Day 5 – Wednesday 9 September Alcañiz to Tarragona
Straight back to Motorland first thing in the morning, where we had a Spanish breakfast of coffee and wonderful little cakes. Another three lap test but on a shortened course from the night before. This time there was no ‘squealing’ brake in Nippy and we went clear, so did Craig and Victor. Mark and Jane in the Messerschmitt were too fast again, had to seriously slow for the line and ended up over the bogey time again, so the competition was now on with ‘Kato’ and the Messerschmitt equal on points.
It was another beautiful but hot morning with a good route including a section on a ‘Camino Rural’ which wasn’t on the map. We had a good run but following the stop at the kart circuit, time was tight to make the lunchtime stop at Morella and we had to average more than 50km an hour to make the stop, quite a feat in a 360cc car. At Morella, a spectacular mediaeval walled town, which is normally pedestrianised, we had special permission to drive through the main gates and through the town, where we had a civic reception and were officially welcomed to the area. We parked up and had a wander around the town and grabbed a spot of lunch.
The afternoon was initially uneventful, apart from some roadworks, a few miles was just dirt. We got all the photo controls but then shortly after leaving Miravet and joining a main road to Tarragona, the Subaru suddenly became noisy and after a metal on metal squeal James immediately pulled over and discovered the bad news that the engine had seized. James took part of the engine apart on the side of the road and managed to free it off but the diagnosis wasn’t good, it appeared that a bearing had failed in the bottom of the engine – Nippy’s rally was over.
We decided the best thing was to use the rally support to get Nippy to the hotel in Tarragona which was only about 40km away, where we could access the situation and organise recovery. Several of the competitors stopped to check we were OK and shortly after, Roy and Clive the rally support crew arrived. We all put on florescent tabards and put out two triangles as per Spanish law which was just as well as the Police turned up just after we had turned Nippy round and were pushing him onto the trailer. Initially they helped but them got quite angry and appeared to be telling us that we must use a lorry for the car not a trailer. They spoke no English and just shouted more, I eventually remembered some letters that the organiser had given us from the authorities giving permissions to run the event, when we showed them these, they decided to let us continue but made a real fuss of directing the traffic. We thought they were the local bobbies but afterwards discovered that they were the Civil Guard who generally shoot first and ask questions later!
Roy towed us into Tarragona, he is a professional heavy truck driver but I have to say I prefered the kart track to that drive down the hills to the coast! After several days of unexpectedly beautiful scenery, hitting the Mediterranean coast was the Spain we had been expecting, very industrial and developed, building sites, oil refineries and the roller coasters of Port Adventura in the background. Nippy was unloaded into the hotels parking and I rushed to sign in seconds before the deadline just in case a miracle happened and he could be fixed. After a quick shower we phoned the assistance, they were insisting that the car had to be taken to a Subaru dealer for assessment and possible repair so we tried our contacts at Subaru to see if they could help. We made the dinner in the hotel where the rest of the crews were all very sympathetic and everybody was offering help and more importantly very large Spanish Brandies.
Day 6 – Thursday 10 September Tarragona to Andorra
A day of two parts – heaven and hell. Heaven for the rest of the rally crews, they set off heading towards the Pyrenees. A lunch stop at the Classic Motor Club de Bages allowed a good viewing of a private collection including lots of unusual microcars. Climbing back into the mountains, the final control of the day was at the National Automobile Museum of Andorra. The competitors made their way to Soldeu and the nights halt at the Sport Hotel – a great ski resort high in the mountains.
For us though the day was hell. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise over Tarragona bay. We unloaded everything from Nippy and put it and our luggage in the baggage van, we felt very sad to see everybody heading off on the days adventure but we were hopeful we’d be catching up with them soon in a hire car. It all appeared to be going well so I had a wander around the town until James called to say there had been a problem with Subaru helping us and we had to call our own assistance. This started a catalogue of problems lasting over eight hours and involving two taxis, two hotels, a station, two hire cars, two airport terminals and loads of phone calls to an incompetent office which lied all day. It was all very complicated as the assistance wanted to fly us home and collect the car but A. I don’t fly, B. Our car and trailer was in Toulouse plus all our luggage was headed for Andorra with the rally and C. We wanted to complete the last bit of the route and go to the final dinner in Carcassonne. This caused lots of problems as we needed a hire car that we could collect in Spain and deliver back in France. At 7.30pm we finally got into a hired French Registered Smart car at Barcelona Airport and set off for Andorra, at least it was an ideal car to follow a microcar rally.
The traffic was very heavy as the Spainish were travelling to the mountains for the following Catalunia National Day holiday. The Smart car was brilliant but by 9.30 we were still a long way from the hotel and so stopped in the last small town before the high mountains for a quick steak and chips. Back in the car and several impressive roads and long tunnels later we made it to Soldeu in Andorra at 11.30pm, to be met by the hardy members of the rally in the bar to a round of applause. The Sport resort was a lovely hotel which we didn’t get a chance to appreciate but we had a couple of drinks and caught up with the days happenings, Bernie and Dan in the Giardiniera were back on the road and finally enjoying some rallying but the Berkley was back on the trailer.
Day 7 Friday 11 September – Andorra to Carcassonne
Up early for the best breakfast of the trip, an amazing spread being cooked in front of us. Everybody checked out, shivering in the early mountain air, the microcars looked great parked outside the flower decked hotel. After waving the cars off we followed in the Smart car – Mike the photographer well wrapped up against the cold winds got a massive surprise when we appeared at the top of a mountain! The first Col, Port d’Envalira was the highest of the trip at 2408m although the roads weren’t as impressive as those earlier in the week and they were busy with locals as one of the tunnels was closed. We continued via Port de Pailhéres 2001m, (where we had to stop for a wolf in the road), Col de Moulis 1099m and Col du Garavel 1256m we left the mountains and crossed back into France, entering the rugged Cather area of bare cliff faces with impressive ruined castles clinging on to the ridges. The rally wound through the incredibly narrow Gorges de Galamus, a popular tourist attraction with a traffic jam, as there was very few places for oncoming traffic to pass unless you were in a microcar!
With the possibility of the event result being a draw there was to be a tie break photo – a detour was made to Chateau de Peyrepertuse, this amazing castle is only reached by a very steep and uneven climb on foot over the rocks, in the now very hot midday temperatures. Showing competitive behaviour Vic & Craig and Jane & Mark both had to scramble to the very top to try to get a ‘Passage Control’ picture to impress Malcolm the organiser – I’m not sure how impressed he was with the results as rather too much flesh (not shown here) was exposed! Vic fell over on way down, I did point out that both members of the crew had to be alive to win.
We left the castle for the final run to the finish. About 40km from Carcassonne we came across the American crew Keven and Loree in the Trabant on the side of the road with a problem, Mark who had also stopped and James diagnosed the problem as a failed coil, the Trabant has one for each cylinder. First they tried Marks spare which was also faulty, luckily Hedwig and Nicole in the Morgan had one which was fitted and we followed them towards Carcassonne. Seeing the medieval city in front of us was very sad as Nippy wasn’t reaching the finish. The cars gathered outside the city walls and then drove in together through the narrow crowded streets.
A final dinner was held in the Hotels Restaurant – local specialities of goats cheese salad and cassoulet. Malcolm and the head of PR for Fiat France made speeches and presented the awards. Everybody was presented with a finishers medal, all the drivers and navigators were there even though some cars hadn’t actually made it to the end. Although the Messerschmitt and the Subaru had finished equal on points, the overall winner was declared to be Vic and Craig, as they had the smaller engine and on the tests they were clear on two and on the other it was impossible for the Subaru to achieve the time. Craig also got the drivers prize and Jane Southgate the navigators. So there we were at the end of a brilliant weeks event and all that was left to do was party…
So another great event was over. There had been highs and lows but most of the brave little cars completed a week of hard driving, high temperature, steep passes and track challenges. Poor ‘Nippy’ made it home on a transporter about a week after we did. He requirers fairly major surgery to replace a failed bearing, pistons and rods. This has been delayed by lack of time, money and technical difficulties. The language barrier with Japan and the small number of the Subaru 360’s throughout the rest of the world has made sourcing new parts very difficult. We are still hopeful that he will be fixed before too long and be ready to go on whatever will be his next great adventure…