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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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.

 

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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The Simble / Fjeldstad Saab 96 that started in Oslo.

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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.