…the Porsche 911, even though it tried to kill me. Rose­mary Smith re­counts her ex­ploits in Stuttgart’s rally cars

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‘Huschke von Hanstein of­fered me a drive in a Porsche 911T on the Coupe Des Alpes – it was a to­tal de­light. I could see Pauli Toivo­nen’s brake lights in the dis­tance, then the brake pedal went to the floor…’

Iab­so­lutely loved it,’ says Six­ties rally driver Rose­mary Smith in her de­light­ful lilt­ing Dublin ac­cent as she re­calls ex­cit­edly the times she drove a 911T for the Porsche Com­pe­ti­tions Depart­ment. ‘Although I’d won the In­ter­na­tional Tulip Rally in a Hill­man Imp in 1965 I al­ways wanted to scream and shout, yelling “give me a fast car!” But I never did get one. Then I met Porsche Com­pe­ti­tions boss Huschke von Hanstein and he of­fered me a drive in a 911T. There was sim­ply no com­par­i­son be­tween the Imp and the Porsche. Although they were both rear-wheel drive you could steer the Stuttgart car on the throt­tle in a way that was to­tally im­pos­si­ble in the Rootes model.

‘My first event for Porsche was the Coupe Des Alpes in Septem­ber 1968. I was told that the car had a heavy clutch, but sadly it burnt out so we failed to fin­ish. Our sec­ond out­ing was in the Geneva Rally. It was orig­i­nally sched­uled for late June, but was ul­ti­mately post­poned un­til Oc­to­ber. We set off into the Alps and the car was a to­tal de­light. I was in my el­e­ment. The Porsche was fly­ing. We were 90 sec­onds ahead of the next car and catch­ing the leader, Pauli Toivo­nen, who was also in a 911T. We could see his brake lights in the dis­tance.

‘Then, cu­ri­ously, my co-driver Ginette Derol­land be­gan to tell me to back off. She’d never done that be­fore, so I thought it was a bit strange. A sharp right-hand bend was ap­proach­ing and I put my foot on the brake pedal. It went to the floor.

‘I quickly went down through the gear­box, even­tu­ally slew­ing the car so the front hit the rock face while the back slid round so that it was al­most hang­ing over the edge with a sheer drop to a ravine be­low. Ginette climbed out and was im­me­di­ately vi­o­lently sick. Luck­ily, a cou­ple of cars ap­peared and we were able to push the car out of the way.

‘When the me­chan­ics fi­nally looked at the Porsche they found that a rear damper mount­ing had failed while jump­ing over some rough ter­rain and the en­gine had dropped, frac­tur­ing a brake pipe. Huschke was not im­pressed. He was con­vinced that Porsches didn’t fail and I’d bro­ken two of his cars.

‘Later, Ginette told me that a cou­ple of her close friends had been killed at ex­actly the same spot a year ear­lier when their car went off the road. Luck­ily we didn’t suf­fer the same fate – but I was still ter­ri­bly dis­ap­pointed. We were so close to be­ing sec­ond over­all and sadly I fu­elled the doom­say­ers who had claimed I couldn’t han­dle a fast car.’

Rose­mary Smith and Ginette Derol­land in their works 911T

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