The History of the Monte-Carlo Rally
It was in 1909 that the idea of a car rally first took shape in Monaco. Alexandre Noghès, President of the “Association Sport Automobile Vélocipédique Monégasque”, predecessor of today’s “Automobile Club de Monaco”, suggested a race which would connect a large number of European cities from which the competitors would set off to converge on the finishing line in Monaco. As usual, it was the powerful Société des Bains de Mer, Monaco’s founder and business manager, which financed the project that it considered to be a sizeable business opportunity. The rally was, after all, a chance to bring wealthy car racing fans to Monaco from all over Europe. Furthermore, their cars would speed along the roads bearing the “Monte-Carlo Rally” logo, a very astute form of advertising for Monaco.
In 1911, everything was ready and the first rally took place. For almost a week, departures were staggered on dates and at times which corresponded to the distance separating them from Monaco. From Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Berlin, cars set off on the roads, expected to clock up an average speed of 10 km/h including stops, with arrivals scheduled for Saturday, 28 January, in Monaco.
Sixteen cars reached the Principality without any difficulty. Leaving Berlin on 21 January, Von Esmark was the first to arrive, after driving 1,700 km at an average speed of 30 km/h. Because he didn’t participate in the parade, he was relegated to second place, leaving Henri Rougier in a Turcat-Mery as the winner!
Henry Rougier was a frequent visitor. It was Rougier who had completed the first flight over the Mediterranean at the controls of his Voisin biplane just a few months earlier, on 3 March 1910. He thus demonstrated that it is possible to carry out feats both in the air and on dry land! He won 10,000 gold francs in cash and a bronze sculpture.
The Monte-Carlo Rally was off to a brilliant start and enjoyed enormous success from its second edition onwards. It was not, of course, held during the First World War, but was successfully reintroduced in 1924.
The Monte-Carlo Rally was not initially organised as a race in terms of speed but rather of consistency, as well as mechanical and human endurance. Back in those days, driving across Europe in the middle of winter was something of an achievement.
In keeping with the commercial aim of the Société des Bains de Mer to draw a wealthy clientele to Monaco, the rally was extended to include a women’s event, adding a needed touch of glamour and elegance to the occasion.
The Monte-Carlo Rally becomes a real sporting event
The Second World War interrupted the rally a second time, but from the early 1950s, the rally became one of Europe’s major car rallies, with results counting toward the European Grand Tourism Championship which became the European Rally Championship and the WRC in 1973.
From the 1960s onwards, pure speed was also taken into consideration and the leading professional racing stables took an interest in the event. The era of ‘gentlemen drivers’ gradually began to wane, though other legendary events emerged. An itinerary covering steep roads in the Ardèche and the famous Col de Turini mountain pass led to the renown of Alpine Renaults, Mini Coopers, etc. in the 1960s.
The historic rally
Since 1998, the rally’s spirit of pure competition has continued to exist, though there has been a return to the original concept thanks to the organisation of an historic rally based solely on consistency. Every winter in Monaco, it offers a wonderful opportunity to admire classic models such as the BMW 2002, Ford Capri, Porsche 911 and Lancia Stratos.
In this way, the Monte-Carlo Rally comes full circle every winter, revisiting its prestigious past and reliving the original spirit which inspired the event in 1911.