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Paris-La Rochelle, 22nd - 27th of April

Two weeks ago we reported on a daily basis from this year's Tour Auto with all the stages from the French capitol to the Atlantic seaside town La Rochelle. Now with a distance of time we want to look back on all the participating cars on the 2000km through the French countryside, the 4 race tracks and the various special stages.

The Tour Auto in its present form was founded in 1992 by Patrick Peter to take up the idea of the former Tour de France Automobile combining rally sport with classic track racing. Within the following twenty years the TA became a fixed date in the classic car calendar and although like the Mille Miglia the event for historic cars became an own trade mark it still carries the idea of the original event and so just cars entered in the Tour de France are eligible for today´s editions.

Although the Tour de France was already held as early as 1899 and saw several editions before the war the “golden times” of the TdF started with the reappearance in 1951. In the following 13 years the tour was started yearly (except at the Le Mans crash year 1955) over a distance of 5000-6000km with classes for Touring and GT cars. This year's form the major part of the entrant list in the VHC (Véhicules historique competition) category eligible for the overall victory of the TA and starting in the first two competition groups.

In 1951 the first edition was won by a trio of Ferrari 212 Export bodied as Barchetta and Coupé when the sports , GT and street car classes were not separated. In the following years the small sports cars dominated the Tour, unfortunately just few cars of this era could be found in today's entry list, some Jaguar XK120, early Porsche 356 and a sole OSCA MT4 were entered in the regularity class. Even some of the earlier cars were a couple of Aston Martin DB2 and DB2/4 as part of the centenary celebration of the British Marque as one of the features of the TA.

The period of the TdF coincides with the David Brown years. After DB bought Aston Martin and Lagonda his goal was to achieve an overall victory at Le Mans with a car bearing his own name. The first experiences in racing were collected with the DB2, a new construction around the 2.6 litre Lagonda engine but after some early class victories at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia the race program was turned into the direction of open sports cars racing for overall victories like the DB3S or the later DBR1. The DB2 went into production but its further development into the DB2/4 with rear seats and the rear opening for the hatchback indicates its role as a fast touring car rather than a race car. Nevertheless even of the DB2/4 some team cars were built to enter in international rally sports, later many of these cars were converted into club racers. Six of these early Astons were entered at this year Tour Autos, three DB2 and three DB2/4. Running in the first of the three competition categories against much younger cars the DB2/4 certainly was not the fastest but its reliability over the distance gave them a 13th and 20th overall and an impressive 3rd and 4th at the index of performance classification. Better was just a duo of Porsche 356 showing why the small racers from Zuffenhausen are favoured by many at this sort of events, the air cooled 4-cylinder and the light design make these cars ideal for long distance tours.

After the break in 1955 the 1956 edition was a battle between the Ferrari works team and the Mercedes-Benz team with a couple of 300 SL Gullwing, one even driven by Stirling Moss. Unlike at the Mille Miglia the 300 SL is more exotic at the Tour Auto and just two race prepared cars were brought over by marque specialist Hans Kleissl of HK engineering.

1956 was also the first year won by the Ferrari 250 GT giving the LWB race version the nickname TdF for “Tour de France”. This started the dominance of Ferrari in the GT category with the 250 GT LWB, later the 250 GT SWB and finally the 250 GTO.
In the first years of the historic TA many of these cars could be seen on the entry lists but in the times of ever increasing prices the Ferrari 250 GT becomes a rare sight on this hard driven rally.

A few years ago the feature of the 250 GT SWB still drew a dozen of these multi-million dollar cars to Paris but this year just a duo was seen in the Grand Palais. The car in the competition category (Chassis 2129GT) is not just one SWB but it is the actual 1960 winner of the TdF in the hands of Willy Mairesse and Georges Berger. Unfortunately the car suffered from rear axle problems resulting in a late night rear axle change after the second day. It was seen a few more times roadside with the mechanics under the bonnet but it finally finished the week at La Rochelle.

At the Grand Palais the Ferrari 250 were grouped in front of the unveiled new LaFerrari, the two SWB models were joined by a trio of 250 GT Lusso and a sole 250 GT TdF (0911GT).

For the first time within year no Ferrari 250 GTO was present at the TA but after the sole entrant at last year's 50th anniversary celebration that was no surprise. Today the value of these cars became that high that owners become afraid of using them on events like this with the risk of damage both mechanically and the risk of a crash during the chase on small country roads or in wheel to wheel battle at the race tracks. That does not mean that none of their owners take part in the TA but they choose other cars from their collection. Three of them were seen these days, one in a Dino 246GT, two in the Alfa Romeo GTA.

One year after the ladies-team Ellerbrock/Rohwer entered the last of the GT class winning GTO, the silver-yellow 1964 winner (4153GT) in their brave competition debut they were back in a Alfa Romeo GTA just as former Champ Car, Le Mans and speed record racer Charles Nearburg.

They lead an armada of no less than 8 GTA(m), the usual front runners of the Touring Category. During the last years especially the black-green car of Von Wildenburg/Hahne was dominant in this category on the race tracks in the hands of experienced classic touring car racer Bernd Hahne but mechanical problems on the third day resulting in penalties prevented a better classification.

So at the end it was Nearburg to win the touring class.

The second competition group is reserved for the GT cars of the pre 1969 era and usually fights for the overall winner. This class included no less than 8 AC Cobra and 3 Ford GT40. The GT40 is without doubt the fastest car on the race track and on the first day at Le Mans all three cars were running well in front but the Ford is not really built for the narrow special stages and the open French county roads so all the GT40 suffered from unreliability leaving the battle for victory to the Cobras and the hot Jaguar E-Types. The car of the event was without doubt the AC Cobra Daytona Coupe driven by Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Bräck. Chassis CSX2300 was raced at the Tour de France in 1964 and was seen in recent years racing at Goodwood but one does rarely see a Daytona Coupe on the open road. It was fastest of the numerous Cobras but after rolling out with mechanical problems during the last lap in Magny-Cours the car was just seen sparely during the following days.

From the beginning of the Tour the fight for the overall victory was between Monteverde/Pearson in their AC Cobra and the winners of the previous two editions, the E-Type of Lajournade/Bouchet and the Cobra of Caron/David. The later were taken out of the battle after a penalty for repair on day 2 just to fight back to a podium finish on the last day leaving a duel between the Cobra and the Jaguar. Ironically the Porsche Collector Monteverde brought his Cobra in the year of the Porsche Prototype feature to win after five hard days. He took the lead on the second day just to lose it because of a speeding penalty on day 4 to Lajournande giving the Tour Auto its closest finish in years.

Monteverde/Pearson had to catch up 21 seconds on the final special stage and at Val de Vienne. Although the Cobra was fastest on the special stage the hard driven Jaguar just lost 9 seconds leaving the decision to the race track. The last race of the week was won by the reappeared Daytona Cobra but a third place behind Caron secured Monteverde/Pearson the win by just 16 second as Lajournade came home 6th behind a quintet of Cobras.

After the 1964 edition the TdF reappeared in 1969 with a new concept and the name Tour Auto to differ it from the bicycle race. In the following years the TA was open for sports prototypes and until the deadline of today's Tour Auto (1973) cars like the Matra MS650, Ferrari 512 S, Lancia Stratos and the Porsche Prototypes were racing on open roads. These cars are in the third competition group lead by a couple of Porsche 906/910 that were featured at this year's edition.

Porsche started its lightweight prototype concept with the fibreglass body of the 904, the last car with the legendary 4-cylinder Fuhrmann engine. The next step was the 906 (or Carrera 6) the first pure race car, although road legal it was produced entirely for track racing. Together with the following 910 this was intended to win the popular 2 litre class before Porsche took the next step with the 907/908 for overall victories. No less than 10 of these light sports cars were entered this year, the 906 in class G, the 910 in class H. In class G finally one of the 906 came second behind the GT40 of Vandromme/Vivier, a very respectable result when comparing the engine capacity of these two cars.

The class H was won by the Lancia Stratos driven by former Formula 1 driver Erik Comas. The short wheel base Stratos was fastest car of all participating not just because of the superior road holding of the Stratos at the special stages but also the driving abilities of Comas. This might be the sportiest possibility to drive with the Dino engine the Stratos shares with the numerous Ferrari Dino 246 GT in the regularity class.
The last group I is a little bit special as this just consists of a trio of Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV Michelotto built in 1976/77, this class was won by Beverly/Humphries.

There are two ways of looking on the entry list of the Tour Auto 2013: first one can compare it with the list of previous editions and then you can see that especially the special Ferrari become rarer. Basically the Ferrari 275 GTB and the little Dino are holding up the banner for Maranello, with the increasing value of the 275 one is curious how many of them will be entered in the near future.

The 246GT Dino is a cheaper alternative for some of the Ferrari owners to have fun during a week in France without worrying too much about the costs.

But this is just a development of the time and says nothing about the quality of the event as other major classic car events suffer the same problem. So when comparing the entry list with similar event it is still of very good quality and the yearly features add a lot just as the Porsches this year. Furthermore the concept of the Tour Auto is very unique as one could see race cars both in their normal surrounding on the race track but also driven through small villages, a Ford GT40 or a AC Cobra Daytona Coupé climbing a French speed bump is an unusual sight that should not be missed.

Report & images .. Peter Singhof