The Pur Sang Rally Pits Historic Sports Cars Against Australia
Story and photography by Ben Molloy
After driving down a dusty, dry, hard-packed track of dirt, surrounded by an unmistakably Australian landscape—and under the occasional shadow cast from a plane taking off from Melbourne airport—we arrived at the starting point of the 2017 Pur Sang Rally. Several cars had beaten us to the meeting point, and judging by those few earlier birds it was clear we’d made the right decision to come along.
According to the entrants’ materials, “The Rally celebrates the long connection between Bugatti and Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari was largely, and rightly, regarded as the worthy successor of the spirit that Ettore Bugatti brought to sporting motoring. The cars of each man had a legacy and direct link to the race track. It is fitting that in both the UK and here in Australia the Ferrari owners club was born out of the Bugatti equivalent.”
It’s a somewhat tenuous link to be making between the two men, but, nonetheless, a great excuse to get cars from both marques together for a drive through the Victorian countryside, and the event was made all the better by inviting other groups to participate alongside the featured pairing; these included the Bentley Drivers Club for one, which meant we could participate in my friend’s one-of-a-kind 1948 Bentley Mk VI roadster.
Before congregating with the rest of the rally participants, we both glanced back down the road (more like a path, really) to find a convoy of vehicles taking shape through the blur of the heat’s haze and the dust we’d kicked up—the arrival of each contributing to the dream garage assemblage in front of us. Several Aston Martin DB2s followed a DB6, and a string of several great Bentleys was occasionally broken by modern Ferraris. Some of the more notable cars outside not wearing Ferrari or Bugatti badges included a Lancia Stratos that’s regularly seen on race tracks around Melbourne, a Morgan Aeromax, and a Lamborghini Jarama—not to mention a 1926 “Little Alfa” 6C 1500, a car that arrived in Australia in 1928 and underwent numerous transformations in the time since (at some point in its life it was supercharged, for instance).
There was also a stream of ‘60s front-engine Ferraris in a fabulous, accidental cavalcade: a 275 GTB, two 365 GT 2+2s, and three 330 GTs. And by the time the rally was ready to get underway, six vintage Bugattis had joined the impressive lineup—seeing a single, historic ‘Bug’ is a fortunate occurrence. To be surrounded by half a dozen was quite the spectacle indeed.
Walking around the cars in this makeshift staging area, it was clear that these cars were driven. Many had evidence of participation in track and rally events. Others showed remnants of past lives and journeys overseas, such as foreign tax discs and license plates hidden under Australian ones. Some simply bore the small scars of regular use. They were all the better for it, if you ask me.
Once we’d all arrived, it was time to get going on the first stage of the rally. Engines fired en masse, echoing off the trees and fences and mixing complexly with each other. The sound of a collection of 30-odd cars with vastly differing drivetrains all coming to life in unison was sensational, inspirational. From the hectic buzz of the F430 Scuderia to the deep, bellow bass of the 4 ½-liter Bentley I was seated in.
In motion, our convoy retraced the route down the path before joining the wide A-road heading away from Melbourne. We found ourselves following, by pure coincide, a trio of pre-war Bentleys. Four of the aforementioned modern Ferraris lined up behind us.
Initially the roads we took were wide and smooth, with flowing bends broken occasionally by some tighter turns and small climbs where, performance-wise, the gap between our ‘48 Bentley was surprisingly close with the well-driven pre-war material in front of us. Traveling across the flat fields in this fashion, the silhouette of the half-way stage, Mount Macedon, appeared ever closer.
The roads became tighter and increasingly challenging as we began to climb towards the base. We were met with lots of technical hairpins, which suited the lighter, smaller machinery such as the Dino 246 GT just fine, as well as the pre-war race cars up ahead, whose far smaller footprint allowed them to position themselves on the road, rather than simply occupying most of it like we were!
By this point, the roads were almost completely covered with dense red gum trees that towered over the road, creating a tunnel effect and adding to the sensation of speed while encasing the engine noise for some added effect. The temperature had dropped somewhat in the rain forest which made us quite happy in our exposed cockpit—a thankful reprieve from the brutal Australian sun that’d been beating down on us earlier.
Next came a brief stop in the historic town of Trentham, a picturesque place nestled at the top of the Great Dividing Range. For those in the modern-era Ferraris it may have seemed an unnecessary stop, but it was a chance for the open-cockpit teams to cool down a bit, stretch the weary legs, reapply sunblock for the what surely wouldn’t be the last time. It was also a chance for the vintage race car teams—like the couple in a windshield-less Austin Healey—to remove the flies from their teeth. The locals came out to see the commotion too, and were probably well surprised to find their town swarming with this unique collection of automobiles.
From Trentham we hit the road bound for our final destination. By this point we were deep into rural Victoria, a place where other traffic was few and far between, leaving the roads nearly completely open to us. No matter where you are that’s a nice treat, but here was the added element of a seemingly endless and perfectly blue Australian sky. Our procession of cars was kicking up dust, errant pieces of straw, and dried-out leaves as we weaved through narrow country-lane turns and sweeping high-speed bends alike, but nothing ever truly obstructed that deep blue dome above us.
With no other traffic (nor any other indications of the 21st century for that matter), the imagination was free from the impediments of reality, such that it felt like we were in another era altogether. After all, I was staring down the road at a group of vehicles originally built more than seven decades ago!
Our Bentley was one of the last cars to arrive at the final destination. As we drove into the car park to see the array of fabulous vehicles once again (now with dusty coatings and fly-spattered front ends), we found them parked somewhat at random around the paddock of an old barn on the site; a poignant, bucolic ending to a very fine day of road-tripping in vintage sports cars.
Chatting with the other teams over a late lunch, it was evident that most everyone shared our mindset: cars are meant to be driven. No matter how old they are or you are, regardless of rarity, they should still see tarmac and move under their own power. That’s not always the case of course, as so many (I would say too many) are relegated to a life of immobility akin to a collection of statues. Thankfully there are events like this one to provide the antidotes.