July 25, 2021
The weekend of July 17th I was invited to give a talk at the SAAB Owner’s Convention in Albany New York.
Tim Winker, a participant in GAMRR 2019 and long time SAAB owner mentioned to the club secretary that I might be able to put something together highlighting SAAB’s dominance of the 1956 Great American Mountain Rallye.
I looked at this is a great opportunity to see some great vintage SAABs (I owned a ’71 99 & ’88 900S in the past).
I also thought this would be a good way to get some exposure for my event this coming September. After all how cool would it be to have a group of vintage SAABs running around Vermont!
Over the past few years I have collected various articles and stories about SAAB’s participation in the 1956 GAMR.
With info from my archives and additional information from Tim I put together a Power Point and presented it to about 35 people.
There was much interest from the group, but surprisingly enough there was not much additional info that the group could provide.
Seems as though the background history of this event; apparently including the trophies they won were disposed of quite a few years ago when they were cleaning house. The story goes that some one from Chrysler was hired to oversee SAAB and to him past history was not worth keeping. (What a shame!). It also so happens that this hire did not last long at SAAB; but the damage was done!
Following are some excerpts from my Power Point as well as from Tim Winker’s recent story in The Nines publication which is the SAAB Owner’s Club of North America publication. (Thanks Tim).
SAAB enters the US with a bang at the 1956 Great American Mountain Rallye.
As a small manufacturer, SAAB did not have funds for a big advertising budget to introduce their cars to the U. S. market. Instead, SAAB chose to bring attention to their product via motor sports. An initial plan to enter two cars in the 12-Hours of Sebring was deemed too expensive. SAAB’s motor sports background was primarily in rallies, so they decided to enter a three car team in the Great American Mountain Rallye, to be held over three days around Thanksgiving.
The three SAABs were to be driven by Rolf Mellde, chief test driver for SAAB with American Morrow Mishkin as navigator in car #50. Bob Wehman and Louis Braun were teamed up in #51, and husband and wife Gerald and Doris Jankowitz were in #52.
Mellde arrived only a few weeks before the start of the rally, bringing with him a large stock of tyres and parts.
The work was carried out on the second floor of a warehouse just off New York’s Broadway under anything but ideal conditions.
Originally demonstration models, the three completely standard cars (one white, one grey and one light green) were now equipped with Halda Speed Pilots.
Preparations were completed on Monday, November 19th, with a little over 24 hours before the three SAAB teams were to start the rallye.
The first day’s route into Vermont included such well known passes as Smugglers Notch and Lincoln Gap. But at the Lincoln Gap there was trouble. Cars were in the ditches and others choked the way. Number 50 was forced to stop; when the way was clear again the ascent was so steep that it was impossible, without full chains, to gain sufficient traction to get underway. But rather than take time to fit chains, Mellde elected to turn the car around and then proceeded to charge towards the summit, this time running the car back wards! The strategy was successful and the car was soon speeding on its way.
Snow and ice covered most of the roads, and temperatures dropped to 10 degrees below zero, but the SAAB teams motored on in the comfort of cars built to tackle such conditions.
At the end of day 1 Wehman and Braun in SAAB #51 checked in to St. Johnsbury as the overall leaders, and were first off the line the following morning.
The second day of the rally which ran to Lake Placid NY; (home to the 1932 & 1980 Winter Olympics, as well as GAMRR 2019) included bad weather and a severe snowstorm. In Lake Placid, the cars were parked outdoors overnight. The temperature dropped to minus 22 ° C, and the start of the third day morning made numerous difficulties for everyone except for the Saab cars. They immediately started all three, while some 20 of the other cars had to be towed.
In 30 centimeters (6 inches) of snow and ice, the contestants had to, among other things, cross two more mountain passes; one with such a steep climb, that Mellde said he had not previously run anything like this in his Saab; for this pass they actually did need the chains. He estimated the upward slope at 15-20 percent.
The day’s stage offered high speeds after descending the mountains; for four hours, the drivers had to average over 95 km/h. (58 mph)
The final test was just that, a short test of driving skills including driving backwards in a circle and parking in a “garage” without knocking over a bar at the rear. Only the Top Ten cars participated, but Wehman pulled it off with minimal error and the #51 team were declared the winners. Sixth place went to Mellde and Mishkin, while the Jankowitz’s managed 17th due to a broken odometer early on in the rally. SAAB was also awarded the Factory Team prize, 1st in Touring Class under 1500cc, and 1st, 3rd and 4th in the under 750cc category.
Bob Wehman and Louis Braun won the top award overall in their SAAB and as a team the three SAAB entries won the touring and factory team prizes regardless of engine size. In addition, SAAB’s were first in the touring class under 1500 cc’s, first, third and fourth in the 750 cc class, and also took sixth position overall.
The first major shipment of SAAB 93s arrived in the U. S. just weeks later for distribution to the new SAAB dealer network.
If you own a vintage SAAB we would love you to attend so that we could re-live some of this fantastic rally history.
Link to the Barron’s Story:https://www.barrons.com/articles/saab-stories-at-the-2021-owners-convention-01627062675
As everyone knows Covid had basically shut down Vermont for almost a year. In the interim John Buffum has been running routes based upon his long term local knowledge and roads I wanted to use from the original ’55-’56 events.
John gave me a copy of his near final version for DAY 2 when I went to his Summer Challenge Rally last Saturday.
After the event I drove to Stowe and stayed over so I could get an early start as it was near 6 hours of driving and then about 4 hours home.
I left the Trapp Inn at 7:15 with the RIs on my rally roller board, a couple of highlighters and my Terratrip.
I was looking to see that the RIs were clear and not confusing. I ran 90% of the route before I had to head home. I only had a few minor suggestions.
Fantastic roads starting in the mountains of Stowe, including Smugglers Notch; running down into the farms of the Champlain Valley to Lake Champlain at the Canadian border and through the chain of islands that separate Vermont from NY. There were a couple of hard pack gravel roads that were incredibly smooth as they had been recently graded. One of the island shore roads had just been paved and was like silk.
The scenery is fantastic and the route is very interesting. I am sure everyone will enjoy it.
Some pics attached.
Test your brakes
My Vintage Terratrip
Running up the Notch
A beautiful gravel road
Crossing Lake Champlain, US to the left,
Canada to the right, just 2 miles North
Cottages on Lake Champlain
A barn on one of the Champlain Islands
One of the Island Roads
Looking from South Hero Island towards the Vermont main land
A milk break with some fresh local milk
This past weekend I spent Saturday running in John Buffum’s Summer Challenge Rally. Originally John had asked me to work a control; but then he told me he had someone looking to run the event with someone. I agreed and so I meet Alex Hanson at the start. Alex has run a few of John’s rallys, but always as a driver; he wanted to get his first exposure as a navigator.
He offered to let me drive is 86 SAAB 900, but I opted for my 4 Runner as it has AC and it was pretty warm. It took us a few hours to get our communication down so that we both understood what to do. John was running the Richta scoring system; which we will be using in GAMRR; so I wanted a bit more exposure to it. The morning scores came in and; well they were pretty dismal. Not to worry we set out to have a good time, get some more exposure to the Richta Rally app; and not get lost!
As the afternoon section got going we got off to a good start, a few single digit scores and a few under 30; awesome that was as good as we could expect; but then “ringy ding” from our rally app. “OFF COURSE” It was a trap that John had set up which if you did not follow his directions explicitly you would make an incorrect turn and he had an Off Course Control! The nice thing is you get a message from the app as to how to get back on course with some simple instructions; pretty cool.
I got a text from John early afternoon asking if we were alright. Apparently our car dropped off the map that he was using to track the competitors. We were fine, jut that Alex’s phone had lost reception. It never lost any data as it does not require a phone connection to record your scores. The next time service is available it downloads the cache to the Rally Master.
At the end of the day, a number of max scores (2 minutes late) and a few missed turns put us near the bottom of the pack.
All in all would we have like to been up in the competition, yes; but regardless we had a great time!
Alex thanks for running as Co Driver (Navigator). Remember practice makes perfect!
See you on the route somewhere down the rally road.
This has been my second rally running with the Richta App; which we will be running for GAMRR 2021, and I have to say it is going to be a game changer; allowing us to have as many controls as we want, monitoring competitor’s location during the event; helping them remotely if they appear lost, and providing scoring in a timely manner.
I was just notified by Hagerty insurance that they will provide coverage during our 3 day event to anyone who is registered; regardless of whether they have Hagerty Insurance.
Thanks for your support!
Over the last 3-4 weeks John Buffum (Clerk of the Course) has been running over portions of the event to do some minor revisions on routes and establishing timing control locations. I hope to have Route Books from John in the next month or so and plan on running part of the event in mid June when I go to Vermont to work a control on John’s Summer Challenge Rally. https://www.motorsportreg.com/events/scca-new-england-roadrally-randolph-vt-mcdonalds-road-rally-924554 . Since I will be there all day Saturday I am thinking of staying over Saturday night and running some of the route on Sunday.
Following are a few pics John Took for portions of days 1 & 2 last week.
SO; WHO IS BEHIND CHOOSING MANY OF THE GREAT ROADS WE WILL BE RUNNING THIS YEAR?
Many of you know COVID shut my access to Vermont for the last year. Luckily John Buffum lives not an hour from the Trapp Inn; the host hotel for our event. John volunteered to start laying out the routes in late January ’20; and to date has actually with some input from me as to tracing parts of the original ’55-’56 routes laid out about 400 miles! He is just now doing a re-run of the event checking the route instructions and mileages. I plan on going up to pre-run the event with John in the upcoming months. I will be co-driver (navigator) for an 11 time SCCA National Champion and Driver for the Audi and British Leyland factory Rally Teams in the late 70-80’s. What an opportunity!
Here’s a link to a 2012 Road & Track story about John :
And a short clip of John in his TR7/8 on a Vermont gravel road.
Oh, and John is well aware that none of us of are Pro Rally drivers, so have no fear!
Dr Gregory Davis and his wife Lynn have entered GAMRR in 2018 & 2019, both times in different Hudsons.
Following is a link to his blog which covers all three days of the 2019 event.
Please check it out; some great reading and will give you a real feel for what this event is about.
March 21, 2020
I started watching a new documentary on Manuel Fangio last night on Netflix.Fangio has long been though of as the greatest Formula 1 driver in the history of the sport. I had remembered reading that Fangio was actually the Starter for the 1956 event! I decided to google Fangio and GAMR. What I came across was a portion via Google Books of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America Fifty Years of History: 50th Anniversary, 1956 by Bruce A. Adams. It spoke about Fango starting the rally, and a story of two competitors running the 56 event in a MB 300SL Gull wing. Following is a scan of the two pages. I am hoping one of my Mercedes collector contacts has a clean copy I can substitute; but for now this is what I have. What is also interesting is I have a number of photos of a 300SL running during what I was told was the ’55 rally. Maybe it is the car in the story and I was mislead on the date of the photo. How cool is this find, because I was watching documentary!
An excerpt form the MB book about running GAMR in a 300SL