C. A. N. May’s Book Covers The 1948 Alpine Rally

In a recent post about the 1949 book written by C. A. N. May, “Wheelspin Abroad”, I discussed the first half of his book which was written about his participation in the 1948 Lisbon Rally.  The second half of the book covers his participation in the 1948 Alpine Rally.  While the Monte Carlo Rally was better known to the general public, the Alpine Rally was considered a somewhat tougher rally among the rally community.

The route for the 1948 Alpine Rally is shown below.  As can be seen the rally started in Marseille, France, went north into Switzerland, re-entered France near Chamonix and then continued south where the rally ended at Nice, France.

Alpine 1948 Route Map

Route Map Of The 1948 Alpine Rally

The first stage of the 1948 Alpine Rally is outlined below.  The image at the top of the page shows the heights of the passes/summits or cols and the location of these summits.  This would be very useful information to those who might have been rallying in this area for the first time.

The listing in the middle of the page shows the towns through which the rally will pass, the intermediate distances in kilometres, as well as the total distance from the start of the stage.

There were two types of the controls – Route Check controls and Time Controls.  At the Route Checks the competitors had to get the route books signed at the control.  No times were recorded at these locations.  At the Time Controls the teams had to check in at their designated times.  Teams endeavored to arrive at the controls locations a little ahead of time if possible to give themselves some time to fuel the cars and check the brakes and fluid levels in the car before checking into the Time Control.

On this first stage there was a scheduled time when the cars had to average exactly 45 kilometers per hour from a given location to the next control.  Penalties were awarded on the basis of each 1/5 second that the teams were off the perfect time.  This was an uphill run up the highest point of the stage.  The organizers also had a fall back rule to be used in case the road conditions were such that none of the cars could make the required average speed.  In this case the base time would be the time set by the fastest car.  Any of the other cars that were timed within 5% of the time of the fastest car would have zero penalty points.  Cars outside of the 5% window were assigned penalty point based on each 1/5 second that the cars were timed outside of the 5% window.

At the typical Alpine Rally Time Controls teams were given a one minute window on either side of their perfect arrival time.  The official time of the team’s check in was determined by the time one the crew members inserted the route book into the control clock to get the official time stamp.  In the book May noted that at one Time Control, the official clock at the check in was 7 minutes slow compared to the official clock used when they started the leg.  Rather than stand around, May took the car for refueling before getting the route book stamped rather than lose time refueling on the subsequent leg after checking in.  This is an example of using your time in a rally as efficiently as possible.

Another timing issue that the teams had to contend with were short unannounced timed sections.  The organizers would have a marshal standing on the side of the road (usually a tricky, uphill run) holding a sign with the number 7, say, on it.  This meant that the teams had to travel the next 7 kilometres at an average speed of exactly 55 kilometres per hour.  Therefore navigators had to have ready access to their stopwatches, as the stopwatch needed to be activated as the car passed the marshal standing on the side of the road holding the number sign.

Alpine 1948 First Stage

First Stage Route And Controls

For this rally C. A. N. May was asked to be the co-driver with L. Potter.  They were teamed up in a light blue Allard K1 powered by a Ford flathead V8 engine.

Alpine 1948 Photo 4

The Allard was considered as one of the high performance cars in the 1948 Alpine Rally.  The Allard was in the vanguard of many English and European cars that combined a well designed lightweight chassis and body with the power of an American V8 engine.


A 1948 Allard K1 (macsmotorcitygarage.com)

In 1948 the Allard was a new post-war car, but many of the competitors in that year’s Alpine Rally were in pre-war cars.  One of the premier examples of this was the Jaguar SS100 that was entered by Ian Appleyard.  This car had great performance and was a top competitor in the capable hands of Ian Appleyard.

As can be seen from the photos below, portions of the route of the Alpine Rally were on roads literally hacked out of the side of a mountain.  The successful tactic used by Potter/May was to get as far ahead of schedule as possible on the roads that permitted higher than rally average speeds so that they had time “in the bank” for those portions of the route where the roads were very challenging.

Alpine 1948 Photo 1

Photos Of Appleyard’s Jaguar SS 100 & Daligand’s 4-1/2 Litre Delahaye

Chamonix was a major stop for the 1948 Alpine Rally.  The resort town was the overnight stop between the end of the third stage and the start of the fourth stage on the morning of July 17, 1948.  The picture below shows that the Alpine Rally made quite a splash in Chamonix.

Alpine 1948 Photo 2

The picture above shows the action at the Time Control at the Col Du Galibier during the fourth stage of the Alpine Rally.  As noted in the caption under the photo, Car #77 is the HRG with a 1,100cc engine driven by Robin Richards.  Richards and his co-driver,was one of the eight cars to win a Coupe des Alpes in the 1948 Alpine Rally.

The HRG cars were an English car that at the time were relatively unknown to most Englishmen.  The cars were initially designed in 1935 and the cars were still built in small numbers to this design after the war.  HRG made only a little over 200 cars from 1935 to about 1956, and then continued as a successful automotive engineering company until the business closed in 1966.

In May’s book he includes the following quote about HRG cars from “The Motor”: “Appealing to the enthusiastic driver, who assess a car by its record of success in competition rather than by its compliance with current fashions, the HRG is a hand-built vehicle, which, although not expensive, offers sustained and versatile performance.”

I have included a more current image of Joe Freeman’s white 1947 HRG 1100 that I saw at the Lime Rock Historic Festival.

HRG (2)

A 1947 HRG 1100

The goal for all of the competitors in the Alpine Rally was to win a Coupe des Alps.  These prized trophies were only given to competitors who scored no penalty points.  Some years no Coupes des Alps were awarded.  In 1948 eight teams were awarded a Coupe de Alpes:

  • Appleyard (Jaguar)
  • Potter (Allard)
  • Murray-Frame (Sunbeam Talbot)
  • Richards (HRG)
  • Gautruche-Mazalon (Citroen)
  • Claude-Clause (Lancia)
  • M. and Mme. Descollas (Lancia)
  • Auriach (Simca)

One of the more prominent competitors was Donald Healey in his Healey Westland that had finished in eighth position in the 1948 Mille Miglia which had happened a couple of months earlier.

Alpine 1948 Photo 3

Donald Healey In His Healey Westland

There is one confusing issue related to Donald Healey and the 1948 Alpine Rally involving Donald Healey’s loss of a perfect score and consequently a Coupe Des Alpes.   The following is my understanding of the what happened on the final run into Nice.  It should be noted that C.A.N. May’s version of the story is different from the stories written in other sources.  I’ll try to explain and add my own interpretation to what might have happened.  Corrections are welcome.

Before the final leg into Nice there was a Time Control in Barcelonette.  After leaving Barcelonette for the final leg into the finish at Nice, Donald Healey and his co-driver Nick Haines passed a Sunbeam-Talbot with the team of Hiskins/Marsden.   Shortly after passing Hiskins/Marsden, Healey/Haines heard a crash behind them.  Healey stopped his car and they got out and ran back to see what had happened.  They discovered that Hiskins’ car had went off the road and plunged 50 feet down an almost vertical slope and had landed on its roof.  They climbed down the steep slope, discovered that Hiskins was OK, but that his co-driver, Bill Marsden, was severely injured.  The three of them managed to carry Marsden up the slope and then Ian Appleyard can along in his Jaguar.  It turns out that Appleyard’s co-driver, A. D. Whitehead, was a doctor, who then rendered first aid to Marsden. Shortly afterward, rally officials came along and took Hiskins and Marsden to Nice for treatment.  Getting back to the rally,  it was said that Healey had lost 45 minutes and Appleyard had lost 25 minutes due to stopping to render help to Marsden.  May also wrote that they (Potter/May) stopped along with Appleyard/Whitehead and Healey/Haines for fuel in Barcelonette after checking out on the final leg.  All three of these cars Potter/May, Appleyard/Whitehead, and Healey/Haines had difficulty making the in time for the Barcelonette Time Control, therefore they could not stop for fuel before checking in at the Barcelonette Time Control.  May estimated that the re-fueling cost them 10 minutes.  As a result, including the re-fueling and Marsden stop Appleyard/Whitehead were likely close to 35 minutes behind schedule. Through some very vigorous driving Appleyard was able to make up the 35 minutes by the final Time Control in Nice, thus maintaining his perfect score and his Coupe Des Alpes.  But there is some confusion about the Healey/Haines car.

Even Donald Healey, with his driving skills and one of, if not the fastest car in the Alpine Rally was unable to make up all of the 45 minutes (more likely closer to 55 minutes when one also considers the time lost re-fueling).  It was reported in a contemporaneous account in Autocar that Healey lost his perfect score and as a result lost his Coupe des Alpes because of his stopping to render assistance to an injured competitor.  In another book “Healeys and Austin-Healeys” by Peter Browning and Les Needham, they wrote on Page 16: “the 45 minutes delay sacrificed their chances of an Alpine Cup.”  These days, in most rallies, time lost due to stopping to render assistance to an injured competitor is usually neutralized such that the stopping competitor is not competitively harmed by such stopping.   However May’s book provides some additional information that changes the story somewhat.

As I mentioned earlier both Potter/May and Appleyard/Whitehead were challenged to meet the in time at the Barcelonette Time Control.  May was not sure that Appleyard would make his time as well, but May watched and confirmed that Appleyard did make it on time, just barely.  He continued to watch at the Barcelonette Time Control and saw Healey arrive with great haste, sliding the car to a stop, with Nick Haines jumping out of the car and racing to get his Route Book stamped by the time clock.  May was sure that Healey/Haines had lost 2 minutes and hence their Coupe Des Alpes at the Barcelonette Time Control even before the matter of the Hiskins/Marsden accident.

To help resolve this matter of exactly when Healey lost his Coupe Des Alpes, I checked the book “The Healey Story” which was written by Donald Healey’s son, Geoffrey Healey, in 1996.  I was surprised to find no reference to the 1948 Alpine Rally in that book.  I would have thought that such a heroic story of self-sacrifice would have been worth a mention in a book about the development of the Healey cars.  Perhaps it was decided to say nothing and let the story stand as written by others.  May’s book provided me with a perspective on this incident that I had not read before.  As this issue is now many years past, I suspect that this matter has been discussed by others and the story is now clarified.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows the full story.

All in all, I enjoyed reading in May’s book the detailed account of the 1948 Alpine Rally and the 1948 Lisbon Rally which I discussed in another recent post on this website.

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2 Responses to C. A. N. May’s Book Covers The 1948 Alpine Rally

  1. Scott Morris says:

    Good Day Steve; I quite enjoyed this review of May’s book. You may wish to check out this website for his story – http://www.500race.org/Men/Austen%20May.htm Also, if you google [ “Wheelspin Abroad” “C.A.N. May” ] you will come up with all kinds of information about him and if you check the ‘images’ you will find a picture of the book cover. I do enjoy your blog/website.
    –Scott Morris, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada

    • Thanks Scott for the link to Austen May. It is very informative. Also thanks again for the information about the Great American Mountain Rally that you have shared with me in the past. Glad that you like my website!
      Steve McKelvie

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