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, 31 May 2016

How Does The Rally Work?

Most days there will be some stages of the rally on closed roads or on a race circuit where the idea will be to go as fast as possible - that's most people's idea of a race.  However, much of the time we are on public roads with speed limits and the motor rally rules, and local constabulary, forbid speeding.

So in what sense then is this a race?

Well, the organizers have cunning and devious tricks up their sleeves such as:

  • The rally is timed to the second with penalties for arriving early, that means you can't drive too fast. Each car has a timing chip and rally book to keep track of arrival and departure times and there are multiple and sometimes secret checkpoints along the way.
  • On some sections cars must keep to a set average speed passing marker points along the way at pre-set intervals. There are penalties for being late and worse penalties for being early. Some drivers can time these sections to within one or two seconds of error.
  • The organizers throw in tricks and traps for the navigators.  It's very common for cars to get lost and I've seen cars coming from all four directions at some crossroad junctions, with no one having a clue. If you are lost it's very unlikely you will make the time.
  • The rally will also be routed through mountain passes and along awkward or difficult roads. These are old cars with poor brakes and steering.  It becomes hard work keeping to time.  Some cars have to go up hills backwards to get up them!
It's also worth remembering that many of these cars are over 80 years old and just keeping them going over the rally is an effort in itself.  

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Richard's PTOP Playlist

Night Boat to Cairo - Bad Manners
The Passenger - Alison Mosshart & The Forest Rangers
A Horse With No Name - America
What A Wonderful World - Alison Mosshart & The Forest Rangers
Accentuate the Positive - Bing Crosby
I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
She Caught the Katy - Blues Brothers
Theme From Rawhide - Blues Brothers
One Love/People Get Ready - Bob Marley
Green Onions - Booker T & The MGs
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Ride Like the Wind - Christopher Cross
I feel Free - Cream
Move on Up (12 inch version) Curtis Mayfield
Get out of Denver - Dave Edmunds
Riders on the Storm - The Doors
Son of a Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield
25 Miles - Edwin Starr
Nessun Dorma - Puccini
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
Sweet Child of Mine - Guns 'N' Roses
Boom Boom - John Lee Hooker
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
Don't Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go) - Noisettes
Roll With It - Oasis
Loaded - Primal Scream
Hit The Road Jack - Ray Charles
Gimme Shelter - The Rolling Stones
Oye Como Va - Santana
Ancient Highway - Van Morrison
Going Mobile - The Who

Listen to Richard's PTOP Playlist on Apple Music.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Kim Bannister

Kim Bannister is one of those charming avuncular types you could meet as a stranger in a pub one evening and leave being life long friends. He has the most wonderful job designing rally courses, spending his time finding impossible and beautiful roads then stringing them together to make a route.

But there's a dark side to uncle Kim. He takes pleasure in finding complex junctions where despite his crystal clear instructions rally drivers will take the wrong road. He loves obscure left and right hand turns that couldn't possibly be correct yet they are, and nothing gives him more pleasure than steep and winding cols up and over a mountain - except perhaps the route down the other side.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

First Aid

I spent today with other PTOP drivers from cars 22 and 45 on a first aid course at Brokerswood Country Park in Wiltshire.  Kyle and his team set up a series of grizzly car crash scenes around the park using members of staff with fake injuries.

Our first attempt at dealing with a crisis situation was hopeless, we even missed one victim who was underneath the crashed minibus. But during the day, with patient instruction, we got better, applying a tourniquet to a crushed leg that was spurting litres of fake blood, whilst at the same time dealing with a driver who needed his eyes bandaged.  the 'actors' were fantastic, and simulated going into shock, panic, passing out, drunkenness and various degrees of un-cooperativeness - all real world reactions from people who need help.

Despite the seriousness of the subject this hands-on way of teaching us skills was a lot of fun.

One thing we all learnt was the limits of what a first aider can do - they are holding the fort until the medics arrive. But help can't come if you can't give proper information about where you are, as Kyle explains in his 'top tip' video:

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Siberian Mosquitos

From The New Yorker,

"Nothing short of a good breeze keeps Siberian mosquitoes down. They laugh at organic-based repellents. Strong repellent with DEET is disagreeable to them, but they work around it. Thick smoke can be effective, but you have to stand right in it. In past times, native peoples and Russians wove fine netting of the long hairs in a horse’s tail and wore the nets throughout the summer. Members of a tribe called the Tungus carried smoke pots with them wherever they went, while another native people, the Voguls, retreated into smoke-filled huts for the summer months and became dormant, doing most of their hunting and travelling in the wintertime. The sheer volume of mosquitoes might cause an observer not to mention the gnats, flies, and tiny biting insects (known as “no-see-’ums” in America); there are plenty of all those as well."

Since I have read this I bought insect repelling socks, hat, trousers and spray.  I've also got a battery powered repellant for the hotel rooms. They aren't having me.

Monday, 23 May 2016


A good chunk of the rally is across Siberia, a region that I know very little about but which turns out to be extremely interesting.

Before about 1750 the area was inhabited by multiple tribal people, very much in the same way as the United States.  Most of these tribes followed shamanism, the belief that there is a spirit world of nature and animals that men can connect to, again very similar to the American tribes. The Siberian forests were filled with wildlife such a reindeer, bears and wolves and the Russian government sent successive waves of Cossacks to exterminate the tribes and their hunting grounds. the result is that the wildlife has been greatly reduced and only about 130,000 indigenous people survive.

It's a sad story and I wish I knew more about it. The tale of America's native population is much better known but the story of Siberia is just as interesting.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


When Prince Borghese undertook the original Peking to Paris Race in 1907 he arranged for fuel dumps to be established along the route.  In some cases the fuel didn't show up but he was surprisingly resourceful in finding substitutes such as Benzine, which seemed to work well enough.

Fuels is still a problem in Mongolia where the rally organisers have organised a fuel tanker to follow the race and we have pre-purchased our fuel (£1,400 pounds worth) to get across the Gobi Desert.

Fuel quality in Mongolia is a problem. We have a funnel to filter fuel going into our tanks, three in-line filters after the tank and a final clear glass filter just before the carburettor. We've been told to expect problems even with this level of filtration.

We have two separate fuel tanks so that if we get a batch of dirty fuel we can switch to the second tank. Together these hold 100 litres of fuel and we get 7 km/litre giving us a 700 km range - which is more than a day's rallying. However consumption will drop if the going is hard and we have a spare petrol can in the boot.

Our fuel tanks are aluminium rather than carbon fibre.  The advantage being that aluminium is much easier to repair if we get a leak.  We've also fitted a chain to the fuel filler cap so the we can't drive off and leave it behind - a common rally occurrence.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Quite Interesting

Total Number of cars in the rally is 115

The oldest car is a 1915 La France American

The newest car is a 1977 Mercedes 280E

The smallest engine is 1290 cc in two Alfa Romeo Giulias and a Peugeot 203

The biggest engines are in the three La France cars 14,500cc

As at November 2015 there were 13 Chevrolets, 12 Fords, 8 Volvos, 8 Bentleys and 5 Datsuns (all 240Z models) but only 2 Buicks in the rally.

There are 70 Brits, 68 Europeans, 32 Aussies, 20 Americans and a sprinkling from other countries on the rally but no Chinese, Mongolians or Russians (what do they know that we don't?)

Thursday, 19 May 2016

How to win the Peking to Paris Rally

By all accounts the race is won or lost in Mongolia.  The Gobi desert just chews up the cars leaving time gaps that can't be closed in Russia or Europe.

And Mongolia is all about suspension.  Oh there are other problems to worry about for sure - overheating, tyres, fuel, hitting a giant rock, getting stuck in the sand, getting lost and so on and on and on. But, assuming you are not struck down by those hazards then the sheep and goats, men and boys are separated by the quality of their suspension.

This fundamentally is why the Chevrolets keep winning, because they have a coil at the front, a leaf at the back and then bolster this set up with a couple of gas struts. Nothing to go wrong.  Well not quite, because the leaf springs will be 80 or more years old and with a lot of weight in the boot (trunk for US readers) they take a beating and so leaf failure is quite common.  This is where Mr Mongolian Blacksmith comes in.  We have one spare leaf, which is installed where our rear bumper (fender for US readers) would normally be.

The additional gas struts are not a panacea either as they get extremely hot with use and can explode. We have our heat gun and intend to monitor the gas strut situation on a regular basis.

Unfortunately Rhubarb and Custard has a rather complex front suspension that is hard to describe but let's just say 'What the f*** were Buick thinking of?'  We have a spare but God alone knows how you fit it and if the spare goes then it's a long bumpy road to Paris.

So our motto is not so much Win at All Cost, but Don't Bugger the Suspension.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Is it safe?

Easy Blog Photo
Is marathon rallying safe?

The short answer is no, it isn't. In 2013 Emma Wilkinson was killed on the Peking to Paris when her Chevrolet collided with a local driver. According to locals it was a notoriously dangerous strip of road.

At RPS's workshop they have a very sad looking wreck from last year's Sahara challenge. The car rolled on one of the mountain sections. It was when we saw this that we decided to fit a roll bar to Rhubarb and Custard. Longstanding readers will recall the owner of the Jeep who lost the ends of several fingers when it rolled over in testing.

We have been warned that huge convoys of slow moving trucks are a problem in Russia. Overtaking them is lethal but sitting behind them is unbearable.

The biggest risk is probably from the cars themselves. They are big machines with lots of moving parts. Jamie Turner had a nipple taken off when a gas suspension strut exploded in front of him. He also told the story of the mechanic who didn't wear rubber gloves when working on his car and not only got infected hands from dirty grease but managed to get an infected penis as well!

Finally there are completely random hazards. On one of the road to Mandalay rallies a farmer decided to undertake some illegal mining by the roadside just as a competitor went past. One of the dynamited rocks smashed through a car window and shattered the navigator's jaw. Extensive plastic surgery was required.

So, no - not safe.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Rally Office

It's not easy organising a rally for 110 cars to go from Peking to Paris.  As well as planning the route there are vast logistical problems such as how to find fuel in Mongolia, getting permission to cross borders, arranging for food and campsites in Mongolia.  Not to mention the headache of dealing with the competitors themselves.  Endless enquiries about visas, insurance, shipping, vaccinations and so on - it must drive the organisers mad.

A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the four people in the picture who make up the Rally Office Team (L-R Ele Piccolo, Annette Daley, Laura Clarke and Nikki Bannister).  team Rhubarb and Custard says a big thank you to them all for their tremendous help and support over the last two years of preparation and for getting us to the starting line. Now please can you get us back in one piece?

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Route

I've been looking at the rally route on Google Earth.  The first stop, Datong, is north and east from Beijing over  the Yan Shan mountains which are crossed by the Great Wall (see photo).  These mountains only rise to about 1,000m but go on for ever.   As the crow flies Day 1 should be 342 Km but our route is 388 Km, so perhaps we are being routed through the Wu Ling national park.

Day 2, from Datong to Erenhot is going to be a beast.  This is a 573 Km stretch through the edges of the Gobi desert, flat and hot.  The direct route is 459 Km so the organisers clearly have bad stuff in mind for us.

Day 3 from Erenhot to Undershireet is so difficult that Google Maps can't even give me a normal route or approximate distance, but it is 400 Km for us.

Day 4 from Undershireet to Ulaan Baatar should be an easy 218 Km by direct road but we are taking 360 Km.  Another tricky day I suspect.

Day 5 is a rest day in Ulaan Bataaar and then Day 6 from Ulaan Bataar to Bulgan is a surprise as the direct route is 470 Km but our route is only 343 Km.  This probably means we are going over the top of the Yablonoviy mountain range and shortcutting the journey.

Day 7 and we are into the Khangai mountains taking 370 Km to go from Bulgan to Murun, a journey that should be only 278 Km.

Day 8 from Murun to Chajargas Lake is another mountain section taking only 390 Km instead of the Google maps route of 602Km

Days 9 and 10, from Charjargas Lake to Olgiy and then Altai Republic are both mystery days for Google Earth which can't tell me how long they should be but both are 350 Km and go over the Sayan mountains.

It seems to me that Day 1 could be rather lovely but that Days 2,3,4,6,7,8,9 and maybe 10 are pretty brutal.

Sunday, 15 May 2016


One of the biggest problems on the Rally is engine overheating.  This is particularly a problem in Mongolia, which is after all a desert, but there's a lot of climbing in the rally as a whole and so engines are working hard and that means working hot.

We had our radiator core tested by a specialist before the rally so we know it starts in good condition. We are carrying a spare water pump and a good selection of hoses and clips. We also have with us a temperature gun - no laughing please - with which we can instantly check the temperature of any component.  Richard has taken the temperature of Pike (his dog) and various cakes he has made. We know what the temperature of the cylinder head and the oil sump should be and so if this is out of whack we can anticipate a problem.

We are running using Evans Coolant.  This is a complete replacement for the water that would normally run through the radiator and engine cooling system.  It works because  it has a boiling point of 190 degrees C instead of 100 degrees for water.  This means that - unlike water - the Evans never vaporises and so there is much less pressure in the cooling system which is less stressed and less prone to failure.  Evans claim other long term benefits as well but over a 35 day rally the reduced stress on hoses and joints is what we are after.  Quite a lot of people say that this is moonshine and that Evans is the work of the Devil.  What is true is that if you get a radiator leak and replace even some of the Evans with water then the magic stops working - although the cooling system will still work, the water in the system will now vaporise and so put stress on the pipes and joints.

To avoid a radiator leak it is recommend to put chicken wire in front of the radiator, which we have not done.  The wire stops flying stones from damaging the radiator.  If a stone does penetrate the radiator we have some radiator gum (which is rather like chewing gum) to plug the leak - adding an egg to the radiator has the same effect but I'm not sure we will have an egg handy. Another trick recommended by Jamie Turner is to use long nose pliers to pinch off the damaged part of the radiator, the remainder will function just fine.

In Mongolia some cars remove their bonnet covers in an attempt to stay cool.  We can't do this but we might be able to prop open the covers with blocks of rubber or wood.  We do have an electric fan on a thermostat although there is a school of thought that these fans just block air flow to the radiator - there's always another opinion!

Saturday, 14 May 2016


If you have been following the blog then you will know that Rhubarb and Custard has been beset by mysterious electrical problems. To try and solve these we have fitted a new Odyssey battery of the kind used in Jet Bikes.  As well as being very powerful and maintenance free it has a socket for jump starting the car.

All the wiring has been replaced and tucked out of harm's way and where it passes through metalwork rubber grommets have been fitted to stop abrasion.

The fuses are mounted on the dashboard and are of the coloured plastic type that are quick and easy to identify and replace.

We have two condensers fitted next to each other - one unconnected for use as a spare.  Some commentators say that this is a bad idea because whatever made the first one fail will have also impacted the second.  In reply others say, 'Bollocks.'

We have a new starter motor and a new set of spark plugs plus a full set of spares.

Hopefully this will have sorted the gremlins out.

Friday, 13 May 2016


The rally organisers say that we should carry $10,000 of emergency cash in case we need to hire a flatbed truck to transport the car.  This is what $10,000 looks like.  Between the 110 competitors we are carrying $1.1m.  Let's hope the bad guys don't read this blog.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


As I've said before, it's busy, busy, busy on a rally with not much time to do things like take photos or record thoughts.

It makes life easier if you have quick access to the iPhone apps you.  As you can see from this screenshot of my phone it's pretty crowded and I often can't remember where I've put an app that I don't use often, and I usually fumble around trying to find the camera (and I have several camera apps).

This is my iPhone after being cleaned up (the other apps are now on page 2).  The key apps are:

iPhone Camera
Remote for Go Pro
Nightcap Pro - For taking photos of the stars in Mongolia and Russia
Nightsky Pro - For identifying stars and planets
Photo Library
Waygo - For translating road signs
FoboTire - For measuring tyre pressure
Blogger x 2 - For updating this blog
iFlashdrive - For saving photos and video to  a memory stick
Garmin Europe Map - For getting to garages etc in major towns
HP 12C Calculator

A Doctor (Richard) Writes

I was trying to get a feel for min/max temperatures in the countries I have never heard of. Doesn’t really seem all that cold. If anything heat may be more of an issue

Temp range degree C (Night-Day)

Ulaan Baatar..................7-23
Chjargas Lake...............?
Altai Republic...............9-22
Nizhny Novgorod..........11-23


Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Navigator's Bag

Never let the Navigator's Bag out of sight. This is what is in it:

Folder containing:
  • Daily and Rest day Checklist
  • Car Data (e.g. Spark plug gap, Tyre size)
  • Spares and Consumables List
  • List of Contents of Medical Kit
  • Route Listing
  • Hotel Listing
  • Rally Preparation Course Notes
  • Spot Trace Tracker Instructions
  • Brantz Instructions
  • Annual International Safety Inspection Certificate
  • Camera and Gimbal Instructions
  • Fault Finding Guide
  • Multi language car data sheet (for bystanders to read)
  • Copies of V5
  • Copies of Passports
  • Copies of International Driver’s Licence
  • Copies of Insurance 
  • Copies of Vaccination Certificates
  • Copies of Credit Cards
  • Copy of Entry List
  • Copy of Rally Regulations
Plastic wallets containing:
  • Post - it notes in various colours
  • Post-it page markers
  • Rubber bands in various sizes and colours
  • Bulldog Clips
  • Scotch tape
  • Highlighters
  • Chinagraph pencils
  • Coloured pens
  • Magnifying glass with light
  • Writing pens
  • permanent marker pen
  • Self adhesive Vecro strips
  • Spare plastic wallets
Travel Documents
International Driving Licences
Clipboard and pad of paper
Monit instructions
Questions & Answers on Automobile Electrical Systems by E Molloy 1952
The Civil Service Motoring Organisation Handbook 1955
How to Win a Marathon Road Rally by Alan Smith (nah - only joking, no room for this I’m afraid)
Spot Trace
Digital Flare
Mechanical compass
Spare batteries for the above
Car Keys

Badges/Key rings from Gaydon


I've started to pack my suitcase for the trip:

3 Rohan polo shirts
1 pair of Rohan trousers (these unzip to make shorts)
3 pairs of thermal socks
3 pairs silk underpants (!)
1 fleece
1 Rohan rain proof jacket
1 thermal leggings
1 thermal T shirt
1 leather jacket (still a bit undecided about this, but it looks the part)
1 pair wool lined Converse leather boots
1 pair hiking boots (do I really need these?)
2 hats
1 pair of pyjamas
1 pair sunglasses
1 pair driving goggles
2 pairs driving gloves
1 neck warmer/facemask
1 towel
1 wash bag

In a separate bag, being brought to Paris for me:

1 dinner suit
1 black bow tie
1 dress shirt
1 set of studs and cufflinks
1 Dress watch
1 Aqua di Parma cologne
1 pair black shoes
1 pair black socks
2 polo shirts
2 pairs underpants
1 pair pyjamas
1 pair jeans
1 pair shorts
2 pairs socks
1 pair deck shoes
1 casual jacket
1 beard trimmer

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Richard & Pike

What’s this, what’s this? iMac eh, sounds like Big Mac so probably good to eat, let’s have a go.  Yes, yes it is good to eat.  No, no it isn’t . Ooh look pretty red and yellow car ….. with Dad!  Dad, Dad, Dad! But he’s very small and who is that with him - Stranger Danger - Woof, Woof Woof.  Hmm better stop that, makes you hungry - I am hungry.  Hungry, hungry, hungry. iMac - they are good to eat, yum yum.  No, they are not good to eat.  Where’s Dad?  He will feed me.  He will feed me in The Holybush.  Dad will have Beer, Pike will have beer.  Pub has food, Pike will have food. Nice lady in the corner has food on plate, Pike has nice lady’s food on plate. Nice lady laughs, Dad laughs.  Dad is kind, Dad is good. Dad would never leave Pike. No, Never. Not to go on a stupid bloody Rally with his stupid bloody mate across stupid bloody Mongolia. For a month. This is a dog’s life this is.

Reading Material

If you are thinking of undertaking the Peking to Paris Rally it's probably worth doing some reading around before signing up.

The ERA, who organise the Rally, publish a book after each event. The 2013 edition has great pictures but the text reads like a shopping list of which car is doing what.

'Turn Left for the Gobi' is another glossy book but this time written from the viewpoint of Phillip Haslam, a competitor in the 2007 event. This is how not to do it - the wrong car, bought on impulse and poorly prepared.  But despite everything they do quite well.

The original and definitive book describing the original rally  is Peking to Paris by Luigi Barzini.  It's out of print but plenty of second hand copies are around.

Border Crossing by Rosie Thomas is the biggest selling account of the trip and the one that seems to divide opinion. Thomas is is a  professional author and most reviews says she has captured the atmosphere but doesn't come across as a very nice person.  One reviewer says, "Careful guys, it's like going on a month long road trip with your wife..."

Dina Bennett is another American who has written about her trip.  The approach is humorous and written from the point of view of a hopelessly inept woman who shouldn't be on the rally. That's a bit fake because her background reveals her as having far more worldly and practical experience than (for example) I do.

Prince Borghese's Trail by Genevieve Obert follows the Nepal/Pakistan/Iraq route that is now impossible due to various conflicts along the way.

Allen Andrews' book The Mad Motorists is about the original 1907 race.  You might prefer this to the Luigi Barzini book mentioned above if you prefer a more modern writing style. 

How to Build a Successful Low Cost Rally Car is by Philip Young who founded the ERA and died last year.  Personally I think it's bonkers to imagine you can undertake P to P in a really low cost car but there are some great and practical tips in this book.

How to Win a Marathon Road Rally is published by the ERA and written by Alan Smith who is one of those lovely low key people you meet who just quietly know their stuff.  I keep a copy in my navigator's bag.

Friday, 6 May 2016


Since Richard and I know bugger all about how to fix a car we thought that we had better go on a mechanic's course and so we spent yesterday with Jamie Turner, one of the mechanics on the Rally (He's the brother of Owen of silk underpants fame (see earlier posts).

I did come away feeling reassured that I could at least make a start on solving our problems if we broke down and perhaps more importantly we learnt how to avoid a small issue becoming something really serious.  Whether I will still remember all of this in a month's time is another question.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

No speako da lingo

Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech, German - do I need to go on? I don't speak any of these languages and nor does Richard.  What's going to happen then when we are in a Mongolian blacksmith's workshop late at night with a broken leaf spring?  How will we explain our welding requirements in a way that gives us a fighting chance of getting the car back on the road?

I've downloaded some translation apps for my iPhone that I think may be helpful.

  • Waygo - This little beast can translate Chinese road signs by holding the iPhone camera up to them. I tried it on some roadsigns on my computer screen and it was bloody marvellous.  Moreover it can do this without an internet connection.
  • iTranslate - You speak into the iPhone's microphone and iTranslate instantly speaks in the target language.  Amazing and pretty accurate.  You can pass the phone backwards and forwards between two people to have a conversation, but no Mongolian.
  • Google Translate - Similar to iTranslate but not as neat, doesn't have the conversation option but does cover 80 languages rather than 42, including Mongolian.

Here's a comparison of the last two, I think they say the same thing in translation, whether it is correct or not I've no idea:

Unfortunately both iTranslate and Google Translate need an internet connection so probably not much good in a blacksmith's workshop in Mongolia.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


We have an open top car so we need hats.

I've decided to take two, both supplied by Dents of London (see earlier posts):

First, a trappers hat for cold mornings and high mountains.  I've tested this in my convertible and it works a treat.  Also can be worn in bed.

Second, a drivers hat for keeping the sun off.  This one hasn't arrived yet and I'm not quite sure how it stays on if there's a wind blowing.  We shall see.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Chequered Flag

Fame at last for CLM 570 which features in the top right of this picture of Simon Ayris of Rally Preparation Services as featured in Chequered Flag magazine.