Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Epilogue: the morning after

The rally highlights video is here.
Breakfast, the day after the well lubricated awards knees-up in Christchurch. Rita and Mario: "So what now for the MG you bought on day four?" Peter and Penny: "Well we've got until tea time to sort something out before we have to head off to the airport". It was soon done. Rosie had a new home with a discerning dealer across town who'd seen through the layers of road dust and some gravel rash to recognise a thoroughbred classic. And let's face it, it was a buyer's market. Meanwhile, Mario had run Daphne round to the shipping warehouse to hand her over to the tender hands of CARS Europe for her journey home. And so to lunch, and a chance to reflect on four spectacular weeks. The roads have been awesome, the scenery epic, but it's been the people - competitors and ERA event team, and Kiwis who so generously and spontaneously helped us out along the way - who distilled the true spirit of the rally. Haere ra, New Zealand.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Day 23 - Chequered flag

Two last-ditch regularities on glorious Kiwi gravel, with four time checks, on the last morning. Insouciantly despatched by our steely eyed navs and acquiring a paltry nine seconds total penalties between both crews. But would the duo of British everyman sports cars, combined age 106, continue to give their hearts for the final 200 kilometers to the finish? It was never in doubt. An interminable string of traffic lights into Christchurch gave the opportunity for a stately, triumphal (small T) procession through the roaring crowds to the finish. Well there were some friends and family to welcome us in the hotel car park anyway. The worthy winners submitted to their champagne shower, then we all went off to find the bar. Quietly happy with not being last. Peter and Penny had posted very creditable peformances in the MG, which despite being completely non-prepped for rallying failed to deposit any of its British Leyland entrails onto the route. And a late-stage tripmeter upgrade gave Penny a deserved chance to show her reg timing mettle in the last few days. TR4 Daphne continued her mechanical flounces to the end but still provided the platform for SuperMario and Rita to chalk up an eleventh place, on their maiden ERA rally.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Day 22 - Full throttle towards the finish

Hordes of foul Orcs surveyed us malevolently from the hilltop tors, but we were too quick for them, even the Warg riders. Dauntless we plunged on into the maw of even greater peril: no fewer than five regularities interspaced with brisk road dashes throughout a long day. Still, by lunchtime Penny and Peter had accumulated a confection of three lollipops (zero penalties). After lunch we tackled the gnarly and sometimes vertiginous Dancey’s Pass with pale knuckles but little damage to our scores, before some reversion to basic errors on the last reg of the day; however others had fared worse, missing sneakily placed checkpoints. But all consoled by the majestic backdrop of Mount Cook as we dropped down to Lake Tekapo for our penultimate evening. An awesome day’s rallying.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Day 21 - Rally Fever

The third and final rest day, before the last 48 hour push to the finish. We spent our free time in Dunedin city and tempted further afield down the Otago peninsula - yep more driving - to see the albatrosses nesting and the sea lions.squabbling on the beach. Penelope and Rita meanwhile could spare only half an eye for the wildlife, having contracted severe cases  of Rally Fever and now spending every spare moment debating the comparative merits of Monits, Brantzes and Terratrips, with all the fervour applied three weeks ago to Kathmandu, Craghoppers and Macpac. They may never recover, hope PP and Mario.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Day 20 - Southern comfort

A glorious 385 km hack around the southern tip of South Island, breaking into a working canter and sometimes a full gallop for four regularities high and low. The route included a river crossing on a hand operated cable ferry that looked like something the Top Gear production team had dreamed up but dropped as being too daft. Our circus finally ended up in Dunedin for a gin facilitated post-mortem on the day in which several of the results table places had changed due to route errors and an uncharacteristic suspension failure of the barnstorming 1959 Volvo PV. Teams Rosie and Daphne were quietly satisfied with their performances. Rita Regularity is living up to her moniker with her new-and-improved timing system, which however can’t eliminate the risk of missing a routing slot when under pressure; Mario helpfully counselled the simple imperative of: Not Screwing Up.

Day 18 and 19 - Milford Sound

On Tuesday morning the rally road wound through a version of Scotland, with village names like Atholl and Mossburn, ending up in a Southern Hemisphere edition of Norway: into Milford Sound, a fissure of ocean between 1,600 metre peaks. Rain forest clinging to cliff faces, and cascading torrents. Slartibartfast would have glowed with pride. And penguins! An overnight cruise including small boat and kayak sorties to the shoreline... well those sandflies gotta eat. A coach breakdown on the way out of the valley (closed to cars since recent flooding) meant a truncated Day 19 of rallying but still allowed the track test stage at Teratonga Park - part outer circuit blast and part cones gymkhana - where Peter managed a blistering 2:15 lap in Rosie, humbling some of the rally exotica.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Day 17 - Rest day but the adrenalin keeps flowing

A rest day in Queenstown although not especially restful. We took the option of a 100 kph jet boat ride across the lake and up the almost dry Shotover river, the driver drifting it through the bends like a Subaru Impreza that he’d just nicked. Both our cars got some R&R too, limited to basic checks and air filters cleaned for the MG but Daphne once again found herself hoisted into the air, this time by a willing team at Alpine Autos of Queenstown, to have the remains of two spring bushes extracted like rotten teeth and replaced with fresh ones delivered from Auckland by the marvellous TR Register NZ club.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Day 16 - Stuttgart supreme

Table leader: the Gillis’s impeccably prepared, piloted and navigated 911 Targa
This morning was really a stunning scenic drive through the Southern Alps rather than a rally section, although not at a typical Sunday driver pace. After a tricky afternoon regularity two of the 1970s Porsches are starting to pull away from the pack in the results table, they really are in a class of their own. The day ended with a couple of highly entertaining laps, non-competitive fortunately although it seemed nobody had told a couple of the drivers that, at the Highlands motor racing circuit. We checked into our rest day hotel in Queenstown where laundry infrastructure was quickly reconnoitred before a descent to the lakeside for a glass or two of the amber nectar.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Day 15 - The Kiwi of Shame

A stunning drive today ending at Fox’s Glacier which the L&F joint geospatial historical committee has determined has nothing whatever to do with the eponymous mints. On the morning’s regularity Team Daphne was doing well on timing until a rookie error sent the TR4 several hundred metres the wrong way. Which despite a breakneck backtrack proved impossible to correct in time, so a brutal one minute penalty and the inauguration of the Kiwi of Shame award which we fully aim and expect to pass on to another crew before tomorrow’s out. An early finish today allowed a wander around the gorgeous primordial forest at Lake Matheson. And the sunshine is glorious and the air gin-clear once again after last night’s downpour.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Day 14 - West coast vibe

The Tasman coast road on South Island is reminiscent of California’s Big Sur, but with less traffic. We shared the tarmac mainly with a dither of rental campervans which were probably a bit discombobulated by two dozen rally cars growling past them in succession on any scrap of straight. This was the second longest day of the rally, at 471 kilometers, so we couldn’t hang about. The gravel regularities were challenging but excellent driver-fodder, the last one through a park-like setting along the water’s edge, so unusually level even though twisty. The lunch stop was at Pancake Rocks, and we also managed to fit in a short and sweet zip wire ‘flight’ (well we are NZ). Now at the evening stop in Hokitika, centre of the 1864 gold rush - more California parallels. Also famous for jade jewellery; but as this blog deadline is deemed due, very sadly readers will have to forgo an in-depth jade retail market trading analysis report from Penny and Rita. Although back copies of ‘Murano 1999: The Ring Cycle’ are still in print.

Day 13 - Rocky roads

Joe 90 retires hurt but unbowed
Although NZ’s main roads are sinuously, seductively smooth, the rally only makes such use of them as necessary to entice us from one back country trail to the next. Once on the gravel routes some are superbly graded, dust being the only issue. But today our long suffering cars, even the youngest well into their fifth decade, endured a long upland transit via a rocky trail signposted ‘4x4 recommended’. Walking wounded from Day 13’s beasting included the surviving Healey (fractured chassis - now plated and welded), and our own attention seeking TR4 which Mario had to drive clutchless for the last hour after the slave cylinder pipe worked itself loose and leaked dry. Meanwhile up in Auckland Talbot Joe 90, which picked up its blighty number way back last week, is now in the tender care of CARS Europe for medevac back to Ayrshire. Meanwhile, Rosie did PP and PP proud, helping them to gain a ‘lollipop’ (zero penalties at a time check) during the morning’s regularities.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Day 12 - Hanmer Springs

The open road. Somewhere on South Island. Probably.
The drivers, being preordained to just, well, drive - while also listening obsessively for any markedly dischordant notes in the mechanical backing track from afore and abaft - are often oblivious of the geographical meanderings of the rally route, even when it runs to the original plan. And today we ended up well off schedule: due to fire risks in the back country we were re-routed onto the coast road (by some ocean but I couldn’t be Specific) and then a blast back up the tarmac inland again to the resort town of Hanmer Springs, pop 840. The weather is dry, sunny and quite hot again. Addendum: Penny and Rita scored zero time penalties at the hotel washing machine, despite some illegal baulking from other crews and appeals for ambiguous signage.

Day 11 - Across the Cook Strait

Daphne and Rosie both had their bottoms felt in Wellington
We had most of the morning free in Wellington before catching the ferry to the South Island. So while Penny and Rita went shopping for some apparently essential travel wardrobe enhancements for Peter and Mario, the boys whizzed the cars round the corner to a super friendly and hyper-helpful crew at Ray Hartley Motors, classic race and rally nuts themselves. Ray got both the MG and the TR4 up on the lift for a thorough mid-rally inspection underneath, diagnosed a gearbox rattle, found a perplexing brake fluid leak, fixed an engine mounting and ran around across town to find a set of brake pads for the Triumph; which had had fresh pads put on for the rally but which were already 50 percent worn after just 10 days’ hard driving. And all billed for less than what the girls had just spent on some Kathmandu wash-and-wear. Onwards! The three hour ferry crossing took us from the Teletubbie farmscapes of the North to proto-Alpine scenery on South Island.

Day 10 - F.A.B

A half-day holiday, pip pip! Three regularities then down into Marlborough wine country for a marquee lunch. But no chillaxing afternoon among the vines for our heroes, who zipped on another ninety clicks over the mountain into the charming small city of Wellington ahead of the pack to fit in a late afternoon visit to the Weta studios - makers of stupendous visual effects models for Lord of the Rings and so many other blockbuster movies since 1989. Sadly no photos allowed of the filming stage models of Thunderbirds’ Tracey Island (one-twelfth scale but detailed even down to the sheet music on the piano and real hide on the Charles Eames armchairs), but a memorable visit in any case. Overnight at the Wellington Intercontinental.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

How regular are you?

Even a 1927 Bentley needs the (permitted) electronic nav aids
A little glimpse into the esoterics of the ‘regularity’ might be helpful for non-rallyheads. Because the routes we take are public roads, even if only with the odd farm tractor, competitive stages aren’t ‘fastest time’ but rather involve maintaining a schedule of constantly varying average speeds, timed to the second at secret checkpoints. Not so hard on a highway but on the bucking, swirling gravel trail it means really pressing on, always of course (ahem) within the limits of safe driving. The nav uses the calibrated trip meter and stopwatch to feed the driver a stream of time/distance calls, adjusted for factors like corner cutting (sometimes essential to keep speed on up steep hairpins) and estimated degrees of wheelspin which has a significant impact on the trip meterage. Every second of error is one penalty point and getting a ‘bang on’, implying a less than 15 metre error at the end of a hustled 15 km stage on loose surfaces, is always worthy of a crew high five and probably a small beer or so at day’s end.

Day 9 - Mount Doom

We woke after last night’s storm to find ourselves under the baleful presence of cloud shrouded Mount Doom (actually Mt Ngauruhoe). But we weren’t overawed by the setting: having driven so far about the distance of Inverness to Naples, much of it over gnarly farm tracks and logging trails, we’re settling into a battle rhythm. Morning business starts with re-syncing of watches against rally master time and picking up route book changes that have to be done as ‘plot and bash’ on the day’s first road section. Then a mix of regularity stages between coffee and lunch breaks taken against time control deadlines, and fitting in fuel stops: neither Rosie nor Daffers have long range rally tanks. At the evening halts the drivers do their ‘spanner checks’ to see which bits have worked loose and what needs topping up, while the navs get time cards finalised. Today being a Sunday... we did it all just the same. A grand day for Rita and Mario today, slating the lowest daily penalties of the whole field, a parsimonious five seconds.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Day 8 - Through the Hobbit Hole

Saying goodbye to the lakeside playground of Taupo (with most of our laundry unwashed, thanks Hilton Hotels) we headed up the Forgotten Highway to lunch in the self declared independent republic of Whangamomona, accessed through the ‘hobbit hole’ tunnel of barely a car’s width. A mix of tarmac and gravel regularities before and after lunch. PP and Penny have wrangled into submission their GPS-powered tripmeter in the MG and scored a very creditable 14 seconds penalties for the day, with Daphne’s crew managing a respectable 20 secs.  Daphne threw her now customary daily mechanical flounce, a detached rear damper which meant most of the day was like driving a Renault 4 across a trampoline park. Eventually fettled back into place, in torrential rain, at the overnight stop in Whakapapa, which is a bit like Rannoch Moor but with pampas grass.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Day 7 - The tough go shopping

This was our first rest day, so the furthest the cars had to go was down town into Taupo. But first, some essential maintenance. For Daphne, a speedo cable repair (vital, because it also sends pings to the rally trip meter) and re-wiring the gremlin infested cooling fan. Rosie got her exhaust straightened by a sweep’s size ten boot, leaving just her Rostyles to be burnished. Then some light shopping: Penelope chuffed to find a memory foam pad to firm up the MG’s squiggy seats. No extravagance actually, as we’re in the cars seven or more hours a day and over rough terrain. Rita was equally thrilled to procure bulldog clips for the navigatorial office zone, where hyper-organisation is a match winning strategy.

By the way we just realised comments on this blog were disabled. They should work now so if anyone’s actually reading this feel free to say hello!

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Day 6 - Get the flock out of here

Today’s 420km took us on tarmac and trail through the rainforests of the Te Urewara National Park, and past large livestock farms. More than 80km was on unsurfaced regularity-timed sections: on the first one Mario and Rita  had a teensy oversteered “off”, leaving a spotlamp lens in a gulley, then had to hustle to make up the 15 seconds lost in getting the car back on the track. Other competitors suffered delays of an ovine character - by a 1,000-beast flock it was claimed - and entered special pleading (or was it bleating?) for a time penalties review. The day ended with two laps of the Bruce McLaren race circuit in Taupo; suffice to say, our c-word for today was Cones. The Rally NZ circus wearily checked into the hotel and kicked down a gear - tomorrow is a rest day. But over dinner Penelope and Rita still summoned the energy for a protracted and impassioned, Sauvignon fuelled, tutorial with the current table-leading crew, over regularity precision timing methods.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Day 5 - Motu-vation

Chef d’Equipe Charlotte gives moral support
The day’s highlight was most definitely the 47km Motu trail, one of the world’s most celebrated, tortuous and feared rally stages. Colin McRae did it in a blistering - and scarcely believeable - 37 minutes in his WRC Scoobie Impreza. We took twice the time and still had to keep the stones flying most of the way to make the targets. Just as well the navs had their heads down in speed tables and road books because looking ahead would have been disconcerting: one fellow competitor was heard to mention a near reacquaintance with her lunch. Of course both Daphne and Rosie loved it, although D’s sump guard is so low that following competitors had the benefit of nicely bulldozed gravel. Peter reported the MG hugely easier to pilot than the Talbot on the switchback logging tracks. Daphne continued to tease us with her little foibles: today’s being a loose steering rack after the morning’s first jarring regularity. There’s a great account of Day 5 on the Motu in the News feed on

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Day 4 - Introducing Rosie

Sweep team helping to ready Rosie for her rallying debut
Only Daphne started today from Auckland, leaving Joe90 convalescing in a Talbot Owner’s Club member’s garage. Mario and Rita made good on the day, beating at least one of the Porsche 911s on the track test then going on to rack up a couple of tight regularity scores. The final time control of the day was at the Hobbiton movie set. Where PP and Penelope fielded their sub off the bench: enter a Rosie-red 1972 MGB GT, procured in Auckland under a complex deal structure certain to attract the attention of the NZ securities commission. The MG is a complete minter, as if driven straight out of BLMC Abingdon, but with just the standard 1.8 litre B-Series mill, and not rally-prepared so Peter will need to drive with subtelty on the gravel stages which our fellow competitors have already found are quite tough on the cars. But most importantly the next phase of the rally is going to be Triumph v MG: Mount Doom 2020. We’re already negotiating the film rights.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Day 3 - Houston we have a problem

Peter and Penelope survey differential detritus
Leaving the lovely colonial town of Russell after breakfast we barrelled over more of the North’s rolling hills on fine tarmac before taking in a brisk gravel regularity through groves of tree ferns. An invigorating special test was held at Whangerei kart track, in which our heroes held their own while the co-drivers held on for life itself. Then just before the start of the second reg stage, the TR4 came to a stop; or rather it didn’t, due to about 90% brake failure. We waited for the sweeps who were unable to fix by the roadside, as none of us had spare brake fluid (we suspect confiscated by the car shippers). So Mario resolved to do the regularity sans anchors, and at max warp speed to make up for lost time. Brakes are so over-rated, said Mario. Rita said nothing. Braking restored by the sweeps at the lunch halt. Then the road back into Auckland at the end of our northern loop... Tragedy, the Talbot had shed its differential viscera onto the road. Sadly, low loader time and Failure To Proceed for Joe 90. But such is endurance rallying. And Peter and Penny already have... A PLAN. Tune in for tomorrow’s episode.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Day 2 - Life’s a (Ninety Mile) Beach

Daphne cosies up with a big Brit and a cool Yank
Tyres and techniques bedding in, the crews enjoyed today,s meander around the far north of NZ, taking in lunch at Ninety Mile Beach (actually only 55 miles but whatevs). Penelope reported “we’re just starting to enjoy ourselves” and Rita smiled enigmatically: she’d acquired some esoteric timekeeping magic from one of the endurance rally experts in the bar. Anyway the regularities gave the drivers grins and no big time compliance issues except for one steep serpentine downhill which even challenged the works Escort gravel hounds and made the photographers stand well back from the two-ton Bentleys in lateral mode. Still early and cautious days for us as we’ve not driven either car on gravel before. Nor, as PP remarked, did Scotland give an opportunity for hot weather testing.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Day 1 under our belts

Ceremonial start in Auckland
First rally day done; and despite breakdowns mechanical and digitial, we are not yet last. Each day includes several Regularities, being the main competitive sections of the rally which require a gravel stage of forty or more fast paced kilometres to be driven under to-the-second average speeds. On our third Reg today Daphne burst a radiator hose, fortunately almost under the noses of the sweep mechanics so fixed within 15 mins but inevitably incurring max time penalty for the section. Joe90’s crew meanwhile had a stopwatch glitch that threw a spanner into their otherwise respectable timings. At last Daphne flounced into the overnight stop in a hot flush, her dad resorting to a beefier rad fan fuse to restore thermal equilibrium. But both cars grateful for a quenching drink of 95 octane petrol, having been subsisting unhappily on 91 grade most of the day. A convivial evening at a marina-side restaurant in Whangarai ended day one.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Funny you never see them together

On the 53rd floor of Auckland Sky Tower international restaurateur Peter Gordon met his Mini-Me, after a slap up tasting menu. Great tucker and it turns out they do make some properly decent plonk here in NZ after all. Someone just needs to tell Majestic back home.

More pics in our NZ Classic rally photo stream:

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Ciara to Kia Ora

How many sweeps does it take to change a wheel sensor?
Stormy British winter to Auckland azure. We’ve had a couple of days to de-jetlag, see the sights and locate the Macpac and Icebreaker outlets because apparently superfine merino wool worn next to the skin masks the smell of fear. This morning we were reunited with our cars after their voyage and indignities of fumigation and the NZ version of the MOT test. On a short reaquaintance drive back into the city, automotive sulks thrown for the three month separations were a recalcitrant tripmeter sensor (Joe90) and a refusenik overdrive (Daphne). So the sweep mechanics are already in credit on the beer account. Scrutineering and briefings tomorrow, rally start on Saturday.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Back in the day

Talbots and TR4s are no strangers to international rallying. Before the war, the Coupe des Alpes was the most formidable rally of Europe. The Talbots' powerful engines and slick pre-selector gearboxes ate up the miles over the mountain passes. In 1932 a team of four Talbots won the Alpine, accumulating a combined penalty points total of zero. Car BGH 23, pictured here in the 1934 event in which Talbots again triumphed, is still rallied in historic events today.

A Triumph works rally team of four TR4s campaigned in the premier international road rallies in 1962 and 63, achieving creditable performances in the Tulip Rally, the 3,500km Liege-Sofia-Liege, and the Monte Carlo. But rallying then shifted to special forest stages, front wheel drive and the Mini Cooper. And big budgets: cash-strapped Triumph could no longer hold its own.