The Paris Amsterdam Rally crews have been driving beneath beautifully bright and sunny skies today, heading along the Deutsche Weinstrasse to our overnight halt in Stuttgart, Germany’s Motown, where automotive giants Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are based. Along the way crews have enjoyed an entertaining track test at the delightful 1km Kartbahn Liedolsheim and four regularity sections, the last of them on the historic Solitude road circuit, which first hosted a competitive event in 1925 and became one of Germany’s greatest racetracks, used by motorcycles, F1 and F2 cars until the 1960s (the road down from Castle Solitude into Stuttgart has an even longer motorsport pedigree, having first seen competition in 1903).
A Rally Round event – even a short, relatively intense one such as the Paris Amsterdam Rally – is not all about competition. In addition to driving their lovely old cars through picturesque vineyards and sun-dappled forests, crews had time for sociable coffee stops at atmospheric cafes, not to mention a good lunch at the Restaurant Deutsches Weintor Rechtenbach, adjacent to the great ‘Wine Gate’ that marks the southern end of the Weinstrasse. Nevertheless a frisson of competition makes even the most scenic journey more exciting, and everyone is doing their level best to achieve a good result, whether their aim is to win a trophy, beat their friends (or husbands, eh girls?) or simply improve their own performance.
Of course it hardly needs repeating that rallying is an unpredictable sport. In Chantilly, we thought that Alfa Romeo Giulia crew Barry and Roma Weir might win the Classic category, yet at the end of Day 3 they’ve slipped back to third overall, five seconds behind the storming MGB of Ronan and Frank Hussey, who are themselves six seconds adrift of the overall leaders, Steve and Julia Robertson in their Triumph TR3.
Meanwhile a fascinating battle has developed at the top of the Vintage category, as Alvis Speed 20 crew Jan Woien and Jan Hansen, now fourth overall, trade test and regularity times with the Talbot AV 105 of Richard Dresner and Colin Mackenzie. Richard and Colin lost more than a minute at Hockenheim yesterday but today clawed a chunk of that back today with the best regularity performance of all. Third place in the Vintage category is currently held by Martin Tacon and his daughter Alexandra in their Aston Martin Le Mans, but we must mention a dark horse coming up on the rails in the form of Robert and Helen Stoneman’s 1943 Alvis Firebird Special. You might recall that Robert and Helen won their place on the event in our competition earlier this year, and this is not only their first event together but Helen’s rally debut. To have picked up only 23 penalties today – two fewer than the Woien/Hansen Alvis – is a remarkable achievement indeed. Another car to watch is the classic 1963 MGB of Andy Actman and Jackie Quinan, who have suddenly moved up from 11th place to sixth overall.
Inevitably – because even the youngest car on the event is 40 years old – several crews have been struggling with mechanical gremlins. Most notable of these are the unfortunate Charles Miles and Carole Bodell, whose troublesome Lagonda M45 has finally been sent home on a truck. The stylish pair are now enjoying the comfort and reliability of a convertible Mercedes-Benz hire car, so the rest of their journey should be rather less stressful. Another crew to miss the day’s competition were Lamborghini Urraco crew Andy and Judith Owler, who felt a bit off-colour and decided to drive straight to the hotel. We wish them well, and hope they feel better in the morning.
Speaking of Mercedes-Benz, the 1952 220 B Cabrio of Hans Peter and Judith van Eck developed a spot of transmission trouble, requiring the assistance of expert rally mechanics Richard Last and David Ellison. Another Merc, the decade-younger 190 SL of Stephen and Karen Freeman had carburettor problems; the crew are also looking for a way of stopping their Time Cards from flying off the car’s bonnet as they accelerate away from a Control…
The 1967 MGB GT of William Thomas-Davies and Christine Tacon has encountered a few problems too but they are taking them in their stride, observing that these things pale into insignificance in the company of such a lovely bunch of people. There is indeed a wonderful sense of cameraderie about this rally, and the friendliness is infectious – the big 1917 American LaFrance of John and Catherine Harrison might not be the fastest machine on the road but it is certainly the most popular, turning heads everywhere, stopping traffic in central Stuttgart and being filmed on mobile phones wherever it goes. John is hoping he’ll go viral!
Meanwhile, as first seen on our inaugural Odyssey Italia Rally in the Mediterranean last September, a good-humoured transatlantic rivalry continues between the two Chevrolet Corvette crews, Brits Stephen and Kim Lloyd and Americans Danny and Valerie Day. However, at this afternoon’s track test Stephen threw his bright red road rocket around the Kartbahn with such gusto that it needed to be excused from the final regularity, while the Days’ car required the attention of all four rally mechanics in Stuttgart; having missed dinner, they were still working on it in the hotel’s underground car park while everyone else was enjoying a nightcap in the bar. Asked by Heidi what the problem was, Danny offered a full and frank explanation: “Basically, it’s f****** orange.”
We love old cars. We really do.