Where can you listen to the sound of a Lancia Stratos Dino V6 engine being fired up with a skyline of expensive flats, mountains, yachts and the Mediterranean as a backdrop, or hear the sound of an Alpine A110s shrieking around the corner as it accelerates out of one of the tight hairpin bends on the Côte d’Azur’s mountain passes? At the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique of course.
Since 1911 this rally has been organised yearly on the Côte d’Azur by Automobile Club de Monaco – with the exception of 1913 to 1923, 1940 to 1948, and 1957. In 1972 it became part of the World Rally Championship, and now every January and February the rally fans are treated to two great spectacles – the WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo, with its modern cars, and fairly predictable results – since 2000 the victory has always been taken by either a French, or a Finn. The battle for the world championship is followed by the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique, which gives you a chance to travel back in history, and smell old school petrol fumes – and quite frankly also see much more interesting cars on historic rally stages such as the Col de Turini, or parked up in Monaco’s Port Hercule port if you wish to take a closer look.
This year we got a brief glimpse of the atmosphere at Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique as we headed down to the port in the evening. The final night leg of the 22nd edition was just about to begin, and all cars were parked up, row after row of stunning classics, with keen motorists eager to get out on the open road. Car interiors were being lit up by torches and dash-mounted reading lamps, as the drivers and co-drivers had a final look at their crucial pacenotes. Team mechanics were fiddling with the machines – some unfortunate cars sounded like they might not even make it across the start line. A lively mix of foreign voices all around us – Finnish, Norwegian, French, Italian, Spanish – as the Monte-Carlo Historic Rally attracts applications from all over the world, with the sound of revving period engines in the background. High fives, good lucks, a mix of wide smiles and serious faces – it’s hard to imagine what goes through their mind before the race begins. You could feel the sense of adventure like a cloud in the air – and if anything, it made you crave for a seat in one of those cars, because really, who wouldn’t want to drive a vintage rally car up on a closed twisty pass after midnight, with just your rally lights lighting up the tarmac or gravel in front? It must be a hair-raising experience – and wonderful.
To enter the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique you don’t need to be a professional rally driver, or even own a particularly expensive car. In the Appendix V you can find a list of eligible cars. The general rule seems to be that any models that competed in the Monte Carlo Rallyes between 1955 and 1980 will be considered, which seems to be a similar approach to the one of Mille Miglia – if you own a car that once was part of the race, that’s all you need for your ticket. Almost, that is. Because this hugely popular event actually has more applications than it has numbers on the startlist – I’m not surprised – so the more interesting or rare your car is, the better are your chances to be part of the fun. You can enter with arguably the most famous French rally car in history – the Alpine A110 – or opt for the futuristic look with an Alpine A310. If you’re into BMWs you might want to consider a BMW 2002, a Porsche fan can enjoy the event in a rally specced 356 or 911, or if you can get your hands on one you can even join the rally in a De Tomaso Pantera. And if your budget and nerves allow, you’d definitely want to do it in a Lancia Stratos, in the tyre tracks of Munari who won the Monte-Carlo rally three years in a row in one of the greatest rally cars in history.
Do you sometimes watch videos of Group B rallying, and think what a shame it is that you might never be able to see first hand one of those special cars, appearing behind a high crest in the forest, trailing a big cloud of gravel dust behind? Well, the South of France isn’t quite as dramatic as the 1000 Lakes rally in Finland back in the old days, but Monte-Carlo still makes historic rally fans’ dreams come true – and gets us high on the smell of old machines.