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Paris to Peking 2013

June 2015 – The Volvo has now been sold and moved to Ipswich. The new owner plans to take it on rallies so we wish him and “the camel” good travelling and hope they enjoy doing well!

29 June and we arrive in Paris without mishap!

In Place Vendome

In Place Vendome

There was a warm reception for the cars and Rita and Michael waiting to meet us. Amongst the crowd a number of people who’d been reading our story – thank you for your interest and your appreciation. The drive to Paris was wet and slow – until we got to Paris when it became sunny and surprisingly easy, much to Allison’s relief as she was convinced we would be late! Once there, the cars filled Place Vendome and participants and visitors mingled and drank champagne. Tomorrow is Le Grand Depart and many cars have their shipping bills on the windscreen for the carrier who is due at something like 5 am! The Camel still has the journey to Norfolk before it can rest – Allison’s sole concern now being Ollie and Brock (woof). For others its a holiday touring in France with relatives for whom the adventure is about to start…….

28 June – what was billed as a long day became relatively ordinary.

Switzerland - road side scenery

Switzerland – road side scenery

We started 1/2 hour earlier than planned to account for road works and to start with it looked as if we would need all of that as we crawled along narrow roads. There were 10 passage controls and we were late at the first but from then on, traffic reduced and we were early at all the others. The one test was a circuit where Allison failed to realise that a crumpled heap of red plastic in the track was actually a cone that she had to dance round and I was hoarse by the time the penny finally dropped! Then up into the hills where she was taken by “Bovi stops” (cattle grids). We pressed on and by early afternoon were amongst the leading cars on the road. We stopped for late lunch at Jim’s control, delicately positioned in a layby off the road, with a red indicator arrow and debated what penalties to levy on those who passed it by only to realise and come back – a beer will buy our silence guys! We heard bad news of Bill and Mark, whose efforts failed along with the second water pump and they had to send for a breakdown truck (see the rally report on how they “rescued” a water pump from a model A on display at the roadside outside Davos). Now we are in Troyes with just 200 km to go to the finish. The Mercure/Ibis hotel will struggle to impress after the magnificence of our suite at the Gstaad Palace just a few hours ago.

Room at Gstaad Palace Hotel

Room at Gstaad Palace Hotel

27 June – a long hard day as we took the scenic route from Davos to Gstaad. Also a day of uncertainty over the scoring. From the start we were against the clock. I think the day’s timing is set on the basis of type of road and an average speed – which does not allow for obstacles like traffic lights, tractors refuelling etc. We started on the back foot as we were held up at a railway crossing on the way to the first test and were 8 minutes late at the first time control. The route book said we had time for lunch before the second time control. Some lunch! We didn’t stop at all (apart from one comfort break) and regained 6 of those 8 minutes and we were pushing all the time. By the time we arrived at the closing control we had made up another 5 minutes and we only stopped for petrol – that’s how tight the timings were. The organisers reviewed the time cards and adjusted the day’s results so as a bonus we got zero penalties!

June weather

June weather

The day alternated between sunshine, rain and snow – even in late June there were walls of snow alongside the mountain passes. Only very brief check over for the car today as Paris is only 750km away and the sponsors are hosting a reception! The steering problems have not worsened and the petrol smell is not related to the tank – running it empty didn’t stop the smell and meant we had to stop twice instead of once to fill up! Late in the day the mended bonnet hinge broke again so it will have to remain strapped up until we get home.
26 June we enter Switzerland but first as a change to our normal routine we had to do a hill climb test before breakfast. That went reasonably well and the breakfast was excellent. The

Austrian mountain pass

Austrian mountain pass

re followed a sequence of passage controls in remote Alpine hills so we spent all day going uphill and down dale. During one climb we heard a loud bang and found that one wheel rim had cracked – presumably metal fatigue after two rallies. When we removed the spare it looked as if we have found the source of the fuel leak – somewhere behind the battery. The battery is a dry cell and is in a box fixed where the rear seats would be. Discussing this with the sweeps they think there is a possibility that the screws holding the battery box may have created a hole in one of the two tanks. So tomorrow we will try running with that tank empty and see if things improve. My routine checks showed that a steering bush has worn – the car has at times been very difficult to steer and this is one cause; chatting to the sweeps we decided to leave alone for the time being as replacing it can be tricky. The daily results showed that we had gained another place; Mario & Noelle in the Citroen, the car immediately ahead of us in our class had suffered a major setback as their overnight gearbox replacement took longer than expected and they missed the test. Whilst the road conditions are so much more benign than in Mongolia, the cumulative effects of weeks of abuse are showing – and again we have been fortunate in their timing. Sorry about the lack of photos, there are some but time is another enemy! And our hotel in upmarket Davos only provides wifi in their reception area – so a group of us are huddled round our laptops, tapping away!
25 June into Austria and a delayed report because unlike the hotels in

Austrian Alpine Village

Austrian Alpine Village

Russia, Ukraine and Slovenia, which have moved into the modern world, our hotel in Austria believes wifi access should be a chargeable extra! We had a test at a circuit and then a sequence of passage controls; all in picture postcard alpine scenery. Car wise we have for some days had a pervading stench of petrol in the car and its getting worse. I tried to locate the source in the confined space of an underground garage and it appears to be from the fuel lines in the back seat area but I will need more research to find the precise cause.
24 June – to Bratislava, in many ways a technical day and for us a very lucky day! Sorry no photos. We had three tests before a midday time control – and that caught out about half the crews. The time control requires you to be at a control at a specific time unlike the passage controls we’ve had up to now. It marks the change of emphasis from a “cross country” race to a more rules based “regularity” rally. The result was that crews got penalties. We had pushed on and arrived in good time (hence no photos). Some of the tests were on narrow alpine tracks and overtaking the slower vintageants was hair-raising. The noises we had in the car were much reduced in the morning after the work the night before but as we approached the last test had become serious. We stopped at the roadside – front wheelbearings. We had a spare but replacement requires a press or a large hammer and we had neither. We tightened them up which reduced the nloise and did the next 30 miles hoping for the best as time was critical and we finally clocked in with just 4 minutes to spare. The sweeps were there and in ever heavier rain they dismantled and re-greased one side, which had been completely dry, and replaced the bearing on the other. We were very lucky and again have the sweeps to thank for out continued progress. The big loser today was the red VW of John and Brett; they had been front runners but had a problem (details not known) and received the dreaded 12 hour penalty for being too late at the final control. So for the second day we were unable to se the sights of Slovakia – maybe we will come back in the Elan in more relaxed mode.

23 June from Lvov to Kosice (Slovakia).

Leaving Lvov

Leaving Lvov

Our departure from Lvov was bizarre! The folk must love dressing up and our hotel was treated to the spectacle of men, women and children dressed up in all sorts of potentially period costume parading gracefully around the car park to the accompanied by a couple of musketeers dressed as Trappers and very loud and definitely non-period music on the loudspeakers. We started badly when Allison directed me to turn left when the instructions clearly said to go right!

Test Start Queue

Test Start Queue

There was a longish transit to the border, where the crossing was very smooth, taking just minutes. We re-grouped in Tesco’s car park (yes they get everywhere!) before setting off for a closed road hillclimb. For some days we have had a (growing) noise which sounds like pieces of metal being grated together. It was speed/surface related and the sweeps checked the drivetrain and rear wheel bearings at Tesco – nothing found. Then to the test where we hung around for hours waiting for the police to confirm the closure. We reached Kosice in the rain and I set about tracing the noise. I found a split in one front spring upper mounting plate and the sweeps identified that one of the bolts holding it to the chassis was loose – I was convinced I’d checked all the nuts in the wheel arch area – but I’d missed these! Allison found a local car enthusiast who welded so we set off with Marc from the Renault 4 for us to be welded and he to acquire some brake caliper parts. Once again we were very fortunate in the generosity of the local community. Hopefully the combination of tight bolts and a repaired mounting will reduce the noise – tomorrow will tell
22 June – another longish day with one circuit test and major route amendments. The winter weather had turned the southerly route from Kiev to Lvov into a ribbon of potholes so we were re-routed along the generally excellent quality “motorway”.

queuing at Seagull Circuit

queuing at Seagull Circuit

Our first stop however was a circuit but in terms of the results little can happen when the maximum variation in times is about 3 minutes. We were again one of the slower cars. Bill and Mark were again in trouble with an ignition problem in the car park before their turn with Bill desperately trying to fix it within their “maximum lateness”. They were push started after identifying a short circuit in the LT circuit but later decided it was actually an HT circuit problem so they fixed that as well!

Lvov

Lvov

We arrived in Lvov in time to have a stroll and a beer in a city with a very Austrian feel – it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for most of the last couple of centuries. Tomorrow brings another border crossing as we move into Slovakia. We have been made very welcome in Ukraine and people have flocked to see us both en route and in our parking areas.

21 June – rest day in Kiev and we had nothing to do on the car.

St Michaels Kiev

St Michaels Kiev

We visited the Church Monastery of St Michael up the funicular railway behind the hotel – rebuilt after being destroyed by the Soviets to make way for a row of government departments.

Pechersk Lavera Cathedral

Pechersk Lavera Cathedral

Then a coach trip organised for the rally – tough on the tour leader trying to escort a group of independent minded drivers! We sampled the metro, busses and trolley-busses. Our visit to the Pechersk Lavera monastery/caves was disappointing as the signposting was poor and we managed to arrive at the caves at 4.30 only to find the doors closed in front of us as 4.30 was closing time. The day was rounded off by an evening river cruise on the Dneiper.

20 June and a transit day to Kiev with just 4 passage controls – should be easy! The route started from the hotel with crowds on onlookers and a man with a microphone. No idea what he was saying but he had a laugh at us when we took the wrong turn leaving the car park! We continued through villages and were amazed at the number of people who turned out to view, wave and take photos. Allison had complained about a noise and I said it would drop off – and it did as all of a sudden on the road the hinge end of the bonnet jumped up in the air. We stopped and strapped it down, then hurried to the end of the day in Kiev where we knew the sweeps were arranging repairs for the rest day tomorrow. On the way there was a passage control on a new section of dual carriageway (just one half currently in use). The rally completely blocked the road as we parked any which way to get our cards stamped and onlookers wandered across the road and through the traffic – traffic police nightmare!

Welding team on the Volvo

Welding team on the Volvo

Reaching the hotel we were rushed to the team of welders who in no time had repaired the hinge and the broken shock absorber pin. I checked the car in the evening so tomorrow should be a car free day for sightseeing! At supper we were pleased to see Bill and Mark roll in along with Rob Kitchen who had flown in yesterday with a new crankshaft and other spares for the Model A which is again running! Two other cars however were last seen on lorries so the attrition continues.

19 June – results; these went up last night and made interesting and salutory reading. We dropped one place as Kerry & Kevin’s appeal against their “late penalty” was upheld and they regained 12 hours and their “gold” status. However they and a number of others picked up an 11 minute test maximum and lost that gold status *** subsequently changed! Now they have an 11 minute penalty but have retained their gold status, which is not logical as the Rules state that to keep Gold you have to do all tests within the maximum time – strange the way the Rally rules are interpreted!. What happened was that the crews did a “wrong test” – the instructions were to do 2 complete laps of the circuit and to leave the track by passing left of a marker board (passing to the right during the first two laps). Some crews missed this, one crew realised they’d gone wrong and cut over the grass after the marker board. It seems a harsh contrast to Mongolia where the track was as wide as you wanted but that’s rallying! I guess that’s what “Endurance” means, the smallest and silliest slip can make all the difference and luck defines whether that slip happens at a critical time. We all make errors but fortunately some don’t have such harsh consequences.

Waiting to start

Waiting to start

19 June and an early start as we had 300kms to do to a cart circuit followed by a border crossing into Ukraine. In fact the roads were good and we got to the circuit shortly after 11am. A couple of circuits round the track and their dusty skid track – which Allison does not like as she’s convinced she’s about to get into an uncontrollable skid – then lunch. There were crowds at the car park but they were nothing compared to those in Kharkiv (Ukraine). More than any other rally we’ve been on, this one generates publicity and crowds. We sailed through the border – faster than UK passport control at Dover! Our route to the hotel was redirected to the main square. We drove through crowds of enthusiasts to a welcome featuring girls in national costume and cameras everywhere. We were behind the La France and a Porsche 911 so you can guess where the attention was – and they loved it!

Welcome Committee Kharkiv

Welcome Committee Kharkiv

Kharkiv blotted its copybook later when we arrived by metro at the Pokrovsky Monastery – and weren’t allowed in as my shorts showed my knees!
Bill loading the model A18 June – Saratov to Voronesh; the rally was split over two hotels last night and we were in the smaller hotel so missed out on all the news! Sadly Bill and Mark broke the crankshaft on the Model A so that is now on a trailer to Kiev with the hope of a new shaft, engine rebuild and rejoining the rally later. Car 40 is out with a con rod having departed the engine. Kevin and Keith in the other yellow Volvo had another rear end suspension problem when they lost a rear spring – they ran through most of Mongolia and Russia on an old rear shock we lent them, they replaced that in Samara – and look what they do now! Getting back into town after repairs they were caught in traffic and arrived late at the control, earning a 12 hour penalty in the process. We asked the sweeps to look at our front shock absorber mounting as the new pin is working loose (better than breaking!). They fashioned some packing but it will need more substantial surgery when we get home. In the evening I had a broken exhaust flexible strap to replace – all these niggly things take a disproportionate amount of time! Tomorrow is our last day in Russia, next stop Ukraine.

17 June – transit to Saratov with three passage controls.

Trying to start Ludovic

Trying to start Ludovic

It was hot today, very hot. At 10.00 it was 35C and when we checked in at the evening time control at 16.45 it was 39C. We were hot in the car and the car was very hot in the snail like crawl leading up to Volga bridge the 2.5 km Volga bridge, the engine was stalling and the brakes squealing. We did 400km over often poor tarmac roads, severely damaged by the winter weather. Tomorrow is 600km! Lets hope the roads are better. The local car club were enthusiastic in their welcome with their cars out on display at road junctions and fuel stops. Saratov Car Club Cars The car received only a cursory check over this evening but I think I’ve repaired an earthing fault on a headlight – so hopefully I now have two!

Samara Volga view 16 June – rest day in Samara. RPS had sent a courier from UK with 80+ kgs of baggage, 3kgs of which were our front shock absorbers. I thought we would not need them as last time I checked (in Ufa), ours were holding up. Today’s check showed that yet another pin had broken and one shock was held by one bolt only. The new shocks went straight into the car -timing is everything in rallying! The car park was full of people doing things to cars with a number deciding that they needed a garage to do the amount of work required. Bill and Mark (also from Norfolk) were, as usual, covered in oil from the Model A Ford with Bill looking as happy as Larry; Mark less so and his luck worsened as when Allison brought down the tea he’d accepted, he had

Tea with Bill in Samara

Tea with Bill in Samara

vanished so Bill had it instead – timing is………..!
We finished quickly and took the bus into town. Volga beach in Samara It was a hot day and the locals were walking the Esplanade or enjoying the Volga beaches. We went to Stalin’s bunker – built in WW2 as Stalin’s base in case the Germans invaded Moscow but we had not prebooked, we were not a Group and anyway it was closed at weekends.
Daughter phoned with news of my father – and amazingly, rang just as Allison walked back into the room from the car park – timing is….(have I said this before?)
The Volvo owners are still discussing their dogs and what their 7 month old dog puppies (Wilson & Diggy) have done for the first time (you don’t want to know!)

15 June to Samara and tomorrow is a rest day. Today’s test was cancelled so the procession through Russia continues. We arrived in Samara at 16.30 but rally time has a 2 hour time shift here so it became 14.30! Model T 1506 We came across two of perhaps the most iconic cars in today’s road. The Model T of Nick & Nadia looks so flimsy, yet on most days we’ve seen it somewhere, the crew are always cheerful and keen to talk about the car and today’s issues, whether bearings or wobbly wooden spokes! Nadia’s hat is a trademark from behind with two big ears high above the car. La France 1506 The other, in contrast is the four ton La France with a 6 cylinder, 14 litre engine, the rear wheels are chain driven and on the road it exudes an aura of power and mass. They are always friendly with time for others – I was asking for an oil filter removal tool and they gave me a sheet of sandpaper. I looked at it, perplexed! But put the sandpaper over the filter and the grip generated is enormous – simple but very effective.
Allison meanwhile is missing her dogs and wanted a picture of Ollie on his back in bed – so here it is!

Ollie in bed

Ollie in bed

Car 10 leaving a passage control

Car 10 leaving a passage control

Village-House14 June from Ekaterinburg to Ufa. Today we returned to Europe! Shortly after leaving Ekaterinburg we stopped at the divide and gently rolled from east to West. Our first two tests were cancelled so the morning run was a gentle route from passage control to passage control. The afternoon test was a “regularity” in a manner of speaking, where we had to drive a gravel track in a given time – and to make it more difficult we could arrive early and check with the marshalls when we wanted to arrive (lets hope we got it right!). We had an uneventful day unlike the “Richards” in the Volvo Amazon who after their welding session yesterday lost their brakes when trying to stop at a police check point – at least that’s their story. The hotel car park was less busy this evening as its a little way out of town but still a number of people have come to see the cars. There is a high degree of interest in the rally and cars are always hooting and waving as we pass – yes friendly waving!

Entering-Europe
Church-of-thre-Blood

13th June – a short day from Tyumen to Ekaterinburg. All scheduled times and controls were cancelled so we made our own way on the “Motorway” direct to the hotel, ignoring the planned cross country route. We made reasonable time despite the crawls through villages, road works and level crossings! Some motorway – I blame the map! We are now at GMT plus 6 hours so an afternoon of sight seeing – our room has a direct view across the river to the Church of the Blood – where the Romanov’s met their fate.
12th June- travel to Tyumen with one test. This was scheduled to be a long day but two tests were cancelled because of the degradation during the Spring and we understand that the third is to be abandoned following the tragic death of a friendly and popular competitor in a head-on collision on the main road.

It was a hot day with mainly main road driving – a main road of very variable quality. Sometimes we could pick our own speed and at others we were picking our way round potholes and huge lumps. The car is happy apart from excess oil consumption; we’ve done an oil change but the mechanics recommend a thicker oil. Understandably the rally is shocked and subdued, following the announcement from the organisers.

Tyumen-to-Ekaterinburg

More Siberian Road

Omsk Cathedral

Omsk Cathedral

 

11th June – travel to Omsk at our own speed and timings, 674 kms- the wet spring has so damaged the gravel/dirt tracks planned for the tests that they had to be cancelled. I imagined Siberia as a desolate landscape full of political detention centres – not so! It was a flat, green ever stretching landscape with grasslands and trees – but there again it had rained all night (the car was full of water) and it rained on and off for most of the day. There was limited cultivation and areas of bare soil so I’m n ot sure why in mid June there was so little growth – maybe the Spring was cold and late? The single carriageway tarmac road was good with some traffic but overtaking was easy given our speed difference to the lorries – though some on-coming drivers were intent on cutting things rather fine at times. Omsk is a spacious city with a magnificent cathedral, wide streets and plenty of imposing buildings. Our hotel window looks out onto the junction of two rivers, the Om and the Irtysh and the sun is just setting. The car park is again a local attraction with people wandering around looking at the cars, being photographed with famous rally drivers (err is this right?) and practicing their English. We are promised at least one test for tomorrow. We also heard today that our house sale has completed – we are now of no fixed abode!

 

10th June – a rest day in Novosibirsk. It started with attempts at organisation with help from the local car clubs. Our needs were minor so we organised ourselves, first sharing a taxi with Kieron and Phil to the equivalent of Wilco or Halfords but with many little stalls, each one occupied by a young guy with a computer who couldn’t sell us anything without the make, year, engine number etc – the waiting taxi became expensive! Back to the hotel and we set off alone to get another puncture repaired and try to find some fixing pins for our shock absorbers as the repaired versions did not inspire confidence! The tyre was sorted but for the pins, success was limited. We were “found” at a BMW workshop by Sasha who generously devoted the afternoon to the “pin hunt”, driving us from auto spares shop to auto spares shop. The closest we could get was a Volga unit – and unlike our expensive and seemingly fragile Bilsteins, spare pins and bushes are available; so we now have a spare Volga unit and bush. Lets hope we don’t need them! Back to the hotel where we find that tomorrow has been cancelled! No timings, no tests, just a long drive along with lorries and traffic to Omsk.

9th June – we had 630 kms and three tests today so no time to linger. The tests were on sandy tracks and Allison found the car very difficult to handle as she has a terror of sliding (after our misadventures in Chile). We completed them but she was not happy. The rest of the day was largely travelling on tarmac roads – with some lengthy gravel sections in the morning. A number of cars skipped the tests so those taking part were those competing for honours and those still in the running for a “Gold” award (such as us). Again the hotel car park was full of locals wanting to view the circus and the only Russian crew were surrounded by TV and Press. We were glad to find that Keith and Norah had arrived – we had last seen them on 5th June when they had a radiator to fix, apparently they spent three days with the car on a truck, staying in gers and have promised to tell us of their adventures later. Tomorrow is a rest day so time to do a few bits on the car, update the website (try to get some pictures!) and above all try to clear the car of some of the dust which is everywhere.

Siberia to Omsk

Siberia to Omsk

8th June – We awoke to a cold world; reports varied as to whether it was minus 6 or minus 15 overnight but either way it was cold though yesterday’s bitter wind had died down. There was frozen water in our water bottles and the washing buckets. The car was also affected and would not move until the engine had warmed up – other cars were similar and the once still campsite reverberated to raucous exhausts. It was a day of “hurry up and wait”. We were instructed to leave camp at 7.30 to head to the border – where we waited. We finally left Mongolia at 11.25 and we were in the middle of the convoy – those at the end had to wait much longer. We moved a few kilometres to a Russian military checkpoint which was tedious before proceeding to Russian Customs which we left at 13.40. Altogether 14 kms in 6 hours!
The planned tests were cancelled and we headed direct to Aya. The Russian scenery was spectacular, alpine and immense. The roads were good tarmac – something we had forgotten in Mongolia. Nearing our hotel we refuelled at a clean modern petrol station, where fuel is about 70p per litre (75p for 95 octane). The procedure here is that you put the nozzle in your tank and then pay a lump sum on account of the fuel you expect to buy; they load the pump and when it reaches your prepaid value the pump stops. Getting the hang of this took me a while and a kindly local – whose daughter is studying in London paid for my 50 litres. Thank you my friend! We reached the hotel to find the public waiting for us and the local car club out in force helping and displaying their own cars, The Rally had produced booklets with a summary of the route and pictures of each car with a brief description of the crew; the children were out in force seeking an autograph against each driver. They probably had along wait as some crews were so held up at the border or dawdled in the journey that it was after 23.00 before some arrived. At this stage we had lost track of how many cars had dropped out – hopefully the Rally knows!

Mongolia the Road

Mongolia the Road

7th June, Uureg Lake to the Russian border camp. Not such a good day! It started with a chill overnight wind, which continued as we packed up the tent and our route amendments told us of a slow and difficult route ahead with an extension of time and the cancellation of two tests. During the first test disaster nearly struck! We were in open, flat country when an unwanted banging started, which we recognised as a broken front shock absorber lower mount. We decided we had to remove the shock to avoid further damage, aware that if in doing so we exceeded the maximum time on the test we would lose our “Gold” award. We pulled off the track and did our version of a grand prix pitstop! Foolishly we put out the “OK” sign – on the back cover of the route book – and forgot it when we restarted. It didn’t take long for me to shout “where’s the route book?” so we doubled back to retrieve it from the track and just made the finish within time. At the end of the test we installed the unit fixed after the first break (June 3rd) and wondered how this could be repaired as the central part of the pin had vanished leaving only the two flanges securely bolted to the car. The next section should have been picturesque as the route meandered alongside a river with trees and shade. In fact the surface was rough and stony and progress slow and dusty. We refuelled in Olgil and encountered the one and only episode of a child throwing gravel and stones at the car. There was a smooth tarmac road out of town which enabled us to hear noises which had been drowned out for the last week – a rumble caused Allison concern but fortunately it had fallen off by the time we next had such a surface! There was a slow, dusty and bumpy run-in to the camp and a bitter wind which continued all night. The camp welder managed to fashion a new shock absorber pin out of one flange, a sawn-off cleat and a random nut; the crew pressed this into our shock absorber and we had our spare. Allison persuaded me to have a shower at 8.30; this was a very bad idea and I was shivering until the sleeping bag eventually warmed up some hours later!
6th June from Chjargas Lake to Uureg Lake; the day started warm and bright. As usual there were amendments to the route and timings and the navigator’s first task is to update the route book and time card. The first test, due to start from the camp was cancelled as the track was too bad and the day’s timings extended for the same reason. However there was a bonus in the form of some new tarmac road and we came in an hour before our due time. The terrain varied between fklat valleys and steep hills, one of which was a hillclimb test, interrupted by a shepherd and his flock. The highlight of the day was the spectacular view which emerged as we left the narrow stony mountain pass and saw the valley and lake unfold before us. All cars stopped to savour the moment and there was no need to display the “OK” board as the reason for the stop was clear to all. At camp, our inner tube which had punctured some days earlier was repaired by the crew so we have our spare.

Alone-in-Mongolia

Alone in Mongolia

5th June – an even better day! Sadly but not unexpectedly the cars which had broken down yesterday did not show up and other cars were also struggling; we were told that 12 cars were definitely out of the rally with others under repair. It was a cold night and a chilly start to the day but not long before socks, long trousers and fleece gave way to barefeet, shorts and T-shirt. Another test was cancelled and extra time allowed because of the poor conditions. After a slow start, the tracks were good (no tarmac today, not even a glimpse). Soon we were haring across the hills with a variety of cars spread over numerous tracks, all going in broadly the same direction. I have to admit that we did blot our copybook by getting stuck in the soft sand (following the marshall’s signed route). Fortunately a 4WD was on hand to tow us out – but the fabric towing eyes fitted to the car snapped so the crude alternative of using the front wishbone had to be employed. In contrast to yesterday we arrived at camp 2 hours ahead of our due time. The camps were set up by a tour company who provided meals, showers, latrines and water; we just had to provide and set up our tents. Fuel was provided by a local petrol company, usually at fuel stations but for the 3 lakeside camps (June 4, 5 & 6) by tanker at the camp. Today’s arrangements didn’t work too well with everything late and a massive queue for fuel when the tanker finally arrived. Our tent was up before the dust storm arrived – and survived but only just! The storm was quite spectacular with a strong wind bringing in the dust and visibility reduced to near zero. Dust is something we have become used to and we wonder how we will ever get it out of our clothes and car!
4th June – a much better day – for us! A good start to the day with a warm breeze and bright sunshine. At breakfast we saw Emma & Peter, who had broken down, their car on a truck (at USD 5 per kilometre) and arrived at camp at 2am but without the car (and their sleeping gear). Keith & Norah had tales of punctures, failed GPS and a broken radiator; their repair failed and they could not set out today. Two out of three scheduled tests were cancelled due to the excessively poor condition of the tracks. Extra time was allowed for the same reason so we pushed on and by the end of the day were only just on time.
3 June Day 7 – Last night’s camping was chilly with a biting Mongolian wind which seemed to reach its maximum strength at about 4am. That was a bad start to a bad day. We did the first test as usual but on a narrow and rough track we acquired a puncture. On its own that should not be a problem but we had packed the car with the spare wheels where the back seats would be with everything on top – so by the time we had unpacked half of the back of the car into the dust, time had passed. Then the sweep crew arrived and kindly offered to fit a new inner tube – by now something like an hour had passed along with half the rally!
The Datsun of Yasuaki and Takeshi rolled on it’s roof today but the crew was not hurt and held together by gaffer tape are continuing with the rally. Spectacular scenery following a mountain river with trees each side and on nearby hills. A lush contrast to other parts we have driven through.
We hurried along to the second test and even though we were late we were allowed to complete – completing the test is important as the “gold” award for the rally requires the competitor to attend every time control and complete each test at specific times. We then had to hurry along to the final test of the day and 5 kilometres before we got there we heard a new banging noise. At first I thought it was a propshaft joint but on closer inspection, it was the front shock absorber lower mounting point which had buckled, snapping the fixing pin. We had a spare but could not fit it so limped along to find that the test was still open, an hour after it should have closed. There was a welder at the campsite so we got the fixing pin mended and the buckled plate straightened.
We ventured back into the town of Murun at 2100 through clouds of dust on the unpaved roads to see the local motor factor had any bushes or pins but no such luck. We returned to the campsite, wondering how anyone managed to live in the continuous dust or how they could drive at night with the combination of the roads, the dust and oncoming headlights.
2nd June DAY 6
The Rally had a police escort to Suke Baataar Square where we were addressed by the mayor and listened to traditional Mongolian music. Such a contrast to the traffic clogged roads and crowds on the pavements of yesterday, National Children’s day when no alcohol was sold.
The first test of the day was described as challenging, rough, stony and bumpy. It also included many steep gullies with rutted bottoms. We spotted several cars stationery and saw the tow ropes were out and it required two of the organiser’s 4 x 4s to tow the Volvo, 53, of Kerry and Kevin Finn out of the mud. John & Brett Layzell, Beetle, 55, suffered the same fate along with 7 other cars. We just trundled past with memories of Dakar – do not go too near stuck cars. At the end of the next test we saw the white Beetle, of Garrick Staples and Hayden Burvill, which had rolled. Later we heard they had pulled out.
We had seen camels previously but today it was ponies, cattle, sheep and goats. The ponies were often in clusters, standing in muddy pools whilst the cattle always wanted to cross the stretch of road we were driving along. Every so often Ovoos are found beside the roads, created from stones, wood, blue cloth and any old piece of junk you wish to add after you have walked around it 3 times for good luck.

Tomorrow we set off on the rest of our journey through Mongolia; its camping all the way so there’s no internet access until we reach Russia – and with a rally full of people anxious to get online there’s no certainty that I will be able to – the next update will come as soon as I can manage it!

Main-Square-Ulan-Bataar

Main Square Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator old and new on June 1

Ulan Bator old & new on June 1

 

June 1 – our first rest day – not bad after only 4 days but a number of cars took advantage of it to visit the local Mercedes workshop and spent a lot of the day there.

We spent a few hours checking the car and then off being tourists. There is a clunk from the steering box but unlikely to cause anything dramatic in the short term so we’ll keep our eyes on it. We have felt the steering to be a bit woolly so have increased tyre pressures and see what happens. Our tourism was interrupted by shopping – supplies of bottled water and some water containers to replace our engine oil container which has sprung a leak and left a nasty mess in the boot. Today was Children’s Day and the centre of UB was packed with parents, children, balloons and soap bubbles. The main square where we are due on parade at 8.00 tomorrow was packed with snack and toy vendors and it will be interesting to see how they manage to clear it up before we arrive – its only a few minutes walk from the hotel but with today’s traffic at least twice as long by car.

camp-site-Mongolia

 

May 31 – camp noises started at about 5am and it was a chilly and windy dawn. Our start was at 8.45 and we were preceded by the Vintageants who started at 8.00. We met and overtook many of them in the first test section of the day – everyone getting covered in dust in the process. This was a relatively straightforward test with no nasty bumps and drops though a number of scary moments as the car gets very skittish at speed on gravel – and this always seemed to happen as we were overtaking. The second test was cancelled as it was close to the new road and there were too many contractors vehicles sharing our track. Now in Ulan Bataar and the luxury of two nights in a hotel – our next will be in a week’s time in Russia

 

 

May 30 – from China into Mongolia and in many ways the real start of the rally. The first hurdle was the border control; the organisers assured us that this would not take long – but it did and we started in Mongolia just over an hour behind schedule. The first 2 kilometres of our journey into Mongolia was on tarmac of sorts then it was gravel and will remain so for much of our time although there are some welcome stretches where one can cover the miles but not get covered in dust! We had two test sections and some lengthy gravel transits. During one of these we lost our bonnet badge but were lucky to get away from a sandy ditch which we ploughed into.

Typical Road May 30th

Typical Road May 30th

We had encountered a sandy section leading to a gentle rise which we accelerated towards to escape the sand – to discover too late that there was a sharp drop on the other side and the car landed heavily, both bumpers hitting the ground – thankfully it appears that only the rally plates were damaged. Today was also our first experience of the refuelling arrangements laid on by the rally under which we paid a lump sum (varying by engine size) for unlimited fuel at nominated petrol stations and delivered to the remote campsites. It worked very well except for a couple of crews who did not realise there were limited nominated outlets and ended up refuelling at their own expense. The camping was well organised and as early arrivals we had the luxury of a shower. The only problem was the wind which howled as the put up our tent using the car as a windbreak; to discover during the night that the wind shifted direction and strengthened. It was a noisy night and we wondered how long the fabric would survive – the tent was daughter’s cast-off from 15 years ago and unused since then! It survived.

The Volvo “excitement” of the day centred on Phil’s Volvo PV which got stuck in sand and suffered a rear hub problem leading to loss of both drive and brakes. He was repaired at the roadside and arrived late into camp. A new half shaft is now on its way to join him in Russia.

May 29 – May 28 did exist but the hotel internet connection did not work! We have now arrived in Erenhot , the last town before Mongolia and leave first thing tomorrow for the border.

Great Wall May 29

Great Wall May 29th

Tuesday had an early start from the hotel before a ceremonial send-off from a very damp Great Wall. Our route included some nasty rough “road” with cars dodging from side to side, avoiding each other, on-coming traffic and above all the potholes and rocks. We had a couple of car problems – I was driving along, having overtaken some rally cars when the engine died and as I cruised to the side of the road they all repassed me. A bit of investigation indicated the mechanical fuel pump as the car started once I switched on the back-up electric pump. back at the hotel we ran the engine with the fuel lines from the mechanical pump disconnected – no fuel! We searched for a spare electric pump and found one (probably at vastly inflated price) from the local Mr Fixit; so we now have our spare. The other thing was the boot clip fixing rivets broke but fortunately the sweeps had a rivet gun. We are good to go!
A number of cars were not so lucky and we’ve seen a few at the road side with the mechanics in attendance; so far as we know they are up and running. A couple of cars got stuck in a puddle yesterday – rather a big puddle and we have video of the medical team, one with bare feet, pushing a car uphill from under a railway bridge and the filthiest water you’ve seen – what he was treading on I hate to think but I hope he’s had all his vaccinations!
There haven’t been any competitive elements yet so 52 out of 54 Classic cars are lying in 1st equal position (including us!).

The-Start
Photos to follow but I thought I’d get this on the site first!
May 27, today is scrutineering and documentation so hanging around the car park waiting for things to happen. One thing which will not happen is the Yellowbrick tracker. The units are in Customs and have been impounded. Apologies but there will now not be a tracking system!

Hotel car park - rally style

Hotel car park – rally style

customs3

Customs

 

May 26 and its a damp, drizzly, overcast day. We set off in 4 coaches to collect the cars from Customs warehouse 35 km the other side of the city. Its the easiest Customs clearance we’ve ever experienced – but the shipping company has had people here all week sorting out paperwork. We just turned up and drove away – after putting some air into a flat looking rear tyre.

Our route map back to the hotel showed a fuel station after 1km so 75% of the rally turned up there, causing havoc as they struggled with a variety of thirsty old cars carting off thousands of Yuan worth of fuel. Most cars got back to the hotel without incident for an afternoon of the TLC which had been missing for the last two months. We installed a Roadhawk camera system which records everything in front of us – we have yet to work out how to edit or use hours of footage!

May 25th – another hot day. Breakfast was not included in our room tariff so tried a local 24 hour eatery – not very successful. The Forbidden City Allison had read that it was quite acceptable to point to another diner’s food to indicate that we wanted that as well – it didn’t work! Eventually an illustrated menu arrived and I had a warm, sticky barley porridge and rice milk. Then on the subway to Tian’an Men where we saw the Square and along with tens of thousands of Chinese toured the Forbidden City.
We had to be back at the hotel for a briefing by the local police on driving in China. Then out again on the subway to the Temple of Heaven before returning to the hotel via a supermarket (emergency rations for the journey) and supper at the local “eat and drink as much as you like for £6.50” pizza parlour.

 

 

P2P Warehouse

May 24th – safely arrived in Peking with a seven hour time shift to UK – so not sure if its time to go to bed or wake up and get going! Met the Rally Organiser at Heathrow and Keith & Norah (1974 Mercedes) at Peking arrivals. Some sightseeing at the Summer Palace but the combination of tiredness and the smog meant it was a fairly slow process round the Empress’s favourite hideaway. Early supper and bed recommended!
21st May – news update!
we fly out to Peking on Thursday, having moved out of our house (hopefully sold!) and part to temporary accommodation, part to storage and the rest of our “stuff” with friends. So P2P needs to be a rest after this – some chance!!
But some good news – here’s the picture of the shipping company warehouse in Beijing – and in pole position? Yes the Volvo is ready even if the crew aren’t!
The Yellow Brick tracker should be fitted over the weekend then you can see where the car is, which direction its heading and the speed. The tracker updates every 30 minutes but sometimes an update fails so please check the most recent update to see how current it is.

For details of the rally see the rally site

So which car would you prefer to drive from Peking to Paris? No contest – the Lotus! The rally organisers did not agree and were concerned that the Lotus’s carrying capacity (7 nights camping), engine compression (80 octane fuel in Mongolia) and ground clearance make it an unsuitable choice.

We looked around and decided that the Volvo would be a good choice. This car had done the Endurorally January 2012 London to Cape Town rally and emerged with only shock absorber mounting problems. The story of the car’s preparation is told on Amazon Cars website and the rally history on L2CT site

The picture with the Lotus is the sanitised version (to avoid scaring the MOT tester) – in reality the Volvo is a mean looking machine as the second photo shows.

The history of the car – we know nothing prior to 2009 when the car was living peacefully in Sweden. Then its life changed! Rob Henchoz of Amazon Cars imported it to the UK and prepared it for the L2CT rally.
The fuel tank was removed from the boot floor and twin aluminium tanks installed immediately behind the rear seats. A (redundant) electric fuel pump and in-line filters were fitted together with pipework to select which tank to use; all fuel lines were brought in-board to avoid any damage. The mechanical pump remains the main fuel provider. One casualty of this was the fuel gauge – we now have to peer into the boot to view the fuel levels in plastic sight glasses attached to each tank. Over time the plastic becomes opaque so hopefully we won’t be too long on the rally………

The car was rewired with relays and fuses for everything and a Vartec sealed race battery installed where the back seat used to be. We hope this won’t be a problem. From experience we know the benefits of sealed batteries – see the picture from Patagonia 2010 with the Elan on its roof. The downside is that when these batteries decide they’ve had enough, that’s it, they just die and we really wouldn’t like that to happen in Mongolia!

The inside of the car was decimated. The rear seats and all carpetting and upholstery removed. Rob is fanatical about weight so even the shroud round the ignition key was removed and he drilled holes in the rear door inner skins to save on kgs (as a concession he did leave the leather on the front doors). A full roll cage was fitted and the seats replaced. The two spare wheels were relocated to the “back seat” – to move weight forward. An air compressor was fitted to assist in desert running when tyre pressures are lowered to get through soft sand.

The underside of the car was ‘skidded’ so that every vertical face has a diagonal in front of it to reduce impact. This included almost all the exhaust but despite this work it still cracked just where the down slope from the manifold turns to run horizontally under the car. We have done a further mod here to install a flexible section just below the manifold flange. London to Dakar 2005 The horizontal pipe now has flexibility at both ends as Rob has installed a sliding joint either side of the rear axle. Hopefully the exhaust won’t get too hammered – but as I tell the driver, exhausts are ancillary.

The engine was rebuilt with reduced compression (to cope with low octane fuel). An electronic ignition was fitted with two preprogrammed advance curves – one for normal fuel and one for poor quality. In true rally style Rob installed two coils so that if one fails the wires can be quickly connected to the other one. Just now we have a problem with the ignition – seemingly at random the engine refuses to idle and becomes lumpy; we’ve changed coils and so far the problem has gone away – but is it solved?

So what have we done? We’ve replaced the clutch and cable whilst the rear UJ and propshaft bearing were replaced (they died on our trip to Scotland). We’ve attempted to waterproof the distributor with a marigold – after the ignition problems surfaced so fairly confident there’s no cause/effect there. Rob fitted new shock absorbers all round and the old ones will travel as spares. There are new driving lights and at some stage RHD headlights will go on. We’ve bought a bundle of spares – like insurance you don’t need what you’ve got, only what you haven’t got!

March – only a few weeks to go before we ship to China and we are trying to bring together all the disparate parts to make a coherent whole. We have boxes of spares to be loaded and secured – spares mean weight and weight is bad news but without the spare you need you’re stuck and lose time measured in days not minutes! On the non-car side we’ve had our jabs and now its visa time (most countries only issue visas within the three months before travel).

The car has its numbers on (we tried to get them straight) but we’ve not yet done the name stickers or the left hand drive headlights as we still want to use the car in UK. I was unhappy with the engine performance so an overhaul of the carbs revealed some dirt and stickiness. Now cleaned and tuned the engine is much smoother – hopefully that will translate to elimination of its tendency to run-on and increased mpg; time will tell! The clutch cable is giving me grief – the rubber grommet through the bulkhead cannot take the leverage placed on it so we’ve asked our friends at Competition Fabrications in Attleborough to manufacture a “top hat” spacer in steel.

April – the car went to the shippers at the end of March and joined 30 or so in the warehouse with another 40 still to arrive. Now fitted with LHD headlights, our names on the doors and rally plates front and rear. Its packed with what we’re allowed to send – car parts, tools and tent. Everything else has to follow in the aircraft with us – Chinese customs regulations do not permit us to send other camping gear or clothes with the car. We’re doing our visas – China and Mongolia we have and the Russian is in hand (hopefully). Now its just a case of worrying over what we haven’t done!

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23rd Classic Marathon

The 23rd Classic Marathon effectively started at Portsmouth harbour when the cars taking the ferry to Bilbao were scrutineered. Even at this early stage there was drama – a Lotus Cortina was overheating whilst in the “big” Healey the navigator trod on the fire extinguisher setting off clouds of powder in and around the car.

30 cars started from Santander; by the time we reached Ovideo six days later there were 24 still running, 3 of which were stranded at the foot of the results table after breaking down. Even though this was Regularity rally it was still tough on the cars. The route took us in the mountains from Santander in the east to Cabo Finisterra in the west and every day was up and down along narrow winding roads.

We were due to be accompanied by an Elan Sprint – but he transformed into a Scimitar after the clutch forks broke – and what did we do two weeks before the rally? Had the engine out to replace a seized clutch release bearing – one of many co-incidences, which characterised this rally.


After the Picos mountains, the first day ended at the seaside resort of Ribedesella and the mechanics already had the head off the unfortunate Cortina which broke down irretrievably during one of the regularity sections next day. At dinner, Paul and Roma in an MGB were convinced they had come across us before – they had, in Puerto Natales in Chile in March 2010 when we were replacing a trunnion! Having spoken to us then they decided rallying was for them……and there they were!

Day 2 took us through the Asturian mountains and out of the woods to the high arid plains where we spent most of the day at an altitude of over 1000m. At the overnight hotel another cylinder head was off – this time from an Alfa – but he did finish! We felt the need to check our diff oil level but all was well.

The third day includes what the organisers describe as “exploring interesting farm lanes”. Translated this means they are narrow winding lanes with lots of unlikely turns which you should go down and plenty of more likely looking turns you should not! The last regularity of the day saw cars flying in all directions and having got to the first (of 3) controls fairly respectably we lost the plot (and the route). Having given up all hope and heading straight to the hotel we saw three rally cars stream across our path at a junction and followed them to the final control.


Our hotel was another Parador – a chain of hotels in magnificent old buildings – this one at the monastery of St Estevo which dates from the 7th century and boasts three cloisters, sturdy granite stairs and an idyllic location on the tree covered slopes of the Sil valley. What better place to replace our points which were yet again playing up? We thought this problem was cracked when we replaced the distributor and had 6,500 trouble free miles in Patagonia – it seems not.

Day 4 included a forest fire but before that we passed a crashed BMW (went straight ahead when the road bent to the right) and saw the Atlantic Ocean. Lunches were a feature of this rally with far more than we wanted to eat; the hour’s break is meant to bring a calming civilisation to the crews but we just wanted a pitstop and off! This was in a luxury hotel with shaded gardens and tranquil lakes – just the place to savour the wine which accompanied every meal – except that Spanish drink drive laws are very strict! The evening’s task was the remove the sump guard to fix the vacuuum T piece which had split giving no headlights, reduced power and too much unfiltered air into the engine.

Next day was not good! The car really didn’t like the “special tests” which the organisers arranged – generally a couple of laps round a karting circuit. This test included a “stop in the box” halfway round. The car stopped fine, stalled and had to be pushed away so we missed the second lap completely and got maximum time penalties for the incomplete first lap. The mechanics arrived, poked and prodded – and she started quite happily without any problem. This cost us 7 minutes, one place and a class medal (ok it would only have been third!) and we ended up as the only car which finished and did not receive a trophy.

The last day ended with a hillclimb regularity up to an altitude of 1570m and a number of hot and bothered cars, including the Elan which again decided that after stalling on the finish line it was going to chose its own time to restart. The rally was just over 2000km – but we were only part through our trip as we wanted to visit Portugal – deciding that Evora was too far away………..
Our first stop was Braganza where we visited the old walled town and castle. Leaving town next morning we wanted a photo-opportunity outside the castle – and found the local car club were having their summer Meet & BBQ there – not sure who was most surprised when we rolled up! We knew we had a long day ahead so did not stay; the day turned out to be longer than expected with the roads much slower and roadworks occupying most of the motorway.

After the warmth of Braganza we found rain and cloud at the start of our tour round the port wine region of the Douro valley. The day brightened up and glorious sunshine accompanied our drive round the wine terraces. Our next stop was Porto where we found the signposting even worse than we had experienced so far and the driving standard awful with no leeway being granted to a car that was clearly old and lost.

Leaving the city we headed for the hills and the iron age city at Briteiros followed by the religious extravaganza at Bom Jesus where to our great surprise we bumped into Andrew and Sarah in the Porsche 914 from the rally – if we’d arranged to meet them here we’d certainly have failed!

Bom Jesus is more or less replicated in the nearby Santuario de Sierra da Pineda and one can but wonder at the effort spent on creating these edifices. We left Portugal in the direction of Ourense and this time were able to take some pictures of the countryside as we reached what had been rally territory. Although most definitely not a race there was little time to spare on this rally and we took many fewer photos than usual.

A long drive along the motorways past Leon brought us closer to the coast when another problem arrived – stopping for petrol the starter motor ground slowly round and the car just started. Surely the battery hadn’t failed? Thoughts turned to the regulator box but it seemed to be operating correctly and the contacts were moving as the engine revs rose. I had a spare but was reluctant to swop them over. We stopped at an expensive hotel with private parking and found the culprit – the starter motor end plate had come loose with 3 of 4 screws missing. I don’t carry spare screws but fortunately the bolts from the large size “chocolate blocks” were a good enough match – starter motor purred!

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Porsche Club Isle of Man Tour 2011

Porsche Club Manx Tour May 2011

An early start meant we were in good time for the fast craft to the Isle of Man in spite of going under the Mersey Tunnel by mistake, due to moment of navigational inexactitude by Allison.

One Porsche grounded a bit going on to the ferry, which unsurprisingly was full of bikers. We arrived at Douglas and had a look a the very impressive Manx Museum with eye catching displays of the history of the island. Also a comfortable tea room with bonnag the local, very tasty, fruit cake.

On to our hotel via the navigational aid of the Isle of Man Home of Rest for Old Horses. The hotel was a country club and 30 + Porsches in the car park looked and sounded good. The after dinner speech was from a local policeman about speeding as the locals are good at grassing people up. Once someone phoned up the police and said someone dressed like the Stig was racing around, only to be told that it was the Stig!!

6.30 the next day dawned wet and cold so we went off following a local club member to the TT pit lanes, only to be castigated by the organiser for not waiting for him – well he didn’t mention it at the briefing the night before. Then a drive round the course, which was open to traffic, so lots of speed limits in villages. Up on the mountain it was so misty we needed rear fogs and could only see a couple of white line markers in front of us. On bends, bales of straw and tyres were stacked up against garden walls and seemed to be permanent. Not a very fast run though those who did it later in the day fared better. During the TT races the roads are closed and people can’t get out of their driveways when the races are on

Then to Castletown the ancient capital and round Castle Rushen using a guide book dated 1927, well castles don’t change much. As usual with car club events Porsches kept popping up in all directions. There was a competitive rally taking place that weekend so if it wasn’t a Porsche round the next bend it was a rally car. The National Folk Museum at Cregneash was next and just as we finished tea and cake outside the mist descended and we could not see the cottage opposite us.
At Peel the mist and rain cleared for a walk round the outside of the castle and town. Perhaps we have become used to finding interesting restaurants and gastro pubs eveywhere but we did not find many in Mann but eventually found a pub on the harbour with spectacular fish. Then the rain started to tip down and everyone raced inside. The downpour turned in to the monsoon and even the drain covers were lifting up – not a fast drive back.

Early the next morning another drive round the circuit but with less mist and then on to Laxey Wheel which is the largest working water wheel in the world and was built in 1854 to pump water from the lead and zinc mines. You get quite wet climbing to the top of it. A drive to Ramsey which has shop fronts from the 1920s with what looked like original window displays.

A group meal at the hotel went down well with our friendly policeman thanking us for our good driving and then telling us about his life in the Mann police force.

A good driving and sightseeing weekend. Try it.

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Patagonia 2010

17Mar – we’ve reached the rally hotel in Valparaiso – End. Yesterday evening the support landrover arrived on a low loader and this morning we heard that Conrad’s Alfa had arrived in Mendoza. We set off earlyish for the border with Chile. Leaving Maipu there was a holdup on the dual carriageway – the problem was a sit-down protest against the national oil company – with deck chairs in the fast lane! A great drive up and over the Andes to 3250 metres with dramatic scenery and the engine seemed fine (hope I can still say that tomorrow!). The border crossing was ok as it wasn’t too busy (we’d overtaken them all!). Roadworks meant there was single file traffic both to and from the top of the pass and we were lucky not to be delayed. Then a run through the cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso to find the hotel in the old town with steep narrow streets; again we were lucky that although the GPS gave up we found the hotel. Others must have had a problem as only 3 cars have arrived so far and they arrived 3 hours ago.
We’ve done over 6,100 miles at an average of nearly 29 mpg, we’ve turned the car upside down, put it back on its wheels and carried on driving and problems – very few, replaced a trunnion and solved a starter/charging problem left over from before. They say Loti are sensitive, fragile cars – not true. As for the engine – fantastic, apart from adding a little oil we’ve done nothing to it; not touched timing, points or plugs. What a car!!

16 Mar – a gentle day all tarmac 430kms. At breakfast we heard that there had been a tremor overnight and Livvy woke to hear the lights rattling. We also saw that Patrick had arrived – at 4am. So all the participants cars are up to speed and running and the two causing concern are the organisers! Conrad’s Alfa may arrive in Mendoza with the mechanics who are repairing it, whilst the rally support landrover has only two gears and may die at any moment.
Our destination was Maipu, south of Mendoza in the wine heart of Argentina so we had to visit an vineyard and the hotel has arranged a tasting session for later this evening. Tomorrow we head for Valparaiso in Chile and on Thursday the docks – end of rally!

15 Mar – we were now down to 5 cars as Peter/Sue were heading south and Patrick and Conrad’s cars had not caught up. We later heard that Patrick, having solved the wheel bearing problem had set out with Conrad but lack of fuel and a smashed radiator meant that they spent the night in sleeping bags in the car. The landrover did arrive at the hotel but not till midnight.
Our day started with the problems of heading east into the bright, low morning sun (and the perspex screen) so my head was soon out of the window. There were some navigational problems as we were on the detour with no GPS and several cars took wrong turnings. It was a long day and the ripio was dustier than usual and the fastest car took 9 hours for the 560 kms. The landscape was mostly barren rock and we passed numerous old volcanoes and odd rock formations – some looked like slices of bread.

14 Mar – Another short day 220 kms with tarmac and ripio. Early news was that Conrad’s car was not repairable in the time available as it was still blowing out coolant. Met up with Peter/Sue and Klaus/Maja for a roadside coffee stop on the ripio and later passed a monkey puzzle tree plantation. Our hotel was on a peninsular into Lake Alumine and our room looked straight out west onto the water – so Allison can have her setting sun. Tomorrow is a long day – 600kms on roads the rally has not driven – this is our detour around the earthquake area of Concepcion.

13 Mar – a short drive 200km to St Martin los Andes but first we heard that they had been working on Conrad’s car till 1am and it still wasn’t working – no compression. The Alfa is similar to the Lotus, Webers and twin overhead cams with a timing chain. I offered to help. We found that TDC had not been identified and after some searching we found the marks on the pulley and on the front cover. Allison found the internet forum and we located the corresponding cam shaft marks; one shaft was out by one tooth so that was adjusted. There was a spark but it would not start and the rally mechanic was convinced there was a fuel problem. We left them to it and set off (hours after the others).
It was the coldest day of our journey and threatening rain as we passed the more-than-usual police road checks and reached Angostura for coffee and cake. Then alongside the lakes on the ripio (poor quality), the scenery less spectacular in the gloomy low cloud. Klaus and Patrick passed by as we stopped for lunch. Then 2km along the road there was Patrick with the front wheel off. The wheel bearing repair had failed as the bearing was the wrong size. The boss of a road repair team took us into Angostura but it was 3pm on Saturday and everyone was closing for the weekend. The best option was to take the car on a loader back to Bariloche. We resumed our route and were the last in with just a few a few nuts to tighten up.

12 Mar – a rest day in the most impressive hotel in Argentina, the Llao Llao. A late breakfast, a canoe on the lake, lunch by a brook and the afternoon trying to do some (work) work over the internet. Giancarlo’s Volvo needed work on timing and mixture, Patrick’s Chevvy needed a new front wheel bearing whilst Conrad’s Alfa blew its head gasket

11 Mar – there were two routes to Bariloche, the scenic ripio route through the National Park and the tarmac route. We chose the later and visited Maiten and the railway engineering workshops before having lunch in the “hippy” town of El Bolsen where Allison bought a stone to replace one lost from her bracelet. Our hotel is on the Llao Llao peninsular where we were happy to be rejoined by Peter & Sue, back from England with spares for Conrad and Patrick (but his immediate neede is for the spares they did not bring….! Changed the Elan’s oil filter but apart from that………..what’s not broke, don’t fix!

10 Mar – the first of two gentle days driving with a stop in Esquel and on to Bariloche and a rest day to follow. The landscape was arid Patagonia relieved with occasional oases of green. Esquel has two features – the nearby Welsh settlement of Trevelin and La Trochita –the old Patagonia Express, a narrow guage railway designed to open Patagonia for settlers. We visited Trevelin for a large “Welsh Tea” in one of the many tea houses and watched the smoke from a “field” fire (they have big fields!) fill the ring of mountains. Others went for the train and helped shunt it round the sidings before putting it into its shed until Saturday.

9Mar – 300km due east to Sarmiento. The day started badly with the low sun straight into our eyes making the perspex windscreen impossible to see through. We had scoured Coyhaique for brasso last night – and found a tin. Now in the middle of the ripio we tried using it to clean the screen. It worked to a limited extent – but we made more progress when I drove with my head out of the drivers window! (hair now full of dust). Progress was slow with the lack of visibility and poor surface. We passed through the border and for a moment believed that Argentine ripio would be better than Chilean – not for long and we were soon in 1st gear again. We had the best part of 150km on ripio, generally in 2nd and 3rd gears and 4th only on rare occasions . Towards the end the combination of boredom and a better surface saw us at 50mph – but driving on the sumpguard as much as the wheels! After an unexpected lunch in Rio Mayo where we treated ourselves to a peaceful hotel meal, quiet, cool, dust free we found Conrad at the roadside and had tea – what else? We checked the car after seeing the petrified forest; the car was fine apart from the water temperature sender unit which had broken off half way along the morning’s ripio.

8Mar – a gentle run away to Coyhaique 270 kms, about 2/3 on variable ripio and then some super tarmac at the end as we climbed up to 1120metres from Cerro Castillo and then dropped down to the valley. An excursion to the Cave of the Hands was a disappointment as we laboured over rough tracks to find that the original hand paintings were destroyed by a volcano 20 years ago! Giancarlo had more problems; this time shock absorbers but now repaired. Tomorrow we return to Argentina and stay there until we head for Valporiso to return the cars to their containers.

7Mar – a rest day at El Maiten on the shores of Lake Carrera. We checked the Elan yesterday and its in amazingly good shape. We’ve now travelled 4,000 miles, used 600 litres of petrol and only 2 litres of oil. Giancarlo got his car mended and reached the hotel yesterday evening. We awoke to rain but by 10.00 after a log, late breakfast it had cleared to give a bright sunny but windy day. A new route has been identified for March 15-17 to avoid the area around Concepcion (hit by the earthquake). Instead we go to Mendoza and from there to Valpariso.

6Mar – a short day (300km) with a border crossing the Chilean ripio was as bad as we expected but was relieved by the spectacular views of lake Carrera with the snow capped Andes behind; with views like that and a reasonable arrival time you can forgive the ripio. The border crossing was enlivened by the need to get through before a particular Chilean customs official started her shift. In the entire section of Argentine/Chilean crossings she is convinced that right hand drive cars are not permitted and the helpful Argentine officer told us she started at 12.00. Late news that Giancarlo in the Volvo has a broken wishbone and the car has been transported back to Chile Chico. Tomorrow is a rest day so hopefully he’ll rejoin then.

5 Mar – An early start (6.30) for a long day – and it was very long; nearly 600km mostly on ripio, whose quality varied from poor to bxxxxy awful! The two worst types were where there were mounds of gravel between the tyre tracks, fine for higher cars but just positioned to continuously catch the underside of a low slung Lotus. The other was the hard lumpy rocks which pounded the front suspension and at least one wishbone bush needs replacing. It took 11 hours, the landscape was bleak and as hard as the track. We stopped for coffee at “Siberia” in the middle of nowhere and Allison insisted that this collie photo is included – there are collies everywhere and she’s missing ours. At the end of the day we crisscrossed the brand new ribbon of tarmac but looking was as close as we got. The Estancia we stayed in looked run down, power was from a generator, the welcome reluctant but a small group meal with copious bottles of wine made for a good end to the day.

4 Mar – a gentle 300km mostly on good tarmac on Ruta 40 (Argentine equivalent of route 66). Time to stop to see some cave painting (not worth the exorbitant charge), for photo opportunities and a civilised mid morning coffee and cake with Livvy, Denise and Robert. The petrol station in the small town of El Chalten was occupied by 5 rally cars when we arrived, waiting for the promised 2pm opening – which it did! We had restricted ourselves to 60/65 mph so the car was happy and I used sunglasses so there was no glare from the perspex windscreen.
In case you wondered what an upside down Elan looks like – its this! (thanks to Cathy for the photo as we were otherwise occupied!)


March 2/3 – a gentle run from Torres del Paine national park to El Calafate and the world’s largest glacier – Perito Morino………..err no!
About 50km into the day’s 400km run, Allison misjudged a corner on the ripio, lost the rear end, slewed across the road – and we ended up on the roof in a ditch. Its very disorientating hanging from your seatbelt, trying to work out how to sit on the inside of the roof, switch off the engine and open the door. The passenger’s door opened and I crawled out, the drivers door was trapped in the ditch so I had to pull Allison out of the passenger’s door feet first. We were unhurt, not even a scratch.

We started to remove stuff from the car because petrol was dripping from the fuel cap and we couldn’t get to the battery as the entire boot would empty first! Patrick, Rod and Cath appeared in the Chevvy and we unceremoniously righted the Elan – none of this gentle lowering of the suspension, it was roof, side upright. Everything looked ok, the wheels were all vertical, undented, no oil had leaked out so we repacked everything, started the engine and continued. Ok we had no windscreen, both door pillars were broken, there was a large hole in the roof (where my head might have been?), the passenger’s door had split in two and the lower hinge broken and the side of the car a mess. We drove on to the border where we found the support crew who applied lashings of ducktape.

Progress was slow as I was terrified of losing the rear screen. We did the remaining journey at 35mph through some howling winds, both dressed in fleeces, windproof jackets, hats and gloves – and were still cold. In El Calafate, we were able to find a glazing company who agreed to take the car next morning and fit a temporary perspex screen.

3 Mar – we dropped the car off and took a hire car to the glacier – tourists for a day. This huge glacier is the reason this town exists and is spectacular; the 30 metre high vertical cliffs of ice stand out into the lake and periodically pieces crack and collapse into the water sending slow surface waves and more substantial ones underwater so that more distant shores feel the swell but with little visible cause.
We picked up the car and found a new screen – noisy and with distinctly imperfect vision when driving into the sun – its better than no screen at all – the car rolls on………….

1March – a rest day after the group meal last night. Time to check the car, give it a quick wash – there was dust everywhere – then a wander through the park – to a waterfall, watching the reflections of the mountains in the now still waters and listening to the sounds of avalanches from the snowy peaks above us. So quiet and unbelievably spectacular scenery made for a memorable walk. The hotel had a very rickety wooden ramp for cars so put the Lotus up on part of it for a gearbox oil check but as it looked a bit doubtful took it off again.

28 Feb – no grease gun so plan B and by 9am we were on the road. We had been told of a classic car museum just off our route between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. We thought that maybe they’d have a grease gun –they did but the nozzle was too big and we ended up with a puddle of grease. We carried on. There was a strong cross wind and keeping the car in a vaguely straight line at anything over 60 mph was very difficult. Leaving Punto Natales our GPS was confused by the in/out routes preloaded and intended to give a circuit round the Torres de Paine National Park. We found the correct (anticlockwise) track and moved from Tarmac to ripio – couldn’t stop laughing at the sign “incipio ripio”. The park is a mixture of mountains and lakes and our hotel was perched on a small island in lake Pehoe.


27 Feb – woke up early thinking that there was a one hour time shift between Chile & Argentina so maybe the 14.00 boat was actually 13.00 – no the time shift starts on 14 March. The run was easy, borders quick and ripio good so we arrived well before the ferry sailed. Two cars elected to take the longer route with a normal start time – but no-one knows where the landrover with the mechanics went. Television news is of a major earthquake in Conception where we are due in 16 days time – the organisers may need to re-route…….
Checking the car found that the near side trunnion was worn – fortunately we carry a spare – but incredibly no-one has a grease gun and all the car spares shops are closed…..plan B is take it apart and apply grease by hand.

26 Feb – rest day in Ushuaia. A boat trip along the Beagle Channel in the morning followed by the museum of the End of the World and civilised lunch. Then another museum – housed in the old prison. Early night called for as we get up at 4.30 tomorrow to catch the only boat of the day at 14.00 and to get there we have one border crossing and 450 kms with 150 km of ripio – more dust!

25 Feb – Ushuaia and the end of the world and we are there! The day started with a rammy over an early breakfast and by 7.15 we were all on the road heading for two border crossings, 120kms of ripio and a total of 600 kms – and a ferry across the Magellan Straits. Now sitting in our hotel bedroom looking south over the Beagle Channel towards snow capped mountains and way beyond that the Antarctic. The car is full of dust as we are but both it and we are in one piece, despite our best efforts to shake it to pieces at 50 mph on the gravel. (Argentina has better gravel standards but Chilean border controls are more efficient!) Tiera del Fuego is surprisingly green with trees and lakes and jagged snow topped mountains – what a contrast from the flat, dry and desert-like mainland

24 Feb – no news of petrol so we set off in an early group of 4 cars; we had as much fuel as anyone and easily reached the filling station 120kms away. Allison has a thing about penguins so we left the main road and onto the ripio to find the 4th largest colony of magellan penguins. Car was fine and I was happier as I’d tweaked the voltage regulator box again (the setting from Feb 21 produced a very hot battery and cooking batteries is not a good idea!). Then an easy run into Rio Gallegos – a town founded by English settlers in the 1880s. En route we fell off lovely tarmac onto rough and dusty gravel and the car complained – nasty squeaks from the back end. The shock absorbers have become weak and the noise was the springs grinding against dust – we live to drive another day!

23 Feb – now that we’re further south its cooler and windier. For most of the day we were driving into a strong headwind – so strong that at times it was difficult to stand up. The landscape is ever less hospitable and more like barren desert. Our route was through the oil area with nodding donkeys to one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The land is sparsely populated so fuel stations are few and far between with the result that we stopped more often to keep the tank full. 50 km off route was the remains of a petrified forest with trees 140 million years old;
we were the first visitors of the day but one other rally car made the deviation on the (gravel) ripio – it was worth the trip, the landscape was spectacular, what the moon should look like with almost no vegetation, a dried up lake and an extinct volcano.
Returning to the main road the only filling station was short of fuel and rationed us to 15 litres – easily enough to get us to the overnight stop. But there we were in for a shock. The are 3 filling stations but none had any petrol – its due in tomorrow…………

22 Feb – 600km to Comodoro Rivadavia passing the Welsh towns of Trewlew and Gaiman. Trewlew had a power cut and Gaiman seemed to be largely asleep – there are plenty of Welsh tearooms – but all are closed in the mornings. The only bank refused to change sterling for Pesos – US dollars only. Then a long haul south through an ever more desolate countryside with less and less vegetation to the oil town of Rivadavia.Car now starting and charging happily – now its drinking water – someone said we were driving too fast…………what’s a Lotus for? It is a little unhappy on the open roads where the ruts and wind deflect it. Also on the ripio where the heaped gravel catches the underside and can give unexpected changes of direction.

21 Feb – a rest day so time for some tourism and our first taste of ripio – well graded gravel – but slippery and with ruts which can deflect an Elan. It had rained hard last night so some roads were closed but in the morning there was less dust. We saw penguins, elephant seal cubs, sealions, armadillos, foxes, hares and rhea plus plenty of birds. I should add that the foxes (wild animals in a nature reserve) were waiting outside the kitchen of the café awaiting the chef’s whistle for scraps whilst the armadillo was searching the car park for crumbs). The rally has now regrouped but we’re down to 6 cars plus the organiser’s – and 5 of them are red! The car started every time today and the battery is charging nicely (I thought too nicely at times – burning out the dynamo by over doing it would be a very bad idea).
Some statistics – fuel costs less than 50p a litre and we are doing 28.5mpg (just to keep the units inconsistent). Updated mpg to allow for larger tyres)

20 Feb – an unexpectedly short day as we were now 180km further east than planned. It was just 320km to Peninsula Valdes – a nature reserve with whales, sea lions, shunks and penguins – though the whales are absent at this time of year. The car started every time – so maybe there was a starter problem and now it’s a charging problem…….

19 Feb – we woke at 6.15 for an early breakfast and a long day – 710kms and it was raining. – heavy rain. The car started so that was good but progress was slow with the combination of the rain and the ruts. Our route was west to Bahia Blanca before turning south to Carmen de Patagones. Things went wrong at the first fuel stop when the starter did – nothing, we were travelling with Klaus and Maja who helped push. At the second fuel stop it was the garage owner who pushed……………..problem not solved! The roads were straight and the scrubland went on seemingly for ever. There were periodic road checks to prevent the movement of fruit and meat and at one of these, just 150km from our destination we were told that the road ahead was blocked as two bridges were down – one featuring on the front page of the newspaper. We turned round and faced a 700km detour if we wanted to get to the night’s hotel (we decided to pass on that). Klaus and Maja had now joined us and we set off back the way we’d come. As we went we “collected” all the other cars except for Patrick’s. The one person we couldn’t get hold of was the organiser! We reached Las Grutas after a hard and fast drive and the rally Doctor, who speaks Spanish, arranged hotel rooms for us. It had been along day and a beer was called for!

18 February
The minister of tourism flagged us off on time and after a stop go exit from Buenos Aires we made good time until stopped by police because we did not have out headlights on. Lots of document scrutiny and then off again past many other police checks. All went well until after our lunch stop when the starter motor went on strike just like Morocco. We really thought we had cured it. Back to bump starting and after that it gave no trouble. Balcarce, the birthplace of Fangio, was the overnight stop so we visited the well presented museum to him. It also has a large collection of run down Art Deco buildings. What to do about the starter motor? I found that the shaft was loose – so maybe the problem was that in certain positions there was no electrical contact. The Argentine rally mechanic took me round the town looking for a bush, then some emery paper to sand it down to fit – whilst all the while the car was sitting on some garage ramp. Total cost Ps 24 (about £4) – here’s hoping!

17 February
It took 5 hours to get the car from the port today but we were lucky as 2 cars coming from Genoa took 9 hours because they were not started upon until those from the UK were cleared. The car started first time but the exhaust must have been knocked as it is a bit noisy. We did manage to fit in a visit to a modern art museum and some tunnels under a Jesuit church.
An unusual street scene is the Dog walkers – they take dogs for walks (obviously!) but not just one or two!

16 Feb
We arrived in Buenos Aires late Sunday 14th. Looking for currency exchange on Monday morning we saw a Lotus 7 and rushed over to say hello. Carlos explained that he’d owned it for 5 months and had broken down and was waiting for a tow truck – not a good omen!
We’d been told that we could get the Elan out of Customs on Monday, then Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon was spent on paperwork and we hope to see it on Wednesday prior to leaving BA on Thursday morning – though as the Minister of Tourism wants to flag us off we can’t be sure!

5 Feb – updating the technology! Now a new laptop so hopefully we will have the means to report progress.

The 2009 Casablanca Challenge required more repair work than we had expected before we were ready for Patagonia 2010. There was damage to the passenger’s door which had to be repaired and then resprayed and to the footwell – but that has had to wait till later. The major problem was electrical – the starter failed in Morocco but even a new battery, new starter and a thorough check of the electrical supply didn’t help. We had to return to a repaired old starter and a new Optima battery which proved to be a better combination.
Casablanca had consumed points/condensers like never before so there was a new distributor and a reduction in the dynamo cut-in voltage which we hope will help – though in truth we don’t know why so many points burned out so quickly.
A new` differential output shaft, seal and bearings were required – along with a clean-up of the rear-end which was coated in the oil we’d been leaking for the past 1,500 miles. There was a brake squeal to attend to and new front wheel bearings. Then with the MOT a day away, the wipers failed – there’s an underlying electrical problem somewhere that wasn’t there before and I haven’t found it yet.
It passed the MOT and on 18 January we dropped the car at the container terminal and hopefully we’ll see it again in Buenos Aires in February.

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Himalayan Elan

Our 2007 trip was to the roof of the world or as near as we could manage. Our trip was to India, Nepal and Bhutan, the car may not have actually seen Everest – but we did from a chartered sightseeing jet from Kathmandu airport!

The trip was planned well in advance and the cars were due to be shipped two months before we flew to Udaipur in western India. So plenty of time to prepare, no last minute gremlins – wrong! The drive to the docks had to be abandoned due to fuel starvation – the engine which had been fine pottering round home just died when we were ambling along the motorway at (shall we say?) just about the speed limit. The float chamber had no fuel but the tank was half full – probably the braided fuel line delaminating so we changed that and the (mechanical) fuel pump and all was sweetness and light.

We next saw the car along with its fellows in the Motor museum owned by the Maharana of Udaipur. A Maharana is like a Maharaja only the Maharana is more important. The other cars in this tour (not a competitive rally) were 6 Mercedes SLKs, two 1950/60 Bentleys, two Volvos, two pre-war Bentleys, a 1935 Rolls Royce and two Sunbeams. The reports from the crew who unloaded the cars from the containers were that the car was “pretty sporty”. This time we had the S/E engine and yes we were concerned that the local fuel or the effect of altitude could spell disaster and we took two spare cylinder head gaskets just in case. In fact apart from asking for a change of points and condenser, the engine behaved perfectly and was completely unfazed by the 87 octane fuel (87 on a good day). How did it ask? Well it poured out black smoke, refused to idle, lost power and had a good sulk!

In Udaipur we stayed at the Lake Palace hotel – anyone who has seen Octopussy will recognise the hotel in the middle of a lake – Bond and the villains used a replica crocodile to get over the water, we just used the hotel boat!

The Maharana flagged us off on the first leg to Jodhpur and already the Elan was attracting attention. For the Indians a two seater car was of little practical use and its size and particularly the headlights were a magnet; other competitors complained that the Lotus was the centre of interest. It featured in all the photos printed in the local papers – though its description as a 1965 Volvo was a little off the mark!

The feature of Indian roads is that they’re busy. There are some cars, there are lots of lorries and busses, there are a few elephants, there are carts pulled by tractors, camels, horses, water buffalo, humans there are pedal powered carts there are tricycle carts, there are three wheeled rickshaws and pedal rickshaws, there are sheep, goats, people, bicycles (lots and lots), motorbikes and yes, there are cows. The cows do just as they please – well so do the people but the people do at least respond to liberal use of the horn whilst the cows just look at you – and carry on doing just whatever it was they were doing before.

Another feature is that they’re noisy. We had a very big horn in a small car and when the horn decided it was being overworked – well you were insignificant, nothing. You had no way of doing anything. The horn is essential if you want to drive forwards, backwards, sideways – or if you are a bus – even to stop! If you want to overtake with no horn – it just does not happen, you cannot do it unless you want to get pushed sideways off the road.

The third feature of the roads is variability. You do not know what comes next. It could be an excellent surface where you’re happy to go at 80. Its just as likely that 25 yards ahead of you will be a sleeping policeman (favoured spots in villages, at railway crossings and both ends of bridges). Or you might find potholes (favoured spots on hairpin bends and in the shadows of trees but also found in otherwise perfect pistes of tarmac). You are most likely to come across broken tarmac, where one patch is about an inch below the next patch, a trench across the road or no tarmac at all, where you’re driving over – well anything from mud to riverbeds to landslides. Now its fine if you know what’s coming next and its consistent but consistency is a guaranteed no-no.

Jodhpur is home to the magnificent Blue Fort, which we enjoyed wandering round before setting off towards the relatively quiet and well surfaced Rajasthan desert. Our route saw us struggle out of town – until you’ve driven there its difficult to comprehend the sheer chaos of an Indian road.

There are all the other contenders for roadspace, there’s the noise they make – the slower the traffic the greater the noise – there’s also the use of that physical space. In principle they drive on the left – so its easy? Well not exactly! If there’s no-one else around and if your side of the road looks no less attractive than the other side you might well drive on the left. But if there’s anyone else around and particularly if traffic is slow and your horn is in good condition you drive on any piece of road that isn’t occupied by someone else and if your horn is louder you carry on driving on your chosen piece of road and push everyone else out of the way. This does have implications for traffic flow and congestion when the road is closed – as for a level crossing.

The opening of a level crossing in a busy town is an interesting experience. Traffic isn’t moving so the first imperative is to sound your horn. Next you advance as far as you can across the tracks until you encounter the oncoming traffic. Then you stop because all of the road is now occupied! You have moved to the right of all the traffic waiting at the crossing so as to get away quick and make full use of the space available. Equally and logically the oncoming traffic has done just the same; so you all stop and then you start inching and squeezing. Whatever progress you can make is slowed down by the motorbikes who are weaving every which way, the pedestrians who are everywhere and the cyclos, pedal carts and hand pulled/pushed carts which have limited acceleration. And you’re all trying to avoid the sleeping policemen or in our case go diagonally across them so as to minimise the distance travelled on the sump guard. Yes its interesting and it does occupy your day!

The desert was a welcome relief!

The next day was the longest drive of the rally, 545 kms with a scheduled time of 9¼ hours. That’s an average of 37 mph for a whole day – and it was a good road – on the whole! We spent the night in Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, which we were able to visit in daylight.
Sunrise was about 6am though it varied slightly as we changed clocks between the three countries and we always started as early as possible so as to benefit from the cool of the morning and the absence of other road users much before 8.30. This was the cause of daily friction in the cockpit – I wanted my breakfast whilst Allison wanted to get away at the crack of dawn. Strange, back home she’s always the one to want to stay in bed!

Next day we travelled to Dharamsala, home to the exiled Dalai Lama. Now we were in the hills, it was cooler and the engine markedly less happy – it didn’t pull so well and first thing in the morning could hardly move the car until it had warmed up. Maybe the choke would have helped but we don’t do chokes! We had to tighten up a lose compression joint at the fuel pump but otherwise the car was fine and now after 900 miles I had still not had to add any oil to the engine. We had our first sight of the Himalayas during the day – distant, white, exciting!

On to Simla, summer capital of the British Indian Empire, where I had some family business to attend to. My grandfather had lived there in 1901 and my task was to locate the house and give a full report to my father. It was here that we had our first mechanical problem – one front shock absorber had leaked; useless! Both tasks were resolved fairly easily. We found the house, now with a full military guard and used as a guesthouse by the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army western command. The shock absorber was rebuilt locally using parts from a similar one for the grand sum of £4.50! The other drivers told us to slow down – what? Drive a Lotus and slow down!

Caution being the better part of valour, we phoned home for a set of front shock absorbers to be sent out to await our arrival in Kathmandu – and don’t tell me that’s not a world first! Susan Miller now describes her business as “Far Flung Parts a Speciality”.

From Simla we tracked east towards Nepal. A rest day at a Tiger Reserve encouraged Allison to demand an oil change which was fine until the threads on the sump decided they were worn out and it took liberal use of PTFE tape to persuade the sump plug to provide an oil-tight seal. Moral – yes you’ve guessed – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! No we didn’t see any tigers.

The next day was bad news. The road book said 150kms with a time of 3½ hours. Well not exactly! The distance was wrong, the roads were bad, the directions inaccurate so we took a huge detour and the brake servo packed up. It didn’t just stop working; it began by pushing the pedal back against our feet then it locked the brakes solid. As we were trying to go uphill, down dale and round hairpin mountain passes this was not very helpful! One of the Indian mechanics was helping us as the day turned to dusk and then to pitch black. The simple idea was to bypass the servo and join the in and out pipes together – one nut seized on the pipe which snapped as he undid it. Plan B was radiator out and join the master cylinder direct to the brake junction (located under the coil on the inside of the chassis). That took a little longer, the torch went flat, it started to rain (heavy rain) it was cold and miserable, Allison fell down a gully in the dark, the room was damp, the sheets fusty…..not a good day.

We set out late next day after completing our repairs in daylight. The Nepal border crossing was straightforward and our delay meant that we avoided the fate of one crew who were “invited” by Maoist demonstrators to join their protests. Our problems were still to come! The last 10 miles were along an “unmade road”. This included a dried-up riverbed where a following car got lost in the dark trying to follow the tracks and went a couple of miles downstream. We continued through a village in dusk, with small boys shouting “one rupee, one rupee”, dodging the rocks, bumps and potholes until the headlight relay packed up. This was not the place for delicate electrical investigations or emptying the boot to locate the electrical kit and reroute the wires. Fortune smiled and one of the organisers’ jeeps came along. We followed close on his tracks, praying that he had a good idea of our ground clearance and breathing in lungfulls of his dust. The sumpguard saw plenty of action and we made it in one piece. The hotel had good showers!

The convoy of cars leaving next morning provided amusement for the locals as we gingerly retraced our way through their village. We found that we wanted to go faster than lot of other cars despite the terrain and that the riverbed was rather a good overtaking zone!

Problems of a different kind emerged the next afternoon. As we approached Pokhara, the second city of Nepal, all the fuel stations were out of petrol. The Maoists had blockaded the one Indian border crossing which was the only route for importing petrol – there was plenty of diesel but we did not want to experiment! Next day was a rest day so we luxuriated in the Fishtail Lodge hotel, waking to a view of the Himalayas from our patio and able to forget the bustle of the town on the far bank of the lake!

We were too confident. After adjusting the rear shock absorbers and spring height, we found that the front wishbone bushes were loose. Instead of the wishbones staying where they were bolted they flopped around at will – the rubber/metal bond had disintegrated and we figured it would not be long before the wishbones themselves would be rattling around and with them the steering and front wheels – not good! Decided there was nothing to do today so moved the car into the shade – no clutch. Slave cylinder. No problem we had a seal kit. Not quite! The slave cylinder had become firmly attached to its housing and would not be separated. On investigation we also found that the cylinder bore had become rough inside and had chewed up one seal and would do the same to the new one.

The Indian mechanics spent a couple of hours delicately smoothing the rough edges – not easy when lying on your back in the hot sun under such a low slung car. It was well dark by the time we had bled the system, refitted the sumpguard and the organisers had found enough fuel to get us to Kathmandu. I was shattered – mild sunstroke – and supper in this luxury hotel was wasted, I was too ill to be interested. The next day had to be better!

We left early, the scheduled time was only 5 hours but we wanted to get out of town before anyone started asking where our fuel had come from – we felt uneasy ostentatiously driving thirsty cars during a fuel strike. Leaving town we glanced the rear side of a motorbike; he wobbled but stayed on we went off as fast as we could.

Ours was not the only rally in town – coming towards us a high speed, with lights and flashers, pushing everything out of their way was the South Asian 4WD rally all in modern jeeps – you can easily ride the bumps in them!

Kathmandu was busy, very busy, the last 8 miles took over an hour. Fuel was going down, oil pressure was close to zero and the water temperature reached 108 – we had a 50% antifreeze mix which raises the boiling point – somehow it did not boil – no idea how it managed that! The road was narrow, our windows just at the right height for lorries to fill the car with black, hot smelly clouds of their exhaust. Buses as ever stopped just exactly where they wished, the policeman, all wearing masks, waving them on had no impact whatsoever. It was hot, dusty, noisy and we sat, choking, sweating and hoping those gauges would not tell us that disaster was at hand. It took us nearly 6 hours and we were the fourth car to arrive.

The afternoon was for a snooze and some sightseeing. Allison recognised the temples in Durbar Square from my photos of 25 years earlier. The difference was that then it was peaceful and quiet – not now! Next morning we took a dawn flight to see the Himalayas – the roof of the world just the other side of the cabin windows!

We had been told of a midday convoy for fuel. This was abandoned on the grounds that it might just be provocative! We were told to expect 2,500 litres to be delivered to the hotel in the early evening and to get some cans so as to have enough fuel for India – 350 miles away. We estimated we would need 70 litres to be safe and persuaded the mechanics to carry 20 for us – we always carried 10 litres in the boot. Dusk came and the civilised hotel car park was transformed to a mad house as fuel was syphoned out of 45 gallon drums into cans and the stench of petrol filled the air and the surrounding streets. We all overfilled our tanks so petrol was swilling everywhere.

We left Kathmandu before six so as to be out of town before the locals were awake and because today was the longest day with a scheduled driving time of 10½ hours. We knew the last 8 miles was on rough tracks and with the front suspension feeling most unhappy we had to take this section very slowly. We were on minor roads climbing out of the Kathmandu valley and they were bad! Potholes, broken tarmac and stretches of track and roadworks. Roadworks in this case means rough stones and dirt, with gangs of women chipping the stones to make a hardcore base for tarmac. You don’t go very fast!

For the last 100 miles the engine was coughing and spluttering but not seriously enough to warrant a roadside repair. As we crawled along the track to our overnight campsite (no hotel tonight!) it got worse and at the end it was all we could do to get any life out of it at all. We just made the car park and it died with clouds of black smoke. The popular advice was fuel but we decided that points/condenser were the cause so we changed them – and all was again sweetness and light! I had broken one golden rule during this work – the car was on a weed-covered field and I knew I should put down a ground sheet to catch the bits I was bound to drop if it wasn’t there. So I didn’t and yes I did! I mentally thanked a friend who had persuaded me to buy one of those flexible mirror stalks with a magnet attachment so I could retrieve the little screw which holds the distributor in place…….!

Next day we left for India and wondered who had left a trail of oil in the dust – no not us! The engine was using next to no oil. I reckon in all the 3,500 miles we used about half a litre (well, plus the oil change). Down the road we came across a sorry Bentley bemoaning the loss of transmission fluid and feeling very despondent thinking he had a cracked transmission casing after a particularly bad bump. In fact it was only a broken hose, located in an inaccessible spot, which the mechanics somehow got into – they are ingenious!

India was welcome security and peace of mind – did I ever expect to hear that? Leaving the border control was slow as, in traditional style, everyone wanting to enter Nepal had spread across the entire road and the verges so we were stuck in the press of lorries, jeeps and cyclos.

We climbed up hairpins to Kalimpong, in tea country and another relic of the British colonial summer exodus to the cooler heights. Today was another “electrical” day as a blown fuse had killed off the wipers, indicators and fuel gauge – but they were all fairly irrelevant here. Next day we descended through the Darjeeling tea plantations, where people bobbed up and down, their bright clothes contrasting with the single green of the tea leaves. We did not see another rally car all day, which was unusual but it was a short day; our hotel was just inside the hidden kingdom of Bhutan and after finding Indian border control – not easy and we could easily have missed the inconspicuous drab building in the middle of the main street – we arrived in time for lunch.

We parked in the underground car park and decided that, for the first time in a rally, we should replace a donut – better to do it now than as an emergency at the roadside!

Next day the King’s grandmother came to greet us and send us on our way. Today’s topic were the major roadworks at a place called Confluence where our road met two valleys, one to the second city, Paro and Bhutan’s only airport, and the other to Thimpu, the capital. The new king’s coronation is planned for next year and the roads are being upgraded for the foreign dignitaries travelling from the airport to the capital. The road was closed for two hours at a time as the hillside was blasted away – you can probably imagine the state of it in the open sessions! Most of the largest boulders were cleared away but what remained was not exactly smooth!

Most of the later rally cars came through under police escort but we managed alone – and without our horn, whose fuse had also blown. You’re very vulnerable and lonely without your horn but the drivers must have been warned about our arrival because with the exception of the rally’s baggage van they all pulled over to let us past. At one stage we flew over a smoothly tarmac’d crest to land with a bang in a section of bumpy unmade track. The passenger’s door flew open, the route book and map had to be retrieved and the offside rear suspension banged and clattered for the rest of the day – another “dead” shock absorber but who could blame it?

On inspection the shock absorber problem was that the “collar nut” holding the shock absorber into the bearing housing had come undone. Diagnosis was easy but putting the nut back without removing the spring was very delicate and time consuming. With the assistance of the mechanic’s trolley jack and the Rolls Royce crew we managed it – thankfully!
Next morning saw the energetic competitors climbing to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, perched high and inaccessibly in the hills, the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. Back for a late breakfast we visited the National Museum and the Paro festival held in the courtyard of the Dzhong – a fort-cum-monastery.

Then a return journey through those roadworks and along the other valley to Thimpu. Fortunately we timed the road closures to perfection and arrived in daylight. Over half the rally got it wrong and endured a slow dark and dusty crawl. Two cars had to be towed – a serious challenge for all concerned.

A rest day to allow us to visit the biggest Dzhong in the country but first an inspection of the car revealed that the front wishbone bushes were “shot”. One o/s top bush was so far gone that the top of the wheel had about an inch of horizontal play. The tourist guides located a garage owner who managed to concoct and fit a replacement within about an hour on Sunday morning – and all for about £7.50!

Next day and another go at those same roadworks as we had to enter and leave Bhutan by the same route. We left early again and avoided most of the heat, dust and traffic. Descending towards the Indian border we were in thick cloud but sadly every vehicle we tried to follow in the murk courteously pulled over to let us go ahead – not what we wanted! Today was a good day for electrics so we had the benefit of both lights and wipers. Arriving at our underground hotel workshop/parking the most serious task was to take the door apart to untangle the knitting otherwise known as the wire and pulleys for the electric window.

Our route ahead was straight to Kolkata over three days. West Bengal was mainly flat, always busy, noisy and dusty – and hot and humid. I really feel that if I wanted to go there, which is debatable, I would not chose just now! Having sent an email of our progress to friends and Lotusnet, in praise of our tyres, we had a puncture! But one puncture, repaired at the roadside for 50p, was remarkable in 3,500 miles of these “roads”. To our great astonishment Kolkata’s traffic was not bad and we reached our hotel with no alarms – except for one friendly guy who opened the tinted window of his air conditioned modern luxury to tell us “your right rear wheel bearing is not good; your wheel is wobbling”. He was right but I had figured that, whilst I had a spare, I was not going to replace it now and that it should last the distance – it did!

It just remained to take the cars to the inland container port and hopefully we’ll see it again in Felixstowe in a few weeks time!

What’s next you ask? How about Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam followed by Iceland? Yes, 2008 should be busy!

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SCCON 2010

Midsummer Classic Car Run
20th June, 2010

The start at Hingham had 92 cars with 7 Lotus Elans, the most we have ever seen on the Run. Two Stanley steam cars attracted much attention and were later spotted filling up from a stream ant the Lake at Holkham Hall – good alternative to petrol.

A run to Foxley Wood led on to morning coffee at Reepham Old Railway Station and the most enormous scones ever seen, at very reasonable prices. The day was overcast but no rain.

As usual the route was along little used roads and even those entrants who travel round Norfolk a lot found some new tarmac. We were given a tulip route book but most turns had red arrows put out for us so it was a bit too easy this year.

Next to Heydon Hall and a walk round the grounds with Jezz and Sheila, from a yellow S4, with a view to a pub lunch after. Heydon Village is very picturesque and is often used for film and TV locations because of its unspoilt surroundings. The Go Between and Dr Who have been filmed there. The pub was fully booked because it was father’s day so onward to Walsingham with it’s 16th century buildings and shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham. Lunch in a café there but no other classic cars around.

Everyone was at Holkham Hall where we had permission to park in front of the Hall. The two yellow Elans had pole position but were asked to move by a group of MGB owners with a portable flag pole.

We by-passed Bircham Mill home of a working mill which also serves quite large scones having been there before and went on to the finish at Pensthorpe where several Springwatch programmes have been filmed. This is the home of the Jordan family who probably make flour for scones along with their meusli.

In the car park we saw a familiar face and were pleased to meet Rob again whom we had last seen on Endurorally’s Casablanca Rally last November and before that on the London Dakar Rally. He is off next on the Peking Paris and it never ceases to amaze me how many folk from Norfolk are involved in motorsport in one way or another. Must be the Lotus effect.

Thank you SCCON (scone) for another good day out.

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Broadland MG

Broadland MG Owners Club heritage run on 3rd May 2010

The yellow Elan took part in this on a very windy and sometimes squally day. The start was at Caister Lifeboat station just north of Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast and with a few “don’t roll it overs” we set off to look at the remains of a Roman fort in Caister on Sea.
Parked next to Graham Boulton’s lovely Elan.

Then on to Great Yarmouth where the fish finger was invented in 1952 – well someone had to.

Two interesting medieval flint churches later, one with a thatched roof, it was still too cold to picnic so along with an assortment of MGs and a Ford Capri we sat in our cars at Ventor Icenorun the old Roman town at Caistor St Edmund (not to be confused with Caister). No wonder the Romans had underfloor heating.

The run finished at Gressenhall Museum of Rural life which has a fascinating display of old farm machinery and buildings, together with a good cup of tea and homemade cakes. A good day out meeting up with friends from East Anglian Lotus club, MG Club and Porsche club.

Brock helps with repairs

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Tiger Rally 2008

Asian Elan

Before the car had even come back from Calcutta after its Himalayan adventures we had booked onto the 2008 Tiger Rally from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi; there was however just a little bit of work to do and only six months to do it. The known things were a respray, brake overhaul and rebuild front and rear suspension. Investigation in the garage showed that the chassis was broken in two places – so it was start again time!

I had been aware of one weak spot in the chassis – the flange on the rear turret which holds the Lotocone and the top of the shock absorber. The punishment it had taken meant that the flange had twisted, the vertical plates had bowed and one had split. The answer seemed to be to have a diagonal strengthening plate running from mid way up the tower to the end of the flange. This called for narrow springs and some specialist chassis work so I had a chat with Andy at Spyder. He devised a solution and for half the price of a new Lotus chassis he refurbished an old chassis with modified rear turrets and thicker engine bay section – the second break was at the rear of the engine bay.

Some months later, the Elan was ready to face the road – in time for an MOT and another trip to Felixstowe to be stuffed into a container. We next saw it at the end of February at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia sharing a container with a yellow 1936 Lagonda. One tyre was flat and it refused to start until it was in fresh air but apart from that it was raring to go. So how about this circuit – could we have a go on it? Eventually and reluctantly we were allowed to process round behind a pickup truck – lap time just over 6 minutes from pit lane exit to pit lane entrance. Don’t ask what an F1 car does!

Then the 70 kms back to our hotel in the centre of KL. It would have been easier if we’d turned left for the petrol station instead of right to the city but………..four motorways, two U turns and 80 kms later we were where we should have been – in the underground car park of the hotel. These are not places you want to stay in – they are clean enough but they’re hot and humid and an excellent incentive to ensure your car does not break down so you don’t have to work there!

The Malaysians roads were excellent, though on our way north we left the crowded main roads for the emptier motorway – they drive on the left, there is 97 octane petrol and in Georgetown, Penang we even saw a parked yellow Elise. Before that our journey started with a trip up into the Cameron Highlands followed by a long fast descent on wide curvy roads to the island resort of Pankor Laut. After a few days of driving north we entered Thailand – they also have excellent roads, drive on the left, have 96 octane petrol and someone saw a blue Elise. After that it got a bit rougher!

How was the Elan? Very happy! The only problems were the drivers. We are both paranoid about oil pressure and in this temperature we were unable to get more than about 25 psi at 4000rpm. The answer was to call Susan Miller and ask her to send a set of big end shells to Bangkok so that if we did have a problem we would have some chance of a repair. Amazingly within 5 days and thanks to Royal Mail Parcel Force the parts were waiting our arrival.

In Malaysia and Thailand we progressed from smart hotel to smart hotel and some fantastic scenery. The temperature was around 35C and with the plastic seats we got used to dripping shirts, the heavy rain was welcome relief – though our feet got wet as I’ve never managed to stop the water getting in! We drove up the west coast to Phuket and a boat trip in Phang Nga bay with its spectacular islands, eroded over the years into strange shapes with caves and lagoons. One was James Bond Island where Roger Moore and Christopher Lee appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun. Now there are now lines of vendors selling trinkets – must have been much nicer before Bond got there!

From Phuket we crossed to the east coast resort of Tusita where the (1975) replica of a 1935 Bentley Speed 6 was losing power. The mechanics changed the head gasket which had blown in two places. There seemed to be two groups of people on this rally – those who knew their cars and if there was a problem they were there never mind the oil, dirt and humidity. And the others who gave the keys to the mechanics and retired to the bar!

From Tusita our next stop was Kanchanaburi, famous for the River Kwai Bridge and the many who died there. On the way we stopped at the 1925 Royal Palace of Marukhathaiyawan with its traditional strict isolation of the King’s wives and concubines in the inner sanctum. Even though it hasn’t been a royal residence since 1927, out of respect for the royal family, my knees – well not just my knees but knees in general – were not to be shown; I had to wear a male sarong. Not quite a sarong but it was folded and wrapped round my waist with a “tail” pulled up between the legs and tied into the waist band; I could manage to step up 2 inches but anything else was impossible.

An early start from Kanchanburi took us the the Tiger Monastery (and the name of the rally). The monks, helped by teams of local and overseas volunteers care for an breed tigers. The 3 month old cubs have virtually free run of the grounds whilst the adults are lead around like dogs on a lead. You can play with the cubs and carefully stroke the adults – I’ve never been that close to a tiger before!

Leaving Kanchanburi for the run into Bangkok we stopped at a Temple complex with Thai and Chinese temples vying for prominence – some would say the bus won the contest!

Next stop Bangkok and our secret weapon here was the electric fan we had fitted having experienced BKK streets in the past. The fan was brilliant, the temperature never rose above 80C except on hill climbs – and the traffic in BKK was so light that we didn’t need it here anyway! There was rest day in Bangkok so a chance to visit the Royal Palace complex, the Wats and a boat trip on the canals – and collect our parcel from the hotel reception.

A fast run out of Bangkok led to the Cambodian border at Aranyaprathet. This was more like a border should be! People pushing overloaded carts which threatened to topple over or roll backwards, queues to have documents checked or stamped, apparently senseless migrations from one official to another, photocopies of anything that looked like official paperwork and then the civilised air conditioned office away from the hubbub where an under worked customs officer stamped the mighty “carnet de passage” – the document most precious of all which guarantees payment of twice the value of the car should you decide to sell it locally. (there’s a ready market for 40 year old Elans in Cambodia……isn’t there?).

The first 100 kms of Cambodian road was a real wake up after the luxury of the last ten days. This was dust and dirt, detours round bridges, broken down rally cars, baking heat and only one way to go – straight ahead! Apart from having great difficulty seeing through the dust the Elan was happy in this terrain – though inspection later revealed that one brand new shock absorber had already given up. The prize at the end of the day was Siem Reap and the Ankor Wat complex.

We had a rest day here, totally inadequate for a proper appreciation of the site – one crew had spent the week before the rally here with a dedicated guide and had still not seen it all. We did what we could, which included trying to get as many photos of the car in front of the ancient temples – an occupation which the security guards did not always appreciate! On our second night, the hotel organised our evening meal at a temple; we travelled by Tuk-tuk to find dancers silhouetted in the niches, waiters offering the full range of hotel drinks and nibbles, lights playing over the ruins and choruses of crickets. This was followed by a sumptuous meal, local music and dancing and a coach back to our hotel – the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankor.

From Siem Reap, better roads took us to Phnom Penh. We detoured off the new road to find the older ferry and the ancient hill capital of Odong. For the only time in the trip we found ourselves “adopted” by a group of children who gently coaxed some dollars out of us to “pay for English school”.

The road from Phnom Penh led to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – HCMC) where the Vietnamese authorities had plans for us – we were to travel in convoy as they were concerned over the ability of right hand drive cars to cope with driving on the right! These plans fell apart from the outset but at the time we were warned the very existence of the rally was in danger if we did not co-operate.

At the border we were given temporary Vietnamese number plates – they decided to stick ours (the size of half an A4 sheet) in what would be the middle of the passenger’s windscreen – just being right hand drive it was dead-centre of the drivers vision! They agreed that this was not ideal so moved it to the bottom of the passenger’s side. After clearing customs we were told the first convoy had just left so we should catch it up and rendezvous at the Ben Dinh tunnels for the second convoy into HCMC. We never found this first convoy but along with 30 of the 35 cars we got there and waited for the second convoy to materialise – it never did.

We had visited these tunnels in a previous trip to Vietnam, underground complexes where the Vietcong lived right under the feet of the Americans during the “American” wars. They had booby-trapped trap door entrances, multiple levels and housed families and soldiers with hospitals and kitchens and provided invisible access routes sometimes right to the heart of American camps.

Eventually news came that there was no convoy, we should make our own way to HCMC. The car park sprang to life as we set off in a convoy of our own to the centre of the city. The enforced delay had irritated the participants as it was unnecessary, they were impatient and frustrated and had powerful cars at their disposal. In any western country we would all have lost our licences – but it was great and irresponsible fun!

Relaxing over our beers in the hotel we were told we had to move the cars to a stadium on the outskirts – as there was no room in the hotel car park (where we had already parked) and to avoid the need to drive in the city traffic when leaving………..err?! Again the threat of rally cancellation was held over us and half the cars moved out. Our arrival in HCMC was not straightforward!

Leaving HCMC was no picnic. I tried to do some videoing to capture the sight and sound of the massed ranks of motorbikes which fill the streets – and forgot to navigate! Oops, round a large block and try again! We started by heading for the stadium and found that the convoy had just left and we should try to catch up. Catch up in that traffic – you’ve got to be joking. Not only had we done two sides of a triangle but there were road works, buses, lorries a few cars, bicycles and motorbikes – say thanks for that newly fitted electric fan as this is not Lotus Elan driving territory!

We headed for the hills – Dalat, as the Cameron Highlands two weeks ago, the cool hill station escape from the heat and activity of the commercial capital. Our room had no need for air conditioning and the windows opened to a view of the lake and hills beyond – all that contrast in just 300 kms and a few hours motoring!

The Elan was by far the noisiest car in the rally as the exhaust had been so squashed by the “roads” of India that the once circular silencer was more like a pancake. We were guided into our lunch stop on the way up by a competitor who heard us coming! It was also one of the most reliable and it was in Dalat we did our only piece of repair – replacing the top bush on a front shock absorber.

From Dalat we returned to the coast via some Cham temples at Phan Rang, which we visited in bright sunshine, arriving in Nha Trang in pouring rain. Our hotel was a Russian owned island complex with the choice of cable car or speedboat to get there. Fortunately the hotel supplied umbrellas and we joined the other members of the rally sheltering in the otherwise deserted poolside bar.

For the next few days we followed the coast north to Vinh, passing paddy fields, fishing boats, tombs of Vietnamese emperors, imperial palaces, more Cham temples, crops spread on the road to dry and always criss-crossing the single track railway line between Hanoi and HCMC. The evidence of the “American” or “Vietnam” war is much diminished compared to our last visit in 1995 when the craters at the side of the railway north of Hue showed the efforts that went into disrupting communications. Sadly the historical sites are not so easily repaired and the temples at My Son and the palaces of Hue are no more.

Our drive to Vinh had reminders of those wars as we diverted from the coast and followed the superb and empty Ho Chi Minh Trail inland through fantastic scenery – the land equivalent of Halong Bay which we would visit at the end of the rally. This was a most enjoyable drive, no lorries or coaches, no noisy horns and no motorbikes; the bends were made for the Elan! Surprisingly few other rally cars followed this route – maybe they wanted to avoid the cross-country section later in the day as we slowly clawed our way eastwards in a land of north-south roads.

Day 25 brought another border crossing – Laos and its one-time French capital –Vientiane. We managed a few sights before they all closed at 4pm but were then offered the luxury of an air-conditioned tour round the sights; as it was about 40 degrees in the shade, this was gratefully received.

Our next stop was Luang Prabang – a centre for trekking, canoeing and outdoor pursuits; we preferred a beer on the banks of the Mekong, watching the setting sun cast its golden-red rays over the slow moving waters. We had a rest day to enjoy the peace of the area – a boat trip to caves with 1,000 Buddha statues. Our boat driver was a fisherman, who stopped the boat mid stream to pick up a dead fish – a very pungent dead fish; whilst we were in the caves he set out his nets, carefully collecting them back up for our journey back – two fish this time!

Our next stop was the Plain of Jars. There are three main sites with collections of huge jars carved out of solid rock and averaging 1.5 metres in both diameter and height. As the roads had been too easy so far we decided to visit “site 2”, 11 kms off the main road on a deeply rutted dirt track – fortunately there was no traffic so no hard choices on who would volunteer to fall into the ruts! This hilltop site was a peaceful idyll – until you looked at the concrete markers all around showing the land which had been cleared of mines. During the American/Vietnamese wars, the Americans had dropped two million tons of bombs over Laos, one planeload every eight minutes, twenty four hours a day for nine years. Clearing that lot is unfinished business. It is strange to see ancient jars leaning over at the edge of modern-day bomb craters.

We left Laos early next morning for a scheduled 510 kms drive to the Vietnamese coast at Than Hoa although by dint of short cuts we reduced it to 460. For the first 130 kms to the border we followed the green Jaguar XK150 through the morning mist towards the red ball of sun rising ahead of us. In a village just before the border were two petrol stations. The second and more popular had ordinary electric pumps and a queue of rally cars. The first, where we stopped had “gravity” pumps. This involves hand pumping 5 litres of fuel from an upright barrel into a glass jar and releasing into the tank – and you had to pay in local currency, dollars not welcome here! I stopped after 25 litres as they did not operate in units of less than 5 litres. This operation was preceded by the ritual establishment that we really did not want diesel in our tank so we had several visits to the out of action electric pumps just to point out which one we wanted.

The Jaguar returned to our pumps after getting bored in the queues at the other pumps but, having no Lao Kip he decided to forgo the fuel and carry on – and yes a little way into Vietnam, there at the roadside was………….a Jaguar with no fuel………! We gave him our 10 litre can and he then discovered that the float chambers were overflowing as dirt was blocking the floats. Once it goes wrong, it gets worse!

The border crossing was easy and the road good apart from a couple of places where there were rockfalls. We found ourselves at the head of the convoy every time and found that where our raised suspension allowed us an easy passage, others were bottoming out.

We rejoined the Ho Chi Minh trail and enjoyed the open road heading north before reluctantly leaving to head east to the bustle of the coast and some very slow, bumpy and potholed tracks (roads would be an optimistic description). As we neared our hotel a motorbike was in close attendance with the passenger keenly photographing our every move. At the hotel we found he was the photographer for Vietnam’s largest car magazine so an interview followed and we were featured in the May edition!

Our last driving day took us through slow queues of traffic to Hanoi’s inland container depot and we parked inside a big box in front of a red XK120 for the journey back to Felixstowe.

This had been a very gentle rally, the car was excellent, nearly 5,000 miles in the heat and humidity and apart from that one bush no problems at all. Sure there were a few things to sort out back home – one rear Spax had died (Koni next time), the brakes remained awful and the clutch pressure plate and release bearing needed replacing and there’s that noisy thing called an exhaust. So where next? By way of contrast a regularity rally with HERO in Iceland in September!

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Albania 2002

Why are we doing this?
A report on the 2002 World Cup Rally
London – Dubrovnik – Albania – Athens

We have never been rallying before but the 2001 London – Sahara – London rally sounded interesting and we thought we would try it out. First step was a weekend practice (in a Mercedes 300TD!) in Northern France and Belgium. This was entirely on tarmac and seemed pretty straightforward, no racing, just navigation and a few timed sections where the challenge was to drive at exactly 27.5 mph. I could not do that (ok I can when its speed cameras on the M11!) so Allison drove and I navigated.

The organisers then sent us the prospectus for the 2002 World Cup but were not happy that we entered our 1967 Lotus Elan S3 – we haven’t got a modern car under 1400cc so the Classics section seemed the answer and the Elan the only car we have that fits the class.

“No Lotus has ever finished any of our rallies”, “Of all the cars you could have chosen, this requires more preparation than any other”, “We only have two backup trucks, they can’t spend all their time looking after you”.

So it’s a challenge!

The target was to drive over “rough tarmac and smooth gravel” the 3000 miles to Athens (and 1500 back, just to make sure it wasn’t too easy!). Our route would take us over parts of the Acropolis rally stages in Greece, an alpine hill climb in Austria, sundry unmarked (on our maps) forest tracks in Slovenia and Croatia and then there was Albania!

To put months of preparation and discussion in one paragraph, I had to fit a sump guard, a trip meter, full harness seat belts, a roll cage, sort out the cooling system and most importantly lift the rear of the car by about 3 inches. The car had to be in top condition and we had to carry all the tools, spares and tyres that we might (or might not) need. Then there was the small matter of two adults plus maps and the odd piece of clothing for 12 days there and however many days back.

The sump guard was made from 1/4 inch aluminium by the son-in-law of one of the back-up crews and extended from the air intake at the front to behind the gearbox. The front mountings were solid but the rear one was weak and suffered on the rough stages when the guard knocked the exhaust and broke the welds on the down pipe.

The rear suspension required negotiation, Rally regulations were “Showroom standard” but they were sympathetic to the plight of our silencer (well dented when the springs fail to do the job) and we were allowed adjustable suspension. This was designed by Pat Thomas using Plus 2 springs – far stronger than the feeble Elan version now available – with a threaded section on the struts to carry the lower mounting plate. Rally HQ suggested 165*16 6ply van tyres in place of our Uniroyal 145*16, which may be good at holding the road but have zero tolerance to sharp objects and rejoice in punctures!

We have owned the car since 1974 and I reckon to have a personal acquaintance with every nut and bolt! The chassis was replaced in 1993 and the engine rebored in 1995 with an unleaded conversion in 2001. We had not modified anything, so ignition, dynamo and oil pump are all original. For the rally we replaced all wheel bearings, brake fluid, discs & pads (competition on the front) and the radiator – it still had the original one and we knew from past experience that it had an aversion to the Alps and that was without a hill climb!

Rally regs advised taking 6 tyres all of which had to be marked, if you used extra unmarked tyres there were penalties. Weight and space were at a premium so we took 5 rims and stuffed the 6th tyre with all our spares. One of the back up crews suggested a list, mainly kits, seals, plugs & points etc and bearings but add in a couple of donuts and bolts – it gets heavy!

No expedition is complete without a last minute panic and in our case it was the oil pressure. This was potentially terminal and I tried to persuade myself it was the oil pump. A few phone calls revealed that I did not want it to be that – a new style oil pump and filter system with an hour before the off and the nearest spare 200 miles away was not a good idea! “Change your oil” I was told, so I threw away a sump full of brand new Castrol GTX and filled up with Duckhams 20/50. The oil pressure was steady for the whole rally and yet we’ve used GTX for years…..don’t ask, I can’t explain.

The rally started at Blenheim Palace where each car was set on a podium for the driver to be interviewed before screeching away across the once pristine tarmac. “Why are you entering such an unsuitable car” he asked Allison. “Its my husband” she replied – not sure whether that makes the car or the husband unsuitable; but I was more concerned with smoke drifting up from the cigar lighter and getting our time card clocked by the marshal. Fortunately both smoke and marshal vanished and we were off.

They did not expect us to get to Austria; in fact the Organiser was quoted as saying we would not get through France. This may be related to an incident at Dover harbour when I was interviewed with the bonnet up, oil all over the front of the engine, no tickover and the radiator next to boiling. The oil was from the loose timing chain tensioner bolt and the tickover/cooling from a change in fuel mix. I had set the car up on Sainsbury’s best but the last tankfull had been Optimax; the next tankfull was ordinary super unleaded and both tickover and temperature were back to normal. I was surprised both by the car’s intolerance to changes in fuel (in terms of tickover) but at the same time by its tolerance to those changes (in terms of road performance).

The hill climb was straightforward but not that fast – we soon learnt that we had no idea of how to really drive that car! Next morning we did the climb again, from warm bright sunshine to sparkling fresh snow at the top. Then swooping down through Southern Austria with the Elan eating the miles and overtaking at will. Easy this – what’s the problem?

The next stage was gravel; rutted forest tracks with a loose uneven stony surface and ravines across the path. There were hairpin bends and sheer drops – mirrored our speed as the 2CV overtook us! We got maximum penalties. Prior to the checkpoint we were stopped, marshalls in the road, blue flashing lights, it was dusk and another gravel stage was ahead of us. There had been a head-on, two rally cars out and one driver in hospital with punctured lungs. We chickened out and took the main road to Riejka where the band, ready to greet the early arrivals welcomed us with swirling batons and majorettes.

Car casualties came thick and fast. Two cars fell off the stage we missed – one on top of the other and the bottom driver had a broken vertibra. Next day another crash, this time with a local, the navigator broke her neck – though the seriousness of the injury was only spotted two days later by a fellow competitor looking at the x-rays. We continued to achieve maximum penalties on the gravel stages though we never fell below 8th in our class of 16. Dubrovnik was a rest day but with strict parc ferme to reduce the time spent on rebuilding cars. The daily bulletin showed us in a good light “The car-park scene resembled a battlefield, with sumpshields being banged straight, leaking hubs attended to, and surprise, surprise, just a matter of fixing a radiator overflow bottle on the yellow Lotus Elan”

The drive through Yugoslavia took us through deserted villages still showing the signs of the conflict and abandoned fields. One competitor, a policeman who drove aid convoys, told us that we were passing through areas of uncharted minefields. The police knew we were coming and stopped the Elan because we looked as though we ought to be speeding. Their interest in us ceased when a Peugeot 205 came flying along the wrong side of the road. It was mutually agreed that a fine of Euros 150 was excessive and Euros 20 was more appropriate! One Escort driver spent 4 hours in jail after driving straight into the side of the Mayor’s 3 week old Cherokee Jeep – oops!

The Albanian roads had been described as potholes joined together with tarmac but the main hazard was the children. Some stood and waved, some tried to pat the car as it passed by and others threw things at us. Police were out at every junction so zero chance of doing a detour or getting lost. The towns had mud as the main street and everywhere was poor and rundown. The evening highlight was a time trial round the kart-track, shown live on Albanian TV. Returning to the hotel next door to the President’s Palace was fraught, Elan lights are not good, it was raining, there were no streetlights but plenty of potholes and people crossing the road wherever they felt like – I was relieved to get back with no incidents.

The sight of the Chinese steel works with plumes of red/brown smoke drifting down the valley and the mudbath which passed for the main road were pure Tolkien. The Landrovers thought we would vanish into the potholes as they saw the yellow roof tiptoe along, snaking from side to side in an attempt to find a vaguely plausible road surface. More cautious drivers followed us, reckoning if we could get through then so could they!

There was a downpour as we crossed into Greece, we were soaked, the car was soaked and we could have had a bath in the passenger’s footwell. It was dark but somehow the electrics and the wipers kept going – couldn’t see where we were going and if there had been a river beside the road we could not have told them apart!

We opted out of most of the next day. It was more rutted gravel, starting and finishing at the same hotel. We figured that we had committed enough acts of mindless violence on the car and saw no point in doing possible damage when Athens and the END were so close. Cars were still crashing out. A Ford Focus fell off the side of a bridge so the driver phoned his secretary in London to fly out with the spares, everyone (not us as our mobile didn’t do overseas) was phoning their mechanic at home to ask about this squeak or that whine. The Saab 96 replaced all 4 shock absorbers, the Lancia rebuilt his steering and suspension, the 2CV phoned a Greek club member for a steering rack, a mini had smashed his sump and seized the engine, someone rolled off the road – twice!

The road to Delphi was less severe and we did 2 of the 3 stages (the 4th was under 3 metres of water). Our day was marked by the interest the locals showed in the Elan; if there was one car they wanted (and were allowed) to sit in and be photographed beside it was the Elan. The organisers were not convinced that the middle of a stage is the time for a photo opportunity but what the hell, how often are we going to rally an Elan in Greece? That night we used our first and only spare – one spark plug!

And on to Athens. We did all four stages that day, Allison was most chuffed that she managed them all within the maximum time. They had been described as like marbles and certainly steering was shared between the driver (the first half of a turn) and the rear wheels (the second half). More than once we ended up across the road when this 50/50 rule was not followed. We motored from sunny open hillsides to smog and traffic filled Athens. We deserved the cold beer and the greeting at the finish line “You proved my boss wrong”; that car was one of the most reliable on the rally though we drove (mostly) within its and our abilities.

We were 42nd out of 64 overall and 7th of 16 in the Classic section. The organisers’ verdict? “The Lotus Elan has got here with just one door mirror having dropped off and the only breakage is a bonnet catch – truly remarkable”. We shared the award of the “True Grit” trophy for “Outstanding Achievement” as one of the cars least likely to get to the end. Sorry but the photos were in the pre-digital age – we’re working on it!

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Iceland 2008

Our Asian trip in March was very gentle on the car so there was just the clutch and the rear shock absorbers to replace before our trip to Iceland.  After Immingham we next saw the car in a container in Reykjavik.  Our first stop was scrutineering in an MOT station but I still cannot tell you what they looked at or for!  The car was put on a lift so the underside of our sumpguard was in full view – they did not test our exhaust or brakes or lights or horn or suspension – maybe the clean chassis convinced them that all was as it should be!

Ahead of us was just over 1250 miles of tarmac and gravel, uphill and downdale.  The temperature was around 12 degrees, it was windy – and it rained most of the time.  The climate was variable with on/off showers (on those days that it was not in “continuous rain” mode) and we had more than our share of cloud.  There were 64 cars including David & Rachael’s smart yellow Sprint; the first time our Elan had company and Allison did try to get into their car from time to time as our original Elan is also yellow!  The other cars ranged from a 1922 Bentley to a 1981 Lotus Sunbeam and included a red Gilbern; we formed a team but our results “did not trouble the scorers”.

The first day was for preparation so as Iceland is famous for fjords and waterfalls we drove along one to find the other.  The car seemed happy enough after a relatively short container journey and so it was as the only work required during the event was to tighten the knock-ons and adjust the handbrake (for the container home).  We stopped at a quarry to see the popular Icelandic sport of Cliffhangers where the object is to drive your buggy up and down vertical sides of loose dirt – not for the fainthearted and most definitely not for an Elan!

It was a regularity rally so the format included time controls at the start, middle and end of the day.  There were generally 4 “tests” and 4 “regularity” sections.  The test was usually a manoeuvre around bollards in a car park against the clock where the main problem was to persuade the driver to go the correct side of each cone (not always successful; which is why we have “this left” to distinguish from “left”).  Scoring was based on time difference compared to the fastest car in your class (plus the penalties when “this left” and “left” did not coincide).  There were a couple of hill climbs, both in the rain and low cloud where we incurred extra penalties for flying over the finishing line, scattering marshals rather than carefully stopping with the wheels astride it.

The regularity sections were of about 12 miles generally on gravel at specified speeds, which varied from section to section.  The object was to arrive at the timing controls (hidden so far as was possible) at the exactly correct time (measured to the second).  This sounds easy but our results of juggling stopwatches, trip meters, potholes and hairpin bends suggest there is plenty of room for improvement!

Day one was centred on Reykjavik and started with a trip to Geyser where the hot water bubbles and steams before erupting in a column of steam and spray. Then to another waterfall, ending the day at the Blue Lagoon where you bathe in the hot water inhaling the sulphurous fumes.

Day two took us along the south coast to Klauster by way of more waterfalls and a motor museum.  Even at this stage cars were struggling mechanically; three dropped out by the end of the rally and electrical problems were frequent causes of delay and anxiety. We ran an old fashioned dynamo; headlights were mandatory at all times, wipers were more on than off and our electrics were A-ok!  Who needs alternators?

The rally had aroused excitement amongst the Icelanders as it was the first international event to visit the country.  There was sadly only one Icelander – in a Trabant; the first time we’ve encountered one of them in a rally!  Our “tests” had been well advertised and there was always a crowd to cheer us on.  The Porsche 911 handbrake turns were much applauded – not something an Elan can seriously contemplate!

The southern coastal road was a narrow strip of tarmac through the moss covered lava fields with the sea on our right and the cliffs to our left (“that left”).  In the drizzle and low cloud it was not the most exciting scenery; there was little livestock, not much traffic and a maximum speed limit of 56 mph (90km) which the rally were sternly reprimanded for exceeding.  Although as the police had only recorded 17 offenders we felt they weren’t really trying.

Day three was a rest day though we still had 200kms to cover between hotels.  Our activity was a boat trip on the glacier outfall lake, the iceberg nursery  – the location for the car chase scene in the Bond film “You only live Twice”.  Our trip started dry but that soon changed and we were quickly drenched.  It got wetter as we headed east for a skidoo ride on the Vatsnajskull glacier.  Our journey uphill to the glacier was up a rough potholed track (not in the Elan) which bore remarkable resemblance to a muddy river and with the rain getting heavier we fully expected our Skidoos to be cancelled.  But they weren’t so we were kitted out with heavy boots, overalls and helmets – all worn over our own wet weather gear and waterproofs.  It was a band of teletubbies who waddled out onto the ice and the waiting skidoo.

The instructions were simple – steering, accelerator and brake (try to avoid) – but nothing about the important issue of how to see where you are going in the sleet with your specs covered in water!  Maybe it was just as well that we just followed the line of weaving machines without seeing the rocks and drops which would have terrified us.  We got drenched all over again but there was a warm drink and cake waiting in the hotel at the bottom!

The next day started with a wet test in Hofn followed by warnings of an unmarked police speed van a few miles ahead – en route to our next test – a hillclimb!  Rejoining the main road, the air was full of the smell of sulphur from the subterranean activity and when the rain temporarily lifted we could see over the black lava sand to the sea.

Timed rallies always result in a bunching of cars and there were six of us in a snake before we were joined by a police car who overtook us – just to make sure.  After slithering round more cones in the loose gravel surface of a disused corner of a country airfield our next stop was the smooth tarmac of the Alcoa aluminium plant car park.  Here we were provided with tea and refreshments – and the chance to feel dry after a day in almost continuous rain – but we hadn’t finished yet!  Our rally was too large for the hotels in the town so we ended up in what would have been a very pretty east coast fishing village where the warm welcome made up for the slow drive through thick clouds on the mountain road.  We could hardly see where we were going but below us heavy earthmoving plant was busy doing something.  Quite what even the next morning’s daylight couldn’t tell – it just looked like a desolate muddy mess with water everywhere.

By the start of day 5 the driver’s carpet was so wet that there was a cascade of water when we took it out. It carried on dripping as we watched the older Bentleys’ struggle round yet more cones in another car park as they heaved their wheels round the three point turns they needed to complete the course.  One day I must solve the leaks which drench both footwells every time it rains.

The second regularity was cancelled because the road was partly washed away and it was just before lunch that the rain and cloud lifted to reveal more black rock and brown grass.  Our next stop was the Krafla Geothermal Power Station where power is generated from the heat underground.  Looking down across the valley from the Viti (hell) volcanic crater the two main features were the heat extraction pipes and the clouds of steam rising from the hot water pools and the evil-looking bubbling mud baths.

Day 6 was the last day of the rally as we returned across the northwest corner from Akureyi to Reykjavik.  This was the driest day and we crossed a gentler and lusher landscape with isolated farms and more greenery than before.  A fleet of very dirty cars returned to the hotel we had vacated just a few days earlier.

The rally had been hotly contested with unfortunately numerous appeals and queries against time keeping and scoring.  We had hoped for an award for not appealing but sadly neither Elan was in the points at the close though we did manage third in class.  Both cars had behaved excellently with no mechanical or electrical problems.

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