The Monte-Carlo Rally – Part 3
The achievements of the Couper and Bennet cars in the 1954 rally really made the bells to ring with the hierarchy of the Armstrong Siddeley Company at Parkside, Coventry. The then Managing Director of Armstrong Siddeley Motors, Mr Harold Chapman and fellow Director Mr. Ron J. Ashley arranged a meeting with Mike Couper in the hope that they might secure his involvement and expertise for the company’s proposed participation in the 1955 rally. Mike agreed and was appointed works representative and team manager.
After consideration of the Monte Carlo Rally Rules issued for the 1955 run, it was decided to field 4 of the new six-light MKII, Sapphire 346 cars, each fitted with the twin carburettor and electronically switched preselector gearbox options.
Three cars would seek to win the event and to take the team trophy, while the fourth would strive for an outright win.
Ansty Aerodrome was assigned as the meeting place for testing and an area was laid out to replicate the final ‘acceleration and reversing tests’ in Monaco. Michelin X -steel radial tyres were again the preferred choice and two spares were carried. These were the heavier purpose designed Michelin snow tyres, along with snow chains or snow mats according to driver preference.
All progressed well, except Mike’s car was stolen, early December in London and ‘dream rallied’ by inexpert thieves causing body and mechanical damage. It was not until the 31st December that the car was readied for the event and returned to Mike.
News filtered through concerning the private entry of another Armstrong Siddeley car. This being a Mk I Sapphire 346, Rally number 226, entered by Douglas J. Uren and Donald G. Bain and like the works Bennet entry would start from Munich.
The 25th Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo 1955 started on the 17th of January and completed on the 24th.
Preparation over, all five cars after an easy drive were by the 17th positioned at the appropriate start. It was at this point that the weather which having failed so badly the previous year determined to ensure that on a scale of difficulty for the rally participants the conditions would live up to the organisers vision.
The change came suddenly from the North and the 96 entrants starting from Glasgow which included PVC 4, (Sopwith, Bolton Slater car) having completed scrutiny, set off south on the Kilmarnock Road just after 2 o’clock. Leaving the city limits the roads were covered in ice and heavy drifting snow was falling. South of Kilmarnock, over the moors, and despite attempts to clear the roads several competitors experienced minor damage and a few ended their rally. The Armstrong Siddeley, PVC 4 car, battled on south and ‘somewhere in England’ crashed in icy conditions causing severe damage to the car, but fortunately without injury to the crew. Later news confirmed the cause to have been a disagreement with a telegraph pole near Stevenage due to a patch of black ice. As this was one of the three cars attempting to win the team prize – enough said
Meantime the Couper (PVC 1) and Wisdom (PVC 2) cars setting off from Lisbon had an easy journey on fast roads through Madrid and north to Burgos. It was at this point they received the news concerning the crash of PVC 4, so now knew to win the team prize was not possible. Apart from a detour of 30 miles due to flooding the cars sped on and by the evening of Thursday January 20th having been joined by the Bennet car (PVC 3),the road section completed all three works Sapphires reached Monaco within the first 100 arrivals group, allowing them to compete in the special ‘trials’ which would follow.
How bad the driving conditions had been for those leaving from Glasgow was realised when only 6 of the 93 who started arrived in Monaco by the following evening.
The fifth Sapphire, which was the private entry of Douglas Uren and Donald Bain (Rally number 226) set off from Munich in deteriorating conditions. As they approached Cologne they spun on the ice leaving the car stuck on an embankment clinging to the edge of the road by its front tyre treads. By the time assistance had been found and the car returned to the road the blizzard had really set in.
However they soldiered on and were photographed as they passed through Hagen in the company of a fellow competitor in a Porsche.
Despite the weather the team reached Monte Carlo but sadly did not make inclusion in the first 100, which meant that the competition element of the rally was for them, over.
Mike Couper won the Road Safety Award for second time.
Douglas Uren finished 141st and would surely have done better had it not been for the delay in getting the car back on the road, a credible effort for his first time participation in the rally.
Next time, in the final entry of this series we look at ‘What Armstrong Siddeley did next’ and learn a little more about PVC 1.