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Paris-Marseille, 7th-12th of April

Two weeks ago this year’s Tour Auto finished in Marseille after a total distance of almost 2000 km through France, back then we reported on a daily basis from the event ( see Scrutineering, Day 1 , Day 2Day 3, Day 4  and Day 5 ), now with some distance of time it’s about looking back at the participating cars.

The first Tour de France (later with the affix “Auto” to differ from the bicycle race with the same name) was held in 1899 as a long distance race through France to demonstrate the reliability of the automobiles of this era, later it became a race on different stages with additional races on circuits. After the war the TdF became one of the most important annual races for sports cars, especially when the Mille Miglia disappeared. When the famous Italian road race became too dangerous for the sports race cars the TdF already switched to GT and Touring car racing and just like at the Mille Miglia Ferrari became dominant. With their 250 GT series the prancing horse won no less than eight successive editions and the first victory of this series in 1956 even gave the nickname TdF to the long wheelbase variation of the 3 litre GT car, followed by successes of the 250 GT SWB and later the 250 GTO.

At the end of the 1960s another big change was made as the TdF was opened to the sports prototypes like the Ford GT40, Porsche 906, Matra MS650, Lancia Stratos or Ligier LS2. Apart from the Targa Florio this was the rare opportunity to see these pure race cars on the open road.

The final curtain fell in 1986 with the 50th and last TdF as the event did not attract enough sponsors anymore and did not meet the safety standards of the time.

Just six years later the Tour Auto was introduced as a retrospective for the historic cars of the era and just from the beginning the TA was very popular. In the 1990s numerous Ferrari 250 GTO, SWB and TdF were regular entrants in this event making the grid one of the best of its time. Certainly with the changing market with increasing prices today’s entry list can not match with this time but it is still a very interesting mix of the cars of this era.

Eligible are cars of the type originally raced in the TdF separated in five different groups, two in the regularity class and three in the competition sorted by age. Competing for the overall victory are those of the pre-1965 era in the GT and Touring Car class, the newer prototypes are competing in their own categories.

The early competition cars start in the post-war era with the small Touring and GT Cars and race number 150 in group 3 of about 50 cars. The first three cars leaving Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte on Tuesday morning were a trio of Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing in race preparation by German Gullwing specialist HK Engineering. In recent years the Gullwing became a high value collectors item seen on many concours, shows and rallies like the Mille Miglia or in Kitzbühel but few of them are seriously racing so it is a welcome relief to see them raced in anger. The drivers certainly had also fun aside from the circuits as most of the days they could be seen in low flying formation on the road. Further cars in that group were a few of the very reliable Porsche 356 and many British cars like the Austin Healey 100, MG A/B and Jaguar XK. New this year was the fact that the fast Alfa GTA was put in the second group rather than the first one. In the last years this group was dominated by an ever increasing number of GTAs but this year they had to face the competition of the larger displacement favourites for the overall victory in Grid 4.

As mentioned earlier the first Tour Auto were playground for the Ferrari owners in their 3 litre GT cars but today only few of these could be seen. Not surprisingly none of the GTOs found their way to Paris this year, closest this year was the 250 GT SWB “Breadvan” that was constructed under the supervision of Giotto Bizzarrini on a 250 GT SWB for the Scuderia Serenissima to compete against the GTO at Le Mans. This car was raced in recent years in historic races and after being sold the new owner had the car at Goodwood for the 72nd Members Meeting  just prior to the Tour Auto. Breadvan was one of the stars of the event and as soon as it appeared it was surrounded by spectators and countless images were taken during the week. But this was not the only 250 GT SWB in the competition category as two “normal” versions could be seen as well. Although less in focus being a regular entrant chassis 2129GT (No.241) is no less than a genuine overall winner of the 1960 TdF in the hands of Willy Mairesse and Georges Berger making this maybe the most important car of the event. Originally bodied in steel as a road version was the second SWB (2221GT) with some British race history in club races and hill climbs, a third SWB was driven in the regularity. In the same category was also one of the opponents of the 1960s, the Aston Martin DB4 GT. Just as the Ferrari the DB4 Gts value increased very much over the last years so a single car in the competition class might be a low, fortunately two more examples could be seen in the regularity, both of them in new colour. Chassis DB4GT/0136/R (No.90) was red for the last 15 years and seen several time on the TA, now the owner thought it was about time to get it back in the original light blue livery.

But certainly these were no contenders for the overall victory that was the expected duel between the Shelby Cobras and the lightweight Jaguar E-Types. No less than nine Cobras with hardtop were lined up in the Grand Palais competing against ten Jaguar E-types and right from the beginning together they took the first ten places. In grids that even it was clear that reliability and small mistakes would decide at the end of the week. During the first three days the Cobra of Ludovic Caron (third last year) led the Jaguar of Jean-Pierre Lajournade (second last year) and the Cobra of Shaun Lynn, the second to last day finally mixed up the order and brought the decision. Day 4 leading from Aix-les-Bains to Valence was the only day without track racing but with three special stages, a sharp left bend on the second special became fate for several cars. On slippery road with decreasing radius not just the leader Caron crashed but several more cars to follow, with the loss of time he dropped back to third, Lajournade on the other side lost a minute because of a penalty for traffic offence. As the Tour Auto has to share the road with public traffic the organizers have to make sure that the competitors respect the rules to get future permission by the authority so every now and then they have own speed traps roadside. In a long penalty scale traffic offence is one of the most common reasons for a penalty together with late arrival at the checkpoints or to long repair during the night. So at the end of day 4 Shaun Lynn took over the lead and finally won by just over half a minute in the Willment Cobra CSX2130.

Also in this group was the Ford GT40 of Chris Wilson that became the first car behind the Cobra/Jaguar armada on an eighth overall. Wilson was always among the fastest but lost all the chances for an overall victory on day 1 by retarding on the second checkpoint.

As mentioned before the Alfa Romeo GTA had to race in the same group this year and against the cars with more than double the capacity the agile GTAs had no chance. In recent years the GTA became one of entrants favourites as it gives maximum driving pleasure compared to the value and it seems that the TA is nowadays more enjoyable in a GTA than in a GTO as two GTO owners drove one again this year. Ten GTA were competing for the victory in the touring car category and at the end it was again Bernd Hahne and Hermann von Wildenburg in the black-green example (No.224) in front of the duo of silver cars entered by the couple Ellerbrock with the better end for Daniela Ellerbrock as her husband became victim of the same corner as Caron.

Although the third competition group is not eligible for the overall victory the sports and prototypes of the late 1960s and 1970s are certainly one of the highlights of the TA. Where else could one see a Porsche 906 or a brutal DeTomaso Pantera Group 4 in the mountains? After being featured car last year the Porsche Prototypes were represented by three Porsche 906, all of them regular entrants at the TA, two of them in the competition class and one in the regularity. Romain Rocher/Jean Francois Penillard finally won the category G in front of the Ford GT40 of last year’s winner Phillipe Vanromme/Frederic Vivier, the winning 906 (Chassis 107) has an continuous history in France.

Class H with some of the fastest cars was playground for the most prominent drivers apart from 5 times Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro in an earlier Alfa Romeo TZ. Porsche was very well presented with several 911 RSR, the Martini livered example (No.275) was driven by Jürgen Barth, former works driver and Le Mans winner to a fourth place, the category was won by a 2.7 RS in front of an 3.0 RS.

After former F1 driver Erik Comas winning the category H (cars between 1971-75) last year in the Lancia Stratos Group 4 he came back to defend his title but just as German Rally ace Armin Schwarz (also on Stratos) he had to retire already on the first day. Both set the best time on the first special stage of the TA but Comas just completed 2 laps in Dijon-Prenois where Schwarz did not even start anymore. Together with another Stratos in the competition class and three more examples in the regularity the Stratos made a strong appearance in the entry list but as just one of them finished the tour unfortunately a less successful. Being featured car the BMW 3.0 CSL (No.279) could break into the Porsche phalanx to take the third place on the podium.

Class I finally was again a battle of four Ferrari 308 Gr.IV Michelotto, Olivier Panis had to content with a third place behind Grenier/Puget and Latham/Baud.

But as mentioned before the Tour Auto is not just about the competition classes as the other half of the entrants are competing in the regularity class against the clock. Before the Tour they could choose between a high, middle and low average they have to achieve on the special stages and the race tracks, the mix in the regularity class is about the same as in the competition classes apart from some of the pure race prepared cars like the Cobras or GT40s. As usual a significant amount of Alpine A110 and Ferrari 275 GTB could be seen although their number seemed to be also lower than in previous years, one has to keep in mind that the GTB/4s are already in the region of 3 Mio $. Five more Ferrari and several Dino were entered, the oldest one a 212 Inter with Vignale Berlinetta body (0205EL). The small Inter survived for several years as a rolling chassis before it was given the Vignale body of a 340 America during its restoration. The 250 GT series was represented by another SWB (3143GT), a Lusso and a Boano (0661GT). Its TA debuted was made by the 365 GTB/4 Competizione (13367), the car was converted from a street car in 1973 to be raced in Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans where it will return later this year for the classic edition also organized by TA inventor Patrick Peter.

Finally the regularity class was won by a duo of Alpines of Maylen/Stervinou in front of Ragues/Ragues.

But when looking at the galleries one (hopefully) could see that one does not have to be on top of the classification to enjoy the Tour Auto. As the special stages and the races are just a small (but important) part of the event one has plenty of time to enjoy the French scenery along the road. While crossing France one could see very different landscapes ranging from the wide rape fields at the beginning near Paris, the vineyards during the second day, the canyons of the Vercors with its small tunnels and overhanging rocks or the final Col de l´Espigoulier on its way to Marseille.

As the Tour changes its route every year the itinerary for next year is not released until the end of the year but most certain it will be as interesting as the previous editions and one could be curious about the development of the entry list in the years to come.

Report&images: Peter Singhof