Voice automobilist Dan List has said in these columns that there are, Virginia, rallyes and rallyes. This delicate distinction never entered my pedestrian mind until I rolled out of bed last Sunday morning and took in the Fifth Annual Village Voice Sports Car Reliye.
Reaching Washington square, I found assorted rallye vehicles and their masters juggling for parking spaces along the east side of the park. It was a decidedly eclectic array a cars, ranging from a 1929 BMW, to a 1958 Plymouth Station wagon. The important crowd around the cars meandered into the street, buying Good Humors, snapping pictures, and asking policemen for directions to water fountains.
Hitherto, the intriguing numeral-like names of sleek sports cars had always seemed to me like mysterious toothpaste ingredients. The whole hupcap and crash-helmet set existed for me as some kind of phantasmagoric make-believe world of decadent Italian counts and Hapsburg crown princes. A kind of modern form of outdoor relief for bored aristocrats, I thought (the keep-the-nobility-out-of-the-bars sort of thing).
My sequestered notions about the fast-car set had been bolstered recently by a letter I received from a former young lady friend. She was in France and described to me something called "le rallye." It turned out to be an elegant chase from villa to villa, with chateaux as checkpoints and vineyards for pit-stops. An expensive pastime for the rootless European nobility with hours on their hands and no titled land under their feet, I opined.
For Desert Campaign
Still firmly set In my romantic convictions (despite my confrontation with the motley-looking crowd), I managed to swing a ride for Jocelyn and myself in an English Land-Rover (the official course car for the rallyte). Now a Land-Rover, Virginia, is like nothing you have ever seen. Jocelyn was both-thrilled and frightened. The ''car" doesn't actually belong in a race of any kind, but somewhere on the African veldt. It was developed by the British during the war and used against Rommel in the desert campaign.
Rallye Master Jean Shepherd was describing each car as it passed in terms of what its design indicated about the "character" of the nation in which it was built. At the Rover rolled up to the line, he began coming on about how the British really like to suffer when they do things. Shepherd may hace been right, but somehow I felt annoyed that he was putting down a vehicle the Company describes as capable, gutty, and as rugged as a cement casket."
Another indication that there are rallyes and rallyes hit me when I looked down from the high back seat of the Rover and saw throngs of people in Bermuda shorts, straw hats, and at least one pith helmet crowding around Dan List to get their car numbers. I turned to Jocelyn, who was trying to get into a pair of hunting boots the ad agency men must have put in the car, saying that I thought this could be Le Mans. "It looked that way to me in Paris Match," she replied, tugging on a boot.
A gypsy-like family of three was pushing a motorcycle and its sidecar by our window. Somebody told us that that was the Hal Zucker family who had installed a telephone in their sidecar for navigation purposes at last year's rallye. I must have been staring, perhaps looking for the phone, for Hal looked up, reading my mind. "This year I'm getting a voodoo radio," he beamed. Startled, I asked what he hoped to hear over it. "Cosy Cole," came the reply as he pushed on out of sight.
The next shock to my aesthetic sensibility came with the announcement that this rallye was for the "average driver." That is, the most dashing, flamboyant driver would not come out on top at the end, for the top prizes would go to those drivers whose time most nearly approximated the computed average time. There are rallyes and rallyes, Virginia.
When the rallye began (an hour late, more or less) and the Rover started off trailing the pack. straining in the second of her eight truck-like forward gears, I felt mildly disappointed. I knew that we were supposed to be the official car and all that but why must we behave like a bloody tank, I wondered? Jocelyn and I began to hint to our driver that it would be ripping If we actually WON the Rallye. Gradually, our rally mood mastered the day and we began to miss it few turns here and there, shortening the 15-mile course significantly.
Other "real" contestants would see us roaring ahead making wrong turns. Some became quite confused. I saw a Turner stop when we made one of our wrong turns. As I looked back, it was still there, uncertain as to which was the REAL turn.
A red Triumph flashed by us, filled with young college-types, and tried to pass us. We gunned the Rover into what must have been seventh and squeezed them out on a hairpin turn in the financial district. Later they tried it again. This time, one of them shouted to us, "Is this the Way to do it?" They evidently did not understand that a rally is not a speed-race. But I suppose the sight of a gunning Land-Rover did not help to bring home that point.
The Zuckers and their motorcycle rolled by us, unconcerned. This happened several times, and they became in my mind a kind of significant leitmotif, a recurring image of steady, purposeful motion (I learned later that they finished second, only a few fractions off the winning time).
By now, we were well ahead of the pack. We whipped by the three devious checkpoints at a bumpy 15 m.p.h. (dangerously above the winning speed). Somebody tried to stop us each time, demanding that we give them our number. But as we had no number, we felt somewhat uneasy about slowing down.
When the Rover cornered back to the Washington Square finish line, we found that we were the first car to return. Accordingly, we demanded the first prize. Dan List looked at us and said: "Are you kidding?" or words to that effect. We were deadly serious and when no prizes were forthcoming, we made it to a nearby bar for lunch, disgruntled with the whole affair. ||
|Not Determined yet|
|Engineer and others in Booth