1956 Monte Carlo Rally Victory – Behind the Headlines.
Report reproduced from Motoring Life Magazine from the collection of Derek Johnston.
“MOTORING LIFE” offers its congratulations to Ronnie Adams, Frank Bigger and Derek Johnston on their facile victory in the fabulous Monte Carlo Rally. We say facile because this Irish crew in the big Jaguar saloon never put a wheel astray in over 2,500 miles of practically continuous motoring and when the tumult had died down it was to be seen that the 213 penalty marks collected were the unavoidable five per second accruing from the down-hill dice and braking test on the Monte Des Mules near Monte Carlo.
Those who play with motor cars in this country would see nothing to appal them in such a test, in fact, week-end after week-end similar tests on loose surfaces are included in our Irish trials. The Monte version was held on a good surface and the braking “box” was big enough to hold a carriage and four. To a driver of the calibre of Adams, who has had ample practice at this sort of thing in the hard school of Irish trials, such a test was a piece of cake.
Thanks too to the sensible driving of Adams and Bigger throughout the Glasgow to Monte Carlo part of the event they still had brakes left for the test. The performance of the crew through the regularity test section over the Massif Central of France, and afterwards in the eliminating test for the best 90 over the mountain circuit near Nice, really showed us that Irishmen can drive as good as the best over roads and under conditions which are vastly different from those encountered at home.
The rather hysterical outpourings of the cross channel papers on a “great British victory” amused many and should have amused more who felt annoyed about it.
To win a Monte Carlo rally means that a crew must be very able rallyists indeed, but a modicum of luck is an absolute necessity too. Other Irish crews had not that slice of luck this time. Joe Bewley and Ivan Webb ran out of it when they got to Strasbourg and lost 45 vital minutes trying to locate the Control. We gather that after that contretemps, their worst experience was when they found themselves obliged to motor quickly along a German autobahn which was one vast sheet of black ice and where the slightest deviation from a straight line might have landed them in the ditch with the seemingly dozens of cars, lorries and what have you which were strewn all over the place. Later on, this very tough two-man crew found that with the increase in length of this year’s event fatigue and fog were too much for them in the tight time schedule of the latter stages. However, they finished well but not well enough to figure in the final tests.
Wilbur Todd and Brian McCaldin found the going reasonably easy until such time as a front brake started to bind on their Zephyr. Soon they were through the brake lining and on to the brake shoe metal, then the brake fluid boiled away and they were on nothing but the gear-box, which must have been exciting to say the least of it on the Chamberey to Monte Carlo section. However, they got through all right, if somewhat behind time, and they executed the braking test properly and only about 10 seconds slower than did Ronnie Adams. Wilbur found that he could smack the Zephyr into first gear at about 33 m.p.h. so why should he worry about brakes when he had a gear-box which would stand this sort of thing for six or seven hundred miles!
Cecil Vard, Jimmy Millard and Arthur Jolley put up one of the outstanding performances of the rally and one which did not get anything like the publicity which was its due. Up to the time of their arrival at Aurillac everything went according to plan, too easy in fact, but then a gentleman called Henn driving a Rover sailed into one of their back wheels at a crossroads near Vefoul (somewhere before Strasbourg). The “Jag”’ spun two and a half times, Cecil, who was driving, got three cracked ribs. The Rover stopped in its tracks, hors de combat.
Not so the Jag. or its crew. Our boys set-to despite opposition from the local gendarmerie, a magistrate, a court registrar, a barrister and an interpreter, and using such handy panel beating tools as large stones and the car jack succeeded in straightening out the rear panel work sufficiently to allow them remove a very bent back wheel and ﬁt the spare.
In 35 minutes they were ready to go motoring again but the aforementioned lawmen took another two and a half hours of persuasion before they finally relented and let the car proceed, and that loss of time ruined their chances. Apparently it is an offence in those parts to interfere with a vehicle which has been involved in an accident. This meant of course that a member of the crew had to keep arguing with the law while the others went on with the good work on the car.
All this Irish disregard for authority (even in such a good cause) really hurt the feelings of the Court Registrar deeply and it was he who kept up the arguments for the extra two and a half hours. However, blarney was triumphant in the end and the boys moved off only to discover then that a front wheel had been buckled too. There was nothing for it but to transfer this to the back and ﬁt a “good” back wheel on the front end.
So the last 1.000 miles of rallying was tackled with a battered car, no spare wheel, one buckled wheel, a chassis over ½” out of line, fog on the mountains and an injured No. 1 driver. That this crew ever got to Monte and that they only lost 2½ minutes between Chamberey and Monte Carlo because of fog, mark you, was surely an epic achievement.
All in all, we gather that this was an “easy” Monte despite the longer routes and the tighter time schedules. Those who obeyed regulations and kept strictly to legal speed limits through towns and villages between Chamberey and the finish could not maintain their time schedules and so lost marks.
Adams and Co. did not stick to limits and lost no time. Vard and Co. did for one section and lost two and a quarter minutes because of it, thereafter they ignored limits and lost no further time. Any small car that slowed for the towns had not the slightest hope of regaining lost time in the mountains. Always remembering that the winners had the brilliant ability to make 2650 miles of extremely ditﬁcult motoring seem easy, the rally was won and lost on the downhill braking test; “Dice downhill for ½ a mile and stop between two lines 24 ft. apart” . . . such is fate. Congratulations again to the Irish victors.