Photos by the author.
[Editor’s Note: Ronan Glon of Ran When Parked is perfectly positioned to take in the annual Historic Monte-Carlo Rally, so when he mentioned he’d be able to attend it this year and give us a first-hand perspective, we told him to focus on the unusual and remarkable while doing so.]
The annual Historic Monte-Carlo Rally brings together classic car enthusiasts from all over Europe and abroad for an action-packed week of vintage racing. Organized by the Automobile Club of Monaco (ACM), this year’s edition was won by a 1971 Alpine A110.
The event is open to every car that participated in the original rally from 1955 to 1980, provided it was manufactured between those years. To further narrow it down, a car is only eligible if it was built in a year when it raced. For example, a 1970 Triumph Spitfire can’t be entered in the event because the Spitfire last participated in the Monte-Carlo Rally in 1965. Cars need to be entirely original, though they can be fitted with a GPS and the ACM requires them to be equipped with a roll cage for obvious safety reasons.
The ACM divides entrants into four categories: cars built before 1961, cars built between 1962 and 1965, cars built between 1966 and 1971, and cars built from 1972 to 1979. Each category is further broken down into three classes: cars with an engine displacement of under 1300cc, cars whose engine ranges from 1301cc to 2000cc, and cars with an engine displacement of over 2000cc.
Over 300 cars signed up for the 19th edition of the rally, including a tiny 1960 Vespa 400 with a 393cc air-cooled two-cylinder engine rated at just 14 horsepower and a 1967 Ford Mustang powered by a 289 Windsor V8. Porsche 911s and BMW 2002s are always a dime a dozen, and there were quite a few oddballs this year such as three Simca 1100s, a V6-powered Renault 30, and a first-generation Honda Civic. A Japanese team shipped a Datsun 240Z all the way from Japan, several Eastern European teams raced cars manufactured behind the Iron Curtain, and an Italian team even showed up in a 1976 Lancia Stratos. Next time you’re worried about parking lot dings, think of the brave souls hooning a Stratos on tiny back roads in the French countryside.
Participants could choose to start the rally in Barcelona, Reims, Glasgow, Oslo, or a small town in Germany called Bad Homburg. Local events were held in the vicinity of each city, and the racers met up in Valence in southern France for two days of common stages that ultimately took them through the scenic French Alps and down to the finish line in Monaco. The weather has been unusually warm in France over the past few weeks and we heard many racers complaining about the lack of snow, even at relatively high altitudes.
The organizing body stresses that the Historic Monte-Carlo Rally isn’t a speed race. Participants need to follow the timing set for each stage as closely as possible, and they can get docked points if they reach a check point too quickly. In other words, driving flat-out is the best way to end up at the bottom of the rankings. Besides, some of the roads that the rally takes place on – especially those around check points – remain open to the public so the participants have to obey traffic laws and slow down for speed cameras. With that in mind, anyone with a valid FIA license can sign up for the rally, it’s not reserved for professional pilots. Some drive in period-correct racing suits, and others show up wearing clothes that can best be described as “business casual.”
While there’s no minimum skill level, saying that the Historic Monte-Carlo Rally is open to all enthusiasts isn’t accurate because it’s certainly not cheap. The entry fee for a car, a driver, and a co-driver is €4,800, a sum that converts to over $5,300. In addition to that, participants need to own a classic that’s ready for competition, they need to get themselves, up to two co-drivers, and their car to and from the race, and many wisely choose to invest in a technical support vehicle loaded with spare parts, hundreds of tools, and tires for every type of road surface. Most of the pilots we chatted with agreed that the week-long event can end up costing in the vicinity of €15,000 (roughly $16,700) when all is said and done. However, all of them unanimously agreed that, if you have the money, it’s well worth it.