FOUR DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS ON THE ROAD
The Monte Carlo Rally is an immense and immensely difficult automotive test. No other event of its type has so captured the imagination of Europe. Scores of cars start from eight scattered cities on a nonstop 2,500-mile midwinter journey to the Rainier and Grace principality on the Mediterranean. Pausing only to refuel, change tires and make repairs, drivers and co-drivers spend four days and three nights on the road, and the last section—in the mountainous terrain of southern France—is the most arduous. Battling fatigue, the drivers have to fight up narrow switchbacks and over lofty passes in the French Alps, where precipitous drops at roadside promise urgent danger of "the loud silence," that time of dread when a car hurtles off a ledge and soundlessly down until it strikes the rocks below. But because the highest honors arc won in the mountains most of the drivers race through them with desperate haste. The rally is demanding enough when the weather is fine, but last week, as Europe shivered into the second month of its interminable cold wave, the rally routes were a frigid horror. Once again Europe bent a fascinated ear to the radio and television reports of "this great human adventure." And this time there was something for Americans, too.
The new kings of the mountains, in fact, are the Ford Falcon Sprint and a sort of superman named Bo Ljungfeldt. The Sprint is Ford's latest high-performance model driven by a 260-cubic-inch, eight-cylinder engine. Ford entered three of the cars in the rally, the first serious American invasion in its 52-year history. Le Grand Bo, as 40-year-old Bo Tage Georg Ljungfeldt came to be known, is a tall, blue-eyed and balding Swede of no previous rally fame. Last week he stormed through the mountains in a Falcon Sprint with such ferocious zeal that he would have won the rally outright but for penalties received elsewhere on the journey.
As a consequence of these penalties, the highest awards were captured by Ljungfeldt's compatriots, Erik Carlsson and Ewy Rosqvist. A giant of a man possessed of a potbelly worthy of St. Nicholas, Carlsson achieved a rare double by placing first overall for the second consecutive year. He drove a little red Swedish SAAB, a three-cylinder, front-wheel-drive car, and in the mountains he used straight gasoline in his windshield washers to fight freezing rain. Mrs. Rosqvist, la blonde Ewy in the French press, is the glamorous young woman who made headlines last fall in Argentina by defeating 254 men in that country's longest and most famous road race. Last week she and her co-driver, Ursula Wirth, won the esteemed Monte Carlo Ladies Cup, defeating all other women's teams. It was not an easy triumph. In Frankfurt, Germany, while on the rally route, she had an aching wisdom tooth pulled, with Co-driver Wirth holding her pretty head as a hurriedly summoned dentist wielded his pliers in a roadside restaurant. What's more, she had to drive her big, gray Mercedes in the final rally speed test on the Monte Carlo Grand Prix racing circuit just an hour after suffering a painful leg bruise when a rally car plunged off course and sent a 100-pound protective hay bale flying into her.
February 4, 1963
Despite the magnificent skill and courage of the Swedes, however, the Falcons were the biggest news of the event. Said a London newspaper, "The Falcons are part of a power and performance plan that will shake up motoring in every country of the world." In last week's shaking, a Falcon (not Bo's) won first prize in its class when the opposing British Jaguar failed to finish at all.
But there was not and perhaps never has been anything quite like the performance of the great Bo. Ljungfeldt said aftterward, between gulps of his favorite restorative, Scotch and Coca-Cola, that he "never slept" during his 71 hours on the road and was relieved at the wheel by his co-driver and countryman, Gunnar Haggbom, for a mere five hours of the journey. The Swedish, he said, who do much of their winter driving on tricky, snow-covered gravel roads, come naturally by their winter driving skills. They dote on night road competition, too. Casually, he reported encountering fog so thick on the Col de Perty, a chilly, 4,275-foot-high pass, that he had to poke his head out the window to see 10 yards ahead. He estimated his speed along this perilous, ice-coated route at 100 mph. Beside him sat Haggbom, a man with nerves as cool as Ljungfeldt's, calmly speaking directions from his reconnaissance notes. "Hoger," he would call for an approaching right-hand bend, "vanster" for a left.
Ljungfeldt's daring is all the more remarkable since he knew that his chances of winning the rally were approximately nil. He already had lost 31 precious minutes before Chambéry, the vermouth-producing city in southeast France from which the final 470-mile mountain run began, and in rallying a driver is penalized 30 points for each minute he is officially late at a control center (thus Ljungfeldt was down 930 points). Twenty-seven other drivers—including the remarkably steady Carlsson and Mrs. Rosqvist—came into Chambéry clean, although of the 296 rally starters only 216 reached Chambéry at all, and of these a mere 102 completed the final lap to Monte Carlo. The atrocious weather conditions, not the drivers or the cars, were at fault.
The events that caused Ljungfeldt's penalties might have crushed a less zealous spirit. On the first night Bo hung his Falcon out over an embankment in the south of France. After getting hauled back onto the road he was delayed in a jam-up of rally cars on a relatively gentle but snow-choked hill road west of the town of Lod√®ve, still in the south. Like the Falcons, these cars had begun the rally where they were to finish it—at Monte Carlo. The snarl was so bad that it ended then and there any hope for two-thirds of the 32 Monte Carlo starters. It also prompted, as we shall see, a spate of ridiculous press reports blaming the Ford "wagons," so termed because they are big by European standards (if compact by ours), for the mess.
The jam came dangerously near to scuttling the Falcons altogether. Delayed beyond the one-hour time limit for reporting to the next control, and thus put out, were Mrs. Anne Hall, Yorkshire's famed motoring mum, and her pretty, perky co-driver, Margaret Mackenzie of Dundee. Mrs. Hall, mother of three children, of whom the eldest is 18, is equally at home pouring tea in a decorous English parlor or standing on the throttle of a powerful rally car. She was the Monte Carlo Ladies Cup winner of 1961 and was thought to have a fine chance this year.
The tie-up also cost the Falcon of British Racing Driver Peter Jopp and Co-driver Trant Jarman, a British-born Detroit advertising man, 13 penalty minutes. Though they ultimately were the crew to win the class trophy for Ford, they were penalized ruinously in the overall standings, finally placing 35th.
Ljungfeldt himself lost only one minute at Lod√®ve, but next day in the north of France a tire blew as his Falcon was skimming along at 100 mph or so. There was no damage, and the tire was quickly changed. But then the clutch failed because, despite the generally superb preparation of the Falcons, a mechanic had forgotten to install a 1¢ cotter key. For 50 miles Ljungfeldt screamed on without the use of the clutch. Repairing it at one of the 37 Ford service points along the route cost Ljungfeldt the precious penalty minutes that lost him the rally. During the second night the fan jounced around and ripped Ljungfeldt's radiator hose, emptying the coolant. He had to replace the hose with a spare and wake up a farmer at 3 a.m., hustling him out into the cold to pump a replenishing supply of water from his well. Even so, he was able to reach the control at Rheims on time. He could not, however, recoup what he had already lost.
On the last leg from Chambéry the already defeated Ljungfeldt was magnificent. Driving without sleep, taking only Coca-Cola with a dextrose additive and a few cookies for nourishment, he negotiated six special speed stages below Chambéry—90 hideous miles of snow, ice, freezing rain and fog on high, twisty trails, some too narrow for two cars to pass abreast. The Great Bo beat Erik Carlsson's time by no less than four minutes and 24 seconds. With a handicap figured in, one unfavorable to the big-engined Fords, Ljungfeldt still defeated Carlsson on the special stages by nine points. Had he arrived at Chambéry clean, Ljungfeldt, who finished 43rd overall, would have beaten Carlsson by those nine points and increased his advantage in the Grand Prix speed test. For he was faster there, too, and for that last event no handicap was scored.
The reader may have concluded by now that rallying, Monte Carlo style, is a form of lunacy. Even when it is clear that a third of the cars are entered by manufacturers whose sole aim is to give their products glamour, what of the cars driven by amateurs? Against the factories their chances for major prizes are incalculably small. These amateurs spend a great deal of money, but only a fraction of the $2 million invested in last week's Monte Carlo. Perhaps the British magazine, The Motor, was right when it declared that the Monte Carlo "is for many people the last avenue of escape from the deadly normality of daily life."
Among the escapees was a rare variety of men and women: Church of England clergymen, a major in the Queen's Household Cavalry, a pair of motoring journalists past 50, the French Prince of Bourbon-Parma, in whose veins flows the blood royal, a former French women's tennis champion. Professionals and amateurs alike take the risks for granted, as this writer quickly discovered. "If we thought about driving off a mountain," said one rallyman before the start, "I don't suppose we'd be here in the first place."
The question was not why people went rallying but who might win. Who was best prepared? Which starting place—Lisbon, Monte Carlo, Glasgow, Paris, Athens, Warsaw, Frankfurt or Stockholm—would be the most favorable? The consensus was that the Stockholm route, flat for many miles and with two ferry crossings permitting a little serene sleep, was very good, and the one from Monte Carlo among the worst. Events proved the prophets right. Both winning Swedes had started from Stockholm. Ford chose Monte Carlo, despite the mountains on the outbound route, because the Falcon Sprints were first unveiled there and because there would be no red tape crossing frontiers; the entire route, apart from the principality itself, lay in France.
Ford spared no expense to outfit a superior team. Under Competition Manager George Merwin and Team Manager Jeffery Uren, a seasoned British rally-man, the three Falcons were tuned and equipped by John Holman, the race-wise American who prepares Ford Galaxies for stock car events at home. For night driving each Falcon had two fog lamps and two brilliant "flamethrowers" of searchlight candlepower, one forward and the other planted firmly on the roof. A huge supply of spare parts was carried in each car.
Starting in November, each team of drivers practiced the route endlessly, logging 15,000 to 18,000 miles of practice. Besides the 37 service depots, there were special support Falcons, each driven by a rally veteran and manned by two mechanics. These cars were to leapfrog the rally route and be ready to assist the team at designated points. If Britain's Sam Croft Jones had not gone sprinting in his service Falcon for a wrecker to pull Ljungfeldt out of his first mishap, Bo might now be just another Swede.
I rode with a Falcon support car. From the first the weather was bitter as our car climbed steeply into the mountains from Monte Carlo. By dinnertime, after we had seen Anne Hall and Peter Jopp flash through the silent, frozen streets of Serres, the slightest grade was an obstacle for our ordinary tires. But next morning, after a night in a tiny inn, we discovered that we could move reasonably quickly. While the two surviving Falcons were speeding northward in the west of France, we hurried north to catch the rally at St. Loup, near the German border. That night we left two bottles of drinking water in the car. Both froze and one burst by morning.
Farms lay under a thin blanket of snow. Cyclists, with their cargoes of French bread, pedaled the roads wearing enormous gloves that looked like hockey goalies' mitts. At midmorning Jopp and Jarman stopped to chat. We gave them some chocolate and cheese. They told us about the tie-up beyond Lod√®ve. "We'd have been home and dry if there hadn't been such a bloody lot of rally cars in trouble ahead of us," said an irate Jopp.
By then there had been vague reports that Falcons had blocked the Lod√®ve road. We later saw such accusations in the press, but back in Monte Carlo the Falcon drivers were furious. Said Jarman: "We had to stop on a little easy col because eight or nine other rally cars ahead of us were stuck. Bo was in front of us. We could not go on, so we changed from normal tires to spiked tires. Changing took a few minutes, but we sat for half an hour or so, unable to move. Then a car ahead got clear. Bo charged a snowbank and got through. We did the same." Later at St. Loup we heard other tales: "All Athens starters stopped by snowdrifts in Yugoslavia," "All Lisbon starters out." Stockholm and Paris starters in the meantime obviously were doing well. We saw them go by in large numbers.
From St. Loup we pushed south to Chambéry. Patches of ice were succeeded by slick, hard-packed snow. Chambéry was unbelievably cold. Hot waffles were served from an open van. Mechanics worked mightily, changing tires and making repairs. Drivers were bone-weary. Britain's Peter Harper, who had taken a works Sunbeam Rapier on a 120-mile side trip in Germany because a rally road and alternate roads were closed, nevertheless came into Chambéry clean. He said: "I feel as though I've done two rallies already." He looked like a dead man.
Another Sunbeam driver, Peter Procter, had got to Chambéry with no time demerits only because he sealed off a leaking cylinder-head gasket by using an old trick—dropping the whites of two eggs into the radiator. Later his heater failed and he used another, more expensive trick—pouring brandy on the windshield to clear the quickly forming ice.
During the hard Chambéry-Monaco run many drivers gulped what the British call wakey-wakey pills. The Rev. Rupert Jones, curate of Rochdale, offered his sidekick, the Rev. Philip Morgan of London, a small pill. "Will you have a cup of tea?" asked Jones. "Thank you, I shall," replied Morgan. "It was," said Morgan, back in Monte Carlo, "a very nice outing."
Snow fell all through the third night. My car traveled the safer, main roads. They were hairy enough, and I could imagine as we slipped and slid up and down mountains the frozen hell of the rally itself—traveling the highest and worst roads. But then rally drivers are another breed. "After Chambéry it was wonderful," said Bo Ljungfeldt's partner, Gunnar Haggbom. "What a fabulous car! What a wonderful ride from Chambéry!" said Trant Jarman.
"A beautiful car! I would start another rally tomorrow," said The Great Bo Ljungfeldt, pouring Coca-Cola into his Scotch.