A Micro Marathon… part 2

Continuing our adventures in ‘Nippy’ the Subaru 360 on the Micro Marathon in 2009. It had all been going so well but that was all about to change…DSCN3024

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.

Target 2:00:4
2 Isetta 2:18.8
4 Subaru 2:00:1
5 Subaru 2:00:1
6 Messerschmitt 2:01:4
7 Fiat 500 2:07:4
8 Fiat 500 1:58:3
10 Trabant 2:10:1
11 Morgan 2:05:5DSCN3627 DSCN3632 DSCN3657 DSCN3692

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.DSCN3725 DSCN3739 DSCN3764 DSCN3798

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.DSCN3808 DSCN3810 DSCN3814 DSCN3816

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. DSCN3848 DSCN3879 DSCN3880

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!DSCN3905 DSCN3926 DSCN3938 DSCN3942 DSCN3955 DSCN3979

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.day7castle DSCN3992 DSCN4010

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.DSCN4028MM_1617carcassonne DSCN4080 DSCN4105MM_1744

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… MM_1796DSCN4150 MM 096

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…


A Micro Marathon… Part one

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…Layout 1

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.trailer

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.MM_0059

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.MM_0098montage-Day-1DSCN3058MM_0145 DSCN3125 DSCN3128 DSCN3134 DSCN3208

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.DSCN3253 MM_0225IMG_1949

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.

day2-montageThe 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.MM_0309DSCN3320DSCN3336

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.Day3 montage DSCN3376 DSCN3377MM_0361 DSCN3393

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.Day3 rjoca montage DSCN3455 MM_0422

 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!DSCN3508 DSCN3509 DSCN3516 DSCN3523 DSCN3528

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+.
DSCN3539 MMpanarama2DSCN3540 Belchite DSCN3560 DSCN3574

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.DSCN3601 DSCN3606 DSCN3609 MM_0792 MM_0803 MM_0805

All was going well but that was all to change… the adventure will continue in the next blog.