It was in 1909 that, at the ‘request’ of Prince Albert of Monaco, the Automobile Club de Monaco started planning a car rally. The participants would start at points all over Europe and converge on Monte Carlo and – in January 1911 – 23 cars set out from 11 different locations. The rally comprised both driving and then somewhat arbitrary judging based on the elegance of the car, passenger comfort and the condition in which it arrived in the principality. There was an outcry of scandal when the results were published and Henri Rougier, who was among the nine who left Paris to cover their 1,020 kilometres (634 mile) route, was proclaimed the first winner.
Let’s now roll forward to January 1966 and the first four cars to cross the finishing line were Timo Makinen (Finland) driving a British Motor Corporation Mini-Cooper, followed by Roger Clark in a Ford Lotus Cortina and Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, both also driving BMC Minis. However they were all ruled out of the prizes – with six other British cars – for alleged infringements of complex regulations about the way their headlights dipped.
The official winner was announced as Pauli Toivonen, a Finn who lived in Paris and drove a France made Citroen.
The Monte Carlo rally had ended in uproar over the disqualification of the British cars. BMC and Ford lodged protests and the rally had been severely dented. A British official said: “This will be the end of the Monte Carlo rally. Britain is certain to withdraw” and ‘winner’ Timo Makinen said: “None of us dreamed that the stewards would turn the results upside down – and for such a stupid reason.”
So what was it all about?
The British cars had been disqualified because they used non-dipping single filament quartz iodine bulbs in their headlamps, in place of the standard double filament dipping glass bulbs, which were fitted to the series production version of each model sold to the public.
According to new rules introduced at the end of 1965, any car entering the rally must come off a standard production line, with at least 5,000 cars being built to a similar specification. The British cars were equipped with standard headlamps – but the only way of dipping them was to switch to non-standard fog lamps.
Richard Shepherd, from the BMC, said: “There is nothing new about the lights at all. They have been used in our rallies, on rally cars, including the Monte for two years now and we’ve had no trouble at all in the past.”
It transpired that the confusion had arisen because the rally organisers had initially said the race would be run under the old rules – and only announced the switch after entries had been accepted! The BMC said that it had spent £10,000 on preparing for the Monte Carlo rally – and is now considering withdrawing from next year’s race.
The British teams’ protest to the race organisers was rejected and boycotted the official farewell dinner held at the International Sporting Club. Prince Rainier of Monaco also showed his anger at the disqualifications by leaving the rally before attending the prize-giving which he had always done in previous years.
Just to make it worse when, on 13th October 1966, the supreme motor racing and rally tribunal upheld the disqualifications. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile in Paris said the iodine quartz headlights fitted on the British cars were not standard and the Citroen was declared the official winner.
Just to take it a step further – the Citroen had similar lamps fitted but was approved because the bulbs were fitted as standard on some of their models!
This year’s rally is from January 22nd to 28th 2018