blank_1.gif 0.0 K blank_1.gif 0.0 K Liege - Targa - Liege
blank_1.gif 0.0 KMotor Endurance Rally Report 1999.

"Cabrios Take Highest Awards".

Overall - Pure Gold. 2 Gold Ordinaire.
1 Silver. 1 Bronze. 1 Finish.

Billed as the last great endurance event of the century, for cars built by the owners, or by works, with components from many different standard production cars, with new bodies. Some of these bodies An Alpine pass at dusk. were replicas of older cars, and others of new designs. It sounded like a great event to be part of, and it went to many motoring venues that I had always wanted to visit. These were the Alpine passes behind Monte Carlo, the Targa Florio course in Sicily, and of course the famous Stelvio pass in Northern Italy, with its 48 hairpin bends!

(Click on pictures to view full size with captions.)

Marlin Cars Ltd., of Crediton, invited me to be the navigator in the works entry, with Mark Mathews, their Technical Director, to be the driver. The car we were to go in was the Marlin Sportster, with its Vauxhall Omega V6 fuel injected engine and gearbox, and Ford Cosworth suspension. A high powered car that stuck to the road like glue. The car was painted yellow - but more of that later!

Scrutineering.The start was from the town of Spa in Belgium on Saturday the 26th September, so we left Tiverton early on the Friday morning, for the 500 mile drive via the Channel Tunnel to scrutineering, (official checking of the car that it had all its necessary documents and was outwardly mechanically sound). We also met the 60 other competitors, as well as the other two Marlins in our team. A Cabrio from Falmouth and another Sportster from Brighton.

We were number 51, which meant that our start time each morning would be 8.51, as the cars left at 1 minute intervals.

Enough of the chatting, after scrutineering it was time for us to ‘sign on’, and receive our ‘road book’ and to attend the drivers briefing. The road book gave all the directions of the route to be followed, and the times that 'controls' that were to be visited were open. The distances between changes in direction in the road book were correct to two decimal places. We like all the other competitors, had previously fitted a very accurate distance recorder, that gave total and intermediate distance, as well as average speed of the car. The event was run at 30mph. (50kph.) average speed, but no marks were lost for early or late arrival at controls. The average was imposed in order that there were no excessive, or slow speeds!

Dashboard Instrumentation.Up at 6.00 (5.00 English time!) to check the car and to mark the maps from the route book, then down to the town square in Spa for the start. We were off at 8.51 and 354.12k’s(220 miles) to the next main control at Donon, west of Strasbourg. The first secret control, to check that we were on the correct rout, and not ‘cheating’ going down the motorways, was after 136k’s(85 miles), and our card was stamped. Our card had to be stamped at each control, and all the cards had to be filled in order to obtain a gold finishers medal. One control missed - a silver, two a bronze, and any more, just a finishers medal.

We passed through the Moselle valley, where they were harvesting the grapes, to make the wine, then through rolling countryside with farms. It was soon after this that Mark thought that the gearbox was noisy on 4th and 5th gears. Disaster! When we arrived at the Donon control, with plenty of time in hand, we looked under the car and oil appeared to be leaking from the gearbox. We therefore borrowed some thicker oil, and put that in, thinking that would quieten it, and leaving the control on time, it did seam quieter, so we pressed on to the overnight halt a Montbreliard, 191k’s away.

We passed through a textile area with a number of mills, and a textile museum! It had been overcast at the start, and had rained on the way, which meant the road was Cars on display. very slippery, so much so that one of the other competitors, a Fisher (Lotus look alike), spun on a corner and finished up in the ditch at the side of the road. Fortunately only the drivers pride was dented and the car was soon back on the road, with the help of many other competitors that stopped to help.

A little further on, disaster struck one of the large 1930 American style Beaufords, when a French car came round a corner on the wrong side of the road and demolished the front near-side of the Beauford - Although their rally was over, luckily no one was injured. Many other cars were stopped at the scene, and there was nothing more we could do, so we continued on to Montbrilard. The hotel turned out to be on the outskirts of the town, and following the route book it took us straight there. We had made this control on time and had the card stamped at the other controls - one day complete- eleven to go!

Sunday arrived all too soon at 6.00, and still dark! The route had to be put onto the map whilst Mark checked the car. The route was to be west of Geneva, through the Jura mountains to Annecy, thence to Val d’Isere and over the Col d’Iseran, at 9087 ft., and eventually to Briancon 560k’s (350 miles) away.

We left at our start time of 8.51, and the gearbox was quiet, and we were in hopeful mood, but we had done only 50 miles, and the gearbox was making more noiseOn route to Salerno. than the exhaust, and we realised that that was the end. We had taken both motor and travel insurance to cover this eventuality, so the first job was to ring them, and to organise to have the car repaired, or to obtain a hire car. However, in due course, a lorry arrived, loaded the car and took us back the ten miles to Le Russey where the lorry and car were locked in the garage, and we were deposited at the local hotel. This was Sunday, and nothing further could be done about mending the Marlin, or obtaining a hire car, and the rally was moving away from us all the time. Ambition dashed - no driving over the French Alps, or even round the Monte Carlo racing circuit.

As we sat in the hotel room, we made many ‘phone calls, Marlin Cars were as disappointed about what had happened as we were, but we had to keep the other Marlins in the event going, and therefore we would continue in a hire car, if possible. Early Monday morning, we went back to the garage, and to speak further with the RAC in order to organise the hire car.

A snowy Stelvio pass.Eventually after we had shown the garage proprietor how to remove the gearbox, we left by taxi for Portalier 30 miles away to collect the hire car. This turned out to be a Peugeot 306, and of course, left hand drive! We eventually left at about 4.00 to catch up the rally again at Marina di Massa on the Italian Rivera. Consulting the maps, the route was through Lausanne and Montreaux to the St Bernard pass, then down the motorway to Genoa and onto Marina di Massa. (Which was the tunnel closed by the lorry fire? - the St Gothard).

The accommodation that night was a youth hostel, with eight to a room in bunk beds. That evening one of the 2CV engined three wheelers returned to the event after breaking down. They had called into a garage, with a very poorly engine. The owner just happened to be the Italian chairman of the 2CV club, and he and his men removed the engine and replaced it with one from his sons car, whilst his wife fed them! The following morning they left to rejoin the rally. This story was typical of many that happened.

As the day started, we were allowed to leave at our correct departure time, and the marshals stamped our road book rather than the official route card.Targa Florio start. The intermediate control was 409k’s away on the shore of a lake just north of Rome, then a further 273k to the overnight halt at Monte Cassino, a total of 423 miles. The first stretch was past Pisa, and we saw the leaning tower for about 10 seconds, as we passed the entrance to the square. Soon after Pisa we passed through a very strange valley with large cooling towers, and many steel pipes coming down the sides of the hills. All very strange, as it seamed to be in the middle of the countryside. Our only conclusion at the time, was that they were harnessing the hot water form underground volcanic springs, The whole of the centre of Italy seems to be of volcanic origins.

So eventually to the lakeside control, where the people of Rome go to sail and water-ski. We then turned east to miss out Rome, and then south to the overnight halt at Monte Casino. About half way there, we had a call on the mobile from one of the other Marlin team members, to say they were lost near the centre of Rome! We suggested that they make for the main motorway going south, and we would meet them at a service station, then continue with them to the hotel.

The first part of the next morning was taken up by a drive into the town square to show off the cars. In the square was a memorial to the soldiers in World War ll, who died Pegusa racing circuit 1 during the bombardment of the Monastery, which was being defended by the Germans. The Monastery controlled the area for many miles around because of its location on the top of a small mountain, and was attacked by the allies until the Monastery itself was totally destroyed. It has since been totally re-built, but the masonry still bore the scars. Leaving the square we drove up to the Monastery, to see it at close quarters, - most impressive.

Soon, after a few photographs, we departed for the journey further south, again through the volcanic region round the back of Vesuvius to Eboli, in land from Salerno, 250k’s from Monte Casino. We thought that we would soon be on some straight roads - not likely - at least 20 miles of no straights what so ever! Most of the time we were passing through forests of sweet chestnuts, which were ripe and were littering the roads. Eventually to the hotel in Scalea, situated on the top of the foot of Italy - 300 miles from Monte Casino - but 250 miles if the roads had been straight!

Pegusa racing circuit 2The following day a drive down the coast on straight roads gave some respite, but soon it was onto the ‘wigglies’ again, over the mountains to Locri situated on the instep of Italy, where we cooled of by paddling in the sea. Then back to the north coast once more to drive to Villa San Giovani, to catch the ferry to Sicily. There are about eight ferries that ply across and back, departing every 15 minutes whether they are full or not for the three quarters of an hour crossing.

Taking the designated route, it was a very steep wiggley climb out of Messina with cobbles on the hairpin bends. The route along the north coast of Sicily was very tedious as it seamed built up all the way along, but with little or no industry. The views showed very pretty islands off the coast, which I had not realised were there before. It was 9.15 when we arrived at the hotel, after another 300 miles from Scalea, and the end of the first road book. The hotel was very pleasant, it had a swimming pool which was excellent at midnight, after a couple of beers!

The following day was a later start to drive the Targa Florio course. The Targa Florio motor race, (for Florio’s Plate) was started in 1906 by Count Florio, it was a 92 mile circuit, starting where we were due to start. The circuit then went into the central mountains, as we would do, and then we turned for the coast for our 43 mile lap, as was used in the 1960’s and 1970’s, (the original went further out before returning to the coast and back to the start).

Pegusa racing circuit 2The 1912-14 race was round the whole of the island, but in the 1920’s it reverted back to the original circuit. The race was dominated in the 1920’s by Bugattis, and by Alfa Romeo in the 1930’s. After the war a circuit in the south was used for two years when a new name of Ferrari won both events. The circuit was then moved back to the north, and in 1955 Moss and Collins won in the Mercedes. This was the era of the sports car races when Porsche and Ferrari dominated. The last race was held in 1973, since when it has been used as a round of the European Rally championships. The pits and the main grandstands are still there, a little sun bleached, and the whole of the circuit is very evocative. When one drives round, it is easy to imagine Bandini, Rodrigez, Von Tripps, Collins and the rest, coming up behind to overtake in their Porsches and Ferraris!

The afternoon was spent relaxing and swimming, whilst others repaired their cars. A Fiat engined Firecat took his car to be welded, and the owner of that garage was an ex-works rally driver that owned a Ferrari engined special and an Austin Ulster from 1930!

'Stormin' Norman Durban in his Teal at Dusk.The drive south to the centre of Sicily and the Pegusa race circuit was on deserted motorways, mainly built on stilts across the barren landscape. Some of these motorways were only partially complete. The Pegusa racing circuit is still used and D. Coutlhard holds the lap record in Formula 3. We went round to a convenient marshals post to take photographs of Marlins in racing attitudes, for future publicity pictures for the company. Each of the cars had two laps before leaving for the next control.

This turned out to be the highest point to drive on Mt. Etna. The drive there, seeing the lava flows and the partially covered houses, from the last eruption in 1992, was awe inspiring. There have been rumblings since our return! It was then 60 miles on the motorway to the ferry, passing the picturesque mountain village of Taromina. Reaching the mainland again, the 375 miles back to Scalea was mainly on motorways and main roads. During the early part of the trip the motorway went through many tunnels as it hugged the coast.

A quiet moment.The next day we again followed the coast north and round the back of Salerno, and onto the famous Amalfi drive. Being Sunday the traffic was very heavy, but the views were spectacular. Similar to the North Devon coast line but bigger and hotter! After Amalfi we turned inland to cross the Sorrentine peninsular - again a wiggley road. Descending the other side we arrived in Castlemare, near Pompeii at the foot of Vesuvious. Again spectacular, but the pace was relentless and we pressed on to the overnight stop, again at Monte Casino. As we arrived the sun was just setting, and approaching from the mountains we had memorable views of the Monastery on top of the hill across the valley.

The high light of the following day was to drive the 9.3 mile hill climb of the Bruno Carrotti in the centre of Italy. This again had been used in the 1920’s and 1930’s for competitions, but now was a wide public highway. There is a pillar at the start line, and the road winds up the hill. The area is a ski resort in the winter, but as we approached, the top was blanketed in fog!

Inside the Schlumph Motor Museum.Once out of the mountains, it was on to the dual carriageway and through a tunnel that was 2.5 miles in length, that had lay-bys in it in case of breakdown. Over the mountain passes again, with yet more hairpin bends to drop down to the Adriatic at Catollica, 300 miles from Monte Casino. Catollica is the resort for the package holidays and there are many high rise hotels, most of which were boarded up for the winter.

We were due for a two hour stop the following day in Venice. Rainbows punctuated the drive north along the coast. To start with we followed the route of the Mille Miglia motor road race, that was again stopped in the late 1960’s. We had time, just, to take a water taxi to St. Marks Square in order to take a few photographs and return in the boat. All the buildings were exactly like the pictures, and were all very ornate.

Back to the cars and north into the Dolomites. These mountains are unlike any I have seen before, very steep sided and high ragged peaks, many with snow on! The passes that we went over on the way to Cortina have been used since early 1930’s for rallying, the Cerdra, Duran, Giau were all crossed before Cortina and our bed.

A beautiful Schlumph museum exhibit.During the day, we had arranged to collect the Marlin the following day from Le Russey, north west of Geneva in France. Cortina where we were, is in north east Italy and there was Switzerland in the middle. We decided that we had to go over the Stelvio pass (2760m-8970 ft.) on the way, so we left at 5.20 in the morning, and arrived at the turning for the Stelvio at 8.00.

Nothing had prepared us for this. There are 48 hairpin bends! All of which are numbered, and number 48 is the one at the bottom. There are long stretches of straight road between the hairpins, some of which are built out from the rock face in order to allow a larger turning area. We stopped to take photographs at various places and at one stage there was a wall of rock in front of us, covered in snow, with the road zig zagging upwards. The road is all tarmac now, but when used in the 1960’s it was still unmade! The drop down the other side into Switzerland is exhilarating, but not as many hairpins, we then continued on through Davos and Klosters, both of which were picture postcard Alpine villages. From there it was motorway all the way to Neuchatel, and then just a few miles to Le Russey and the car. We arrived at 3.30 after 470 miles!

Checking in at the finish.The car was ready, we were told the problem had not been the gearbox, which had been stripped and rebuilt, but it was the thrust bearing in the clutch that had disintegrated. The noises that the gearbox made did not sound anything like this at the time, and we wondered if when it had been re-built, something in the gearbox was put back into place that was not previously correct.

We had done a total of 3,383 miles in the Peugeot in only nine days! It would need a service! However, we had to take the Peugeot back 30 miles south to Portalier before going north the 90 miles to Mulhouse and the control at the famous Schlumph Museum that evening. This is an amazing place, an old textile factory full of dozens of Bugattis, with seven 12 3/4 litre Royals, each worth over one million pounds! Not only Bugattis, but many other types of cars, two 250F Maseratis and the re-built Mercedes Benz that crashed at Le Mans with Peirre Levegh killing 70 people in 1955! Our dinner that night was kindly provided by the museum, in their dinning room which over looks the museum, I noted the menus had pictures of the Royals on them.

The last day of the rally took us back to Leige and started with a drive over the Route de Cretes. This road is very scenic and winds through the forests as it runs along the top of the hills Succesful finishers on display. between the Rhine and the Mosselle. The 250 mile drive back to Spa and the finish was uneventful. We passed again through the Mosselle wine region and eventually to the Spa Francorhamps motor racing circuit. We were due to drive part of the circuit, which is a public road, but it was closed, as there was some 'race testing' going on.

The return to the square we had left twelve days earlier, and so many hairpin bends ago, was a strange feeling. Did it really happen? But what memories! The evening dinner and presentation was sad for us , but the other Marlins did very well in the prize giving. One won the event overall, and the other members of our team won gold medals, so the Marlin spirits were not too forlorn.

The drive back home was wet, but the collection of a few cheap bottles from the supermarket was fun. So we arrived back in TivertonIntrepid yellow haired travellers! - to write it up, send off the films to be developed, and save for the next!

Oh! I nearly forgot, the yellow hair. Well it was Marlin Cars idea, because the event was being filmed for Sky television, to be shown in the New Year, they thought that we would show up more!

Report - Mike Dalby