The making of a legend
The drama-filled last night of the 1973 Rally Monte-Carlo saw French star Jean-Claude Andruet and his lady co-driver, Biche, win the first ever round of the newly-created World Rally Championship by just 26 seconds in their N°18 Electric Blue Alpine Berlinette.
The height of the baby boom era coincided with a golden age for the automobile industry. Cars became more refined, with increasing use of elegant appointments such as leather seats and wood-trimmed dashboards.
The carmakers of the day didn’t hesitate to add a dash of fantasy to their new models which featured sublime lines and new levels of performance.
Many of these exceptional machines competed against each other in the world of rallies, and the Rallye Monte Carlo was considered to be the most prestigious of them all.
Alpine’s line-up for the 1973 Rallye Monte-Carlo featured nine drivers, including Jean-Claude Andruet, Ove Andersson , Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Jean-Luc Thérier and Bernard Darniche.
Competitive action kicked off on January 24 and harsh wintry conditions provided the field with all of the event’s traditional ingredients, namely ice, wind and snow. On one of the early stages in France’s Ardèche Mountains, an accident left a Chevrolet stranded in the middle of the road. The incident blocked 140 cars and compelled the organisers to exclude them from the competition, a decision which led to the anger and indignation of the victims.
Wind and ice made the conditions perilous
A number of excluded crews decided to block the start of the following stage in a bid to obtain their reinstatement. To escape the blockade, Alpine driver Jean-Claude Andruet chose to drive across a snowy field. A little further on, however, it took all the talent of one of the day’s most gifted drivers to survive a spectacular spin which saw the Frenchman leave the road. He went on to win the event, however, ahead of team-mates Andersson and Nicolas after one of the most dramatic last nights in Rallye Monte-Carlo history.
Ahead of the so-called Final Run, the top three was monopolised by Alpine drivers, but all eyes were on the duel that was shaping up between Andruet and Andersson. The palpable tension called for total concentration and those fans not fortunate enough to watch the superb action from the stage sides were able to follow the thrilling events of that dark, cold night live thanks to Radio Monte Carlo’s running commentary.
Ove Andersson had learned his trade on the ice and snow of his native Sweden from a young age. Like his team-mates, he was perfectly at home in the Alpine Berlinette and had his sights set on a second victory in the Principality. His hopes were boosted when Andruet contemplated throwing in the towel after picking up a rear-left puncture on the twisty Col de Turini, but Biche managed to persuade him to continue.
Andersson appeared to have the win within his grasp but his chances took a dent when he went wide and hit a guard rail on ‘Col de la Couillole’, an error that cost him 45 seconds. At this point, Andruet was third but now back in the chase and flying. Taking the perilously icy conditions in his stride, he recovered the lead on the penultimate stage. An earlier visit to the closing test, ‘Col de la Madone’, had seen Andersson establish a new record for this Monte Carlo classic and a repeat of that performance on the rally’s final stage was perhaps sufficient to have clinched the victory. But Andruet hadn’t said his last word and he went on to improve on the Swede’s effort by 12 seconds to secure the outright win!
In 1973, Brigitte Bardot put a halt to her cinema career, the Montparnasse Tower skyscraper in Paris was inaugurated and the first Concorde was ready for delivery. France was consequently left looking for a new curvy star, while at the same time dreaming of reaching for the sky and the quest for speed. Little wonder, then, that the Alpine A110 should gain iconic status that year!