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Competing in the legendary MM is the dream of many classic motorsport fans, but getting an entry is very difficult indeed. To enter you need a car of a type that actually ran in the MM in period – preferably a car that actually competed in the race. As the idea of speeding through some of the most beautiful places in Italy in the footsteps of the likes of Moss and Fangio is so appealing, cars that might get you an entry attract a premium. So, for example, a works MGA with MM provenance will set you back over half a million pounds, five times its value without the MM provenance. And don’t think you will get an entry with a non works MGA – you won’t, the event is just too oversubscribed and preference is given to cars that actually took part in the race in period or which have an interesting history. Moving up market and buying a Jaguar XK120,  Aston DB or even Mercedes SL Gullwing won’t help you much either for the same reasons. In fact, as the MM is sponsored by Mercedes and (UK purveyor of Jag XK’s with provenance) JD Classics, trying to get an entry in a Merc or Jag is even harder as most available slots for those marques are taken by the sponsors.

The upshot is that the modern MM, a very competitive regularity rally rather than a race, has increasingly become the preserve of very rich individuals from all round the world who are able to buy genuine MM cars with the crucial provenance to guarantee a MM entry. Many of those cars, the Ferraris and Maseratis et al, are worth well in excess of £5m.  But they do make the old works MGAs seem like remarkably good value!

I had never thought that I would be able to take part in the MM as I did not think I could afford it. Yes the entry fee (7000 euros) is steep but that does cover some excellent organisation, good hotels, a variety of receptions and – crucially – a rather nice limited edition Chopard watch. Indeed the watch alone is worth nearly as much as the entry fee. So you could say that the entry fee for the MM is actually pretty reasonable. The real problem is the cost of buying a car that could guarantee an entry.

I knew my ex Gregor Grant Autosport Magazine MG YB saloon (UMG 662) had led an eventful life between 1952 and 1954. As well as being the office hack it was rallied on the Monte (see other posts) in 1954 and the Scottish Rally in 1953 and it was raced at Silverstone in 1953. I knew it had also been a press car on the Monte in 1953 and at Le Mans, Goodwood and elsewhere. I knew it had not competed in the MM but some diligent research pointed to it having been a press car on the MM in 1953 when Autosport journalist Anthony Hume covered that year’s race from Brescia and Rome.  I checked the regulations and found to my surprise that the organisers had a “special list” for interesting cars of a type that could have raced in the MM in period but did not. I thought it was worth applying for a place in that category and stuck a speculative entry in.  I was under no illusions that getting a place on the list would be tough as it was restricted to only 27 cars (out of a total of over 450) and I did not think my little old saloon would be interesting enough to the organisers. As such I was very surprised when in March I was told that my car had secured a place.

As UMG 662 had just successfully completed the Monte Carlo Classique Rally without problems I did not need to do much to the car to get it ready. Given that summer in Italy promised to be a lot warmer than the Alps in January, I fitted a Kenlowe fan to help with cooling. The regulations also specified an accurate trip meter so a retro Brantz was fitted. Then all I needed was a co driver! Luckily Brian Mackrill, an old friend and fellow MG enthusiast from Australia, was keen to join me.

The car was shipped to Brescia on a transport with a number of other British competitors and we flew out in early May to meet the car.

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All shiny at scrutineering in Brescia, Healey Drone on left.

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This Works MGA competed in the original Mille Miglia in 1957. Now in Fitzwilliam Team colours it is a regular participant on the retrospective MM.

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The day before the start all participants parade through Brescia to the Plazza della Vittoria for the sealing ceremony. A lead seal is attached to the steering column of each car to show it has been scrutineered and is ready to go.

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On the start ramp in Brescia. After the glorious sun of the previous few days the heavens opened and it rained for the first two days of the rally – sometimes very heavily.

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The route of the MM this year took competitors from Brescia to Rimini on the Adriatic coast for the first afternoon and evening of the rally. This is Sirmione in the torrential rain.

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Following a late night arrival in Rimini there was an early start the following day. The first main check point was in the centre of the Republic of San Marino. The weather was little better on the second day of the rally.

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By the time the cars made it to Civitanova Marche in the late afternoon of the second day the weather had started to clear. Note battle scar on nearside front – reversed into by a vintage ambulance!

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At the end of the second day on the ramp in Rome. A police escort took us round the sights of the Eternal City late at night at high speed with blue lights flashing!

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Early morning check point in Ronciglione

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The MM route took us through the centre (often pedestrianised) of many ancient towns and villages. This is Viterbo late in the morning on the third day of the rally.

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August British company! The D Type Jaguar is the real deal. Nice Aston Martin DB2/4 behind. This is the lunch stop near Buonconvento on the third day.

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Priceless 1939 BMW 328 Mille Miglia. This car won the race in 1940 (whilst much of the rest of Europe was in flames..). In 2016 it was factory supported and was crewed by the boss of BMW UK – nice perk of the job!

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1957 Porsche 550 Spyder. Usually resident in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart it was crewed this year by legendary Belgian racer Jacky Ickx. Every morning he would pass us with his entourage of Cayenne support vehicles at about 11. We would pass him pulled over at some nice cafe for lunch at 1230 and he would re pass us at 3pm (we sadly had no time to stop). He was usually through with dinner and in bed long before we made it to the final check point each day. But not on the last day.. The Porsche broke down an hour outside Brescia and I can now say I have beaten a multiple Le Mans winner in a motoring event!

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Motoring through beautiful Tuscany

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Old loyalties don’t fade – San Quirico D’Orcia

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Check point in the historic centre of Sienna

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The biggest challenge on the third day was climbing both the Futa and (1000m) Raticosa Passes – at the hottest time of day and in the Summer. Despite the heat (over 30 degrees centigrade) we got to the top with no difficulty but we were grateful for the new Kenlowe fan!

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The only problem we encountered was a recurring blown fuse that knocked out the temperature gauge (!) and, more seriously, the brake lights. Here Brian utilises our last fuse.

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An evening check point at the great Ferrari family works in Modena. A shame we had no time to look around the superb new museum.

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A priceless trio! Early morning on the last day, just before the start in Parma. The short nose D Type Jaguar again, a Ferrari 250 MM Berlinetta and a pretty little OSCA MT4 roadster

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No embarrassment to be passed by such a beauty – 1954 Maserati A6 GTS/53 Fantuzzi

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In the tyre tracks of the greats – on the old banking at Monza for one of the tests.

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Trying harder on the road course at Monza, on the rumble strip. Don’t like my line!

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At the finish in sunny Brescia. Special list cars have no handicap and as such we had no chance of winning. As it was we came a creditable 271st out of 456 cars, 12th of the 27 cars in the Special List and 5th out of the 10 MGs!

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I recently had an interesting trip up to Milton Keynes for a tour of Red Bull F1’s facility.  As you would expect given F1’s fondness for industrial espionage, security was tight. No cameras were allowed and all phones had their camera function disabled.  Our escorted tour initially took us around the design offices. These were open plan for all to enhance team working, though Messrs  Horner and Newey had their own huge offices. Presumably they don’t need to work in teams.. Interestingly there were three times as many aerodynamasists as there were other engineers.

Moving from area to area via touch sensitive security key pads we were constantly told about what a relaxed and friendly team Red Bull were compared to other teams. The demeanour of the people we met did not suggest that was necessarily the case. Sure, whilst the extreme dress down of the staff and the slight untidiness about the place would bring on palpitations in Ron Dennis, you get the impression that beneath the “hey, aren’t we fun” persona there is a degree of steely and ruthless determination. No bad thing in F1. You don’t win four consecutive F1 titles by being relaxed.

Formerly the home of Jaguar Racing and prior to that Stewart GP, Red Bull’s Milton Keynes HQ still accomodates people who worked for those teams, albeit in a facility now eight times bigger.

Unfortunately when we visited the race bays the current cars were out with only some reliveried older cars on show. I guess they didn’t want us to see the new aero screens shown this week at Sochi.

 

This vertically displayed show car highlights the new Red Bull matt paint finish. I tend to dislike matt paint finishes but it certainly seems to suit the Red Bulls.  Apparently Red Bull repaint the cars for each race to suit the expected climate and light conditions. That way the sponsors’ logos always look the same on TV wherever the cars are in the world and whether the race is a night race or day race. Great attention to detail.

 

 

The vast trophy cabinet on display in the reception of Red Bull F1. The drivers are not allowed to keep their trophies and must hand them over to the team. Red Bull are also so paranoid about their IP they throw nothing away nor do they sell any of their old cars. 

 

The Red Bull trial visor. It looks okay, does not seem to interfere too much with access and if it increases safety surely a good idea?

Red Bull seem to be doing much better this year. Apparently the new Renault engine is putting out substantially more horsepower than last year. You will not, however,  see the name of the engine builder on the side of the Red Bulls, their place having been taken by the wings of Aston Martin.

Here are a couple of videos – 62 years apart. The first shows the arrival at Monaco Harbour of Gregor Grant at the finish of the Monte Carlo Rally in 1954. Little did he know he was soon to be disqualified for missing the final time control.

The second video shows my arrival at the same place in the same car at the end of the Rallye Monte Carlo Classique in January 2016.

The route from Saint Andres-les-Alpes to Monaco was relatively straightforward and downhill all the way. Within a few hours we reached Nice on the coast where it was sunny and a good 10 degrees warmer than up in the mountains..

As we were so close to Monaco we decided to sprint to the finish by taking the peage from Nice to the principality. What we had not recalled was that the 30 or so miles is for the main part uphill. The strain on the engine pulling the car uphill non stop for 30 minutes in the warm air caused her to overheat. We pulled over some 10 miles from Monaco and let her cool down a bit. Then very gingerly motored on to La Turbie where we turned off the peage and coasted down several thousand feet to the finish line at Monaco harbour.

As we were so close to Monaco we decided to sprint to the finish by taking the peage from Nice to the principality. What we had not recalled was that the 30 or so miles is for the main part uphill. The strain on the engine pulling the car uphill non stop for 30 minutes in the warm air caused her to overheat. We pulled over some 10 miles from Monaco and let her cool down a bit. Then very gingerly motored on to La Turbie where we turned off the peage and coasted down several thousand feet to the finish line at Monaco harbour.

 

UMG Monte 16 36 Monaco Finish

When we arrived at the finish we found the ACM still setting up. We were the first car in of all the Classiques and indeed all the Historiques too! Here Per can be seen chatting Claude Plasseraud of the ACM who had scrutineered and seen us off from John O’ Groats and who was at the finish to welcome us. The hospitality and efficiency of the ACM were first rate.

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UMG 662 on the finishing gantry at Monaco Harbour. We are proudly flying the new Caithness flag that had been carried down from John O’ Groats. This was the first time that UMG 663 had been classed as a finisher on the Monte having been a non competitive press car in ’53 and having been disqualified in ’54 on arrival in Monaco.

UMG Monte 16 37 Cafe de Paris

A well earned celebratory drink at the Café De Paris in Casino Square. A £15 bottle of beer never tasted so good!

UMG Monte 16 39 At the finish

The Classique cars were allowed to park right at the finish on the quayside.

UMG Monte 16 40 At the finish

Douglas Anderson, the organiser of the UK Monte start arrives on the quayside in his smart Triumph Herald Coupe.

UMG Monte 16 43 at the finish

John Lomas’ Riley 9 Tourer arrives at the finish. A tremendous result and a testimony to the quality of the preparation by Lomas’ company, Blue Diamond Services.

UMG Monte 16 47 Monaco

The sun shines on (as Somerset Maugham so memorably put it) “the sunny place for shady people”! If you look carefully at the quayside above the white marquee you can see the Classique cars parked up.

UMG Monte 16 46 in the tunnel

Its always fun driving the Grand Prix circuit at Monaco. Here UMG 662 speeds through the tunnel towards Tabac, with somewhat less velocity and howl than an F1 car!

UMG Monte 16 44 at the finish

One of several Renault 5 Alpines on the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique, this one the Verneuil / Rollin car that started from Rheims.

UMG Monte 16 41 At the finish

The Simble / Fjeldstad Saab 96 that started in Oslo.

UMG Monte 16 45 at the finish

A relatively timeless photo of the Monte Carlo Rally. The Priam’s Simca Coupe 1200S climbing up to Casino Square at the start of the Day Two regularities for the Historique cars. The Priam’s started at Rheims.

After arriving late in the evening at Calais we were keen to find somewhere to catch a few hours sleep before heading off to Rheims early the next morning. Unfortunately all the hotels near the coast were full and we were lucky to be able to get the last couple of rooms at a motel near Arras.  Whilst that meant we did not get much sleep it did mean the drive to Rheims the next morning was relatively quick.

UMG Monte 16 18 Rheims Mumm!

On arrival in Rheims we had a little bit of time to spare so stopped at Mumm to pick up some samples of the region’s most popular export!

UMG Monte 16 21 Rheims ramp 3

We faced a dilemma. Start cracking on South or follow the Historique cars after their start from Rheims that evening? As there was no penalty in starting immediately we decided to crack on to cover as much of the route south as possible in daylight. The downside was that we left Rheims in front of some rather sparse grandstands!

UMG Monte 16 22 Town south of rheims

Cooling off in the Place d’Armes, Vitry-le-Francois where we grabbed a late lunch

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Ever South! The endless, straight and empty roads of France

UMG Monte 16 25 Langres dusk

We arrived at the old fortified city of Langres at dusk and met up with a large group of German Historique cars that had arrived shortly before us from Bad Homburg near Frankfurt. Although the Historique caters for cars built after 1955 and before 1981, these German cars illustrate what is needed these days to be competitive on the Historique.

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Here is UMG 662 heading South on the Monte Carlo Rally in 1953 when she was the Autosport press car. Waiting with her at the level crossing is a British registered Renault 4CV which is actually competing in the rally. This atmospheric photo was taken by George Phillips, Autosport photographer and sometime MG Works Le Mans driver.

UMG Monte 16 26 Early morning check point Bourgoin - Jallieu

We left Langres as it got dark. From then on we made great use of our LED headlamps and spot lights as we ran on through the night (and thick fog) past Lyon and Dijon stopping at all the main time controls. Some were harder to find than others. This one (reached at 2am) at Bourgoin – Jallieu was hidden away on a service road on an industrial estate a mile from the town centre.

UMG Monte 16 27 Dawn Alps Maritime

After a brief rest stop in Grenoble we started climbing up into the Alpes Maritime just as dawn was breaking. Whilst there was snow on the mountains the roads were clear. This was something of a relief as we had no snow chains. Funnily enough the weather mirrored that in 1954 when UMG 662 last passed this way. Sunshine and no significant snow!

UMG662 Col Leclercs Monte Carlo Rally 1953 (press car)

The weather was very different in 1953 as this action shot on the Col Leclercs shows.

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Much to my surprise UMG 662 had no trouble tacking the mountain passes, mostly in third gear but sometimes in second. The bitter cold (it was -5 c) certainly helped in preventing overheating. Here is UMG 662 at the top of the Croix Haute pass (3,900 feet).

UMG662 Coming out of the Col Leclercs - Monte Carlo Rally 1954 - Phillips driving

A great photo of UMG 662 coming over the Col Leclercs during the 1954 Monte Carlo Rally. No snow at all in ’54! Note the leak hanging from the radiator. A number of the Glasgow starters that year carried this strange mascot although no one is quite sure why!

UMG662 - Watching the action - Gregor Grant on right - Monte Carlo Rally 1953 (press car)

Another period photo of Col Leclercs, this time in 1953. UMG 662 can be seen, as befits a press car,  parked up in the background out of the way. The imposing figure on the right watching the Porsche 356 navigating the hairpin is Gregor Grant, founding editor of Autosport and then owner of UMG 662.

UMG Monte 16 29 Saint Andre Les Alpes

We arrived at Saint Andres-les-Alpes in the late morning by which time we had been caught up by the Historique cars. Its fair to say we caused quite a stir. This camera crew filmed an interview with Per that is included at length in the official ACM TV programme on the Historique and Classique Rallies.  The rally fans seemed a bit bored with the endless parade of 911s, Golfs and Opel Kadettes. Anything unusual and / or old attracted lots of attention.

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We were not the only MG in town. This Swedish crewed MGA started the Historique at Bad Homburg.

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Another Historique MG, this time the Livingstone / Skelhorn MGB that despite being British crewed also started at Bad Homburg.

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Per chatting to the Franco Swedish crew of this rare Fiat 2300 S Coupe

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Busy morning at Saint Andres-les-Alpes!

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Leaving Saint Andres-les-Alpes for the final stretch into Monaco via Nice.

UMG Monte 16 13 Dumfries

After leaving Paisley we had a short night time run to Dumfries where we made our first overnight stop. The Historique guys had no such luxury heading straight down the motorway to a distant Dover. A good selection of the Classique cars can been seen in this shot getting ready to leave Dumfries.Behind my Swedish co driver Per Jonsson (in his fetching yellow coat) is the Dutch Derby Bentley 3.5 litre of Robert van Rheenan. Behind him is the rapid little Austin A35 of Fiona and Richard Lamotte. On the right Ian Glass and Nick Ward fettle “The Tortoise”, Ian’s Ford Popular.

UMG Monte 16 14 Croft Dad

From Dumfries the route took us over the border into Cumbria and then over the Pennines to Croft Motor Circuit near Darlington. There I had a pleasant surprise, my father having driven down from Northumberland to see how we were getting on.

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Here we are leaving the pits for a few laps of the circuit

UMG Monte 16 Croft 2 on track

I believe this was the first time that UMG 662 had been on a motor circuit since it raced at Silverstone in the 1953 Daily Express Production Touring Car race (3rd in class!).

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Coming down the pit straight with a Standard in pursuit.

UMG 662 Silverstone 1953

The last time UMG 662 was on track – The Daily Express Production Touring Car Race, Silverstone 1953

UMG Monte 16 16 M25 Dartford

Some unwelcome news at Croft was that the ferry we were due to take overnight from Hull to Zeebrugge had been cancelled. Alternative arrangements were put in place but entailed a long slog down the A1 to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel. Unfortunately we arrived on the M25 at rush hour with traffic over the Dartford Crossing held up by high winds. We ended up sitting in traffic for over an hour. Much to our relief UMG 662 did not over heat.

UMG Monte 16 17 Chunnel

Since leaving Croft we had not seen any of the other rally cars. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find ourselves behind the splendid Ford Zodiac of Terry Mower and Nick Green for the short Chunnel journey to France where we arrived after midnight.

UMG 662 Monte Carlo Rally 1954

In a way it was good to just cross the Channel near Dover rather than take the ferry from Hull. It was more in keeping with what the UK crews did in the past. Here is UMG 662 being checked aboard the ferry at Dover on its way to France on the Monte in 1954

UMG Monte 16 2 Scrutineering

Scrutineering took place the afternoon before the start in unusually sunny conditions. The little side valve 3 speed Ford Popular on the right, a recent veteran of the Lands End – John O Groats Rally, proved surprisingly nimble and quick!

UMG Monte 16 3 JoG Civic Reception (Bertie Sutherland's niece - Lord Lieutenant of Caithness)

The Lord Lieutenant of Caithness made all the crews welcome at a civic reception in John O Groats the evening before the start. The rally plaques on the wall behind her belonged to her uncle Ian Sutherland who competed on the Monte many times in the fifties with his brother, Bertie. Much to my surprise it turned out Bertie Sutherland had owned UMG 662 in the seventies. The rally took us through Golspie and right past the front door of the garage where the car had sat under restoration for 10 years!

UMG Monte 16 4 JoG start

With new LED headlights burning brightly we were flagged off at dawn from John O Groats by the Lord Lieutenant of Caithness. Despite the bitter cold and early hour we were grateful that a large number of local people assembled to see us off. We were also given bags with local delicacies including miniature bottles of local whisky and some homemade biscuits. The hospitality of the people of John O Groats was magnificent.

UMG Monte 16 6 Cairngorm snow

After a spectacular drive down the coast to Inverness (following the route of the 1926 rally) we headed up towards Aviemore and  the Cairngorms. The weather deteriorated and we were hit by a blizzard of sleet and snow.

UMG Monte 16 5 Cairngorms snow

We had taken the precaution of fitting period demisters but neither they nor the wipers could cope. Luckily this was the worst weather we were to encounter on the whole rally.

UMG Monte 16 8 Gleneagles

As is often the case in Scotland the bad weather cleared as quickly as it arrived. By the time we made it to Perth the sun was shining. The road from Perth to Glasgow took us past the famous Gleneagles Hotel. I could not resist stopping at the hotel for a photo. In 1953 Gregor Grant driving UMG 662 won his class in the driving tests held at Gleneagles during the Coronation Rally. This was probably the first time the car had been back in 63 years!

UMG 662 Scottish Rally 1953

UMG 662 on the Scottish Coronation Rally 1953

 

 

 

UMG Monte 16 10 Paisley

The traditional start of the Monte in the UK is Glasgow but in recent years, the largest town in Scotland, Paisley has taken on the mantle. It was at paisley we met up with the cars doing the Historique rally to Monte Carlo as well as 20 or more cars doing local “Monte Heritage” runs from Paisley to Dumfries. The paddock was just by the Old Abbey and Town Hall. The Provost of Paisley very kindly welcomed us to a civic reception in the town hall whilst the hundreds of members of the public who had turned up to see the start had the opportunity to inspect all the cars and chat to the drivers.

UMG Monte 16 11 Paisley 2

Last minute tweaking for the Historique cars. The McGibbon Volvo Amazon at the front went on to win the Saltire Cup from the Glasgow start committee. White / Brown crewing the Rover 2000 beyond won the Thistle Cup.

UMG Monte 16 12 Paisley 3

The Classique cars waiting for the off. The Triumph Herald Coupe was driven to Monte by Glasgow start organiser Douglas Anderson.

UMG662 - Paisley Start, Monte Carlo Classic Rally 2016

The start of each car from the gantry was greeted by fire works and the cheers of over a thousand spectators. The very warm welcome given to the Rally by the people of Paisley was greatly appreciated.

There are a number of videos on YouTube showing the evening at Paisley including this one which (at 7.45) inexplicably focuses on yours truly treating the car to a general tighten up after the long run down from John O’ Groats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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