The Mission

The Peking to Paris Rally is a recreation of the 1907 challenge issued by Le Matin, "Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?"
The 2016 version will follow a route of 13,695 Km (8,510 miles) and take 35 days. We are travelling in Rhubarb and Custard, a 1936 Buick. We know nothing about cars or rallying.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Pace Steps Up

RPS has moved into new premises and so has our car.  Here's a short video of what the workshop looks like, including our Buick.  We are promised it will be ready by early 2015.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Navigation, Navigation, Navigation

Way back in July we took a day's instruction in rally timekeeping and map reading from Alan Smith - Author of How to Win a Road Rally, Unfortunately I misplaced my notes and so have only now been able to write the day up.

Alan certainly knows his stuff and is a patient teacher. He sat in the back of our family car whilst Richard and I took it in turns to be driver and navigator.  Alan has a pre-set route around the Chilterns and we practised reading OS maps, using Tulip diagrams and race timing.  It was hard - exhausting even.  Although we didn't make too many mistakes the level of concentration was considerable and I for one was shattered the next day.  We would also have gone off route on our first lap if Alan hadn't corrected us. His cardinal rule is "Route first, Timing second" - on the basis that you can't win if you are not on the route.

I'm not sure how much of this will stick.  Alan gave us a sample page from the 2013 Flying Scotsman timing sheets and looking at it now it's still gobbledegook.

The Work Begins

Another trip to Rally Preparation Services to see the Buick.  RPS has been working on cars for the Road to Mandalay rally and the workshops were just shipping these vehicles out. This made room for CLM 570 - our Buick - and we needed to sit down with the team at RPS to discuss how much work we wanted done.

Alistair is our project manager and he took us through the Road Test and Report prepared by RPS.  We told him that we didn't have an aspiration to win the Rally but wanted to finish in good order and enjoy the ride (beware any fellow competitors reading this as it may all be gamesmanship and bluff).  This dictated how and where we wanted to spend money.

Another Buick was in the workshop and we got a chance to look underneath it, which was most interesting.  The basic car is as strong as an ox but it's the various modern add ons that lie exposed to road damage.  Hopefully with CLM 570, RPS will ensure the car is protected from trouble - as long as we drive steadily.

Also in the workshop was Phil Garratt / Kieron Brown's Chevrolet Fangio Coupe, which has won the PTP twice. it still looks good even without most of the front end.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

We're In!

We received an email from the Rally organisers telling us that 70 out of 100 places had now been filled on the Rally and that no more places were available for post 1945 cars.  We decided that we had better get our own entry in fast and so we've sent off our form and money. Gulp.

Monday, 3 March 2014


So the big day has arrived and Richard and I drive up to Whitney to meet Paul, the vendor of the Buick, and go through the handover process.

It's a beautiful day  in the Cotswolds and Paul and Richard are already there when I arrive.  The car looks great and much bigger than in the photos - it weighs 1.5 tonnes unladen so on a rally it's total weight is around 2 tonnes.  Paul is extremely knowledgeable and takes us through the car mechanically and I become increasingly terrified as he does so because every other sentence starts, "when this goes wrong you just unscrew this bit and put a new one in - easy." To a mechanical novice like me it sounds anything but.  Paul has brought along two lever arch files of information on the car. It was originally built in Canada and shipped to South Africa, which is why it is Right Hand Drive.

Richard and I take the car for a drive. It feels enormous on the road and we both drive about three feet out from the kerb.  The steering is very imprecise, more like steering a boat than a modern car and the brakes are something else - at the first junction I thought it wasn't going to stop. The engine is new, producing 120 bhp against the original 90. Paul trashed the old one on the Inca trail in South America and the new engine was built in the US around an original 1936 Buick block.  It looks and sounds wonderful and the car burbles along like Mr Toad's, with it's open top and yellow and red paintwork the car attracts a lot of attention.

It's only got three forward gears, the gearbox is like stirring porridge and it's easy to smash your hand on the dashboard when you change up to second. Paul thinks fitting a four speed box would up the top speed to 80 mph from the present 70 mph.

Whilst we are at RPS, the winners of the 2013 Peking to Paris Rally - Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown - pull into the yard and give the Buick an admiring glance. They won in a 1930's Chevrolet, not unlike the Buick and also prepared by RPS.

We hand the car over to Simon at RPS who is going to check it over and then put it into storage until he has room in the workshop to undertake the upgrades we want. Then its off to the pub in Filkins - The Five Alls - where we have a splendid lunch with friends who live nearby. That evening both Richard and I are at a fancy dress party where I go as Dick Dastardly from Wacky Races - Richard refuses to go as his sidekick, the dog Mutley, much to my disappointment. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

2 Kings

Richard has quite an extensive correspondence with Paul , the vendor of the Buick.  Paul has a huge knowledge of rallying and a whole stable of cars, mostly Bentleys, that he uses for rallying.  He suggests a compromise price of £55,000 but as part of this he will deliver the car to RPS in Whitney Oxfordshire from his home in Salcombe - a good 7 hour round trip - and he has eight boxes of spare parts.  The deal is struck but Richard and I are away skiing for a week so delivery has to be deferred until our return. In the meantime Paul sends us some incredibly useful spreadsheets about what he takes on a rally and what he now leaves behind. He has self-published many books about his adventures:

Paul's Blurb Page

1 Kings

Simon has driven down to Salcombe in Devon to see the car. It was dreadful weather and parts of the country were in flood, so we are very grateful to him for his efforts.  He's written a report for us on the car that basically says it a gem but needs attention. On the phone Simon tells me that he would spend about £10,000 on the car and his report recommends a price of £50,000 compared to the ask of £60,000.  Richard sent the report to Paul, the vendor, asking for his views (click on the jpeg files below to read the report):

Friday, 14 February 2014

2 Chronicles

Richard has spotted an internet advert for a 1936 Buick 40c. He's obviously spent hours on the web looking for cars. This one has a rally pedigree having completed the Inca Rally around South America in 2001.

The Car is offered for £60,000 but offers are invited. and as Richard neatly pointed out, 'That's not £90,000'. So we allowed ourselves to get a bit excited and Richard sent an email to the owner for more information. As a result we got a lot of extra detail about the car. Paul - the owner clearly knows his stuff.

At this point Richard and I realised that we have to get serious about this and that neither of us know anything about how to properly assess a rally car.  It's agreed that, for about £600, Simon from Rally Preparation Services will drive down to Devon from Whitney in Oxfordshire and inspect the car.  Exciting times.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

1 Chronicles

We are a bit put off at the idea of spending £90k on a car so Richard and I start to look around for cheaper alternatives.

As it happens he owns a Willys Jeep, built in 1944, which we think would be ideal for the rally.  The organisers are not so keen as they want cars with more bling, and to make the rally look like its something more exceptional - 4x4s are not really in the spirit of the thing. 

Richard discovered that a Jeep driven by Phil Surtees and John Bayliss actually won the event in 1997: John Bayliss' Blog of the Rally

Later the organisers tell us they are thinking about a separate 4x4 category.

Richard called Bayliss and discovered that he had spent £50,000 on getting the Jeep ready - so our idea of a cut price ride are wide of the mark. He also tells us that Surtees lost three fingers when trialing the Jeep and the brakes failed.  The Jeep idea is dead.


By chance Richard discovered that two of his neighbours had driven the Rally in previous years and organised a get together.

Over some good red burgundy they unfolded their stories of eccentrics from around the world coming together to take part in this event, how much they had enjoyed it, and of the various adventures and disasters they had encountered. Bruce had driven a pre-war Bentley on his trip whilst Gordon's journey was made in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.  That trip took a route through Nepal, Afghanistan and Iraq, which is now closed.

Both Bruce and Gordon were adamant that we should do the trip if at all possible.  They agreed with Simon Ayris that a 1930's American vehicle would give the least trouble.  Other tips were to enjoy the experience, take it steady and to travel light.


The Endurance Rally Association is a bit coy about how much it costs to enter the Rally - but its about £25,000 per person, so £50,000 per car.  Although it's a lot of money, it is a 35 day trip and the price includes all meals and accommodation, services of mechanics, petrol tankers following the convoy and all the rally route preparation. Taking this into account it didn't sound too bad.

Of course we also needed a car and Simon Ayris of Rally preparation Services had told us that we would need to spend £80-90,000 on a fully prepared Rally car. Many people do it for far less but they inevitably have more problems along the route.

Myself, Richard, Paul and Edmund held a council of war at the Royal Automobile Club in London's Pall Mall and concluded we needed to do more research before committing ourselves.


Richard and I mentioned our plans to Paul and Edmund. Edmund owns an Alvis and fancied the idea and Paul agreed to come along for the ride.  Richard tracked down Simon Ayris of Rally preparation Services based in Whitney, Oxfordshire and organised for us to visit his workshop.

Simon provides many of the mechanics who support the Rally and is himself part of the back up crew. He spent considerable time with us.  His advice was to buy a 1930's American car as these are mechanically simple and therefore easy to repair, have powerful engines, so are reasonably fast and have good ground clearance, and so can cope with rough roads.Since Richard has a strong aversion to breaking down we took careful note of what Simon was saying.

He said that the winners of the race tended to go at a steady pace rather than hell-for-leather.  This was less stressful on the cars and the crew.  His strong advice was not to miss the people and the scenery for the sake of going faster.

Simon had a number of cars for sale, ready prepared for this type of Rally, but we weren't yet ready to buy a car.


Last year I picked up a motoring magazine in the BA lounge of Heathrow's Terminal 5.  Flicking through it I saw an article on the 2013 Peking to Paris Rally - it looked like a lot of fun and I did some research to write an article for efinancial news:

Modern Day Allure of Classic Cars

I was interested enough to ask Richard if he would like to go to a film night about the Rally organised at the Royal Geographical Society by the Endurance Rally Association. The film was a bit rubbish, but the idea of taking part in the 2016 rally began to form in our minds...