Peking to Barton on Sea
Official pictures from event can be viewed here.
Gathered for the Police briefing, a senior police officer gave the most rudimentary briefing but woe betide any of us who violates Chinese traffic law and gets caught.
Our driving licences in the end were given to each competitor without taking a test. At last we queued for the coaches provided to take us to the warehouse to collect the cars. Traffic in Beijing seems to nearly gridlock most of the time, drivers pull out with normally no indication and force their way into the traffic lane. The warehouse inside was an amazing site with cars of every shape and make being coaxed into life. Hard to hear the Mercedes engine start with so much noise. At last we were in the sunshine and heading for petrol. In China motorists are mainly served. I suppose cheap labour is the answer to that. Nose to tail traffic all the way back to the Shangri La Hotel, in 38C heat. Arrived back about 16:00 for signing on. Cocktails and dinner later, and tomorrow my car must face scrutiny to obtain our entry pass.
My old Merc fourth in line for scrutineering and for gaining the certificate required for signing on and finally being admitted for the drive and journey of a lifetime. Quite a sight to such diversity and so many very different cars starting from the 1907 Contal and 1909 White Pullman steam car (this car travelled with a backup crew and carrying water and petrol) to a vast variety of vintage and classic cars. Early Bentleys always great to see. So we are all set to go. The next challenge will be to drive to The Great Wall of China and from there the adventure will begin.
2nd June Day 1
The Greatest Drive on Earth begins for me and my son Marcus today. Left the centre of Beijing at about 6:30 and made our way to The Great Wall the starting point. We arrived at about 7:30 a 75 KM drive. The start was accompanied by dancers in Chinese Traditional dress, some dressed in dragon costumes. Our start time was 9:26, and off we went. Spent our waiting time seeing other competitors leave. Once we left the motorways the roads were in poor condition with pot holes large enough to swallow half a car in places. Driving standards unbelievably poor. Chinese drivers have no concept of queuing, taking turns or letting people in. I will never again complain about pot holes in the New Forest. The schedule was tough, no time for lunch. On a very narrow road which became grid locked a German competitor driving another Mercedes Fintail had to take control of the traffic and even show a driver how to reverse so our cars could pass. After a near miss with a large three wheeled truck that decided to pull out when I was overtaking we eventually arrived at Hohhot. After dinner, and time spent making sure the car is fit for tomorrow I decided to crash out. This is just the first day.
June 3rd Day 2
Start time again 9:26. Our destination will be Erenhot on the Mongolian border. Leaving Hohhot was the usual dilemma with very dense slaw moving traffic. Driving skills are minimal in China, it was an ordeal simply to drive to our first test. The test was a speed test around a bumpy and dusty circuit. After the test we managed to break free of city and drive. We did reasonably well. The long drive to Erenhot was uneventful on the tarmac all the way. Incidentally there are speed cameras everywhere I bet we have gone through a number and gained some points. Hope we have exited, before fines can be applied. The usual reception committee was waiting for us, people everywhere many taking photographs. The drive to Erenhot was steadily climbing all the way and we drove over the Chinese Mongolian Plains, where poor farmers breed horses. Much excitement for tomorrow. I have been told it may take a few hours to get 120 cars over the border into Mongolia. We will need to take Passports, Chinese exit papers and V5 to prove ownership of the car. A big day tomorrow. Worth mentioning my son Marcus is navigating really well.
June 4th Day 3
A baptism of fire, I am writing this sat in my tent deep in the Gobi Desert, just reflecting on a day I will never forget. After we left our hotel, it was on 6 KM to the Mongolian border. We arrived at 7:30, it took until 13:30 to leave China and enter Mongolia. With check after check all at a snail’s pace, the minutes turned into hours. From the start Mongolia was different. Very poor with diabolical roads and stunning open views. Our rally route took us off road into the desert. The Mongolian tracks are dusty full of rocks and very difficult terrain with nothing but potholes, deep gullies and washboard type roads. The vibration through the car was extreme for kilometre after kilometre. We arrived at our camp at 19:30 tired and with a broken exhaust. Marcus managed to fit a replacement joining pipe, and the problem was temporarily resolved.
There will be speed tests tomorrow in the desert, my strategy is to conserve the car and survive for Paris. So will not worry too much about the times.
June 5th Day 4 and 5
Today was the toughest motoring day of my life, Marcus and I left our camp at 10:15 and we arrived at the Blue Sky Hotel at 23:50. The Gobi Desert is desolate, but at the same time the views are unbelievable. Nothing as far as the eye can see in any direction, hour after hour nothing changes. The tracks are a nightmare. Most competitors have given up on the speed trials. We are driving over ruts where the car can be grounded, there are potholes every few yards big enough to cause damage, blind summits and deep gullies where the car can ground or get stuck. Simply getting to Paris is a big enough challenge for most of us.
Cars are dropping out, I think nine so far. The tracks go on for hundreds of kilometres and most cars will shake themselves apart from the washing boarding on top of the other obstacles I have mentioned.
We had our own dramas, we lost the central part of our exhaust section, fitted a spare and that fell off as well. Damaged by constant grounding. So we continued with a noisy car. The throttle began to stick. So we stopped so I could inspect. I noticed a trickle of oil from the oil cooler outlet pipe from the bottom of the engine. Puzzled I turned the engine back on to watch and see how serious the leak was. An instant later the pipe gave way and a gush of oil sprayed everything. The entire content of the sump was lost, we were on the outskirts of a small village. Soon children gathered by, and soon they were drawing pictures in the dust which covered the old Mercedes.
With help we managed to use a spare pipe and this was adapted to bypass the oil cooler. We had enough oil with us to fill the sump. Two hours later we were on our way, a long way behind schedule but at least we were moving.
The roads continued to worsen and we decided to take it easy, we had no choice. We passed a 911S which had rolled over seven times (we learned later) the car travelling fast went over a blind summit and hit a gully on the other side. The car is a certain right off, totally destroyed. The crew were lucky to escape with their lives. The driver suffered a broken arm and unfortunately lost one of his ears, a spare part hit him hard. Just a centimetre more and he would have been killed. I always tie parts down and leave what I can in the boot for that reason. On our journey we passed a number of broken down cars.
Eventually the desert was behind us for the day and we hit a main tarmac road. It was absolutely bliss. But that was soon forgotten. Despite the time, the roads were exceptionally busy. Like the Chinese road courtesy does not exist. Now it was dark and my lights behind wire cages were covered with mud and dust. The beam was like a candle. So I took off the Hela spotlight covers and we had light. On the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar there had been a bad accident. Two lorry’s had collided and crews were cutting the drivers free. The traffic was chaos. What a relief to find the Blue Sky Hotel. At 11:50 not much food left but I grabbed a peace of chicken and some green beans. Ten minutes later I was in bed soon in a deep sleep .
I am sat in the main Mercedes Benz dealership In Ulaanbaatar, managed to arrive by 9:00 traffic awful. Dealership seems wonderful, a big place with lots of ramps. The dealer even has a complimentary restaurant, how good is that.
A willing manager greeted me looked at my car and I explained my problems. A mechanic took control, but could not work the column change but he quickly caught on. The car is on the ramp receiving some TLC and new oil pipe, exhaust section and the young mechanic is going to check and tighten all the nuts and bolts. The car is so dirty I have asked them to wash as well. I wonder what the bill will be. The answer is equivalent to £300 and that includes lunch in the dealership restaurant. I gave the mechanic a $50 tip, the equivalent of a week’s wages. He was thrilled.
June 7th Day 6
Left Ulan Bator at 10:55, our rally start time. The city seems to be in a permanent state of gridlock, no white lines, give way or stop signs. Drivers don’t seem to have taken a driving test of any standing and there is zero courtesy. Vehicles pushing their way through in all directions. It took well over an hour to break free of the city and eventually we arrived on a tarmac road.
After circa 200 KM we arrived at yet another off road section. Marcus and I have made a decision, we are not going all out to compete. Our Mercedes and our ability does not match the Porsche teams and their seasoned crews. We want to get to Paris. So at our test section driving within our capacity became the way forward. The Gobi continued to be incredibly rough with deep gullies, large boulders and multiple dirt tracks to choose from all going slightly different direction. I think our strategy worked well and we still passed cars which started before us, but trying to average around 80KM in such conditions is very tough indeed. We experienced many bumps and loud bangs but we rode through the various tests. During the day one car rolled, but the crew and mechanics managed to right it and off it went.
Arrived at a wonderful camp in the most breath taking surroundings. The vast landscape has remained untouched for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, whatever words I can find will never reflect its true beauty. Thankfully the old Mercedes ran well all day despite some rough treatment. Around our camp many cars are being worked on. Our camps are set up by a company called Nomads, food is good considering the circumstances even just had a hot shower. We are just taking one day at a time, nothing more.
June 8th Day 7
For the first 90 Kilometres we are on tarmac, heading west. Not far from the Russian border. I can see from our rally Garmin we are probably no more than 50 kilometres away but driving parallel and heading for the mountains. We eventually turned off the tarmac road, (very few of these roads in Mongolia which is a very impoverished country) after driving through a small town and onto our first rally stage the conditions radically changed.
The desert track dry and sandy but deeply rutted, with washboard surface. Caused by Lorries driving along during wet weather and then leaving the washboard surface for the sun to dry rock solid. The cars bouncing along and vibrating themselves to bits. Four stages in total averaging circa 70 Km per hour. Does not sound fast but very quick driving in those conditions.
On our way to camp drove past a number of broken rally cars, a number have dropped out now, not sure how many. This event is not for the feint hearted. Arrived at another camp high in the mountains and the temperature is dropping fast and it will be a minus number shortly.
A car rally is very sociable, just had dinner with Gerry Crown a very modest Australian gentleman who is a successful businessman and ex professional rally driver. I first met him in 2012 when we competed together on the Trans Am from New York to Alaska. The wonderful thing about Gerry is that he is 87 years old and outright winner of Peking to Paris twice. Despite his age he is probably the best driver here. As I write this he is ranking first as at tonight.
Another hard day is expected tomorrow, roughly 350Km all off road.
June 9th Day 8
Having driven for 51 years I am certain today was by far the most difficult driving day of my life, even including previous classic car rallies I have been involved in. We had five water crossings and 350 KM of off road. Mongolian roads are quite horrendous, deep divides, gravel, large stones, steep hills and gorges. The. 350 KM journey took more than 10 hours to complete.
The rolling hills and snow capped mountains quite magnificent, but unfortunately no time to dwell on such things. The car suffered today, grounding many times. The sump guard has long dents and the exhaust silencer at the rear as assumed a flat shape due to being battered many times.
Despite all this my old Mercedes (Reggie) continues to drive well, but a long way to go yet. The casualty was my middle section of the exhaust fell free after being struck hard driving up a steep muddy hill only 2 KM from our camp. Fortunately Marcus managed to bolt it back on, the section was not damaged.
Hoping for an easier day tomorrow. I learnt later many cars had to be towed up this hill. The Mercedes just went up despite the mud and ridiculously steep gradient.
10th June Day 9
Our start time was 9:55 once again, the day began with a 200 KM drive on tarmac which seemed like absolute bliss compared with the off road tracks. Very few roads in Mongolia, the road we used was new connecting various towns. This bliss soon came to an end after a quick dash we arrived at our first test which took us onto the familiar desert roads.
The road was testing as we drove high into the mountains, washboard surface shaking the car to bits as we try and drive at circa 80 KM. The second test was cancelled. The roads and rivers were awash after a downpour. The route was torturous but the views amazing. We drove through deep gullies, steep hills where the Fintail was fighting for grip. Many cars needed a tow.
As we continued the mountain views became spectacular with snow-capped mountains. We arrived at camp about 19:30 and dog tired. My problem being a broken exhaust which I am hoping will be fixed.
I have just found out that after 105 starters only 69 are running at the moment. Tomorrow we are heading for Russia. Our camp was at Achiit Lake, on a sandy shoreline. Views fantastic but insects everywhere, millions and millions of them.
June 11th Day 10
Left our base at 9:55, and off we went over the desert sand, I saw a stony path in front so span to the right over the sand to avoid the rocks. I misjudged the turn and suddenly the Fintail was stuck up to the axles in sand and grounded. Within a minute we had our sand ladders out of the boot, but to no avail we were stuck. Out of nowhere three locals turned up to help. They had been watching the rally cars speed past. They could see the situation was hopeless, one man disappeared and returned within a few minutes with a dark green ex Russian military 4X4. They tied a line to my front tow hook and within a few minutes we were out on firm ground. Handshakes all round and a few $US everyone was happy.
We had lost so much time but continued along a scenic gravel road travelling west and we eventually hit the Mongolian border. Only 25 cars in a queue but it took two and a half hours to clear the formalities. There is a 20 KM “no mans” section up to the Russian border. More formality and form filling together with much stamping of copy passports and my V5 for the Merc. At last we were let loose in Russia, driving towards Siberia.
Members of a local Peking to Paris club came out to wave and take photographs as the cars sped by, and at last we arrived at our camp. To my surprise we are sleeping in a Yurt.
Many people came to see our cars and to take photos, everyone very friendly and hospitable. The views and scenery and snow-capped mountain ranges have left a lasting impression. This part of Russia is very beautiful. Shared the Yurt with two New Zealanders Garry Boyce and Ken Williams driving car 98 another Mercedes like ours but a coupe. These guys quickly became our friends. Garry owns an impressive collection of cars and is a Mercedes expert.
June 12th Day 11
Started from our camp at 8:55, already lost the back part of my exhaust or at least it is in the boot. Another 550KM to drive on the gravel and across country. The Russian country side is vast and very beautiful, and the people incredibly friendly, they even have a Peking to Paris fan club. At our stops the children asked for our autographs against a booklet containing all the cars. So I had to sign next to car 97 (my Mercedes).
At a Passage Control stop a little girl gave me and Bill Gill (a likeable Aussie) driving a Mercedes 350 SLC a sweet each and then a hug. It made me feel quite humble. On our way across the lovely countryside and through tiny villages and towns people turned out to wave and cheer. We were photographed many times.
At last we arrived at our night stop, high in the mountains. A ski resort called Aya, and a hotel not a camp, wonderful. A team of Russian mechanics got to work on many cars as they arrived. My car was second in the queue and they welded my damaged exhaust. By the time we had taken the car back to the hotel it was 10:00. Another long day.
June 13th Day 12
Start time 8:55 and left our mountain ski resort, with many people waving as we drove down the hotel drive. The beautiful Russian countryside continued, with spectacular views. I now understand the scale of Russia rather like driving in British Columbia or the Yukon. The views are wonderful and the countryside seems to roll on for ever in every direction with snow-capped mountains in view.
Soon we are back on the gravel, nothing compared with Mongolia but deceptive. The gravel is mainly smooth and then at 100 KPH suddenly there is a massive pothole to avoid and of course there are a lot of these. Another anomaly are Butterflies, literally millions of them flying in dense swarms. Soon the windshield was covered and also the radiator grill, the engine began to get hot and I had to remove hundreds of dead butterflies from the grill and clean the windscreen. This happened several times during the course of the day.
The old Mercedes has ran well all day, the exhaust working better but not perfect but many times better than before.
People at our lunch stop came to see us, and many took photographs of our cars. Again I was asked to sign autographs. A lady came up to me and gave me a calendar with views of the town. Children asking me to sign my name on scrap books. All crazy when you think about it.
Arrived at Novokuznetsk at 17:00, at our hotel car park a fake finish barrier had been erected with start on the reverse side. In the afternoon sun a loudspeaker was working calling out the details of each car when it arrived. Then more photographs. Peking to Paris is a massive event for the Russians who love to see old cars and they marvel at the extent of the journey.
June 14th Day 13 and 14
Arrived at Novosibirsk, but we did not follow the rally route today, as at today 28 cars have failed or are getting serious repairs. So here I am at the Mercedes dealership in Novosibirsk, and I am in good company with five other Mercs. My car is on the ramp and being inspected. Despite the harsh treatment the car seems to be basically OK, but the off side rear wheel has been damaged and the tyre wall has a split in it. So will need to change that. There is a massive language barrier here so not sure what is happening.
The journey here about 450 KM was all on tarmac, but the roads were dreadful many with potholes, uneven surfaces with bumps, and often no central barrier to separate the dual carriages. The cars and Lorries all seem to be dirty nothing is clean anywhere.
Travelled though some small towns, with old soviet style flats for living accommodation. Some even had broken windows. There is little new here, and many things are run down. People look poor in these towns but remain very friendly.
Rest day tomorrow, so will spend some time sorting the car out. Then on to Kazakhstan on Sunday for more punishing roads.
16th June Day 15
The car is as good as it can be under the circumstances, the Mercedes dealer who looked at it on our rest day was quite useless a completely opposite to the superb dealer in Ulaanbaatar. Anyhow the car seems reasonably OK and off we went at 8:52.
Once out of Novosibirsk the roads descended into rough potholes with a poor surface, so we were bouncing along. The schedule was tight and we only just made the first control point. Eventually we arrived at a village and everyone seems to have turned out to see us and then for the first and only test of the day. We have had heavy rain and the test was along an off-road section which had become a mud bath. The average of 80 KPH was not attainable by us, we probably managed half that speed. The car sliding all over the place and now so covered in mud the side windows were plastered and the front screen was just about impossible to see through. By the time the test ended the car was running on only five cylinders but he soon returned to all six. At the end of the test some locals appeared with buckets of water and they kindly cleaned the windscreen.
After a few kilometres we found a small garage and they had a hose pipe and they cleaned my car, how good was that.
Our aim for the day is to enter Kazakhstan and to reach our night stop. As usual these border crossings are a nightmare. The Russians check and search each car as it leaves, and in Kazakhstan the officials check the cars documents and our Passports. This all happened in heavy and cold rain.
My first impression of Kazakhstan is not favourable. The roads continue in the Russian tradition and are terrible and everyone looks a bit downtrodden. Houses are poor and the flats look like they need to be demolished.
About 130KM over the border and we reach our destination at the Irtysh Hotel at Pavlodar. This turns out to be the worst hotel I have ever stayed in by far. Each floor has a kiosk with a woman in it to view who is coming and going. Like something out of an old Cold War film. The best thing about Kazakhstan is that petrol is about £0.40 a litre.
June 17th Day 16
Another brilliant morning send off with people everywhere looking at our cars and wishing us good luck. Kazakhstan is a poor country but rich in gas and oil deposits. After a long day and three tests we arrive in the capital city Nur-Sultan. The wealth of the country seems to be in this city which is the capital.
On the way in we passed a pre-war American Pontiac which had collapsed. One of the back wheels was still attached to half the rear axle, and these were on the side of the road. The car was standing on three wheels with the back scraping the road. Not sure how he got the car back to the hotel, but the mechanics on this event are brilliant and had already taken control. This Pontiac later received a new engine in Finland but before was using 12 litres of oil per day. The car had already been rolled and damaged.
We finally checked into the Marriott car park on the third floor, once again surrounded with people and children asking for autographs. Another long day and 600KM plus three tests. Old Mercedes still running well.
June 18th Day 17
Another day driving in Kazakhstan, but a treat was in store we arrived at a small village in the middle of nowhere. To get to our camp we needed to make a river crossing which the old Mercedes successfully negotiated. Through the river and onto large field surrounded by trees. The local people were dressed in national costume, they had prepared local food. They looked at our cars and children asked for autograph. We are now at Balkhashino
When the sun set a large bonfire was lit and we all linked arms and sang, the locals actually thanked us for choosing their village. We camped and it was cold. Fortunately the people treated us warmly.
June 19th Day 18
The days are rolling by we left our camp at 9:52. During the day four tests were completed and we did reasonably well holding our own. We are now close to the Russian border and will be re-entering at about 12:00, the town is the last large town before Russia. When we arrived a crowd of people were already cheering each car. Driving into the car park was like Moses parting the Red Sea. Even at 22:00 there are still many people viewing our cars.
One serious note, a 1955 Sunbeam Alpine left one of the stages and went over. a raised bank. Crew thankfully unhurt, but car damaged. The car may be out for a few days. Likely to be welded in Russia.
June 20th Day 19
Left Kostanay at our usual time 9:52, loads of people at the car park to wish us farewell. Marcus and I decided we needed to make the car lighter, so we looked carefully in the boot and simply left behind anything non-essential. So our sand ladders came out, quite heavy as well. We decided our 100 litre fuel tank was large enough, so we poured our emergency 10 litre can into the tank and ditched the metal can. We then moved the jack and other items into the wheel base of the car. Taking weight out will help us hopefully.
We made our way to the Russian border, filling up with petrol in Kazakhstan. The people are mainly poor and the state is awash with oil so I suppose cheap fuel this is a small concession.
These people make a meal of a border crossing, at the Kazakhstan side they check all Passports carefully, take photographs and check car documents. They have already done this upon arrival. Eventually we drive to the Russian side. They check each car again, take more photographs and check the V5 and Passports of course our VISAS. At last we are waived through, and then a final exit check and the gate is opened to Russia. The trucks waiting to pass into Kazakhstan go back a couple of miles. I hope BREXIT is not like this otherwise we are in in trouble.
Back to Russian roads and crazy driving. After two tests on rough gravel and forest lanes we head for our destination. We arrive at a town and stop for a celebration. The town has turned out, and we have passed the continental divide. To the east is Asia and to the west we have entered the continent of Europe. Not the economic continent but the geographical continent, and we are given a certificate to prove it. A kind gentleman gave me a bottle of water, and many people wanted photographs of us and our car. The Ural River divides Magnitogorsk into two parts of the world. Historically this mighty river has been the national geographical border between Asia and Europe.
Time to leave and head for our night stop at Bannoe Lake, and our clocks go back one hour tonight. Now only four hours’ time difference with the UK and we have travelled about 4,500 miles since leaving Beijing.
Old Mercedes (Reggie) running well all things considered. Will he get us to Paris? The jury is out but it looks possible.
June 21st Day 20 and 21
We left at our normal start time 9:52, after a few minutes we arrived at the only test of the day. This time a circuit on a small race circuit. All I needed to do was to drive round as fast as possible for one lap and to stop dead across the stop line mark. We managed the lap in two minutes nineteen seconds. Not the fastest lap of the day for sure but not the worst either. The clerk of the course was kind enough to offer a “well done” which helped moral.
Marcus drove the rest of the morning, until our lunch stop (a rare stop we normally snatch lunch on the go).
Eventually we arrive at Ufa, fill up with fuel and have Reggie washed. Washing away mud, dust and insects. The Russian roads are tricky, cars are either travelling dangerously fast or very slow. Drivers take huge risks to overtake and don’t let anyone in to any gaps in the traffic.
At last we arrive at the Hilton Garden Hotel, time for a local beer. Tomorrow is a rest day and we start again on Sunday. We will do our best to check the car over tomorrow. Managed to buy an emergency supply of 20/50 oil. Like gold dust in Russia.
A great rest day in Ufa. The morning was spent looking and working on the car. Marcus and I took the wheels off, did some greasing and tightened bolts especially around the sump guard. All looks good, but who knows, no visible problems, so we must hope for the best.
Once again the Russian people have made us most welcome and a lot of interest in our cars. A crowd around our old Mercedes (Reggie) most of the day.
During the afternoon we looked around the town had a pleasant lunch. The day was rounded off with dinner at a nice Italian restaurant with our two New Zealand friends Gary and Ken.
We are just a few days from St Petersburg, can we reach Finland?
June 23rd Day 22nd
Our starting time is 9:23, a 650 KM drive ahead to reach Kazan a large regional city. The day started quite normally and I expected lighter traffic being Sunday. Instead there are trucks everywhere. Sunday in Russia is different to Sunday at home. It feels like a normal work day. Roads very busy and drivers drive like they have a death wish. Overtaking is taking place all the time even when there is no room. Drivers force their way in and out of traffic.
Drove through a number of towns and villages, many very poor with dilapidated property. Gas pipes sometimes appear above the ground on stilts, feeding houses. Soviet style flats are still very common everywhere and at mainly in terrible condition.
Reggie started easily this morning and has run well all day, despite the heat. About 40C plus today and insects all over the windscreen. We had two tests on gravel trying to make a high average speed. We did OK and scored zero points on one, first time on this event.
Eventually we reached the race circuit outside Kazan and managed two fast laps. Flat out for us, we are no means the fastest car but we achieve a reasonable time. On the way a fuel tanker with a trailer had overturned, spilling large quantities of diesel. In the UK the road would have been closed for hours. In Russia 30 minutes later the road was open, with men throwing sand onto the road to soak up the diesel. We drove over the spillage, and I felt the car skid on the soaked tarmac. All very different here.
At last arrived at the Korston Tower Hotel a large modern complex with many people looking at our cars. Time for a drink I think, quite a day, long and hot. I am now more and more grateful for the inherent reliability in my Mercedes and its fantastic build quality. Still present despite having lived for nearly 55 years and 15 years of rallying.
June 24th Day 23
A long hot day, no tests just Russian roads and crazy drivers. We left Kazan and had to face the morning traffic, with drivers going from lane to lane never letting you in. Hard to believe but once on the main E22 road which goes to Moscow a kind of main connection which cars and lorries travel at high speed that there are zebra crossings. I cannot imagine anyone trying to cross there, it seems suicidal. One foot on the crossing and the pedestrian has the right of way. The motorways have no central barriers, very dangerous all round not to mention some large potholes which appear out of nowhere.
We turned off the main road after about 100KM and proceeded on secondary or B roads. Some of these descended into massive pot holes, and I mean massive which could easily seriously damage a car. So from a smooth road to a massive pot hole in perhaps 50 yards needs some understanding. Many roads are very poorly maintained and probably not maintained at all.
The Russian countryside is very picturesque but the villages are poor many with gas pipes running on stilts to the various houses. We crossed a river on what looked like a second hand army pontoon bridge, just one car at a time.
We arrived Nijniy Novgorod on the banks of the Oka. Crowds of people turned out yet again at both a stop before the hotel and at the hotel. There is a carnival atmosphere outside and even someone with a loud speaker explaining what is happening and talking about the cars. Peking to Paris is a big event in Russia. The Peking to Paris fan club has many members. It is an official club in Russia.
My old Mercedes has had a lot of attention and has ran well all day. About 5,500 miles covered many in extreme conditions. Another day nearer Paris.
June 25th Day 24
Started the day at the race circuit, with two laps to do. We managed a time of 5 minutes 49 seconds which was about average. The Mercedes is not ideal for the track but we manage quite well.
There is a lot of travelling to do today and our destination is the Radisson Hotel at Zavidovo which is not far from Moscow about 100 KM to the east. After the track we had only travelled about 70 KM when the car felt a bit odd, and yes we had a back tyre puncture on the offside. Luckily for us Marcus and I managed to change the wheel on a quiet country road, and off we went.
The rest of the journey was tedious driving through small Russian towns many very dilapidated, with buildings in disrepair which is quite normal for Russia. Many crazy drivers taking huge risks. We saw two serious accidents on the way. I was pleased to reach the Radisson Hotel at Zavidovo
June 26th Day 25 and 26
On our way to St Petersburg, after leaving the hotel we made our way to a new motorway connecting Moscow to St Petersburg. They have built about 70% of it. A great road, but with very narrow hard shoulder and no fuel. The authorities have had to provide emergency fuel stations on some of the stopping points. No service stations and no fuel is a problem. I had not realised there would be such a shortage. After nearly 450 KM I was pleased to leave the motorway section. We started with about a 60% full tank, the 100 litre capacity was useful again.
Had a stop in a small town and everyone turned out to see us including local television and I was interviewed. I was asked about Russian roads and had to say how unsafe they are compared with European roads. No idea if this was shown or not, I was critical.
On the outskirts of St Petersburg there was a test on yet another race circuit and then to the hotel. A large monolith type building with chalets in the grounds. Apparently Mr Putin has guests which stay here, hence tight security and airport type scanning.
A long day nearly 700 KM and we only had six minutes to spare on check in.
Rest in St Petersburg which included taking Reggie to the Mercedes dealer. Before they could check the car they needs copies of our Passports. Imagine that, officialdom gone mad. The news unfortunately is that Reggie is running on only 5 cylinders perhaps 5 and a half. Burnt valve probably caused by poor quality petrol. The advice from the rally mechanics is that he should get us back to Paris. So we will continue as we are, once over 2,500 revs the offending cylinder comes alive.
Had a look round, a beautiful city but lunch was awful. Looking forward to getting out tomorrow and into Finland.
June 28th Day 27
Left St Petersburg at 9:02 and headed for the highway. More difficult driving and crazy manoeuvres from Russian drivers who seem to have a death wish most of the time. I have driven all over the world and these guys take the biscuit.
Headed north on yet another dangerous highway with cars overtaking three abreast sometimes. At last we arrived at the Russian border, just after brimming the tank using my Rubbles. Before arriving at the border there are two preliminary checks about two KM apart. Passports inspected at each check point. We then arrive at the main border with a long queue of cars. The procedure is time consuming. First my car needs an export licence which I have. This was inspected carefully and the numbers compared with the V5. A long time was spent doing this. At last we move to the crossing point. The export license is inspected again, then our Passports and then the V5. A uniformed soldier looks in the boot and under the bonnet. We move forward a few feet. I think I am out of here, wrong again. Another border guard wants a last and final check. God knows why because nothing has changed. The barrier is lifted and the old Mercedes drives towards the west and Finland, reminiscent of an old spy film,
What a difference, a warm friendly border guard greets us in Finland and stamps our Passports asks about the journey and we are through in a few minutes. So pleased to leave Russia.
We had an uneventful journey to Helsinki some of it on gravel tracks of course and then to the hotel. We have a warm reception with many people waiting. The pre-war car a Pontiac had an engine brought from England, and two mechanics have been flown out to fit it. Another crew with a Fangio coupe have had a gearbox flown out. Hooray for my old faithful Mercedes, only running on five cylinders now but going quite well.
A German entered Porsche 911 owner has just flown in his racing mechanic for the second time. Such luxury, I remain thankful for my ever faithful and dependable Mercedes. Hope I have not tempted fate. A Porsche 356 had already received a replacement engine.
I must mention the retired Prime Minister of Finland came to see our cars and we had a short chat.
June 29th Day 28
The morning was quite fresh, we are 60 degrees north here and at this time of the year it is daylight at mid night. We left our hotel at our new start time which is 8:47 we are now plus 22 minutes on the first car. Straight to the track for the first test. Just a dirt track but many spectators came to watch, despite taking it relatively easy we did a respectable time. Some of the track was tricky with mud and of course more gravel.
Then we motored onto our second test, another dirt track used by the Finnish Rally driving school. Lots of trees and tight corners, a Volvo P1800 came off the track and had to be pulled out. My old Mercedes pottered round with a reasonable time, all great fun and very enjoyable.
After the track we were treated to morning coffee. Then off we went to the port of Helsinki as I write this we are queuing for the ferry. Our destination is Estonia and the beautiful city of Tallinn.
June 30th Day 29
Sadly only one night stop in Tallinn no time to look at anything, we are on a car rally not a sightseeing trip. We have entered the last week. If Reggie can keep going we will enter Paris in one week. Whatever happens this has been a journey and adventure of Biblical proportions. Still thinking thank God we survived Russia in one piece. We are now back on our European insurance provided by Hagerty.
Left Tallinn and straight to a race track for a test. Lots of people turned out to watch. The track was tarmac and gravel mixed together and quite demanding some cars went the wrong way. We managed quite well and completed one good lap.
We had a very pleasant driving day which included a nice lunch stop. After lunch back to the gravel. We had about 40KM of very dusty and dry gravel. We left Estonia at about 14:00 and crossed into Latvia. The driving was pleasant as we followed the coast towards Riga. At the end of the day we had one final test just outside Riga. A fast circuit close to a lovely motor museum. The circuit had obstacles in the form of a wall of tyres and a tight chicane. Many tight corners had the tyres in the old Merc fighting for grip.
After the circuit I noticed the back brakes did not seem right and definitely noisy. Back at the hotel Marcus and I jacked up the car and we changed the rear brake pads. The problem is now resolved.
Another big day on the cards for tomorrow, with an earlier start at 9:02.
July 1st Day 30
Left Riga at 9:02 and threaded our way through the morning traffic. Drove west through pleasant countryside and eventually entered Lithuania. The country seemed less prosperous than Estonia but the views and country looked lovely. No time to stop of course and after a long morning drive reached our first test at about 13:00 and a modest lunch.
The test was an old race circuit, with chicanes, barriers, and other obstacles. The old Mercedes now feeling more than a little tired after driving nearly 8,000 miles since leaving Beijing. The Gobi Desert took its toll and so has the continuous competition, and driving to schedule. Often on gravel tracks or potholed roads. Anyway we did reasonably well, and after the test we again head west.
We crossed into Poland, and drove by camping areas and a number of lakes some with yachts sailing. It all looked really good and the people always are kind and courteous. How brilliant to be able to buy petrol and pay after the tank has been filled. The Russian way is to pay first rather like North America.
Another 400 KM and we find ourselves for the second test of the day, yet another race circuit. This time a Rally Cross circuit with tarmac, gravel, tight corners and obstacles to avoid. Very simple just drive flat out and try and avoid hitting things.
Fortunately our hotel at Mikolajki s only a couple of KM away, so pleased to be able to pull in after a long day. Managed to fill the tank and found one litre of 20/50 oil which seems to be hard to buy.
July 2nd Day 31
A tough day for My old Mercedes (Reggie) only about 420 KM but a long day, which started by going to the local village square so our cars could be seen and then back to the race circuit, the same one as last night. Another lap flat out with obstacles, chicanes, part tarmac and then stones and gravel. These tests don’t last long just about three minutes and all finished.
Then our journey in a meandering sort of way heads west through many small towns and villages. I am struck by how nice Poland is or at least the part I am driving through. No comparison with Russia, more like a prosperous European country. Nice roads, lots of cycle tracks which would put the UK to shame.
Lunch stop in a small town with parking in the square, just had time for a burger and then off again making up for lost time.
Then on to the gravel and some tricky roads stones pounding the underneath the Mercedes. Nothing compared with Mongolia but still a shock.
At last late afternoon we arrive at yet another race circuit at Bydgoszcz. A tight test with sharp bends, two laps of this with shrieking tyres and sliding back end and we are finished. Not a bad time I was told at 2:45. Not sure how good that is the marshal was more than likely giving me encouragement.
Then on to the City Hotel in the centre of town. I am conscious not many more days left. Just hope Reggie brings us back to Paris. The end is in sight. Just five more days.
July 3rd Day 32
Left our hotel at 9:02 and then back to the same race track as yesterday afternoon but we drove the circuit the other way round. A quick but fast two laps, with squealing tyres. Managed a respectable time of 2:45, same as yesterday.
Off we went into the Countryside. Poland is a lovely country and often picturesque. I noticed many more cycle lanes, new dual carriageways and modern factory buildings. What a massive contrast between Poland and Russia which needs so much investment. After a 30 minute time control we proceed to our next test on an old airfield. Around the perimeter there were sandy tracks, with gullies of course just to inflict more damage on my very tired car. The test was complex with speed, hidden entrances and hidden controls with many cars making mistakes including us, but not too serious. Tricky but good fun.
Time for a quick lunch and then off to our next stop, another 300 KM away. We made our way to The Radisson Blu at Szczecin, but before arriving there we went to the marina where all our cars were photographed and we had another interview for local radio. Then at last the hotel, a difficult final 30 minutes through heavy traffic.
Tomorrow we are off to Germany all being well.
July 4th Day 33
Started early at 8:02, and off to a street race circuit in Szczecin, the roads were closed and supervised by the police. Each car drove onto a ramp, quick interview with a local TV Chanel and a countdown began. Despite the early hour the route was lined with cheering crowds. The route was mainly gobble stone with some tight corners, two fast laps and we are in.
Next stop was a disused air base, probably something from the Cold War days in this part of East Germany. A big track with chicanes. Off we went as fast as we can muster with squealing tyres. No match though for the quick cars, but we had a good average time. The air base was deep in a wooded area and very picturesque driving.
We made our way to yet another disused air base, this time still used for light aircraft. Yet another circuit, on tarmac, we had to stop for ten seconds on the straight with wheels astride a white line. The circuit went into gravel and then grass and back onto the old runway. Lots of people turned out to wave and cheer.
Next stop is Wolfsburg, and our final time control was at the Volkswagen factory. Had a look at the museum where they had some splendid cars, the display highlighted motoring design so had cars as diverse as Bugatti, Porsche Bentley, Mini, Jaguar, and of course VW examples. We were treated to drinks and nibbles, hosted by the VW Managing Director.
Leaving the car park an elderly gentleman seemed incredulous at the thought of my old Mercedes making it so far from Beijing. He took a little persuading. At this stage in the game my old Mercedes is not looking his best. Off to our hotel in Wolfsburg. Tomorrow is Friday and we are scheduled to arrive in Paris on Sunday.
July 5th Day 34
Left Wolfsburg at 8:32, today we have a 600 KM day with a driving test and a complex route. The driving was not the best, it was very busy driving in Germany especially during a Friday before a holiday period. So we struggled with heavy traffic making the day even harder in the now rising temperatures.
No time for lunch just arrived at a time control with only a few minutes to spare. Quickly took on board some petrol and bought two sandwiches and in a minute or two we are back on the Autobahn in nose to tail traffic.
Soon left the autobahn near Cologne and quickly crossing the Rhine. Not long after we cross into Belgium. We arrived at a driving circuit and suddenly we are doing two and a half laps at a reasonable time. Later at a close by village a local motor club provided drinks for us and many people came to see our cars. So many photographs being taken and people congratulating us on our journey. I kept saying “we have not reached the end yet”.
Arrived at Liege at about 19:30 another full day. We did find a car wash on the way into the city so treated Reggie to a quick wash. Still on track for our silver medal. Tomorrow we finish in Ypres. Hope the old Mercedes keeps going.
July 6th Day 35
Had a great day, started by driving through wonderful countryside and had a coffee stop near one of our controls. Today is a navigation test, simply loads and loads of navigation instructions on some challenging country roads.
Marcus did extremely well and we only made one mistake which we quickly rectified. After a quick lunch more navigating and Marcus continued to do really well. Late afternoon we arrived at a village just outside Ypres and there we had a test. The streets had been closed off and the test started in the village centre. Flat out in second gear we raced around the centre and then off down main road to race around a short circuit. All of this supervised by the local police.
All day we had many people around the rally route, waving and taking photographs. A treat was in store when we arrived in Ypres, there was a carnival atmosphere with a large crowd of people. As the cars arrived the crews were interviewed with a local radio commentator. The town of Ypres gave us all beer tokens which were good tender in the town,
On the way into Ypres we had driven through the Menin Gate. At 20:00 many of us went to the daily service of remembrance, all nationalities from the event remembering fallen men of the mainly British army. Men without graves simply missing.
The day closed by having dinner, with the rally crews. Spirits were high, a end of term feeling. Tomorrow brings the 2019 Peking to Paris to a close. All I need to do now is to drive to Paris in a convoy an exhibition run. Will Reggie the old Mercedes make it to Paris? You bet he will.
July 7th Day 36
Even the run to Paris was not as straightforward as I thought it might be, the route was complex and well away from the AutoRoute. Many twists and turns before settling into an even run. It was hot, and the roads were busy. We at last arrived at our last time control on the outskirts of Paris. We arrived within time therefore preserving our overall position and more importantly our silver medal. Our time book was handed in the rally was over, all we had to do now was to somehow get to Place Vendome near the very centre of Paris.
It was Sunday but the traffic was gridlock nearly all the way, our cars were getting hotter and hotter but my old Merc handled the traffic and sizzling temperatures well.
At last we arrived at Place Vendome, and we joined a long line of Peking to Paris cars. It was so hot and each car took a few minutes to go through the finish arch. The engine was turned off and we began to push the car. My wife Jane, daughter Emma and young son Matthew came out of the crowd. Wonderful welcome and suddenly Marcus and I had three extra bodies for pushing. Not quite what Jane had expected.
At last we arrived at the finish arch, I thought better start the old beast and drive him through. Guess what, the old Merc refused to start. So we had to push old Reggie through. After all those miles and 13 countries the last 15 yards seemed to just too tough.
Thankfully 30 minutes later he did start, after cooling down
We eventually changed for dinner, dinner jackets and we had an evening we will never forget.
Leaving Paris on a Monday morning does not seem the best idea, but we had been away since the 28th May. Jane, Matthew and Emma were on Eurostar. We fought our way through Paris and eventually joined the AutoRoute and headed north. We arrived at the Tunnel at about 11:30 and with our Flexi plus ticket we were quickly let through onto the next train. Just had time to pick some sandwiches, ice cream and coffee.
From Folkestone onwards heavy traffic and lots of roadworks. A normal journey on congested roads and we were back home.
A magnificent, exciting journey which we will never forget. Marcus and I had become a good team, father and son and no cross words during all those miles.
Peking to Barton on Sea. How many people have driven that route?
Michael and Marcus Eatough Car 97
Tel: 01669 621044