Paul Skilleter writes:
Due to my misreading an e-mail from a French colleague, unfortunately I thought that the Tour de France maestro had died in July and wrote an obituary accordingly… I have of course apologised to Bernard Consten, as I am glad to say that although in his 80s, he is alive and well and still living in France.
However, this is at least a good opportunity to review the remarkable career of this gifted French rally driver, because unlike the racing drivers of his time he is far less known amongst Jaguar enthusiasts. But he achieved a spectacular run of successes for Jaguar in continental Europe with a 3.8 Mark 2 saloon, to the huge benefit of the marque’s reputation.
His career primarily centred around the Tour de France Automobile; this event was inspired by the famous cycle race and was essentially a car rally. However, aside from a punishing schedule covering over 3,000 miles of public roads, it included multiple speed hill climbs and circuit events, the latter often two-hour endurance races.
It needed a very special car and crew to win the ‘Tour’, and from 1960 to 1963 Consten and his co-driver Jack Renel in Bernad’s Mark 2 were exactly that. They posted four consecutive Tour victories in the Tourisme category (Ferrari dominating the GT category). In 1963 Consten faced his biggest challenge, this from the expensively-prepared, 7.0 litre Ford Galaxies with a 100bhp advantage over the Mark 2. These were particular favourites on the ‘power’ circuits.
But supreme tactician Consten had complete confidence his Mark 2, and didn’t panic when the Galaxies romped away at Spa, Reims and the Nürburgring, or when Peter Jopp won the race at Le Mans. Sure enough, all the Galaxies dropped away except Henri Greder’s, and Consten then simply out-performed Greder during a progressively wetter event to take victory over the Galaxie – and over the Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Lidden Mini-Cooper S.
Nineteen sixty-four saw not only the end of Consten’s domination of the event, but also the temporary demise of the Tour itself due to lack of money. Then in 1969 it was revived with the help of Bernard himself, who had become president of France’s national motor sport body – but sadly there were no suitable Jaguars in production to mount a challenge to the Porsche 911s.
So Bernard Consten was a true Jaguar hero, and deserved to be better known than he perhaps is today. But I can reveal that Jaguar Heritage/Jaguar Classic has become aware of his exploits, and I gather there are plans to highlight his career in 2017. Let’s hope so!