TIDDLERS ON THE HOOF
Classic tiddlers from 200-700cc battled Alpine passes, circuits and navigational tests on the Diamond Jubilee Liège-brescia-liège Rally
Meet the hardy bunch who rallied 2000 miles across Europe… in bubble cars!
An indomitable spirit, great camaraderie and a determination to never give up carried crews through this unique historic rally, held from 11-22 July this year. Nursing fragile, underpowered microcars for 2000 miles over numerous steep mountain passes is a special challenge for driver and navigator alike: you drive flat-out most of the time, without breaking speed limits, and navigation must be spot-on.
Mick Bell had won Spirit of the Rally with wife Sara in the 2008 event in their BMW Isetta 300, driving all night to catch up after replacing a main bearing in Ljubljana. This time a last-minute family emergency forced Sara to stay at home, replaced by 15-year-old nephew Chris. They had a fantastic rally, tackling all of the toughest passes, performing well on the circuit tests and, because theirs was the smallestengined car to find every passage control, Chris earned the Best Navigator Oscar at the prizegiving dinner back in Liège.
Two rallies in one, Liège-brescia-liège 2018 was contested by 19 sub-500cc cars in the Authentic Category (of a type that could have competed in the original 1958 event), and 19 more in the Spirit Category (of a type built before 1968 and sub-700cc). Autobianchi Bianchina Trasformabile and Panoramica, Berkeley SE328, SE492 and B95, BMW Isetta and 700, CAP Scoiattolo, Citroën 2CV, Fiat 500 and Gamine, FMR Tg500, Heinkel 200, NSU Prinz 3 and Sport Prinz, Steyr-puch 500 and 650, Trabant P601, UMAP 2CV, Vespa 400 and Zundapp Janus – the list of entries was a catalogue of rare and tiny machines – entered from the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and the USA. All had to plot the route on maps provided, then navigate the event using only those maps.
‘This being a true endurance rally, there was a penalty if the RAC worked on your car, so they simply provided tools while competitors fixed their own machines’
Great parallels with 1958 included the entry of no fewer than six Berkeleys – and the fact that the first test, on the brilliant Liedolsheim kart circuit in Germany, was won by a Berkeley SE492, crewed by Ian and Melanie Danaford, who hit the target time bang-on by pure luck, leading the rally into the Alps. This time, however, the two FMR (Messerschmitt) Tigers were both just one second behind, and would soon take an unassailable lead as they ticked off every passage control and showed amazing timekeeping on the two remaining tests, including a three-lap consistency challenge at the impressive Autodromo di Franciacorta near Brescia. Rally legend Willy Cave wasn’t far behind, navigating a Citroën 2CV, at the age of 91.
The RAC rescue van was cheerily crewed by Simon Courtney and Mike Collins, helping competitors along the way by changing the clutch on a Berkeley and a flexible brake hose on the NSU Sport Prinz. This being a true endurance rally, however, there was a penalty if others worked on your car – so on quite a few occasions the RAC simply provided safety and tools while competitors fixed their own machines.
Battling away doggedly and cheerfully at the back of the field was the father-and-son team of Xavier and David Kingsland. Xavier had just rebuilt his Berkeley SE328 and gamely brought it along, despite no shakedown time, expecting to drop out of the rally after day one. With constant fettling, however, the car not only made it, but also steadily improved. Xavier said: “The spirit in which all of the competitors undertook the event and the fabulous terrain that the route covered, not to mention the climbs and hairpin turns, will remain most wonderful memories for us both for years to come.”
The 2019 Liège-brescia-liège Rally will be for Triumph TRS. The next Micro Marathon hits the Pyrenees in 2020. See www.classicrallypress.co.uk
Passo Pordoi in the Dolomites is a serious, tortuous climb up to 2239m, here tackled by John Rondeau and Steve Gipson in Noddy-style Fiat Gamine and, right, by Andrew Isherwood and Hilary Farbowski in their Berkeley SE492 – the only car to really challenge the Tigers’ dominance
Above: Authentic Category winners Mark and Jane Smith (FMR Tg500) had incurred just 3 secs of penalties after 10 days. Right: Ladies’ Team victors Patty Schwarze and Dorothy Dansberger are followed through the lanes of southern Germany by another Us-crewed 2CV, plus Austrian-entered Prinz and Steyr-puchs
Left: super-rare UMAP of Jaap van den Broek and Roel Dijkstra from The Netherlands enjoying a gravel pass through the Slovenian forest – this may be the actual car that finished 12th on the 1958 rally. Above: Martin O’donovan welds a driveshaft to keep his Autobianchi (shipped over from the US) in the rally
Above: organiser Malcolm Mckay flags away car 1, a 204cc 1958 Heinkel driven by indomitable 83-year old John Ducker, who battled through with the smallestengined car despite having to train a novice 13-yearold navigator from day two