Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


ON-BOARD TRIP computers have taken the fun out of cars. And maybe saved a few relationships.

I’m thinking of the competitive motorsport activity of time-speed-distance rallying, still practiced here and there by traditionalists and with cars of older vintage. For example, the Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Rally, out of Portland, Oregon, is a wonderful TSD event held annually, often in early August. (NWC 2018 is late July.)

By the way, such events are in contrast to the World Rally Championship taking place around the world. The idea of a traditional TSD rally is to follow a set of carefully, if devilishly, written instructions describing a route run at precise, and frequently changing, speeds. Along the way, checkpoints monitor progress, typically to the nearest second. Some of these checkpoints are readily recognized; others are hidden.

What with changing speeds, misreading directions, taking wrong turns, and regaining lost time, TSD navigation gets applied again and again. It’s at its most fun, that is, most highly chaotic, in an open sports car, with rally instructions as well as scribbled TSD calculations fluttering all about.

Traditionally, there are two classes of TSD rallying: light or heavy, depending on the calculation method. Light entry uses a stop watch and, for doing calculations, nothing more than a slide rule or its circular counterpart, a Stevens Rally Indicator.

Above, a slide rule. Below, a Stevens Rally Indicator.

Heavy entries in a traditional rally might use a Curta, (a hand-cranked mechanical calculator) or a Halda Speedpilot (a mechanical computer linked to the car’s speedometer).

Above, a Curta; image by Larry McElhiney. Below, a Halda Speedpilot; image from

Whichever class, heavy or light, (and I tip-toe through this next aspect) it has always been common knowledge that guys are better at math. Hence, you would think, pure logic would put the better math person in charge of the complex navigation. Driving, more or less, is the easy part. But common knowledge also has it that guys are better at driving fast.

Pause here for appropriate heckling.

This often leaves the wife/lady friend in the unenviable position of performing complex navigation in a car being driven too fast.

The basic formula for this activity is a simple one: speed = distance/time. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing that Sherlock Holmes performed entirely in his head: “We are going well,” said he, looking out of the window, and glancing at his watch. “Our rate at present is fifty-three and a half miles an hour…. The telegraph posts upon this line are sixty yards apart, and the calculation is a simple one.”

Watson and Holmes in train travel. Image by Sidney Paget.

On the other hand, Holmes was sitting in the First Class compartment of an English train, not bouncing around in the passenger seat of a classic English roadster.

Here, I share rally heroics of a personal nature. Not mine, but Wife Dottie’s.

In one of its more placid moments, Wife Dottie admires the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, on the 1993 Copperstate 1000.

By way of background, the Morgan roadster’s doors are cut away low, ostensibly to give clearance for properly flaying elbows whilst countering slides. What’s more, Morgan door-latch hardware wouldn’t impress a homeowner’s security for a screen door. Added to this, Morgan chassis flex means that an errant bump in the road might, at least in theory, defeat the efficacy of door-latch alignment altogether.

This is why the passenger of an export-market (i.e., left-hand-drive) Moggie always feels more confident of the driver’s cornering hard to the right rather than hard to the left. Right-cornering dynamics tosses the passenger firmly against the driver, as opposed to trusting that cutaway door and its questionable latch.

It’s beside the point that such rally driver/navigator intimacy interferes with elbow flaying.

So there’s Wife Dottie as (my very capable) navigator, perhaps getting a bit queasy looking down at her calculations as I corner with gusto to the right and with relative prudence to the left.

“Pull over,” she said, “I’m going to be sick.”

“We can’t; there’s a checkpoint sign ahead,” I explained. (Stopping within sight of a checkpoint is prohibited.)

“I’m going to throw up,” she stressed. So, forgoing a potentially zero-error stage, I pulled off into a recess. And, indeed, Wife Dottie threw up, next to a parked tour bus of visiting Japanese.

Other wife/lady friend navigators react in different ways. As an example, rest stops along a rally route are, at best, rudimentary and, at worst, open-pitted insults to hygiene. Wife Dottie returned from a particularly rustic rest stop and reported hearing another woman saying brightly, “Oh, my goodness. My slide rule seems to have fallen down that hole….”

At the end of a day’s rallying, another navigator told Wife Dottie, “I’m going to our room and have an attitude adjustment before dinner.”

Yes, TSD rallies can be fun.

In retrospect, we’d have been better off with Wife Dottie at the wheel. And, come to think of it, doing the navigating as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

3 comments on “RALLY HEROICS

  1. Russ Harness
    September 11, 2017

    TSD rally(e)’s were always great fun, especially those run at night and most especially those put on at Halloween time. They almost always included a haunted house and a large cauldron of goop from which you needed to recover a balloon containing the critical instruction to get you to your next check point. Generally finishing up at a Pizza joint. Great fun!

  2. Bob DuBois
    September 11, 2017

    During the 50’s and 60’s my wife and I did a lot of rallying in the Bay Area in our 1955 VW Bug. She didn’t drive, so became navigator by default. Also, the VW didn’t have a tenth mile on the odometer. But, if you carefully filed away the metal next to the mile wheel, it exposed a gear to which you could glue a carefully calibrated(??) ten space strip of paper. Also, when we started rallying we had an infant son. By the time we gave it up, we had two toddlers and an infant daughter. So, besides navigating, my wife also had breast-feeding duties, toddler feeding, and diaper changing. Despite all that, we only got so hopelessly lost that we had to abandon the rally, once, on a Friday nighter by the SF Sports Car Club. Ahhh, the memories!!

    • simanaitissays
      September 11, 2017

      Talk about heroism! Good for her. (I also admire your inventiveness with the VW odometer,)

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