Once every year the Trocadero square, at the base of the Eifel tower in Paris, is filled with historic road racers. The occasion? The Tour Auto, which celebrates the heritage of the legendary Tour de France rally of the past and a serious competition for the owners and drivers of the rally cars taking part. Held for the thirteenth time this year, the annual Tour Auto is a highlight on many enthusiast's calender. A field of nearly 250 cars competed in the five day event, which led the competitors through France from Paris to the beaches of St Tropez. The competitors are divided into either the 'competition' class or the 'regularity' class. In the regularity class speed is not the determining factor, but precision is, in achieving stage times as close to a predetermined time as possible.
As always, the cars lined up on the Trocadero tarmack were as varied as can be, ranging in age from the 1952 Siata Daina SL to the Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV from 1982. They differed greatly in type as well, from the tiny Renault Dauphine to the hugely powerful Ferrari Daytona Competiziones. There were far too many cars entered to review them all, but we would like to present some highlights in the following report and the 150 shot slideshow
Obvious crowd pleasers were the Ferraris and Porsches entered, with approximately 40 examples of each. Ferrari in particular has a strong bond with the original event, dominating it in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the prancing horse's line of GTs is now commonly referred to as Tour de France or TdF. The immediate reason for this was the victory of Olivier Gendebien in the 1957 running of the event with his '14 louvre' Ferrari 250 GT. Ever since that victory all long wheel base 250 GTs built up to 1959 received the TdF nickname. This most important Ferrari was entered, still livered in the Belgian racing colours. Another two 250 GTs with the 14 louvre style bodywork were entered, as well as two later models with a single louvre.
Fighting for the overall victory were two Ferrari models of a later generation, built in a time when Ferrari had officially withdrawn from GT racing. The 365 GTB/4 Daytona Competizione was built in small numbers by the Ferrari client department between 1972 and 1974, after privateers had modified the Daytona for competition use. Together with a number of 'factory' Competiziones, one of the early racing Daytonas was entered. This example modified by the North American Racing Team (NART) was the first ever Daytona to finish a race.
Ferrari had even less to do with the 308 GTB Group IV racer, which were built and prepared by Michelotto in the late seventies and early eighties. Although this specific model is too young to be eligible, it's allowed to enter because of the good results scored in the original Tour de France. Three were present, including one originally livered in 'Entremont' colours and now entered by the two Entremont brothers.
One of the two Ferrari's biggest rival for success was the Ford GT40, driven to victory by Chiles and Mountford in the previous two events. Together with the number 1 GT40, four more examples were entered. More rumbling V8s were found in the engine bay of an ex Le Mans Chevrolet Corvette and a number of AC Cobras.
Pitched against the Italian and Anglo-American powerhouses were nimble racers from France and Germany. Of these the Alpine A110 and the Porsche 911 2.8 RSR were entered in large numbers.
Popular with the French crowds was the Alpine A110 1800 Group IV, driven by rally-legend Jean Ragnotti. The ex-Rally Monte Carlo winner is known for his drifting, very fast driving style.
Together with the 911s, a number of Porsche prototype racers were also included in the line-up. Livered in the ever beautiful Gulf colours, the Porsche 910 was the highlight of these.
More lightweight racers were found on the second and third grid of the competition class, which consisted mainly of cars up to 1966. Lotus Elans, Alfa Romeo GTAs and a sole Mini are proof that light weight and fine handling characteristics can more than make up for a lack of power.
Further cars of note entered included the sole surviving Ligier JS1, which made its first appearance in the Tour Auto after a full restoration, three Lancia Stratos Group IVs, a Lightweight E-Type and a MG B driven by racing legend Stirling Moss, still going strong at age 75.
The five days were made up of a number of timed stages, one at tracks like LeMans, Albi and Nogaro and one or two on special closed road sections. After having the last few editions run under perfect conditions, hopes were high to get a week of sun again this year. It was not be, although the changing conditions added much to the spectacle and favoured cars other than the GT40 for the victory. Although it had stopped raining before the start on Tuesday, the roads were far from dry. One of the first casualties was the number 1 GT40, which left the road on the first timed stage. It could return to the rally eventually, but lost too much time to be in contention for the victory.This cleared the way for a battle between a Ferrari 308 and Ragnotti in the Alpine, which lasted the full five days. Heavy rain on one day and sun on another constantly changed the odds, but eventually the more powerful Ferrari finished on top of the leaderboard, followd by Ragnotti's Alpine and the Porsche 910.
An unfortunate side note was a heavy crash of the Lafond/Guikas entered 308 GTB Group IV, which hit a tree, injuring both drivers.
The thirteenth running of the Tour Auto retrospective has once again proven why it's on the top of many enthusiast's events list. The competition element combined with the great cars entered and the stunning French countryside make it an event well worth following. For the entrants, driving through France with crowd-lined routes and constant cheering is a very special feeling.