The Rallye des Alpes has its roots in one of the oldest rallies in the history books. That event was the Austrian Alpenfahrt organised for the first time in 1910. The organisers used some of the toughest passes they could find and it was not always certain that the cars would get up the hills without being pushed by locals or pulled by horses. The Alpenfahrt developed quickly and became immensely popular with both private owners and the big factories. Even Rolls Royce sent cars from England to go up against Austro-Daimler, Opel, Benz, FIAT, Horch, Audi and NAG. It attracted big names as drivers for Archduke Karl Franz Joseph, the last man to sit on the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, drove an Austro-Daimler. One of his team mates was one Ferdinand Porsche, an engineer and test driver for Austro-Daimler, who took with him as riding mechanic a certain Josip Broz, later better known as President Tito of Yugoslavia.
The passes they tackled were some of the same roads as you will find on the latest version of the Rallye des Alpes. Names like Katschberg, Stelvio, Tauernpass, Loibl, Kreuzberg, Turracher Hohe and Pordoi Joch still crop up in road books today but their surfaces have been improved even if their gradients have not. An Alpenfahrt was planned for 1915 which was to have been much bigger event, taking in roads in Germany and Italy as well as Austria. But by 1915, the Triple Alliance no longer existed. And by 1919, neither did the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Italy looked to step into the breach and ran some events called the Coppa Alpi using the Stelvio and the Dolomites but they never came to much. Starting in 1921, Austria ran several events under the name Alpenfahrt but they too failed to capture the international imagination.
Then in 1929, the automobile clubs of Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Austria got together and ran the first International Alpine Rally. Held in August of that year, it started in Munich and finished in Como. During the five days, the eighty competitors were given a grand tour of all those places that are familiar to the modern Rallye des Alpes, about five hundred kilometres a day with every night in a top class hotel. Does that sound familiar?
The idea was that each country should take it in turns to run this annual event and, for a time, all went well. Then national rivalries started to pull it apart and there were disputes over money and the choice of route that would be familiar to any student of the World Rally Championship today. The events actually got better and better, tougher and tougher so that their reputation soared and the Alpine Trial became a prestige event on which it was important to do well if you wanted to sell your cars. Sadly, the last event in 1935 organised entirely in Austria was probably the hardest and most satisfying of the lot.
After the second World War, it was the French who showed the greatest interest in getting rallying under way again. Two years before the Monte Carlo re-started, the Automobile Club de Marseille-Provence decided to revive the Alpine Trial under a new name of Coupe des Alpes. Their first event was in 1947 and it gradually grew into one of the three biggest and most important rallies in Europe. The Coupes of its title were the main awards, given to those who completed the whole route without penalty. This was following a tradition started in 1910 on the Alpenfahrt where the event was seen not as a competition between competitors, but more an examination of the combined skills of car and crew.
In 1970, the rally could not be held thanks to lack of sponsorship. A poorly attended event was held in 1971 and then, finally, the AC de Marseille-Provence and the man behind the event, Victor Jouille-Duclos, decided that they could not keep it going.
And that might have been it if it had not been for Raymond Gassmann, a young Frenchman fascinated by old cars and rallies. In the late 1980s, he approached the AC de Marseille Provence and said that he would like to revive the Alpine Rally as an event for classic cars. They parted with the rights to the event and in 1989, after forming the Alpine Rally Association, he organised the first of the modern classic events, the Rallye des Alpes. This, like its predecessors, has gone from strength to strength and annually takes competitors in pre-war and immediate post-war cars on a nostalgic trip through the very countries and over the actual roads used by the rally pioneers almost one hundred years ago.