RAC supports one of the most unusual rallies in the world

RAC supports one of the most unusual rallies in the world
Following the Suez crisis of 1956 when petrol was rationed, a host of tiny cars came on to the market, offering transport of a different kind with exceptional fuel economy.

But once the crisis passed, the market was left with these tiny cars.

To see if they were worthy of being taken seriously the ultimate test was devised: the Liège-Brescia-Liège Rally for cars under 500cc.

And 2018 marks the diamond anniversary of the event which is without doubt one of the most unusual rallies in the world.  

Created by the legendary Royal Motor Union of Liège, the rally was first run from 17 to 20 July 1958 with competitors in 29 microcars driving almost non-stop on some of the most difficult roads in Europe on a route that took them through the Alps and Dolomites mountain ranges.

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The regulations met legal requirements with competitors having to stick to 50km/h speed limits everywhere except for motorways and countries like Yugoslavia, where 60km/h was permitted.

They had timed sections on the toughest passes, they endured heat, dust (most passes were gravel then), rock falls, snow, traffic, steep, narrow bumpy tracks, altitude and multiple border crossings, all in tiny cars.

The field consisted of seven Italian Fiat 500s, including several Abarths, six British Berkeleys, four German-built Zündapp 250s, four French-built Citroën 2CVs, two BMW Isettas, two UMAPs, one Panhard, one Belgian-built Isard, a Lloyd and a Messerschmitt TG500.

But at the finish it was a very different story with the event having definitively proved which were the most durable and capable vehicles of their type. Just 13 of the 29 cars made it back to Liège: all seven Fiat 500s and all four Zündapp 250s, plus the Lloyd and one UMAP. The winners were Arturo Brunetto from Italy and Alfredo Frieder from Argentina in a Fiat 500 Sport.

While the rally was a triumph for the Fiats, it was deeply embarrassing for the British Berkeley company, which had seen the event as a great public relations opportunity, as their vehicles were clearly not up to the task due to weak motorcycle-based gearboxes and no cooling fans.

Despite positive speeches at the end, the event wasn’t run again: the market for tiny cars, except Fiats and 2CVs, had already collapsed.

In July 2008, however, 50 years to the day after the pioneering first event the rally was revived by ClassicRallyPress Ltd using a route that followed the 1958 one as closely as possible, except for the sections on German autobahns which were changed due to the danger of running tiny cars at 60 km/h on unlimited-speed autobahns.

Unlike 1958, the event was spread over 10 days, covering approximately 200 miles per day and, while it was still competitive, every effort was made to help competitors keep their cars running and in the event. This time 54 cars left Liège from 7.30am on Friday, July 11, and 50 drove across the finish line back in Liège on the afternoon of Sunday, July 20.

Sixty years on the rally was run again, this time with the support of the RAC via patrol Simon Courtney who followed the cars in his orange van, helping competitors to fix their own vehicles in the true spirit of the event and only rescuing them when all else failed.

Some of Simon’s fixes on the event included replacing a very inaccessible engine mount on the NSU Sport Prinz Coupe from Austria, replacing the clutch on a 1958 Berkeley SE492 and fixing the electrics on a Fiat Gamine – better known as Noddy’s car from the cartoon – which kept cutting out.

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