The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2010

September 10th - October 16th, 2010




Usharal to Almaty

From Campsite to Comfort


It promised to be an uneventful day… all that was necessary was to drive a main-road route of some 500 kms to Almaty, and after a night of camping in a field, bask in a warm soapy bath of the Almaty Intercontinental. Nothing, however, goes to plan – it wouldn’t qualify as an adventure if it did so.

Dick Disaster, however, is a constant riding companion. Car 22, the 1922 “Bonnie and Clyde” Chevrolet Roadster of David Clements and Russell Stevenson, burst into flames yesterday. The crew jumped out but were unable to rescue their bags of personal possessions. They lost everything except their passports as they watched the car turned to a pile of ashes.

The dark red Alfa of Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings pulled up in front of the glass revolving doors to unload their luggage, still with two spare wheels on the plastic see-through home-made hardtop, but now looking rather the worse for wear. There are large “lumps” appearing in the alloy wings from the battering of stones – the inner wings have no protection – and the car had been mighty sick of late, first with muck in the petrol tank giving acceleration of a kangaroo quality, and then more worrying, a wheel-bearing failure provided an added headache. This was cured by drilling holes in a wheel-spinner to turn it into a hub puller in order to replace the offending item with a spare carried in the tiny boot. The driver has looked worried and totally unapproachable for days, is now cheerful again, after a spot of encouragement from Peter Banham.

Here’s a run-down of what we have heard from crews on arrival here in Almaty: Car 43, Jorg Lemberg and Rene Mueller, in a Lagonda, report a failed head-gasket, but reckon they are going to sort this themselves; Car 9, the Dodge Tourer of Jeff Robinson and Rob Blake, is to sort out a duff bearing in the generator; Car 38, the Alvis of the Wilkinson’s, has a leaky radiator and a jammed starter-motor due to too much sand; Car 70, the Dodge of Bill Shields and Daniel Day, has a broken engine mount and needs a new steering arm; Car 11, the Vauxhall of Max Stephenson and Carl Watson, reports a minor oil leak and problems with the starter-motor, “otherwise everything is happy,” and Car 76 David Smith and Anne Marie Smith, in a La Salle, have a noisy clutch release bearing; and the Hickling’s MG SA has a cracked differential, and the radiator has a fan blade stuck in it… (that’s been a common problem).

Car 75, the Bolsover’s Chevy, needs a change of a half shaft and repairs to a cracked radiator; the La France, Car 6, is sorting a holed radiator and a broken spring; the Rolls Phantom of Alex Howard and Dominic Collins, in a Rolls Phantom, has a broken fan, slipping clutch, dodgy brakes, the running boards are falling off, and no lights; Car 101, the Holden of Frank Bird and Ross Oakman, say they have had no problems since Ulaan Bataar when they fitted a new camshaft.

All seem optimistic of running repairs as we are here for the next two days, and after a spot of fettling in the network of workshops here will be back on the road again, fighting-fit.

The Peking to Paris is surely all about the masochism of a faithful re-enactment of the kind of hardship, endurance, and test of tenacity that the pioneers of 1907 displayed on the world’s first ever inter-Continental rally, and most crews are stuck into the spirit of things, knowing that surely when it comes to the pain-threshold, nothing could get much tougher than this, and with no back-up when things go wrong. However, this column can exclusively reveal that there is another side to life on the Peking to Paris.

How about this – we understand that a private plane was chartered to enable a bunch of competitors to fly into Almaty from Semey. Our sleuth reckons the culprits, who explain themselves by the need to either get to the hotel first in order to bag the Penthouse Suite, or, ensure a workshop is lined up to work on their car before everyone else, (traditional Terry Thomas regulations being applied here), called up a private aircraft. Well, you could not make this up… a plane load of rally-crews with cars that have spent a great deal of time crossing whole countries on the back of trucks have arrived here as the rally jet-set. We are reliably informed they are crews of Cars 31, 29, 89, 99, 43, and 56, and so large was this bunch, the pilot had to be persuaded to take a few on one opening leg, and then return to pick up the rest, so twice flying what the rest have driven the hard way… Cheating? How could the rule-makers possibly have forseen such cunning initiative as this?

Yep, you couldn’t make it up. Must go… the bubble-bath is over-flowing.


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