The Road to Mandalay 2015
February 1 to February 24 2015
Following an initial approach by Lord Steel to the Burma Government, three years of discussion, planning and negotiation between the ERA and all the relevant authorities finally came to fruition in February 2015 with the first running of the ERA Road to Mandalay.
The event strated from Raffles Hotel, Singapore, and the route took in carefully researched roads with Time Trials in Malaysia and on into Thailand, then crossing into Burma to finish at Bagan after driving the Road to Mandalay. Vehicle shipping into Singapore and then out of Rangoon was be handled by Cars Europe, our recommended shippers.
This event was something the ERA wanted to organise for a very long time and the changes within Myanmar, with the country opening up to business opportunities and tourism, made this a practical proposition.
The Road to Mandalay offered the highly-memorable and unique experience of driving into Burma, a land that opened its borders specially for us. The route-plan included fascinating and interesting days experiencing remote and rural Malaysia, Thailand and Burma through the windscreen of a classic-car, venturing off-road for gravel and forest tracks through palm plantations and jungle-trails.
Follow the menu links to explore the Rally Report and Gallery pages for a flavour of this extraordinary event.
Speak to the Rally Office on +44 (0)1235 831221 or email us
The Road to Mandalay – a totally new driving experience with the ERA
Day 1: Raffles Hotel, Singapore to Desaru. 323 kms
Following what should be an extremely pleasant experience, adjusting, acclimatising and generally kipling at the iconic Raffles Hotel, the route leads out of Singapore to the Malaysian border; a short, transport run. Following formalities, it then heads for the south west of the peninsular for a short run up the coast before cutting inland over a variety of straight and meandering roads, mainly through palm oil plantations. Some pleasant main roads lead to the first time trial which will, if dry, as forecast, dispel misconceptions that oil plantations are slippery; if not dry then…….! Following the time trial, on to the beachfront overnight halt at Desaru, on the SE tip of the peninsular via a brief diversion to a scenic fishing village.
Day 2: Desaru to Kuantan. 402 kms
From Desaru we head north, traveling parallel with the coast before turning inland to join and follow the Pahang River. The route crosses some impressive rivers, which are alive with fishing, ferry and related activity; really quite picturesque. Following a brief lunch halt at the Wawa cafe, it is on to the Boustead time trial over a “young” plantation, that is, it has been recently replanted and is very open and “visible”. Then on, with a lovely run down the river, to the overnight stop at the coastal city of Kuantan and another relaxing night in the Hyatt beach front hotel.
Day 3: Kuantan to Cameron Highlands. 430 kms
Out of town and inland on a sweeping major road before heading into the country and a delightful jungle drive; almost a botanical park which takes in a “rustic” coffee halt. Demands on navigation increase and lead through some quiet, interesting backroads to arrive at the lunch halt. On from lunch and a “nadgery” time trial leads to the ascent of the Titiwangsa Mountain Range involving a 76km alpine climb. After a great days driving, finish the day, perhaps with a cup, or two, of the local tea, at the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s most extensive and famous old colonial hill station.
Day 4: Cameron Highlands to Kota Bharu. 440 kms
Following the recent devastating Malaysian monsoon floods, the route for Day 4 has seen some last minute changes. It will still be an early, and probably misty, start for the frontrunners as we head for a short hillclimb test through the tea plantations of the Camerons. Then we begin the descent to the Kelantan River valley for morning coffee and the start of the route changes. These take in the higher roads of the original route plus a couple of interesting new additions as we make for Kota Bharu. The planned ferry trip has had to be abandoned as the slipways have been destroyed, so it is a land-based final run to the Riverside Hotel.
Day 5: Kota Bharu to Georgetown. 450 kms
From Kota Bharu, we run alongside the Thai border. A spectacular route crosses the mountain range, bound for Georgetown on the beautiful island of Penang, where two nights will be enjoyed, providing an opportunity for some rest, recuperation, and also to fettle your car with the help of our travelling mechanics. Coffee will be taken at the summit before meandering down to the start of the next time trial, the “Tour de France”, a classic Hillclimb favoured by the local cycling community, and then on via the newly completed, 24 km, “2nd Bridge” to make a clockwise tour of the island and a well earned rest at the E & O, Georgetown.
Day 6: Rest Day – Georgetown
A rest day and an opportunity to catch some sun, relax and explore the historic, Portuguese influenced, colonial city and/or grease those steering joints, adjust the brakes and enjoy a shoulder massage in the classic ambience of the E & O – once hailed as the premier hotel east of the Suez.
Day 7: Georgetown to Trang. 385kms
Leaving Georgetown via the old bridge, a transport section leads upcountry to the final time trial in Malaysia. A technical test, the “Fields of Athenrice”, courtesy of Pad Dee and the local community, demands precision, with no room for error, and no shortcuts! Then, it is “Selamat Jelang” to Malaysia and into Thailand via the border crossing at Wang Kelian, a delightful backwater frontier complete with Duty Free, but no commercial traffic. Formalities over, the route runs through good main and back roads, taking in the distinct cultural differences that Thailand presents, to a charming Thai welcome at the Rua Rasada Resort, at Trang.
Day 8: Trang to Khao Lak. 463 kms
A busy day as the route heads for Khao Lak via a brief detour to the island of Phuket. Some open driving, with some navigational elements leads to coffee at “Cabbages & Condoms”, where those running short on Brassicas can resupply. Then the fun starts; through the “kargs” (limestone outcrops) to a regularity, of “waltzer” nature, leading to lunch before a navigational detour, prior to crossing the Sarasin Bridge onto Phuket. A double run over a “gradiently challenging” road will thrill, or otherwise, before a short coffee halt to reset the adrenaline sensor and then a testing route through the forest to Khao Lak.
Day 9: Khao Lak – Rest Day
Relax in the extensive beachside resort and/or excurt to Khao Lak which was one of the hardest hit locations during the Tsunami. There is a Tsunami museum, notable for the Thai naval vessel which was “relocated” inshore. Our local Thai agents are busy arranging various activity options for those of a more energetic mindset…
Day 10: Khao Lak to Chumphon. 340 kms
Departing Khao Lak, the route takes in some rural backroad navigation before joining the major road north up the West coast. Turning inland, the terrain is mountainous and the road becomes serpentine with continuous ascents and descents as it crosses to the east coast, throwing in a few surprises on the way. Finally, it crosses the main, arterial highway and onto the Novotel, on a beautiful stretch of coast to the east of Chumphon.
Day 11: Chumphon to Kanchanaburi. 558kms
The best laid plans… or should that be “no longer laid”? Damage to the Kaeng Krachan Circuit by a recent truck meeting means that it is now unavailable for the Road to Mandalay. Our local fixers have worked miracles at very short notice to secure a new test and lunch stop at the fabulous Majestic Creek Country Club near Hua Hin. The owners are very enthusiastic to have our event visit their beautiful resort and it sounds like there could be quite a crowd of spectators gathered to see what is going on. With the club being located close to the original route, it has been easy to keep changes to the minimum as the morning route heads up the isthmus on main roads before cutting through interesting country past Majestic Creek and onwards to reach our overnight hotel, on the bank of the river and the opportunity to walk the river bank and visit “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, built by Alec Guinness and Co.
Day 12: Kanchanaburi to Kanchanaburi. 372 kms
A free start from the hotel allows those interested to visit the Hellfire Pass Museum and the notorious cutting created by the POWs on the Death Railway, before the official start from the museum car park. The route becomes increasingly scenic, climbing the Kwai valley before entering the jungle where a mixture of gravel, tarmac and concrete surfaces over steep climbs and descents present their challenges. It then returns to tarmac roads and a non-stop series of rollercoaster climbs and hairpins to the Sri Nakarin Reservoir dam for lunch. From the dam we return for a second night in Kanchanaburi and a further opportunity to explore the town, railway museum and the war graves.
Day 13: Kanchanaburi to Phetchabun. 525 kms
Today, cars and drivers can relax, to an extent, while the navigators concentrate as we drive through the central plain of Thailand with endless paddy fields, where the 3,500 varieties of rice are grown. There are some interesting sections along the route and a coffee diversion to a “bizarre” monastery, en route to the “Chicken Run” forest time trial which may require a degree of “machetising” to preserve the elegance of the competing cars. On finishing the time trial, it is on, northward to arrive at our night halt in Phetchabun; a memorable hotel, crammed with collectibles and paraphernalia. We are now in Northern Thailand, and in for some truly scenic driving.
Day 14: Phetchabun to Phrae. 422kms
From Phetchabun, following a brief, optional pause to pay respect to the Buddha, a quick “warm up” detour to Khao Kho, site of King’s summer palace which is followed by an amazing 7km Alpine road climbing 5,000 feet to the top of Phu Hin Rongkla – site of the HQ of the Communist insurgents back in 70’s. There is a small museum there and a great drive down the other side to Nakhon Thai and then onward to lunch at a renowned floating fish restaurant, the location of which is TBA (depending on the level of the lake). The day finishes with a demanding gravel time trial, through the clouds, over a jungle covered mountain and a descent of endless hairpins to overnight at the town of Phrae.
Day 15: Phrae to Chiang Mai. 408 kms
Once out of town, a brilliant days driving awaits. Fast, open curving roads with little traffic and some great alpine sections which will delight. However, just to break the rhythm, there is a short gravel diversion leading to the asphalt “Mount Columnar” time trial which is flat but extremely tricky and the late brakers must err on the side of caution!!! Following a lunch detour to an “offbeat” pub, the driving is all alpine until joining the run into Chiang Mai, attempting to beat the school run which can cause frustration!
Day 16: Chiang Mai – Rest Day
A top hotel, the Shangri La, will aid recuperation and our many local contacts might serve to supplement our team, mechanically! Otherwise, there is a huge choice of options to fill your time, if lying poolside is not your thing. The night market puts Marrakesh to shame and you can replace your wardrobe for less than the hotel might charge to sterilise your accumulated laundry!
The restless might partake in some hill climb training by indulging in a, self organised, tour out of Chiang Mai, through the National Park and up to the peak of the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon 2565 m.
Day 17: Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. 315 kms
A delightful drive out of Chiang Mai leads, via a good forest/jungle time trial, the “Tiger Trail”, to morning coffee and the infamous “Road 1095”, known as “The Road of a Thousand Bends” – in fact there are 1864; try counting them as you climb and descend. There’s time for a brief, recuperative lunch stop, midway, then on to a very welcome overnight stop at Mae Hong Son – the end of a truly exhilarating, if tiring day. Very slippery if wet! We are now in fairly “wild” country, close to the Burma border and “tribal” people will be seen selling their wares on the roadside; maybe a short stop to haggle for a machete would be time well spent.
Day 18: Mae Hong Son to Mae Sot. 394 kms
We now head south for the Burma Road, with a series of short ascents and descents, through the jungle with a fairly straightforward time trial to stimulate the adrenaline flow and then on, via lunch at Mae Sariang to join and follow the Salawin River which is effectively the Myanmar border. The route runs through some stunning scenery and many of the population are tribal, sporting traditional clothing and, to the west of the road, are the traditionally built hillside refugee villages. The overnight halt is just short of the Thai/Burma border, at Mae Sot.
Day 19/20: Mae Sot to Myawaddy to Mawlamyine. 155 kms
“La-korn” to Thailand and “Mingalaba” to Burma, but on which day? The “gateway” to Burma is an infamous stretch of narrow mountain road, twisting and turning for 65km through spectacular mountains. Due to width restrictions and traffic volumes, it is operated on a “one way” basis on alternate days, hence we have to plan a “moveable feast” ie there will be a rest day at Mae Sot OR at Mawlamyine. Whatever, formalities behind us, it is onward into the “unknown” – with super-friendly locals, and authorities eager to welcome us in a demonstration of how this country is rapidly opening up. The drive over the mountain pass is classic “U Tube” material and a test for the faint hearted. The antics of the local traffic are awe inspiring. On reaching the plain, the route is not demanding, if a bit uncomfortable as the tarmac is also a victim of the forgotten years! (A bypass is currently being built by a Thai company, which is due to be opened in due course during 2014 or 2015 but that would be no challenge!)
Day 21: Mawlamyine to Naypyitaw. 455 kms
Remembering to drive on the Right of the road, leaving Mawlamyine, the route takes on a colourful nature where the essence is experiencing a quantum change in culture and scenery. The route takes a main road to the concrete “Express Way” which is deserted if a bit uncomfortable. However, it gets the event “up country” before diverting back to the main road for the run in to the “new” city, constructed as the seat of government – Naypyitaw.
Day 22: Naypyitaw to Inle Lake. 273 kms
A minor tour of the city does take in the notable 20 lane highway which serves the “Flash Gordonesque” Houses of Parliament, before the “Hog’s Back” time trial along a mountain ridge to get us on the road to Inle. Due to fewer roads and various restrictions, the traffic is denser in Burma, but nevertheless, the drive to Inle is fascinating. A degree more patience is called for, particularly up the long climbs, but the overnight on the lakeside makes it all worthwhile. Early arrivers can take advantage of a tour around the lake and the floating villages.
Day 23: Inle Lake to Mandalay. 251 kms
Finally we are on the road to Mandalay, immortalised by Kipling and the capital city of the last independent Burmese Kingdom before final annexation by the British, Mandalay remains the cultural heart of the country. The route from the hotel leads to an early time trial over open hillside farm tracks with few trees but some interesting features, then on to Mandalay over major roads which are due for reclassification or, at least, a degree of improvement, through beautiful countryside, littered with cultural interest to the start of a major descent to the valley and, at last, if not finally, Mandalay!
Day 24: Mandalay to Bagan. 237 kms
We originally planned for the official rally to finish in Mandalay but after visiting Bagan we realised there was only one place for the event to finish and that is ancient capital city of Bagan. We take a typically Burmese country road, passing through many small villages and across country that is reminiscent of Africa, before arriving at the most spectacular and iconic spot in Burma. The plains of Bagan are scattered with 10,000 ancient temples and we finish the official rally in truly grand style, driving through the temples before celebrating a superb driving experience with the Prize Giving Dinner overlooking the temples, lit up against the night sky.
Day 25: Bagan to Rangoon. 587 kms
From Bagan to Rangoon we give you the route instructions for the direct route back to Rangoon, but no timing. You can drive at your own pace, with the option of detouring through the unique capital city of Naypyitaw before heading south to arrive in Rangoon, a bustling old city with an air of a fading colonial grandeur absorbed by the pace of modern life; beautiful colonial buildings stand empty and decaying, while just down the road a modern high rise hotel is being constructed. It is a chance to see the old Rangoon before it might be lost forever.
Day 26: Shipping Day
The final day is about a last chance to explore Rangoon, any last minute shopping in the lively markets and importantly arranging the shipment of our cars before flying home.
|Vintageants – Pre 1932 type cars|
|1||David Ayre(GB) / Karen Ayre(GB)||1907 – Itala 40||7500|
|2||Erwin Beerens(B) / Gert Mertens(B)||1924 – Rolls Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost||7428|
|3||Joerg Lemberg(D) / Louis Lemberg(D)||1927 – Lagonda 45 Open Tourer||4500|
|5||Roger Anderson(NZ) / Carolyn Anderson(NZ)||1928 – Ford Model A||3285|
|9||Gary Anderson(CAN) / Harry Dobrzensky(CAN)||1930 – Ford Model A Cabriolet 68-B||3285|
|14||Anton Gonnissen(B) / Inge Willemen(B)||1929 – Bentley Special Speed 8||5675|
|21||Daniel Schlatter(CH) / Rabia Schlatter(CH)||1925 – Bentley 100 Super Sports||3000|
|22||Robert Wilkinson(GB) / Mark Wilkinson(GB)||1926 – Bentley Tourer||6597|
|23||Marco Rollinger(LU) / Marianne Hengesch(LU)||1927 – Bentley 4½||4500|
|24||Lars Rolner(DK) / Annette Rolner(DK)||1928 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4500|
|Vintageants – Pre 1941 type cars|
|4||Martin Egli(CH) / Walter Kielholz(CH) / Jack Amies(GB)
/ Thomas Kern(CH)
|1933 – Lagonda M45 Tourer||4553|
|7||Manuel Dubs(CH) / Irene Dubs(CH)||1932 – Rockne Six 75||3365|
|8||Rudi Friedrichs(D) / Helga Friedrichs(D)||1933 – Alvis Speed 20||2655|
|10||Paul Kirkham(AUS) / Mariella Kirkham(AUS)||1934 – Ford Model A||3285|
|11||Philip Lunnon(GB) / Michael Draper(GB)||1938 – Jaguar SS 100||3500|
|12||Caroline Greenhalgh(GB) / Tania Slowe(GB)||1939 – Alvis 4.3 Tourer||4300|
|15||Mike Butler(GB) / Georgie Machell(GB)||1939 – Chevrolet Coupe||3400|
|16||Bill Shields(USA) / Scott Herbstman(USA)||1938 – Chevrolet Coupe||4500|
|17||Phil Garratt(GB) / Kieron Brown(GB)||1937 – Chevrolet Fangio Coupe||3860|
|18||Daniel Day(USA) / Ronald Doyle(USA)||1937 – Chevrolet Coupe||4000|
|19||Arnold Meier(CH) / Melanie Meier(CH)||1934 – Packard Convertible||5360|
|20||Willy Van Loon(B) / Chris Torfs(B)||1935 – Bentley Derby 3½||3669|
|25||Keith Ashworth(GB) / Norah Ashworth(GB)||1938 – Buick||4062|
|26||Michael Wilkinson(AUS) / Anne Wilkinson(AUS)||1937 – Alvis SA||4300|
|27||Philip Noble(GB) / David Brown(GB)||1937 – AC 16/80 Sports||1991|
|34||David Tomlin(GB) / Hilary Tomlin(GB)||1936 – Ford Coupe||3700|
|39||Jim Clarke(GB) / Tanya Clarke(GB)||1936 – Ford Coupe V8||3622|
|Classics – Pre 1962 type cars|
|6||Peter Pollet(B) / Els Verhaegen(B) / Alexander De Groot(B)||1947 – Bentley Special Speed 8||4300|
|28||Michael Weston(GB) / Jeremy Boadle(GB)||1952 – Bentley MKVI Special||4556|
|29||Rod Wade(AUS) / Jackson Evans(AUS)||1953 – Ford Crestline||3523|
|30||David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB)||1954 – Sunbeam Alpine||2267|
|31||Mario Illien(CH) / Catherine Illien(CH)||1955 – Citroen 11B||1911|
|32||HRH Sultan Idris Shah(MY) / Richard Curtis(GB)||1956 – Jaguar XK140 FHC||3442|
|33||John Rich(USA) / John Rich III(USA)||1957 – Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible||5735|
|35||Syed Budriz Jamalullail(MY) / Syed Haizam Jamalullail(MY)
/ Aubry Mennesson(F)
|1958 – Jaguar XK150||3442|
|36||Clemens Lansing(D) / Agneta Lansing(D)||1959 – Mercedes 219 Ponton||2195|
|37||Denis Wilson(IRL) / Jill Wilson(IRL)||1958 – Volvo PV544||1796|
|38||Nicholas Pryor(GB) / Lesley Stockwell(GB)||1962 – Volvo PV544||1780|
|40||Daniel Spadini(CH) / Alexandra Spadini(CH)||1959 – Jaguar Mk1||3442|
|41||Christoph Ley(D) / Donna Manders(USA)||1959 – Mercedes 220S Ponton||2195|
|42||Len Treeter(CAN) / Laurie Anfindsen(CAN)||1960 – Chevrolet Impala||4600|
|69||Dirk de Groen(NL) / Alexandra de Lespinasse(NL)||1958 – Mercedes Benz 219||2195|
|Classics – Pre 1970 type cars|
|43||Andreas Pohl(D) / Carmen Pohl(D)||1965 – Mercedes-Benz 220SEb||2195|
|44||Hans-Ulrich Wartenweiler(CH) / Jean Christophe Gyr(CH)||1964 – Volvo 122S||1800|
|45||Jan Hradecky(CZ) / Dana Hradecka(CZ)||1965 – Mercedes 113 Pagoda 230SL||2300|
|46||Nathalie Pohl(D) / Nicola Pohl(D)||1962 – Daimler Benz 300SE||2975|
|47||Robert Peil(D) / Gaby Peil(D)||1966 – Mercedes 230 SL||2306|
|50||Patrick Sommer(D) / Christine Sommer(B)||1966 – Volkswagen Karmann Ghia||1995|
|52||Paul Merryweather(GB) / Sandra Merryweather(GB)||1967 – Mercedes 300SE||2996|
|54||Heather Worth(NZ) / Joanne Worth(NZ)||1968 – Volvo Amazon||1778|
|55||Hans Geist(A) / Michaela Geist(A)||1969 – Mercedes 280 SE||2778|
|56||Ludovic Bois(F) / Julia Colman(GB)||1969 – Volvo Amazon||1986|
|61||Matthew Todd(GB) / John Todd(GB)||1965 – Volvo 122S||1800|
|67||Garrick Staples(USA) / John Layzell(USA)||1969 – Volkswagen Beetle||1996|
|Classics – Pre 1975 + Porsche 911 & Mustangs|
|49||Marc Buchanan(USA) / Kurt Schneiders(D)||1967 – Ford Mustang||4942|
|51||Hans Middelberg(USA) / Jurgen Grolman(D)||1967 – Ford Mustang||4735|
|57||Timothy Steer(GB) / Frank Manduca(GB)||1970 – Chevrolet Chevelle||6400|
|58||Manoj Saxena(USA) / Avinash Saxena(IN)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|59||Roy Stephenson(GB) / Peter Robinson(GB)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|60||Bill Binnie(USA) / Dylan Binnie(USA)||1972 – BMW 2002 Ti||1990|
|62||Grant Tromans(GB) / Simon Russell(GB)||1973 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|64||Peter Lovett(GB) / Zoe Lovett(GB)||1965 – Porsche 911||1991|
|65||Stan Gold(USA) / Brant Parsons(USA)||1965 – Porsche 911||2000|
|66||Gerry Crown(AUS) / Matt Bryson(AUS)||1974 – Leyland P76||4400|
|68||Rob Garnsworthy(AUS) / John Teasdale(AUS)||1970 – Ford Mustang||5000|
|Touring Category (4×4’s – Untimed)|
|70||Joost Van Cauwenberge(B) / Christine De Landtsheer(B)||2011 – Toyota Landcruiser||4461|
Day 0 – Singapore – The Day Before
The opulence of the old-colonial surroundings of Raffles hotel was given a further throwback in time today as cars being readied for the Starter’s flag took centre-stage in front of the hotel that boasts a history of having seen it all. The great and the glamorous have all stayed at Raffles in the past 100 years but never has the hotel witnessed a motoring event quite as ground breaking as the ERA Road to Mandalay.
The 7½ litre 1907 Itala with big brass lamps gleaming in the sunshine caused passers by to stop, gawp, and get down on their knees in front of the massive radiator to snap photos with their phones but they could just as easily have been paying homage to an awesome line up that including several vintage Bentleys, two Alvis sports tourers, a Jaguar SS100 and classic cars that came and went all day… The bearded turban-topped doorman in his long military tunic admitted that in all his years of service, he had never seen anything quite like this.
It has been a frantic day of final preparations and last-minute packing. Tomorrow the cars will be flagged away for the start of 24 days of driving adventure road on the ground breaking route that cracks open the frontier into Burma. For over 60 years the border-post has been closed to foreign visitors. Never before have the border officials, seen any kind of motor-sporting event. Now they are braced to welcome 140 rally competitors from 20 countries all eager to prove a single point – that the motorcar, as Prince Borghese said on arriving into Paris at the end of the first drive across Asia in 1907, “really can go anywhere, making frontiers meaningless”.
t has taken the E.R.A. organisation three years of tenacious perseverance to bring the event to this point. With most creases ironed out – recent floods in Malaysia have tested the route-plan to the full requiring numerous revisions – the rally is now set for the off.
Caroline Greenhalgh in a big Alvis Tourer had electrical issues, among several others, with battery jump leads in much demand as cars had to be coaxed into life in order to get out of the customs warehose. Gary Anderson’s Ford Model A had the starter motor jammed, others discovered that their fuel tank had evaporated dry, and a Datsun 240Z from America had a length of rubber fuel pipe disintegrate from the effects of ethanol in the petrol. Talking of rubber, mud flaps haven in big demand by over half a dozen crews who faced Scrutineering officials only to discover the official regulation that insists they be fitted could see a non-start imposed as a penalty for their absence. The sweep mechanics have been busy all day – their next three weeks will probably be even more manic.
Singapore Slings and beers that cost £10 a glass left some feeling a little slung over after the previous night in the famous Long Bar, where the drink was first invented, with the husks of peanuts crunching underfoot littered the wooden floorboards as entrants met each other for the first time. Today’s hot and steamy atmosphere hasn’t exactly helped to cure several thick heads. Right now, the whole rally is all out on the manicured Raffles Lawn for pre-dinner cocktails before dining together in the Grand Ballroom, with all the chatter and banter centring on the Organisation’s earlier route-briefing.
Day 1 – Singapore to Desaru
The flag fell at 9:01 outside Raffles Hotel and the cars inched past the crowds on the pavement for the short drive to the Singapore / Malaysia frontier.
Today’s route consisted of a long sweep from one side of the country to the other, finishing at the beach resort of Desaru on the eastern seaboard.
While the competitors dined to the sound of traditional Malaysian music with brightly coloured folk dancers on the stage, the Results Team were crunching the numbers from today’s sporting activities. With the help of the local authorities, a 12 kilometre closed-road timed test section was staged during the afternoon with crews negotiating a twisty and demanding gravel track that carved its way through a dense palm tree plantation.
Who set the best time then? Gerry Crown threaded his big Leyland P76 with its growling V8 engine through the trees to knock off the first test in one second over seven minutes, with navigator Matt Bryson looking delighted as the car slid across the finish line. A determined drive from Grant Tromans in his ex-London to Capetown Datsun 240Z was just four seconds slower, and matching the Datsun’s pace was Peter Lovett’s Porsche 911 two-litre. Garrick Staples in the nimble VW Beetle was just two seconds down on the Datsun and Porsche, with Paul Merryweather’s Mercedes 300SE cabrio matching the Beetles time.
David and Hilary Tomlin with their Ford V8 Coupe were just four seconds slower than the Vintageant pacesetter, Bill Shields in his Chevy Coupe who set best pre-war time of 8:01. Phil Garrett and Kieron Brown in the red Chevrolet Fangio Coupe that has twice won the Peking to Paris – surely the only car to win outright two long-distance marathon-rallies – were third best Vintageant on 8:16.
If there had been a hero of the day award it would surely have gone to John Rich, who hurled one of the biggest – and more unlikely – rallycars through the trees, sliding the enormous Chevrolet Bel Air through the twists and turns to post a time of 8:25, the V8 three-ton open-topped monster with its mouth-organ grille seemingly grinning wider as the dust clouds bigger and bigger. The car runs standard street tyres without the benefit of a chunky tread pattern of most other cars yet the cigar-chomping John Rich scored a top ten result. To celebrate the achievement, he promptly put a cigar in his mouth at the finish and then asked the marshals, Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford, if they had a light. Surrounded by highly inflammable oil palm trees, John Rich clearly enjoys days like these, packed with gung-ho derring-do.
As for Chris and Ed, they were rather hoping to be offered a beer from the car’s fridge, having spent nearly three hours toiling in the sun with reels of barrier-tape that block wrong junctions, all part of the work that goes into a slickly-run Timed Section.
Joerg and Louis Lemberg posted the best Bentley effort, on 8:33, with the Rolner’s Bentley on 9:02, in between these two cars are Rudi Friedrichs in his well travelled pre-war Alvis, and the Datsun 240Z of the Saxenas. Also going well today was the Volvo of Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell, who passed several cars in the dusty forest test, and Patrick and Christine Sommer in a VW Karman Ghia. Trouble struck the big Mercedes 300SE of Natalie and Nicola Pohl, suffering problems with the rear air suspension, and the silver Datsun 240Z of Roy Stephenson and Peter Robinson stopped half way through the Test when the differential carrier came loose, but the crew were optimistic the sweep-team of roving mechanics could fix this tonight.
So, the rally leader is Gerry Crown – at 82 the oldest driver here.
It’s been a long and demanding day. With the big glass bedroom windows thrown open a fresh breeze from the beach below rattles the bedroom curtains. It’s a warm balmy evening as we turn in for bed to the rhythmic sound from the pounding waves of the China Sea.
Day 2 – Desaru to Kuantan
The Rally has arrived at a second beach resort this evening where we are dining under a thatched open-sided restaurant on the edge of a silvery-sandy beach lit by a full moon. Giant rollers that make this place a surfers paradise by day come thundering up to the sand as we tuck into a choice of steak, prawns, beef or lamb kebabs, various fish dishes, or different pastas. It’s been a long day… so we all have a healthy appetite.
Another forest test-section has produced a shakeup in the results table. Cars arrived to start of this challenge just as a tropical downpour sent rivers of water down the track, turning fine gravel and sand into a scene resembling a Kenyan Safari section of muddy murum. Slippery, slimey corners where a car could easily slide into a ditch called for prudence, so the leader of the Classics, Gerry Crown, backed off. Grant Tromans in the second-placed Datsun saw a chance to overhaul the big Leyland P76 and gunned it hard, chalking up a winning time of 8:07, 15 seconds quicker than Gerry. It was enough to snatch the lead of the Classics, now 11 seconds ahead of Australian crew. The slippery mud with several hills and narrow hairpins suited the Porsche 911 of Peter Lovett, who posted third best on 8:33, with the Beetle of Garrick Staples fourth, ten seconds slower than the Porsche. Roy Stephenson and Peter Robinson began their fight back after axle problems yesterday and posted a time of 8:52.
In the Vintage Category Bill Shields is now under real pressure. He finished the day top of the Vintage leaderboard but faces a strong challenge from the Chevrolet Fangio Coupe of Phil Garratt, the former Peking Paris winner enjoying a good day, posting a third best test-time of 9:40, just two seconds slower than Bill Shields. Bill leads the Category by 17 seconds over Phil Garratt but it was the Alvis of Rudi Friedrichs who snatched best Vintageant with a time of 9:32, six seconds quicker than Bill. With the Alvis settling into the event we can all expect a needle contest as these three drivers scrap for seconds and top honours.
Jim and Tanya Clarke are now fourth, after bad luck struck the Tomlin’s Ford V8 Coupe. They slid off the track on a muddy downhill stretch, and clouted a bank. This forced the tyre off the rim and damaged the steering, stranding car and crew mid-test. The car was taken to a local workshop on the back of a truck. David Tomlin was hopeful overnight repairs would see the Ford running tomorrow.
Finally we have to report a road traffic accident involving Daniel and Rabia Schlatter while driving their Bentley on the main road to Mersing – the pair were attended to at the scene by the rally Doctors and taken to hospital, and discharged soon after. They are both now on their way to Singapore, Daniel incurred two broken ribs and Rabia has a broken wrist. A sad retirement for two popular and experienced long-distance competitors.
Day 3 – Kuantan to Cameron Highlands
After two days carving our way up the east coast of Malaysia, with the South China Sea out over our right arms while driving through plantations of palm trees, today we turned north-west, driving in brilliant sunshine through rain-forests, then narrow one-car-width tarmac lanes, leading into a short and twisty gravel Test Section, to finally arrive at a rollercoaster drive through the Cameron Highlands. In short, it’s been a brilliant day – one of the finest drives the E.R.A. have put on in any event for a long time, packed with variety and offering something for everyone. Rarely do days come together as good as this.
Today has shaken up the leader-board yet again. We have a new leader of the Classics Category – the test-section was short, with lumpy bumpy gravel, but it clearly suited the big Leyland with its growling V8 engine, as Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson were to end up re-taking the lead of the Classics, demoting the Datsun of Grant Tromans and Simon Russell to second place. Best time of the day was delivered by the Porsche 911 of Peter Lovett, with a time of 3:37, to Gerry Crown’s Leyland on 3:40, which was matched exactly by the flying VW Beetle of Garrick Staples, who put in a dazzling display of long lurid slides and car control, but the little Beetle missed a control later in the afternoon, and the penalties incurred sent the VW crew spinning down the leader-board to 23rd. The Datsun’s time on 3:56 reflected a wrong turning on the Test-section. So, Paul Merryweather moves up to fourth spot in his Mercecdes 300SE, and Rob Garnsworthy’s yellow Mustang is now fifth. The unlikely Chevrolet Bel Air of John Rich, surely the biggest car in the event, is now running a surprising 7th place in the Classics division.
Mention should be made of the solo entry in the Touring Category. Having fun but not eligible for official results, Joost Van Cauwenberge from Belgium has set some dazzling times in a big Toyota Landcruiser 4×4, his time today was just two seconds short of the best time, on 3:39, and given that the course was very narrow and twisty, this effort was a remarkable sight to witness… co-driver Christine de Landtsheer was hanging onto the roof.
In the Vintage Category, the leader remains the Chevrolet of Bill Shields, with Phil Garratt’s Chevy Coupe in second – Bill posted a best time of 4:07, Phil Garratt was on 4:18, but the challenge of the Alvis from Rudi Friedrichs went down the gulley today when he slid wide on a tight left hand bend, missing a ditch by inches and finishing a few inches from the feet of the film-unit, who then had the job of towing out the Alvis… which then stormed off, still eager to make up for lost time. This car had put up a great fight to scrap with the leaders, but the final results of the day sees Rudi and Helga sink to 11th.
Daniel Day and Ron Doyle in their fairly standard Chevy Coupe are the new third-placed challengers in the Vintageant category, Jim Clark moves up to fourth in his Ford V8 and Lars Rolner’s Bentley is now fifth.
David and Karen Ayre in the 1907 six-litre Itala were early on the road today and going well. Tomorrow is promising another day of adventures, as we have to contend with last minute re-routes due to flooded roads from recent storms. There is a terrific atmosphere within the rally tonight and the imaginative route-plan from John Spiller and Anthony Preston has set the event alight, with the leaderboard changing daily in the scrap for top honours.
Day 4 – Cameron Highlands to Kota Bharu
We continued to zig-zag our way up through Malaysia today, leaving the chilly mountain air of the Cameron Highlands to descend through cloud and swirling mist.
Water was dripping off the palm trees in the valley below, where we lined up for a closed-road hillclimb, our first tarmac test. Our hotel, The Copthorne, stood at the summit at 5,300ft, our plan was to tackle a back-road that had been promised we could safely enjoy all to ourselves. It was to be the first disappointment of the day. Police performed a great job in closing down local traffic, but John Spiller’s team had doubts about local farm workers, who would pop out of tiny side-entrances from fields on motor-bikes… so discretion won, and the test was cancelled in the interests of safety. Instead, we all drove it at our own pace, and then turned to return to the valley below.
Our day took us across the width of Malaysia to the east-coast again, and the route was to test the mettle of the navigators as there were last-minute re-routes to cope with. We had to cross a large river. Early in the event planning, there were ideas of taking a local flat barge that carries a few cars across by locals hauling on a rope, Indiana Jones-style. This idea was soon discarded. But recent monsoons had flooded much of this part of Malaysia and with roads opening and closing at a short notice to cope with repair teams, planning a route much in advance was looking more and more unlikely to provide a reliable solution. So John left it until today to finally set the course, with the E.R.A. team meeting crews at road junctions and the café controls to hand out re-route information and amendments. It was a stressful day for both organisers and crews, who drove through villages and small towns that showed plenty of evidence of the horrendous damage torrents of water can cause when rivers fail to cope with flash-floods.
The Mercedes Team of the Pohls had running problems of their own, one Mercedes driven by Andreas Pohl requiring a push start having lost all but third gear, and later seen needing attention in a road-side exhaust centre. The VW Karman Ghia of Patrick and Christine Sommer had the surprise of being met at the end of the day by over 20 Volkswagens all lined up in the street opposite our hotel, local enthusiasts having come far and wide to meet the German crew and the Beetle from America, the hard-driving Staples. Local bands and dancers boomed through the marble halls of Grand River View hotel and feted the arrival of HRH Idris Shah, our Malaysian Sultan who had another enjoyable day at the wheel of his ex-Paul Carter XK Jaguar, the crew taking advantage of the offer of parking in the pride of place slot opposite the main doors of the hotel while the rest of us had to find parking underground. Rod Wade was running well today after yesterday’s drama of sliding off the road into a ditch, bashing the front left corner badly of his Ford Crestline. As Rod carried a spare radiator it was merely a case of watching Andy Inskip and Tony Jones take a sledge-hammer to his bodywork, changing a wheel, sorting bent steering and fitting the new radiator.
Today’s route had taken us from the chilly mountain air of Malaysia’s hills lined with bright green bushes of tea plantations, to clipping along busy roads in bright sunshine with temperatures hovering just over 30-degrees centigrade. Tomorrow we cross Malaysia to the west side again, where our route includes a cork-screw climb up the side of a mountain. The climb is called the Tour de France, as it’s used by local cycle racers, the plan is to drive it as a tarmac test-section before we all end up in Georgetown, where the rally is based for two nights, Friday being a welcome day off.
Day 5 – Kota Bharu to Georgetown
How about this: A closed-road, full police attendance, smooth tarmac and endless bends.… what more could we ask? In seeking a spot of fun after our first coffee-stop of the day…. all were delivered, for a stonking hillclimb Test up the side of a jungle-covered mountain.
It was a day full of surprises, certainly for Jo Worth at the wheel of a Volvo Amazon, with her mother in the navigator’s seat …. they shot up the hill drifting with perfect lines through the bends to chalk up an excellent time of third overall. Too good to be true? It was then discovered that in their enthusiasm, they had failed to stop at one of two Passage Controls and once a one minute penalty was applied, they tumbled back down to 11th best on the mountain.
We left after a good breakfast for the drive out of Kota Bharu and found ourselves driving through rubber plantations, with workers carving away at the bark to drain the latex sap into little pots, a technique that hasn’t changed since the invention of rubber.
Our Test-section, called The Tour de France as it is used regularly by cycle racers, ran smoothly, and very well supported by local police. It was Grant Tromans who set a best time overall of 5:53, just a second quicker than Gerry Crown’s Leyland, with Roy Stephenson third in the near-standard 240Z, on a time of 6:06, three seconds clear of Peter Lovett’s two litre Porsche 911, the yellow Ford Mustang of Rob Garnsworthy matched the time of the 911.
Rudi Friedrichs set best pace in the Vintageants, on 6:20, no less than 11 seconds better than Chevy for Bill Shields. Caroline Greenhalgh was on 8:13 in the big Alvis Tourer+, the Wilkinson’s Alvis was on 8:36, The prize for the loudest exhaust up the hill saw a united vote in favour of Rod Wade in the battered Ford Crestline, setting a time of 8:26.
So, the overall leaderboard, as we go into our first rest-day at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel on the east-side of Malaysia, reads that Bill Shields has a clear lead in the Vintageants of 28:17 over Phil Garratt’s Chevy, on 29:45, with Daniel Day in third place. In the Classics, it’s tight at the top with Gerry Crown on 24:57, and Grant Tromans in the Datsun on 25:01, total penalties, with Peter Lovett third on 25:24, ahead of the Mustang of Rob Garnsworthy on 28:25.
Several crews decided to miss out on the hillclimb today and one or two are limping… Daniel Spadini has severe gearbox troubles in his Jaguar Mk1 saloon, and hopes a replacement gearbox can now being flown in will solve the problem, Andreas Pohl ran today without second gear in his Mercedes and also has plans for a new gearbox.
Friday is meant to be a rest day in this excellent hotel by the sea – for most, it will be anything but rest as cars are re-fettled for the challenges to come.
Day 6 – Georgetown – Rest Day
As usual the first rest day of a long distance rally provides some welcome relief to both cars and crew and the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, our billet for the day is a welcome oasis of calm, air conditioned, dust free efficiency.
However the term ‘rest day’ is a bit misleading. There’s not much actual resting going and a quick look in the clean, well lit and level multi storey carpark confirms this. Looking like a cross between a breakers yard and a refugee camp the third floor rang to the sound of hammering, grunting and revving all morning as drivers, mechanics and sweep crews tried to become ‘man and machine in perfect harmony’.
We see things on ERA rallies that even a main dealer would baulk at and there’s not much that can’t be fixed from the back of one of the ERA’s new fleet of specially adapted red Toyota Hilux trucks.
Nicholas Pryor commented wryly that “all going well other than the fact that we’ve got turbo charger problems and we’re only firing on eleven of out twelve cylinders.” His well-travelled Volvo PV needing only minor attention today.
Anton Gonnissen – Bentley Speed 8 – unbuckled the hood and flicked the switch on his under bonnet light to reveal his 8 litre ex Rolls-Royce tank engine. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, he just likes looking at it – this might sound sad, if you’ve not seen it. Lars Rolner was giving his Bentley a once over but was more worried about his forearms after the days of heaving the machine through the jungle backroads we’ve become used to. Roger Anderson in his Ford Model A arrived late last night on the back of a tow truck but set to early this morning with Tony Jones and Jim Smith to iron out transmission problems. We fully expect to see him rolling with the pack in the morning.
David Tomlin with his Ford Coupe was thinking of travelling without his bonnet covers for the next few days…. The Ford is getting a bit too hot and bothered for his liking. Len Treeter, he of the Cowboy Cadillac, had emptied his boot which is the size of an Olympic swimming pool to give the car a bit of as once over and a brush up. Rob Kitchen and Alan Page were hard at it under the AC 18/80 of Philip Noble working on a broken rear spring whilst Danny Day was looking for a way to eek out a little more performance from his drum brakes.
Patrick Sommer had a gearbox and a mechanic flown in for his VW Karmann Ghia and the engine was seen spread neatly over the floor of the carpark in all of its glorious simplicity. All being well, he should be rolling with fourth gear tomorrow for the first time in three days.
Outside of the carpark there were five separate sessions taking place in the hotel lobby dedicated to the art of regularity timing. ERA experts Clark, Rutherford, Heal, Preston and Cotton offered up years and miles of experience to those navigators who felt they needed a bit of a steer in this area. Regularities are all about matching speed and distance to a schedule set by the organisation. It sounds straightforward enough but the ERA have never been known to make life too easy in this department and we expect to see some imaginative choice of roads over the next few days.
There are something like 16 crews on this event who are using it as some sort of shakedown for next years Peking to Paris, and among them there’s a great sense of excited anticipation developing. Those who’ve done it before keen to pass on tips and tricks whilst the newcomers being equally keen to take on as much inside information as they can. David Roberts, a two times veteran himself in a Sunbeam Alpine was looking forward to sitting them all down together later in the day.
Finally, some news on a couple who can’t be with us slumming it in this palatial hotel. Daniel and Rabia Schlatter are in Singapore, Rabia has had an operation to have her broken arm pinned, and Daniel has had a thorough check over after breaking a couple of ribs. “We could not be in a better hospital,” said Dani, “our thoughts are with the rally.”
We leave Malaysia tomorrow for the Thailand frontier, so we say goodbye to our Malaysian agents who’ve been excellent travelling companions and invaluable fixers. Heartfelt thanks to this slickly-presented back up operation. Must go, the cast-iron slipper bath in front of the smoked mirrors is about to over-flow.
Day 7 – Georgetown to Trang
We left the island of Penang early this morning, drove across the bridge to the mainland, and turned to leave Malaysia behind us – the frontier of Thailand beckoned as the sun rose over the Andaman Sea.
First challenge of the day was a timed Test-section unlike anything else we have experienced before – a long drive through paddy-fields of sprouting rice. The gravel track was a string of causeways, raised up above deep ditches with lots of 90-degree lefts and rights, with great clouds of dust hanging in the early morning air. We were also in for the warmest day of the event so far, with temperatures recorded on the wrist gadget of Jim Allen rising to 35°C in full sun, over 100°F.
Cars corkscrewed their way across the network of gravel tracks with everyone succeeding in avoiding a slide into the rice-fields, with the best time set up by Gerry Crown in his Leyland, winning the Classics division with a good margin on 6:19 to the Datsun of Grant Tromans on 6:30, and Bill Shields chalking up a best time it in the Vintage section, with 6:55. The leaderboard changed little today but everyone enjoyed an interesting challenge, supported by 30 local motor-club marshals. Jim and Tanya Clark in their Ford V8 Coupe were relieved to regain the main road with a time of 8:28 after a white-knuckle drive with virtually no brakes. The ex-Arthur Freeman car has previously finished the Peking to Paris in 2010 trouble-free. Mark Buchanan made steady progress in his Ford Mustang, Mark finished the London to Cape Town and is navigated by Kurt Schneiders, who also finished the London Cape Town World Cup Rally and Peking to Paris. We welcomed back the big black Rockne Six 75 of Mani and Irene Dubbs who suffered a broken stub axle on Day Two of the rally and got going again when a friend in Switzerland donated a spare stripped out from his own Rockne and flown out to get the Dubbs going again.
We all then headed for the Thai border. Car formalities went remarkably smoothly, as we all slipped through customs seamlessly, thanks to the prior work set up in recent months by the E.R.A. Rally Office producing spread-sheets of information on cars and personnel supported by CARS UK’s Melvyn Palmer putting in his nifty footwork on the ground – this winning combination provided us with what proved to be a hassle-free transit through customs, with each car being processed in less than a minute, with paperwork being ground through additional printers provided by the Rally Office. Good stuff, eh? Alas, this was not to last. We then lined up for passports to be stamped, and found ourselves marooned in a sea of red-tape as just one desk with one beleaguered official tried to cope with not just 150 rallyists but busloads of travelling backpackers at the same time. The result was a frustratingly long session of standing around in the heat of the day.
We eventually got going to find the Rua Rasada hotel in Trang after a drive through rubber plantations lined with green banks of tall grass. Car 37, Dennis and Jill Wilson in a Volvo PV544, were side-lined with a broken fan-belt, helped by Car 15, Mike and Georgie Butler in a Chevy saloon.
The road had become noticeably smoother after crossing into Thailand. Tomorrow we face a hectic day with an early start several timed sections.
Day 8 – Trang to Khao Lak
It surely doesn’t get much better than this. Here we all are, relaxing in a hotel that specialises in honeymoons, with palm trees that hang over a long bay of white sand, with a bright blue sea gently rolling in as the sun begins to set. It’s rather similar to Hemingway’s that faces the Indian Ocean on the north Kenyan coast, where our first Classic Safari finished after driving from Cape Town.
Some of us walked up the beach with an invigorating sea breeze over the sand, a 10 minute stroll under the palm trees, to a terrace where our dinner was served on candlelit tables facing the sea. Tonight’s menu consisted of rock lobster, mussels, tenderloin steak, sweet and sour pork, various fishy stuff like squid, corn on the cob, plus a vast table of salads – eat as much as you like. Judging by the way some were piling up their plates today’s action resulted in a strong appetite.
We drove a long day that saw two Regularity tests – for some, tackling an average-speed test with a secret finishing point was a new experience – plus one closed-road Test-section, another hillclimb which corkscrewed up the side of a mountain with thick green vegetation of banana trees on each side. All this shook up the leaderboard.
The Vintageant brigade as a whole all did well today, and performed better on the Regularities than those in the Classic division. Leader Bill Shields in the hot Chevy started off badly, collecting penalties for an early arrival over his rivals and then compounded it by getting a line penalty on the Test section for over-shooting the finish line, but on the last regularity of the day had got the hang of things to only drop one second. Keith and Nora Ashworth in their Buick dropped three on this test, and only two on the first regularity, Martin Egli also did well in his Lagonda, dropping one second on the first regularity and two on the second. One crew got a “spot on” result with no loss of penalties – a stunning result for someone new to the regularity game: Anton Gonnissen and Inge Willman in the big Bentley Eight got a zero on the second regularity, clearly a crew to watch.
Caroline Greenhalgh and Tania Slow, holding 7th place overall in the Vintageants, hit trouble on the run into the hotel at the end of the afternoon, their big Alvis tourer making some odd noises from a tired axle, and was receiving attention from Owen and Jamie Turner when we came upon them.
In the Classics, Peter and Zoe Lovett had a good day, dropping one second on the first regularity, setting second best time on the Test-section of 2:50, and dropped two seconds on the final regularity, good enough to lift them up into second spot overall – Grant Tromans and Simon Russell took a maximum penalty of 30 seconds on the first regularity, overshot the line on the Test so scored 3:42, and pulled things together by the final regularity to drop five seconds, but having an off-day when the Porsche behind you is having a good day makes the scrap at the top tighter. The experience of Sandra Merryweather showed today, as Paul put the Mercedes through the day’s competition to emerge with seven seconds out on the first regularity, just two on the last, and a Test time of 3:12. Ludovic Bois and Julia Calman in their Volvo also had a good day, two seconds down on the first regularity, just one second down on the second, matching the effort of Zoe Lovett. The Sultan, HRH Idris Shah, continues to stroke along the green XK Jaguar and dropped just five seconds on the first regularity of the day. Patrick Sommer in the VW Karman Ghia, new the regularity game, turned in a drop of just seven seconds on the first regularity, and five on the last one. Garrick Staples with John Layzell clearly hates regularity, their Beetle took a maximum 30 seconds on the first, and 27 seconds on the last.
We have a day off tomorrow – Monday – and this could not be a more restful spot for a rest-day.
Day 9 – Khao Lak Rest Day
Everyone is enjoying balmy sunshine, there is a refreshing sea breeze through the coconut palms, some are out in the car park carrying out general servicing and check-overs, and a few are nursing a headache which has nothing to do with last night.
The most serious problem is faced by Caroline Greenhalgh, in the big Alvis Tourer, car 12, which has lost a tooth from the differential, the car proceeds slowly with terrible grinding noises, and the verdict of the sweep-mechanics is that it won’t last long without an entire differential replacement. Caroline is laughing at the challenge of all this and reckons its ‘all part of the adventure’. The other all-female crew in the Classics division also has severe mechanical problems. The Volvo Amazon that has been driven with great gusto in the hands of Heather Worth and her mother, Jo, has cried enough. The engine was revved extra-hard when the throttle stuck open, and this caused a valve to break, falling into the engine, putting a hole in a piston, and possibly damaged the con-rod underneath, which then damaged the cylinder-head. Heather is looking for a new piston, con-rod, and replacement cylinder head. The sweep mechanics have worked on the engine this morning, and disconnected a push-rod, so that the engine now runs on three cylinders. It runs surprisingly well – it’s still got more power than quite a few other cars. Can it be repaired? How far can a three-cylinder Volvo run for? Heather seems to be taking the crisis surprisingly calmly.
However, the black Amazon is not the only car in the car park with a hole in a piston. The Jaguar XK150 driven by the all Malaysian crew of Syed Jamalullail, has a hole in piston number five and this morning there were various debates about how best to proceed – the car has been blowing out blue smoke for the past couple of days. The car was acquired only a couple of months before the event and had not benefited from an engine strip-down.
The Ford Model A of car 5, Roger and Carolyn Anderson, report all is going well now having replaced the engine timing-gear; Philip Lunnon and Michael Draper in the Jaguar SS100 have repaired a leaky fuel-tank, Martin Egli’s Lagonda has replaced a broken leaf-spring; the VW Beetle of Garrick Staples was looking for the kind of bolts that hold the steering column to the dashboard this morning, which was testing the supply in the box of bits carried by Tony Jones, and others like the Datsun of Grant Tromans was having attention to the senders of the Monit trip meter. Lots of small service jobs kept most crews occupied for a few hours this morning, but the sun-loungers under the palm trees and a few beers soon tempted everyone back to what rest-days are supposed to be all about.
Day 10 – Khao Lak to Chumphon
We left the comforts of our fine beach hotel after a late breakfast and set about striking off another 350 kilometres, crossing the country and we’re now on the East side of Thailand, steadily zig-zagging our way northwards.
Our creative route-plan involved several turnings off main roads for interesting loops into unspoilt coconut groves – we are certainly seeing plenty of the real Thailand this way. There was just one competitive section today, a Regularity-test set in rolling hills surrounded on either side by a bamboo forest.
The Syd Stelvio hero of the day award goes to Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown who guided their Chevrolet Fangio Coupe through the day without losing any penalties at all, including a spot-on clean sweep of the regularity test, which tightens the position at the top of the leaderboard in the Vintageants Category. Bill Shields’ lead has now been sliced down to just 14 seconds. Daniel Day also had a good run and was six seconds down on Phil and Kieron, Rudi Friedrichs in the Alvis was four seconds down, and Caroline Greenhalgh was just two seconds adrift despite the ominous-sounding grinding noises from her back axle, two seconds down was also the score of Mike Butler, Anton Gonnisen, and Lars Rolner. Some excellent results are being turned in by several Vintage crews.
In the Classics division, three cars managed to drop no penalties at all. The yellow Mustang of Rob Garnsworthy and John Teasdale cleaned the day with no loss of penalties, so too did the red VW Karman Ghia of Patrick and Christine Sommer, who have enjoyed the best day so far, along with Dirk de Groen and Alexandra de Lespinasse, in a Mercedes.
Peter Lovett in the two-litre Porsche and Grand Tromans in the Datsun 240Z both dropped a single second, a good enough result for Peter to close the gap on Gerry Crown, who dropped eight. Paul and Sandra Merryweather dropped two seconds, in fourth overall spot.
Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell dropped just three seconds, their Volvo PV544 is holding 9th overall, a better day after being baulked by trucks yesterday which had cost them dearly. Stan Gold and Brant Parsons also had a good day, dropping just two seconds of the regularity in their 911. David and Jo Roberts lifted their 1954 Sunbeam Alpine, similar to the car Stirling Moss used to rally in the 1950s Alpine Rally, dropping five seconds, the car is in 15th spot, ahead of a Mercedes and a Datsun 240Z.
Tomorrow is a long day so an early morning start to knock off another 500 kilometres.
Day 11 – Chumphon to Kanchanaburi
This was our longest day. We have knocked off over 500kms and found time to not only drive an excellent timed Test-section, one of the best so far, but also a Regularity test, as well as time out for a long lunch. And the sun shone. Everyone agrees it’s been an excellent day, as the route included quite a few minor back-roads that has enabled us all to take in the ‘real Thailand’.
Best performance on the Test section, which was over some twisty gravel tracks at the back of the Majestic Hills Golf Resort which hosted our lunch, saw Gerry Crown romp to a time of 6:15, next best in the Classics division was Grant Tromans on 6:40, matched exactly by the Porsche 911 of Peter and Zoe Lovett.
In the Vintageants, Bill Shields was again quickest overall, in a time of 6:59, second Phil Garrett and Kieron Brown, on 7:16. Daniel Day and Roland Doyle, also in a Chevy, was third best on 8:00 dead.
The day has not been without drama. The Volvo Amazon of Heather and Jo Worth has finally died on us all, after promising to run again – some of us heard it coming back to life at midnight last night after a new piston had been fitted, but alas, the word is that the piston is the wrong size and the engine has cried enough. The Alvis Tourer of Caroline Greenhalgh had spares for the axle arrive today, with the new navigator who we welcome – Louise Cartledge, an accomplished Bentley driver in her own right.
We saw beside today Keith and Nora Ashworth, sidelined with fuel vaporisation problems, attended to by one of the backup sweep crews, and Hans Ulrich Wartenweiler with his Volvo Amazon, with water pump problems.
On the Regularity test, Stan Gold and Brant Parsons, Porsche 911, got a spot-on zero penalty. Four lost just one second, David and Jo Roberts, Sunbeam Alpine; David and Hilary Tomlin in a Ford V8 Coupe; Paul and Sandra Merryweather, Mercedes 300SE, and Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman in their Volvo.
We drove some interesting and varied roads, taking in the sights of very rural Thailand with local farmworkers toiling in the sun harvesting pineapples, rice paddy-field planting, we stopped to visit a Buddha temple, the first of what is promised very many, and ended up chatting to crews in the hectic car park outside the hotel as they got stuck into their service schedules. The red Chevy Fangio Coupe of Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown was dumbfounding the opposition when he was spotted removing the windscreen wipers for extra aerodynamic advantage and weight loss. Some people clearly are taking the competition too seriously….
Tomorrow we drive to see the Bridge over the River Kwai, and take in Burma Railway museum which featured in the film The Railwayman, at Hellfire Pass, dug by prisoners of war. Some of us are leaving early for this.
Day 12 – Hellfire Pass to Kanchanaburi
With our rallying set for later in the day, we all took advantage of an early-morning drive to the museum and remains of the Burma Railway at Hellfire Pass. This was particularly poignant for those who have seen the film, The Railwayman, which featured the difficult life experienced by prisoners of war when the Japanese built a railway linking Malaysia, Thailand and Burma with a single-track railway, built to help them supply their forces in Burma.
Hellfire Pass was the deepest cutting through sheer rock, and was the result of just 12 weeks of toil, working day and night – it gained its name from the light of fires lit at night to aid the work. It is difficult to know precisely how many men died at Hellfire Pass although it has been estimated that there was one death for every rail sleeper over the full 415 kilometres of the railway.
On that sombre note we returned to our cars, and took in a grand loop through a National Park, driving on gravel roads before returning to the same hotel on the banks of the River Kwai. There were two regularity-tests down remote gravel trails, and the result is a change at the top of the leaderboard in the Classics division. Peter and Zoe Lovett in the two-litre 911 dropped a single second on the first regularity, and three on the second – overhauling Gerry Crown in the big V8 Leyland, who dropped a minute on the first after missing a junction. Some excellent times were posted among the rest of the Classics, notable performances were put up by John Rich, who got a spot-on, zero penalties on the first regularity and dropped three seconds on the second; Paul and Sandra Merryweather dropped one second on the first and two on the second; Patrick Sommer dropped 10 on the first but by the second regularity was in full swing and dropped just a single second, Matthew Todd in a Volvo dropped a whole minute with the problem of finding the finish control, overshooting a tricky junction, but got a spot-on score of no penalties on the second regularity.
In the Vintageants, a consistent performance was turned in by Phil Garratt in the red Chevy, dropping four seconds on the first regularity and two on the second. Today’s effort means the gap between first overall Bill Shields, and Phil Garratt, is now down to just seven seconds. Martin Egli dropped just one second on the second test, after struggling to find the finish on the first regularity when he dropped 49 seconds. It was David Tomlin who proved to be the star of the day in his Ford V8 Coupe, dropping just one second on the first regularity, and two on the second, spot on time keeping as well as navigation from Hilary contributed to the best result among the Vintageants. We welcomed back the blue Alvis Tourer today, Caroline Greenhalgh has cured her axle problems, with a fresh differential, and with new co-driver Louise Cartledge dropped right back into the competition, dropping 14 seconds on the first tricky regularity, and then got a bullseye, zero penalties, on the second. Louise says her regularity skills have been honed on the Flying Scotsman rally. Finally, news on the oldest car in the event… David and Karen Ayre were in good spirits today, the 1907 Itala bounds along, and on the leaderboard they are ahead of a Ford V8 Coupe, a Bentley and other several later, quicker cars, and romped round the regularities today using their very tall driving position to advantage, easily seeing over the tall grass through the bamboo canes to read the bends ahead, they dropped just four seconds on the second regularity, a score that was bettered by only seven other Vintageants – not bad for a six litre pioneer with tyres as narrow as some bicycles ….and no brakes.
On our way back to our hotel, several crews diverted just off the main highway to visit the real Bridge Over The River Kwai, today an all-metal construction for a single-track railway over the river, but where in 1943 a vast wooden bridge was built by British and Australian prisoners in appalling conditions – successfully bombed two years later by the RAF. The highly-acclaimed anti-war film, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, won seven Oscars, and was the number one film of the year, telling the story of a true incident that occurred during the building of the bridge. We ended a fascinating driving day with an excellent meal, dining together in the Dheva Mantra Hotel.
Day 13 – Kanchanaburi to Phetchabun
Just when you think you could not enjoy a better a day, after yesterday’s run through a rain-forest in bright sunshine, today surpassed all expectations.
We began with a drive past field workers harvesting pineapples, loading them into trucks, before driving them down to market. Our route meandered through thick 30ft-tall bamboo plantations on a road that had received a fresh coat of tarmac in recent days, billiard-board smooth and rose and fell satisfyingly on the contours of a hilly rain-forest. The first section of the day’s competition on this remote road was a Regularity test before driving on to a roadside café for an authentic Thai lunch, and finally ended up at a school that specialises in developing children for sport.
It is here that the local motor-club were right behind our efforts in closing down every junction over a 10 kilometre gravel loop that corkscrewed through dense canopy jungle, with graded gravel as smooth as Finland or Sweden – this course having been used by Thai rally championships in the past. With miles of barrier tape and lots of local marshals manning every footpath and junction, this was highly organised for our benefit, and the tracks were transformed into one of the slickest Test-sections we have experienced so far.
Pressure mounting on the leaders, both Gerry Crown briefly left the road for a short excursion into the paddy field, before regaining the course, and Peter Lovett, new Classic Division leader, performed the same act – the result was that Gerry lost out by one second to the Porsche, with the Datsun of Grant Tromans putting in the quickest time. However, on the earlier regularity, it was the Leyland P76 of Gerry Crown that had beaten the Porsche by one second, resulting in both cars ending the day on the same penalty score, with no change at the top. The Datsun crew had put in a perfect run on the regularity, with no loss of time, the only car to do so.
One crew only dropped one second on the regularity in the Classic Category – David and Jo Roberts in the 1954 Sunbeam Alpine. Stan Gold dropped two seconds, along with Rob Garnsworthy, Nicholas Pryor and Matthew Todd – several crews are clearly getting the hang of the Regularity game.
However, in the Vintageants, we have a new leader. Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown have topped Bill Shields, when Bill collected a one-minute penalty for after making a navigation error on the Regularity test. The Chevy of Garratt and Brown had dropped just one second on the Regularity, a performance matched only by Mike Butler in a Chevy Saloon, and Paul Kirkham in a Ford Model A, the Kirkhams are now lying 8th overall in the Vintageant Category.
It was good to see the return of the white Jaguar 3.8 of Daniel Spadini and his daughter Alexandra, missing for the past few days having to fix the gearbox, however, the two Jaguar XKs were missing from the final test of the day, and we hear that Heather and Jo Worth are waiting for an engine transplant for their Volvo in Kanchanaburi.
The car park was busy tonight with service work and repairs going on, with the biggest job being the Beetle of Garrick Staples and John Layzell, who have limped through the day with a misfire, now detected as a problem with one cylinder. The sweep team were taking out the engine when the dinner gong sounded – this team are in for yet another late night. During the meal, Nikki Bannister took the stage and sang Happy Birthday, encouraging the rest of the rally into also joining in, with a cake emerging for Manoj Saxena, driver of the orange Datsun 240Z. It’s unanimously agreed that today has been rather special all round.
Day 14 – Phetchabun to Phrae
A long, steep climb with sweeping hairpin bends on good tarmac – given the name The Alpine Climb – started the day well. Then came the descent, and on through remote countryside across rolling hills with fields of Cassava vegetable being harvested, taking us to an unusual lunch-spot. A floating group of wooden huts under corrugated iron roofs connected by walkways, where fried chicken, salads, various rice dishes were laid out, giving the opportunity for the rally to regroup and discuss the morning’s competition while afloat on a giant reservoir.
Reaching this restful spot involved taking in a Regularity test set in the middle of the Alpine Climb. Only two cars managed to achieve a spot-on zero penalty on this average-speed-section, Michael and Ann Wilkinson in their Alvis, achieving the best result in the Vintage category, and Paul and Sandra Merryweather in their Mercedes also getting a spot-on result, the best of the Classics.
Bill Shields, leader of the Vintageants, dropped five seconds, their second-placed challenger, the Chevy of Phil Garratt, dropped two; Daniel Day holding third overall dropped three, and notable performances were chalked up by Lars Rolner and Mike Butler, again doing well dropping just a single second.
The leaders of the Classic saw no change, with Peter Lovett and Gerry Crown both on equal, scoring the same four seconds penalty and Grand Tromans losing six. Rob Garnsworthy and John Rich again going well, both drivers dropping a single second, so too did Brant Parsons and Stan Gold in their Porsche 911. Marc Buchanen, Ford Mustang, and Nicholas Pryor, Volvo PV544, dropped two seconds.
After a fine lunch afloat, it was on to our hillclimb. We had to run around a bit to find the Park Rangers who had promised to close the road for 12 kilometres of graded hard-baked dusty dirt, twisting its way up the side of a mountain through dense rain-forest. Once official support was on hand, the fun began, with locals being held from driving down against rallycars forming a big bunch of spectators at the finish-line. With high banks on each side, and every full-on bend tightening up into the next corner, it was a switchback of a track that steadily rose up the mountain side from a green valley, thick clouds of dust hanging in the air. The Mercedes Ponton of Clemens and Agneta Lansing proved an early casualty when they broke an axle half-shaft , and had to be towed to the top of the hill. They were to come down off the mountain behind the tow-rope of Andy Inskip and Tony Jones, in their mobile-workshop, and quickly located spares for an over-night repair.
Best time on the climb was set down by the two-litre 911 of Peter Lovett, who set a time of 7 minutes 27 seconds, just one second quicker than the V8 Leyland of Gerry Crown. The Datsun still holds third overall in the Classics but Grant Tromans was not looking pleased with himself having set a time of 7:54, having first-gear issues leaving the start-line. Held in bright sunshine, the mountain climb proved particularly dusty, and the interval between each car leaving the start had to be extended to help drivers enjoy a reasonably dust-free drive.
We then descended for over an hour of twists and turns down to the valley below and the drive to our hotel in Phrae.
Day 15 – Phrae to Chiang Mai
An interesting day, with another 400 kilometres taking us further northwards. We began with a short sprint on a closed road. Imagine closing a twisty B-road in the English countryside with a village at each end, setting off a bunch of vintage and classic cars to a timed dash between the two. Here in Thailand, they seem to make light of such a thing. It’s Sunday, and everyone turns out to clap and cheer. Nobody is in a rush to go anywhere, and seem delighted that a bunch of foreigners have rocked up to put on such exotic entertainment.
First the fire-brigade runs a fire-engine down the course, damping things down in the two villages so the locals are not going to be standing in large dust clouds – which was the case yesterday. An ambulance turns up and sits at the Start line, a couple of policeman turn up and watch our marshals, Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford, run up and down with another half-dozen rolls of plastic barrier tape.
A white line is laid across the road at the finish point – cars have to stop astride the line, there are penalties for over-shooting the line, and then pull forward to hand across their time-card to Chris and Ed. Just before the first car is due, two film-unit trucks decide on a recce, and once in place, radios crackle into life, and it’s good to go.
With reverse-seeding it means the slower, older cars start first. The pace quickens as the field runs down the course. Lots of tyre-squealing over the white line… lots of clapping and lots of cheering. The biggest cheer goes up for the 1907 Itala of David and Karen Ayre. Without a cloud in the sky, it’s a bright sunny day, and two remote anonymous villages could be Le Mans or the Mille Miglia as far as local motor-sport enthusiasts are concerned. Some have travelled miles and never seen a car with a number on the door in the flesh before. Children cling to branches in trees, some are perched on the floor of an open sided barn in a field beside the road, most are disciplined by a village elder into forming lines around the ERA pick-up truck near the finish clock. The tension rises and the time spent waiting for the action is well rewarded – they have never seen a Chevrolet Fangio Coupe growling up their road before, never seen Mercedes or Volvos for that matter, and long lines of black rubber are soon stretching out down the road from the stop line, with the crowd becoming more excited with every car.
In the Vintage category, the dice at the top was much as before, with Bill Shields posting a time 10 seconds quicker than Phil Garratt. Daniel Day’s Chevy this time was second best to Bill, seven seconds slower than Bill, Paul an Mariella Kirkham’s Model A is flying along and beat the Wilkinson’s Alvis, a Lagonda and several Bentleys and the Butler’s Chevy. In the Classics division, Peter Lovett beat Gerry Crown by a single second, the Datsun of Grant Tromans was ten seconds slower than Peter Lovett, Paul Merryweather was a further 10 seconds adrift, Matthew Todd in his Volvo Amazon turned in a good time beating Stan Gold’s Porsche 911. Roy Stephenson was neat and tidy powering through the bends and posted one of the quicker times of the time in his 240Z.
We took in a Regularity test in the afternoon, with the V8 Ford Coupe of David and Hilary Tomlin setting the best time, with zero, and Phil Garratt just one second off ideal, but Bill Shields was just two seconds adrift so still retains his grip at the top of the Vintageants leaderboard, with an 11 second lead overall over Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown. In the Classics, no less than five drivers scored a spot-on score of zero penalties: Hans Wartenwieler, Hans Middleburg, Paul Merryweather, and Ludovic Bois. Two were just one second out, Nicholas Pryor and Grant Tromans.
We arrived at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai, where we sat down to a silver-service dinner with a choice of wines served – a change from the usual rally buffet. David and Jo Roberts, taking an organisation initiative, persuaded many of the Officials to divide themselves up and sit at tables which Jo had designated just for those who are driving Peking to Paris in 2016. We dined on excellent duck, cooked Thai style – there is a very lively social side to this event and clearly a lot of crews have made new friends.
Among us tonight was the return of Jo and Heather Worth, who report that their Volvo Amazon will hopefully have the engine they have found fitted tomorrow so they can rejoin the rally as we head closer to the Burma border. We also hear that the missing Mercedes SL of Jan and Dana Hradecky which left us with broken engine mounts will also be returning, along with the Mercedes Ponton of Clemens Lansing, which left us with a broken axle.
Day 16 – Chiang Mai – Rest Day
The underground car park deep in the basement of the Shangri-La Hotel is no place to be – the air is full of exhaust fumes, it’s dark, and there is a deafening drone from the building’s air conditioning system. Yet it’s here that frenzied work goes on apace to prepare cars for the final haul to the Burma frontier.
Some cars are missing – drivers having found local workshops for more serious stuff than the routine service of checking brakes, tightening nuts and bolts and changing wheels. For most, there is nothing much to worry about. For others, there have been more serious concerns. Paul and Mariella Kirkham’s Model A Ford has done well to hold down eight place, and if a minute can be found, could jump up two places but the pressure is beginning to show up in the rear suspension. We watched Jamie Turner get down on the floor with his angle-grinder and set about giving the car stronger rear leafs in the springs – Paul had ordered spares in “heavy duty” but then discovered they were standard, so the challenge for Jamie was to make up new springs using bits of the old and some of the new.
The biggest engine in the event, the 1907 eight-litre Itala, was getting a good grease up and general check over this morning, including some new tyres. Martin Egli’s Lagonda was up on a jack also having a good service. Brakes seem to be the number one concern – Philip Noble and David Brown’s AC 16/80 was having attention to the front brakes, and so too was the Wilkinson’s Alvis SA. “You just have to be on it all the time, you can never have enough adjustment,” says Michael who reckons he will spend most of the day in the basement checking out the car after the challenging drive to reach this far.
Keith Ashworth was under his big eight-cylinder Buick this morning worrying about fuel problems, he still has fuel-starvation, various cures for vaporisation have not totally solved the problems of a lack of power and regular misfiring, he was about to get a vent-hole drilled in the top of the fuel cap when we left him. He is not alone with fuel problems, the big Mustang of Marc Buchanan has pinking or pre-detonation issues which could seriously damage the pistons, and Marc was working with Andy Inskip on finding a solution. A few cars have had problems with metal fatigue in the wheels – several wheels on Mario Illien’s front-wheel-drive Maigret Citroen had severe cracks, the wheels having also survived a Peking to Paris but now the wheels are literally cracking up. Mario is used to building Formula One engines…. his engineering skills have been applied to simpler, more basic machinery in the last few weeks.
Everyone’s ambition now is to make it to the Burma border – we are due to arrive on Wednesday evening – the plan at the moment is for passport formalities to be completed on Thursday. So, it’s a day off in Mae Sot and we then plan to cross the frontier on Friday for the long and tricky mountain crossing, where the road is so narrow, the locals run a “one way only” traffic system of alternating the direction to and from the border. Friday is the “going north” day and the historic moment when the barrier is lifted, and the first ever motoring event crosses a frontier that has been closed to all outsiders for the last 60 years.
Day 17 – Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son
Every day we inch closer to the border with Burma. We are now one day away from Mae Sot, our Thailand crossing point. And what a day….
This has been a stunning mountaineering day, with what was billed as the Rally of the Two-Thousand Hairpin Bends. This figure is perhaps rather cautious in the accounting, as a lot of the bends were not full hairpins but were open bends that flowed into another, and then on into another… and it’s been like this all day. We have climbed up some steep gradients, some banks on the inside apex of tight corners felt like a one-in-four climb, those with power problems were forced to take a broader sweep. Some crews had a really tough time – for David and Karen Ayre, up early to get the eight-litre Itala warmed up, today was probably the hardest, toughest, most gruelling day since leaving Raffles. David casually went around his pre-start procedures at first-light this morning, filmed by a TV unit from national Burmese Television who interviewed David and the Rally Director just as the engine chuffed into life. Some of the mountains were so steep, we hear that at one point the 1907 monster just couldn’t make a climb without some assistance – Rudi Friedrichs in the Alvis opted to stop and give the veteran a tow to a summit, a most sporting gesture as the timing was not exactly slack and the Alvis is holding fourth-overall.
Today was hard enough on its own without any timing element, but on top of this breathtaking route there were two Regularity tests and one closed-road timed Test section, with dozens of local policeman in attendance. The Test came up first, and Gerry Crown is at his best first thing in the morning, so set the best time of the day with 6:44, 12 seconds quicker than his rival, the Porsche 911 of Peter Lovett. Grant Tromans in the third-placed Datsun posted 7:48, the course was particularly twisty, with a mix of concrete, broken tarmac and dusty dirt, running between thickly wooded forest banks of 30ft-tall bamboo and banana trees. With the track just one-car width, 82-year-old Gerry did particularly well to guide the wide V8 Leyland through the corners to post the best time.
On the regularities, however, Gerry saw his early morning performance punctured by the 911, who stole back 10 seconds, as Gerry was 11 early on the first regularity, to the 911’s one-second…. the Datsun was able to equal the 911’s time. On the second regularity of the day, Gerry dropped three, Peter dropped four, Tromans dropped five. Best on the regularities in the Classic Category was again Paul and Sandra Merryweather, who dropped just one second on both runs.
In the Vintageants, Bill Shields turned in a best time of 7:17 on the Test, and achieved a spot-on, zero penalties on the first regularity, and then dropped four seconds on the second run, Phil Garratt dropped four seconds, then 18, on the second regularity, having driven the test in 7:38. Daniel Day put up a time of 7:38 on the Test, then dropped just three seconds, and then eight seconds, on the two regularities. Fourth-placed Rudi Friedrichs got the Alvis through the twisty rain-forest track in 7:36, and Helga’s time keeping was doing good today losing just one second and then six on the two regularities. Caroline Greenhalgh and Louise Cartledge did well on the first regularity, being the only Vintageant to score zero penalties, but then dropped 41 on the second trial.
It’s been a day of highs and lows all round with the mountains of northern Thailand providing a tough challenge. One more day of this brings us to our jumping off point for the Burma border. However, some are in real difficulty. We hear that Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell in their Volvo PV544 which has survived Peking Paris, South Africa, Trans-America and other corners of the globe, suffered a broken axle tonight – the axle snapped in two pieces, after dropping oil for some miles. This is not the first time this car has suffered axle problems. The highly-experienced crew were doing well today, dropping one second on the first regularity, 22 on the second, and were holding 10th overall in the Classics Division. The Volvo about 50km from our hotel and is on a low-loader truck to the hotel in the hope that a local workshop can fix it, with our sweep mechanics on hand to perform conjuring tricks.
Jo and Heather Worth are with us, having driven the standard replacement engine found here in Thailand, their Volvo Amazon is in the car park tonight, so too is the Mercedes SL of Jan and Dana Hradecky from the Czech Republic, which was running with the roof down today after repairs to broken engine-mountings, and also here is the white VW Beetle of Garrick Staples with its now standard engine – bought locally but was being gunned hard on the Test this morning.
Day 18 – Mae Hong Son to Mae Sot
A day of incidents brought us to the frontier town of Mae Sot, our crossing point for Burma. Several crews were in difficulty today but looked to be in good spirits at the Rally Dinner out on the lawn of the Hill Resort Hotel. Marking our arrival, fireworks are going off into the night sky as your intrepid reporter endeavours to file his report for you.
The day began with our final closed-road timed Test-section, a short but very dusty track snaking through dense undergrowth, which naturally was called “The Thai Decider”. The quickest car proved to be the Datsun 240Z of Grant Tromans and Simon Russell, setting a time of 3:46, Gerry Crown had the big Leyland sliding on the gravel round the corners and with Matt Bryson set a time of 3:51, and Peter and Zoe Lovett’s time in the 911 was a more cautious 4:03. Ludovic Bois, who is now fourth overall in his Volvo Amazon, having overhauled the Merryweathers, set 4:02.
In the Vintage Category, the duelling Chevys of Bill Shields saw a Bill set a time of 4:09, Phil Garratt on 4:18, Rudi Friedrichs posted 4:29 in the Alvis, Daniel Day spun in front of your reporter and landed in the bushes, and then saw seconds tick away finding reverse gear, posting a time of 4:30.
It was an eventful day for some. The Mercedes Ponton of Clemens Lansing had to be towed up a particularly steep hill by one of the Organising team Toyotas, Rudi Friedrichs came to the rescue of Australian pride when fellow Alvis driver Michael Wilkinson was sidelined with a broken gear-lever. Rudi got the car going again using a spanner as a replacement gear-lever. The Model A Ford of Roger Anderson also had to be towed up a steep hill by Clerk of the Course John Spiller. Hans Middleberg’s Ford Mustang, is being repaired in a local workshop after breaking its rear axle – several cars have suffered axle issues on this event – but the Volvo PV544 of Nicholas Pryor completed a steady run through the Test this morning and has arrived without further incident after over-night axle repairs when the axle tubes came away from the differential. The car will be resuming the competition, much to the relief of navigator Lesley Stockwell who feared it was heading for retirement.
Perhaps the biggest drama of the day concerned the Maigret Citroen of Mario Illien. The car stopped abruptly on the Test-section with a front wheel leaning over dramatically – it looked as if the wheel had come off. With the help of Jim Allen from the film-unit, the car was patched up with competing cars covering the two of them in dust, and limped out of the Test with suspected broken king-pin, but Mario was hammering away during the lunch break and got the car mobile again to reach the hotel here tonight on time – having lost no time penalties in the afternoon run.
It’s a day off tomorrow while the organisation completes border-formalities for our crossing into Burma on Friday. The word is that the single-lane mountain descent from the Burma frontier will be particularly challenging, not least because the first few kilometres are littered with severe potholes. The rumour-mill suggests these are more like knee-deep craters. Still, having got this far, nothing is going to stop us now.
Day 19 – Mae Sot – Pre Burma Rest Day
An easy-going day after handing in our passports, which are now all at the Thai frontier post, with crews completing other formalities, such as exchanging 100 US Dollars and receiving a brown envelope of Burmese Kyats, otherwise referred to as “kit-kats” – so we all now have some local cash.
The rally-desk in the reception area of the hotel saw a long line of rally-crews receiving their Burma number-plates, with driving licence and insurance to follow when we reach their frontier-post. There is a general air of excitement and expectation now that the closed-road timed test-sections have ended but we are anticipating the prospect of being the first international car rally to cross the frontier. Rarely does a car-rally contribute to international relations but tomorrow we are playing a part in the opening Burma with the rest of the world.
We were all bracing ourselves to negotiate a heavily pot-holed road in “no man’s land” between Thailand and Burma, and then negotiate a steep descent down the side of the mountain where two-way traffic is not possible – traffic flow is governed by one day being for driving up, and all traffic at the top waits for the next day, when it’s all traffic driving down. This works, most weeks, until a truck breaks down and then the planning and the calendar is thrown into confusion. A long line of petrol tankers are lining up at the frontier at the moment, but they were going to be side-lined in order to give the rally priority.
However, there is now a last-minute change of plan and the Burmese authorities are allowing us to be the first to use a brand-new tarmac road, recently completed, which will be the new link to Thailand. This is good news and bad, as clearly we lose part of the adventure, which is one of the main reasons we are all here. But the benefit is that we no longer have to negotiate large craters and inch our way down a precipitous decline as our first experience of Burma. Anthony and Mike Preston will be busy first thing in the morning – when it’s still dark – nailing up the E.R.A. direction arrows as part of the planning for the sudden re-route.
While most crews chilled out today by the poolside taking in a warm sunny day, there was just one car still undergoing an overhaul in the car park this evening. Our photo shows the crew of Car 6, the Bentley eight-litre of Peter Pollet and Alexander de Groot from Belgium who were toiling over radiator repairs. The front of the Bentley was stripped out, after a local welder burned a hole through the radiator using a welding-torch in a haphazard repair attempt, which was only put right after our sweep-crews directed the Bentley Boys to a local radiator repair shop. The mountings were being repaired as the rest of us were lining up to collect our Burma number plates or drifting off to the lawns where we dined out under the trees.
Michael Wilkinson was looking pleased tonight as his Alvis gear-lever is now restored.
Day 20 – Mae Sot to Mawlamyine
Three years of planning, endless days of form filling and hours of spreadsheet preparation finally paid off this morning in the soft dawn light at the Mae Sot border crossing.
More than 60 rally cars from around the world along with the organisation vehicles lined up for the immigration and customs formalities of Thailand Out / Burma In. The Rockne 75 of Swiss crew Manuel and Irene Dubs was first through the barrier and was soon followed by an exotic mix of Bentleys, a Lagonda, a Rolls Royce and the Itala. The locals had never seen anything like this before and for a few minutes even the monks stopped their age old morning ritual of alms collection to watch the Rally arrive.
It couldn’t have gone more impressively either. Jack Amies, the co driver of Martin Egli’s well travelled Lagonda was impressed, “the AK47 wielding guards smiled and waved us through with barely a hitch”.
More good news was to follow in the shape of the not yet finished “new” road from the border. We were granted permission to be the first foreigners to use this newly laid, billiard table smooth 15km shortcut which also gave a much easier ride than the old precipitous mountain route would have done. Barriers were slid aside, rifle wielding guards snapped to attention and our cavalcade advanced. We had the road to ourselves, Len Treeter in the Cowboy Cadillac fairly glided from crest to apex past crowds of curious but welcoming road workers.
his Tarmac heaven didn’t last long though and after a while we crunched and bumped our way onto a strip of beautiful ochre red dirt which took us through rice fields and small villages. It was then on to the narrow and very bumpy tarmac main road north. Being so close to Chinese New Year meant that the street parties continued as we passed by and crews were serenaded by traditional bands, dancing dragons and wildly cheering children.
There have been a few problems today though, David and Jo Roberts suffered minor mechanical problems at the border in their Sunbeam Alpine and Hans Middelberg / Jurgen Grolman were forced to call a truck after suffering a broken halfshaft.
Tonight we are in Mawlamyine on the banks of the Salween river, this is the fourth largest city in Burma and was the first capital of British Burma in the 19th Century. Most notably though the town features in the opening line of Kipling’s Road to Mandalay… “By the old Moulmein Pagoda …… ”
Our Burmese welcome couldn’t have been better, the sun is shining and we’ve got another four days of this…
Day 21 – Mawlamyine to Nay Pyi Taw
Our first full day in Burma began with a golden sunrise reflected in the River Salween as we left Mawlamyine for the long trip north to the new capital Nay Pyi Taw.
Swifts and or swallows, shrieked, wheeled and darted low over the water as the engines were fired into life. We’re getting into the endgame of this incredible Rally now and the mood of the paddock and pits is mellowing in keeping with the beautiful country we find ourselves in.
Nothing was planned today in terms of tests or regularities but there were three time and passage controls across the near 500km route to keep the Rally together and give the crews a chance for a coffee, lunch and to swap tales of what they’d seen on this incredible drive.
An early surprise came for the whole Rally though in the shape of nearly a full kilometre of monks lining the roads waiting for handouts of rice, alms and whatever else the Buddhist Faithful handed out to them. Traffic slowed respectfully as they filed past in their robes, old and young alike shaven headed and barefoot.
More busy towns followed with Rally traffic mixing with rickshaw, ox carts, touk touk and lorries plying their trade and loaded to the hilt with various cargoes of bamboo, timber, rice and anything else they could carry. We crossed wide slow rivers and many railways. Bright green flooded rice paddies were being planted, cane was being cut and watermelon was stacked by the roadside. Everyone we passed seemed busy but not too busy to wave, smile and call out as we approached.
Sometimes the sights sounds and smells were a little too overwhelming especially when anywhere near one of the many stalls selling dried fish. Desiccated eel, catfish tilapia and whitebait sat alongside more appetising baskets of oranges and grapes.
Some respite from the traffic was afforded however on the Ghost Expressway. Four lanes wide, well surfaced, level but almost totally devoid of anything but rally cars. This was an ideal way to get more than 100 easy kilometres under our wheels on the road to Nay Pyi Taw the new capital of Myanmar. Built in 2005 this is a showpiece city and is a huge and sprawling metropolis with roads as wide as Kansas with absolutely no traffic.
Hans Ullrich Wartenweiler was a late casualty; with around 50km to go he lost his steering and hit a tree damaging the front of his Volvo. With nothing hurt other than his pride and vocally encouraged by the gathered crowd he set to with the sweep crew of Andy Inskip and Tony Jones to disentangle the knot of Swedish Steel and Burmese Teak. Shaken but not stirred and with the car on a flatbed Herr Wartenweiler and Jean Christophe Gyr steeled themselves for a long night with the spanners. We wish them well.
Day 22 – Nay Pyi Taw to Inle Lake
Sublime and ridiculous are often used at opposite ends of any given spectrum. The dictionary defines sublime as majestic, supreme or a pinnacle of achievement. Ridiculous on the other hand can be defined as an absurdity.
So, depending on your point of view and maybe the sate of your suspension, the roads out of Nay Pyi Taw this morning could be seen as sublime. They were wide – up to twelve lanes at one point, they were smooth and there was nothing else on them other than the Rally. But, for those very same reasons they could also be seen as ridiculous. Take your pick, we don’t mind but the sight of two women with rustic besoms sweeping a mile wide junction helped to make our mind up.
After some twenty kilometres though things changed quickly. We left the city boundary and found ourselves on gravel. This most certainly seemed ridiculous, in a few short kilometres here we were bumping along through thick jungle scrub over a set of rolling hills for the days sport.
Time and motion studies were the lesson of the day and the Organisers had set a short but choppy Regularity section. A Regularity, for those who don’t know, calls for the navigator to take charge of the car, albeit from the passenger seat because a precise schedule must be adhered to. The finish point is not known in advance and the arrival at said point must be done to the second. Lateness or early arrival incurs a penalty and with things so tight at the top the pressure was on Zoe Lovett and Matt Bryson to get their sums right especially with an intermediate check, a few tricky corners and some rain damage to the track thrown in for good measure.
Press on here, lift off there – control not speed is the name of the game. A big powerful car and a driver with a heavy right foot is not necessarily the best combination for this. There is no change in the Classics category as the three leading cars Crown, Lovett and Tromans all dropped a mere two seconds. Peter Lovett hangs on to his lead with two days to go. Bill Shields meanwhile increased his lead by one second over Phil Garratt in the Vintageant category.
Once this ordeal had been passed it was back to rural concrete roads which took us through even more paddy fields worked this time by men with ox carts dragging ploughs or rebuilding the low dams to retain the essential water. Myanmar, or Burma to those over twenty five, really is a beautiful place.
Our resting place tonight is on Inle Lake and most of the crews took the chance of a boat trip on long sleek vessels taking in craft stalls and the exquisite scenery as the sun dipped below the hills.
Day 23 – Inle Lake to Mandalay
Ming-guh-la-ba as they say in these parts.
Well, we’re here, in Mandalay. The town made so famous by Kipling and, according the rally plate our destination. In fact we’ve got one more day to go, to Bagan but let’s gloss over that for the moment. Mandalay claims to be the cultural capital of Myanmar and it is said that the Buddha himself visited Mandalay not once but twice, the second time being disguised as a chicken.
Today though our very own Road to Mandalay has been thrilling and beautiful but it hasn’t been an easy one. We’ve been up and down, around and around corkscrewing through villages and towns, up hill and down dale. This has been a real driving adventure. There’s been some double width carriage way and a bit of dual carriageway here and there but mostly all we’ve been on is single lane tarmac and dirt. There are better roads we could have taken but where’s the fun in that?
We woke up to a cooler morning than usual on the shore of Inle Lake but after a good breakfast and with the sun making its presence felt we picked up a packed lunch provided by the Organisers before the day’s drive. It was market day along the shore so we were also able to collect delicious fresh fruit and the odd garland of flowers. No one bought a laurel wreath though – that would be tempting fate.
There was a Regularity on a smooth gravel road in the morning to keep the suspense going and to keep those very contenders for the wreath on their toes. As we explained yesterday it’s about control rather than speed but with loose corners and steep changes in pitch it still looks impressive. Small crowds of locals gathered with their step through scooters bemused maybe, interested definitely. With cars from a turn of the century Itala to a mid 1960’s Mercedes we certainly put on a show for them. John Rich gave them a bit more to look at when he parked up by the side of the road mid-way through the regularity thinking he was ‘out of gas’. He wasn’t – a faulty fuel pump was to blame and once sorted he quickly got back to the group.
From the end of this section we climbed, slowly but surely over farmland, past temples and through dense woodland before the packed lunches were unwrapped and eaten at the midday time control.
From here on in to Mandalay it was downhill almost all of the way. Hairpin followed hairpin, as we plunged to the hot dry plains below us on an almost deserted road.
A quick check of the leader board tonight shows that Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown closed the gap a little on Bill Shields and Scott Herbstman but Bill still holds a 49 second lead in the Vintageant Category. In the Classics we now have the remarkable situation that Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson have snatched back the lead holding a miniscule one second lead over Peter and Zoe Lovett ‘s Porsche 911. Time to get an order in for the laurel wreaths I think, we’ll need them tomorrow night.
As is usual with a long distance Rally spirits are high on this the penultimate evening. There’s a candlelit dinner by the pool with a traditional puppet show accompanied by a six piece band playing the haunting hneh.
Day 24 – Mandalay to Bagan
A day of mixed emotion. For most of us it’s mission accomplished and comes with a sense of pride from getting to the finishing post but it is also the last day of the Rally, the end of the adventure and the day we start to think about leaving the tight knit group we’ve found ourselves attached to for the last month.
Pulling out of Mandalay this morning though we still had the day ahead of us and were determined to make the most of it. Our route took us through the old jade quarter where we can report that the life-size Buddha carving industry is in rude health and quickly made our way to the famous U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world where we can report that the trinket selling industry is equally robust. Fresh from haggling and bartering we resumed the now familiar task of dodging Buddhist monks and nuns as we headed out to the freeway for the first part of the journey to Bagan.
The day featured only one Regularity section, the final one of the rally no less. It was short savannah like drive to a water crossing where Joost van Cauwenberge showed just how much water a Toyota Landcruiser can displace. Once we’d dried out then it was on to lunch at the excellent Popa Resort which overlooks the citadel of the Popa Mountain a 740m volcanic plug crowned by a gilded temple. It’s a significant shrine in this devout country but luckily none of us had time to climb the 777 steps to the top. Timing was relaxed enough today to allow for a some sightseeing though before the final 55km drive into Bagan and the ceremonial finish complete with a Kyeezee, some twenty costumed dancers and a two man dancing elephant.
o, on to the results. Our earlier leaders, Peter and Zoe Lovett have snatched victory back by a mere one second from overnight leaders Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in the Classics category. Has there ever been a tighter result at the end of an three week long Endurance Rally? Answers on postcard please. Bill Shields meanwhile hammered home his advantage in the Vintageant category.
Nestled among the temples of Bagan the hotel we find ourselves in tonight is stunning. The situation, the service and the company is second to none. We’ve handed out the prizes made the speeches and are now looking forward to the famous balloon flight over the temples at dawn tomorrow morning. What we’re not looking forward to is getting up and 4.30 am to do it.