C&SC competition-winner Caesar Barton had a whale of a time after scooping a free spot – including a classic Alfa Duetto to drive – on the chic Jean Behra Historique rally, a Nice-based event running almost 700km along the spectacular souther French Alps.
With a route plotted by the Automobile Club de Nice, the rally has 14 regularity stages and was this year won by Jean-Claude Leonardi and co-driver Michel Dezert, in a 1969 Renault R8 Major, accruing a mere 829 penalty points.
Runners-up were a brace of Alpine Renault A310s (one a four-pot, the other a 'six'), each shared by two brothers: Julien and Cécile Landucci (906 points) taking second, and Jean-François and Marie Landucci in third with 1041 points.
British cars showed well in the Regularity without Instruments class with the Tchertchian/Biondi TVR Taimar taking first and the Feraud/Ravily 1971 Vixen coming second.
Triumph TRs were the choice of both all-lady crews, with the youthful pairing of Nadège Drax and Marie Splingart ranked 24th overall in their 1967 TR4 and winning the Fair Play Trophy.
One of the most interesting cars on the event, and also the oldest, however, was home-grown. The Mancini/Delacour 1963 Facel Vega III was fresh out of restoration, having been laid up in 1973, and performed well apart from suffering vapour lock on the Col de la Bonette, reputedly the highest pass in Europe.
There was a record overseas entry for the sun-drenched event, too, with teams from Ireland, the UK, Italy and Germany taking part. One of the most popular classics – and winner of the Most Stunning Car award – was John Watton's 1966 Jaguar E-type Roadster.
Star guest was the author, racer, privateer and classic car world legend Toly Arutunoff. This inveterate aficionado of the weird, wonderful and rare, lost a leg last winter when he was hit by a passing truck after he stopped to help a motorist stranded in a snowdrift in the United States.
Now sporting a "bionic" leg, Arutunoff received a huge ovation during the awards lunch and responded by saying: "Last year my Lancia Flavia Zagato chassis was broken just before the start of the Jean Behra Historique. This year, my leg is broken… but next year, I'll be back!" Set to be co-driven by his British pal Alexander Ortewell, Arutunoff plans to enter next year in a newly acquired Ford Thunderbird.
Caesar Barton (pictured on right, above, with Fabrice Le Roy), who won his £3000 prize by entering the competition run by C&SC and Fabrice Le Roy's RentACar Classic, run in Classic & Sports Car magazine and on this website. His prize included all entry fees, flights from the UK (courtesy of Air France), accommodation in Nice (donated by Radison Blu), meals during the rally and, of course, the perfect Riviera sports car to do the event in, an Alfa Romeo Duetto.
When he was back in the UK, Barton sent us this message:
Thank you to all at C&SC for selecting me as the winner of such a wonderful prize, I returned refreshed, reinvigorated and further convinced that a car of character is so much more than steel, rubber and oil.
First, to my beloved Samantha: a confession. During my long weekend in the Cote d'Azur I succumbed to an irresistible, mature Italian head-turner whom I named "Violetta". If you met her I'm sure you'd understand as she enchanted ladies and chaps in equal measure.
A fleeting glance of my e-mails late on a Friday evening delivered a surprise of the most wonderful kind; I had won the chance to participate in the 15th Jean Behra Historique Rallye starting and ending in Nice and taking in some of the finest French scenery imaginable; and to think I'd only originally entered to win a £10 detailing product in a competition running concurrently on the C&SC website!
As my aforementioned girlfriend had unavoidable work commitments a willing mate Den was drafted in as "co-pilote" alongside myself in Violetta: a bianco farina 1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto 1750 sporting the pert and much-admired "boat tail" bottom and owned by Mr Fabrice Le Roy of RentACar Classic, possibly the most cheerful man in the whole of France and whom together with the unflappable Mr Christain Proud-Diaz of Automobile Club de Nice made sure we were made very welcome.
Memories of the trip are a combination of the lusty growl of that famous twin-cam through cliff-edge tunnels, Alpine villages clinging onto mountainsides and the genuine warmth of the waving locals and their succulent blueberry pie, served on Friday's night stage.
Whist it's true to say I never troubled the competitive drivers the whole point of a car like the Duetto is taking the time to enjoy her unique charms, yes she could hustle when asked and she never missed a beat over hundreds of kilometres and up to heights if 2800 metres but the real pleasure of this particular lady was taking in the scenery and living "la dolce vita"!
We hope to run this great competition again next year, so look out for it and make sure you enter!