As you know Mario doesn’t go that far from home but his ‘little brother’ Nippy a 1967 Subaru 360 has been a bit more adventurous and in 2008 James drove and Jane navigated him on the Leige Brescia Leige Microcar Rally a unique event for small cars.
The story really starts in 1958 when in response to the Suez Crisis car manufacturers of the day entered their new sub 500cc models to prove that their performance and economy was a match of their ‘big brothers’. The original event was run over 3 days through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy. The only stop was in Brescia where the remaining entrants turned round and headed for home. Run over a mix of terrain from the newly opened Autostrada to the dirt roads of the high passes, the event was a test of true endurance and only 13 of the original 30+ entrants finished. One of the cars was driven by Pat Moss and others by top competitors of the day.
Half a century later it was decided to run the event again, although in consideration for the age of the vehicles and the comfort of the competitors the event was over 10 days. Closely following the original 2400 mile route but avoiding the motorways the rally went from Liege-Karlsruhe-Munich-Cortina-Ljubijana-Bolzano-Brescia-Bolzano-Munich-Karlsruhe-Liege and finished 50 years to the day of the original. The event was organised by Malcolm McKay of Classic Rally Press.
We started the event as a three car team of Subaru 360’s, us in Nippy, our friends Victor and Craig in Kato and Terry and Steve in a 360 belonging to Subaru which had recently been recommissioned. We trailered the cars to Liege and the actual event set off on July 10th 2008. The event was a navigational exercise with photo checkpoints, we had to take identical photo’s showing our car to prove we had been there and completed the whole route.
58 cars started the event including Fiat 500, BMW Isetta and 600/700, Berkeley, NSU Prinz, Goggomobile, Vespa, Messerschmitt, Citroen 2cv, Zandapp Janus and Heinkel.
The weather was terrible with teaming rain which was to last for the next 4 days. Our first stop was at Spa where we did some very soggy timed laps of the Kart Circuit. A long drive followed and Jane on her first rally, soon learnt the rally rules – you only stop when you can do everything at once – refuel, eat, drink and pee!
We crossed the Rhine and arrived at the first stop in Karlsruhe. Unfortunately the third Subaru had been having problems all day, they finally arrived at the hotel on a tow truck after Midnight, James set to work and took the engine out but it was a terminal problem and they had to retire. Team Subaru was down to two cars.
Day two was another test on a local kart circuit, followed by a day of tricky navigation to arrive at the BMW museum in Munich.
From Munich we travelled through the Black Forest and into Austria and over the Brenner pass into Italy. At 1375m this was our first real pass and our first opportunity to see how the ‘little’ cars performed – we were pleasantly surprised. We arrived in Cortina at the splendid Hotel Miramonti Majestic Grand, a great setting for the little cars.
We were now high in the Dolomites and day four included several high passes to reach the Slovenian border, some of them driven in heavy hail storms and as many of the hairpins were still traditionally cobble stones it wasn’t the most comfortable journey. The rally spent the night in Ljubljana, a fantastic city.We were allowed to park the cars up in the famous Preseren Square where they attracted a great deal of attention including TV crews covering our arrival.
The next morning we finally had sunny weather as we crossed back into Italy and a lovely lunch stop at a great family museum. Three more passes including Passo di Pordoi 2239m. Many of the field were late into Bolzano and lots of fettling was required. The Isetta didn’t make it until 5am after having to make major repairs in Ljubljana.
Dissappointingly due to all the storms, the Stelvio pass was closed with a landslide but after a deviation we managed to double back and still climb the Gavia from the Southside and get the Passage Control photo at the summit, at 2621m it’s not much lower than the Stelvio 2757m.
Once back down it was a very pleasant run along the shores of Lago di Iseo and into Brescia. In the town we were welcomed with a civic reception with all the cars in the main square as on the original 1958 event, they even ‘broke the cheese’ where a whole Grande Pandano was opened for us to taste, a great honour.
Day 7 started with a trip around the impressive Mille Miglia museum and then set off back to Bolzano, actually managing to stop for lunch on the way. Getting out of Bolzano the next morning wasn’t easy but we were soon climbing the Passo Pennes at 2215m it was one of the best of the rally.
After another night in Munich we had a lovely drive through the German countryside with several stops at motor museums and the impressive Schloss Lichtenstein, this fairytale castle perches on a steep cliff and is a spectacular sight.
The final day saw us back at Karlsruhe kart circuit where we had much better times in the dry, although by the time we’d got back through Spa in the afternoon it was inevitably raining again. We finished back at Liege for the prize giving. We won our class with Victor and Craig second and Jane won the Ladies prize so a very successful evening with a lot of celebrating.
We all had a great time even though we were a bit tired and grumpy at times. The event although quite straightforward for James was a challenge in such little cars and Jane enjoyed her first event and got into the spirit of classic rallying. We all enjoyed it so much that we did it again a year later but that’s for another blog.