3: The rally
Declan and Alexander take a five minute break at the “three borders” – a point where Belgium, Holland and Germany converge.
So, you’re all wondering how we did… Well, we made it in one piece. To say that it has been fun is an understatement, and although the days were long and hard, they were also a laugh. The best thing is that everyone involved has an interesting story to tell, and they all have the most outstanding cars…
There were one or two that you would have looked at and thought that this is never ever going to reach Calais, let alone Naples, and yet… well… they got to Calais – and then (most of them) to Naples.
The tone of the event was set on the night before the event. Declan and I rolled up into the cheap and not so cheerful Formula One hotel in Calais, and before we even got into the car park, we knew we had hit the Staples2Naples ground zero. In front of us were some absolutely amazing sights. Ever seen a Volvo 340GL in Starsky and Hutch colours – or a Vauxhall Carlton dressed up as the General Lee from “Dukes of Hazzard”? Well we did in the car park. Celebrations had also begun in earnest, with some of the entrants obviously in high spirits. Well, until the Calais riot police had turned up!
Team Danger Scouse watches on as the riot police storm the Hotel Formula 1 in Calais… another pair of characters from the event and Nick Edmond (right) also happens to be a hell of a driver…
The following morning, we arrived at the start point (in the car park of CityEurope Calais) where we were meeting up with Alexander, and found that most of the cars competing had already arrived. Julian, the event’s organizer had taped out a start line, and at 10:15 (following the usual mayhem) the cars accelerated away. The cars were “seeded” in terms of their engine sizes, and we were fortunte to be one of the first teams to go thanks to the small engine in our Rover.
Team Bobbins’ brilliantly liveried SEAT Toledo GT and BB Recovery (which sadly didn’t make it, having been taken to a scrap yard in Germany) parked at CityEurope in Paris for the start of the rally. Clearly many of the teams had put a lot of thought and effort into decorating their cars, but we figured that our plain Jane would be less likely to attract the attention of the authorities in the various countries we were to pass through (that was our notion before we actually saw the Italian police – how they loved the rally cars)
We got to the start line, were counted down, and in front of the cameras, we smoked the front wheels big time (yep, I am not above the boy racer tactic of bouncing the engine off the limiter and dumping the clutch) and rocketed away like Michael Schumacher on speed.
The fast getaway was not neccessary, but it was a fun start to a long slog on the motorways. The way to do well on the Staples2Naples run is to score as many points as possible, and this involved getting in to as many coutries as possible during the day. And with 100 points per country at stake, we decided to aim to get into eight before the day’s end. Eight countries? Yep, that’s right: France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Leichtenstein and Switzerland. A long day, perhaps, but revealing all the same. During the 700-or-so miles we travelled in day one, we got to know our trusty, willing and fast Rover very well indeed.
For one thing, we know this 1590cc car, sold in 1990 can reach 135mph (on the clock)… all legal in Germany, of course – and with a little help with a friendly BMW 320D’s slipstream.
We completed the eight-country dash around 1:00am (including a photo shoot for a future austin-rover.co.uk article), tired, but anticipating the tests for day two.
Pressing on in Germany…
The maximum point count for Saturday involved crossing up to eight Alpine passes (subsequently, we found out that we could have done nine). And yes, we decided to go for eight. The day went well, and it was here that the 216GTi really excelled. The ride may be firm, but the handling is very crisp, and although the engine lacks torque, it has plenty of power if you are prepared to rev it. And yes, this is what I did. Sadly, I entered into “competition” mode and thrashed the poor little car up and down all the passes which I was behind the wheel for. Keeping the revs up was fun, as the car sounds so good above 5000rpm, it would have been rude not to treat the car this way. Using first for each lacet, and rocketing up each hill, I passed car after car, and although this was not what S2N is about, we were having fun. Well, I was. Not so sure about Declan and Alexander…
Stelvio lived up to expectations… and again, we found it prudent to pass one particular car which was throwing out fuel every time it went round a left-hand lacet. Once we got to the top, we took a rest and chatted to some of the other contestants. One plucky guy had decided to do the S2N run in his mother’s Maestro Vanden Plas… said mother was 94 years old, and she wants the car back. I don’t doubt for a moment that he’ll make it.
Just one of the many hairpin bends that had to be negotiated in the course of completing our eight Alpine passes.
After the passes, we arrived in a small market town in northern Italy called Tirano, and ended up partying until quite late. Many, many interesting people make up S2N, and each and every entrant we chatted to was a complete petrolhead… How about the posh pair who own a Bristol and MGC between them, competing in the event in a Polo 1.3? They were brave, though: when one of the Metros on the event (that of the S6 Boyz) lost its brakes going up Stelvio, these guys travelled in front of them on the way down and were prepared to act as a buffer for the Metro if it could not stop. Luckily, it could.
As far as we could tell, only a couple of cars were lost during the first two days. A testament to how great these £100 cars are.
Sunday morning. The town square in Tirano is not the sort of place you would expect to see fifty UK-registered bangers. And certainly not the sort of place you would expect to hear them hooting their horns in unison… Still, it happened today, and it made for a great sight – and sound. Spirits were high and as 10:00am approached, everyone was keen to get under way. The organizers had kept secret their plans for us on this day, and the route looked like a simple run down the motorway.
Sunday morning, and a line of crap cars winds its way out of Tirano and up into the mountains of northern Italy…
Except that the challenge turned out to be one which was intended to slow us all down. What we needed to do was stop at every petrol station and get ourselves photographed in front of pump number one. Not just some of us, but all of us: all team members. So we all piled out of the town – a long and colourful queue of British bangers and headed for the pumps. And what a long day it was… especially as we missed a couple of service stations and had to take some lengthy detours to find them again.
Some of the cars were deteriorating by now, and although it looks like no one has broken down, some cars are going slower than they were. Team Snooty Fox’s Subaru Legacy lost third and fourth from its autobox and ended up travelling at 70mph at 7000rpm in second. Yet it made it onto the end of the rally. Many cars sprouted new holes in their fronts to aid cooling… as well as new dents (those teams leaving their cars in Naples were by now bumping into each other at low speeds and denting each other – such fun). And yes, it is all good humoured… and very, very funny to watch.
Heroes of the day were the two lads from Longbridge who were driving a K-registered Sierra XR4x4, which lost its CV boot. Undaunted, they made their own out of napkins, plastic bags and tie-wraps, and have to keep going by stopping frequently to pack it with grease… Who said that the most ingenious engineers don’t come from Birmingham?
We managed to photograph all 24 filling stations, by the way.
Having fun at the top of an Italian mountain, S2N style…
The last day was pretty easy in comparison with those that came before. We had to take photographs of three different locations on the way to the end of the rally. The first photo was easy – an entry sign into a painfully beautiful mountain-top village. The route there was great, as it involved driving up another twisty road on the side of a mountain (what a view), and at the top, there was a big gravel car park. I waited with the car as Alexander and Declan went off sightseeing, and what should happen, but some of the other teams rolled up. Senator and General Lee (Team Frontbum) went in for some oversteery ballet, which didn’t just kick up a fuss, but also a great deal of dust. Still, it was all a good laugh.
The second photo took us to the top of another mountain north of the Bay of Naples – the view was absolutely stunning, as was the drive. The third photo – pretty much more of the same.
As we drove further south, the traffic became increasingly scary. Italian drivers really are a law unto themselves, and it would seem that the concept of priority, lane discipline or indicating had been completely abandoned in favour of a high speed free-for-all. Until experiencing the south of Italy, Leicester city centre always registered as the scariest place to drive (and I’ve done Paris and London), but now I think we have a new winner.
At many points of the day, we met up with other teams at the photo points or just generally on the roads, and the spirit of camaraderie was just great. We would wave and hoot – and it generally felt good to be in company. Especially with such a great bunch of people. The scenery was stunning, the weather was great and spirits were high.
We caught up with four of our cars going through a small Italian town on the Via Appia, and watched with wide smiles on our faces as they performed a range of interesting formations – manoeuvres that you would never dream of doing on your own car on your own patch. All perfectly safe, but as funny as a funny thing to watch. The Italians certainly enjoyed it from what we could see…
The morning after the night before: 216GTi takes a well-earned break for photos just before it gets thrashed back home.
By 7:00pm on day four, we had finished all our challenges. We rolled up to the hotel, caught up with the organizers, declared our points (we had not dropped a single one) and went to relax with some of the other entrants. And what stories they had to tell…
The prize giving came later, and as we all waited in the conference room for Justin to announce the winner, the atmosphere was good – we were all happy to have made it, beers in hand.
As it happens, Team Snooty Fox won the prize for the biggest heap of rubbish to make it to the end of the rally – no doubt, the guys’ ears would have still been ringing from the abuse – I mean, 7000rpm to go 60mph – for over 200 miles? Only on Staples2Naples!
The winning team: Scott and Kai took their Audi 90 Quattro to a well-deserved victory…
The winners of the most points, and therefore the recipients of the £1000 first prize was the team known as “The Direct Numbers”, and their story was brilliant: they entered the event, got a friend to buy the car, turned up on the day, got in (having never driven it before)… and won. Oh yes, and they came in from America. Talk about swooping in and stealing the spoils. The guys did exactly what they needed to do – eight countries, nine passes, all the petrol stations, and all the photos.
Team austin-rover.co.uk did get an honourable mention though, as we came a very close second (out of 65 teams)… Scott and Kai did what we didn’t though – they spotted that you could do nine passes if you mixed and matched the day two options, whereas we stuck rigidly to the instructions (meaning a total of eight).
Next time… next time.
The trip home…
R8 looking quite at home in the South of Italy: the scenery south of Rome was truly amazing, and although 65 rubbish cars did their best to spoil it, our team came away from Italy intending to return at a more sedate pace.
No rest for the wicked. 11:00am the following day, we were back at the hotel to meet up with a few of the entrants, and get their stories, then it was into the car to head North at a furious pace. Once on the autostrada, we settled down to a healthy pace and watched the miles roll by. One of the most amusing episodes of this trip occurred a couple of hours in when we caught an unmarked police car (which was still displaying its removable flashing light on the roof). Following at a discreet distance, we maintained an identical pace to him (about 95mph).
However, the Italians around us seemed to think that this was too slow. A BMW 5-Series caught him, tailgated him, and pushed him into moving over. You can imagine our reaction to this… Next along came an Audi RS6. He came up fast behind us, we darted to one side, and caught the police car. We watched as he pushed and pushed behind the Police car, before deciding he would undertake this semi-marked Fiat Stilo. And off he went – down the right and away.
As we felt we wanted to go a little quicker, we came closer to the police car – he pulled aside for us – and we slowly came to overtake him. However, he caught up to a truck and began to indicate to pull out again… and I flashed him to let him out. However, in Italy a headlamp flash does not mean “after you, Claude”, it means, “get out of my way, chum”… and this is what he did. Braked hard, and let me past. Only in Italy, I suspect.
The rest of the miles rolled by: 90-110mph in Italy, 70-80mph in Switzerland, and 100-120mph in Germany (limits permitting). Sixteen hours after setting off and 1050 miles later, we arrived at Alexander’s place for a good night’s sleep… And the car had not missed a beat. In fact, this 216GTi had made the event so easy, we may as well have gone in a Y-registered Mondeo. Still, we’re not complaining… Other peoples’ stories more than make up for our uneventful trip.
One interesting thing though. When we checked the oil at a re-fuelling stop in Germany, I noticed something I have never seen on any of my cars before in the past: the exhaust manifold was glowing. Apparently, it’s normal, but… it did take me by surprise!
As you can see, the car far exceeded expectations, and as promised, the GTi was sold at auction on eBay – with the proceeds going to charity.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.