Paris-Madrid 22-25 May  Report and images Peter Baker

The title Paris to Madrid stirs the imagination, as indeed it should, after all the name was originally given over to the road race that ran between France and Spain way back in 1903. Over 200 vehicles started from the gardens of Versailles on that fateful day over 110 years’ ago, but after eight people died within the first twenty-four hours the race was stopped, halfway, in Bordeaux.

The second running of the modern Paris-Madrid rally, organised by H&H Classic Rallies, was an altogether more civilised affair, aimed at pre-war cars and set at an average speed that never exceeded 50kph. It did, however, still begin in Versailles and, after some 1,500km, finish in Madrid.

Twenty four mouth-watering classics lined up in the gardens of the famous palace just after dawn on Friday 23 May 2014, led by the 7.7-litre Napier, survivor of the original road race in 1903, and now owned by the National Motor Museum in the UK. The Team Retro-Speed Citroen Traction Avant driven by Mark Humphries and navigated by yours truly started number 10, just ahead of last year’ winner Alastair Caldwell in his Alfa Romeo 6C SS Torpedino, while last of the pre-war cars was the ex- Peking to Paris Jaguar Mk1V of Michael O’Shea.

The route soon had us following little-used lanes and tackling the first of several regularities. It was on these timed sections that the rally would be won or lost. After day one it was indeed Alastair, with Laurel Smith on the maps, who had taken a useful lead, 30 points clear of second placed Robert Kieffer and Michele Thiery. We plodded on but after suffering a puncture dropped down the order.

Day two and the rally headed for the Pyrenees and Spain, with the second overnight halt in Pamplona. Sadly, by lunchtime the weather had rapidly deteriorated and our windscreen wipers had to work over-time as we climbed high, over the little-used passes that have separated France from Spain for centuries. Surprisingly, our little Citroen performed well on the last couple of tests and on the day we finished 12th, although still 19th overall. Naturally, Alastair Caldwell extended his lead with just 108 penalties, but lowest penalty score of the day (104) was recorded by Peter and Philip Little in their 1929 Bentley Tourer.

The final 400km into Madrid and the finish included several superb regularity tests on gravel, obviously included to ‘sort the men out from the boys’ and although I made a couple of silly mistakes (my excuse is, we had no trip-meter) and our dynamo had stopped charging, things went reasonably well, our score making us 8th on day three, and 18th overall.

At the gala dinner Alastair and Laurel were presented with the magnificent Charles Jarrott Trophy, having won the event from Cornelis Willemse and Herman Schipper (Hudson Century) by a margin of 137 penalties. Third went to Jean Steinhauser and Anne Steinhauser-Collard (Bentley Derby) and fourth, just three points behind, were Albert De Mey/Nicolas Leonard in another Bentley.

Considering the high quality associated with the event, particularly the stunning 1,500km-route, it should have attracted more cars. The organisers feel the same and have embarked on a series of changes. As from 25 May the team will go under the name of Rally Round – Driving Adventures, with two events; the Orient Express and the Bhutan-Thunder Dragon Rally lined up for 2015. Their new website can be found at