Like pickingyourself up by the back of the neck and kicking yourself with both feet, theGreat American Mountain Rallye, which yearly brings some 60 keen motorists outfor a weekend struggle all over New England, demands considerable skill, but italso leaves the competitor open to suspicion of his reason.
The Rallye is nota tempest in a tea shoppe but an automotive event (the only American rallysanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) during which thedriver is asked to propel his beautifully prepared car over the most miserableof roads in atrocious weather.
The co-driver isasked to navigate with such precision that the car will be able to maintainmaximum average speeds with bull's-eye accuracy. Then, to finish off, the top10 drivers are required to negotiate a tricky gymkhana layout, a test asdemanding of their sense of precision as the Rallye is of their over-all skillon the road.
Well, let it besaid at once that the fourth annual GAMR, held over 1,171.46 miles onThanksgiving weekend, was won by, of all things, a three-cylinder, two-cycle,38-horsepower, front-wheel-drive Swedish SAAB—meticulously driven by, of allpeople, a Volkswagen agency man named Robert Wehman, of Uniondale, N.Y., andnavigated cleanly by Louis Braun, of Pompton Lakes, N.J. Second by only 38penalty points for the Rallye course came Budd Macklay and Graham Locke in abean-sized 750-cc. Renault, followed closely by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Blackburnof Greenvale, N.Y. in a Jaguar XK140.
BeforeThanksgiving it might have seemed remarkable to see that Mrs. Blackburn, afterthe gymkhana, when she sensed a chance for first place, was shakinguncontrollably from the tension of sweating out the final settling of accounts.Now, however, it is completely understandable. As it happened, I was in theRallye too. Not having participated in such an event before, I accepted whenRootes Motors invited me to "have a bash at it" in a dual-carburetor1957 Sunbeam Rapier. An old English hand, Ronald Kessel, who has navigated forBritain's famed Stirling Moss and Sheila Van Damm, came along to tell me whereto go.
It was raininghard as the 62 competing cars left Manhattan at two-minute intervals onThanksgiving Eve (World Champion Driver Juan Fangio started off the first fewcars). The weather story was rain and mud the first day, snow and ice thesecond and subfreezing cold the third. The gymkhana, mercifully, was heldindoors.
The GAMR wasdivided into 46 legs, with a different average speed for each. You did not knowwhen you would come across a control point, at which your time was recorded tothe second, so you ordinarily could not afford to exceed the average on goodroads, on the theory of having something in hand for the boondocks. The penaltyfor error was a point for each second early or late (with provision for doublepenalty under certain conditions). Other penalties could be achievedeffortlessly—for such misdemeanors as tampering with the engine, using spareparts, getting lost and so on, ad infinitum. Getting lost was one of the morefrustrating ways, and the instructions were not always easily carried out"At mail box O. G. Brandon on your right," one may read, for example,"turn left onto dirt road." At Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshiremany contestants lost quite a few points because a key sign which had been inplace when the route Was surveyed was missing last week.
Mud and ruttedmountain roads kept everyone nicely occupied the first day, which ended in St.Johnsbury, Vt. after an all-night, all-day scramble. And then came snow and iceon the way to Lake Placid, N.Y.
Lincoln Gap andSmuggler's Notch were the critical areas. "Give her bags of urge and blastyour way up," advised Kessel, and blast we did—through a blizzard on theNotch in 18 inches of snow, and down the far slope behind a car which lockedits wheels and slid ever so gently down the mountain sideways for 100 feet. Andbags of urge were needed again at the bottom to get up the icy steep ofLincoln.
Up, down andaround, we pressed on (it's amazing, this inclination to press on regardless ofconditions, once, your blood is up) to Lake Placid, then started back toManhattan in seven-below weather the next morning. The last day's drive was ongood roads. It was primarily a test of navigation and was anticlimactic.
During thegymkhana the Black-burns (and the officials) believed they were in secondplace, only 14 points behind Wehman. Wehman thereupon stretched his lead to 20points, so Mrs. Blackburn might as well have left her nails ungnawed,especially since it was discovered six hours later that the eventualsecond-place Renault had been erroneously penalized 3,600 points during theday.
Only five of the62 starters failed to finish the route, through mechanical trouble, illness ormisadventure—a praiseworthy record. The Rapier pushed on smoothly without ahint of troublemaking, and we finished 32nd, which wasn't bad, considering thefact that we were never able to compensate properly for our Speedpilot (SI,Nov. 5) error (the Speedpilot worked brilliantly for some, less well forothers) and that we twice broke chains, got held up by an overturned truck andonce nosed into a ditch. Still, we had fastest time in class on theacceleration climb.
If it hadn't beenfor that bloody bad luck, Mrs. Blackburn (this is the rally of a thousandexcuses), we'd have been palpitating beside you.
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