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