The Peking to Paris is an endurance rally at the top of every bucket list.
Down a leafy lane at Cheeseman's Garage, we discovered a few secrets to surviving the journey of a lifetime.
Barry Nash (right) and Bob Monk (left) are veterans of some of the harshest endurance rallies. With their Rover 80 having completed the Peking to Paris and P5 about to go to the Incas, we chewed the fat on what's it's like to compete in these gruelling voyages.
Barry: We went straight in. Peking to Paris. Without a clue. Yeah: 'I’m doing this'. The car was built on instinct because there’s so much advice out there it’s contradictory, so we thought, ‘we’ve been at it long enough to get it right'.
Why a Rover?
Bob: It’s British. It’s Barry's choice. He wanted a Rover. I usually stay here until the phone rings and something’s broken. It is a big car, there were quite a few surprised faces when it turned up.
What's the most important quality you build into the cars?
Bob: Comfort. Comfort and reliability. If you’ve got to be in it for 12 hours a day, [you have] got to have a decent comfort zone to be in so it doesn’t get tiring. It has to be something that’s easy to drive, and something you’re quite happy to think, ‘yeah the car will put up with that’.
What’s your design strategy?
Barry: We thought ‘we’ve gotta build it like an aeroplane’; make it lighter but stronger. The weight is the main factor because if you take off, the effect on the suspension from landing (if you’ve got nearly two tonnes) is unbelievable. I was chasing a jag once and it was doing quite well because it had about four times the power that I had, it just clipped a rock and smashed a wheel. We haven’t had a puncture on any of these cars on any of the roads. In fact we didn’t pump the tyres up on that rally at all. We don’t change the pressure for sand mud or anything, we leave it as it is.
Bob: You could spend hours faffing about and all it does is cause you grief.
Barry: We discovered in sand you need to keep a straight line and go flat out, don’t attempt to steer it. The minute you steer it you’re pushing a wall of sand into the front wheels. Flat out in second is the answer.
Bob: We made a water jacket for the carb out of a bit of prop-shaft, everything’s made of something we’ve begged, borrowed or stolen, including Kate’s bunk bed. That was for scrap. This [pointing at something on the engine] is Barry’s Mum’s television stand. It’s all made as simple as possible. There’s no complicated suspension, no complicated steering, standard road wheels and standard wheel nuts.
Would it be as fun to compete in something like a Defender?
Barry: For a start you can’t have a Defender because you can’t have four wheel drive. It wouldn’t be half as much fun without something you’ve built yourself. It probably wouldn’t make it. Anything could technically do it if you took three months but to make it in 33 days is really pushing it - you’re just going as fast as you can.
What’s the terrain like to drive on?
Barry: You just come across holes in Mongolia. Say you’re doing 55mph, in the Rover 80, if you hit a hole it's just gonna tear the bottom off. When you’re going up at 45 degrees and you see sky, the next minute you’re going down and the front’s going in. The first time I did it I couldn’t believe it. It’s the dry river beds from when the water comes down the mountains every year. You see photographs where there are about 15 tracks, you come over the rise and there’s all these different tracks and you think, 'hmm, I’ll go on that one, but it could lead up a blind valley'. So seven hours later you’re turning around to come back. You might see a telegraph pole and you think ‘oh we’ll follow that sort of line'.
Bob: In the middle of Mongolia there's nothing, maybe there’ll be a little cloud of dust and three kids will appear on a horse.
Barry: When you get ten miles out Beijing, there’s lorry tracks through villages, pigs are tied up and you’re going up on the bank to get round things.
Bob: It gets better the further you come this way [Europe].
So it’s quite remote, did you have many breakdowns?
Barry: Oh it really is, when we broke the king pins on the 80, the nearest thing to us was 220 miles away.
Bob: I’d just happened to phone you up didn’t I?
Barry: You got through on a crappy little phone - the satellite phone didn’t work! So Bob then rings Mongolia to get a truck but of course you can’t just get on the truck because it is literally just a truck. You’ve gotta lift it or build a ramp out of dirt, so they get one end of the car up and tow it on with another truck. The tough moments are worth it just for the thrill of beating the countryside, and you know, I’d have never gone to China, Mongolia and all those other places.
Bob: It’s an endurance rally, if it wasn’t for the endurance you wouldn’t really be doing it.
Barry: And there’s some very nice people as well.
Bob: Some very big Russians.
Barry: Big Russian men.
What’s the one thing you decided to do differently a second time?
Barry: It doesn’t matter about the tent too much, it’s the sleeping bag. You want the very best you can get and a big one so you can get in with all your clothes on. It was to tiring, we got behind so we were driving through the night, and when you try and put a tent up a 3 o’clock in the morning, it’s -6˚C so you don’t sleep properly anyway. When that happens for three days you get so low you don’t really think properly, you don’t really read the map correctly. Good sleeping bags are essential.
Is there ever foul play?
Bob: People cheat.
Barry: Yeah, some of the cars aren’t quite true. Both our cars are open to any inspection and are absolutely right for the year. There are no secret electronics with it, no locking diff’, there’s no tricks. Everything has to have been available at that time. But theres a lot of trickery that goes on.
Bob: That car that broke its suspension, Barry said ‘just weld it up’ and the guy said ‘well actually I can’t because it’s carbon fibre’. Well did they have carbon fibre suspension in 1962?
What does it feel like getting into Paris?
Barry: Oh coming into Paris is fantastic because the streets are shut, bands are playing, there’s police holding the crowds back and everyone’s pouring Champagne over you. Everyone just wants to get to Paris really, but the only reason to get there is the fun of doing it, not the competition.
Did you feel like a celebrity?
Yeah - probably one of the best feelings I’ve had.
What do you win?
A trophy. This is ours for most reliable car. The Rover 80 crossing the desert - it never broke down. It’s like the only vehicle not to have any outside assistance. So we got a camel for it.
Where are you going next?
Both: South America.
Bob: The Rally of the Incas.
Barry: So it's Argentina, across Patagonia, to Chile and then up to Peru. I think it’s about five thousand miles.
Bob: It’s 28 days, with a couple of rest days because of the altitude.
Barry: We're going up as high as you can go in the world in a motorcar.
Edited by Tom Aiton // Photoraphy by Tom Duke