Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

0004 Getting started

6th March 2017.
We finally get to officially submit our entry.

Competitors in the Endurance Rally Association events are "invited" to enter, and selected based on past experience, your car, or if you have an interesting story.  But first of all, you have to register an "Expression of Interest" to compete in the rally. This we did in mid-September 2016, and our "Interest" was registered, with a promise to send us an Invitation to Enter early in 2017.

The route from Peking to Paris
While 2019 seems a long way in the future, in terms of almost totally rebuilding a car it is actually quite close.  Time-line wise, the car needs to be in China by the end of May 2019, so needs to be shipped from Australia by March.  Realistically we need to have the car completed by mid-2018 so we can complete a thorough shakedown, including time to repair / replace any parts that may provie inadequate during that shakedown. Suddenly we only have about 12 months to complete the car, and time is not unlimited !  So while we still do not know whether we will get an entry or not, Ashton and I start thinking about everything we need to do so that we can get as much preparation done as possible. If we are not advised of a confirmed entry until well into 2017, we can't afford to wait until then before starting.  As a result I have spent extensive time studying what preparation will be required - Not just spare parts, but also event-specific items such as dust, water, poor fuel, and rough road preparation.

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To learn more about these event-specific items, I started speaking to 3 people who have a lot more experience in these matters than myself.  One was Mark Boldry who works with Dave Godwin at the Classic Car Centre on the Gold Coast.  I met Dave in both S America and Niagara in 2015/16 when he was driving his MGA on similar routes to mine (Our meetings are all detailed in my personal blogs), while Mark is very experienced in not only Austin Healeys in general, but their rally preparation in particular.  It doesn't hurt that they are currently completing a chassis-up restoration of a Healey at the moment, and this has enabled me to spend time studying the chassis in detail.

A Morgan fords a river in the 2016 event
Another person I met was John Crighton, who has done many international rallies, most recently to S America on the Rally of the Incas in his MGB.  He is also entering the P2P in his B, and his help and supportive friendship is proving to be very beneficial.  And finally I met Rod Wade, aka The Vintage Adventurer, who has already completed the P2P twice in his 1930's Model A Ford, and will also be competing in 2019.  Visiting his home and garage on the Gold Coastprovided me with a wonderful insight into the kind of detailed preparation that will be required if we are to reach Paris !  Anyone interested can find the details of Rod's amazing adventures here - I strongly recommend reading them as they are fascinating.    http://www.vintageadventurer.com.au/

So while Ashton and I tried to think of all the things we would need to do, time slowly passed - At Rod's suggestion we even tried to see if we could "book" a place by placing an early deposit, however we were advised this would not be possible.  Then on 24th Feb we received an application form to apply to enter, simultaneously being advised that they had already received over 400 enquiries for the approximtely 140 places, which made us slightly apprehensive regarding our chances.  Nevertheless, we duly filled out the very detailed application form, and gathered the various information and photocopies they required, and on the 2nd March submitted our entry request.  Meanwhile, Ashton ensured the required deposit was paid to the ERA.  Then we held our breath, not knowing how long the process would take before we knew whether we were accepted or not.  And in the meantime, I planned to go down to Sydney and collect the car from Ashton, a) so I could work on it, and b) so Ashton had some space in his garage for his wife Caroline to put her car !

Suddenly, on 10th March, we were advised that our entry had been accepted !  I was actually out on my bike when Ashton's email came through, and although I had stopped to read it, I was so aurprised I actually fell off my bike onto the grass verge !!   This confirmation was a lot quicker than we had expected, and after the intial euphoria and much on-line high-fiving, we suddenly realised it was now deadly serious, and we had to get moving quickly. Still really excited, but also very aware that this is a big chunk we have bitten off, and we just have to make sure we can not only chew it, but also do so successfully !  Right - The work begins !

Cover of the Event Guide
Included in the confirmation of our entry was a relatively detailed "Event Guide", which includes all sorts of details like navigation, suggested car preparation, required documentation, visas etc,  and information on recommended supplies, clothing, and personal requirements - In otherwords all the basic information for the event, with lots more detail to come later.  Also included were the dates for the event - recommending we arrive before the end of May, Scrutineering is 1st June, and the event officially commences with a Dragon Dance at the Great Wall on 2nd June 2019.  And all being well, we will finish in Paris on the 7th July.  A few additional details can be seen here http://www.endurorally.com/pages/the-peking-to-paris-motor-challenge-2019

Trucks in the mist at Cunningham's Gap
I was due to go to the UK on the 30th March for a friend's 70th birthday, so I was planning to go to Austin Healey parts suppliers in the UK while I was there, in order to pick their brains about car preparation, and also to order the parts we needed to start rebuilding and strengthening the car.   I had a borrowed trailer in my driveway from a Lotus friend, so decided to trailer the Healey up from Sydney rather than driving it, because a) there was a cyclone heading our way, and b) I didn't need to break down out in the middle of nowhere as I was leaving for the UK shortly !  So on the
Dawn at Balancing Rock
afternoon of 22nd March I set off down to Sydney in Troopie, towing an empty trailer. To reach Ashton's house I have to get through the middle of Sydney, so I wanted to get there in the early afternoon, both to miss the rush hour and also to hopefully load the car that evening so I could make an early start back to the Gold Coast the next morning.  By leaving in the afternoon I just wanted to get 3-4 hours down the road, then sleep in a layby in Troopie, leaving me an easy run into Sydney.

A beautiful NSW sunrise
Leaving the Gold Coast it was cloudy, and I had a mystical drive up through Cunningham's Gap in the low cloud, and then on out through Warwick.  The sunset was amazing, with the whole sky lit up like it was on fire, and I eventually pulled over at Balancing Rock, just south of Glen Innes.  Next morning I was on the road early, had an amazing sunrise (as if the sunset last night never finished !), and ended up geting into Sydney with no traffic problems by about 3 pm.  Unfortunately Ashton was held up in Melbourne so we coudn't load the Healey on the trailer, but did manage a delicious supper and beer down at the local pub !

All loaded and ready to leave Sydney
Up at 6 am the next morning, we managed to get the car loaded and strapped down before 7 am, and I left straight away, managing to get across the Harbour Bridge and out on the freeway by about 8 am, so very easy.  The drive home was basically pretty miserable weather-wise, with rain a lot of the way as the effects of the cyclone up north started to have an effect.  We had used gaffer tape so seal the side screens on the Healey, so just hoped it would prove realtively water tight !  Just before I got home, I turned onto a side road and found big signs "ROAD CLOSED" - It was flooded !   Just
Flooded road in Queensland
as I was about to turn around to find an alternative route, a few cars came the other way and told me it was not too deep and I could get through - So off I went.  And fortunately they were right, and I was home by about 8 pm.  2000 kms round trip.  But the car on the trailer towed perfectly, and Troopie, as ever, didn't miss a beat.  Mission accomplished.

Healey safely stored in friend's dry warehouse
After the weekend, I took the Healey down to friend Lindsey's works where he has a large warehouse with some space, and I left the car there undercover, still on the trailer for the month while we are in the UK.  Then I just had a few days to get ready to go to the UK, and finalise all the pare parts lists for the meetings with the UK suppliers.  One of the items we know we will need are uprated lever arm shock absorbers to replace our original 63 year old ones !  John Crighton (with the MGB) emailed me with detals of a company in the US who work the original shocks to build in extra fluid volume and make them adjustable, which looks very interesting.  See details here :-  http://mgaguru.com/mgtech/suspensn/fs122.htm
The additional fluid volume may well help improve heat dispersement when we are on rough roads, and we will be looking at these very closely.

So many ideas and questions floating round in our heads now !  The meetings with the AH parts suppliers in the the UK will hopefully have us moving in the right direction, and then it is just a case of getting home and starting work on the car.  I am sure things will become a lot clearer very quickly once we start work on it !  I hope so anyway !!

The rest of the pics are here :-

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Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !