I’ve just completed the 1,000-mile Monte Carlo-style rally held every year in Argentina. The Argentine Millas brings together old-car enthusiasts for three long days of challenging roads and timed legs that are measured to 1/100 of a second.
My co-pilot was Round-Fender Volvo Club leader Dean Koehler, recently retired from Alaska Airlines and who is also an ex-Navy carrier pilot.
The flight path is not a direct one. We left Portland around noon on Monday, went through Houston and Buenos Aires, and arrived at Bariloche airport in Patagonia at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
An unanticipated perk of our six-hour layover in Buenos Aires (where we switched airports to catch a local flight), was the visit to a nearby fishing club. There was an old-school aquarium setup inside, with fish and turtles from the region, which I found quite interesting.
I would like to report that being upgraded to the “lay-flat” seats for the 6,000-mile leg to Buenos Aires was a wonderful thing — but I can’t, as I spent the 10 hours practicing a yoga pose known as “the human pretzel” in my coach seat.
I had been on the Millas several years ago, invited by SCMer Martin Sucari. This year, subscriber Damian Pozzoli graciously loaned Dean and me his Series 1 ½ Jaguar E-type convertible. It had just 50,000 original kms and was a transition car. It still had the triple-SU engine, but with a federalized rocker-switch interior and open headlights. Damian drove his 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans Special on the rally.
The Millas is highly competitive, with more than 80 timed stages over the 1,000 miles. A penalty point is assessed for each 1/100 of a second you arrive at a control early or late, with a maximum deviation of one second before or after allowed, after which time you are assessed the maximum penalty of 100 points for that leg.
Unlike typical vintage events, the Millas allows modern rally calculators. This meant that it was not unusual to to see a row of computers installed on the dash of a vintage Bugatti.
Tom, Don and the 544
Upon arrival, Dean and I ran into SCMers Tom Smith and Don Polak, who had purchased a Volvo 544 from BringATrailer and converted it into a rally car. Tom suggested we get the app ChronoMaster to help us with our times.
Being a tech fanatic, Dean downloaded it to his iPad and proceeded to master the program.
While not nearly as efficient as the “bespoke” rally computers most teams used, at least it allowed us to stay in the hunt.
Our daily rankings steadily improved, from 90th on the first day, to 84th on the second, to 79th overall at the end. We accumulated 6,626 penalty points. The overall winners, Juan Tonconogy and Barbara Ruffini, driving a 1936 Riley Sprite, had just 403 penalty points over the 1,000 miles, meaning they were just four seconds off from perfect at the end of the event. For complete results, click here.
I find the mix of touring at a brisk pace and the exactitude of Monte Carlo timed sections to be a perfect old-car experience. There is none of the tediousness of trying to maintain a preset pace, as with typical TSD rallies. You can drive at the speed you want, arrive at the checkpoint, and wait to begin your timed section.
The event itself was masterfully organized, and Race Director Carlos Lindenbaum has assembled a top-flight team. Especially impressive was the participation of the local police forces – at every intersection on busy roads, the police were there stopping traffic to allow the rally cars to move on unimpeded. That’s not likely to happen in Oregon.
As you might expect, the roads around and across the Andes were spectacular. We crossed into Chile for a lunch on Thursday.
It’s not often you get a chance to spend 1,000 miles in a sports car that belongs to someone else. Damian’s E-type was easy to drive, and the 4.2-liter engine pulled strongly. As it had covered less than 30,000 miles from new, the Jag had the feel of a “good used car.”
There is a vast difference in the feel of a nicely-maintained-but-not-restored car compared with one that has had a full-bore restoration. The car never missed a beat, and we were able to cruise along effortlessly at 75 mph. I’ve never had the chance for so much quality seat-time in an E-type, and I now appreciate more fully why they have such a fanatical following.
The cars on the event are an eclectic mix, ranging from the ex-Mille Miglia 1934 Maserati 4CS 1100, driven by Martin Sucari and Bruno Ricci to an 11th overall finish, to replica Cobras and a Maserati 300S “tribute.” The attitude of the participants is all-embracing, with everyone welcome and supported, no matter what they are driving, and no matter how seriously or not seriously they take the timed competition.
I visited with many Argentinean subscribers and also had a chance to spend some time with Martin Button and Sandra Kasky Button, who were taking a busman’s holiday from their year-round Pebble Beach responsibilities. Gregor Fisken, noted classic car dealer in England and long-time SCMer, was here as well.
Wednesday and Thursday were long, with 12 hours elapsing between our departure from the Llao Llao lodge and our evening return.
The food each night was magnificent, with a traditional Argentinian 9 p.m. dinner. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very tasty Malbec red wine that accompanied every evening meal.
Bariloche is a long way from most places. Nonetheless, I would suggest that if you are up for a first-rate driving adventure, spiced with some interesting timing contests, you should learn more about it.
The combination of the roads, the scenery, the timed segments, the hospitality of the participants, the good food and the first-rate organization make this a world-class event.
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