THE 2002 CLASSIC MARATHON
FROM LONDON TO PRAGUE
I have always been interested in classic cars but I had never heard of or seen a Porsche 912 before doing my first classic road rally in 2000 from Ypres to San Remo.
At the time I owned a TR4 and thought that it would be fun to enter a historic rally and managed to persuade Helen my wife (and soon to be Chief Navigator), that this would be a 'fun' way to spend a week. I must have been mad, 10 hours a day in the car, combined with Helen's navigation and my driving, what was I thinking? Despite our fear that the road to San Remo would end in divorce, we had a go and were amazed at how much we enjoyed it. The TR4 got us all the way to San Remo and back although we had to change the water pump and fan belt along the way. We finished a respectable 77th overall out of 129 starters, which was a good result for novices on our first rally. We were hooked.
During the rally a Bahama yellow Porsche 912 had caught my eye. It was the first one I had ever seen and having chased it around Belgium, Germany and Italy I was impressed at how it handled and how quick it was on the twisty stuff. I decided to find out a little more about 912s and filed it away under 'things to do when I have a spare five minutes', but I promptly forgot all about it.
Before I knew it the 2001 Classic Marathon had arrived and this time we were in an E-type heading from Ypres to Cortina. We had a much better idea of what we were doing on this trip but we were beset by mechanical / electrical problems, which apparently is all part of the 'joy' of owning an E-type. This combined with the fact that the Chief Navigator was pregnant and had to stop for frequent pee breaks in the bushes, did not help our position in the rankings. We finished 63rd overall out of 115 starters. There was a red 912 on this rally and my interest in these cars was rekindled. Not long after our return I started doing some research on the 912 and before long I was trying to get my hands on one.
Early in 2002 after a long search, I came across a 1966 Ivory White 912 in California. Six weeks later it arrived in the UK and the love affair began. (With the car, in case the Chief Navigator is reading this).
The car was in very good condition, but it needed some work before being entered in the 2002 rally. The brakes were completely replaced (a dual master cylinder, hoses, pads and rebuilt callipers). Next came some proper rally seats, a four point harness and a new set of tyres. The front ball joints were also replaced and a new starter motor was fitted. Then we were ready to go. The 2002 Classic Marathon
DAY ONE London to Ypres
The 2002 Classic Marathon started from Tower Bridge on a grey and damp Saturday. The organisers had managed to close the bridge for the rally and it was an awesome site to see so many beautiful cars lined up in one place ready for an epic adventure.
Of the 121 starters, there were 18 pre war cars including 3 four and a half litre Bentley Le Mans. There was the usual collection of MGs, Austin Healeys, Mini Coopers, Jaugars and Triumphs, plus a few Porsche 356s. We were the only 912 on the event.
We headed out of London and down to Kent for the first regularity. A regularity is where you have to maintain a specific speed over an unknown distance and you are timed to the second. There are penalty points awarded for every second over or under the ideal time. Sounds easy? Just try it going up and down the Stelvio pass with 100 hairpins at an average speed of 30 miles per hour!
We made it to Dover without incident and crossed to Calais where upon the heavens opened and torrential rain followed us all the way to Ypres.
After a brief stop in the main square in Ypres we were sent out in terrible weather for a quick blast around Flanders, where several cars ended up in ditches. We took it easy and as a result clocked up a few minutes in penalties.
The final test of the day had three intermediate stages, which caused everyone headaches. We lost nearly nine minutes
after taking a wrong turning somewhere in the middle of a Flanders cornfield. Things were not going well and there was a big freeze in the cockpit, which had nothing to do with the heater not working... Worse was to come when after finding the last time control we got totally lost in the dark and decided to cut and run and head for the rally HQ. Sadly we missed a secret checkpoint on the way back and picked up a 30-minute penalty, which was a total disaster. When the front-runners were losing just a few minutes per day, to lose 30 minutes on one section was a catastrophe. Our 30-minute penalty meant that we were out of the running for a top 50 place.
When we finally started speaking again, we drew some comfort from the fact that over 40 crews had also missed the secret checkpoint. This meant that now the pressure would be off, so we could relax and enjoy the rest of the rally without having to be too competitive. By the end of the first day we had covered 360 km and were knackered. We were 80th on the euphemistically titled 'leader board' after picking up a total of 45 minutes in penalties. To put this in context, the car in first place at the end of day one had racked up 1 minute 40 seconds in penalties. We drowned our sorrows with several pints of Belgian beer.
DAY TWO Huey to Koblenz
We had to be on the road by 6am because the start of Leg 2 was over 130 miles away from the previous nightís finish. The rally organisers do this sometimes to catch the unwary out. The weather was dreadful with torrential rain all the way to Huey. A lot of competitors had underestimated the time needed to get to the start and many arrived late and collected quite a few penalty points.
The highlight of the day was a visit to the Nurburgring Circuit and luckily the rain held off while we were on the track. It is an incredible circuit, with 180 corners per lap, unchanged since the days of Stirling Moss and Fangio. We had a great lap and I really enjoyed hustling the 912 around the track. There were several brown trouser moments, especially when we were overtaken on a sharp bend by a charging maniac in a BMW M1 doing at least 120mph.
Overall we had a much better day losing only 3 minutes on three regularities, clawing our way up to 67th position.
We covered nearly 600km in fairly poor conditions before reaching Koblenz and a well deserved beer or three.
DAY THREE Koblenz to Kassel
Day three turned out to be our best day of the event although it was almost our last owing to a near miss. In pouring rain we rounded a corner to find an immediate hairpin bend with an Alfa Romeo stuck nose first in a ditch, rear wheels spinning in the air. I instinctively hit the brakes and we locked up and headed straight for the Alfa and the ditch. Luckily I took my foot off the brake and managed to steer around the bend and came to a stop about a foot away from the Alfa.
The guys in the Alfa were only suffering from bruised egos and a dented front wing. A local farmer towed them out of the ditch and they were soon on their way. The Chief Navigator threatened to go on strike unless we cut back the pace a little. Thankfully the weather improved towards the end of the day as we drove across the beautiful rolling hills west of Cologne. Despite our reduced speed we dropped only 22 seconds all day on two regularities which moved us up to 64th place overall. We celebrated our best day yet with several beers.
DAY FOUR Kassel to Leipzig
This was a long day with only a few tricky bits of navigation. The rain finally stopped and the dense mist started to clear as we drove through the Hart Mountains into Eastern Germany. There were two very long regularities in the middle of beautiful pine forests and along the way we passed through several pretty villages.
Today's focus was on covering a lot of ground. In fact we did just under 500k in a bum numbing 11 hours. The traditional ì'sting in the tail' would be waiting for us tomorrow, with 5 very tricky regularities in a busy schedule for the final dash to Prague. We had a good day dropping only 40 seconds, which moved us up to 62nd place.
DAY FIVE Leipzig to Prague
The final day always sorts out the men from the boys, and that meant that we would be wearing very short trousers. The morning cloud burnt off and the sun shone for the first time all week.
The navigation was very tough indeed with several reroutes owing to the devastating flooding that had beset the region a few weeks previously. The Chief Navigator was getting Very Stressed.
We eventually got to Colditz Castle, which is 50 km from Leipzig, and spent an hour wandering around the museum. It is an amazing place and definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area. Sadly for a few competitors it was a case of 'for you Tommy, ze rally iz over' as some cars retired with terminal mechanical problems.
From Colditz we drove about 100km to the Czech border and the start of five very difficult regularities. We pushed hard right to the end but the competition was very tough.
We arrived in Prague in the evening sunshine, tired but elated to have finished. Both crew and car had survived the epic journey in one piece and the driver and navigator were still speaking to each other. On the final day we had dropped just 41 seconds and covered 415 km. This meant that we had finished in 60th position overall.
Many cold beers and tall tales were swallowed that night around the bar as the finishers' party went on into the small hours.
As the final leader board was published we did a few calculations on the back of a beer mat and realised that had we not missed that secret checkpoint on the first night, we would have finished in 32nd place.
The event was won by a 1957 Mercedes 300SL and there were three Porsche 356s in the top
Quite simply the car was perfect. I did not encounter a single problem with the car throughout the 2,000 km drive to Prague or the non-stop return journey to Calais. (The Chief Navigator was far more sensible and flew home!)
The 912 was great fun to drive and it was also very comfortable considering that it was driven hard for at least 9 hours a day on B and C roads.
I found it to be extremely competitive as it demolished the MGs and Alfas and also gave some of the more powerful cars a run for their money. In my humble opinion a well set up 912 is the car to have on these events.
Sadly due to time commitments we are unable to compete in this year's rally, which is being run from Paris to Pamplona, but we hope to be back in action in 2004.
If you have always fancied the idea of really using your classic, have a go at a classic rally, you'll be amazed at how much fun it can be. If you see a white 912 on a rally, give it a wave, as it will probably be us.