To be truthful, there is nothing else quite like it in the whole wide world except perhaps its two-wheeled forerunner. The event is, of course, the Tour de France Automobile or, more simply, the Tour Auto, which although it is classified this year by the F.I.A. as a race meeting is still closer to a rally than, say, the 24-hour race at Le Mans, which is why it is being considered in this column.
For those of you who still think I am talking about a bicycle race, I should explain that the Tour Auto is organised annually by the Automobile Club of Nice with the very active participation of the French Shell Oil Company, the sporting paper L’Equipe, and many other firms including Dunlop. The idea of the event is very simple; a large number of French racing circuits are selected, together with an equal number of hill-climbs, and then ten days or so are taken up driving around between them, with every other night being spent in a hotel at one of the selected towns. This may sound like a very relaxing way to go rallying but anyone who has competed in this event will be quick to disabuse you of that fallacy. The actual amount of rest that the drivers get is very small and, by the end of the ten days, their physical resources are being strained to the maximum.
It goes without saying that the Tour Auto is no less of a strain on the cars that take part, and one feature of the event is the very high proportion of retirements. As an example of this, between 1960 and 1962 the number of starters remained constant at 116 while the number of finishers fell from 48 to 46, and in 1963 only 31 survived from 122 Starters. It was thought that this year there would be a much larger entry than usual as the organisers had accepted getting on for 180 cars, but it was evident that they were used to receiving optimistic entries that never materialised as the final number that actually rolled off the ramp in Lille was only 117. A big disappointment to the club must have been the non-appearance of the three works Ferraris, for Enzo had retired to Modena with his three 275LMs to lick the wounds inflicted on him by unsympathetic officialdom. Rootes had decided to retire the three Tigers for which they had reserved entries, so that the main attraction for the crowds that line the route was the sight of “old” Ferrari GTOs in the hands of Lucien Bianchi, Jean Guichet, David Piper, Fernand Tavano. Claude Dubois, Annie Soisbault, and A.C. Shelby Cobras driven by Maurice Trintignant, Bob Bondurant and Andre Simon. The other points of interest in the GT category were a String of works Porsche GTSs, some very noisy Alfa Romeo GTZs, a works M,G.-B for Andrew Hedges, three works Spitfires from Standard Triumph, and any number of screaming little Renault Alpines and Rene Bonnet Djets.
American Ford V8 engines formed the power plants for the big attractions in the Touring category where the Ford Galaxie of Sir Gawaine Baillie weighed in at 7-litres and was closely followed by four Ford Mustangs, one entered by Ford France for Henri Greder and the other three by Alan Mann Racing for Peter Harper., Peter Procter and the Swedish ace, Bo Ljurigfeldt. As might have been expected, Jaguars had a powerful entry headed by Bernard Consten, who has won the Touring category for the past four years. Alfa Romeo Giulias and two works Lotus Cortinas were the cars expected to do well on handicap, although the 1300 Cooper S of Rauno Aaltonen and the 970 Cooper Ss of Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Makinen and Pauline Mayman were expected to do well as Hopkirk won the Touring handicap in a 997-c.c. Cooper last year.
The opening stages of the Tour went very much as expected for, as the only tests were the very fast circuits of Reims, Rouen and Le Mans, with just a very short hill-climb at the Col du Bramont on the first night, the big A.C. Shelby Cobras held the lead in the GT category from the Ferraris of Bianchi and Guichet, while the Ford Mustangs were in a comfortable lead over the jaguars. One disappointment for Fords was the very early retirement of the Galaxie, which had blown up at the end of the racing at Reims, and Ford hopes in the GT category were soon to fail with the retirement of the Cobras, three of which retired at Le Mans with engine trouble and the leading car of Trintignant dropped out very shortly afterwards with a wheel bearing gone. Just after Le Mans, too, the Lotus Cortina of Henry Taylor retired with a seized engine and left the Vic Elford/David Seigle-Morris car to continue the chase of Fernand Masoero in the Alfa Romeo, who was leading the Touring category handicap. When the twisty circuits and hills of the south were reached, even the Alfa’s 5-speed gearbox could not cancel out the Lotus Cortina’s superior handling, and a stop for the Alfa on the circuit at Clermont Ferrand to replace a water hose finally gave the Lotus Cortina a safe lead.
The other challengers for the Touring handicap were the Mini-Coopers hut by the half-way stage the 1300S of Aaltonen was out with the oil filter fallen off at Le Mans, and the 1072S of Geoff Mabbs had retired with a very sick engine. This left the three works 97oSs„ but at Clermont, Pauline Mayman went off and only completed two laps, while Timo Makinen had a driveshaft break, jury-rigged it on the circuit and limped into the pits for the mechanics to fix it, and was able to continue but well down on the Cortina. Thus only Paddy Hopkirk was left to challenge the Ford, but on the crossing of the Alps on the way to Monza, his drive-shaft broke as well and this time there were no mechanics handy. To complete the disaster for B.M.C., Timo Makinen failed to make the finish after being in collision with a non-competing car in ‘Turin. This had been a very hard event for the Minis, which, for tactical reasons, had often negotiated long portions of the road section on racing tyres whose firmer wall construction and higher working pressures had resulted in a lot of the unevenness of the road surfaces being transferred to the suspension and drive Components.
The Mustangs did not have an entirely trouble-free run and only two of them finished as Greder blew up his engine making back service time on the road section and Ljungfeldt was excluded on some rather dubious pretext at one of the time controls after the race at Pau. The two surviving Alan Mann cars were never seriously challenged by the Jaguar of Gonsten, and although they did have trouble with the chassis starting to crack, they finished the event literally touring round the circuits, with the two Peters coming past the pits making sleeping signs.
After the disappearance of the Cobras from the fray, the Ferraris turned on one another, and when Tavano retired with two blown pistons the battle between Bianchi in his silver GTO and Guichet in his red car with which he won last year was really on. At the circuits, Guichet was invariably the faster driver, but he was fully extended and at Pau, for instance, he took to the flower beds on more than one occasion to keep ahead of the Belgian driver. He had had an initial set-back at Reims where he had had to make a pit stop to change plugs which he had omitted to do on the way to the circuit as had Bianchi. The same story was repeated throughout the event, with Bianchi outthinking the French driver at every stage; not extending himself on the circuits, and thus risking the car, and being quickest up the hills as he had a very experienced co-driver, Georges Berger, to read him his pace notes. A triumph of brain over brawn.
In the GT handicap, the works Porsches of Robert Buchet and Gunther Klass were never seriously challenged, though it is certain that if the Triumph Spitfire of Rob Slotemaker and Terry Hunter had had a trouble-free run on the road they would have been very close behind Klass. The Spitfire had the misfortune to run out of petrol through a miscalculation on the tightest of the road sections in the Pyrenees and was penalised for lateness, which its subsequent performance of best on handicap at Clermont Ferrand could not alter. On the whole, the Alfa Romeo GTZs did not have a very successful time for Ganpiero Biscaldi and Edgar Berney went out at Rouen when the mechanical rev.-counter stuck and the engine blew up, while the Targa Florio expert,”Kim,” and Bruno Deserti flew off in the Pyrenees. At the finish there was only the GTZ of Jean Rolland and Gabriel Augias left, and in this car, which had already won the Alpine Rally for Alfas, the reliable French pair finished third to the two Porsches on handicap after a very successful last night of climbing in the Alps. B.M.C.’s only hope in the GT category had been the M.G.-B of Andrew Hedges and John Sprinzel which had retired with a blown gasket in the Pyrenees.
The thirteenth Tour Auto thus ended in a double triumph for Ford in the Touring category and a win for Ferrari and Porsche in the GT category. A not-altogether surprising result perhaps, but one that was fully deserved, as I think the other participants would agree.—J. D. F. D.