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