-engine, to a 1964 Porsche 356 (Neil Wilson and John Buffum) which started from Bristol. Having crossed the statutory sea-stages (Dover-Calais for Bristol crews, Gotenburg-Kiel for those from Oslo) participants congregated in the Place Rapp at Colmar on the Monday evening. In picking Colmar, Keith Baud had shown one of his more brilliant touches, but it was Philip Young’s weather arrangements which made the 1996 event exceptional, taking the sunny days, clear nights, and a bit of morning fog menu option, garnished with a full moon; and all while the UK was enduring those snow-storms. Regularity stages started in earnest after Colmar, and the experts such as Ron Gammons (1964 MGA 1600) began to establish positions on the leader-board. David Ratcliffe and Tim Shooter, in their spartan Mk6 Bentley Special, were pulled over and given a ticket by a local flic, but it was a party invitation — and please bring your interesting old car. Hans-Ruedi Aebi’s 1920 Silver Ghost seemed to have very hard-worked brakes descending the Col de Bramont and the hairpins above Sancey le Grand, though the route tactfully avoided the Katchberg pass which had given the Ghost such a hard time on the 1912 Alpine Trial.

The Rileys of Sir David Steel/Andrew Tammes, Chris Challday/Peter Blackett and Robin Stretton/ Graham Rood made a fine period prospect as they headed south down the Ballon d’Alsace amongst the snowclad pines, fulfilling the organisers’ ambition to recreate the style of the Montes of the ’50s and ’60s, “when production cars driven by true amateurs overcame the challenge of snow-covered Alpine passes”. John Aan de Stegge’s 1959 Ford Thunderbird fitted snugly between the trees and smelt rather strongly of brake linings, while the 1930 Blower Bentley of Ralph Sloss and Adam Wiseberg suffered from underheated carburettors; it is possible Mr Amherst Villiers did not have the Monte Carlo rally in mind when he sited them right at the front. Stuart Baxter drove Bill Ainscough’s Chrysler 77, directed by Vincent Fairclough, whose handling of the regularity stages on LEJOG a couple of months earlier had earned a Gold award. Edward Sluk and Jan Dnicek appeared in a fine 1949 Tatra 600 with a big V8 in its tail, offering plenty of grip in the snowy Cols east of Annecy, such as Croix Fry, d’Aravis and Champ Laurent, to each of which Mr Young sent his clients.

After a night stop at Annecy, the Challengers headed briefly southwest for a Special Test at Uriage les Bains before taking supper at Gap to give them the energy to tackle the final 12 hours to the finish, and Monte Carlo’s challenging Thursday morning traffic.

A regularity section on snow over mud over the Col de Turini ended the route, unless you were in the leading 75 “equipages” who had to undertake a further weeding-out regularity in the Mercantour National Park; here were some fine views over the sea which you would have been quite unable to enjoy in the February dark with your sleepy eyes flicking between odometer trip, average speed tables, and the vital clock, hoping you had reset most of them at the last control.

There was a welcoming committee on the Friday, comprising local heroes plus Philip Young, and results and prizes were distributed at a traditionally lavish dinner in the evening.

Overall winners were Monty Karlan/Ake Gustavsson in a 1963 Mercedes 220, followed in a similar car by Ignacio Sunsundegui/Colin Francis. Wilson and Buffum’s 356 Porsche came third, with Michael Corns/Willy Cave fourth in a 1964 Volvo 122S, also winning their class. Further class winners were John Bateson/John Vipond (Sunbeam Rapier), Geoffrey Twigg/Graham Carter (Mini-Cooper), Ivar Moe/Tom Granli (Morgan Plus 4), Knut Hallan/Bjorn Lie (A-H 3000), Alain Lopes/ Etienne Massillon (Mini-Cooper) and Chris Chalkley/Peter Blackett (Riley 1.5).

The Grand Touring class was won by Burchardt/Scnellmann in their well-fettled 1937 Delahaye; the 1937 saloon Alvis of William/Davis was second, and the Blower Bentley third. The participants all reported having enjoyed themselves, and even the Rally Office was emanating a “Good Job Well Done” atmosphere. They had good reason for their satisfaction it had been a particularly well sorted event. TJT