LIÈGE-BRES­CIA-LIÈGE 1958

Classic Sports Car - - Letters -

At the Royal Mo­tor Union of Liège, Jac­ques Ickx – fa­ther of Jacky – had the in­spi­ra­tion to run a ‘Lit­tle Liège’ rally for cars of up to 500cc. The Suez Cri­sis of 1956 had spawned a froth of bub­ble cars surg­ing onto the mar­ket – only for the Suez bub­ble to burst, leav­ing them high and dry. Ickx con­ceived a rally to show the world which of these early econ­omy cars were ca­pa­ble of hack­ing it on a se­ri­ous rally route – and there­fore likely to be prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tives to a con­ven­tional car in long-term daily use.

There was a lot of in­ter­est: Berke­ley Cars en­tered three 328cc mod­els (in­clud­ing one for Pat Moss and Ann Wis­dom) and three of the newly an­nounced 492cc three-cylin­der cars. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Frisky, went back on their prom­ise to en­ter, and the en­try list of 35 dwin­dled to 27 set­ting out from Liège in a slow con­voy to Spa on 17 July 1958, for the timed start that evening.

It be­gan well for Berke­ley, with one of the firm’s 492 mod­els set­ting fastest time on a hill­climb into the Ar­dennes, 30 secs quicker than the Messer­schmitt Tiger, which re­tired that night, ‘driver ill.’ The Tiger was it­self 30 secs faster than the quick­est Fiat 500.

The Berke­ley held that lead all the way through Ger­many, where the route took com­peti­tors down the au­to­bahns – with a higher re­quired speed – and on into the Alps. Cars were al­ready fall­ing by the way­side and, as Pat Moss ex­plained, the Liège or­gan­is­ers would pub­lish the of­fi­cial per­mit­ted av­er­age speeds, but if you did that the time con­trol would be closed when you got there: you had to drive flat-out.

That would be the down­fall of the Berke­leys, espe­cially on the Yu­gosla­vian passes on Fri­day af­ter­noon. While all the other cars had fan­cooled en­gines, Berke­leys re­lied on air­flow from for­ward mo­tion over the en­gine to cool it, and up steep, twisty passes in July heat, there just wasn’t enough. Moss said: “They told me, ‘It’ll seize. When it does, stop, have a ci­garette, and by the time you’ve fin­ished it will have freed off.’ And it did – but we had to have so many cig­a­rettes, we couldn’t make the time con­trol!”

The route headed east and south to Ljubl­jana, then back up into the Alps to tackle the Route des Cols (where the last of the Berke­leys re­tired) and over the Stelvio and Gavia passes in the dark, to reach Bres­cia at 10am on Satur­day. A max­i­mum of eight hours’ rest was pos­si­ble, with the cars in parc fermé be­fore they set off back over the Gavia and Stelvio, and on through Aus­tria and Ger­many to the fin­ish at Spa. Just 13 cars made it, with the Fiat 500s dom­i­nant: all seven starters com­pleted the rally. Equally im­pres­sive were the three 250cc Zun­dapps, which took the team prize, and the sole Lloyd, an older 600cc model sleeved down to 500cc, which came third. The only other car to fin­ish was the French UMAP, a glass­fi­bre-bod­ied 2CV.

Ar­turo Brunetto, with novice co-driver An­drea Frieder from Ar­gentina, won in 1958 in a Fiat 500 Sport, while Pat Moss and Ann Wis­dom (be­low) strug­gled in the Berke­ley

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