As promised, following on from the blog about the Liege-Brescia-Liege microcar rally here’s the story of our adventures in Mario’s brother Nippy a 1967 Subaru 360, the following year on the Micro Marathon…
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly I had really enjoyed navigating for James on the Liege-Brescia-Liege in 2008 so when the organisers came up with a sequel in 2009 to drive the ‘little’ cars from Toulouse to Carcassonne via the Pyrenees and Spain, we jumped at the chance. Victor and Craig in Kato the other Subaru also came along, so we set off with both Subaru 360’s on an adapted trailer. A late tunnel crossing, a night in a motel and 12 long hours driving later we arrived at the start.
Day 1 – Saturday 5 September Toulouse to Barèges
Day one started from a Fiat dealership in Toulouse. It was a beautiful sunny day and we headed off into the foothills of the Pyrenees using fairly small country roads. The scenery was instantly beautiful travelling through villages with very old buildings and lush farmland. By lunchtime we had ascended our first Col – 1069m.
The afternoons route took us up several of the major climbs of the ‘Tour de France’, the roads where covered with painted names of cyclists and many cols had statues celebrating cycling achievements, culminating in the Col de Peyresourde 1569m, Col d’Aspin 1490m and Col du Tourmalet 2115m. The view were stunning and the passes mainly pasture with lots of cows, sheep and goats, and not heavily wooded like those in the Alps. We were amazed by the huge vultures sitting by the side of the road. The two Subarus performed well, the actual gradient determining which would climb better the 4 gear Kato or 3 gear Nippy. Some parts where very steep, a challenge for the cars. Fellow competitors Mick and Sara Bell in the BMW Isetta had also done most of these passes by bike! Both Subaru’s made the hotel in Barèges without problems but some of the other competitors were already experiencing difficulties. We went further up the mountain by bus for a very social evening in a lovely Auberge Chez Louisette.
Day 2 – Sunday 6 September Barèges to San Sebastián
An early start dawned with a 7am breakfast, it was very cold as we were at high altitude but the sun was on the way up and it was another beautiful day. The day stated with some more high cols – The Col du Soulor 1474m and the Col d’Aubisque, where we found huge bicycles on the mountainside. The wildlife was tremendous with Vultures and other huge birds of prey watching the huge horses and herds of cattle and goats.
The event is a navigational exercise with photo checkpoints as passage controls to prove you have taken the correct route. The small cars only have small fuel tanks and once again in Rural France on a Saturday, petrol was an issue and we had to deviate on a 20km round trip to fill up. The Isetta had such a small tank it had to carry two spare cans strapped on the back.
The whole day was spent going up and down cols, The Col de la Pierre St-Martin 1760m marked the border into Spain, the descent was a beautiful new smooth road, but we soon turned off this onto a ‘forest road’ which was barely tarmacked and wound it’s way through some spectacular deserted woodland. A final three cols saw us drop down to the coast and to our destination, the cosmopolitan, San Sebástian. While James and Craig looked at Kato’s brakes which had been giving some concern,, Vic and I walked down to the crowded beach to take our ‘feet in the Atlantic’ pics for PC18 which ended up with rally photographer Mike taking a pic of Vic taking a pic of Me! After a meal in the hotel, we had another walk down to the beach before retiring to the Hotel bar where the ‘Irish’ teams introduced us to G&T Spanish style – a bottle of Bombay Sapphire for five glasses. Theo and John in the Heinkel have been suffering a major problem with the wheel spline and so are retiring the car back to Toulouse and going to follow the rest of the event in their camper van.
Day 3 – Monday 7 September San Sebastián to Logroño
Lovely sunny start in San Sebastián, Kato’s brakes seemed fine but Nippy was developing a rather loud exhaust. I drove along a very pretty coast and then into the hills to Olaberria where we had the first kart track test. The cars were all unloaded, partly to avoid loose stuff rolling around and a serious attempt by the boys to lower the weight! The bogey time of 1:19:2 set for this course was impossible for the Subarus to obtain but they had a good attempt and we ended up with 16 penalty points and Craig driving Kato, only had six although as James said he didn’t have an internal ‘squealing brake’ I think he meant me! We repacked the cars and continued along the route which had a couple of tricky controls, one was very early compared with the position given and hence easy to miss and one was very late but they kept everybody on their toes and we cleared them all. We stopped for lunch at an interesting abandoned monastery with Vic & Craig, Loree & Kevin in the Trabant and Mark & Jane in the Messerschmitt. Local children appeared from the middle of nowhere to have a look at the cars.
Very changing scenery from coast to hills, to open heathland and then gorges before finally into the extensive vines of Rioja. A much shorter day and we all arrived at Bordegas Heredad Ugarte (a huge vineyard) early so we took the opportunity to spend a couple of hours trying to seal Nippy’s exhaust and plotting the maps. At 5pm we were allowed in for a guided tour and tasting, although Rioja isn’t really to our taste the most expensive one was quite pleasant! Another 30-40km into Logroño to the hotel. After dinner James and I had a walk around the old town, it was very pleasant to be outside at 10pm in 28º. We finished the day at a pavement bar outside the hotel for more G&Ts.
Day 4 – Tuesday 8 September, Logroño to Alcañiz
As soon as we left Logroño, we were straight into a very hot and barren landscape, initially there were still vines and olives but these soon gave out to rocky fields with strips of wheat in any place that could be farmed. There were wind turbines and fields of solar panels as far as the eye could see. The exhaust on Nippy had been getting louder and louder to the point of needing earplugs and about half a mile after stopping to refuel, the expansion box fell off. Luckily as we had been in such a remote area we were still in the small village of Casante and managed to find a workshop where they very kindly let James use the ramp and welding equipment to fix the exhaust system, which was now in five parts. The Spanish garage was so helpful, especially as we had no language in common. You just can’t see Health and Safety in the UK allowing someone to just wander in and use all the garage equipment!
In just over an hour we were back on the road with an amazing ‘lunar like’ landscape and some nice long straight roads to be able to catch up time. We arrived in Belchite a town destroyed in the Spanish Civil War and left as it was as a monument. Several of the cars seemed to be a little unhappy, maybe after the long straight roads, running faster than usual in the extreme heat, it was 35º+.
We carried on to Alcañiz and the fantastic new motorsport complex Motorland Aragón. This site still under development has a 2km international Kart Circuit which we were going to use. As the sun was setting we got to do 3 laps – warm up, timed and slow down. We could all watch from the bar area, with Vic & Craig and Mark & Jane in the Messerschmitt being equal on points it was a critical part of the weeks event. The Messerschmitt had a 500cc engine and was very quick but they were too fast and had to slow for the line to try to get the bogey time. Craig drove the 360cc Subaru superbly and was spot on time.
All was going well but that was all to change… the adventure will continue in the next blog.