Claret and Classics 2000

Colin and Susan Mills
Geneva (Luins) , Switzerland
1 – 7 July 2000

Day 3, Monday, July 3, 2000
La Rochelle - AngoulÍme
E-Types and Tiger lining up quayside at La Rochelle for the official start.

We checked-out of the hotel and returned to the quayside, where, with much pomp and ceremony, we were flagged away at one minute intervals by Mrs. Bourdin, before making our way to the realtimed start a few kilometres out of the town.

The first car away was at 9.01 am, followed by the remaining cars in the pre-war class, all looking to average 40 kph. The other classes followed, each car separated by one minute, and with a given average speed of 40, 45 or 50 kph.

I should point out here that there were four different classes:

  • Pre-war cars, which included a 1925 Sunbeam Super Sports, a 1933 Lagonda, a 1932 Riley 9 Gamecock and a 1934 Bentley 3_ litre;

  • Post-war cars, which included a 1948 Healey Westland, an XK 120, an XK 140, a Morris Minor, two MG TFs (one of which was last year's winner), a Frogeye Sprite, an Austin Healey 100/6 and a 1955 Buick Roadmaster;

  • Novices (i.e. none had participated in a previous Deeley event). These included another 100/6, an XK 150, a TR3a (a car rented in the UK and crewed by a couple from California), an Austin Healey 3000, a TR4, an E-Type Jaguar and a 1966 Alfa Romeo Spyder, also rented in the UK and crewed by two Americans;


  • Sixties and after – a 1960 Mini, a Series I Sunbeam Alpine, a TR3a, two MGAs, two E-Types, our Tiger, an Austin Healey 3000, a Rover 2000 and a Morgan 4+4.

The Marshalls could be found driving a 1973 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, a 1960 Silver Cloud, a 1975 Triumph Stag and a couple of what Roger Deeley describes as "boring modern cars".

The objective of the rally is to score as few as possible penalty points. These penalty points are awarded according to the number of seconds early or late you arrive at the time control at the end of each stage. As you don't know where these time controls are, you have to try and keep as close as possible to the average for your class – in our case 50 kph. Basically this means constantly checking how far you have travelled and the elapsed time, and checking the resulting average speed. This usually means putting your foot down to catch up (normally on the bendy bits) or crawling along for a while to slow down (invariably on the straight bits). Of course, whenever we were spot on 50 kph, there wasn't a time control …

As number 33, we were given our road book each day at 9.32 am and launched a minute later at 9.33. The start of Day Three, and "the game is afoot, Watson". Having reached the timed start, we noted our trip counter reading (to the nearest half a tenth of a mile – the zeroing mechanism didn't seem to work), activated the stopwatch, and set off on the first competitive stage. My navigator, and wife of 28 years, Susan, started our stopwatch and off we went.

Almost as soon as we set off, we were faced with a detour as the original route was subject to road works and impassable. The diversion was clearly marked with orange arrows, the final one indicating the tulip number where we rejoined the planned route. (For those of you who do not recognize the espression "Tulip Number", well - there you are!)

Following tulips and their explanations is reasonably straightforward (see above). However, the organiser is known as "Devious Deeley" for good reason. Firstly, you have no idea of the distance between tulips; it may be a matter of metres between one which, for example, tells you to turn left at a T-junction, and the next, which has you turning right at a normal junction. You have to spot the road signs (which are invariably not clearly visible) or whatever other landmark he cites, and make sure the details are correct. Equally, you occasionally travel up to 10 miles or more between tulips, crossing other roads and trying to determine the correct route where there may be doubt.

There are also occasional loops in a stage, where you might pass the same place more than once, usually in a village. As a result, you frequently come across other competitors who may be on a different part of the loop. In a village, this tends to confuse the local population who, trying to be helpful, feverishly direct cars one way and shrug with despair when you take a different route.

On one stage of the rally, we came across two identical junctions, with almost identical road signs, which turned out to be several kilometres apart. Needless to say, many competitors went wrong and had to retrace their steps – which makes recalculating and regaining your average speed extremely difficult.

Our recollection of this day is a bit hazy. We remember going astray once or twice, but ended the day in the right place – the centre of the town of Cognac, in a car park specially reserved for us. Here, as at other points during the week, we attracted a fair amount of local interest.

After a buffet lunch, we were divided into three groups and set off to visit cognac "houses" – in our case, a small producer called Croizet. The customary (optional) sampling and sales pitch followed a tour of the "house" and explanation of the manufacturing process. We then continued (at our leisure) to AngoulÍme, about 20 miles away, with a free evening.

When the results were posted in the hotel lobby – as they were every evening - we discovered that, while we had not done particularly well, our opponents in the knockout competition had faired worse and we were through to the next round!

On our way to the timed start the next day, we were somewhat distressed to hear a clanking noise from somewhere near the back of the car which manifested itself every time we went over a bump. On arrival at the starting point, one of the Marshalls, also acting as back-up technical crew, produced a trolley jack and we discovered the problem: the panhard rod, fitted only months earlier, had come adrift, the bracket having broken away from the chassis. We left the other end bolted to the axle and secured the rod to the brake cable with a length of wire. That solved the clanking noise for the balance of the rally.

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