While the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours became accepted highlights of the road racing summer season, over many decades the depths of winter were absolutely dominated by the Monte Carlo Rally. With multiple starting points in major European – and UK – cities, the event used to be so dominated by deep snow and fiendish ice that one unusually mild edition attracted the memorable magazine headline ‘A Piece of Cake with No Icing’.
Was it really serious sport or was it just an annual adventure? For a huge proportion of the Monte Carlo participants through the 1950s and 1960s – and perhaps a fair way into the ’70s – it was a bit of both. Cousins Jackie and Peter Reece tackled it one year in a Ford Popular, and asked how he judged it time to change gear on the higher mountain passes the former explained: “I just wait until the lever starts to glow a nice red, and when it reaches the knob that’s the time to change”.
Some crews ran three or even four up. When Stirling Moss finished second for Sunbeam-Talbot in 1952 he regarded it “…as a considerable adventure – a fun thing to do”. His two passengers were friends, BRDC Secretary Desmond Scannell and The Autocar Sports Editor John A Cooper. “One to navigate and one to serve sandwiches.” They still finished just four seconds behind Sid Allard’s winning Clapham construction.
The Rootes Group enthusiastically supported rallying into the 1960s, and one year a Rootes-backed Humber Super Snipe was entered for a Metropolitan Police team, comprising three rozzers with Peter Harper as a works-attached fourth driver. He had driven a recce on the Col des Léques stage, covering it in 11 minutes, and his Rootes colleague Peter Miller drove over the col before the big Humber arrived and was in a hot bath at the hotel when Harper found him. “There’s no ice,” he was assured, but as Harper later recalled: “We set off to climb the col and on the second bend were met by a Jaguar coming at us sideways and backwards, sliding out of control on sheet ice! So much for our organisation! I don’t think my type of driving can ever have been taught at any police college. Before we had finished the climb I’d been reminded several times by one officer that he had father-loving children at home; another was being violently sick; and the third was roaring encouragement! I missed my time by 11 seconds, not having taken into account how much three large policemen, two spare wheels, and a large tank of petrol weigh…” – not to mention the Super Snipe itself, surely one of history’s less felicitous rally cars?