Argentina's major production-car race, the "toughest of them all," did not seem tough enough for the two blonde flashes from Sweden, Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth. Entered as the rookie drivers of the Mercedes-Benz team, they soon found themselves alone-the other four team cars were out long before the halfway mark. But "Rennleiter" Karl Kling had good reason to be confident the 220-SEb could take it and the girls had stamina, discipline, and a very heavy foot, besides their good looks.They not only successfully upheld Mercedes-Benz prestige but also achieved a number of unprecedented feats. Winning every leg of the Gran Premio simply "couldn't be done"; they did it and rewrote the record book. Their 220-SEb was undoubtedly the fastest car, but there are few portions of the Gran Premio where speed alone counts; it is a test of driver as well as of machinery. Many of its sections minimize difference in mechanical power and demand physical endurance and extraordinary driving ability. The girls had all that was needed. Passing 250 cars at night on a wet road; driving at the edge of a precipice on a twisty, treacherous, narrow, and slippery gravel road are what we used to call man-sized jobs and there is much of this in the Gran Premio Standard.
While Ewy and Ursula simply stole the show, much credit must be given their close rivals. Former winner Gunnar Andersson made a most gallant effort in his Volvo 122-S, but he was plagued with all sorts of trouble until he was finally forced out. His team mates Boris Garafulic and Atilio Viale were more fortunate, and-though they had troubles of their own-they managed to follow the Mercedes to the finish line. Jose Migliore was a brilliant performer, coming in fourth over-all at the wheel of a locally manufactured Peugeot 403.
Only 43 cars completed the 2,757 miles-a minority of them in acceptable condition. Regulations for 1962 were decidedly tough. No time was allowed for repairs between laps; only a few minutes to get in and out of the impound. This year nobody could have his car overhauled from bumper to bumper after each leg. All major repairs had to be made during the race at a loss of valuable time, so, of necessity, body beauty got a low priority. The aim of the new regulations is very clear: results of the Gran Premio are intended to give a strong indication not only of mechanical capability but also of endurance.
Competitors were divided into seven classes: A (up to 700 cc), B (701-850 cc), C (851-1,150 cc), D (1,151-1,300 cc), E (1,301-1,600 cc), F (1,601-2,000 cc) and G (over 2,000 cc). Imported cars had odd numbers; cars manufactured in Argentina had even numbers.
The Gran Premio Standard got under way at midnight Wednesday, October 24, from the main building of the Automobile Club in Buenos Aires. Of the record entry list of 286, 258 cars reported to the line. The caravan began moving slowly toward Pilar, 30 miles away, for the actual start of the first 536-mile leg from Pilar to Carlos Paz.
At two a.m. Thursday Class A cars were sent off at 10-second intervals, and the Gran Premio Standard was on. The rest followed, with 10 minutes between classes.
In Rio Cuarto, 310 miles from the start, Carlos Menditeguy was overall leader at 108.123 mph in his Mercedes-Benz 300-SEb, followed by his teammates Eugen Boehringer in a like car, Herman Kuehne (220 SEb), and Ewy Rosqvist (220SEb) ; then came Cacho Ibarra (Chevy Impala) and Pedro Alvaro (Pontiac). Shortly afterward came the first mountainous road section. That, and a heavy rain, forced larger cars to slow down; Facetti (Alfa Romeo Giulia) got in front of the pack while Andersson (Volvo 122-5) climbed to first place on the time-charts at a 95-mph average. At this stage the toll had already been heavy in the larger-bore group. The Volvo works team had lost two of its prominent figures: Alzaga (blown engine) and Mieres, who wrecked his car when he spun off the road and hit a tree. Boehringer was out with a broken engine. As he drove over a flooded dip, water was sucked in by the intake. What happened to that engine is more eloquent than 10,000 words on the incompressibility of water. Menditeguy ran into the same trouble (the air intake will probably be re-positioned in the 1963 Mercedes-Benz), but he stopped at once, drained the cylinders, and resumed racing. However, his engine was reportedly pronounced "out" by the Daimler-Benz people at the finish line because of damaged rods. The Pontiac team was reduced to one-Jorge Cupeiro who was still among the first 10 in spite of a stop to replace a broken fan belt. Cacho Ibarra spun off the road in his Impala and rolled; his co-driver Antelo was instantly killed. With 50 miles to go, Ewy Rosqvist had taken the lead on a flat stretch between two mountainous sections; on the second she was passed by Cook (Alfa Romeo Giulia), first competitor to cross the finish line at Villa Carlos Paz. His teammate Vianini had come out unscathed from his nth spectacular accident, and while his Giulia was banged all over, it could still run and finished 11th over-all. Carlos Menditeguy charged again after his stop and began to gain on Rosqvist, to arrive second over-all, 39 seconds behind the girls. Ewy won the leg at an average of 86.037 mph. Most of the cars showed some bashed-in tin after the rough ride. Andersson was third over-all, 48 seconds behind Menditeguy, his teammate Viale being fourth. While this first leg of the Gran Premio put two new names in the headlines-Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth-it also spelled disintegration of the Mercedes-Benz team. Boehringer was out, Julio Menditeguy (Carlos's brother) had wrecked his 220 up in the mountains, and Kuehne (220-SEb) was 33rd over-all, after having stopped to try to get Boehringer's car back in the race. To top it all off, Menditeguy, the undisputed favorite, was disqualified for failing to turn his car in at the impound within the seven-minute allowed time. This disqualification brought no formal complaint from the team, but it certainly was objected to by Menditeguy himself. There was no uncertain word in his protest or his statements to the press, which were sharp and loud. As his name was scratched off the charts, Andersson moved up to second over-all, a minute and 27 seconds behind Rosqvist.
In Class A Miguel Angel Galluzzi won the leg at an average of 70.394 mph at the wheel of an NSU Sportprinz. Class B was swept clean by the Renault 1093s; in the first racing venture of the new Competition Department of Kaiser Industries, works Renaults captured first and second places, driven by Perkins (34th over-all) and Bohnen (41st). Perkins's average was 73.593 mph. The Lancia Appias scored first and second in Class C, driven by Rodriguez and Bianchi. Alfa Romeo Giuliettas had no opposition in Class D and copped the first 10 places with Ricardo Sauze (16th over-all) on top of the list. Federico Cook (fourth over-all) drove his Alfa Romeo Giulia to first place in Class E, beating his teammate Vianini by 33 minutes. Class F was an all- Volvo affair with Andersson coming in first; Class G went to Ewy Rosqvist; Jorge Cupeiro was second with his Pontiac Dany (14th over-all) placed his Studebaker Lark third. Only 175 of the competitors were able to finish the first leg.After a day off, drivers picked up their cars at the impound in Carlos Paz a few minutes before the start of the second leg, from there to San Juan. At seven a.m. the 164 who continued were sent on their way at 10-second intervals. Cook was first off but was overtaken by Andersson at the 25-mile mark while climbing the first hills; soon afterward, at 4,500 feet above sea level, the Volvo team had grabbed the first three places-Andersson, Viale, and Cruz Varela in that order; Rosqvist was fourth and Cook fifth. At the 60 mile mark, after climbing the Pampa de Achala (altitude 6,600), Ewy Rosqvist was first on the time chart, with a minute's lead on Andersson; she kept increasing her lead steadily and soon began to catch the Volvos on the road. At the 250-mile mark she was ahead on the road, to stay there to the finish. Near the 350-mile mark, Hermann Kuehne (220-SEb Mercedes-Benz) lost his life in an accident. Driving at an estimated 115 mph, he had to turn abruptly to avoid hitting some stray sheep. The car skidded to the shoulder, out of control, and rolled several times. Kuehne's seat belt pulled loose from its anchorage and he was thrown out. Co-driver Schieck received only light injuries. Another fatal accident was caused by an imprudent spectator who decided to drive a station wagon across the road while Vera Guilhou's Dauphine was coming at full speed. The Renault hit him and spun into a ditch. Co-driver Boschi was killed, while Vera Guilhou suffered a broken collarbone and numerous small wounds. Federico Cook rolled over and broke his leg. The lone Pontiac (Cupeiro) stalled for good with engine trouble, and Tortuga's Chevy Impala surrendered to suspension ailments.
Ewy Rosqvist arrived in San Juan after covering the 535 miles at an average of 86.17.9 mph. She now led Andersson by over 17 minutes.
The third leg, San Juan to Catamarca, 455 miles, was another victory and another record for the girls. Ewy covered the distance at 78.398 mph and increased her lead to a full hour. Viale was second now, while Andersson had dropped to fifth. Carvallido ( Volvo) had begun to move up and was second fastest on this leg. At the 120-mile mark, on twisty roads, the pace slowed; Andersson passed Sancha's well-driven 1956 Mercury into second place at the 200-mile mark, on a tricky gravel road; Via Ie got in third. Rosqvist kept enlarging her lead; now she had almost five minutes on Andersson. Another 100 miles and the difficult Miranda hill had been left behind-and Rosqvist had 11 minutes on Andersson. Garafulic and Carvallido were running next. At La Rioja-355 miles Andersson. was 14 minutes behind the girls and had to give up the chase because of a broken front end. Competitors were allowed 15 minutes to drive across town; all of them used the time to replenish and repair their cars. Rosqvist restarted with only two minutes, two seconds delay over the scheduled time. Andersson had the front end fixed on his Volvo, which took quite a bit over the 15 minutes. With 100 miles to go, the girls kept pulling away, arriving in Catamarca with a safe lead on Viale. At the end of the third leg 120 cars were running; most showed signs of the merciless punishment. Even the redoubtable Volvo works team had begun to show some signs of the strain. But the lone Mercedes, save for a scratch here and there, appeared as though it had never been raced. Rosqvist had again won Class G and now she had almost three hours on Dany (Studebaker Lark), fastest of the big-bore contingent. Sancha, whose uncanny ability to handle his big Mercury over those tricky roads has earned him a well deserved reputation, dropped back to fix a cracked crankcase. Way back in the field, two 3.8 Jaguars were precariously hanging on after having rolled over, with terribly expensive damage to their bodywork, during the first leg. A new accident forced the one driven by Pesce out of the race.
The comparatively short, fourth leg, from Catamarca to Tucumfm, includes four hillclimbs (up to 9,000 feet). Traction is poor on the loose gravel surface, success in braking is a matter of luck, the road is one car wide, and precipices can be counted by dozens. This leg is considered the toughest on car and driver in the whole race-and there was a tradition that no driver had ever won the first four legs in a row. In every case, trying for the fourth one has spelled trouble. But Ewy Rosqvist did it - and set a new record for the distance which would make the face of many old pros deep red. The 1961 mark (Giulietta) was seven hours, 37 minutes, five seconds. The girls made it in 6: 45: 22! Second fastest for the day was Garafulic in 7: 12: 36. Viale made it in 7: 17: 28, and now was 1.5 hours behind the Mercedes. Less than 100 miles from the start Ewy Rosqvist had a six-minute lead on Garafulic. At this point, Vianini had another accident; the Giulia rolled over after spinning out of a turn. Vianini was hospitalized with a broken leg. Minona (NSU), fastest Class A man in the previous leg, was forced out as his NSU rolled over in a turn. Sancha's Mercury snapped a spindle and was out. Carvallido's Volvo quit with engine trouble. Capillitas, 160 miles from the start and 9,000 feet up, is an awfully tough section of the course, but rarefied air and tricky roads did not seem to bother the girls or their car. At this point, Garafulic was 16 minutes behind and Ewy had clipped 20 minutes off the record. The Mercedes crossed the finish line with 27 minutes lead over Garafulic, a surprise because the Volvos were expected to put on a better show in the mountains. In fact, Bradley's 1,590-cc Volvo left several bigger 122-Ss behind. Jose Migliore moved up in Class E and into sixth over-all, the highest position for a locally manufactured vehicle, a Peugeot 403. Once again Ewy Rosqvist won Class G, and now she had 4.5 hours on Dany in the large-displacement group.
By the fifth leg, 500 miles from Tucumfm to Cordoba, when the girls had done the "impossible," there was little doubt they would stay in front to the finish; the fifth leg is usually considered easy. That, too, proved wrong. In the second half, in the province of Cordoba, there is a 20-mile stretch of sandy road. This sandpit eliminated 10 cars, either stuck, overheated, or with engine damage from the fine sand. Air filters clogged, and quite a few impatient competitors simply threw them away instead of cleaning them and replacing them; this ruined a few engines. The Volvo team disintegrated on the sand Andersson, Cruz Varela, Albatros, and Menendez stalled for good. Some 50 miles after leaving this sandtrap comes the last mountain pass of the race-25 miles of narrow, twisting gravel road-and then only 40 miles of smooth asphalt to the finish line in Cordoba. Ewy Rosqvis't covered the fifth leg at record speed, averaging 83.291, despite a long stop with 10 miles to go for replenishments and minor repairs. Over the initial 200 miles the girls had averaged 98 mph, clipping two minutes and a fraction off the 1961 record ( set by Walther Schock in another 220-SEb). Bad roads cut the average from then on (before reaching the sand the Mercedes was doing 90), but all the time the lead on Garafulic was growing. The final smooth asphalt strip begins at Ascochinga. Ewy Rosqvist drove through the little town at low speed - the "toughest of them all" was behind her. Half an hour later came Jose Migliore in his Peugeot. The Volvos had been left far back, and four more of them were out of the race. Garafulic, still second overall, had lost 55 minutes to Rosqvist on this leg. He was fastest in the all Volvo race, beating Lostalo by 12 minutes. Only two cars were still running in Class G: the Mercedes and a 3.8 Jaguar driven by Borchard, still holding on-almost 12 hours behind Rosqvist-in extremely poor racing condition.
Sharp at six a.m. on November 4 the first car got the go-flag at Cordoba for the final leg. Destination was the Buenos Aires Autodrome, 526 miles away, but the actual finish would be at Arrecifes, 408 miles from the start. Very little change, if any, could be expected in the leading positions, since the Mercedes had the race practically won and the nearest Volvo was too far behind to try. The road ahead was fast and comparatively smooth, hence any attempt to climb up a position should be based on pure speed. And very few, if any, of the remaining cars could afford this type of burst. The only wise thing to do, after surviving the tough, grueling ride, was to play safe. Only 51 cars lined up at the start in Cordoba, and they were dispatched at 20-second intervals. A serious accident, minutes after the start, forced Gainza Paz and Danvila out of the race when they were running first and second in Class C. Gainza Paz skidded on a puddle and was rammed by Danvila. Injuries were light but both cars were wrecked.
Rosqvist took off, and despite the wet road she maintained a 100-mph average, gradually pulling away from the pack. Arriving in Rosario (300' miles), Ewy Rosqvist had clipped five minutes off the record set by Hans Hermann in 1961. Competitors were given an hour to drive across Rosario; they refueled, repaired, and stretched their legs. Migliore had time to have his car washed-the Peugeot was, in a way, stealing the show. Near Rosario, Perkins's 1093 rolled over and was forced out that was the last hope of the Renault team. Ewy Rosqvist crossed the finish line at Arrecifes a winner, at an average of 100 mph, a new record. Second came ViaIe, 28 minutes later. Five minutes after him came Lostalo, inconspicuous - but consistently maintaining the gap.
The sheer excruciating toughness of the race can be inferred from the fact that only 15% of the entries finished. It is no high-speed rally; averages topped 100 mph over roads Karl Kling describes as much worse than those of Mexico's. Carrera Panamericana of the Fifties-less than half of the surfaces were paved. It is the sort of event in which Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio acquired the driving skill and resourcefulness that carried him to five World Championships. Drivers had longer rest periods than in the Panamericana, which was all to the good, but there was far less opportunity for repairs.Under such conditions the performance of the girls in their first major race-incidentally, they made only one change of tires along the way-is almost incredible. The cars deserve equal tribute. The Mercedes-Benz, the Volvos and the doughty Peugeot gave cogent demonstration of ruggedness and handling, in the most extreme test of cars remaining in international motor sports.
Ever since Madame Camille du Gast astonished her masculine competitors by entering the Paris Madrid race in 1903, some of the surprise has gone out of seeing successful female drivers. But the Argentine victory of Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth in one of the most grueling races in the world of today has eclipsed all previous performances by members of the gentle sex. Yet these are girls who did not set out to become racing drivers and have not even been auto enthusiasts all their lives. Their true profession is that of veterinary assistants; they began rallying as a hobby, but now they are both under contract with Mercedes-Benz.
As their daily work involved long mileages over Swedish country roads, both became proficient drivers before they ever thought of competitive motoring. It was Yngve Rosqvist, Ewy's husband, formerly a keen competitor in motorcycle races and now racing a Formula Junior Cooper, who introduced her to rallies. She started with a Fiat and later switched to Saab, before driving Volvos for four years, a combination which lasted until she was offered a contract by Mercedes Benz. Her partner Ursula (who owes her German name to a German father, although her mother was Swedish and she is herself a Swedish subject) drove her first rally in a Volkswagen in 1960, when she met Ewy. Their partnership has since become permanent, having been run-in under all kinds of conditions. They have won the European Ladies' Rally Championship three times and in 1962 did it by winning four major international rallies for Mercedes-Benz.
The Argentine event marks their first departure from rallying into a pure speed event. Their 220-SE completed the event with only one tire change-"The Continental SSs were still good but we changed for the sake of safety", Ewy told us in New York, on the way back to Stuttgart and the usual practice for the Monte Carlo Rally.
Her most outstanding memory of the race is of the time they got onto a very narrow road with deep sand, looking down on a concrete highway parallel to it, and thought they had taken the wrong turn. Not daring: to stop in the sand, being unable to turn around, and still in doubt, the pair pressed on to find that the fine high-way came to an end, the rest being still under construction, and that they were on the right way after all. (The only damage to the car was caused by running into a flock of 10 sheep on the road, one of which was bounced off the fender.
Throughout the race Ewy (who does most of the driving) kept going as fast as the car would safely go, except for fording rivers. She brought the car back In such good shape she had no doubt it could go right out and win again.