When all goes well in the Monte Carlo, Europe's most famous automobile rally, almost nobody finishes. Last year went beautifully, and rally organizers rubbed their hands in glee. Snowbanks 16 feet deep blocked everyone unfortunate enough to have started in Athens. Of 296 starters, only 98 made it to the Mediterranean principality.
This year, striving for even better things—perhaps with nobody finishing—officials changed the date of the competition to insure the worst possible weather and then added Minsk to the list of starting places. The latter move was a stroke of good fortune. While starters from Oslo and Glasgow and five other cities were running into depressingly balmy weather, a fast-talking, faster-driving little Irishman from Belfast named Paddy Hopkirk was having a colorful time—and colorful troubles—in Minsk.
Hopkirk's trip actually started in 1912 in the days of the czars when a mad fellow named Nagel negotiated the 2,000 miles between St. Petersburg and Monte Carlo in eight days, in an open car. "Now, could I do anything less than Nagel?" asked Paddy. So with 21 other Westerners he drove to Brest-Litovsk and then to Minsk. On hand to greet him with caviar and vodka were five Soviet rally teams and Leonid Afnassiev, president of the Soviet Automobile Federation. "We never imagined," said he, "that there would be more than two Soviet vehicles and five foreign cars wanting to start here."
Right from the outset Paddy was a great success with the Russians. "They had never seen a Republic of Ireland passport before," he explained modestly. "I'm from Belfast, but I was educated in southern Ireland in a church school and later studied engineering at Trinity College in Dublin. That's when I acquired my passport, and I've never changed to a British one. Some silly Englishman told the Russians I had worked with the Irish Republican Army and that made me more popular."
Crowds gathered early in the morning to look at the Western rally cars. "Humiliating it was, too," remarked Paddy, who was driving a little Morris-made Mini Cooper, "because it was so bloody cold that we could never get our motors going. They said it was only 20° below zero but it felt more like 50°. Anyway, we pushed our cars or had them towed to the main square. The Russians asked us seriously whether that was the way we normally started an automobile in the winter in England."
While Paddy and his navigator, Henry Liddon, a Morris car salesman from Bristol, were fighting to survive in Minsk, Monte Carlo rally connoisseurs were freely predicting a smashing victory for a newcomer to European rallies, Ford of Detroit. Last year these same experts snickered and chortled when, for the first time, the American firm started three Falcon Sprints in the Monte Carlo. But they were "laughing yellow," as the French say, when big Bo Ljungfeldt of Sweden in an "oversize, unwieldy" Falcon swept all five speed stages, establishing an alltime record. Had it not been for an early rally penalty, "Le Grand Bo" would have won, and it was only his first "Monte."
This year Ford decided to enter six factory Falcons and hire the finest crew of rally drivers of any manufacturer. Besides Ljungfeldt, there was the 1962 world racing champion, Graham Hill; the top French drivers, Jo Schlesser and Henri Greder; and Peter Harper of Britain. Ford also bid for the women's cup by entering a seasoned English rally driver, Anne Hall, with the 1964 rally's only American girl, Denise McCluggage of New York.
But Ford had no monopoly on American participation. Chrysler made its European rally debut with three Plymouth Valiants powered by new V-8 engines. Unlike Ford, Chrysler spent little time reconnoitering the five dangerous speed stages between the Alps and Monaco. They also counted on Americans to drive and navigate. One of them was the U.S. rally champion, Scott Harvey of Detroit but, as old Monte hands saw it, Chrysler was "un bon outsider."
Many European car people, who resented the "big push" from Detroit, confidently predicted a third consecutive victory for the towering, potbellied, pleasant-mannered SAAB engineer from Sweden, Erik Carlsson. Interest in Carlsson was greatly increased, at least sentimentally, by the fact that his wife, Pat Moss (Stirling's sister), would also drive a factory SAAB from Oslo.
With 91 of the 299 competitors beginning there, the Norwegian capital was the favorite starting spot. This is explained by the Scandinavian drivers' passion for driving on ice and snow, the Nordic authorities' competence in clearing snowbound roads (in Yugoslavia or Spain or southern France it is quite another story), and the relaxing ferryboat rides to Denmark. The drivers' confidence was not misplaced, for nine of the first 11 finishers started from Norway.
Otherwise, there was not much to choose among starting from Frankfurt or Lisbon or Monte Carlo itself. The distances of the different itineraries varied very little, from the 3,013 miles from Frankfurt to the 2,760 miles from Minsk. As always, all drivers had to take the "common route," a winding, 875-mile journey from Reims to Monte Carlo via the Jura Mountains, 3,000- to 5,000-foot Alpine passes and the tortuous Maritime Alps. Sprinkled through the mountainous route were the five speed stages that were meant to separate the sheep from the goats.
Alas for the Scandinavians, who prayed for snow. There was none. Disgusted drivers had to settle for a wee bit of fog and sparse patches of ice. The Carlssons, who had started 70 minutes apart, were both so far in advance that they had time in Germany for a family chat. At Reims, drivers sipped champagne in an improvised barbershop where many were shaved. "This isn't a rally," sighed Chrysler's Harvey, "it's a joyride."
While the experts continued to watch the Fords, Chryslers and Carlssons waltz around western Europe, nobody was paying any attention to the little Irishman on the Caviar Road from Minsk in his "little red biscuit tin on wheels." Hopkirk slept every night from midnight to 8 in the morning while Liddon droned on at 85 or 90 miles an hour. Their worst obstacle was Paddy's Irish passport. At the Polish and Czechoslovak frontiers, customs guards inspected curiously, delaying progress considerably.
"Oh, that miserable Irish passport," groaned Liddon. "English pig," retorted Paddy. "Irish bum," replied Henry.
The longest delay came at the Czech border, where officials poked sticks into every corner of the car. "I half expected them to ask me," said Paddy, "if I had anyone to declare. The main thing is they didn't touch that caviar we brought from Russia. We figured on selling it for more profit than we could make winning first prize [$2,400]."
Meanwhile the two Soviet Moscovitch 403s and the three Volga M 21 ms were having trouble. They had taken the rally rule book literally and concluded that service cars in front of and behind them were illegal. So they loaded hundreds of pounds of tires and spare parts in each of the five cars. By way of contrast, Erik Carlsson said to his navigator: "Get rid of those loose coins in your pocket or change them into bills. No extra weight in this SAAB, please."
The Soviet drivers were also having map trouble. They had ordered a set of five maps from a French automobile club well before the rally, but somehow only one set ever arrived. That obliged the five cars to stick pretty much together. In Li√®ge, Belgium, they rushed into the automobile club and finally acquired four extra maps of the Reims-Monte Carlo road.
Rally officials were dismayed when they counted noses at Reims. No fewer than 274 out of 299 starters had reached the city of champagne, most of them un-penalized. If any old Sunday driver could complete the great Monte Carlo rally, they reasoned, who would ever take the race seriously again?
"Then all of a sudden the joyride somehow turned into a nightmare," recalled Harvey. "We knocked ourselves out trying to stay on time. We would roar into a gas station, help ourselves to a tankful, toss a couple of what we hoped were big enough French bills at the bewildered attendant and speed off."
What had happened to turn the rally into a rat race? A far tighter time schedule, the speed stages, the accumulated fatigue of 72 hours of nonstop driving, nightfall and scary Alpine roads.
Trant Jarman and his American teammate, Sam Croft Pearson, began to feel groggy. "We may have been breathing gas fumes," Jarman said. "We had a cockeyed conversation in which I asked Sam how much time we had left and he replied that double rooms were more expensive than single ones. At one point when I thought I was going pretty fast, a woman on a bicycle passed me by."
The biggest problem for all drivers was deciding what kind of tires to use in the Alps above Monaco. Here the road was dry, there it became icy. The Misses Hall and McCluggage put on the wrong tires, those with big studs, and their Falcon advanced on the last speed stage like a crab. "The car was absolutely unmanageable," Anne said.
Bo Ljungfeldt had similar trouble. "I never knew just which tires we should have on," he said, "and if I were to do the rally all over again tomorrow, I still wouldn't know." Nevertheless, Bo won every one of the speed tests. Well, not quite. On the third lap the big Falcon was tied by that little red Mini. Paddy was making his bid for victory. When rally fans in Monte Carlo learned Hopkirk's and Ljungfeldt's times, they exclaimed: "It's David and Goliath!" A 6-foot 4-inch Swede in the rally's biggest car against a 5-foot 8-inch Irishman in one of the rally's smallest.
Battling for what seemed like third place were the two Carlssons. "Bravo Erik," shouted rally spectators in the Maritime Alps, as the small red SAAB whipped by, but the driver was often Pat, not Erik. Driving brilliantly, powerfully, Pat Moss beat her husband by 17 seconds on the fourth lap and was less than 50 seconds behind him after the speed times were totaled.
Between Chambéry and Monte Carlo about 100 cars fell by the wayside. George Parkes and Arthur Senior, two Britons in a Reliant Sabre, had a blowout, somersaulted over an embankment and landed right side up at the foot of a wall, a bit shaken. Few drivers were seriously injured. Even Pauline Mayman, whose Austin Cooper collided with another car and was burned, escaped with a broken rib and fractured leg.
In all, 163 competitors completed the rally within the allowed time, among them Prince Michel de Bourbon-Parme. All five Soviet cars finished but were disqualified for being late. "We will be back next year and hope to do better," their drivers said cheerfully at a cocktail party given by the U.S. Ford team.
For several hours after the rally no one knew who had won. That was because of a complicated handicap system based upon the car's class and its cylinder capacity. In other words, while Ljungfeldt obviously had a much more powerful automobile than Hopkirk, Paddy had the advantage of a better handicap. So did the Carlssons in their little SAABs. When the results were announced, Hopkirk was leading Erik Carlsson by 31 seconds, Pat by 46, Timo Makinen of Finland (who also was in a Mini Cooper) and Bo Ljungfeldt, both by 64 seconds.
But there was still a three-lap, just-over-six-mile pure speed race on the Grand Prix circuit, with no handicaps for size or power, to decide the overall winner. Ljungfeldt was expected to pick up one place in the standings by going faster than Makinen. Bo did better than that. He picked up 30 to 50 seconds, enough to pass Makinen and both Carlssons and win second place behind beaming Paddy. For Carlsson it was a great disappointment not to win a third straight rally, but he (and SAAB) were consoled by Pat's superb fifth-place performance, the highest that any woman has ever finished in Monte Carlo.
Chrysler's best Valiant placed 88th, which is obviously nothing to write home to Detroit about. But, in all fairness, Chrysler made nothing like the massive effort of Ford. As for Ford, officials in Monte Carlo were understandably jubilant about Ljungfeldt's remarkable performance and satisfied with, if not elated over, the showing of all the other Falcons, two of which were in the first 11 finishers. "We missed winning the Monte Carlo rally by a mere 30 points," said Team Manager George Merwin. "We will be back next year—to win."
But the happiest and most surprised fellow in Monte Carlo was 31-year-old Paddy Hopkirk. "We knew we had run a good rally," he said, "but when we saw the dry roads and sunny skies in the French Alps, we said to ourselves, 'The Fords have it clinched.' " Far from it, the Morrises enjoyed a team triumph with first, fourth and seventh places. Paddy, however, was pleased for another reason. "I shall meet Princess Grace. She has an Irish background. Do you think I ought to tell her," he asked with a brogue, "that I'm Irish, too?"