Ran for the first time in 1899, the Tour de France Automobile was one of the earliest annual events. Up until 1986 it was a rally open for modern GT-racers, touring cars and prototypes. In 1992 it made a revival, but now it was open for cars that competed in the most glorious period of the event, 1951 - 1973. Eleven years later the Tour Auto, as its called today, is one of the highlights on the historic racing calender.
Each year the route is different, but the ingredients remain the same. Road stages through the beautiful French countryside are combined with timed stages on closed roads and/or race tracks. The competitors of the 2003 event travelled south from Paris throught the Eastern part of the country and finished on the Cote d'Azur in Cannes. Tracks visited this year were Dijon-Prenois, Charade and Lederon.
Entrants are divided in two group; competition and regularity. For the competition group outright speed on the special stages is what counts. The group is divided into three classes with seperate classification to allow per 1966 cars to compete for overall victory as well. Regularity is what counts in for the regularity group, the drivers have to finish the timed stages as closely as possible to a predetermined time to avoid penalties.
A large number of very different cars can enter the event, but there is one very strict rule: the car or a similar car of the same model must have competed in one of the Tour de Frances between 1951 and 1971. Many makes and models were present, but two makes were responsible for about half of the 200 entrants of the 2003 event; Ferrari and Porsche. No manufacturer scored more victories in the TdF than Ferrari, there is even a Ferrari model (nick)named after the event.
As mentioned before, the cars entered are about as varied as it can get, with big saloons like the Citroen Traction Avant or the Jaguar Mk1 competing with/against the F1-engined Matra MS650 and Ligier JS2. Ferraris and Porsche filled about half the field, other marques with a large present were Aston Martin, AC, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Ford. The entry-list included many original competitors and the actual 1957 winner.
Earliest car entered was a Cisitalia 202, built in 1947. Further early entries included the 1951 Italian championship winning Ferrari 212 Export and the very interestingly styled Siata Daina Sport SL of 1952. Our clear favorite of the earliest cars was the Fiat 8V, fitted with the very characteristic body designed by in-house designer Fabio Lucio Rapi. The 8V remains as Fiat's only V8 engined car and the only true supercar built by the Italian marque.
Few things changed the original Tour de France Automobile more than the introduction of the Ferrari 250 GT Europa in 1954, of which the very first was entered in the 2003 event. The 250 GT Europa formed the base for Ferrari's most successful series of GT-racers, finally accumulating in the Ferrari 250 GTO, of which an example was also entered. Ferrari's domination of the event in the latter half of the 1950s earned the entire long wheel base series of the 250 GT the nickname 'TdF'. Of the many 250 GTs entered, the 1957 winning 250 GT TdF with Gendebien at the wheel really stands out, not only did it win the TdF but it also won its class at that other great road race, the Mille Miglia. Another noteworthy 250 GT is the white 1959 SWB (Short Wheel Base, 2400mm compared to the 2600 of the long wheel base), which was the very first SWB built. To underline the sheer dominance of the 250 GT; each and every TdF run between 1956 and 1964 was won by a Ferrari 250 GT.
Many other manufacturers tried to challenge Ferrari's dominance in GT-racing and in the TdF. Some came close and some even succeeded, in GT-racing that is. Combined forces from the United States and Great Britain were needed to challenge Ferrari, the result was the stunning AC Cobra Daytona Coupe. Derived from the AC Cobra 289, of which a great number were entered int the event this year, the Daytona Coupe was fitted with a very efficient coupe body. In 1965 it broke Ferrari's stronghold on the World GT-Championship. Only six of these aerodynamic racers were built, one of these rare racers was entered to again take on the Ferraris. One of the other marques to successfully take on Ferrari was Porsche. Porsche's large entry was headed by six 906 Carrera 6s and an equal number of 911 Carrera RSRs.
In the latter years of the event, prototype racers were also allowed to compete. Matra was the only team to enter their LeMans prototypes in 1970. Fitted with a F1 derived 3-litre V12 there was no stopping the MS650s and the French team scored an easy one-two. One other 3-litre prototypes were fielded in this year's event, one of the two remaining Ligier JS2's fitted with a Cosworth DFV engine. Other sportscars fielded included four Ford GT40s, a Ferrari 250 LM, a Porsche 910 and an Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 Daytona.
Profiting from perfect weather, the 11th edition of the Tour Auto revival was one of the finest. The large and varied field perfectly showcased the spectators and gathered press why the 1950s and 1960s are considered by many as automotive's finest years. To give you an impression of what the Tour Auto is all about, we have compiled a 50 shot slideshow
of the event. Images were made at the pre-event scruteneering in Paris and on the first stage.