The purpose of this Blog

This blog is to detail my 43 years (1973 - 2016) with a 1928 Chevrolet tourer, affectionately called "The Red Chev".

The acquisition, restoration, improvements and my experiences over the years are covered in as much detail as I can remember.

Some of the later postings include car club outings and other vintage car items that I hope will be of interest to people.

If you have the time, scroll back to where it all began in 1973 and follow the journey so far.

Thanks for dropping by.

Regards Ray Dean


See my new section "The Red Chev - Repairs, Improvements, Maintenance and Technical Details" located on the left hand side of the screen.




Pages

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Few Vintage Car Photos to Relect on

Hmmmm, if only we had kept dads old car.






























A Few Brand New 1928 Chevs







Would you believe..... Auto Polo from the early 1900's


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

You Cant use Modern Coolant in a Vintage system, or can you???

This following is a look back on 2007 when  I did a story about the preperation of the Red Chev for my daughters wedding, and completes my review of the cooling system improvements in the last 3 postings.

And the story goes.......................................................................

"I continue to run a low pressure sealed system (3psi) with an overflow tank. This allows me to use a modern coolant, being Nulon, see pictures below"

http://www.nulon.com.au/products/Long_Life_Concentrated_Coolant/




"I originally checked the water level weekly, which soon went to monthly, and now only have to top up the system about every 4 - 6  months. I run the coolant at 70% coolant to 30% water, and have used Nulon since 2007. The system is flushed every 12 months and radiator hoses are replaced at the same interval"

Update 21st November 2012

Five years down the track, Nulon is still performing well, no issues, and I have no plans to change.

How is Your Chev 4 Water Pump?

A good opportunity to revisit a earlier posting from early 2010, as it runs hand in hand with the the previous posting on a radiator overflow tank.

And the story goes.........................................

"I was never a big fan of the original Chev 4 water pump, and even in good running order they are prone to leak, and require regular adjusting, and lubing. Also the grease used to lubricate the pump slowly clogs up the cooling system, even though it is water soluble.

The low rate of leakage would normally not be an issue with most Chev 4 owners, but I run a closed cooling system, with an overflow tank. We are only talking about 2 or 3 psi, but this is enough to enable me to run modern coolant, which you can not do with an unpressurised system. 

During the 2009 Chev 4 Tour at Castlemaine, several Chevs were running a modified water pump, using a modern Holden (GM) bearing and shaft, but still running the original Chev impeller and pulley, thus retaining much of the character of the original unit without the hassle.

I caught up with Ray Hatcher from NSW during the tour, the guy who does the modification. A month later at the Bendigo swap meet I picked up my modernised pump.

The new water pump is excellent and requires no maintenance. The benefits are no loss of coolant, no lubrication required and no coolant leaking or spraying over the engine"

Update as at 21st November 2012

"The improved water pump has not given me any trouble since it was installed in 2010, and has required zero maintenance"
 

The following pictures show the modified pump.






Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Benifits of a Radiator Overflow Tank on a Vintage System

When was the last time you topped up your radiator, today, yesterday, last week?

I honestly cant remember, but I must make a note next time I do it.

I estimate it would be about 4 to 6 months ago, and I have driven well over 500 miles since, at speeds of up to 45 mph.






Been using the same system for well over 20 years.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

50 Mile return trip to Kelly's Cafe (Chelsea), in the wet.

Took the Red Chev for a run down to the favourite cafe for a bit of breakfast and R and R after a crappy week recovering from a wisdom tooth extraction. Me, not the Red Chev.

Started pouring on the way down, was not a problem. Thanks to Rainex on the windscreen I did not need to turn on the very small single wiper blade at any time, even during the heaviest downpour.

More importantly, with the work I did last year to wind and water proof the Red Chev, kept about 95% of the water on the outside,  where it belongs.

Car ran like a charm, temperature was good, just had to allow for the back brakes fading to zero when they got wet, but boy when they dry out they come back nice and sharp.

Overview of the trip, sat on 45 MPH most of the way, water usage was zero, oil usage was zero, oil dropped, well that's another thing.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Monty the 1928 Chev is eating up those country miles

The folowing posting is from Grant's blog  http://montythe1928chevrolet.blogspot.com.au/

 Gidday,

Is lov'in this springtime weather and today being a Saturday was no exception.... blue skies, no wind and sun everywhere!

In between mowing the lawns, pruning some trees, running the kids around and cleaning up the yard I was able to get a couple of good runs in the Chevy today and that little 35hp engine is running very nicely indeed, no miss fires now and today I covered 69 miles or approx 115kms




Again 47 mph (72 kph) is a very comfortable speed to travel at with the odd run over the 50ish mark but only on rare occasions but it is eager to do that and does not feel sluggish at all, I also have been using a satnav GSP to check the speed accurately and the original speedo although it bounces about a little is pretty much bang on the money.




My son Codi had to be in Warragul by mid afternoon as he had been ask to play his guitar at a function/party later tonight out at Noojee, so we put his amp, gear and 2 x guitar cases in back and we both headed off down the Princes Hwy which a bit of fun....









Anyway all went well, no stumbles or running repairs and today distance of 115 km is the furthest yet that I have travelled in one day in the ole banger..

I have my eyes on a return trip to Melbourne by Christmas which will be a total of 245kms... Easy!!
 

Ray's comment

"Grant, I have no doubt that you will make it."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The 2010 Peking to Paris in a 1930 Chev

This is truly an incredible story, and I remember the posting on the VCCA site back in 2010 when Mattia was asking for advice to repair a broken front engine mount. I recommend this story to any car enthusiast and hopefully you will enjoy the adventure as much as I did.
 
The Mad Italian Motorists site is http://www.maditalianmotorists.com/EN/intro.html
 

 The Original Car

 
BF 5007 is a 1930 Chevrolet Universal Tourer originally bodied by Holden in Australia, where it spent all of its life, before coming to the UK to be prepared for the Peking to Paris 2010.
 
 


























 

 Styling Preperations for the Peking to Paris

 
 BF 5007 was prepared by RPS in Oxford, England, and included 6 to 12 volt conversion, stronger leaf springs, additional shock absorbers, rebuild of radiator and cooling system, and more flexible rubber mountings.
 
The fuel system was upgraded with a parallel electric fuel pump, and an improved air filtration system for the carby.
 
The original 45 litre fuel tank was retained, with 4 jerry cans fitted for better weight distruibution.
 








 
 
The following is from their blog  http://www.maditalianmotorists.com/blog/


  

Peking to Paris

“D-Day” – Peking to Daihai 380Km


Got up early to leave for the 8 o’clock start at the Great Wall Of China, about 60Km away. We soon realised we were overloaded and decided we would get rid of some stuff when we got to the great wall.
Despite the early rise traffic was intense and at certain moments the motorway turned into a parking lot. As a result some cars arrived late but the organisers were sensible enough to postpone the start by 1h. Further changes to the route resulted in the cancellation of the only timed section.
After getting rid of enough stuff to fill a suitcase we kicked off in the middle of a huge crowd.
The route was uneventful at first other than for the need to be flexible on the road rules. It so happens that vehicles are totally indifferent as which side the will overtake you and of often also chose the emergency lane. After a long stretch of motorway we moved on to country lanes passing by some old stretches of the Great Wall. The villages were quite primitive compared to the larger towns and the people living in them far less well off. Our passage seems to attract a lot of attention and good will. Everybody smiles, waves, yells, honks, takes pictures, sometimes even returning after having overtaken us.
We realised that together with all the stuff we had junked our food for the day. We resisted until about 3pm with some energy bars but finally stopped at pastry shop where we purchased a corn bun (which was good) and something that looked liked a glazed scone (which was awful). Restarting was a bit of a problem because we were surrounded by the whole village curious to see two westerners in a strange car and created a massive traffic jam.
Parts of the country were very interesting particularly the topography with the land constantly crossed by rifts even in cultivated areas. We climbed to over 1,200m and finally reached our hotel in Daihai late in the afternoon with plenty of time to service the car.

Day 2: Daihai to Erenhot


After a pretty awful cold breakfast we made final preparations for departure. This included posing with some pretty girls in pink dresses, who demanded to get their picture take with us. Everyone loves Italians everywhere!



 

Off at 8:25 for a 500Km plus journey that would get us from Daihai through the North of Inner Mongolia to Erenhot, at the border with Mongolia. After driving through the town of Daihai (large statue of Mulan, the Chinese heroine who joined an all male army), the morning itinerary takes up some challenging windy roads leading us to the top of some high hills (up to 1,600m), the last we shall see for a while.


There are many terraced plots of land where corn is the main crop grown. Without a cloud in the sky, Rudy was running very smoothly breathing the cold crisp air through its red nose, even managing to get its load over the top hills without downshifting.
Local road manners have not changed much. If anything they have worsened. We now face vehicles coming into our lane from side roads without giving any thought to us (or anyone else for that matter). Oncoming traffic will cross over and drive into our lane to park on our side of the road. Added hazards include cows, sheep and goats wondering along the road or suddenly crossing it. Usually nothing happens but sometimes it does like in the case of a big lorry we saw overturned on perfectly straight road (picture will follow).


We spot some innovative street lighting powered by both wind and solar energy.


We reach Hohot, a fast growing town with a surprising number of new office blocks and apartment buildings, most of which looked empty, six lane streets and an eight lane dusty ring road. People are friendly, cheer us on and, as before, they take pictures of us with anything they have around, mostly camera-phones. We drive through most of the town and the ring road leaving town to the north our first Passage Control of the day. These are designed to make sure all rally participants don’t take any shortcuts and it helps avoid losing them as well.
After that, the road straightens and we enter what seems to be a close relation to the Gobi desert. Flat with some crevices, shrub vegetation and nothing in sight for miles other than utility poles. Towards the end of the morning we begin to see the first yurts, the typically large Mongolian tents (picture should follow). We stop for (rubbish) lunch at a hotel entirely made up of yurts with a number of even bigger one employed as lobby, dining halls and so on.



  

The afternoon route takes us through more desert and straight roads all the way to Erenhot, which we reach at about 6pm. The town stands out for its dinosaur park. It’s a collection of huge statues of dinosaurs which used to populate the area, which are laid out on both sides of the road leading from the town entrance, an arch composed of two brontosaurus facing each other, to the town centre, about 5Km away.




The city is lively with many new buildings and very busy roads, natives are very friendly and a substantial crowd was waiting for our arrival on the forecourt of the hotel, cheering the arriving cars. Shortly thereafter they were busy taking their and our pictures, sometimes even handing us their babies,standing next to our old, overheated and somewhat puffing, Rudy………who wanted only to have a rest and cool down. Tomorrow we will be faced with the beginning of the real challenge as we enter the Mongolia and its renowned Gobi desert.

Day 3: Erenhot to Sainshand




  




An amazing day! The cars all left Erenhot together to reach the Chinese-Mongolian border. That was the boring part, which lasted about three hours. As soon as we passed the border the world changed from the bustling growing Chinese town to a sleepy Mongolian village. The asphalt was replaced almost immediately by a multitude of dirt tracks all leading more or less in the same Northen direction. The idea is that when a track becomes over used and corrugated by lorries drivers, people choose to open a new one. Sometimes we drive parallel to other participants in a way that would be difficult to imagine on standard roads. It’s a little confusing at first but we soon get the hang of it. The GPS system clearly helps in providing point to point directions. In fact we could probably just follow the train tracks or the telephone wires, similarly to what Borghese did over one hundred years ago.



The ride is sometimes relatively smooth over soft sand and light corrugation. It’s enough to drive above 50Km to overcome the vibration. Other times it gets very rough and we have to slow down to almost a crawl to avoid demolishing the car and losing our tooth fillings. Vibrations nevertheless loosen some stuff. We have to stop to tighten a headlamp and our outside rear mirrors. Later, one of the participants stops us to inform us that our rear box is shaking a lot. We check it and realise that a bolt has come off. We try tightening it but realise that its thread is shot. With a ratchet we secure it and drive on.



The scenery is breathtaking, open spaces without a soul in sight save for some rare vehicles, the odd shepherd with his herd of (cashmere?) goats and, clearly, other rally participants. From time to time we spot some wild horses and camels (the ones with two humps). Out in the middle of the desert they are an amazing sight.



We reach our final time control, outside of our target time but within the maximum allowed time. We cross the village of Sainshand and drive on to the camp. Despite our satellite navigation we, and a bunch of other cars, miss the right track and end up about 4Km off course. The GPS points us East and, as the sun starts to set, we decide to do a Borghese and abandon the track to drive directly across our camp over some hills. It’s an exhilarating experience as we lead a convoy of 5 or six cars driving over smooth untouched desert terrain dodging small bushes to finally reach (not without a little apprehension) our camp few minutes later. To celebrate the success of the day we get together with our camp neighbours sharing espresso, whisky and cigars under the stairs next to our tents.


Day 4: Sainshand to Ulaan Baatar


One thing we forgot to mention in yesterday’s update is the fact that the camp was set up not far from the railway line and that trains would pass by somewhat frequently and noisily. We managed, however, to get a few hours’ sleep. In the morning over a cup of coffe made on our little stove we discussed with each other the roar of trains as they would approach the camp and the impression we both had about imaging them going straight through the middle of our camp. Then, as the noise faded it would gradually be replaced by the snoring of a few of our neighbours.
Breakfast was a rushed affair on unispiring plate of eggs. As we were loading our car we did one last check under the car, since the daily maintenance had been done the evening before almost in total darkness which resulted in the discovery that both our rear modern shock absorbers (supplementing the old ones) had come right off their mountings during some of the rough ride of the previous day. One had actually snapped in half. Luckily the original lever arm shock absorbers were intact and would do the job going forward. Definitely not a good start of the day! We rapidly removed them and abandoned them in the campsite. Notwithstanding the last minute issues we managed to start in time and ride very smoothly on some very nice soft tracks, pushing speeds of almost 65 Kmh with hardly any vibration.



  


  

Unfortunately the terrain got worse later in the day and, despite slowing substantially down, we had to stop to put our full spare wheel on the cover of the back seats to avoid its weight to worsen the cracks that were developing in the front left fender.


But that was not all…….later a support of the front bumper broke and we stopped again to tied it up with some straps. Lastly our steering became very “loose” with a lot of play, and we had to stop once more to try to adjust it. Not an easy operation for us, with some drawbacks. Basically what we did made things only worse, same play, but harder to turn the wheel. As we drove into town with our wounded car we were happy thinking that tomorrow would be a rest day and give us some time to sort things out. Actually as we arrived in Ulaan Baatar we decided to take the car immediately to a “recommended” Mercedes garage, that was going to stay open for 24hrs to sort problems out. Relieved of our move we turned in for the night and actually had a decent meal.

Day 5: Rest day at Ulaan Baatar


The day has been dedicated entirely to repairing the car. We went to our garage Stuff that needed attention included the steering box, broken rear shock absorbers, front bumper, rear box, front left mudguard which had started coming apart and one of the radiator fans. Some of the problems were the result of excess weight. This is a typical and very underestimated problem by many participants which gets amplified on the rough roads we are driving on.


 
Mongolian mechanics fixed some of the simpler problems, the huge Russian Anatoly worked on the welding of the mudguard.



  

We have had to make some painful decisions and his has included removing the rear box and swap some of its contents with a duffle bag which will be placed on the luggage rack. In addition we shall need to carry the spare wheel, normally lodged on the left mudguard, on top of the rear part of the tonneau cover to avoid its weight tearing the sheet metal apart again.




  

The most difficult problem was the steering box which was taken apart several times before it finally worked. Though it may sound straight forward, we actually finished at almost midnight. As is typical in these situations it was pizza for lunch (at 4pm) and we had our first taste of Mongolian food with the team mechanics at 11pm.


Other participants had even more complex problems such as a Lagonda in which a piston had seized and needed to be replaced. It helped that the participant on the Itala is one of the UK experts on Lagondas and in less than 6 hours had the engine running.
Others were less lucky and are still waiting for spare parts from various parts of the world.

Day 6: Ulaan Baatar to Kharkhorin



It’s a chilly day in Ulaan Baatar and the limited sleep makes it feel even colder. We wanted to get up later than planned by the organisation and skip the parade in the main square. Having an hour to browse the town could have been a valid alternative too as we did not have the time to do so yesterday. We were told that since the Russians left, UB has prospered from being a sleepy province of the Soviet empire to bustling city full of shops, restaurants and… traffic jams. Unfortunately things are organised in such a way as to prevent us from verifying this and oblige us instead to be with everyone else ready for the race formalities so we took off from the hotel, as planned, at 7:30.
After a short speech by the Mayor and the rally organiser, Philip Young, we are off to our third day of travel in Mongolia. The first 100Km are on smooth tarmac and we travel through some wide valleys, occasionally spotting local cowboys with their herds and shepherds with flock of sheep and goats, We reach the first passage control located next to a shut down café (the road book had given us hope for it to be open…). Thereafter the road turns into a rut with deep potholes that sometime slow our progress to a crawl, challenging our car’s integrity. We soon realise we have a big dent in our right rear wheel which we quickly hammer back into shape.
Another few miles and we have to stop again, this time on a long bridge to let an enormous flock of sheep and goats pass us by. The amazing thing that happens is that as they are led across by their shepherds on horseback, the bridge shakes as if hit by an earthquake.
At the timed test trial we are offered the opportunity to skip the dirt track in exchange for maximum penalties so we (like most others) politely decline. It’s actually not too bad and we complete it is a semi-decent time. From there on the road is smooth tarmac until the end of journey. The time problem we face (and will continue for the rest of our journey) is that our car is really underpowered and our top speed rarely exceeds 80km/h. This prevents us from being able to catch up or get ahead when conditions allow it. Given the length of some of our days this becomes a real handicap. In any event we reach our destination at a decent hour but as we approach the town and slow down for the time control our windshield falls right in our lap. It’s welding time again. We quickly look for a welder and soon a bunch of rally participants show up with an assortment of broken parts they need fixing. In those situations you wonder whether you should still look at them as mates or rivals. In fact, there is a lot of good will and everyone is ready to offer help and ideas on how to solve problems. Many of them have seen it all before and offer precious suggestions on emergency work. We finish in time for a late dinner at the Yurt camp with a couple of Bentley boys we met at the welders with whom we share a couple of bottle of wine and a lot of war stories.
The Yurts: as previously mentioned, they are round structures topped by a flat cone roof with a small opening for a stove pipe (no stove, however). There are four beds and soon our two “yurtmates” who drive a Chevy similar to ours show up to occupy their two. It’s quite cold and the bedding is inadequate so we have to resort to our sleeping bags for some additional warmth. It’s been a long day and it takes us just a few seconds to fall into a deep sleep.

Day 7: Kharkhorin to Tariat


There is still work to do on Rudy. The front light mountings have cracked but cannot be welded so Simon, one of the mechanics who prepared the car, fabricates a couple of braces which he fixes on the frames with some jubilee strips. It’s not perfect but it should hold. Off to the morning time control located at the temple which we make just in time. We then fill up and return to check out the temple and take some pictures. This delays us but we feel we cannot come this far to focus only on the rally. We also take the opportunity to play with a couple of eagles controlled by a local man.
We refuel and by the time we are off we are already an hour behind an impossible schedule. The roads in this part of Mongolia are almost all dirt tracks, mostly heavily corrugated and potholed. There are a few asphalt roads but they are few and far between. The vibration and pounding on the car and it’s passengers is relentless. Philip Young seems to have designed this rally so as to not allow any competitor to reach the final destination of the day on the type of terrain available unless they decide to trash their cars and themselves in the process. Today we also have the privilege of some river crossings which I manage to complete without the shame of getting fished out by the organisation’s jeeps. Lunch is on the fly, bread and cheese and an apple, courtesy of Nomads, the traveling catering and camp organisers.
The route alternates moments of flat land to some challenging hills which, particularly when the road is full of potholes, slow us down considerably. We pass by some villages most of which still have dirt roads but which seem quite clean and in good shape. The houses are mostly wooden have roofs painted mostly red and blue, The colours of Mongolia. The older people are usually dressed in traditional Mongol costume which looks like a thick dressing gown with decorations tightened at the waist. There are always a lot of children around most of whom cheer and wave at us as we pass by.
Past the next time trial over some steep hills, we are back in a valley where we have the first encounter with some Yaks, essentially large cows with extra long furs particularly under their bellies. Later we also come across a number of large eagles feasting on a dead yak on the side of the road, probably the victim of a passing truck. They seem to ignore us as we drive by but retreat as we drive back to take some closer shots.
The track leading us to our camp goes through some more hills and over some small rivers. It is so rough that it often advisable to drive parallel to it either in some alternative tracks or even on the fields. We finally reach it just before sunset, in time to pitch our tent. It’s a beautiful site right next to a river. It”s very cold however and despite all the dust we don’t have the courage to have a shower out in the open. After dusting off quickly we have dinner and turn in for the night.
 

Day 8: Tariat to Uliastay




It was cold night. How cold? Enough to freeze a small bottle of water I had left outside my tent. So cold that when I had to answer a call of nature in the middle of the night, I had to get fully dressed. And I was still freezing! We got some rest anyway and filled up with a triple ration of porridge and fried eggs topped with a shot of whisky to get some energy in our bodies before our next leg of the journey.
We were camped next to lake Tsagaan Nur which means white lake, 16 KM long, 20m deep and 61Km in area. In the middle of it is a volcanic island covered in grass. Many birds – ducks and geese as well as cormorants. Red deer, Siberian deer and some wild bears are understood to be around.
Today we have 336Km to cover to our next camp site, all dirt tracks. Our first Timed test is only 25Km later. We make slow progress up to over 2,600m, the highest pass to date. The slope is steep and the lower atmospheric pressure saps power out of the engine. The track is rough full of potholes and corrugation which shake the car and us to the bone. There are many yak herds some crossing the road while we pass.

 

As we come back down the pass, a stunningly beautiful valley opens up in front of us. we pass by some mountain lakes and streams, the only places where there is some vegetation on the ground as well as some trees, mainly pines.
 
 
 
The rest of the landscape is barren. We have to pass over some small wooden bridges. This needs to be done with care because although we are not particularly concerned about falling through one as Borghese did during his journey, we need to watch out for any nails which may stick out and destroy our tires.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We reach a small village and are told to watch out for children. In fact there are very few around as they are probably still at school. There are some older people who look at us as if we had just come down from Mars. They do not look scared, just very surprised to see so much traffic going through their town. It is likely that they will see at most 10-20 cars going through your typical Summer day instead of over 100 in a couple of hours and probably far fewer in the Winter.
Beyond the village it’s multiple-choice tracks again for several miles, some sandy and pleasant to drive over despite some undulations, others stony and corrugated and potholed which we have to slow down over to almost a crawl to avoid the car falling apart. It is really very rough!
 
 
 
 

 
We pass by some Yurts which seem to have adapted to modern times with solar panels and satellite dishes which allow them some form of entertainment and communication with the outside world.
 
 
 
 
We finally reach our the town of Uliastay, one of the most remote regional capitals of Mongolia. There we have the final timed control which we’ve blown by a long shot. I think this the case for a lot of the cars. At the entrance of the town we spot a sign pointing to a hotel, a very tempting alternative to the camp site which is another 30Km after the town. Mattia and I decide we are going to go for it. It’s getting dark and our lights are not working properly so we need to fix them before continuing. We are also dead tired and the prospect of another 30Km of dirt does not appeal to us one bit. We can reach the camp site early in the morning and start from there. We refuel and note that several of the cars have serious problems with their suspensions and chassis and are beginning to queue up at a welder shop next to the petrol station.
With the help of a local who speaks a little English we reach it a few minutes later and with his help we manage to get the receptionist to give us a room. We soon see other rally participants who are in trouble and who’ve had our same idea slowly trickling in and together we all have a sumptuous Mongolian meal.
 

Day 9: Uliastay to Teel River Camp Site


Early wake up to reach the camp in time for our start time. The hotel does not offer breakfast until 8 so we will have grab something at the camp site. We reach it after doing the 30Km we declined to do last night and the sight in front of our eyes seems right out of a mad max movie. At least two dozen cars have their engine bays open, their wheels off, all the gear spread out around them with their crews working hard and fast to repair the sometimes extensive damage sustained. A we arrive, Claus Thulstrup, a Danish participant in a 1926 Pontiac Tourer approaches us to ask if we can provide him one of the spare leaf springs we have attached to the car in place of the original bumpers. We obviously agree to do so (it’s part of the mutual assistance spirit of the rally) and get to work immediately so as to minimise our and their delay on the day’s timing. His car, like a few others, was already on a truck ready to be transported to the next major town, Khovd, so he is deeply grateful for our support which will avoid him the infamy commonly known as the truck of shame!
We are off about an hour late from our schedule but clearly happy to have been to provide support to one of the crews. The first timed section is just under 10Km after the camp and we make it well within our maximum allowed (that’s all we can expect from our car with our few horses). Shortly thereafter we notice one of the spotlights hanging loose in the front. The bracket that held it has broken at the 90° point, the result of all the vibration. We disconnect the wires and throw it in the sack together with some other bits that have fallen off (such as the side screens attached to the windshield). For the next few hours of entertainment the road book offers dips, ruts, soft sand, rocks, potholes and plenty of corrugation in between or sometimes together.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There are no villages and no fuel pumps and, therefore because we only have 42 litres in our tank, we need to resort to our jerry cans. Many crews have decided to install special long range tanks which, depending on fuel consumption, range from a minimum of 80litres to a maximum of 300. The latter is the case of David Wenman’s American La France, a huge 6 cylinder 14,000cc fire engine turned into car dating from 1919 which only gets about 5miles to the US gallon (approximately1.2KM/litre). Dreadful mileage but a great show on this rally. We also take a few minutes off to get some food in our bodies, some bread and cheese we nicked at breakfast this morning together with some tea from our thermos and then we are off again for more multiple-choice tracks.
 
 
 
 
 
Later we stop on one of them to check some rattling and the smell of petrol coming from the engine. As we suspected, the vibration has broken one of our fuel lines, the one connected to the electric pump. Mechanics Rob Kitchen and Alan Page stop by a few minutes later (it’s great to have one or two guardian angels looking over you!) and provide some help in isolating it. We must now proceed with only the mechanical pump knowing, however, that we can always disconnect it and reconnect the electric one in case the former fails. They also help identify the nature of the rattle: the bolt of the front engine mounting has snapped and left the stump in the chassis. It’s impossible to remove and so we cannot put a new one in. The other two bolts at the back have loosened and need to tightened to avoid the engine wondering away. We also look at the radiator and notice some polished marks on the inside. Evidently the engine moved forward a little because of the missing or loose bolts and the fan blade had started shaving the inside of the radiator. A few more bumps and the fan blade might have dug into it leaving us stranded with no other option than the truck of shame. The only remedy for the sheared front bolt, albeit a temporary one, is to wrap a ratchet belt around the engine and the frame and tighten it as much as possible. This should work until we get to a proper workshop and find a more long term solution.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We still have over 70Km to go until we reach camp and it’s beginning to get dark. The last 40Km are over a very sandy plateau and we must be very careful to keep momentum to avoid getting stuck in the sand. The tracks are vague and we miss one or two. Once again, to avoid getting stuck in the sand we must not stop and, instead, to turn back we must make large circles to avoid the front wheels acting as a break. Claus has caught up with us in the meantime and we notice he gets stuck going uphill in the sand going uphill the last few Kilometres before the camp site. We watch as he manages to reverse himself out and chooses an alternative route which we follow and which finally gets us over the hill.
 
 
 
 
 
We reach the campsite and refuel from a tanker placed just at the camp entrance. After pitching our tent, we go for one of the hot open air showers to get all the dust and grime off our faces and then finally on to dinner. It’s a beautiful night, not too cold yet and it takes only a fraction of a second for both of us to fall into a deep sleep.
 
 

Day 10: Teel River Camp Site to Khovd


It’s a short drive to Khovd, just 170Km, one of the shortest legs of our trip, and our start time is at 9:36. We take advantage of the time available in the morning to sort out our spontaneous breaking problem. Together with mechanic Peter Banham, we discover that the cables which have been installed around each side of the rear axle to prevent it from extending excessively, after hitting bumps, goes around the brake rods. This means that every time the rear axle extends it pulls the rods and activates the breaks. We quickly remove and reroute the cables in the proper way. After adding another brace to the light mounting we pack up our stuff and go. We are a few minutes late for our morning start but well within the time limits.
We quickly reach our first timed test, monitored by Philip Young himself and despite the tortuous uphill route we make it well within our maximum limit. The route then goes on through flat open terrain and the usual multiple-choice tracks. We spot car 47, a 1933 Lagonda M45 driven by Swiss Martin Egli and Galleon Graetz and pass it realising that the reason they are driving so slowly is that their engine is on maximum 4-5 cylinders out of its six.



Another car we pass is the Aston Martin DB5 of Brits Adrian Gosden and Andrew Honeychurch. It’s limping along bouncing on its suspensions, probably because of broken shocks.






The track coast in and out along a mountain stream which gradually grows into a small river which then ends in a beautiful light blue lake. We drive along it for a few Kms more until we reach a little village with a small temple on top of the hill above it. We have plenty of time and decide to visit it. There we also spot the Tatra of Czechs Vladimir Toufar and Michal Popov. They have had a remarkable survival story. Their car is a peculiar design developed before WW2 where the air-cooled engine is placed behind the rear axle. If this sounds familiar it’s because Porsche copied it for the beetle and his own branded cars. The Tatra’s engine, however is a V8 but unfortunately one of the pistons seized in China. After being trucked to Ulaan Bataar, the crew has had to remove it so now it’s just a V7. According to them it still works ok except at higher revs where the lack of balance causes some vibration. The only other issue is that in rebuilding the engine they must have misaligned something and it’s leaking oil at the rate of over 3 litres a day! That said, as long as they have an oil supply they can carry on.












As we approach the temple, children run towards us asking for candy. We give them all of our supply and see the very disappointed faces of those who have arrived too late. We get out quickly and get back on the road. As we go up the next hill we spot the 23 (Simon and Rupert) and 25 (Nigel and Hugo) crews on the side of the road having a relaxed picnic. We join them and Mattia heats up one of his Waitrose packs (he will get a reputation for that on car 23’s blog).









It’s all down hill from there on, along the telephone line passing by a herd of camels and after reaching a small village before Khovd we enjoy the privilege of an asphalt road for the last 36Km to Khovd, the largest town in Western Mongolia.
Khovd was the last town to be liberated from the Chinese between 1912 and 1921. It was briefly ruled by an insane and cruel leader who was known for personally beating to death or gouging eyes out of those who displeased him. He was eventually arrested by the Russians and his head was later displayed in the private collection of Peter the Great.
We reach the town in mid afternoon and after refuelling we immediately search for the local mechanic, Khaan Auto Service, only to find that there are at least 10 cars ahead of us, many in far worse shape than ours. A brief survey of the situation shows broken suspensions, broken chassis,
broken half shafts, broken shocks, a real carnage!

 


 

This does not include the cars whose crews have decided to repair them at the camp.
I decide that we better stay in town rather than spend the night at the camp, 10 Km away from the repair shop, and begin looking for a hotel. This will help keep our place in the repair queue. With the help of a translator I hire a private cabbie to take me around to look for hotels and to the local auto market for supplies. In the end I will keep him for the whole afternoon and evening, a forward looking choice as he will help us save a lot of time and energy. Other crews follow our example and the hotel quickly fills up to capacity. There is no hot water as the boiler is broken and will not be repaired for a few days. Instead we have the opportunity of a cold electrifying shower, meaning that the electricity network leaks into the cold water pipes. The result is that you jump up and down from the cold shower and the electrical current. Wow!
Dinner, however, is great, a real feast of Mongolian fare which we share with some of the German and Swiss crews.

Day 11: Khovd


Early wake up as usual to go back to Khaan’s to continue the work on the car. We both slept like babies despite the not absolutely fantastic room. Still no water. This time, however, I don’t mean no hot water. I mean no any kind of water. And no breakfast. Welcome to Mongolia! We resort to a box of biscuits and our supply of tea bags and instant cappuccino. We wait for our driver who is very late until we realise that Khovd is in a different time zone. He arrives punctually at 7, we check out of the hotel (at least the camp has hot showers) and we are off to Khaan’s.
We need to make some decisions regarding the missing engine mounting bolt. Radiator has to come off to gain access to the area. We have never done this before and feel very uneasy because of our modest mechanical expertise. We finally get on with it and fate removing all bolts, screws connectors etc. we finally lift the radiator out of the car. We quickly realise, however, that we are no closer to the solution as the pulley coming out of the crankshaft is obstructing our view of the area we need access to. We try to resort to the Chevrolet owners’ club chat line. I take out my iPad and describe our problem hoping someone with experience will provide some useful suggestions. There are a few who read our note but after an hour nobody has yet offered any ideas. We decide to take a short cut and as we cannot drill the old bolt out we decide to drill a new hole next to the old one. To do that, however we need to get some drill points as the ones available in the shop are not adequate. Off to the market where we also need to get some additional supplies such as new shocks and some nuts and bolts to replace some that we’ve lost.
The market just down the road is quite an experience. It’s composed an infinite number of small shops each selling something different: lubricant oils, new and used auto parts, often smuggled in from other countries, assorted large metal bits as well as nuts and bolts of all sizes. I finally find a pair of Russian shocks which seem as if they will fit our car. We will need, however, to modify the mountings to the chassis.
Back at the shop, mechanic Bob Machorov offers to help. He drills the new hole in the chassis to fit the engine mounting bolt, fits a new one to the chassis and then moves on to modifying the chassis mounts for the chocks. That takes quite a while as new holes need to be made in the chassis itself. To make sure they will hold and to protect the chassis itself he sandwiches it between two mounting plates on each side. The result seems satisfactory and he hopes the chocks will hold this time.






In the meantime, as the radiator was off, I suggest we check a potential leak at a radiator shop nearby. Mattia returns confirming that there is no leak and we get on to putting it back in the car.
By the time we finish all the work, it’s getting quite late and cold. The idea of a hot shower suddenly becomes less appealing than that of a closed hotel room. I decide to run to our hotel but it’s sold out as are all the other dumps in town. So camp it will have to be. No hot shower, however, since by the time we reach it it’s already dark and they have packed up all the equipment. It’s a miracle that we manage to get some hot food.




 

Pitching a tent in the dark with only a lamp on your head is not ideal but we manage… barely. We feel fairly good however about the work done and look forward to getting out of Khovd and to continue our journey.

Day 12: Khovd to Camp near the Mongolian-Russian Border


The hotel may not have had hot showers but, as we suspected, the rooms weren’t as cold as our tent. We struggled to keep warm during the night and at 6 we both rushed to get some hot breakfast. It was the best one to date with eggs, pancakes and porridge that we vaporised in no time.













We are off to over 300km of dirt which, according to the organisers we will need to complete by 2:40! Luckily they have had a change of heart and we are given 4 hours of extra time without penalties to take into account the worsened road conditions so we are going to take it very easy.
The scenery is amazing, as in the previous days. Only more. We no longer have a screen in front of us, literally! Shortly after leaving camp our windshield collapses for the second time. The welding done a few days before in Kharkhorin has finally succumbed to the corrugation, potholes and ruts. Rudy is now transformed from a tourer to a speedster! Now we will discover how it feels to drive an Itala! From now on it will be helmets goggles and scarves on full time. At the timed tests we tell the scrutinisers we had taken it off to be more competitive. That produces a loud laugh, an indication, perhaps, of our perceived competitiveness. Another benefit of no windshield is that it makes taking pictures a lot easier.













Today we drive over two passes at 2600m from where we can see some snow capped mountains not far away. We encounter virtually no one other that some shepherds on horseback. We wonder about their solitary life up in the middle of nowhere. We decide to stop on top of one of the passes to admire the scenery and we share lunch of bread, cheese and tomatoes with one of these solitary shepherds who suddenly appeared by our car. We wished we could communicate with him to better understand how he lived but did not go much beyond sign language. Mattia tried and failed to ride his horse, as it was too nervous.
In truth, the real reason we’ve stopped there is that we have run out of petrol well in advance of our expected range, probably because of the steep climbs and the altitude. We also want to check the origin of heard some noise coming from under the chassis. Both our newly installed shock absorbers had snapped. Difficult to determine the reason but they were probably not well positioned. A lot of searching in the markets and a lot of work by us and Bob, has been for nothing. They probably snapped minutes after they were installed. We take them off and continue on our faithful and reliable lever dampers.




 







We go back down the track and a wide valley opens in front of us, again with multiple-choice tracks. We pass one of the two MG SA, limping along slowly, presumably with broken suspensions or shocks. Later we scare off a herd of Yaks that was imprudently crossing our path. We reach the town of Olgly, populated by ethnic Kazakhs. At the entrance of the town we spot a large pipe going over the road one of those typically used by the Soviets to channel centrally produced hot water to blocks of flats. It’s probably no longer in use.




 





 

We are hoping to refuel at the first petrol station but there is no electricity and we have to wait until it’s back on. We decide to try out some other petrol stations but it’s the same story. People’s resigned attitude to the problem makes us think it’s not an unusual occurrence. Mattia suggests we wait at a station that has no line of rally participants but I insist we cross town hoping some other station has electricity. We finally find one that has its own electrical generator and tank up while children, who must have just come out of school, mob us.
We have another 90Km until the end of the day and we cover them slowly as they are corrugated and potholed. We finally reach camp before sunset with enough time, finally to pitch our tent.




Day 13: Camp near the Mongolian-Russian Border to Belokurikha, Russia


Another freezing night, this time much worse than all the others. I had had a hard time keeping warm and my feet were always cold. As soon as I stuck my head out of my sleeping bag I would have to put it right back despite the hat I was wearing. To give you an idea, the stream next to our tent which was running along fine before we turned in, was frozen solid. The ground which was soft when we reached the camp in the afternoon was hard as rock. We do that we believe the temperature must have dropped to at least minus10°C. Getting dressed was harder that in the previous days as I had a hard time moving my limbs. To get some warmth into my body I began my usual struggle with my sleeping bag, mattress and other stuff trying to get them into their respective bags. Then off to breakfast which I made sure would give me enough energy to warm up: 3 egg cheese omelette followed by 2 bowls of porridge with honey, tea and a shot of whisky to top it all.

 


 





 







We are off at 7:25 to the Mongolian border with the usual strategy of rush-rush and wait. It takes about an hour during which we try to keep warm in the morning sun and take some pictures of local farmers tending their yaks (one elderly lady was actually milking one) blissfully indifferent to the action in front of the border and to the almost 100 vintage cars passing in front of their eyes.


















After the formalities we finally rush off and, not without some regret, we check-out of Mongolia. After about 20Km of no-man’s land (actually we do spot a couple of shepherds…) we arrive at the Russian border for a new set of formalities. We soon realise we have a problem, a serious one. Mattia’s folder with all his papers has disappeared. After a moment of real PANIC he collects his thoughts and realises that he may have left it on the back of the car as the Mongolian border guard rushed us off and that it might have flown off in no man’s land. I approach a border guard and ask him whether we can go back to look for it either alone or with one of this colleagues. They suggest we first ask some of then drivers that followed whether they might have spotted it. There is some hope when of them confirms he has indeed seen what appeared to be a yellow folder on the side of the road a few miles back. At that point the head of the border organises a small search party that accompanies Mattia back on the road to the Mongolian border.
While waiting for his return just about all of the border guards approach me to get their picture taken with our car and myself. They are all very playful, a clear indication of how things have changed since the fall of the iron curtain. I still remember the formality, the fear I would feel crossing any border controlled by the Soviet block, the questioning, the intimidation, the knowledge that my passport could be seized and I would simply disappear. The doom and gloom are now finally gone.
Mattia finally returns with the folder and the sheepish look of someone who knows he messed up and risked the trip. I give him a big hug and we run to passport control and customs before they close for lunch. We know things are still not right when we have to wait for power to be restored for the computers to function. When it finally is, it is barely 5 minutes before the guards’ lunch break. We finally make it to the final control just in time but the border guard points out that Mattia is missing his entry form. He replies that the customs officers forgot to return it and could he please ring him to confirm. Sorry, it’s lunch time and we have to wait an hour. No point in explaining that it was not our fault his colleague forgot the form, that we have a long drive, that we would like to go now to take advantage of as much sunlight as possible. Nothing moves the border guard. Certain things have not changed after all.
We kill time preparing ourselves some lunch and espresso with two of the mechanics entrusted with monitoring the group’s progress at the border. When the border finally re-opened, it still takes half an hour to complete the process and we finally leave at 2:30 for our 600Km drive to Belokhurika, a thermal bath health centre. Actually, make that 710Km. Because of a forest fire our original route is now closed and we are instructed to make a long detour.






The scenery at the beginning of the route is not very different from Mongolia. The road could not be more different, however, good quality tarmac, fully marked, road signs etc. The beginning is straight and dull until we reach a river and follow it in it’s descent into narrow valley full of trees changing colour in the Autumn. It is a beautiful winding road which coasts the side of the hills which define the valley. We gradually drop from over 2,000m to just over 500m and it feels a lot warmer than in the morning. Despite the curves and our limited power we make good progress but at an average speed of just over 60Km/we know we will make it before 1-2am.
By half past seven it is dark and chilly particularly with no windshield. By ten we are also quite tired so we decide to stop at a small truckers’ restaurant. American crew of car 44 (a 1936 Ford Coupe) Arthur Freeman and Roger James are enjoying a bowl of borscht. We decide to join them. At that time and after the cold we endured it could not have tasted better.
We ask some young customers about the closed route and they confirmed it was. The suggested an alternative route which, though more complicated, would save us about 60-70Km. The American crew decide to join us. This actually makes us feel better about taking the alternative route in case something happens.
We finish off our soup and take off but not before all of us leaving our autographs on cards to those youngsters who provided the route suggestions. It appears that many young Russians collect signatures of foreigners they meet. Odd but… why not?
After a few miles we finally find the turnoff from the main road and cross a river on a wooden suspension bridge that seems taken right out of an Indiana Jones film. The route takes us then across a thick forest and over some hills. Despite the full moon it is still quite dark, colder than ever and we were both very tired. It is still a good 100Km to Belokhurika which we reach by 1:30. We warm up with some more soup and move on to our sleeping quarters. The rooms we are given are dreadful but we were so exhausted we cannot care less. Only a few hours to sleep before our departure for Kazakhstan at 7:25am!

Day 14: Belokhurika, Russia to Semey, Khazakhstan


A brutal wake up call at 6am. I needed an extra half an hour to be able to make sense after last night’s long drive. The programme involves about 450Km to the Kazakh border and another 110 after that. It is imperative we make it before 4pm otherwise we will remain stuck in Russia until the next day. We manage to get ready to get our start stamped at 7:25 and after a very quick but decent breakfast we shoot out of this dump of a hotel.






The road to the Kazakh border could not be more different from last night’s. Miles and miles of flat cultivated fields probably part of collective farms established during the Soviet period. They are being harvested and the machines which are being employed seem to date from the Soviet era. The traffic is sparse, mainly old Ladas and Moskwich cars with some more recent copies of Japanese cars from twenty years ago. A lot of old trucks spewing their fumes as they struggle with their cargo along the road. We also spot quite a few horse drawn carts carrying people or farm products, certainly something we no longer see in Europe. We cross several villages with attractive houses, painted in lively colours, with contrasting window frames. They remind us of the ones we had seen in several Mongolian villages which, we realise, must have been modelled after the Russian ones.
We stop after a few hours to check some noise coming from the car. We discover that the underside of the car is covered in oil. We tried to figure out where it comes from but cannot. As we need to get to the border we decid to fill up whatever oil is missing from the engine and gearbox and move on, the theory being that as long as there is oil in both we are unlikely to have a serious problem.




 

We pass several cars that had problems including Alastair Caldwell’s Alfa Romeo 6c which, like our Chevy, never seems to finish a day without something happening to it, and Nigel Gambier’s Lagonda which is marred by electrical issues.






We reach the border at 3:30. This time formalities are less exciting than the previous day – no one misplaces any documents! The Kazakhs are even more efficient than the Russians and in a couple of hours we are back in the car bombing towards the town of Semey. We have never heard of this town before but understand it is in an area where the Soviets used to test their nuclear weapons… When we reach it we also discover that it is very polluted from its very visible coal burning power plants… and yet none of the street-lights are on after sunset.




 




We reach the hotel by 8 to discover that it compares unfavourably even to the previous night’s Russian establishment. It is a ghastly Soviet left over which has not received any maintenance since the fall of that empire. The entrance hall is lit by a couple of light bulbs, the reception is behind a glass window, the rooms are dreadful, the bathrooms beyond hope, lifts have stopped being repaired years ago so we have to haul our luggage up the stairs. And yet we are told that this is the best hotel in town where most rich local Kazakhs have their weddings and other functions. Too tired to complain we have a bite to eat and turn in. We almost feel we were better off in our tents in Mongolia…

Day 15: Semey to Usharal Camp Site


At least there was hot water in the morning! No further comment on this honourable establishment.

 







We are off to over 500Km of tarmac road on route to Almaty. It’s better than the dirt roads but also more treacherous. You think you can drive at higher speeds in confidence but actually you need to keep your eyes wide open for pot holes that, at speed, could wreck your suspensions, transmissions and wheels. We hit one of them particularly hard and feel the whole car shaking as if it’s going to fall apart. S..t! must drive slower! We keep an eye on the Kazakh drivers and often follow them offer road on trails far smoother than the normal road.
Outside the various towns we pass through there are Moslem cemeteries with opulent shrines shaped like mosques, castles, pyramids, all together making the cemeteries look like miniature towns. Very peculiar.






We reach the first passage control at a café where we hope to get some refreshments. When Mattia tries to reverse the park the car out of the way of other participants we hear a scary grinding sound as the car completely looses traction. Have we broken the gearbox? The gears seem to go in so that should not be the problem. Maybe it’s the connection between the engine and the gearbox. Luckily for us the time scrutinisers waiting for us in the café today are one of the mechanics team so I ask one of them, Alan, if he can come back with me to the car to help us diagnose the problem. He goes underneath the car. Engine ok, gearbox ok. Must be the transmission. We jack up the car, turn the engine on, put in first gear and check the two rear wheels. The left one produces the grinding sound that we heard before: broken half-shaft. The half shaft is the long metal rod that connects to the differential to each wheel. We have a spare, actually two, under the front seat of the car. We get to work. We need to remove the wheel, the bell housing around the break and a plate to give us access to the half shaft. Luckily it’s broken near the wheel. That helps getting the rest of it out without having to dismantle its housing and the differential. We install the new one, grease everything and put back all the remaining parts and the wheel and in less than an hour and a half from the breakdown we’re ready to go. We have accumulated some delay but should be able to catch up some of the lost time. Lesson learned: if you have to breakdown, always do it in front of the support team!






The road is straight through the flat Kazakh steppe. It’s boring driving save for the zigzags around the huge potholes. We drive across a number of towns and villages, many in a sad state of disrepair. Most of the large Soviet built blocks of flats are dilapidated or even gutted. Factories are mostly skeletons in the desert. The only decent houses are the smaller wooden ones similar to the Russian ones we saw before crossing the border. Cows and sheep graze close to the road and sometimes wonder on it. Need to keep eyes wide open. People are very friendly waving and cheering us on. Everyone with a camera phone takes picture. Some pass us and stay on the passing lane to film us until another car comes in the opposite direction.
We pass the second passage control within the maximum allowed time but at the third one we check the origin of some banging noises an, sure enough, we’ve lost the bolt of the front engine mounting. Despite the help of Bob Manchorov, another of the mechanics supporting the event, because it’s so awkward to reach, it takes us almost as much to put a replacement (that we had sourced from a broken down Wartburg back in Khovd) as it did to replace the half shaft in the morning.




 

Back on the road we feel a little hopeless about reaching final time control within the maximum allowed time. Just before reaching it, we pass our friends Simon MacKenzie-Smith and Rupert Marks standing next to their Ford Model A. Mechanics are with them but sadly we shall learn later that they will need to be trucked to Almaty. We push on and by keeping the average speed above 80Kph we manage to reach the final time control within 3 minutes. The sun has just set and the full moon is rising over the pink and blue horizon. We are exhausted but happy and quite proud to have been able to overcome a number of potentially disabling disasters during the day. After a surprisingly tasty Kazakh dinner, it’s espresso with our friends Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings (1939 Alfa Romeo 2500 6C) before they are off to their motel room above the nearby petrol station (we missed that, damn!).




Day 16: Usharal Camp site to Almaty







It did get cold at night and it didn’t help that my inflatable mattress kept on slowly deflating. Imagine waking up in the middle of the freezing night to blow air inside it… twice! Anyway, up at 6am and off at 7:25 to another 600Km of straight road to Almaty. We are really hoping not to have to face another day of mechanical failures. An yet…barely an hour after leaving camp the accelerator pedal suddenly fails to return to its normal position and we have to switch the engine off to avoid going off the only curve we had encountered in the morning. We stop on the side of the road and put out the OK sign to signal we do not need help and get to work on discovering what happened. Nigel Gambier and Hugo Upton in their blue Lagonda stop anyway to find out whether we need any help but we tell them we are fine and let them get on.






After a brief analysis of the situation, it is clear that the spring, which forces the accelerator pedal back, has snapped. The fact is we can’t find where it is. In the interest of time, therefore, we decide to fix it by attaching a bungee strap to the back of the accelerator pedal and hooking it to a small hole in the pan attached to the chassis at the front. We test it a few times and refine the set up with a few plastic straps and… it works. We have lost about 40 minutes but it’s not the end of the day. We are determined to make it on time with no penalties. The road is straight and… boring barely livened up by the innumerable Kazakhs who say hello and take pictures and movies of us as they (very slowly) overtake us. There are fortunately no other disasters and we make all passage controls well within our maximum allowed times.
We stop in a village to buy some apples and pears from a local vendor on the side of the road. It’s a pity we are always in a rush, as we would like to have more contact with the locals




 







While cars in Russia were mostly local junk heaps (both old and new – the Lada still being produced), those in Kazakhstan are mostly German and Japanese of one or two generations ago. We have a feeling that a lot of used cars that are traded in to European dealers (plus a few stolen ones perhaps) get shipped over here. Many still proudly show off the D sticker at the back as a sign of quality of the country of origin of the car irrespective of whether it was produced there or not. Someone who stopped next to us while we were refuelling from one of our jerry cans, even made a point of the fact that he had purchased his Toyota in Germany. Very odd. There are also quite a few Russian Dniepr motorcycles almost all with sidecars, copies of 1940’s boxer engine BMWs. We wonder how they manage with -20°C in the winter.
We drive in a large circle around a military base town on a road with carefully manicured round-topped trees and bushes. Very strange. Many of the soldiers on leave stop to have their pictures taken on our car while we refuel at a petrol station. We are used to this by now but continue to play along. As soon as they find out we are from Italy they all cheer and start shouting Adriano Celentano, Toto Cutugno, pizza, Palermo, Inter, Totti and whatever else comes to their mind about Italy.
We have our first flat tire. Well almost. We noticed the rear right one was losing air, probably because we had bent the rim in one of the potholes. Mattia says it’s all his fault for not increasing the tire pressure but that’s been his obsession for a long time. So, to avoid having to take out our own jack we stopped at a roadside tire repair shop. We got the owner to use his Jack and replaced the wheel with our spare one. It only took 10 minutes and he wanted no money for the help but we told him he had to accept something at least for coffee so he finally accepted.
After more flat and very straight roads road we drive by a large lake created by a dam. Immediately later we spot some newly established casinos some only partly built. We are not sure of whether this means it’s a growing or declining industry.




 

As we approach Almaty (city of apples in Kazakh) we begin to spot posters sporting pictures of the long ruling leader of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev. We can’t make anything out of what they say but based on past experience of similar rulers it must be a long list of his achievements.
It’s Saturday and traffic in this growing city of 3 million is not as bad as it could be on a normal day but it’s quite polluted nevertheless. We follow directions to our hotel and spot other participants on the way (sadly Austrians Hans Geist and Herbert Pinzolits’ 1940 Pontiac on a truck because a broken clutch). They are often hesitant versus the local traffic “etiquette” and this is the kind of situation where having learned to drive in Rome helps negotiate getting in and out of lanes at the appropriate moments.
We finally reach the Intercontinental Hotel, in the centre of town next to the Mayor’s office building. It’s a welcome change from the nights spent in freezing tents or in -2 star hotels without hot water. We are craving a shower but our first priority is to line up some mechanics for the tomorrow to do some maintenance and welding on our car. We need to get our windshield back up, fix the spotlight bracket and repair the front left mudguard that is beginning to break again. Plus all the usual stuff, check the brakes, grease everything, change all oils etc.
You realise how wonderful a shower is when you have not had one for longer than usual (we shall omit to describe the specific length of time). Suffice to say that we need to spend at least 20 minutes each and use all the soap and shampoo that is provided to remove the dust, grease and grime that has attached to our bodies (and we still leave some grey marks on the towels). Given the extortionate hotel laundry prices I make an attempt at washing one of my formerly white shirts but despite my valiant effort I fail to get it beyond light grey (Mattia is still laughing…). So hotel laundry it will be.
Dinner is a mediocre international cuisine affair. I was hoping for something local but I guess we shall have to find that ourselves somewhere else. The company of fellow drivers Kurt Engelhorn (Bentley 4.5 litre) and Simon Hope (Bentley Speed Six) and a couple of bottles of Bourgogne more than make up for it. Time to ring my friend Mariyam for advice on local establishments.

Days 17-18: Almaty (Kazakhstan) – Rest days


Mariyam’s advice for Almaty was excellent. Unfortunately, due to the heavy work load for the car we only got to follow it in a limited way. We took the car to the local Nissan dealer who had emptied his workshop to allow as many of us to use it to do work on our car. He put his mechanics at our disposal to help us with certain complex issues or speed up the work. We divided our roles, Mattia staying with the car while I went to look for supplies (parts, oil, etc.).









 

I hitched a ride with Nigel Gambier in his blue Lagonda to Red Scorpion, another mechanic which had a supplies shop. It was a great ride during which he told me how this car had been in his family since his grandfather bought it new for his grandmother back in 1934. It’s his only classic car and he has driven it on a previous P2P as well as in several other long distance rallies around the world. He also uses it to take his family around on short trips.
In the garage Mattia carried out a full service and regular maintenance. Unfortunately what was supposed to be a half day exercise stretched over almost two days. The starter motor mysteriously stopped working only to magically start working again once it was dismantled. Go figure! As work was progressing slowly I asked mechanic Bob Macharov to join Mattia at the workshop to speed things up and allow him some rest.












I found and purchased the best oil money could buy and to complete my other errands I then hired a driver to take me around. He was of Turkish origin and I managed to exchange a few words with him in his language as well as in his limited English. He took me to a large market. I went through a maze of narrow alleys where hundreds of shops sold all sorts of car supplies, tools, consumables, etc. I then found a glass cutting shop who had some thick Plexiglas. I asked him whether he could fabricate a couple of aero-screens in case the windshield, which was being welded once again, were to collapse for the third time). I showed him a picture of one which I had taken of one of the rally cars and gave him some indicative measurements. He told me to come back in an hour. I took the opportunity to look for somewhere to have lunch and with help of my Turkish driver managed to order some delicious food. During lunch he told me how his parents had been deported by Stalin to Kazakhstan, how certain things were better now that the Soviets had left (the obvious ones – freedom, choice, etc) but how certain others had been better under the Russians – jobs, simpler life, less competition. I went back to the glass shop to find they had completely bungled the job and had produced one screen half the size I had requested. I looked around the shop and found that a mirror they had just cut had the shape and width that I requested. I placed it over the Plexiglas and told them to cut it around it’s semi-circled top and indicated the maximum length. This time they got it and in 15 minutes it was ready.
Back at the hotel I discovered that car 22, a 1929 Chevrolet roadster not very different from ours, had caught fire on the way to Almaty and was now a heap of ashes. The crew, David Clements and Russel Stevenson, who had been our yurt-mates, were now looking for alternative transportation to get them to Paris. We later learned that they did find a modern something and spent their entire time in Almaty getting the right export and registration papers to allow them to continue their trip. We understand this is the third example of crews having to do so. Others, like David Rayner in his BMW have simply walked away.


































 

The rest of the time was spent… well actually resting a little, something we had not done in several days. We checked out a couple of restaurants in the evenings with some of our newly made friends. Of these, Alashà, stood out for great food, live musical entertainment and belly dancing. We felt that both the local rhythms and belly dancing were far superior to anything that we had seen elsewhere. Some of the locals approached us to find out more about our rally. They had some great laughs at our adventures, probably thinking we were all nuts. Some of them turned out to be local entertainment celebrities and took turns to sing to everyone’s enjoyment. They then asked all of us to join them in the dancing to celebrate someone’s birthday.




 





 





 





Day 19: Almaty to Shymkent


This morning Mattia woke up saying “I had a dream!” … that he needed to change the “T” joint connecting the mechanical and electric pumps to the fuel line leading to the carburetors. I guess these are sometimes the kind of dreams one has when doing these rallies! Since last night, he had been mulling over the joint that had been fabricated and installed by the local mechanics because the car had been sputtering and stopping on the way to the hotel. We had checked and changed the points the previous evening and the car seemed to work fine. Nevertheless as he was given a new T-joint by one of the mechanics he thought of installing it before breakfasts. So he did.
We leave punctually at 6:34 (!) but soon after we realise that the car is not running smoothly. It sputters and backfires and then finally stops. This happens several times before we give up and stop by the side of the road. We’ve only done 7Km. We dismantle the carburetor bowl and discover some rubber debris in it, possibly caused by the careless installation of the local mechanics. Maybe that’s what been preventing the fuel from flowing smoothly. We are not entirely convinced, however fear having to dismantle the carb jet on our own. Sure enough after just a few hundred metres we stop again. Damn! We call Simon who has just passed us. He cannot turn back and suggests ringing Peter Banham who is at the back. A Kazakh mechanic stops his van and offers to help. We tell him we are waiting for our own support but he hangs around and offers us some of his tools which facilitate our work.. It’s amazing how kind and helpful people try to be with foreigners. It must be part of a culture of hospitality of this people. Peter arrives a few minutes later and after a few futile attempts on the electrics – distributor, coil – he attacks the carburetor. Sure enough he discovers a some rubber debris in one of the jets, probably the result of some of the stuff done in the workshop yesterday. Once more confirming that we shouldn’t let anyone put hands on our car. We put everything back and run off. We are an hour and a half late on our schedule. It will not be easy to catch up. Another exciting start to our day!
Leaving Almaty at 8 is a lot harder than an hour and a half before. Better than the way into town which has turned into a parking lot. The road is excellent both the double carriageway and the single that follows. We are trying to catch up and have calculated that if we stay above 70Kph we should be able to reach the final time control without incurring penalties. We pass through a few towns, probably at a speed higher than allowed and on a couple of occasions policemen whistle and make signs for us to stop. We don’t and wave back in as friendly way as possible smiling all along! When we stop to refill our tank, Peter Banham, who was tailing us, stops to tell us that they were stopped in our place for speeding and fined accordingly! He didn’t have enough cash to pay the fine but he managed to negotiate a discount in exchange for not demanding a receipt…obviously we promptly reimbursed him. Beware of tailing the “mad Italian motorists” when they are running late!
The rest of the day went smoothly, that is if we leave out a 17Km stretch of road that seemed to have been recently air-bombed given its huge craters. They were larger even than anything we had seen in Mongolia. Only survival strategy was to advance at a crawling pace swinging the car from side to side to minimise the “strikes”. Brought back fond memories of Mongolia after so much asphalt!
By the evening we managed to catch up some of the slower cars and some like the now famous blue Model A belonging to Rupert and Simon and Nigel and Hugo’s Lagonda still marred by mechanical problems. They both managed, however, to reach our hotel in Shimkent.

Day 20: Shimkent to Tashkent


We are pleased to report that today, for the first time in this rally, we have little to report in terms of mechanical failures and problems. Well, one of our spot lights is loose and to save time we have taken it off. Also our horn does not work very well but that’s about it.
As we are still in the race, we try to stick to the proper schedule and leave punctually at 7:34. Many who are not, however, leave much earlier. Tim Scott, the sole (masochist) motorcyclist whose contraption has spent more time on trucks than on asphalt, is an example. Despite arriving at 4:30am, had a shower and was back on the road to reach the border asap. Simon and Rupert on their recently fixed Model A did the same as did a number of others.
Our drive to the border is fairly straight and uneventful. Once we arrive, however, we are assaulted by a horde of money changers who scramble to offer us the best rate. We finally negotiate 1600 local dingalings per dollar, about the same as the official rate. Later we find out we could have received at least 2000 which is the black market rate. The other curious thing is that the largest banknote is 1000 dingalings. That means that when we change just two hundred dollars we receive a ton of paper money, 360 banknotes to be exact (later 400 with the better rate). Once we complete the formalities (about 2h as usual) which includes a detailed currency declaration, we move swiftly towards Tashkent. The scenery over the border could not be more different from Kazakhstan. Instead of flat empty plains, many cultivated fields. Many of them are cotton and are being harvested as we drive along.
Driving manners are marginally worse than in Kazakhstan with people u-turning on major highways with only a modest concern for the oncoming vehicles. This seems a very protectionist country. An evident sign of this is the lack of any imported vehicles whether new or used. The last ones are old Ladas, Volgas and Moskwich. All the others are Korean Chevrolets. The most popular one is the Matiz which is produced locally. About one out of every two cars is a Matiz. Petrol also seems to be a problem here. Octane levels are down to 80 and even that is not always easy to find. Uzbekistan must be in economic trouble if they can’t supply it on a regular basis and their currency is so messed up. We tank up with it anyway and move on without any hint of trouble from the engine.
On the other hand what really impresses us is the incredible level of cleanliness all around. There is not one piece of rubbish anywhere. Not on the road, not in front of the homes, nowhere. Even better than Kazakhstan. We reach Tashkent just in time for a late lunch which we have in a superb restaurant across the street from our hotel. We are the only customers there and, at first, are a little e suspicious. We are invited to sit in an indoor patio and, as the menu is only in Uzbeck we let the pretty waitress chose for us. We end up with a delicious tomato salad, some samsa, a puff pastry containing some beef. And lamb and beef kebabs. Superb and light. P
Ready for an afternoon excursion we head for the Chorsu Bazaar. We grab a taxi (also a Matiz) which takes us through the city’s very wide avenues. It turns out to be one of the largest produce markets we have ever seen. A whole section is dedicated to meat which is butchered in front of our eyes on huge wood blocks which must have been in use for decades. Then vegetables, fruit, dried fruit and nuts, spices, bread, shaped like a shallow bowl, and sweets of which we buy different varieties to try with the local green tea. Mattia bought a colourful Uzbek hat (trying to catch up with Hugo and some of the other English crews) and from then on I kept of losing him as with his beard he blended perfectly in the crowd.
Dinner is at Caravan, a restaurant recommended by a newly made acquaintance of Mattia, together with a number of the crews. Great company with some of the crews but the food turns out to be a disappointment compared to the meal earlier in the day. We try Uzbek wine too which we first smell and discover it has an aroma which is a cross between glue and turpentine. We don’t go as far as tasting it…


Days 21-22: Tashkent to Samarkand plus rest day


This is the day I have been longing for since travelling across Asia on a motorcycle in the mid to late 90s. Then I was hoping travel the silk route avoiding Iran (and Afghanistan!) through the various former Soviet republics and then China. Unfortunately then, China would not allow anyone to travel with one’s own vehicle. I therefore had to chose the southern route that went through Iran and Pakistan and onto India. I have no regrets about that route which turned out to be memorable but I had been longing to travel to Samarkand since then. It turned out to be even better than my expectations. Getting there was fairly uneventful. It was mostly motorway driving and the only excitement came from the drivers who passed us while taking pictures, would then slow down to film us and finally move on.










 







As soon as we arrived we went across the street to visit the first sights. Across from our hotel was the Guri Amir and Ak-Saray mausoleums. The former was remarkable for it’s refined Persian influenced design. Similar in design but on a much grander scale is the Registan, a complex of mosques and madrases that we visited the next day together with Steven Harris (Porsche 356), professor of architecture at Yale. Though he confessed a lack of knowledge of the specific buildings, he offered precious and insightful comments as we made our way through the various buildings. We also climbed up one of the minarets. It’s normally not allowed but one of the guards (!?!) let the three of us up for $10. It was an almost scary experience going up at least sixty plus very tall steps in a very narrow space where a normal sized person could just fit. Once you reached the top you stuck up your head through the roof. The view from above was truly spectacular. I came back down walking backwards, as if on a ladder. Missing one step going forward would have meant rolling and bouncing against the wall all the way down to the bottom.





 





 







Once back down we visited several of the tiny shops located within the walls of the Registan. There were some very elegant scarves, hats and bags. For the first time since the beginning of the rally we actually find stuff worth buying!
After lunch we split up. Mattia and I continued to the enormous Bibi-Khanim mosque, the local bazaar and then on to the Shah-I-Zinda (tomb of the living king). It is a narrow avenue of blue tiled mausoleums one of which is said to contain the remains of a cousin of the prophet Mohammed who is believed to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century.




 











 

Later in the afternoon we joined a number of the crews to celebrate Catriona Rings’ birthday (co-driver of Alistair Caldwell on Alfa Romeo 6C) at a café located within a recently developed pedestrian zone/park/shopping centre near the mosque and the Bazaar. Lots of appetisers, drink and great camaraderie.

Day 23: Samarkand to Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan)


We leave early this morning as there are over 350Km to the border with Turkmenistan. Breakfast is a rushed affair and we are off. The drive out of Samarkand shows us a different side of the city, one that has been completely renovated, for the first time since the earthquake of the early 60s and though it may now look a little gentrified, it is nevertheless remarkable.













My sore point today is our inability to visit Buchara, after Samarkand, one of the other key cities on the Silk Route. Some of the crews have left earlier this morning or last night so as to be able to see it. Someone has even booked breakfast for all at a local hotel. We have not been able to join because to do so would have obliged us to skip the timed start and lose the gold status. Leaving on time and making a detour to Buchara would have forced us to miss our arrival time control at the border plus the risk of missing the border all together for the day. All those who chose to go have had problems with their cars before and have therefore de facto out of the race. We learned later they had a superb time and breakfast. Damn!
Passing the border was less problematic than expected, despite the early warning by the organization (it’s called managing expectations) and the innumerable officers Mattia had to go through to get all the required stamps on his papers.




We arrive in Turkmenabat, a fairly anonymous town, at a reasonable time that gives us a little time work on a car. We later look for a restaurant and find that George and Xavier are already there in a private room away from the deafening karaoke in the main one. We later learn that most of the restaurants play loud music. All public places are bugged by the government so this is the only way people can have private conversations without being overheard.

Day 24: Turkmenabat to Ashgabad (Turkmenistan)


It’s going to be a long day with over 600Km to cover on roads, we hear, are not absolutely fantastic. We have a relatively late starting time. To give more time to the slower cars the Organization has set the starting times according to the total times achieved to date. The result is that we are starting in 58th position. The problem is that we’re decently placed in the rankings because we have broken little not because we are fast. Our cruising speed of about 70-80Kph, in fact, is close to our maximum speed of 90Kph. Most of the cars, even those of our era, can cruise at speeds far higher than ours, some well above 120Kph. As expected soon after leaving Turkmenabat we are overtaken by the Bentleys, Lagondas, Alvises and even by the 1920 Vauxhall. Later however we see the Vauxhall on the roadside with its front wheels no longer parallel, evidence of a steering arm problem mechanics are already there so we just wave and move on.









 

It’s hot and getting hotter. I consider taking my leather jacket off but like Mattia, decide that it’s probably better to keep it on as a protection from the sun as to keep my body’s humidity inside. We cross a semi-desert area which soon turns into a fully fledged desert with sand dunes etc.










 
 

Day 25: Ashgabad (Turkmenistan) to Gorgan (Iran)













The day I have always felt uneasy about has finally arrived. Today we are crossing border with Iran where we shall stay for three nights. Mattia has never been to Iran before while I have travelled there once before back in 1995 while I was attempting to go around the world on a motorcycle. I had crossed the border from Turkey at Bazargan (where we shall make our exit on this trip) and quickly perceived a sombre atmosphere which never changed or softened during that trip. The country was beautiful, the sights incredible and the people kind and hospitable but always weary to speak to a foreigner. I was very curious about what had changed in the last 15 years.
We set off for the short journey to the border but not before having a last quick tour of Ashgabad’s mad buildings. The road to the border was a 40Km steep climb up a mountain that severely tested our engine’s cooling system. When we finally got to the top it was another case of hurry up and wait. The formalities for co-drivers were simple and straight forward while for drivers and cars it was again quite complicated. In the end though, we managed to finish off the formalities in About One hour. Things were not moving as fast however on the Iranian side. By 1pm we pulled out our gas burner and started preparing lunch and espresso which we offered to all the other crews that were stuck with us between Turkmenistan and Iran. Finally at two we were invited into Iran and into the border building. It was utter chaos there and many crews had been waiting for up to 5 hours. Apparently it was a religious holiday and the border guard were taking it easy. To speed things up, though, the head of the Iranian Classic Car Club got in touch with the Vice-President of Iran who apparently intervened with the border post and finally things started moving. It took us less than an hour to get our passport stamped and back on the road. At the border exit we were welcomed by a number of members of the classic car club who had been waiting for our arrival since the previous night. After a few minutes of handshakes and pictures we set off for our 600Km drive to Gorgan where we did not expect to arrive before midnight.










 

The first few miles were essentially a continuation of the Turkmenistan landscape until we finally came down from the hills and onto a main road going North towards the Caspian sea. We passed through a town where we stopped to buy some dried fruit and nuts from one of the innumerable shops on the main road.
Traffic there was quite heavy and, much to our surprise, the people along the roads and through a first town cheered and screamed while taking pictures with their camera phones as we drove by.
We moved our watches back by 1 1/2 hours to Iranian time. This meant the sun set quite early and by 5:30 it started getting dark. The enthusiasm of the people did not diminish though. In fact all those who were returning from a long weekend were jockeying for position to drive by our car, asking us where we were from, welcoming us to Iran and continuing to take pictures, blinding us us with their flashes. It felt almost like being at a premiere with us being the movie stars! We were also very surprised about how many women smiled and waved at us. At a certain point we stopped to get petrol and were showered with flowers by a group of young women who had been waiting near a petrol station for the rally cars to refuel. Later kids on motorcycles challenged us to race against them zigzagging around us to capture our attention. The asked us to use our horn and got all frenzied upon hearing the 20s style sound. It was a very very different atmosphere from my first trip to Iran. Sometimes, however, you can get too much of a good thing. Driving at night on an old car is a chore. Having to respond politely and wave at everybody as you cross every town and village only made more tiring. By midnight, when we reached the hotel in Gorgan, we were really exhausted. We were approached by Heidi, one of the senior staff members, with the following: “do you want the bad news or the terrible news?”. As the President of Iran was visiting the town the following day, all rooms in the hotels where we were supposed to stay in had been requisitioned for his staff, body guards etc. In addition we were advised to leave town the next morning as early as possible because otherwise we could be stuck by roadblocks. WELCOME TO IRAN! We had two options: a single star establishment a couple of miles away or to get our tents out and pitch them in the parking lot of this hotel, the only one that had not been requisitioned. We chose the first option as we were too tired to pull out our camping equipment and were in desperate need of a shower. In the end it was not as bad as we feared (better than in Semey) and we also had secure parking for our car. We had stopped for a bite at a truck stop on the way so we immediately turned in for a few (very few) hours’ sleep.










Day 27: Rasht to Tabriz (Iran)


With the first morning light we can see that our hotel is right in front of the beach. Not a great beach day though. The sky is the colour of lead, it’ s still raining and there is a gale force wind blowing from the Caspian. We are going to get very wet. I want my desert back!
We begin the day by fixing our windshield wiper and replacing the inner tube of our flat tire. We seem to have misplaced our spare tubes so we borrow one from the mechanics team Working under a canopy makes the job much easier. In less than half an hour we are done are off. We are on the motorway leading towards the mountains when suddenly the windshield wiper comes off and flies into the bushes on the side of the road. Great! We make a feeble attempt to find it but soon decide to soldier on. The rain has dropped to a light drizzle and the windshield can stay up.
Just before beginning our climb, we pass by some towns and villages where banners (in English) have been placed high up across the streets with slogans such as “move towards a world full of peace and tranquillity”, “Iran is the capital of all kindness”, “war mongers are not after peace” and the cherry on the cake: “Nuclear power for all, nuclear weapon for no one”. This is the only country which up to now has thrown political slogans in our route. Why am I not surprised?!
The road up the mountains facing the Caspian Sea is a continuous climb from about -20m (the Caspian is below sea level) to over 2,200m. The trouble with our Chevy is that whist it is capable of keeping an acceptable cruising speed on a level surface, it struggles as soon as there is the lightest incline. In addition it has only three gears. It doesn’t lack a fourth. In fact it lacks a third. This means that there is an excessive gap between second and top. While this is not a problem on flat ground, it’s a real struggle uphill. When we rev up in second gear and try third the engine just dies. So we are forced to stay in second at a maximum of 50Kph with the engine so noisy it feels like a piston might shoot out of the bonnet at any moment.
It starts raining again and as we climb to the top we end up in the clouds. Visibility is close to nil and it’s also very cold. None of the Iranian cars coming in the opposite direction have their lights on and we often see them at the last moment. As was the case last night we must focus on the only reference points we have, the middle and side white lines which are not always there. And there is always the odd cow or goat crossing the road at the wrong moment. Finally, as we finish climbing we are over the clouds and the scenery that opens in front of us is spectacular with fewer trees and some open fields where sheep and goats graze the lush grass. It’s no longer raining and the sun finally begins to shine through the clouds. In fact, as we begin our descent, the clouds quickly disappear, the fields become more arid and all of a sudden we are back in the desert. It’s also suddenly hotter and we have to quickly stop to strip out of our warmer clothes and waterproofs. An amazing contrast from only a few kilometres back and our morning wish come true.
The descent in The Valley is very steep and for a while it’s one hairpin after another. We shift down to second gear but we soon see that it’s not enough. We are pushing hard on the breaks and know they will not last long, certainly not all the way to the bottom. We stop, the only way to switch to first gear and continue at a crawl while the engine revs high and the gearbox whines loudly. We still need to use our breaks but are able not to overheat them. Half way down we come across a number of crews who have stopped their cars on the side of a broader hairpin. Their breaks have overheated and they are busy throwing water on them to cool them down. They were evidently going to fast or using a higher gear than we were.
As we continue our descent, Mattia hears a hissing sound behind his back. I turn around and listen too. It’s our spare tire, placed behind our back, which is deflating apparently from the valve. That means that we no longer have a ready spare tyre. We have one spare tube but that will take a while to put on if we have a flat. Let’s hope for the best.
A little later we run out of fuel short of the fuel station we had marked on the map. We evidently used more fuel than we had expected going up the steep mountain. No problem, as we have two full jerry-cans. A man selling tiny watermelons across the street comes over to see what we are doing and brings two of his watermelons. He refuses payment so we offer him in exchange a bagful of our pistachios. That works and we shake hands and exchange smiles, a sign of a mutual understanding and respect.
As we approach Tabriz on the motorway, our accelerator pedal once again sinks to the bottom and we are forced to turn off the engine and stop in a safe place on the roadside. This time it’s not the spring that’s come off. Instead it’s the whole mechanism that is attached on the carburettor. It’s clear that he vibrations sustained during this journey plus our keeping the pedal floored in an effort to get some action from the engine have caused it to snap. After fiddling with it for a few minutes, Mattia figures out that he can snap the mechanism back on the carburettor. We only have 30Km to the final time control so we hope it will hold until we can show it to the mechanics. As it’s late we rush back into the car and speed (week sort of) off levying behind on the rear of the car… our road book. On the back of it are two pages with two large signs one of which we must always display at the back of our car when we stop on the side of the road: OK (even if we have a mechanical problem) and SOS in case someone is injured. When we realise it’s too late and we cannot turn around to fetch it as we are on a four lane highway with guard rails in the middle. I was navigating so it’s my fault. Though we remember the name of the hotel where the final time control is located we no longer have directions to lead us to it. In a town of over 600,000 people it can be tricky. Even our sat-nav is only partially useful as it shows the way-point we have to reach but not the roads that can lead us there. We consider our options. The most straightforward one is to find a taxi at the beginning of the town and ask us to lead us there. As we approach it, however, we notice that, as in many large towns, there can be several ways into it. We could end up entering the wrong way or circling it endlessly. With limited time available it’s important we get it right the first time. Suddenly I see a sign “El Gulli” which I remember seeing in the road book. We decide to follow it irrespective of whether the road book might have said about it (like, for example, don’t follow signs for El Gulli). We are again in luck and, shortly after following that sign, we are guided by a traffic police patrol which points us to our hotel which we reach just minutes before our maximum time allowance. Once again, despite mechanical failure, we manage (just) to reach our final destination.
Need to do maintenance and get a new tube. I am in charge of the latter and while Mattia gets out his tools I start looking for inner tubes. Model As have the same tire size and the owner of one of them has just received some and can spare one. Soon after, one of the Iranian car club members offers to drive me to a tyre shop. They have all been willing to lend a hand and many crews owe them a lot; for example, the owner of the convertible VW got his entire engine replaced in just 24 hours when one of the key bearings failed. We get into his car and drive off. Suddenly I feel as if I am about to take off in a jet. I do not know what he has done to his ’70s vintage american car’s engine but it’s a rocket and he wants to make sure I notice. He drives like a maniac down a four lane road zigzagging between less powerful cars, making sure they notice his presence with either his headlights or his horn. Not sure if he drives like this every day or whether he has taken my tube change as ting an emergency. He tells me in very broken english that he is a veterinarian. That does not does not really explain his driving style. He adds, though, that he loves american cars, particularly muscle cars from the ’60s and ’70s. He also owns a Camaro and a Blazer, both with major engine and suspension mods. He tells me that though no new American cars have been imported since the revolution, getting parts is not affected by either import restrictions nor by the embargo. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of digging my nails into the door handle and the seat upholstery we reach our destination. He explains to the shop owner what I need and while he does that I get the impression that Farsi resembles Turkish. Not so. They ARE speaking Turkish! My “escort” explains to me that most people in Tabriz speak the Azerbaijan version of Turkish rather than Farsi. In ten minutes we are done and are again into rocket mode back to the hotel. In the meantime, Mattia has had the throttle mechanism welded back. He hopes it will hold but is not too confident.
Shortly after we are informed that the reception organised by the Iranian classic car association will be attended by a senior government authority figure, possibly the vice-president. Again we have political interference in an event that has nothing to do with politics. The government has been involved in the organisation of this event and wants to make sure its voice is heard. The reports I get from other crews who agreed to go are in line with my expectations and I am glad to have had plenty to do on our car as a polite excuse no to go.

Day 28: Tabriz (Iran) to Erzurun (Turkey)


After a long and fairly dull motorway drive we reach the first border post and are told to wait in line for our turn which we do… for an hour…
We then move to the actual border building. It’s changed a lot since my last visit. Then there were a couple of small buildings manned by a small number of guards taking care of just a couple of tourists during the three hours I had to spend there. A large modern building manned by at least one hundred people has now replaced them. We are told to go to the border policeman. As we enter the building we are faced with a scene from Dante’s Inferno. There are literally hundreds of people, most of them local fpamilies squatting in the various halls on mats they have brought along for this very purpose. There are many children which the mothers struggle to keep entertained. Most of the women are veiled from their head to their ankles. It seems that they have been waiting there for a long time. As we pass by, we see them preparing tea and even lunch with the gas burners they have brought along. Outside, bus drivers are cooking rice and heating some canned meat on the roadside for all their passengers. They all seem patient even resigned to the long waits which are typical of borders in these countries. It seems time has a different meaning for them. We should consider ourselves lucky to live and travel in the West. It will be a long time before any of see countries will be able to emulate life style.
When it’s my turn, I approach the booth and hand my passport over to the border policeman. There begins a charade which I was not prepared for. He cannot figure out which country has issued my passport (Hungary). Despite the name of the country being translated in a fair number of languages he starts guessing: Germany, France, England then moves on to different continents – Mongolia, Malaysia, Australia, then Costarica, Honduras and Nicaragua. Meanwhile Mattia and the other crews are giggling behind my back and making bets on how many other countries he is going to read out from the computer. Finally he looks at the cover of my passport and proudly announces: Magyarstan! and puts a stamp in my passport. Wow! I thought I would never get out of Iran until the border policeman had run out of countries…and now I realise that I too am a citizen of a “…stan”
We are all cheering as we cross over to the Turkish side, arms raised to the sky. We are finally out. We then complete the Turkish formalities fairly quickly. Not quite Europe but much better than what we went through in the previous countries.
Over 300Km to tonights hotel in Erzurum. This is after this morning’s 300Km… good roads though, far better than when I passed by here last. Pity we cannot really take advantage of them as we hit terminal velocity at no more than 85Kph!
Soon after the border we are offered the majestic view of Mount Ararat, of biblical memory. Despite the very top being hidden by clouds it’s an incredible spectacle. It rises uninterrupted from about 1,500m on the plateau where we are, to over 5,000m, the highest mountain this side of Europe. It’s a dormant volcano which last erupted in the mid 19th century.
Noah’s ark has yet to be found.
We cross a number of villages, similar to those we have left behind near the Iranian border. In the countryside more cows, sheep, goats and shepherds on horseback. Not much else of notice before we arrive other than a ruined but beautiful Ottoman bridge, then, finally, a superb dinner at our hotel in the great Turkish tradition.
 
Ray's comments
 
"This was the last posting on the blog, the remaining days of the event are still to be posted.
 I have had the pleasure to speak  via email to both Andrea and Mattia in the last few days.
Andrea told me that the Chev finished the event and was well placed at 7th in their category and they recieved one of the very few Gold medals (for completing each day within the max time). The car is still in good shape and very functional. Mattia told me that he hopes to have the final days of the events posted in the near future."
 
 

Well Done Guys, an truely amazing adventure