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Paris-Biarritz, 20th - 25th of April, 2015

It is almost two weeks ago that this year’s Tour Auto Optic 2000 became history when the majority of the 233 drivers and navigators starting from Paris on Tuesday arrived at the sunny Atlantic coast at Biarritz. Back then we reported on a daily basis from the different stages with the stops in Vichy, Clermont-Ferrand, Toulouse and Pau illustrating the changing scenery on their journey, now with the timely distance it is time to have a closer look at the participating cars. The gallery sorted by race number should give you an idea of the typical entry list ranging from small Touring cars like an Austin Mini to the brutish sports prototypes like the Ligier JS2 DFV.

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In last year’s report we took a small look back into the classic days of the original Tour de France and therefore the eligible cars for the classic car interpretation of the Tour through the Grand Nation and certainly nothing changed for this year so the main contingent of cars dates from the sports and touring car era of the 1950s and 60s with the later sorts prototypes in an own class. Again the entrants had to choose from two different categories, either the regularity event with a given time for the special stages and circuit laps or the sportive competition with wheel-to-wheel battles on the race meetings and working against the clock on the closed off special stages.

The regularity classes were divided in three different time groups with low, medium or high average speed depending on the application of the teams. Again about half of the cars of this year’s event have chosen this more relaxed form of competition that does not need that much preparation upfront and service during the days including tyre changes. Just like in the competition this is a very colourful mix of Italian, French, German and British cars from most of the major marques of the era. This includes the more common entries seen at many of today´s driving events like Porsche 356 and 911, Jaguar XKs and E-Types or Austin Healey but also more exotic machinery.

Like every year 2015 had a special feature dedicated to a single marque or theme, this year to the small Barchettas, open sports cars without weather protection. Back in the 1950s these small racers were very popular and in today´s market they are some of the collectors’ favourites. Certainly it is a risky undertake to face a 5 days drive in changing conditions over 1900 km without any hood but still a few cars were lined up at the Grand Palais in Paris for the scrutineering. The Porsche 550 a Spyder is an old acquaintance as it is a regular entrant but this years it was joined by its former rivals from Italy in the 2 Litre-class, the Maserati 200 SI and the Ferrari 500 Mondial. Both cars were already seen in the past on the Mille Miglia so they are proven to be capable of driving the distance but the high rev 4-cylinder engines are always good for a surprise. The Ferrari (0424MD) started its life in France and therefore raced under the light French blue racing colour rather than red and although the car was repainted later in its life it was brought back to the original colour scheme by sanding the upper layers of paint down to the original one. Representing the national colours this was certainly one of the main attractions at the Grand Palais but unfortunately the car did not finish the first day of driving with engine problems and was replaced by a Citroen 2CV for the next days. The Maserati on the other hand did finish the entire tour showing that the reliability issues that costed several victories for the marque with the trident are sorted today by a proper preparation.

Remarkable enough is the fact that the amount of very expensive Ferrari was not much further reduced from the previous years although one of the “standard” cars of the Tour Auto, the Ferrari 275 GTB is now very well in the million dollars. Again 9 examples could be seen, most of them known examples of the previous years including a competition version that unfortunately was abandoned after the first day as well.

Even much more expensive was the Ferrari 250 GTO that was entered again by Lord Laidlaw. Although the dark red examples could be welcomed several times over the last year it is still very brave to enter a 40 million plus car in a driving event over a gruelling 5 days on small bumpy French country roads. Although the car did not finish as well it was certainly one of the highlights on the first days and the car was surrounded by people at every stop. It was accompanied by a trio of 250 SWB Berlinettas, one in the regularity and two in the first competition group including the 1960 Tour de France winning example, an all alloy competition version (2129GT).

Even more interesting were a duo of early 12-cylinder cars, the Vignale bodied 225S (0168ED) and the even older 212 Export Touring Berlinetta (0088E). This car was the star of last year’s Bonhams Scottsdale auction when it was fresh on the market after a superb restoration. It was later shown at Pebble Beach by its new owner who passed the car to the current one. After entering the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Breadvan last year the now rally prepared 212 Export was another highlight brought over from Austria by its enthusiastic owner who even challenged in the competition category against the younger 250 GT. Being a concours car previously the car obviously needs some more sorting out for the events to come as it was not seen on all the days on the road as well.

On the other end of the Ferrari spectrum were the 5 entered 308 GTB in Group 4 specification who competed for the newest category I in the competition. The Ferrari line-up was rounded of by two special versions of the 365 GTB/4 Daytona, a 1975 competition conversion (16717) and a Michelotti Targa NART version (15965).

A more common sight of the Tour Auto in the previous years are the Alfa Romeo GTA. Obviously representing the most fun to value ratio the fast Alfas are getting more and more popular among collectors and the Tour Auto is the perfect event for them. Fast on the circuit on one side but reliable and comfortable enough for the long stages on public roads. Since a few years the GTA are part of the second competition group rather than in the first where they went from race victory to race victory whereas now they have to compete with the large big bangers today. In the last years it was Bernd Hahne in the black GTA running well in front of the pack but as this car was not entered this year it was up to the team Furiani/Werner to take over the challenge. As the former is renown for his race preparation and restoration of classic Alfas the car was perfectly prepared for the experienced and quick vintage racer Max Werner who was even able to outperform all of the bigger cars on several special stages. Unfortunately the car was without chance on the race tracks lacking the horse power of the engines with much more than double the capacity but still able to finish an impressive 5th overall. Further GTA finished 7th and 11th with the fastest ladies team Ellerbrock/Rohwer in their bare alloy version.

But as mentioned in our report during the Tour it was again up to the Jaguar E-Type and AC Cobra to fight for the overall victory. No less than 5 Competition AC Cobras 289 were lined-up to challenge a bunch of Jaguar E-Type in light weighted configuration for the top place on the podium. As most of the entered cars are regulars to the Tour Auto the service teams do exactly know how the cars have to be prepared and the 1900 kilometre are normally not a big challenge for them. But as the cars are so close together performance wise it is the small things that make the difference. With the two fastest cars well within half a minute all days one could not have a single weak special stage or race. On the first day it was the black Cobra (CSX2127) of Ludovic Caron that took the lead but already on the second day the later winner Jean-Pierre Lajournade in the Jaguar E-Type took over. Second last year only by losing because of a penalty for road offensive Lajournade was able to keep the lead over the following days in front of Caron and last year’s winner Shaun Lynn in the red ex-Willment Cobra (CSX2130).

Again a couple of Ford GT40 were entered, for some confusingly all in red but in different categories. One was driven in the regularity (the red P/1042 of the Scuderia Brescia Corse), one in the GT category (P/1070) and the very late P/1089 of Philippe Vandromme who could defend his victory in the category H after taking the lead on the very last day from the BMW 2800 CS of Gauduel/Delaye.

After this superb week with lovely weather the European classic car rally season is opened and in the next week many of these cars are seen on various race events all over Europe. Next week the Italian premium event, the Mille Miglia will be on the schedule and as the heydays of the Tour de France were just after the Mille Miglia disappeared this will bring a lot of earlier cars to Brescia than seen in France making these two driving events a perfect combination both to visit and to join.

The organizers of Peter Auto on the other hand are busy with several race meetings including the upcoming Spa Classic and even in the uneven years without Le Mans Classic they have a lot more to offer including the second annual Concours d´Elegance in Chantilly in September. And certainly plans for the 2016 Tour Auto are well under way and one could be curious where the journey will lead next year.

Report & images … Peter Singhof