1973 Monte Carlo Rally
In January, I went off to film the 42nd Monte Carlo Rally. It was the first rally to count for the World Rally championship. 298 cars were entered and they started from Almeria, Athens, Glasgow, Frankfurt, Monte Carlo, Oslo, Reims, Rome and Warsaw.
We all had a feeling that this would be our last Monte Carlo rally for Nissan.
We all assembled at the Hotel Splendide in Monte Carlo. The name belied the status of the hotel. It was grubby and run down. All the carpets in the reception area were threadbare and everything looked a bit faded and badly in need of replacement.
We certainly were not going to eat there. Cameraman Paul Badin went for a walk and returned to say that he had found a nearby restaurant. It was just round the corner from the hotel. It was called Michelle and was a Greek restaurant.
We all piled in for lunch. There was only one table occupied and the proprietor got a hell of a shock when six of us walked in. He clearly was not used to that at lunch time. Paul Badin was a gregarious character and he walked over to the occupied table to ask them what they were eating and if it was any good. It turned out that the diners were all members of the proprietor’s family and the meal they were eating was what they had cooked for themselves. Paul asked if he could have some and they served him up a sizeable portion of Stifado which is a very tasty beef stew. The rest of us consulted the menu.
We had several meals at Michelle’s, all excellent, but still, when we got the chance, went back to the Golfe de Naples in Menton and, of course, always the Roxy in the Boulevard des Moulins for lunch.
The organisers of the Monte Carlo Rally were old men, some had been organising since the earliest rallies. There was a team of young men who had been anxious to take over and do it their way.
We met the old men for the last time when I screened for them our film of the previous rally. It was the first time that I had seen it because the print was brought in to Monaco by Ken Watanabe. They were fascinated because for most of them, for the first time, they could see events that took place away from Monaco. They thought the film was wonderful and so did I. It had been edited by one of Japan’s top feature film editors and it won an award in Portugal for best motor sports film.
However, this year the old men had been displaced and voted off the organising committee by the young bloods.
A number of things went wrong due to their ignorance and naivety.
While the cars were away, I used to go to the press centre to watch the large scoreboard on which it was possible to follow the movements of the cars through the special stages. It was quite exciting. One could see that a particular car had fronted up to a special stage and then one was notified that it had started its run through the special stage. Finally, it was timed at the finish. By this means we could compare speeds of the different cars and see where our Datsuns were placed.
The cars, all having arrived in Monte Carlo from their respective departure points, rested overnight and then were off on the second circuit. I went down to the Press centre to watch. When I arrived, the cars were approaching the Burzet stage.
A handful of cars went through with respectable times. The cars had been “seeded” in terms of their departure from, Monaco and it was possible to see the first of these cars going through the Burzet stage. Then there was a pause and the board was showing no movement of cars. We waited and waited,
nothing happened. We enquired as to whether communications had broken down, to be told that it was working well.
Now we are told that there is a blizzard at Burzet and some cars are stuck in the snow. In fact, we found out later, only about seven cars had made it through the special stage which, in part, consisted of country lanes with high sides and which, due to the blizzard, were filling up with snow.
What had caused the total close down was that a Capri had slewed across the narrow road and was jammed, preventing all other cars from entering.
Panic set in among those who could not carry on. Some of them took off across country, across farmland, to rejoin the rally before the following special stage. It was total chaos.
The band of young men running the rally announced that 150 of the cars were to be excluded because, as all following competitors couldn’t complete the stage, they were all excluded for being over the time limit! This caused a major upset, and for the rest of the run down to Monte Carlo, some excluded competitors tried to block the remaining cars so that they too would become OTL, and the rally organisers wouldn’t have a rally.
For twenty four hours, the excluded cars also protested by filling the roads in the centre of Monte Carlo, preventing any vehicles from passing through. It should be remembered that the vast majority of entrants were individuals who had prepared their own cars and paid their own expenses (which were considerable).
The organisers offered the excluded entrants a “free entry” for the following year. They did not accept that and the rally ended in chaos, despite only 44 cars finished the course.
Up until that time, The Monte Carlo Rally had been known world wide and was shown on television throughout the world. After that event, it became just another rally. In the event, the 1974 Rally was cancelled because of the fuel crisis brought about by the “October War” between The Arabs and Israelis.
It is almost certain that the retired old men of the organisers would have cancelled the Burzet special stage as if it had not existed thus allowing all the other cars to continue with the next stage.
The young men cancelled the stages at Col de la Porte and La Cabanette, but by that time, the entrants were scattered over a wide area and all control was lost.
We knew then that Nissan would not wish to film another Monte Carlo Rally and maybe they would not wish to enter it.
To replace cameraman Vittorio Della Valle who died the previous year, I was offered the services of Walter Kraus from Munich, a UPITN staff cameraman under the control of Gernot Anderele in Frankfurt. Walter drove down from Munich and we met up at the Hotel Splendide.
Walter was in his late thirties and was an acclaimed cameraman who, from time to time, specialised in sports coverage. He was renowned for his coverage of the Ski jumping which required a steady hand to follow the skier down the slope into the air and landing on the lower level.
As was our habit, we drove out looking for camera position the day before the rally started. Jacques Hubinet led the way in his car and Walter followed up behind with me as a passenger . Jacques drove in his customary manner which was fast, but safe. The roads were not always well maintained as they are today. Walter complained about the damage being done to his car. He continued his complaint all the way back to the hotel.
I told him to have his car serviced, repair any damage, and send me the bill. He said he could not do that because it was against company rules. I said “O.K. Walter, why don’t you give me a bill for twice the mileage you have done, that should cover the work“. He said “That’s against the rules“.
I said “Hubinet’s car has extra springs fitted, a set of spiked tyres, a special lamp on the front and a camera platform behind the windscreen, all of this we pay for plus the cost of restoring the car to its original condition“. I continued “Nissan Motors of Japan are well aware of this and are quite willing to pay“.
Walter then said “I still cannot do what you say“.
I said “Walter, you can go to hell!“.
More nonsense was to follow. Lunch at the Roxy became a dismal affair as Walter took ages to order anything to eat. The whole crew were seated there waiting to eat. All had ordered except Walter. Finally he ordered a plate of cold meats which, when he received them, he proceeded to push around his plate but not eat.
It had been our custom to pay the bill for all of us and then, regardless of what we had chosen, each pay the same. In view of the small amount that Walter had ordered, I said that we would cover the cost in our overall bill.
He insisted he paid, but only for what he ordered. A real charmer whose other complaint was that he had lost his mooring for his yacht on a lake in Germany and it would be difficult to find another. Poor sod !
After lunch, we returned to the Hotel Splendid to check back with our respective offices. Badin and Botras would ring Paris, I would ring Denham, while Walter would ring Frankfurt. Walter was told that he would have to wait to be connected to Frankfurt. I heard this as I spoke to Simon Ainger in Denham (on the phone next to Walter) and I asked Simon to contact Anderle and get him to ring Walter. Walter, walked away to a nearby table and chairs which he had not reached his seat when the phone rang . It was Anderle. UPITN had good communications.
After all that, Kraus gave us his best work and the whole coverage was well received by the Japanese.