Historic Rallying - A stage by stage guide

This world of historic rallying is a complex one but, says John Davenport, if you do your research properly then flat out on the stages can be a great way to spend a weekend

Want to go historic rallying? The easiest way to answer this question is to invent a machine for time travel and merely transport the questioner back to whichever period in which he fancies having a go. Otherwise, the poor fellow is faced with many and more difficult choices than those that faced HG Wells’ Time Traveller when he went a bit too far into the future and met the Morlocks and the Eloi.

There is a lot of historic rallying and even for the seasoned veteran, the range and complexity is a bit daunting. The competitor for whom this article is intended is not just standing at one crossroad peering at the reading on its arms, but at a forest of them – well, a copse anyway. So perhaps it would be best to start with broad principles and terminology that will at least help with the navigation. (See the table at the end of this article for a glossary of acronyms.)

The first thing is that the terms ‘classic’ and ‘historic’ are almost synonymous though their usage differs from place to place and from time to time. When it comes to categorising old cars, thanks to the MSA, the VCC and the VSCC there are some certainties at least up to the start of the Second World War. After 1940, competition cars are generally labelled ‘historic’ up to a date which usually conesponds to the end of 1965 but neither our own MSA nor the FIA uses the term ‘classic’ at any point. To confize things further, the term ‘post-historic’ is also used for cars built after the end of 1965 but there is no generally agreed cut-off date for the end of this period. In some cases, it is the end of 1971, or otherwise the end of 1974 or, in a few cases, the end of 1979. There is also the additional complication of our government having created a Whitehall definition of a classic car as a car built before the end of 1972.

What you really need to do is to read the regulations and fineprint for the event or championship that you eventually think of entering and see which criteria are being used. Then there is a fairly major complication in that there are now at least four types of Historic Vehicle Identity Forms available to a British competitor for his car. The first is the full-blown FIA HVIF that looks like a slightly thinner homologation form but with photos of the specific car and notes on what has been altered on it. Then there is the MSA’s HVIF issued by the British ASN. Then FIVA issue their own Identity Cards which are issued by their ANFs and are simpler again. And then there is the new FIA Historic Regularity ‘Car Pass’ which is so new that I have not clapped eyes on one yet. As one might expect, the FIA HVIF is universally recognised while the lesser ones have a role to play in events with appropriate status. It pays to check which documents are going to be accepted by the event you consider entering. So now we have a feel for the sort of age that your chosen vehicle could be. If you want to go historic rallying, ideally your car should have been built before 1974 but, depending on the event, it could be as late as 1979.

The next step is to try and categorise the events so that a choice can be made that suits both the car and the competitor. For instance, if you already have an Alvis Speed Twenty in your possession, then it is safe to say that you would not be well advised to enter it in an historic stage rally. Again in classifying historic rallies there is no completely consistent approach but I think that is true to say that most people would go along with a breakdown into stage rallies, regularity rallies and touring assemblies.

The stage rallies are, almost to a man, replicas of modem stage rallies where the contest is a question of pure speed using special stages closed to all other traffic on tarmac or gravel surfaces. These rallies should only be organised through the proper structure of recognised motor clubs in each country and working with a permit issued through their national automobile club. The cars, the crew and the operational requirements of the event must all comply with similar safety requirements to those in force for modem rallies. Hence the need for roll cages and fire extinguishers in the cars, crash helmets and fire-proof overalls for its occupants, and rescue vehicles and paramedics at the timed stages.

Although I have seen exceptions, historic stage rallies are generally the preserve of the Historic cars with Vintage and Post-Vintage being but rare birds in that particular aviary. With the passing of the years and the consequent ageing of the cars, there has been a gradual upturn of interest in Post-Historic cars. When one considers that the Lancia Stratos has now been around for 25 years or more, it seems only reasonable that such cars should be given a place.

The difficulty comes in establishing clean cut-off points for categories that result in cars of equal competitiveness lining up against one another. And the catch here, especially with the Post-Historics, is that one may be competing with a car built in say, 1980, but, in preparing it for rallying, one has available all the knowledge and parts that were developed during the model’s lifetime. This is one reason for the dominance of Porsche 911s in historic stage rallying. It is also why cars that did not shine in the rallies of their day, like the Lotus Elan and the jaguar E-type, are now pretty competitive on tamiac events thanks to modem developments.

Stage rallies are huge fun in Historic cars as they do not quite possess the handling, fraction and stopping power of modern rally cars, In one year with David Thompson, I did several historic rallies with him in a Porsche 911 and then a couple in a Group A Escort Cosworth. The rallies in the Porsche were enjoyable – even when we hit those logs in Hafren, David! – but the Escort was just something else. I was prepared in part for its speed having several times ‘tested’ in a MG Metro 6R4, but its level of competence was just unbelievable. All the bumps in the notes seemed to disappear and whatever speed you wanted to do, it just did. With the Porsche you felt the whole thing was more cerebral, as you figured out how to get it through the stage in the shortest possible time. Indeed, just as it was in the old days.

The next stratum of competition in historic rallying is regularity events. These often include what are known by the British as ‘manoeuvrability tests’. The whole essence of all these rallies and any tests included within them is that nothing should be set at an average speed of more than 50 kph (30 mph). A regularity section is one where the car is timed to the second at secret controls and penalties given for being ahead or behind the set average speed. This can be, for instance, something like 28.47 mph. It is up to the co-driver to check progress as measured by an accurate odometer against a stopwatch as well as navigating the car through the section. In mountainous territory, the road itself may be enough, when combined with bad weather and the age of the car, to make it hard to keep up. However, regularities are largely a matter of stopping the driver getting ahead of the set average. Some people love them and others can’t stand them.

The same thing goes for manoeuvrability tests. If these contain too many ‘stop astrides’ and ‘reverse into garage’, the drivers complain that they are just ‘half-shaft busters’. It is certainly difficult to design an interesting test that leaves out such things entirely and is still run at less than 30 mph. It is even harder to get a test that is as easy for a Red Label Bentley as for a Mini Cooper, but this can be offset by having proper age and capacity classes in which penalties for tests are awarded for comparative performances within the class and not overall.

Regularity rallies can range from something that you might tackle on a Sunday afternoon through two and three day events up to a week or more. Well considered examples of the latter are the CRA’s Winter Challenge (previously the Monte Carlo Challenge), HERO’s Le Jog and the Royal Motor Union’s Liége-Istanbul-Liége. It is probably clear from the titles, but it won’t hurt to add that costs and durability of both car and crew must rise significantly when you tackle the bigger events. There are yet longer and harder types of event which cross whole continents using historic cars. Events like Panama to Alaska are actually stage rallies but with very long liaison sections, while Peking to Paris was actually a regularity rally without any regularities. I think it must be clear. by now that there is as much variety in historic rallies as there is in can to use.

Which brings me to the point that, for regularity rallies as opposed to stage rallies, there is little that one needs to do in terms of fitting the car out with safety equipment. Provided that it is road legal, you are probably all right. However, you will need an accurate odometer and the regulations for historic events vary quite considerably about what you may use. Some ban electronic instruments and some ban all supplementary odometers thus forcing you to use the one in the speedometer. Most organisers have a measured distance somewhere near the start for you to do your calibrations. In terms of preparing the rest of the car, if the event is a tootle round the Cotswolds, you probably will not need to fit sump guard, extra spotlights, gas-filled dampers and two spare wheels. If, however, you opt for something a bit more ambitious, prepare accordingly.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of an historic rally car must be in want of an historic rally. Certainly, if you own an historic car, especially one that is already a rally car, it is a lot easier to decide what to do with it. The choice between the types of rally depends entirely on the car’s suitability and state of preparation. If however, you possess the desire but not yet the car, then you have the enjoyable and possibly costly prospect of surveying the rally scene and purchasing the ideal car to compete in your chosen area. In this respect, it is always useful to talk to other competitors and in Britain there is no better – or bigger – collection of historic rallyists than the Historic Rally Car Register. In many ways, it was the HRCII’s founding members that created the upsurge in interest in historic rallying so the HRCR and it magazine, Old Stager, are more than just useful references.

For me, if money was no bar, I would get a Ferrari GTO and do the Tour Auto, the Milk Miglia and the Manx Classic every year – but then whom would I get to drive it?