Japan
Page creation 15/09/2008
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"That's me, here, getting out of the car !" explains
Narata-san, totally amazed to see for the first time
these photographs, more than forty years after the
race. He was the navigator of the DS competing in the
9th edition of the famous Japan Alpen Rally, back in
1967, and told us what it was like.
At right: The three members of the team, from left to right: Shigenobu
Yanagi, a.k.a. "Gipsy Zamba", team leader and pilot; Hajime Narata,
navigator; and Atsushi Matsuura, co-pilot and owner of the car.
Narata-san, 61 years old now, is the founder and
President of a mid-size industrial equipment company
headquartered in Tokyo. He is very much amazed that
someone would come and ask for an interview, so
many years later.

"I had almost forgotten the whole thing. I did not
keep anything, I do not know what became of my
teammates, and I have never participated in a race
again."

"I was a student back then. Matsuura, a friend of mine,
came one day with a DS, said he wanted to participate
to the Alpen Rally, and asked me to be his navigator. I
had never done that job before ! He also got a certain
Yanagi to join as the main pilot. Yanagi, who gave
himself the surname "Gipsy Zamba", was a good
driver and proven sportsman. He later became a stunt
man, and did some pro wrestling too."

"We knew the race was hard, but we did not prepare
ourselves, or the car for that matter, at all. We thought
that with the DS, and its hydraulic system and the
possibility to raise the body, we would be able to make
the difference on rough roads. So off we went, with
one single thing in our mind: trying not to be late at
each check-point."

"Maybe it was not such a good idea after all, because
the goal was to arrive exactly at the determined time at
each check-point between sections. For each minute
too late or too early, we were given one penalty point,
and these points were cumulated. In fact we were
always ahead of time at each check-point, and we
were cruising ahead of all the other cars at mid-race !
Probably not the right  tactic, now that I think about
it..."
Entered in class 3 (more than 1,200 cc),and
bearing the Nr. 48, the DS is a 21 Pallas,
probably a 1966 model. The preparation for
the race was limited to the removal of the
wheel covers and the addition of fog lamps.
Top: sitting at the front, with a full set of maps,
chronometers and odometers, the navigator
played a critical role in those competitions.
The cars were supposed to cover each of the
24 sections of the race at a pace determined
in advance, but the details of the course were
not revealed up to the last minute, and the
location of the check-points was kept secret.
For its 9th edition, the Japan
Alpen Rally covered 1,900 km of
open roads across central
Japan's mountainous area (called
"Japan Alps"). The start and the
finish were held in Tokyo, and the
highest point in the race was on
Mount Norikura, at an altitude of
3,026 m.  

The race started on September
14th, 1967, and lasted 4 days,
with only one night rest, at the
famous Hakuunro hotel in
Kanazawa.

This rallye was famously tough for
the teams, and for the cars: in
1967, only 59 cars out of 80 made
it to the finish line. The DS was
the 59th... but made it to the finish
after all !
"In fact at a certain point we thought we had won... As
I said we were ahead of everyone else, and along the
sea somewhere in the Noto Peninsula, the road,
already badly damaged by a typhoon that had just
passed over the area a few hours before, was being
taken away by the waves. We managed to pass, but
we learnt at the next check-point that the following
cars could not, and that they had to use a detour. The
rule was that any section was valid if at least one car
could pass through, so we thought we'd made it ! But
at the arrival, we were told that the rule was not valid
in case of "natural disater", and the section itself was
simply cancelled..."

"A while later, we lost a lot of time on the top of Mount
Norikura. It was nightime, and the visibility was close
to zero because of the mist. Finally we followed another
car, but we took so many penalty points that on arrival
we were the last, at the 59th place ! But we did it..."

"I do not know what happened with the car afterwards,
and I did not keep in touch with my teammates. Later,
I had the opportunity to drive a DS once, but never
really thought to buy one for me."
Top: a road along the Noto Peninsula coast,
already badly damaged by a typhoon, was
destroyed by the waves. But the DS, cruising
ahead of all the other cars, had the time (and
the hydraulics) to pass through...

Left: the DS in front of a scenic "husband and
wife" set of rocks called Hatago-iwa, in the
Noto Peninsula (from the magazine "'68
Shinsha Album, Nov. 1967)
Above: Zamba and his teammates did try to
protest and prove that they were the true
winners, but without success.

Left: the teams are absolutely exhausted after
1,900 km of rough roads and very little sleep...
Fourty years later, when we ask to Narata-san
what was the best moment during these four
days, he says: "the massage at the hotel..."
Many thanks to Narata-san of course, but also to
Michitaka Shibuya, who organized the race at that
time, and who kindly provided these exceptional
documents.