“Dear Bruno”, started my rather optimistic email “I’d like to enter your rally for historic cars with my not-so-historic Porsche 968 and I’d like my 11 year old daughter to be my Navigator and neither of us speak any French or have done anything like this before. Please can we come?” To my surprise I got a “oui” in reply and after some help from google translate I was pleased to learn that this was a “yes” from the organiser of the magnificent Rallye Des Jonquilles. My French really is that bad. It’s a silly language anyway and I am sure that they only speak it to amuse the tourists, reverting to English when our backs are turned.

And so off to the colonies, junior sat on a cushion telling me we ought to have an Evora instead of this old Porsche. Arras was the jump-off point and it’s just an hour from Calais on empty Autoroutes. It’s a pretty town, set around a large square with plenty of bars and restaurants, where I caught up with Drivers Ben and Matt with their respective Navigators Hannah and Giles. These fellow Brits were driving the ancestors to my 968, namely a 944 and a 924. Immediately my total lack of preparation was apparent. My kit consisted of a fuel pump relay (the only thing ever likely to fail on a 968, I am told) a 20 year old Berlitz French phrasebook (in case we needed to ask important things like the opening times of the Library) and a highlighter with the lid missing that had gone a bit crusty. I had beer. Junior didn’t. She needed a clear head for the morning. Ben enthused that all we had to worry about was doing big skids and getting a good table at the lunch stop. My kind of event. More beer. A night in the Ibis. An early start.

The Place des Heros square was packed with the fabulous machines you see in the pictures here and we signed on. The rules of the rally were written first in French and then in slightly shonky English. We were to depart the square at 30 second intervals, follow tulip notes for directions, and complete the stage which was roughly 50Km long. There were three stages in total, in a rough triangle, ending up back in the square where we started. Each instruction was a simple graphic showing the distance to the next turn and the distance in total. In Km. Junior pointed out that our odometer is in Miles. Well spotted kid. Cerbera Driver Lee kindly loaned us a conversion sheet and we converted the distances in the book from Km to miles. The organisers threw in a couple of extra challenges; We were given a sheet with photographs of six war memorials we should pass on the 2nd stage (Arras was in the thick of it in the First World War), with one of the six being a fake, which we were to note. We were also asked to record, in order, the first and last letters of the names of each of the villages we passed through on the 1st stage. And so with a cabin full of paperwork we crawled up to the start line behind a raucous Renault A610 V6 Turbo and waited for the off.

At this point perhaps I ought to point out my secret weapon; deviancy. Concerned that my Navigator would just be talking ballast I had decided to fly out of the square and immediately try and catch the car in front and just follow him, before overtaking just before the end of the stage. I painted the most perfect noir onze (thanks, Berlitz) on the cobbled square and caught up and left Arras heading west. The countryside here is a bit like the Lincolnshire wolds, little hills and wooded lanes, single lane tracks over fields of rapeseed with no hedges and my 968 easily kept up with the A610 in front, who whooshed on and off boost at each turn. After bombing through another rural village junior suddenly shouted out; “Stop!” I reluctantly did so. I watched the A610 vanish off over the horizon and realised I didn’t have a bloody clue where we were. Junior did. She back-tracked us to the right turn, reminded me that we really ought to have a Brantz rally clock, and got us going in the right direction.

An hour later we reached the stage end, a beautiful faded chateau, for coffee, photos and tall tales. The second stage took us from there to a Restaurant an hour away and I learned to completely trust my Navigator rather than chaps in classics who looked like they knew where they were going but didn’t. That’s you in the blue MGB if you’re reading this. There was a great mix of cars attending, mostly French, some Brits and with a smattering of other continentals including a jolly Dutch lady in an Austin Mini festooned with flowers who spent much of stage two perfecting her three point turns on (the wrong) back roads. There were the inevitable broken down kit cars, smoking Triumphs, Morgans, Lotuseses and a Ferrari driven by a classy chap clothed head to toe in Ferrari branded clothing of man-made fibres.

There was a surprising amount of people going the wrong way. Or was it us? No. We arrived at the Restaurant on schedule and settled down for a decent three course meal (included in the entry fee). A waiter asked me if I wanted wine. I declined and told him I was driving. He smiled, poured me a large glass anyway and said “Monsieur, everyone is driving.” The final stage back to Arras was a hoot, we seemed to have become tangled up with the local Renault Alpine owners club, my 968 clearly the bad guy as we zipped through little villages the locals would wave and smile at the French cars in front and behind, but give our black Porsche a cheeky thumbs down.

There were hairpin turns where the Porsche struggled to get it’s nose round without having to deliberately provoke it’s frisky rear (time for new Potenzas) and there was occasionally a hint of scuff from beneath as we skimmed the grass growing through broken tarmac in places. The Porsche 968 Sport is a fantastic high-speed tourer and quite handy on track too but I’m not sure it’s the ideal rally car. Minis seems to bounce like a pinball down the lanes carrying so much speed and the Alfas and Lancias just looked so happy being ragged in the sunshine. They were great company. Quite ridiculous speeds were reached at times, we hit [removed for legal reasons] Mph coming back into town, squeezing past the last Alpine just before we reached the square where the finish line and champagne awaited. Junior was grinning. I needn’t have worried. Unlike her Dad she does know her Arras from her elbow.

With thanks to Arnaud Chanteloup who offers fine prints and photography, Bruno and all at La Grange Aux Damiers, Ben and Hannah for the skids, Matt and Giles for the pointers, Lee off PH for the glorious noise and to all the new friends we made on the day.

About The Author

Rich Duisberg

Rich Duisberg* has had work published in Classic & Sportscar, Practical Performance Car, Modern Mini, Banzai, MogMag, Evo, GT Porsche, Complete Kit Car, Absolute Lotus, Alternative Cars, Classic Retro Modern, and elsewhere. Rich often appears on CBS’s XCAR and Carfection channels, and Motors TV, plus JayEmm on Cars, enthusing about historic motoring. His latest book (find his work on Amazon) was described by SniffPetrol as "hilarious", although he was also threatened with legal action by elderly DJ Tim Westwood. In his Midlands man cave is a 1972 Fiat 500, a Lotus Elise, a BMW barge and a vintage Royal Enfield pushbike. Previous machines of interest include an Mk1 MX5 (owned for 14 years!), an Alfa GTV6, a Porsche 968 and a Sinclair C5. The Metro (right) was bought for an experiment, and abandoned in Africa. "I am not getting in a car with him" -  said Le Mans winner, Derek Bell. *A nom-de-plume inspired by the BBC's League of Gentlemen.

3 Responses

  1. Michael Matthews

    Hello Rich, just found your article on Rallye D,Artois and photo of my Mach 1 with a bit of battle damage i think i have done 5 Rallyes with Bruno, Jean Pierre, Christophe and crew aux damiers. As you now know they do put on a good week end driving time my grandson is my co pilote and he loves it to bits. We are both looking forward to next April. We will be in the Mach 1 or the nearest bar look forward to maybe meeting up cheers mickmatt


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