Spitfire Monaco

Diamond heists at the Cannes film festival. Why didn’t the heisters try Monaco at Grand Prix time? When I covered the race in the 1970s I got to know a lot of ways round the circuit the most amateur footpad could have worked out. You could reach most of the corners by obscure little paths. There was even an underground passage from the Hotel de Paris that came out somewhere just above the exit from the tunnel. You could sprint to a little sloping garden there to photograph cars from above. It was necessary to get from place to place without hindrance during practice or race, so you had to know how to go from one side of the track to the other. Any self-respecting jewel thief planning to liberate a cache from some socialite’s bedroom in the Metropole would be able to make his way to the harbour front, while the gendarmerie and the commissaires were looking at the action on the track. They could have been on board a yacht and half way to Algiers before the rocks were missed. Raymond Baxter used to quip, during his commentaries at Le Mans or Rheims, how it was always a good day for French burglars when lines of white-gloved and belted gendarmes did their self-important sweeps of the pits or the starting grid.

Drove to Monaco in 1967 in this Triumph Spitfire with MLC of Motor Sport. Can’t remember how long it took before the days of the Autoroute, but we usually stopped overnight en route. Can’t remember much about the Spitfire either. It wasn’t a memorable car. I ran one for a while when I was on The Motor road test staff. It was still relatively new, having been introduced in 1962 on the Triumph Herald backbone mainframe, with somewhat agricultural high-pivot swing axle independent rear suspension. This would get up on tiptoe and operating on only the edges of the 5.20x13 tyres get quickly out of control. The one I took to Monaco was the newly introduced Mark 3 with a 1.3 75bhp engine and larger front calipers. It did 95mph but I never took to it, unlike its 1968 derivative the GT6 once its rear suspension had been fixed. A reversed bottom wishbone linkage and rubber doughnuts in the drive shafts transformed the handling. Everybody dubbed it a miniature E-type Jaguar, which it was with the emphasis on miniature. It really wasn’t a very big car yet I drove one to the Swedish Grand Prix at Karlskoga. We drove everywhere then. Never thought about a diamond heist.