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Scaling the heights of the Alpine Rally

PUBLISHED: 10:58 05 June 2013

Archant

The hills will be alive with the sight and sound of more than 100 Rolls-Royce cars taking part in two classic rallies in Austria this month. Both the 20-Ghost Club and the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club are holding rallies to celebrate the centenary of the Alpenfahrt, or the Austrian Alpine Tour, and Great Easton’s P & A Wood is busy preparing for the challenge of this iconic event which started in 1913. At the time, it was considered the most challenging test of a car’s reliability and performance anywhere in Europe and Georgina Wood, brand manager at P&A Wood which is an official Rolls-Royce and Bentley heritage dealers, believes these veteran vehicles will still stand the test of time.

‘It’s going to be a great event and we are very excited to be taking part,’ says Georgina.

The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club will be completing a Salute to the Pioneers of 1913 starting and finishing in St Moritz, linking some of the original passes with some scenic routes. The cars in the 20-Ghost Club Rally will be following the route of the original 1913 Alpine Rally as closely as possible, starting in Vienna and then travelling to Salzburg, Strass, Innsbruck, Meran, Riva, Cortina, Villach, Triest, Klagenfurt, Verdino/Lindner, Semmering and finishing, like the original rally, in Vienna where participants will celebrate with a gala dinner. The 20-Ghost Club will also be covering all of the original passes, including the Loibl, and driving the Stelvio, which was not allowed in the original 1913 event.

‘The Stelvio Pass has 60 hairpin bends on it, which will be quite a challenge for old cars without power-assisted steering,’ explains Georgina. Although Rolls-Royce narrowly missed winning the team prize by two points in the 1913 rally, the cars performed superbly and Rolls-Royce cars came away with their reputation enormously enhanced.

Brothers Paul and Andrew Wood, the founders of P & A Wood, are genuine Rolls-Royce enthusiasts and are both exhilarated to be taking part in the centenary 1,800-mile event. Georgina’s father, Paul, will be driving a 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost called The Silver Dawn. The car belongs to Robert Gaines-Cooper, who will be a passenger. Meanwhile, Georgina and her Uncle Andrew will be travelling in their own 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

‘Our car was originally owned by the Duke of Westminster,’ said Georgina. ‘He looked after it very well and used it during World War I with a machine gun mounted on the back. Rolls-Royces were perfect wartime vehicles because they are so silent and the enemy couldn’t hear them coming.’

In preparation for the Centenary Alpine Rally, P & A Wood is holding training seminars for drivers and is also busy preparing many vehicles for those customers who are also taking part. ‘It’s not a race, it’s a rally, so the cars will be able to take their time,’ said Georgina. ‘When the drivers are ascending the Alps, they will have to keep their vehicles cool. The brakes aren’t that efficient, so when they are coming down they will also have to take it steadily, otherwise they could have complications.’

P & A Wood is an experienced restorer of these classic vehicles and is one of the few companies able to complete an entire refurbishment on the premises, from mechanical work, machining and engineering, to coachwork and interior trim. Among the many Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars restored at P & A Wood, the firm is responsible for preparing more than 100 winning first prizes at Concours competitions, including four Best of Show awards at the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club National Concours and 12 champions at the Bentley Drivers Club National Concours.

The Wood brothers originally founded their company in 1967, after Andrew had completed his engineering apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce. Originally operating from a workshop in Moreton, the company has grown both in size and reputation to become one of the main dealers of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars in the South of England, with Andrew taking responsibility for the engineering element within the company and Paul in charge of sales and coachwork. The business flourished to such an extent that by 1970 P & A Wood had to move to larger premises in Great Bardfield and again in 1988 to the current premises in Great Easton, which were recently refurbished and extended.

P & A Wood continues to work to its adopted motto of, ‘Attention to Detail’ and is paying great attention to detail in preparing for the centenary event as its pre-war mechanics John Ashford and Mark Hews will be acting as the rally back-up team and are taking along the P & A Wood van and lorry with numerous spare parts.

‘It’s very important to mark the centenary of the Alpine Rally,’ adds Georgina. ‘It was quite something at the time, and it will certainly be quite something this time too!’

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