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By Larry Edsall
Back to ClassicCars.com Community

How to get started in vintage rallying
Rich Taylor

How to get started in vintage rallying

(Note: Larry Edsall is off on a road trip, so he's turned over this space to Rich Taylor, automotive writer and vintage rally organizer, who shares his knowledge on how to get involved in vintage rallying.)

Until a few years ago, there were only two things to do with your vintage sports car once the restoration was finished: you could show it in a concours d'elegance or take it vintage racing.

Looking at old cars parked on a lawn quickly gets dull, while racing wheel-to-wheel sometimes gets too exciting! Racing is also a lot more fun for the driver than for his spouse who's hanging around yet another dusty, noisy track. What the world needs is a way for a couple to drive, enjoy and share their beloved vintage sports car with minimal risk.

Vintage rallies are the perfect solution. Old car owners get to foregather with other enthusiasts as they do at a concours, but also to drive their old cars without the risk inherent in racing. Vintage rallies require not only a driver, but a navigator to handle the timing and route instructions. In other words, this is a fun automotive activity that a couple can enjoy together.

It's the modern equivalent of the Grand Tour, except that the organizers have already figured out the prettiest roads, booked the nicest hotels, culled the wine list, brought a truck to carry everyone's luggage and hired professional mechanics to follow behind in case someone's car breaks down.

Most vintage events take their cue from the Mille Miglia Storica, a 1000-mile drive held in early-May that follows the route of the Mille Miglia, an annual open-road race from Brescia to Rome and back for sports cars that began in 1927 and was outlawed after the Marquis de Portago's fatal accident in 1957. Today's Mille Miglia Storica is restricted to cars that competed in the original race - sports/racing cars built between 1927 and 1957.

Events organized by our Vintage Rallies, Inc. are open to sports, racing and GT cars built 1975 or earlier, plus there are classes for late-model exotics. This allows newer cars like Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis to mingle with classic machines.

The performance of most cars built before World War II is pretty tame by twenty-first century standards, plus they can be physically demanding to drive, unreliable and expensive to repair. On the other hand, the best pre-war sports cars really do handle like they're on rails and provide a high level of driving excitement.

There are literally dozens of sports cars built between 1946 and 1957 that make terrific vintage rally cars. Prices are much lower than for pre-war cars with equivalent performance. Repairs cost less, too. A car such as a V8-powered Allard will literally leave you breathless. Other relatively inexpensive but fun choices are the Jaguar XK-120/140/150, 1956 or '57 Corvette, Maserati 3500 GT, AC Ace, Morgan Plus 4, Aston Martin DB-2/4, Austin-Healey 100 or Porsche 356.

Most vintage rallies allow cars built up through 1975, which gets you into such wonderful machinery as the Shelby Cobra, Aston Martin DB-4/DB-5/DB-6, Ferrari 275 GTB, 365 GTB/4 or 330 GTC.

Probably the best all-round vintage rally cars from this era are the 1973-74 Porsche 911, 1965-66 Shelby Mustang GT-350 or 1963-67 Corvette Stingray. All three are fast, fun, reliable and inexpensive.

A vintage rally is not a race. It is much more demanding than that!

There are stretches on the Northwest Passage or Texas 1000 where fast cars can cruise at 140 mph. This is definitely not the time to have an old dry-rotted tire collapse or a spongy radiator hose lose its cool.

Smart rally drivers prep their cars thoroughly and bring a box of hard-to-find spares. Unlike fanatic vintage racing tech inspectors, rally organizers won't care if you've hidden disc brakes behind the wheels of your Porsche 356, bolted a 5-speed Tremec transmission behind the V8 in your Corvette or fitted high-tech radial tires to your old Ferrari.

Forget the 600-hp small block with the 30-minute life expectancy. While the typical vintage race is 30 miles or so, the typical vintage rally is 1000 miles. Think about it. You need to pay special attention to obvious things such as the cooling system, electrical system, brakes, tires, shocks, wheel bearings and U-joints, plus any special weakness peculiar to your model of car.

At the very least, you should carry a fire extinguisher, spare tire, a small jack, tool kit, oil, brake fluid, coolant, sparkplugs, wire ties and a first aid kit.

Some vintage rallies are referred to as TSD events. TSD stands for Time-Speed-Distance. Each two-person team of driver and navigator gets route instructions that direct them from one checkpoint to the next. There might be three or four of these stages each day of a four-day rally. The checkpoints are usually at some scenic tourist spot, a private car museum or some other point of interest.

Let's say the stage is 50 miles. The rallymaster says the allotted time for this stage is one hour. In other words, you're supposed to average 50 miles-per-hour. Arrive too early and you lose points. Arrive too late and you lose points. Timing is usually done to the nearest second, and the goal is to zero the rally by completing each stage perfectly and thus earning no penalty points.

Some vintage rallies add timed stages, usually at a race track, but sometimes on a private road. Now you can drive as fast as you want. No worries about average speed now; the fastest car wins! But there're also no worries about another racer running into you, since the cars are sent off one by one.

We know more than one couple who've zeroed a 1000-mile rally with a broken odometer and the wife's wristwatch which had no numerals. At the other extreme is a Canadian vintage racer who hired 14-time Pro Rally national champion navigator Tom Grismshaw and his rally computer for the New England 1000.

We recommend you bring a clipboard to hold the rally route instructions, at least two inexpensive stopwatches or digital atomic clocks, at least two pens and a set of Hi-Liter markers in different colors to emphasize important route instructions. If you have a particularly noisy car, invest in a pair of those head-mount intercoms that touring motorcyclists use so the driver can hear the route instructions.

Most vintage rallies are held in the spring or fall, when the weather can be iffy. Old sports cars, even closed cars, can be surprisingly cold and drafty or alternately, surprisingly hot and stuffy. Bring lots of layers of clothing.

Navigator's feet are especially vulnerable. Invest in warm boots.

A vintage rally is a team sport. The navigator is the captain; the driver is the helmsman. The driver's job is to drive smoothly and quickly, follow instructions precisely and not make the navigator car sick. The navigator's job is to interpret the route book as accurately as possible and convey that information clearly.

There are a few tricks to winning a vintage rally. The chance of your 30-year-old Ferrari odometer agreeing with the odometer of the rallymaster's new Porsche is virtually nil. Figure out the standard deviation as quickly as possible on the first leg, so you can make mileage corrections as you go along.

Vintage rallyists are interesting people. The kind of folks who own rare and expensive vintage cars, who can afford to spend $5500 for a rally, who can take a week off and who find it fun to drive 1000 miles in an old sports car are by definition going to be more interesting than the guy who thinks watching beach volleyball on cable TV is high excitement.

Special (vehicles) event

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, hosts a specialty vehicle presentation April 17 from 9:30 a.m. until noon. Walt McCall will lead a two-part program: "How I Got Hooked (and Laddered): Confessions of a Lifelong Fire Engine Buff," and "The Professional Car; The Rise and Decline of Passenger Car-Based Ambulances and Funeral Cars." For details, call (248) 944-0450 or visit www.wpchryslermuseum.org. McCall has written 18 books on the subject.

'Stirling' deal

A fall down an elevator shaft may have slowed but certainly didn't stop Stirling Moss. The former racing great was to have joined Richard Petty and Don Garlits at the recent Amelia Island concours d'elegance, but was, as the British say, "in hospital." Despite his injuries, Moss participated in the activities at Amelia, bidding by proxy and buying the 1961 Porsche RS61 Spyder that crossed the auction block at the Gooding & Company event.

"I have long sought after a Porsche RS and had my eye on that [one] for several weeks and now cannot wait to see my new car," Moss said of a car much like the RS60 he raced in the 1961 Targa Florio.

By the way, Moss paid $1.7 million for the Porsche.

Mark you calendar

April
1-3 - Barrett-Jackson at Palm Beach, Florida
3 - Kruse at Chicago (Schaumburg, Illinois)
4-7 - Copperstate 1000 vintage rally, Arizona
9-10 - Mecum auction at Kansas City Convention Center, Kansas City, Missouri
9-11 - Goodguys Del Mar Nationals, Del Mar, California
17 - Specialty vehicle program (fire engines, ambulances and funeral cars) presentation, Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Auburn Hills, Michigan
23-25 -- VCRA Ruffneck Rally, Ponca City, Oklahoma
23-25 - Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, Lake Como, Italy
24-25 - RM auction at Novi, Michigan

May
1 - RM auction at Monaco
14-16 - Kruse Spring at Auburn, Indiana
15-16 - Goodguys Orange County Get-Together, Costa Mesa, California
16-21 - New England 1000, Stowe, Vermont
19-23 - Mecum auction at Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis
21-23 - Goodguys Nashville Nationals, Nashville, Tennessee

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