Willi Cave - A Tale of Two Rallies

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Willy Cave - A Tale of Two Rallies



Just before the start of the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. Will Cave third from left wearing the bobble hat. Photo:- Z Register Archives

1955 - My First International

The idea was this: for the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally two BMC teams of three team cars would run together, each with a driver and co-driver, and the leading car would carry a third crew member who would be a specialist navigator. This master navigator would devote himself to any major problems that arose during the rally and would work out the course to be followed for all three cars.
So I came to be invited to join Reg Holt and Alan Collinson in the team-leading ZA Magnette in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. But when the entry list was published, all the teams were broken up. Len Shaw drew number 36, Geoff Holt got 49, and we were far behind at 58. So the master navigator idea was out and each crew had to do its own route finding.
That was by no means the only mistake in the project, but there was nobody available to teach us the business of international rallies at that time. In 1954, the newly formed British Motor Corporation decided to enter international rallying. For this new venture both Austin and the Nuffield Group would enter three cars. The two teams were entirely separate, the former operating from Longbridge and the latter from the MG works at Abingdon-on-Thames. The Nuffield Group chose the Magnette - a sporty saloon that proudly carried the motto 'Safety Fast!', an eminently suitable slogan for winning the Monte. If the car seemed an obvious choice, finding the crews was more of a problem.
In 1954, there were few factory-entered rally teams but most drivers were already signed up for the Monte. The M.G. factory turned to the M.G. Car Club, and selected three successful drivers from the North-West Centre, all operating around the Manchester area.
Frequent club events allowed drivers to experience much winter driving over the snowbound Pennines, thereby stimulating the will to win and gaining familiarity with the car. So the teams were chosen and Glasgow was the chosen start point.
At the factory the mechanics fitted second spare wheels and two spare tins of petrol in the boot of each car. A set of chains, de-ditching gear and a good box of tools taken together with three people and luggage meant the Magnette was a full one-and-a-half times its design weight. The power of the ZA engine was about 60 bhp which had to move about 30 cwt.
The cars reached Manchester from Abingdon the day before we were due to leave for Glasgow. I hurried out to Reg Holt's house to get my first ride in a 'works' car. This journey should have been something like a first flight on a magic carpet. But instead of floating on a magic carpet, the car felt strange, sluggish and awkwardly unmanageable. It was for me the first of many miserable meetings with rally cars where reality had somehow proved a ghastly disappointment after the pleasures of enthusiastic anticipation.
The next morning we left for Glasgow, the three maroon MG.s trying to keep in line astern, picking their way over the alternately snow packed and slushy A6. I was wedged in a corner of the back seat, surrounded by piles of auxiliary gear. A rubber pipe theoretically carried some air from the heater to my feet at the back but my feet soon froze in their boots. Just a degree of warmth could be felt by putting the end of the pipe actually into the bottom of a trouser leg.

The Trio of Magnettes taken on on the preliminary sortie to the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. Reg Holt with Collinson and Cave by KJB 910. Photo:- Z Register Archives.

On Sunday in Glasgow snow was blowing around and there were reports of snow falling all over Europe. The town was thick with stories of the difficulties crews had experienced trying to get to the start. At the local Nuffield distributors we practised changing wheels and fitting chains to the wheels both on and off the car. The performance was not exactly impressive, but it was good to be doing something constructive. The rally plates and numbers were put on the cars. A second set of chains was added to each boot load.
The next day we picked our way through a crowd already hundreds strong to the other 90 cars at the start in Blytheswood Square. Crew members checked and re-checked the bits and pieces. Well-wishers handed us little packets of barley sugar as the cars edged up to the start. At the Royal Scottish Automobile Club A K Stevenson waved the St Andrew's flag for us to go. Mounted policemen nudged a way between the onlookers and soon we were swallowed up in the dark busy streets.
Once out of Glasgow hard snow presented a rutted icy surface, but clear patches made it useless to put on our chains. Reg was finding it difficult to control the heavy ungainly MG at more than 30 mph and we were slowly slipping back behind the set average. Several people were coming by us going rather well. I crouched in the back trying to keep my feet from freezing, and trying not to notice how badly we were doing. On the other hand, we did pass a Sunbeam, well off the road and rather bashed.
We eventually reached the passage control at Stranraer. We were three-quarters of an hour behind schedule. However, it is a long way to Doncaster where the first time control was situated and we began to make up time along the Solway Firth.
As the night wore on the little groups of cheering enthusiasts grew thinner. Many people displayed Good Luck signs, but luck deserted several entries. Peter Bolton and Tommy Sopwith crashed into a telegraph pole outside Stamford and the straggle of cars that reached London before daybreak was half-a-dozen short.
It was a fine sunny morning as we reached Dover. With 18 hours and some 900 kms behind them, the cars were gratefully parked aboard the Channel ferry. The drivers dropped quickly on to the nearest bunks and fell asleep to the steady throb of the ship's engines and the gentle rise and fall of the Channel swell.
In Boulogne there was an hour to wait at the Gare Maritime, where the Mayor laid on a champagne reception. Both Ian Mackenzie and I were on the next shift to sleep, so we took full advantage of the hospitality, while the duty men sorrowfully had to decline. As soon as the gendarmes' whistles blew to set us on our way I was soundly asleep, oblivious to the rumble of the pave and the occasional frozen patch on the road.
Two hours later, the last of the evening light now gone, we checked in at the Lille passage control. At the Belgian frontier, I took over in the driving seat and headed for Brussels. The local M.G. Car Club people were waiting for us on the outskirts and their pilot car led us straight across to the Liège road.
Throughout this second night we completed the loop of the Low Countries. North first to cross the Rhine by the Nijmegen bridge and thus to Arnhem, and on to a stretch of Dutch motorway - the first time I had ever been on a motorway. At Amsterdam the car was rapidly greased and serviced by the Van den Mark garage, the Nuffield distributors for the Netherlands.
It dawned fine again as we crossed back into Belgium, and there was time for a breakfast snack at the Brussels control before we set off for Reims. The roads were clear, the going good. We arrived in the champagne capital with an hour to spare, which gave the Magnette crews time to lunch together and the off-duty men to succumb once again to free champagne. As we took our leave for Paris, the first of the Monte Carlo and Lisbon starters were approaching the town. The vast rally convoy now took almost five hours to pass.
We romped into Paris to a great blaring of horns and blowing of whistles. The traffic drove as if everyone was not just in a rally, but a road race. Our poor Magnette could scarcely keep up. The Arc de Triomphe loomed ahead and welcoming officials parked us in the Place de l'Etoile, where a notice board declared floods ahead and trouble in store. The road to Troyes was blocked and traffic at a standstill. Everybody was consulting anxiously the next maps. Local experts were everywhere, offering free advice in broken English. I realised that the moment for the master navigator was at hand.
"Inondations! Attention!" screamed the yellow notice on the road to Troyes, which went straight on between the long lines of trees outlined in the headlamps. We exchanged anxious glances. At least we had built up a little time in hand. Dimly through the side windows I saw reflections of ominous sheets of water on either side. Soon water appeared on the edges of the road and I marked the next available turning. But as we reached it a car came towards us - it could mean the road was passable. We carried straight on. The lapping waters closed and met, but the depth was only an inch or two, and soon the water fell away again. Three times this happened, three times we got safely through, and three times my luck held.
I was rewarded with a couple of hours in the driving seat as we finally turned due south and headed for the Mediterranean. Our car had given no new trouble, we were without penalty and there were only another twelve hours to go, but the mountains were ahead and we were tired. I drove until Bourg, where we changed round and I had another hour of sleep.
When I woke we were coming to another point of decision. There were three possible routes to Chambery - the more direct they were, the more tricky they looked. We took the shortest, twisting now into the foothills of the Alps; the road clear but icy, narrow and slow. Presently the car was skidding wildly, beyond all reason. We stopped and found the left back tyre was flat. Three stiff and weary men struggled in the cold darkness to make the jack work and fit one of the spares. On our way again at last, the car seemed to handle rather worse, as if it did not like the new tyre tread, and as we laboured slowly up to the tunnel at the top of the Col du Chat all our optimism drained away. But we got down to Chambery on time and the straight main roads welcomed and cheered us again.
The tyre marks on the road were more obvious from Chambery onwards for the survivors from Athens to Palermo had now joined in and taken their station at the front of the six-hour long moving queue. Everyone was now on the common route; our own slot was just under an hour from the front and with perhaps forty surviving cars ahead.
We roared through Grenoble, the street lamps sparkling in the frost and showing us the first flurries of falling snow and on to Vizille, bent on building up time for the hills ahead.
In Chambery we had been handed the precious pink slip with the details of the Classification Test. I turned my attention now to its message:
"GAP-MONACO. This itinerary has been chosen because of the difficulties it presents even in fine weather. According to the weather conditions during this period of snow, ice and even landslides, these difficulties may suddenly increase and render most arduous certain stretches over passes and through gorges. We therefore recommend the greatest caution and would also draw your attention to the fact that in the mountains and going through the villages competitors may be hindered by herds of cattle being moved and the parking of agricultural machinery, etc."
The road was now completely snow-covered and our average dropped below the set speed. Slowly the time we had built up began to slip away. Suddenly we were aware of the dreaded red glow of many tail lights ahead. Cars were slipping and failing to climb a steep incline. We stopped too and tumbled out to push, shove and coax the Magnette. People were fitting chains, letting air out of their tyres, pushing and levering. Eventually our chance came and Alan Colinson, who was nearest the wheel, leapt in and got on the move again. We reached the top of the Col Bayard and began a slow descent to Gap. Everyone was tight for time and many immediately raced away on the downhill, only to discover too late that the surface was like a skating rink. Cars were going off the road in all directions. I remember, in my terror, recognising a Zephyr, a Jaguar 120 Coupé and Gregor Grant's Magnette. It was the most expensive five kilometres of the rally, but we scraped safely past the cars' graveyard and into Gap.
We managed to refuel and began to dither about whether to fit chains. The roads in Gap were clear and everywhere crews were having the same argument, but our time was up.
For a few kilometres all was well. But as soon as we began to climb, the speed dropped back and the car slipped all over the place. Down into the next valley, briefly along the bottom and then off and up again. This time the increasing daylight showed there were dizzy drops on the right hand side and no retaining wall of any sort. I think we were all terrified and there were murmurs about slowing down. I had certainly never been on such a frightening road, not in full daylight, not in summer, not even at a touring speed. But we were losing time rapidly.
Halfway up the Col St Jean, which was only the first of three 4,000 ft passes on this stage, we were again on deep packed snow, with a polished ice surface. In Seynes-les-Alpes we could stand it no more, and by now, unless our speed was substantially increased, there was no point in continuing. Several cars with chains fitted had already clanked by us and their advice was obvious. Crouching and lying in the slush, we fitted our chains.
At La Javie, where the first special stage ended and the next immediately began, Reg stamped the card and handed it to me to make the calculations. And though I did not realise it then, our time meant exclusion by more than six minutes.
Working it out later, I realised we had averaged 29 mph, which would not have cost us many penalties in any British rally, but was fatal on the Monte. Still, we were still unbent and we carried on round the other special stages, oblivious of our exclusion, but no longer hoping to do well.
On the long final descent, the long journey's cold began to ebb out of the metal of the Magnette. The blue sky opened wide enough to show the sun. Eucalyptus and yellow mimosa grew beside the road. We soon got ahead of schedule on the last straights beside the sparkling Var and pulled up to lose some time and straighten out the tangled mess inside the car.
The final control was at the Monaco frontier. We checked the car automatically for the technical inspection, signed the form declaring we had not had an accident and parked the car.
By the time we got to the Metropole Hotel I was shivering and nursing the biggest headache of all time. The bar was crowded with hearty British competitors making a remarkable recovery. I confessed my ills to Reg Phillips, who bought me a strange, revolting quinine drink called Amer Picon; with that I retired to bed and did not wake until the next day.
On Saturday, the best 100 cars took part in the 325 km mountain circuit test. None of the Magnettes and only one of the Austins qualified. The following morning the very tired survivors turned out to race five laps round the Grand Prix circuit. Whilst the rain fell steadily outside, I watched the racing from my bed. The cars came into my view around the Café de Paris, down the short straight past the nightclubs, into the long right-hander and out of sight round the Station hairpin. Not a bad grandstand at all.
Eventually the last car slid round the last corner to the chequered flag; an unnatural quiet descended on the town and the 25th Monte Carlo Rally was over. The winner; a privately-entered Sunbeam with a Norwegian crew that beat the works cars. Best British entry, Gerry Burgess, in a private Zephyr, came fourth; Jaguars with Ronnie Adams, Cecil Ward and Ian Appleyard took the team prize and the Ladies Cup went to Sheila Van Damm and Anne Hall in their Sunbeam. The best Magnette was Geoff Holt, classified at 178th, with Len Shaw 202nd, and us at 237th.
It was some comfort to find that people who did well were mostly those of whom one had often heard before. Experience and ability counted. I resolved to seek both in the future.
Our thanks to 'Old Stager' for their permission to reproduce this edited version of Willy Cave's longer article first published in 1997.

In Between Times……

Willy Cave was ultimately highly successful in his quest for more experience and honours. He won an Alpine Cup in 1956 with Paddy Hopkirk in a TR3 and achieved 3rd, 4th and 6th places in the RAC Rally with a variety of drivers. His last 'modern' rally was the 1969 Monte Carlo with Peter Jopp in an Abingdon prepared Austin 1800 when they won the 'Best All-British Entry' award.
Classic rallying began some 22 years later, and Willy has been active on the scene from the start. In 1991 he navigated John Sprinzel to 2nd in class in the Pirelli Marathon, while other honours include 3rd overall in the 6th Monte Carlo Challenge in a Volvo Amazon with Mike Corns, and 2nd overall and 1st in class in the Targa Espana with Mike Cornwell in a Porsche 356. And so, on to 2005……..

2005 The Winter Trial

In 2005 Mike Cornwell and Willy Cave decided that something should be done to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Willy's appearance on the international rallying scene. They needed a Magnette, and a suitable car had to be found. They settled upon KUX 460, a very original 1954 'tin top' ZA, and entered it for the 2005 Winter Challenge, a gruelling 5 day event starting in Maastricht in the Netherlands and running through the Alps to Monte Carlo. The car was pulled apart and reassembled in rally trim. Only limited modifications are allowed so the running gear was left pretty standard but period rally mods were incorporated - the fitting of a Halda and extra 'clocks', rally seats, better spot lights and so on.
  
Mike & Willy's 'office'       Henk and Willy deep in thought

Henk and Willy deep in thought

Arriving in a chilly Maastricht on 6 February for the start, Mike and Willy were greeted by Register members Günter Graskamp and Henk Kroese who not only interviewed the pair but also nobly assisted in the final fettling of the brakes - Mike, being mainly a Porsche man, welcomed some assistance on the rather agricultural Abingdon set-up.

GG: Have you and Mike rallied together before?
WC: I do a lot of rallying with Mike as driver, but we mainly use a Porsche 356. I started navigating again several years ago when classic rallies came up
GG: How did you come to be accepted for the BMC team in 1955?
WC: I was chosen when BMC decided a third person was needed in one of the team cars
GG: How did they hear of you - had you been a professional navigator?
WC: No, I was working for the BBC, but I did a lot of club rallies. I've always been an amateur except in 1956 when I worked for Standard Triumph.
GG: Is there a secret to becoming a good navigator?
WC: My secret is to keep calm. Check everything: where is the river, did we pass the railway crossing, is there a church, is the direction correct, where is the sun, look at the compass……and then check again before we leave for the next control.
GG: What are your memories of the rally 50 years ago?
WC: I don't have good memories about that. The cars were too heavy and underpowered. We had luggage for three, spare wheels, two sets of snow chains, a heavy jack…..
GG: With these bad memories in mind, what is your impression sitting in a Magnette 50 years later?
WC: This rally is really something special for me, though I can't remember the original Magnette in detail.
GG: May I ask how old you are now?
WC: I'm 78
After this Gunter and Henk presented Willy Cave with a Register sweat shirt and left him to study the route maps - to check and recheck!
Alas, Willy's navigational skills were to no avail. Early on in the rally the Magnette lost a lot of time thanks to a faulty fuel pump, and they were never able to make this up, eventually retiring on the last stage. A sad end, but Willy remains indefatigable: less than a month later he was again in the left hand seat in the Alps, this time in a Mini Cooper, and he shows no sign of slowing down - a true 'Old Stager'!

Feb 2005 - Ready for the Off





Willy Cave - A Tale of Two Rallies

Just before the start of the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. Will Cave third from left wearing the bobble hat. Photo:- Z Register Archives

1955 - My First International

The idea was this: for the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally two BMC teams of three team cars would run together, each with a driver and co-driver, and the leading car would carry a third crew member who would be a specialist navigator. This master navigator would devote himself to any major problems that arose during the rally and would work out the course to be followed for all three cars.
So I came to be invited to join Reg Holt and Alan Collinson in the team-leading ZA Magnette in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. But when the entry list was published, all the teams were broken up. Len Shaw drew number 36, Geoff Holt got 49, and we were far behind at 58. So the master navigator idea was out and each crew had to do its own route finding.
That was by no means the only mistake in the project, but there was nobody available to teach us the business of international rallies at that time. In 1954, the newly formed British Motor Corporation decided to enter international rallying. For this new venture both Austin and the Nuffield Group would enter three cars. The two teams were entirely separate, the former operating from Longbridge and the latter from the MG works at Abingdon-on-Thames. The Nuffield Group chose the Magnette - a sporty saloon that proudly carried the motto 'Safety Fast!', an eminently suitable slogan for winning the Monte. If the car seemed an obvious choice, finding the crews was more of a problem.
In 1954, there were few factory-entered rally teams but most drivers were already signed up for the Monte. The M.G. factory turned to the M.G. Car Club, and selected three successful drivers from the North-West Centre, all operating around the Manchester area.
Frequent club events allowed drivers to experience much winter driving over the snowbound Pennines, thereby stimulating the will to win and gaining familiarity with the car. So the teams were chosen and Glasgow was the chosen start point.
At the factory the mechanics fitted second spare wheels and two spare tins of petrol in the boot of each car. A set of chains, de-ditching gear and a good box of tools taken together with three people and luggage meant the Magnette was a full one-and-a-half times its design weight. The power of the ZA engine was about 60 bhp which had to move about 30 cwt.
The cars reached Manchester from Abingdon the day before we were due to leave for Glasgow. I hurried out to Reg Holt's house to get my first ride in a 'works' car. This journey should have been something like a first flight on a magic carpet. But instead of floating on a magic carpet, the car felt strange, sluggish and awkwardly unmanageable. It was for me the first of many miserable meetings with rally cars where reality had somehow proved a ghastly disappointment after the pleasures of enthusiastic anticipation.
The next morning we left for Glasgow, the three maroon MG.s trying to keep in line astern, picking their way over the alternately snow packed and slushy A6. I was wedged in a corner of the back seat, surrounded by piles of auxiliary gear. A rubber pipe theoretically carried some air from the heater to my feet at the back but my feet soon froze in their boots. Just a degree of warmth could be felt by putting the end of the pipe actually into the bottom of a trouser leg.

The Trio of Magnettes taken on on the preliminary sortie to the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. Reg Holt with Collinson and Cave by KJB 910. Photo:- Z Register Archives.

On Sunday in Glasgow snow was blowing around and there were reports of snow falling all over Europe. The town was thick with stories of the difficulties crews had experienced trying to get to the start. At the local Nuffield distributors we practised changing wheels and fitting chains to the wheels both on and off the car. The performance was not exactly impressive, but it was good to be doing something constructive. The rally plates and numbers were put on the cars. A second set of chains was added to each boot load.
The next day we picked our way through a crowd already hundreds strong to the other 90 cars at the start in Blytheswood Square. Crew members checked and re-checked the bits and pieces. Well-wishers handed us little packets of barley sugar as the cars edged up to the start. At the Royal Scottish Automobile Club A K Stevenson waved the St Andrew's flag for us to go. Mounted policemen nudged a way between the onlookers and soon we were swallowed up in the dark busy streets.
Once out of Glasgow hard snow presented a rutted icy surface, but clear patches made it useless to put on our chains. Reg was finding it difficult to control the heavy ungainly MG at more than 30 mph and we were slowly slipping back behind the set average. Several people were coming by us going rather well. I crouched in the back trying to keep my feet from freezing, and trying not to notice how badly we were doing. On the other hand, we did pass a Sunbeam, well off the road and rather bashed.
We eventually reached the passage control at Stranraer. We were three-quarters of an hour behind schedule. However, it is a long way to Doncaster where the first time control was situated and we began to make up time along the Solway Firth.
As the night wore on the little groups of cheering enthusiasts grew thinner. Many people displayed Good Luck signs, but luck deserted several entries. Peter Bolton and Tommy Sopwith crashed into a telegraph pole outside Stamford and the straggle of cars that reached London before daybreak was half-a-dozen short.
It was a fine sunny morning as we reached Dover. With 18 hours and some 900 kms behind them, the cars were gratefully parked aboard the Channel ferry. The drivers dropped quickly on to the nearest bunks and fell asleep to the steady throb of the ship's engines and the gentle rise and fall of the Channel swell.
In Boulogne there was an hour to wait at the Gare Maritime, where the Mayor laid on a champagne reception. Both Ian Mackenzie and I were on the next shift to sleep, so we took full advantage of the hospitality, while the duty men sorrowfully had to decline. As soon as the gendarmes' whistles blew to set us on our way I was soundly asleep, oblivious to the rumble of the pave and the occasional frozen patch on the road.
Two hours later, the last of the evening light now gone, we checked in at the Lille passage control. At the Belgian frontier, I took over in the driving seat and headed for Brussels. The local M.G. Car Club people were waiting for us on the outskirts and their pilot car led us straight across to the Liège road.
Throughout this second night we completed the loop of the Low Countries. North first to cross the Rhine by the Nijmegen bridge and thus to Arnhem, and on to a stretch of Dutch motorway - the first time I had ever been on a motorway. At Amsterdam the car was rapidly greased and serviced by the Van den Mark garage, the Nuffield distributors for the Netherlands.
It dawned fine again as we crossed back into Belgium, and there was time for a breakfast snack at the Brussels control before we set off for Reims. The roads were clear, the going good. We arrived in the champagne capital with an hour to spare, which gave the Magnette crews time to lunch together and the off-duty men to succumb once again to free champagne. As we took our leave for Paris, the first of the Monte Carlo and Lisbon starters were approaching the town. The vast rally convoy now took almost five hours to pass.
We romped into Paris to a great blaring of horns and blowing of whistles. The traffic drove as if everyone was not just in a rally, but a road race. Our poor Magnette could scarcely keep up. The Arc de Triomphe loomed ahead and welcoming officials parked us in the Place de l'Etoile, where a notice board declared floods ahead and trouble in store. The road to Troyes was blocked and traffic at a standstill. Everybody was consulting anxiously the next maps. Local experts were everywhere, offering free advice in broken English. I realised that the moment for the master navigator was at hand.
"Inondations! Attention!" screamed the yellow notice on the road to Troyes, which went straight on between the long lines of trees outlined in the headlamps. We exchanged anxious glances. At least we had built up a little time in hand. Dimly through the side windows I saw reflections of ominous sheets of water on either side. Soon water appeared on the edges of the road and I marked the next available turning. But as we reached it a car came towards us - it could mean the road was passable. We carried straight on. The lapping waters closed and met, but the depth was only an inch or two, and soon the water fell away again. Three times this happened, three times we got safely through, and three times my luck held.
I was rewarded with a couple of hours in the driving seat as we finally turned due south and headed for the Mediterranean. Our car had given no new trouble, we were without penalty and there were only another twelve hours to go, but the mountains were ahead and we were tired. I drove until Bourg, where we changed round and I had another hour of sleep.
When I woke we were coming to another point of decision. There were three possible routes to Chambery - the more direct they were, the more tricky they looked. We took the shortest, twisting now into the foothills of the Alps; the road clear but icy, narrow and slow. Presently the car was skidding wildly, beyond all reason. We stopped and found the left back tyre was flat. Three stiff and weary men struggled in the cold darkness to make the jack work and fit one of the spares. On our way again at last, the car seemed to handle rather worse, as if it did not like the new tyre tread, and as we laboured slowly up to the tunnel at the top of the Col du Chat all our optimism drained away. But we got down to Chambery on time and the straight main roads welcomed and cheered us again.
The tyre marks on the road were more obvious from Chambery onwards for the survivors from Athens to Palermo had now joined in and taken their station at the front of the six-hour long moving queue. Everyone was now on the common route; our own slot was just under an hour from the front and with perhaps forty surviving cars ahead.
We roared through Grenoble, the street lamps sparkling in the frost and showing us the first flurries of falling snow and on to Vizille, bent on building up time for the hills ahead.
In Chambery we had been handed the precious pink slip with the details of the Classification Test. I turned my attention now to its message:
"GAP-MONACO. This itinerary has been chosen because of the difficulties it presents even in fine weather. According to the weather conditions during this period of snow, ice and even landslides, these difficulties may suddenly increase and render most arduous certain stretches over passes and through gorges. We therefore recommend the greatest caution and would also draw your attention to the fact that in the mountains and going through the villages competitors may be hindered by herds of cattle being moved and the parking of agricultural machinery, etc."
The road was now completely snow-covered and our average dropped below the set speed. Slowly the time we had built up began to slip away. Suddenly we were aware of the dreaded red glow of many tail lights ahead. Cars were slipping and failing to climb a steep incline. We stopped too and tumbled out to push, shove and coax the Magnette. People were fitting chains, letting air out of their tyres, pushing and levering. Eventually our chance came and Alan Colinson, who was nearest the wheel, leapt in and got on the move again. We reached the top of the Col Bayard and began a slow descent to Gap. Everyone was tight for time and many immediately raced away on the downhill, only to discover too late that the surface was like a skating rink. Cars were going off the road in all directions. I remember, in my terror, recognising a Zephyr, a Jaguar 120 Coupé and Gregor Grant's Magnette. It was the most expensive five kilometres of the rally, but we scraped safely past the cars' graveyard and into Gap.
We managed to refuel and began to dither about whether to fit chains. The roads in Gap were clear and everywhere crews were having the same argument, but our time was up.
For a few kilometres all was well. But as soon as we began to climb, the speed dropped back and the car slipped all over the place. Down into the next valley, briefly along the bottom and then off and up again. This time the increasing daylight showed there were dizzy drops on the right hand side and no retaining wall of any sort. I think we were all terrified and there were murmurs about slowing down. I had certainly never been on such a frightening road, not in full daylight, not in summer, not even at a touring speed. But we were losing time rapidly.
Halfway up the Col St Jean, which was only the first of three 4,000 ft passes on this stage, we were again on deep packed snow, with a polished ice surface. In Seynes-les-Alpes we could stand it no more, and by now, unless our speed was substantially increased, there was no point in continuing. Several cars with chains fitted had already clanked by us and their advice was obvious. Crouching and lying in the slush, we fitted our chains.
At La Javie, where the first special stage ended and the next immediately began, Reg stamped the card and handed it to me to make the calculations. And though I did not realise it then, our time meant exclusion by more than six minutes.
Working it out later, I realised we had averaged 29 mph, which would not have cost us many penalties in any British rally, but was fatal on the Monte. Still, we were still unbent and we carried on round the other special stages, oblivious of our exclusion, but no longer hoping to do well.
On the long final descent, the long journey's cold began to ebb out of the metal of the Magnette. The blue sky opened wide enough to show the sun. Eucalyptus and yellow mimosa grew beside the road. We soon got ahead of schedule on the last straights beside the sparkling Var and pulled up to lose some time and straighten out the tangled mess inside the car.
The final control was at the Monaco frontier. We checked the car automatically for the technical inspection, signed the form declaring we had not had an accident and parked the car.
By the time we got to the Metropole Hotel I was shivering and nursing the biggest headache of all time. The bar was crowded with hearty British competitors making a remarkable recovery. I confessed my ills to Reg Phillips, who bought me a strange, revolting quinine drink called Amer Picon; with that I retired to bed and did not wake until the next day.
On Saturday, the best 100 cars took part in the 325 km mountain circuit test. None of the Magnettes and only one of the Austins qualified. The following morning the very tired survivors turned out to race five laps round the Grand Prix circuit. Whilst the rain fell steadily outside, I watched the racing from my bed. The cars came into my view around the Café de Paris, down the short straight past the nightclubs, into the long right-hander and out of sight round the Station hairpin. Not a bad grandstand at all.
Eventually the last car slid round the last corner to the chequered flag; an unnatural quiet descended on the town and the 25th Monte Carlo Rally was over. The winner; a privately-entered Sunbeam with a Norwegian crew that beat the works cars. Best British entry, Gerry Burgess, in a private Zephyr, came fourth; Jaguars with Ronnie Adams, Cecil Ward and Ian Appleyard took the team prize and the Ladies Cup went to Sheila Van Damm and Anne Hall in their Sunbeam. The best Magnette was Geoff Holt, classified at 178th, with Len Shaw 202nd, and us at 237th.
It was some comfort to find that people who did well were mostly those of whom one had often heard before. Experience and ability counted. I resolved to seek both in the future.
Our thanks to 'Old Stager' for their permission to reproduce this edited version of Willy Cave's longer article first published in 1997.

In Between Times……

Willy Cave was ultimately highly successful in his quest for more experience and honours. He won an Alpine Cup in 1956 with Paddy Hopkirk in a TR3 and achieved 3rd, 4th and 6th places in the RAC Rally with a variety of drivers. His last 'modern' rally was the 1969 Monte Carlo with Peter Jopp in an Abingdon prepared Austin 1800 when they won the 'Best All-British Entry' award.
Classic rallying began some 22 years later, and Willy has been active on the scene from the start. In 1991 he navigated John Sprinzel to 2nd in class in the Pirelli Marathon, while other honours include 3rd overall in the 6th Monte Carlo Challenge in a Volvo Amazon with Mike Corns, and 2nd overall and 1st in class in the Targa Espana with Mike Cornwell in a Porsche 356. And so, on to 2005……..

2005 The Winter Trial

In 2005 Mike Cornwell and Willy Cave decided that something should be done to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Willy's appearance on the international rallying scene. They needed a Magnette, and a suitable car had to be found. They settled upon KUX 460, a very original 1954 'tin top' ZA, and entered it for the 2005 Winter Challenge, a gruelling 5 day event starting in Maastricht in the Netherlands and running through the Alps to Monte Carlo. The car was pulled apart and reassembled in rally trim. Only limited modifications are allowed so the running gear was left pretty standard but period rally mods were incorporated - the fitting of a Halda and extra 'clocks', rally seats, better spot lights and so on.

Mike & Willy's 'office'

Henk and Willy deep in thought

Arriving in a chilly Maastricht on 6 February for the start, Mike and Willy were greeted by Register members Günter Graskamp and Henk Kroese who not only interviewed the pair but also nobly assisted in the final fettling of the brakes - Mike, being mainly a Porsche man, welcomed some assistance on the rather agricultural Abingdon set-up. 

GG: Have you and Mike rallied together before?
WC: I do a lot of rallying with Mike as driver, but we mainly use a Porsche 356. I started navigating again several years ago when classic rallies came up
GG: How did you come to be accepted for the BMC team in 1955?
WC: I was chosen when BMC decided a third person was needed in one of the team cars
GG: How did they hear of you - had you been a professional navigator?
WC: No, I was working for the BBC, but I did a lot of club rallies. I've always been an amateur except in 1956 when I worked for Standard Triumph.
GG: Is there a secret to becoming a good navigator?
WC: My secret is to keep calm. Check everything: where is the river, did we pass the railway crossing, is there a church, is the direction correct, where is the sun, look at the compass……and then check again before we leave for the next control.
GG: What are your memories of the rally 50 years ago?
WC: I don't have good memories about that. The cars were too heavy and underpowered. We had luggage for three, spare wheels, two sets of snow chains, a heavy jack…..
GG: With these bad memories in mind, what is your impression sitting in a Magnette 50 years later?
WC: This rally is really something special for me, though I can't remember the original Magnette in detail.
GG: May I ask how old you are now?
WC: I'm 78
After this Gunter and Henk presented Willy Cave with a Register sweat shirt and left him to study the route maps - to check and recheck!
Alas, Willy's navigational skills were to no avail. Early on in the rally the Magnette lost a lot of time thanks to a faulty fuel pump, and they were never able to make this up, eventually retiring on the last stage. A sad end, but Willy remains indefatigable: less than a month later he was again in the left hand seat in the Alps, this time in a Mini Cooper, and he shows no sign of slowing down - a true 'Old Stager'!

Feb 2005 - Ready for the Off

Read more about the car. How it was prepared and restored.

 


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