13 Tips for Smooth Sailing on a Vintage Rally

[Editor's Note: this article was originally published in 2011. Some information may be different today]

Story by Rich Taylor

Over the past 20 years, we’ve hosted thousands of enthusiasts on our thousand-mile Vintage Rallies. Some of the smart ideas—and follies—we’ve observed can help you get the most out of your rally week.

1. Bring an Appropriate Car

This seems pretty obvious, but we’ve had guys show up for a rally in the Canadian Rockies with a Land Speed Record car that last ran at Bonneville. An off-road race truck built for running Barstow to Vegas joined our Texas 1000. The old cliché about “horses for courses” applies to rally cars, too

2. Keep Your Co-Pilot Happy

For years, a friend of ours brought a D-type Jaguar vintage racer to our rallies. He also brought his long-suffering wife, who had to balance on top of the battery box because there was no passenger seat. She also had to wear a helmet and goggles because there was no windshield on her side of the car. If you’re bringing a friend or significant other, you’ll have more fun if you’re both safe and comfortable. In our experience, a production sports car from the ’50s or ’60s is plenty sporty enough for the non-enthusiast in your life.

3. Reliable Trumps Esoteric

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which car would be less trouble: a Corvette Stingray that can run with parts from the NAPA store, or a one-off Etceterini that broke down in its only race, the 1948 Tour de Mafioso, and had been rusting in a Sicilian meadow before you rescued it for the rally.

 

Year in and year out, these entry-level cars have proved to be the most reliable on Vintage Rallies. All are iconic designs that are fast, fun and relatively inexpensive. Plus, they have instant credibility with fellow rallyists:

  • 1948-’61 Jaguar XK 120/140/150
  • 1957-’64 Maserati 3500GT
  • 1963-’71 Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280 SL
  • 1969-’89 Porsche 911
  • 1965-’66 Shelby GT350 Mustang
  • 1963-’67 Corvette Sting Ray
  • 1967-’74 Ferrari Dino

If you can afford the initial buy-in, these cars will be welcome at vintage sports car events from Banff to Villa d’Este:

  • Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
  • Aston Martin DB4/DB5/DB6
  • Lancia Aurelia 
  • Any Ferrari 250 GT variant

A few people have brought late-model exotic sports cars on our events. These are the most usable and reliable exotics we’ve seen:

  • Aston Martin Vantage
  • Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
  • Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
  • Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Personally, I think the best all-around new sports car on the market at any price—and a superb choice for our Late-Model Exotic class—is:

  • Porsche Cayman S or R

4. Rallies Are Won in the Garage

Smart rally drivers prep their cars thoroughly and bring a box of hard-to-find spares—think cooling system, electrical system, brakes, tires, shocks, wheel bearings and U-joints. Also, pay special attention to any weaknesses particular to your model of car. Remember, just as in racing, “To finish first, you first must finish!”

5. Retro is Fun

Rallyists consider it “way cool” to have your car festooned with vintage rally equipment. How about a Curta “coffee grinder” calculator or a Halda Speedpilot? Some enthusiastic teams go all out, equipping their cars with auxiliary driving lights, a map light for the navigator, and lots of mysterious extra switches on the dash—just like in the old days of the Rallye Monte Carlo

6. There's Comfort in Safety

We encourage our rallyists to install modern four-point racing seat belts in their vintage cars. Racing belts are not only safer, but more comfortable, too. A pair of Recaro-style bucket seats can take the sting out of a 1000-mile drive and can always be swapped out for the stock seats before the next concours. A roll bar with at least four mounting points is a good idea, too, especially for roadsters

7. Safety Spares

Our official mechanics from Restoration & Performance Motorcars VT are always behind the group and ready to help. But at the very least, you should carry a fire extinguisher, spare tire, small jack, tool kit, oil, brake fluid, coolant, spark plugs, wire ties and a first-aid kit. Also, a cell phone could save your life or someone else’s.

8. Team Sport

Riding all day over twisty roads in a rapidly driven sports car while trying to read a route book, run a stopwatch, calculate averages and shout instructions can give even the best-tempered navigator a headache. Bring the Aleve and Dramamine, and be extra patient with each other. A vintage rally is a team sport. The navigator is the captain; the driver is the helmsman. The driver’s job is to drive smoothly and quickly, and follow instructions precisely. The navigator’s job is to interpret the route book as accurately as possible and convey that  information clearly. Assigning blame is always counterproductive.

9. Atomic Watches

We recommend bringing at least two inexpensive stopwatches or digital “atomic clocks,” at least two pens, and a set of highlighter markers in different colors to emphasize important route instructions. If you have a particularly noisy car, invest in a pair of those head-mount intercoms that touring motorcyclists use.

10. Layer

Old sports cars, even closed ones, can be surprisingly cold and drafty—as well as surprisingly hot and stuffy. Bring lots of layers, from a polo shirt and tennis shorts to a ski jacket and gloves. The navigator’s feet are especially vulnerable, and there’s nothing crankier than a passenger with cold, wet feet. Invest in warm boots

11. Start Early

The first few teams out in the morning seem to avoid traffic throughout the day. They also have time to enjoy the various stops along the way

12. Navigation Tricks

The chance of your 40-year-old Ferrari odometer agreeing with the odometer of the rallymeister’s new Porsche is virtually nil. Figure out the standard deviation as quickly as possible on the first leg so you can make mileage corrections as you go along. 

Also, be sure to use your highlighter to mark important route instructions ahead of time, then check them off as you perform them. This saves you from losing your place and reading the wrong instruction. 

Another nav tip: Verify all route directions as soon as possible. For example, if you’re supposed to cross a bridge half a mile after a turn, make sure you cross that bridge when you come to it. If there’s no bridge, stop before you get even further off the route.

13. Relax and Enjoy

Don’t take it all so seriously that you spoil your vacation. Vintage Rallies are meant to be fun and hassle-free, so you can enjoy your time together driving your special car on some of the most beautiful roads in the world. As we like to point out, if you win the rally, Roger Penske may offer you a drive in the Indy 500—but probably not

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