The crews awoke on day four of the Peking to Paris Motoring Challenge to find themselves in the Mongolian high desert. Donkeys and goats ambled amongst the Bentleys and Chevrolets, fried eggs sizzled and the smell of hot porridge with honey brought dusty campers from their beds. Rarely is breakfast so demanding to organise – a dozen chefs are catering for 200+ people in the middle of nowhere by following the rally with Unimog trucks.
After a spectacular departure from the Great Wall of China on Friday, most of the 106 classic cars and their crews entered for the 2010 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge are going strong, but for some, the terrain, mistakes in preparation or just old-fashioned bad luck have already proved too much.
On the first day, a 1914 Lancia stopped with a blocked fuel filter, a 1934 CitroΫn Rosalie blew a head gasket and a vintage Bentley killed its clutch, amongst other hiccups. Worst of all, it seemed Richard Cunningham’s Lagonda M45 saloon would be the first retirement with a holed piston.
If that sounds bad, the next day shook a lot more bits off. Tim Scott spent the night sleeping by the roadside after a dozen spokes from the rear wheel of his 1922 FN motorcycle came adrift and punctured the inner tube, which also twisted the driveshaft and damaged a bearing. Next stop, the blacksmith’s shop. Also suffering were Tim Wilkinson’s 4.3-litre Alvis, the engine making a noise like bearing failure, as was Bruce Washington’s Chrysler 1929 Chrysler Roadster. Fuel problems and electrical gremlins accounted for a few more delays, but so far, all of the above seemed to be fixable – even Cunningham’s Lagonda might be sorted once it’s been trucked across the border into Mongolia.
One of the most extraordinary stories to emerge was the effort of the Australians Norman Brice and Colin Ryan in the big 4-litre Austin A135 Princess which ran its big end bearings yesterday. A workshop was found, and the bottom end of the engine stripped apart to reveal a badly scored crankshaft and wrecked shell-bearings. With no spares to hand, these were shimmed up and put back on with the crank having received much filing and polishing with emery paper. The shims were made on the spot, one from a strip in the side of a Sprite can and another using the wafer thin aluminium from a cigarette packet. With this handiwork, the engine was put back together and it drove into Mongolia under its own power.
By Sunday evening, two blacksmiths in town were working through the night, welding petrol tanks (remove the cap, wave the flame at it, when it goes bang you know there are no fumes left!), transforming radiators with truck inners, putting braces across bent axles and so on. There was no cure for the Vauxhall Viva GT, found on the Isle of Man with just 4000 miles on the clock by Pamela Mykytowych. It now has big kinks in the rear arches, rendering it banana shaped after a bad landing, but it soldiers on.
Amongst this mayhem is some tight competition: Steve Hyde leads the Vintageants in his Chevy Fangio coupe, while the Classics category is hotly contested between the softly-sprung VWs of Garrick Staples Sr and Jr and the Aussie team of Matt Bryson and Gerald Crown in their ’64 Holden EH. Even Hyde is on his second set of shock absorbers already.
By the end of day four, the crews were draining the hotel bar in Ulaan Bataar, looking forward to a rest day tomorrow. Or at least some were – many have appointments with the blacksmith to finish repairs to broken springs and shock absorber mountings. The 1914 Lancia is having a broken stub axle mended at a steam train museum.
Tim Scott’s motorbike? Still on the back of a truck. But alas, the truck has now broken down, Happily, with over 13,000km left to go, he’s still got time to get back on the road and catch up.