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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