In 1958, motorists gathered in a Belgium town to drive tiny two seaters, some with hatches for the door, and generating 30-50 horsepower over one of the steepest mountain ranges in the world and back.
The Liege-Brescia-Liege event was more than a competition, it was European automakers' touted vindication of the Messerschmitts, BMW Isettas, Citroen 2Vs and other microcars they built for the new car market. Small but inexpensive, the three-and four wheelers were well-engineered and capable of handling the region's variety of roads, companies claimed. The route through the Alps would prove the claim to the car-buying public, who would want those types of cars in their driveways.
A half century later, 40 car teams with two motorists apiece would be repeating the microcar run from Liege, Belgium to Brescia, Italy and back as a low-key rally, as much to see the breathtaking sights as capture a win. Five American twosomes, a driver and navigator per car, would be participants. They include two Charleston area collectors — contractor Kevin Kalman and car shop owner Darryl Beech — in a 1958 Berkeley, a mini sized roadster manufactured in England for five years in the late 1950s and very early '60s.
"I've been thinking about this for two years," said Kalman, aware that the microcar rally takes place once a decade.
The 2,000 mile time-distance rally started Wednesday, July 11 and concludes July 22. The vehicles are grouped by engine size: the largest motors are a still a miniature 700 cubic centimeters. Instead of transporting Kalman's model with left-hand drive to Europe, the team secured a Berkeley overseas to race. It will be one of a half-dozen Berkeleys in the endurance drive.
"We are happy to finish," he said, while noting that the event 50 years ago was to show how durable the mini cars were, since they had just been introduced to the the public.
The 2018 rally includes overnight stops in towns, including near race tracks for competition laps.
"It's almost a bucket list we're doing," says Kalman, who turned 60 in late June. Kalman said he's already been invited to display the Berkeley at the annual Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d'Elegance in November.
"It's just incredible," he says.
For more information and photos, visit www.postandcourier.com/automotive.