Event of the month -- Rallye Monte Carlo Historique

The spirit of the world's most famous rally is alive and well. John Davenport returned to familiar mountain roads for a taste of Montes past

The original Monte Carlo Rally is one of the oldest events on the international motorsport calendar. In contrast, the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique is not even into its teens, yet has already gained a strong reputation. The Automobile Club de Monaco ran its first such event a mere seven years ago — 'just' 87 after its parent's debut.

Like the original, the event has been subject to minor evolutions to produce an attractive format, and it's working. Open to owners of pre-1977 classic cars, many of which have an actual rally history (both car and driver), it has blended the essence of the legendary rallies past with a modern regularity format. Many of the tweaks have been to accommodate its success and tackle the problems generated by running 350 entries on open public roads.

The major difference between the Monte Carlo Historique and most other regularity rallies is that it sticks firmly to tradition and publishes its route some months before the event. Tradition is also evident in its retention of multiple starting points in major cities — this year they were situated in Oslo, Monte Carlo, Reims, Barcelona and Turin — and a Concentration Run to a common point. This took two days and entailed a night of driving with time and passage controls. From there, a Common Route incorporated 10 regularity runs and a final night in the mountains with three further tests, one of which used the famous Col de Turini. The early publication of the route allows those who so wish to look over some of the regularities, and although they cannot detect where the ACM will place the secret timing points, at least they can eliminate any chance of navigational error as well as trying to assess where it may be difficult to keep up to the set average. As the roads are not closed some less moral competitors try to use 'spotter' cars to radio back the location of the secret controls. To counter this the ACM uses electronic timing with transponders fitted to the rally cars so that the secret controls are often too well hidden to be 'spotted'.

The entry was extremely varied. There were the inevitable hordes of Porsches, Alpine Renaults, Lancias, Alfas, VWs, BMWs, Volvos, Fords, Opels, Datsuns and Mini Coopers, but this staple diet was leavened with Mercedes, Panhards, Jaguars, Fiats, Audis, MGs, Healeys, Citroëns, Peugeots, Renaults, Saabs, Toyotas, Innocentis and a lone Matra.

The crews were equally eclectic. From Formula One came Erik Comas and Patrick Tambay, while from world rallying came Tony Fall, Jean Ragnotti, Christian Dorche, John Buffum, Monty Karlan and 'Tchine'; Paul Easter, Willy Cave and Claude Roure represented the famous co-drivers clan. Another familiar face was that of WRC Mitsubishi driver Gilles Panizzi, who flagged away the Monte Carlo starters, while former world rally champion Didier Auriol was at the Sistéron passage control.

Comas's team of Alpine A110's hit trouble right from the off as two of them had studded tyres deemed to be illegal and thus received large penalties. Then all three, including Ragnotti's, went through a passage control before it had opened: each picked up another 10,000 points.

The conditions that faced the competitors as they converged on Vals les Bains in the Ardèche were less than traditional. It was bitterly cold — minus 12 degrees C as they crossed the Massif Central — but the days were clear with blue skies, sunshine and no snow. The first loop, with its four regularities, covered traditional roads such as Burzet and the Col de Fayolle. Neither proved to be good for British brakes: Archie McLean/ Donald MacLeod lost stopping power in their Escort RS2000 when a hose union unscrewed, while a similar problem hit the ex-Aaltonen Mini Cooper of Peter Barker/Willy Cave on the Fayolle.

After Sunday's loop of tests the huge Plymouth Barracuda of John Buffum/Ralph Beckman held the lead. Neither men were strangers to the Monte Carlo Rally but their car certainly was. One of several prepared in 1968, it was the sister car to the one in which Scott Harvey and Beckman won the Shell 4000. To emphasise the contrasts of this event, just 3.3sec behind them was the diminutive Autobianchi A112 of Stephanie and Pascal Aime.

Snow on the Col de Echarasson provided a thrill on Monday morning and Tony Fall/Mike Kempley found their Datsun 240Z baulked by slower cars after minor brake problems had seen them seeded lower than they would have liked. Geoff McGladdery/Anthony Harris had a similar problem in their Anglia 1200 on Tuesday morning when 'M. Hulot' in a Renault van proved to be their personal chicane.

There were 299 cars still in the hunt in Monte Carlo on Tuesday afternoon, though their penalties stretched from the reasonable to the astronomic. Monty Karlan/Oddvar Moland in their Volvo 142, a winner here the previous year, had been leading in the morning but had now slipped to second behind Marco Aghem/Stefan Delfino in a Lancia Fulvia HF. Aghem, who has twice before been third on the event, extended his lead during the last night for a deserved win.

It was Buffum who pursued him hardest and brought the warbling 5.6-litre into second place as a frustrated Karlan slipped back to finish fifth. It is worth pointing out that after at least 30 secret checks, the gap between Karlan and Aghem was 22.2sec while Aghem's total penalty was just under a minute.

Belgians Main Lopes and Joseph Lambert upheld Mini Cooper honour by finishing seventh in their S. But the real prize for a mini-effort should go to Jean Ferry — winner here in 2003 — who, driven by his wife Corinne in a Fiat 500, only dropped out of the top 10 on the last night after problems with the clutch cable. They still finished an amazing 12th overall.

Like its parent, the child is full of surprises, stories of achievement and pleasure for many.

Long may it be so.