RALLYE MONTE-CARLO CLASSIQUE 2019

Monte Carlo and Back Again Not Quite Bust

In late January 2019 we took on the challenge of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Classique, joining in with a group of friends and fellow Riley enthusiasts in Blue Diamond Riley Services team.  Driving a 1933 Riley 9hp Monaco prepared by ourselves we completed the almost 3000 mile round trip in just over a week, in the process winning the Hon. Victor Bruce Cup for our efforts.  What follows is an account of our adventures on the event.

Day 1 - 29th January 2019

Threekingham to Clydebank (Glasgow) - 315 miles

This was just the journey to the start but in effect became the first day of the rally for us since we were driving the cars up.  The forecast was cold with -5°C overnight predicted in Glasgow.  At about 10 am I set off from home to collect Dad, passing via Grantham to collect a new 072 battery and some basic antifreeze.  On arrival at Dad’s place I drained out a gallon of water from the radiator and replaced it with antifreeze and then fitted the battery into the Series Land-Rover battery carrier I have mounted under the back seat.  The existing battery was 4 years old and I wanted the confidence of a new one for the trip.  That sorted and with the crew complete we met up with Hugh and Joss on the A1 just north of Newark.  Then northwards into deteriorating weather with snow in the forecast.  We were running a bit behind our ideal time by now so pressing on, the car was going well.  A stop for late lunch and fuel at Scotch Corner and then over the A66.  This is where we saw the first snowflakes as we climbed into the hills proper.  The cool down at our stop didn’t help the Monaco and as the temperature fell it started to ice-up the carbs.  I struggled on for a few miles until a convenient layby allowed a pause to thaw them out.  This was an omen for what would follow but after that the car settled and by the time we were heading north on the M6 it was charging along.  With all the gear onboard acceleration was not brisk but an extended cruise at 60 mph was easily attainable on the new ratio, allowing us to slipstream then catch and pass the trucks.  There was even an occasional excursion to higher speeds and a short burst in the outside lane to pass two trucks at once!  Darkness began to fall as we headed up towards Abington services and again the snow fell a little.  A snow plough came out of a service area straight onto the motorway causing me to have to lift off suddenly, the depression in the manifold resulting in instantaneous icing of the carbs.  We limped to Abington for the last fuel before arriving in Glasgow.  Standing in the petrol station gave the carbs chance to thaw and we continued into Glasgow in extremely busy evening traffic, arriving at the hotel in Clydebank sometime shortly after 7 pm (by an indirect route!) and thankfully in time for the pre-rally dinner. 

This was the furthest the car had ever gone in a day and when on the move the tracking app I was using showed we averaged just shy of 49.6 mph.  The little car had done well, the only casualty was a USB port with voltmeter that I had fitted in the glovebox which had ceased to function before Scotch Corner, the electronics not enjoying the electrical noise from the car.

Day 2 - 30th January 2019

Clydebank to Barnby Moor via Dumfries – 285 miles

The day dawned very cold and frosty, but the car started up no problems at all.  After checking out we made our way for signing on and scrutineering.  This all passed off without drama, the most difficult part being getting the various event stickers to stick to the already grubby car (though I’d rather that than they took all the original 86-year-old paint off).  There was then a long wait until the scheduled start time of 6 pm, after which we would leave at 1-minute intervals.  Time for a bit of tinkering and reviewing the route south on the map.  I made some little hats for the carbs to try and mitigate the icing troubles.  A good-sized Scottish Riley contingent was out to see us off.  Eventually the slightly nervous wait was done and we made our way over the start ramp and into the evening traffic. 

The route took us over the Erskine Bridge, then south via the M8, M77, A77 and A76 to Dumfries.  Temperatures were already well below freezing as we left and carburettor icing was already a problem by the time we reached the bridge.  We struggled on, intermittently overcoming the icing problem until we got off the motorways and onto the A76.  Here it became bad again and with the forecast over the top of the A66 later likely to be down to -10°C something had to be done.  I pulled up and investigated the options, ditching the little hats that if anything had made things worse.  We decided to try closing off the inside of the bonnet louvres on the O/S of the bonnet, out with gaffer tape!  After setting off again this was soon confirmed as a big improvement.  Although the icing occurred occasionally after closing the throttle there was now enough warmth under that side of the bonnet that it could be encouraged to clear itself by careful driving.  We eventually reached the first checkpoint, The Auldgirth Inn, about on schedule around 8:30 pm.  Whilst Dad got the coffee in and the route card stamped I taped up the nearside bonnet louvres as well.  Then onwards to Barnby Moor, taking the A75, M6, A66 and A1, there was still about 200 miles to run that night, a solid 4 hours in the little 9hp.  The car was now much happier, there was some warmth under the bonnet and percolating into the cabin.  As we hit the snowfield near the top of the A66 we had an instant of icing up but a brief pause in a snowed up layby cleared that. 

When we reached Scotch Corner I probably should’ve stopped for fuel but the car was going well so I opted to head straight down the A1 as quickly as possible!  We passed a couple of fellow competitors but then it was just a relentless slog south, keeping the car at a happy but brisk 55 to 60 mph.  I pulled in at Ferrybridge services and ran out of fuel before I actually got to the pumps!  The prices were extortionate, so I used fuel from the onboard supply then we headed for The Olde Bell at Barnby Moor, eventually arriving sometime approaching 1 am.  To our surprise the bar was still open, the staff were very friendly and they were still serving food.  Brilliant!  Shortly after we were off to bed but I was so wired I didn’t sleep easily; from the sound adjacent Dad didn’t have the same problem!

Day 3 - 31st January 2019

Barnby Moor to Banbury to Folkestone to Cocove via Chunnel – 316 miles

I woke early to the noise of an Opel Kadett GT/E warming up and the local BBC radio station setting up near the bedroom window.  Oh well, better to just to get up and get on!  Various strategies for the next couple of days were discussed with Hugh and Joss over Breakfast (which was excellent!) then I went out to fire the car up and thaw it out a bit.  The temperature was about -6°C and a couple of teams were trying to coax reluctant highly tuned A-Series engines to life, several of the later classic cars sounded distinctly ill in the cold weather.  First a quick check of the engine and gearbox oil, both were good and barely any engine oil consumed since leaving home.  The Monaco fired up first turn of the engine and settled to a smooth idle, I threw my jacket over the radiator while it warmed up (very satisfying). 

Then it was off for Banbury via the nearby services to replenish the fuel stocks properly.  We decided Dad should drive a stint to Banbury.  Approaching Newark, we entered freezing fog that built up on the windscreen making visibility very poor.  It was a real struggle for Dad to see and consequently stressful for me as a passenger!  The fog stayed with us along the A46 until Bingham where we finally started to climb away from the Trent and into a bright cold morning.  Things continued much more happily via the M1, M69 and then back onto the A46.  A close encounter with a lorry at a roundabout resulted in a bit of panic and an excursion to what felt like 7000 rpm in 2nd and a slightly heated discussion about when to change up! We made it to Banbury approaching 1pm, having taken longer than expected with the fog early on. 

This was a full official restart checkpoint with ramp and various festivities and car clubs set up in the square.  It was good to see a few friendly faces from the Riley Register and VSCC there to wish us well.  We had some lunch in the town hall and got the card stamped before returning to the car to get ready for the next leg.  When I came to check the engine oil I found the aluminium dipstick had fallen in two!  The free end was trapped and safe, since up until then the oil consumption had been minimal, I put a quick glug in for luck and then it was time to head off over the ramp and out of town.  Engine oil top ups would be educated guesswork for the rest of the trip. 

The afternoon was spent on the thankless route down to Folkestone, M40, M25, M26 and M20 to the Chunnel for a 6:20 pm scheduled train.  We arrived first of the BDRS crews, in time for one train earlier but opted to wait for the others and the scheduled train.  This was almost a serious error!  Some of the other crews arrived a few minutes after us and went straight for the earlier crossing, ho hum! We had a coffee in the terminal then went for the allotted crossing.  The plan was always to adjust the headlamps for France whilst on the train.  Once we were allowed out of the car we set too.  I’d also been having trouble with a reluctant dipper on one lamp.  Converting the dip for the continent involves taking the reflectors out of the headlamps turning them 90° and replacing them.  This puts the spiders/Riley Diamonds on their sides, something you may notice if you look on period pictures of Rileys on the Monte.  Cleaning and tweaking contacts cured the reluctant dipper.  Initially whilst we were doing this task we had the bonnet of the car open, it had got quite warm getting on the train so there was a heat haze rising and a bit of a fuelly/hot Riley smell emanating.  I noticed there was an alarm going off in the carriage periodically, turned out this was us, the heat haze setting off a thermal camera safety system.  A very friendly French attendant eventually managed to communicate that we should shut the bonnet to stop it happening, ‘very bad if the train has to stop’ he said!  We were pretty much done by then anyway. 

On arrival in France we flowed out of the terminal and made our way through the dark to our hotel for the night at Cocove.  This was a great place booked for us all by John Lomas who had found it on his previous adventures.  Having lost an hour crossing the Channel it was pushing 9pm when we finally arrived, thanks to some tricky navigation and an indeterminate road diversion, but thankfully just in time before the kitchen closed (error avoided!).  The earlier crews were already tucking in, Hugh and Joss running late weren’t so lucky but did manage something.  The French staff weren’t really prepared for the collective energy that had just landed from across the Channel.  Just as we sat down to eat it started to snow giving some picturesque scenes of snowy Rileys outside.

Day 4 and 5 - 1st and 2nd of February 2019

Calais - Reims – Vitry-le-Francois – Bar-sur-Aube – Langres – Dole – Lons-le-Saunier – Bourgoin-Jallieu – Buis-les-Baronnies – Crest – Valence – 758 miles

If the task hadn’t been hard enough already this was the day where it was about to get properly serious.  I was aware of what lay ahead having plotted the route out in advance, I’m not sure Dad had been convinced it was going to happen like it did until we were there on the brink of it.  The day started cold and misty with about 3 inches of snow on the cars, but the sun was breaking through and the snow beginning to recede.  There were two strategies in the team to tackle this part of the event.  The first strategy was to follow the entire route as planned, visit all checkpoints not stopping again until Valence and aim for a Gold Medal.  The second strategy was to head south immediately from our overnight south of Calais, aim for another overnight stop near Dole and then re-join everyone else the following day in Valence.  Arguably, in a pre-war car the second was the most sensible option and gave a 2-hour head start on the day.  Having not missed a checkpoint up until now I was determined to do the event properly and went for the first, if it proved too much we could bail out at Dole in the early hours of the following day.  In the end, three crews headed south whilst ourselves, John and Martin in the BDRS Sprite and Adam and Craig in the BDRS MG TC headed for Calais.  Game on!

After fuelling up, the official 12pm restart was at an Opel garage in a fairly industrial area.  First leg was a slog of about 170 miles down the motorway to Reims.  The car was running ok but somehow not great and after about 100 miles I opted to pull in and top the fuel up.  This time I used 98 E5 rather than 95 E10, the difference in performance was immediately noticeable as we accelerated back down the slip road.  I can only put this down to the ethanol level in E10, the car displayed all the symptoms of running too lean when on it.  The 98 E5 was much more expensive so for the rest of the trip south I would alternate between the fuel types.

The weather on the motorway was a bit wet on and off and the wipers were now becoming a bit intermittent, but periodic fiddling with the switch seemed to sort it.  One thing to note, on these long daytime drives one has to regulate the third brush charging system manually so as not to cook the battery.  The car is wired so that charging can be switched off all together provided no lights are required and so it spent at least 75% of the time switch off in daylight hours.  We arrived in Reims on schedule at about 3.45 pm but it took us another hour or so driving around the city to find our way into the assembly area adjacent to the Cathedral.  We drove past the entrance at least twice and overheated a little before one of the French gate attendants finally realised we wanted to get in and opened the fence for us.  Reims is a big start location for French competitors on the Historique part of the event and a concentration point for other start locations.  The Historique is made up generally of much more modern machinery of the late 60s and early 70s, this is what they are expecting to see, not a bunch of mad Brits in 80-year-old Rileys, hence the problem getting in!  Once in the French public took a huge interest in the cars, posing for photographs and very eager to see inside and out. 

The restart at Reims wasn’t scheduled until 8 pm and then as Classique entrants we would be at the back of the queue.  We had to kill time, so we all attended a reception with the Mayor then found a café for a burger and chips before returning to the cars.  The weather was by now quite wet and much milder than it had been.  Spectators were amused to see me taking off jacket and hat to get into the Monaco whilst the other guys applied the layers.  There was some confusion in the queue caused by a French official forcing us to join it too early.  John sorted it and then came over to speak to us.  As I wound down the window he was shocked to find us sat quite warm and comfortable with just a pullover!  The restart was on French TV and the crew were circulating past all the cars.  It was quite an event going over the start ramp in front of the Cathedral entrance. 

Off into the longest night we went, the car missing a little having fouled a plug in the queue, it eventually cleared itself once we got some momentum up.  The next issue was the O/S headlight going out intermittently, but we arrived safely at Vitry, passed through the checkpoint and found somewhere to pull up while I investigated.  The original bulb holder wasn’t in great shape and so I opted to change it for a spare, the intermittent connection had partially melted the base of the bulb but it seemed ok in the new holder.  Wanting to retain both halogens I replaced it and we headed onward for Bar-sur-Aube along country roads.  The headlamp began going out intermittently again and patchy fog was starting to form.  We arrived in the centre of Bar-sur-Aube about 10:45 pm, there was still a healthy crowd of locals watching as I stripped the O/S headlamp again to replace the bulb, this time for a genuine pre war 36w item.  There was audible chatter from the onlookers and a gasp when my first test failed to illuminate the replacement.  A quick jiggle then re-test, all came good and I got a little round of applause!  A tweak of the focus and we were ready to go, Dad having already got the route card signed and retrieved a coffee each.  On we went for Langres by the shortest, quickest route.  The headlamps were really rather good now, I remember on one dead straight road illuminating a village sign that must have been a mile or more up ahead.  The car was happy and all was well, we even began passing the odd piece of more modern machinery that was struggling.

We arrived in Langres approaching 1am.  The Sprite and the MG had arrived about 20 minutes ahead of us.   It was another great reception for the pre-war cars.  The Historique cars were about to head over the restart ramp.  Here it took us a little while to find the competitors refreshments as it had been relocated into a sports hall a short walk away down a dark back street and without clear signage.  Desperate for something we found it just in time, where the wives of the local organisers had prepared what can best be described as a French hotpot type dish followed by apple pie and custard; excellent!  More coffee then back to the car.  We were only about a third through the mileage from Reims to Valence at this point, but if you even thought about that you wouldn’t carry on, instead you have to break it down and just concentrate on the next target.  So, over the ramp it was and onward to Dole, past the potential overnight stop where the other three crews were tucked up, then on to Lons-le-Saunier.  The final target for the hours of darkness was to reach Bourgoin-Jallieu some distance south of Lyon.  We didn’t stop except for fuel near the checkpoints. 

A large portion of the journey after Lons was completed on the motorway and it was here through the early hours that the freezing fog came down.  Cruising the inside lane at about 50mph I was following the intermittent hard shoulder lines with dipped headlamps.  Periodically a huge coach would pass towing a trailer full of ski equipment; I would latch onto these and get a tow in the wake for a few minutes then it was back into the total whiteness, onward ever onward.  The wipers had to run continually to keep an ice-free area on the screen.  We had to negotiate a few interchanges, slip roads only becoming visible very late because of the fog.  The green triangular buffers after the slip road peeled off seemed to have a supernatural attraction to tired eyes and I was paranoid I would hit one, as was Dad!  It was quite cozy in the car.  As 5am approached I had to start rabbiting to keep both of us awake, window ajar for a cool breeze “Don’t fall asleep or we’ll never know what happened” I kept saying, as I willed the sun to come up.  By this time I was sat as tall as possible in the drivers seat to see over the ice at the bottom of the windscreen.  The wiper motor had become ever more intermittent, the problem still seemed to be the switch and many miles were covered with one hand on it to keep them running (it has since turned out to be a much more subtle issue).  

Eventually the sky started to lighten a little and at about 6:30am we rolled into the checkpoint at Bourgoin-Jallieu, a grim road on an industrial estate.  We were the first Classique car to arrive, about half an hour ahead of the Sprite and the MG.  Whilst we waited, Dad and I went to find a coffee and food.  We ordered a coffee but neither of us had any cash and they seemed to need payment at the tent, we made our excuses and were begrudgingly handed it anyway.  It was truly terrible coffee!  Once the others arrived it became clear that we had been handed an envelope with food tickets in it at Langres, fatigue meant we had not realised what it was.  So back to the tent with tickets this time and another truly awful coffee and terrible food!  All members of the team, including John’s media team in a modern Golf R, were highly relieved to have made it through the foggy night unscathed.  There was a great feeling of camaraderie and achievement despite the long way still to go.

With daylight and awful coffee came a bit of a second wind and I felt wide awake again.  At about 8am we set off for Buis-les-Baronnies, about 160 miles further south and into the mountains.  The clutch pedal return spring snapped and crashed noisily into the drivers floor as we went through the check point, this had happened to me before and I knew exactly what it was so carried on regardless hooking a toe under the pedal to stop the mechanism riding on the thrust race; it would stay like that until we got home.  South of Crest the roads became ever narrower, winding and a little rougher, generally climbing upwards.  A slight navigation error meant we went by the shortest but steepest route into Buis (the intended route out), this was quite arduous but the little 9hp coped well and we descended into the village around midday where we met back up with the Sprite and MG.  It was sleeting/raining heavily by this point and we retired to a nearby café selling stone baked pizza.  There was a bit of a party atmosphere amongst us having reached the most southerly point of the concentration run, with all that was left about 70 miles back north to Valence via Crest.

Once more back to the car for the final push.  We convinced a reluctant checkpoint controller to sign the route cards, he wasn’t interested in our silly old cars!  Here the more modern Historique entrants set off on regularity stages through the mountains and that was all he was worried about.  Tiredness meant tempers were getting short and it was a good job he relented!  We opted for the less steep route out of Buis-les-Baronnies, which re-joined the route we had taken in further north, but when we got there we found several roads closed.  In the intervening couple of hours heavy rain had washed out some routes and we had a long detour to get back to Crest.  Not knowing which routes were clear made it difficult, long slogs in second gear uphill were hard on tired crew and car alike.  We eventually reached Crest and got another mark on the route card.  The Historique crews were waiting here to go to Valence in convoy but we all opted to make our way straight there while there was still some daylight.  After running out of fuel for the first and only time we finally reached the Stade Pompidou at about 5pm, the drive back north having been somewhat slow and extended.  By coincidence we met up with the other three crews who had overnighted in Dole and we all rolled in together.  We had made it, eventually leaving the heroic little wonder car (that really was how it felt!) in Parc Ferme some 30 hours and 750 miles after leaving Calais (almost 36 hours without sleep).

That evening passed in a bit of a haze, some food grabbed from a grand buffet then on a shuttle minibus to our hotel.  Quick shower and then a couple of beers were definitely in order, quite what we were operating on by this point I don’t know.  To leave the way clear for the Historique cars in the morning we were under strict instruction to catch a shuttle back to the stadium at 5am to remove the Classique cars from Parc Ferme.  I vaguely remember setting the alarm on my phone for 4:30am before I fell asleep.

Day 6 – 3rd February 2019

Valence to Monaco – 225 miles

The day started with Dad shaking me awake asking what the noise was.  This was of course my phone, still in my hand, alarm sounding and trapped underneath me.  Leaving Dad asleep I missed the first shuttle to Parc Ferme but got another with some other stragglers, I brought the car back to the hotel then went back to bed for a bit before breakfast.  Considering what had gone before this was an easy day, going south via Crest and Sisteron to Digne-les-Bain, then taking the route Napoleon to Nice and across to Monaco.  We made a leisurely start giving the car a good check over and lubrication.  Dad drove the first leg to Digne.  The scenery was spectacular and it was much more like being on holiday.  We stopped at Digne then I took over and we headed south through Saint-Andres-les-Alpes, more spectacular scenery and snow on the road at the highest points.  Eventually we joined in with much busier traffic on the outskirts of Nice and headed for Monaco. 

The last few miles were quite stressful, the weather was by now relatively warm and all the blanking off we had done was causing the car to be quite hot now.  We had to enter the motorway through a toll with an exit straight into a very steep climb, we were stuck in second, slogging behind lorries for what seemed like an age.  Finally, we arrived in Monaco at about 6pm, successfully navigating around the harbour to the finish ramp by recognising parts of the GP circuit.  No big arrival here as this ramp was really only for the Historique event that would finish the following day.  The three cars that had taken the easier route down were already at the hotel but we waited for the BDRS Sprite and the MG to arrive having crossed the Col de Turini and had our own little celebration.  Then it was a case of rushing to our hotel in time to get changed and go to the ACM for dinner.  Some amusement was had going around the GP circuit in convoy and then arriving in a flurry at the front of the Fairmont Hotel that had been booked for us as part of the entry.  This is the hotel that is right on the famous hairpin and built out over the tunnel.  The parking attendants weren’t happy at all with our manner of arrival or us leaving the cars where we did, and the check-in staff immediately identified we weren’t their usual type of guest and treated us accordingly (i.e. grumpily!).  Anyway, we’d made it, all the team had made it one way or another, and we had a memorable evening at the ACM.

Day 7 – 4th of February 2019

Monaco to Dracy-le-Fort – 387 miles

And so, the return drive began, just about 1000 miles to be covered.  John had booked the hotels for us on the return trip so we could all stay together.  The weather in Monaco was glorious, like an early summer’s day.  We set off in good time but just beyond Marseille we found Hugh and Joss on the hard shoulder with ignition/fuel issues.  Collective heads together got them running and we shadowed them north to near Avignon.  Here they stopped thinking they had lost us but we saw them pull in and parked next to them.  Hugh was still struggling with the car and a knock had developed, the gathered minds quickly decided this sounded serious.  We had to leave them to await recovery, having lost a couple of hours already there was still about 180 miles to the night’s hotel.  Dad took a turn and we charged ever onward, eventually reached Dracy-le-Fort by about 11pm, having stopped in an awful services to try and find fuel and food once it was clear the restaurant would be closed at the hotel.

Day 8 – 5th of February 2019

Dracy-le-Fort to Cocove – 385 miles

Another long day of motorways but without the delays of the previous day.  I checked and topped up the back axle before setting off.  As we got on the motorway the oil pressure seemed to fall, not good, so we stopped at the first opportunity and investigated.  The other cars rolled in too and then what must have been some sort of French politician pulled in for fuel with armed escort.  We continued our investigation under the close watch of men with machine guns who clearly considered us quite suspicious!  There had been a lot of Gilet Jaune activity on route and they must have been in a heightened state of security.  I mucked about with the pressure relief valve and coaxed some healthier looking oil pressure onto the gauge and we made our way. 

We reached the hotel in good time for food and drink this time.  It felt like we were as good as home and a bit of a celebration was in order, keeping the bar open for as long as the staff would allow, if not late by British standards, we had a great evening.

Day 9 – 6th of February 2019

Cocove to Threekingham – 237 miles

Finally, the last leg.  Some mildly sore heads arose to get back across to Blighty.  By now the weather was much milder than it had been on the way down.  It was a relief to get back on home soil and on the left-hand side of the road, though not to experience the relatively aggressive driving of other road users, particularly the lorries again.  In France the trucks had been much more friendly to drive amongst, here, particularly on the slog out of Folkestone we felt much more under pressure.  We shared the driving and it was such a relief to finally get home with the car still running well at about 2 pm.

Conclusion

Total mileage was approximately 2900 miles (4667 km) over 9 days, averaging almost 325 miles (523 km) a day.  The car was truly Percy’s 9hp wonder and proved itself so capable, cruising fully loaded for hundreds of miles at around 55 mph.  Average fuel consumption was almost exactly 25 mpg.  Total oil consumption was just over 1-gallon split between engine and gearbox (mostly the gearbox!) plus a little for the back axle.

Visiting all controls and using a recognised historic route form Valence to Monaco we were awarded Gold Medals and the Honourable Victor Bruce Cup for our performance.

It turned out that the capacity of the fuel tank was about equivalent to how long you would want to travel in the Monaco timewise without a stop to anyway.  Nevertheless, the extra cans of fuel gave a useful safety net that got us out of trouble once and a convenient top up on a couple of other occasions.

Would I do it again? Yes!

Would I take the Monaco again? Yes, but the Big 4 Kestrel is a tempting option!

Finally, a big thanks to John Lomas and the rest of our BDRS teammates.  The Camaraderie of getting through that long night/day together made it all so much more enjoyable (yes, it really was!).

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