Rally Column/Carlson

Ah, the essential joys of the vintage rally! The lovely countryside, the gentle breezes, the ancient machinery rolling smoothly over the tarmac, the happy waves of the control workers, the spirit of camaraderie and bonhomie, the je ne sais quois, the vichyssoise, the slippery corners as you slide sideways toward the trees through the mud---

What?! Mud?! On a vintage rally?!

Sacre bleu!

That's the beauty of this particular corner of the sport. While there are those among us who would swoon with the trembling collywobbles should an errant autumn leaf come crashing down on the Zymol---I have in mind one semi-ex banker in Portland who ran out to the driveway and wrapped his 250 Berlinetta in Visqueen at the first announcing droplets of a sweet summer rain---there are those of us in the happy predicament of having seen the world grow vintage around us. Even better, some of us have managed, through hurricane, fire, flood, divorce, and middle age, somehow to keep the same cars we rallied a quarter century ago (more likely we simply never got around to hauling them off to the scrap heap). And because these cars were never concours queens to begin with, being tossed sideways through the gravel more often than they were washed (and often with more lasting effect), when we wander out to the rally fields today, we are not restricted to those gentle tarmac-only sanitized affairs which smack of wheeling some dowager into the sunlight for a spot of air, ever gentle and wary of her rheumatism, not wanting to knock the old girl into a spasm. Indeed, we are likely to flog the old bat into a trot, if only to keep her circulation going, blow out the carbon.

This is of course a dilemma. While our rides---usually nothing too exotic, although I know of one happy maniac who took to collecting WRC Group B cars when he could get them for a song (or even a single stanza)---were usually more workhorse than thoroughbred, they were serviceable, reliable rally cars. Think of old Volvos. Think of old Saabs. In today's more swank elite, those vintage rallies and tours where one chooses among the nuances of Dom Perignon and La Grand Dame instead of taste-testing Miller and Bud, our old rides look sort of tatty (if we are allowed on the grounds at all).

The bright side is that other rallies, not pure vintage events, will sometimes provide for---and even encourage---a class for these relics from the '60s and '70s (I refer again to the cars, not their drivers). Even better, there are signs of vintage events being staged as they were in the golden age, where these aging rally machines are revered and respected, though we have not yet reached a point where the newer cars are excluded.

Take Press On Regardless, for example. The longest-running rally in North America, POR was first staged in 1949. It evolved through several permutations, but back in the Jurassic it was one of very few rallies in this country that was. . . um. . . well, it was always set up to be rather brisk, you know what I mean? Running over the sandy forestry roads of Michigan, the POR rally opened up some novitiate's eyes every year, usually by sending him off a "yump" at 48 miles an hour. Denounced by the effete string-back wankers who would faint at the thought of m-m-m-mud on their bonnets (or, more likely, packed into the wheel wells till the wheels wouldn't turn), POR was nevertheless the inspiration for others: It took driving skill as well as keen navigation to win it.

After gaining all-out FIA status in the '70s, POR settled into its role as one of the premier events of the SCCA Pro rally series---and it was Mecca to us on the left-hand coast. But I myself never found the time or the wherewithal to journey two-thirds of the way across the country.

Until the Michiganders, too, returned to their roots.

That was three years ago. Unable or unwilling to undergo the logistical flagellation inherently required to produce a Pro rally, the Friends of POR---guided, led, and horsewhipped by Gene Henderson, one of the few true rally legends in America---decided to return to the tamer TSD format, and lay out a two-day rally that covered many of the same roads used 25 years ago. Sponsored by Total Petroleum---which as Leonard Petroleum had sponsored POR so many years ago---that event was a great success, especially since it was won by Scott Harvey and Ralph Beckman, who had won it back in Ought 69.

But this time they were driving an Eagle Talon.

On the other hand, Scott Harvey Junior was driving a. . . well, a mature vehicle. And he was back again last year, and again this year, in a 1975 Dodge Colt. And there was a '72 VW Bug. And an AMC Hornet. And even a '75 MG Midget (which of course broke a ring-and-pinion on the starting line).

My favorite entry this year was the 1965 Plymouth Valiant driven by Chuck Fortino, with Tom Bell in the thinking side. Ever true to the spirit of the rally, these guys went pounding through the thick dust of the first day and slid through the Teflon mud of the second, all the while stopping at every parts house they could find in a vain effort to replace a disintegrating U-joint. (These cars used something like a CV joint, and the balls were disintegrating; they even fabricated a sort-of ball bearing out of JP Weld, but that was ground into epoxy powder in a matter of minutes.)

I was in a modern car, of course, my beloved BMW 325 iX, a genuine rare classic the day it was built, and I had a great time---but I think Fortino had more fun. And you know, I do have the same old Saab I used to heave through the woods; I bet I could get it running. Or there's Oakley Woman's vintage ride, the '68 Sonett we're scheming to take to Targa Tasmania unless they find a cure in time. Or---

Well, you get the idea. In the small world of vintage racing, there's the even smaller world of vintage rallying---within which there is the teensy speck we could label Sideways Through the Boon-toolies In a Cool Old Car. And the center of that world must be the Total Press On Regardless Rally.

So I think I'll go back next year, and I hope you might want to join me, especially if we can bring enough old cars that we out-number the modern computer-equipped cruise-control ABS-brakes air-conditioned luxo-barges that pass for rally cars these days.

But I don't think we'll see my friend with the Berlinetta at POR. That "teensy speck" is mud, after all.


The author is solely responsible for the contents of these pages and the opinions expressed herein. You may address suggestions, comments, and criticism to
Satch Carlson, PO Box 202967, Anchorage, AK 99520-2967 USA.