Day 9: The Tigra Crash
The previous evening, Nick, the owner of Camping Veliko Tarnovo told us a funny story about a group of girl scouts sleeping in the shower block during severe whether at the campsite one night. He assured us that it doesn’t rain in Bulgaria in July. So when the downpour started that night, James decided the shower block was the best idea. That was until he was awoken early by a German sounding man who decided to bathe at 5am. Aaron decided to brave it in the flooded tent. This too, was obviously a huge mistake after he woke up in his new floating waterbed. Of course it didn’t help that the tent had a hole in the top because he forgot to attach the roof vent cover.
Yesterday we saw a leaflet for some recreational paragliding. Even though it was a little off our intended route and after being woken up early, we thought we could squeeze it in our schedule. We phoned up, but they were closed, so we decided scrap that idea and just head for Istanbul instead. On route we separated from Team OMJ who sadly continued to suffer from engine overheating problems.
On a long straight road near Sliven, Bulgaria, we were doing our normal top speed of 40mph and witnessed a terrifying crash in front of us. A red Vauxhall Tigra determined we were driving too slow and pulled a daring overtake, lost control and ended up in a ditch. Travelling at well over 80 mph, the old banger steered too sharply while it was behind us, locked up the rear wheels while it was beside us and spun three complete revolutions 50 yards in front of us. It came to a rest at a 45 degree angle in a 4 foot ditch on the side of the road. Paradoxically, the bald tyres on the Opel had no sideways grip and luckily prevented the car from flipping. Feeling apprehensive, we pulled over and saw a 14 year old lad get out who immediately started shouting at us in Bulgarian. His two female passengers could speak English to us and eventually managed to calm him down. They kept asking for our recovery wagon to tow them out of the ditch, but with our limited horsepower this was obviously a non starter. Once the lad had finally figured out which direction to point the steering wheel, the five of us managed to push it out of the ditch instead. Although many bricks were shat, we had all managed to live another day. If the crash happened less than a second earlier, we’d have easily been wiped out. We were just gutted we didn’t capture it on film.
Waiting only half an hour in the queue while the turks laughed at our car, passport control at the Turkish border went smoothly. Except once we were through we needed to insure our clown kart which turned out to be a bit more challenging. At the inspection center, we handed the gentleman our car’s V5 document and after a examination of the turkish version of auto trader he could only find Lada and Lamborghini under the L heading. He told us our car doesn’t exist. As ours is neither an Italian supercar or a soviet brick we finally settled to classify our car as a Fiat 126. 20 Euros lighter, we finally left and had arrived in Turkey.
We arrived in Istanbul at around midnight and were desperate for a decadent nights sleep after the 200km drive from the border. We drove into the outskirts of the old town and found a hotel to hit the hay. We parked up and one of us went in to ask reception how much a room for the night would be. “90 for the night” they replied, thinking 90 Turkish Lira (around £20) was excellent value for a posh city hotel, we got the room. It turned out they were actually quoting the price to us in US dollars. We thought it was too good to be true. Ensuring we clarify currency units is now another lesson learnt.
Day 8: Scoop Dogg
Waking up to very bright sunrise after a few hours rough and uncomfortable sleep in a cramped 2 man tent, we had our first full English breakfast of the rally and started to put a plan together for repairing the Ligier.
Splitting up, Aaron and Pete, from Team OMJ went to a local scrap yard to try and source a radiator, a new fan and some bolts with the help of Nick, the campsite owner. Arriving at the first scrap yard, which were about as welcoming as a fart in a Jacuzzi, they showed us to a range of parts that had no relevance to what we were after. The second yard were much more helpful and showed us a range of parts that might fit but unfortunately, after looking long and hard, we had no luck in finding any Ligier replacements. This left us high and dry as without a working cooling fan we would just cook the miniature Lombardini engine. Back to the drawing board we went where we started to re-wire the old fan which was still recovering from the pounding it took from the Transalpina. Sure enough with a couple of new lengths of copper and some connecting sleeves the re-wire worked and the 10 inch blower was back in commission.
Whilst we had the rest of the afternoon to kill, Aaron decided it would be a good idea to service and check the tuning of the carburettor. Covering just under 2,000 miles, this would be the first advanced service of the proposed 3 or 4 that were needed if we were to make it all 10,000 miles (servicing intervals are recommended every 3,000 miles). Draining the well-cooked tar coloured oil, changing all the serviceable filters, both spark plugs and topping up the transmission fluid, Aaron decided that more modifications were needed to help the engine breath and cool a bit more efficiently to help it cope with the increased temperature and steeper inclines the rest of the rally would unleash. 20 minutes of very precise engineering later Aaron asked Nick the campsite owner if he had an angle grinder and 5 minutes later we had a massive gaping hole in the bonnet that he called a well-engineered air scoop.
During the servicing we found that the rough Bulgarian roads had wounded the French chuggabug even more, breaking the exhaust just after the downpipe. To stop the urban warrior sounding like a Harley our friend Pete reattached the flexi sleeve higher up. The exhaust finally returned to a gentle purring sound we were all accustomed to.
Now that the engine had been given a full service and the cooling issue was sorted, we finally got some down time and a chance to have some well-earned local Bulgarian beers whilst planning our route to the Turkish border that we would tackle the following morning.
Day 7: Crossing the Danube
Leaving the fleas behind, Team OMJ and Team Adventure for Dementia checked out of the hostel and began heading South via Bucharest for the Bulgarian border. A full day’s drive was ahead of us. Aside from the odd hill or two at the start, after the Transalpina yesterday, the rest of Romania’s roads were considerably flatter. We again split with Team OMJ who couldn’t cope with the slow speeds were we moving at. Their Mini Moke would overheat if it went below 50 mph, so we agreed to rendezvous at the Bulgarian campsite we’d planned for the night.
On the way to the capital, we passed a few village slums and continued to get interested looks from the local tribes who were probably trying to work out what our four wheeled plastic crate was. Eventually the poor quality roads turned into decent flat tarmac courtesy of the EU, we were told. Surprisingly, these were pretty much empty except from the odd gypsy with their horse and cart going down the wrong side of the road.
Cooking in the urban sweat box, we decided to park on the edge of the city and walk into Bucharest, a decision that we would later regret. We found ourselves walking the best part of 5 miles to get to the city centre during the hottest part of the day when temperatures soared to a high of 40 degrees. We know this because we bought a cheap thermometer from an electrical shop during our wander around the city.
We grabbed some lunch and walked around the Bucharest parliament building which is apparently the heaviest building in the world. Another useful fact you always wanted to know. You’re welcome.
After our accidental hike around the city and with another 5 mile walk back to the car, we were both feeling worn out, but we started the onward journey to the Bulgarian border anyway. We hoped catch up with Team OMJ before we reached the campsite, but Bucharest took us longer than expected.
A slow cruise later, we were within inches of the Bulgarian border when we took a wrong turn. We ended up getting swamped by very large local women trying to sell us coffee. We weren’t thirsty though so ended up disappointing them. We got our bearings together and worked out how to get to the border crossing which was a huge bridge crossing the Danube River. We were glad to leave the women and their ginormous udders behind.
Being greeted by Bulgarian officials, the temperature gauge started to rapidly increase and yet again we had stumbled into another issue with the cooling system. Nursing the powder puff to the nearest petrol station, we started to troubleshoot the issue. It turned out the front cooling fan stopped working all together which started to seriously cook the car. The temperature dial hit an all time high of 118 degrees while the car was sat stationary in the border queue. Luckily however, the temperature had dropped that night so we decided to let it cool down naturally and continue our crawl to the campsite with the front fan removed.
Using our off road spotlights for the first time, navigating through the dark B roads of Bulgaria was extremely scary and dangerous. On multiple occasions on our way Veliko Tarnovo campsite we were nearly ran off the road by kind Turkish lorry drivers who were proceeding with some very daring overtakes in limited light conditions. Roughly 2 hours later, with the engine temperature rising and the oil pressure diminishing we had arrived at the campsite. We rolled through the front gates at around 1am and saw where Mikey and Pete from Team OMJ setup their tent. We put ours up nearby trying not to make too much noise to wake our neighbours. We were too tired and lazy to put both tents up so both of us bundled into a single tent.
Day 6: Pushing peaks
Forgetting that we had crossed another time zone, our 8am alarm went off two hours too late. As a result, we were ditched by team OMJ and The Baked Potatoes who had left for the mountain pass with the intention of us catching them up. Due to our speed we didn’t foresee that happening anytime soon.
Boarding the lawnmower express, we set off to find the start of the DN67C across mainly empty motorways and flat tarmac. These were a breeze for the urban warrior but this was soon to change quite rapidly. As we approached one of the highest roads in the Carpathian Mountains, the incline slowly increased and views began getting better and better.
On the way we stopped off at Oasa Dam on the Sebes River to take some scenic photos, to ring our t-shirts out and to allow the car to cool down. On re-entering the wonder wagon we had our first major problem: flicking the ignition switch on and hitting the “unleash the beast” starter button, the 505cc animal decided it didn’t feel like roaring into life. We began to panic a little because bump starting the engine is not possible on belt driven continuously variable transmissions compared to normal cars.
With a knackered starter motor, the only way we could start the Ligier would be to make up a starting handle or cut a seat belt out to make up a pull cord that we could wrap around the crank pulley; similar to how you would start a chainsaw or lawnmower. We didn’t fancy those options, so began to troubleshoot the faulty starter motor instead. We tested the solenoid by checking for an earthing wiring fault and by listening out for a the telltale clunking sound when 12 volts were supplied. We heard the sound, but the pinion was locked up. After hitting it with a hammer, it began to engage freely and the beast fired up on all 2 of its cylinders. Panic over! For the time being at least.
We continued our climb up Romania’s Southern Carpathians mountains on the Transalpina pass which had now turned into a 10% incline. Crawling at 11mph, our clown cart was put under a huge amount of strain in trying to tackle the slope which is when Aaron came up with his genius plan. To give the Ligier the extra helping hand it needed, he decided to jump out to ditch weight to help push it up the hill. Microseconds after leaving the cabin he was on his arse using his head and elbow as a brake to stop him rolling down the hill and shouting out “don’t stop; we’ll lose momentum”. It turns out you can’t casually step out of a moving car and still expect to be standing afterwards. He was confused because it works in cartoons and how he imagined in his head. Luckily he escaped with only grazes and bruises.
Traveling at such a slow speed can be boring at times which is one of the reasons we fitted the dixie horns back in the UK. There are probably many more reasons, but we can’t remember what they are right now. Anyway, we decided to give them a proper exercise which the locals seemed to love as they cheered and waved at us while our rocket slug crawled past.
Just as the incline of the range started to further increase we were reunited with the sight of Team OMJ as we came around a sharp bend. They had overheated. Again. We stopped to catch up and lend a hand. This was lucky for us because as soon we got out of our wagon we suddenly realised that we had a gaping hole in the radiator with coolant leaking out on the road. We then carried out more inspections and found huge chunks missing out of the rear tyres where they had been rubbing on the rear axle frame.
In the blistering sun, we were considering putting the tents up to shield us from the heat and to carry out the repairs when it got a bit cooler, however we were advised by a local that this was not a good idea because brown bears would frequently stroll down from the mountain to see what they could scavenge. A quick roadside repair it was then! We hastily emptied the boot, got out the hacksaw, chopped the corners off the frame to create more clearance with the rubber tyre and epoxy puttied up the radiator.
Team OMJ had finished their repairs and we all cracked back on with the task ahead. All of 3 minutes later, Aaron was outside pushing as our blunder bus ground to a halt on the steep mountain side. Exhaustedly pushing what must have been 4km up a 10% incline with the help of Mikey from Team OMJ, we thought we were over the worst of it. Little did we know this was set to be just the warm up.
A passing motorist who was pissing himself laughing said that it was another 15km to the peak and it gets a whole load steeper. At this point we contemplated turning back around and handing over victory to the Transalpina. We were not ones to be defeated though. We loosened off the throttle restrictor and put the peddle to the plastic to gain as much momentum as possible, but the local man was correct; the further we got the more we struggled.
Aaron found himself pushing on and off again for another 6km. Feeling knackered and with a heavy hailstorms on the horizon a kind local in BMW stopped to ask Aaron if he needed a lift. Moving his child onto his lap whilst driving, he told Aaron to get into the passenger seat and dropped him at the top where James was waiting.
At 2,145m above sea level and hours of torturous crawling we had finally reached the peak. It was all downhill from here. We were told to get to the bottom of the mountain fast as a huge hail storm was about to open its doors, which, seconds later it did. Rolling down the mountain with wet and warn breaks we found a dodgy looking restaurant to take cover from the downpour with Team OMJ. Whilst sitting down waiting for some local food, we self-evaluated our day and realised that we’d taken all day to complete a journey that would’ve taken a normal car an hour.
Day 5: The tax dodge
Completing another ridiculous 24 hour drive and pissing off most of the lorry drivers in Eastern Europe, we arrived in Romania.
Within the space of two minutes of entering the country we were stopped by the authorities yet again. This time it was because we hadn’t paid any road tax. Whilst James was faffing around pretending to find his phone somewhere in the cabin and Aaron passing over various documents that had no relevance to road tax, PC plum got frustrated of waiting for the correct piece of paper that we didn’t have and told us to get in our car and go.
We arrived in Arad, a city just over the border and started to notice that we were being eyed up by all the locals who didn’t seem pleased about our presence. We actually started to enjoy the attention we were getting.
We found WiFi, the most basic of any traveller’s needs according to Maslow’s hierarchy, and arranged to meet up again with Team OMJ and a new team, The Baked Potatoes, two Americans driving a classic British mini. Coincidentally, at that exact same time, we discovered their logo stuck on the back of our car. They told us they gave out free stickers at Dover and claimed that they themselves were not responsible for the dastardly act. We have yet to figure out who is.
With no sleep, we set off for Corvin Castle in Hunedoara which was to be the first proper test for our Lawnmower express. The outside air and engine water temperatures were rising rapidly and peaked at 40 degrees and 110 degrees which were the highest we’d yet seen.
To break the drive up a bit we car swapped with the two other teams and straight away upon entering The Bakes Potatoes’ mini, James said that he’d forgotten what it was like to sit in a car where you didn’t have to shout to communicate or ring your t-shirt out after being imprisoned in a four wheeled sauna.
Trying not to fall asleep at the wheel while temperatures soared, all three super minis eventually arrived at Takeshi’s castle and got ordered by the parking attendant who tried to make us pay for three parking spaces. Since the spaces where pretty large, we come up with the idea to cram all three cars into one space to stop the con-artist in his tracks. We gave him the money and headed to the castle.
Sweating our cashews off walking around one of the seven wonders of Romania, we came across some very strange filming where a man was strapped to crane and thrown 20 feet along the length of the drawbridge. Obviously health and safety was a major concern for them as they still allowed visitors to walk around whilst the Romanian version of James Bond was being filmed. The castle itself looked similar to Bran Castle in Transylvania more famously known as Dracula’s castle and apparently was where Vlad the Impaler was held prisoner by Hungary’s military leader.
This was set to be the end of our activities for the day so all three teams decided to drive to get some local food and find somewhere to stay for the night to recover from the heat abuse and to prepare ourself for the Transalpina mountain pass that was on the cards for the following day.
Day 4: The buda and the pest
We arrived in Vienna and spent the afternoon sweating our bollocks off exploring the city in blistering heat whilst trying to conserve energy for next leg of the journey. While we were walking through Austria’s capital, we saw a horse taxi and started contemplating about upgrading our cart with something that few more horsepower. But we were told that horses don’t run on sans plom 95 so we scrapped that idea.
We wondered around for a bit and eventually found a decent coffee bar with good internet where we updated our blog and started planning the next massive drive from Vienna to Romania. This trip is bad enough in a car that is capable of 70mph let alone our wonder wagon which is lucky to average 40mph with the wind behind us.
On the overnight crusade, we stopped off in Budapest, Hungry for a few hours for a breakneck tour of the city. On our hike to the fisherman’s bastion to get a good view over the Danube, we bumped into another team who we got chatting with. They were staying in the Marriott waiting for their FedEx’d driving licence to turn up since they had only passed their test the day before the launch.
Seeing the the Hungarian parliament building and Chain Bridge lit up at night are extraordinarily memorable sights and make Budapest one of our favourite places we’ve been so far.
Day 3: The barns and the scrutineering
Packing our buggy is like a game of Tetris. To fit all our stuff in the tiny space available, everything has its right place. But sometimes we get lazy and throw things in and wonder why the boot doesn’t close. Before we got motoring in the morning we attempted to reorganise our gear and used this moment to exit the underground car park while the little feather didn’t weigh as much. Following the shredding of pounds, our motor cruised up the incline easily.
With our route planned on freshly downloaded maps, we motored along the autobahns at 45mph and managed to get quite a few miles under our belt until we heard the fateful sound of a panda mobile yet again. Making out we didn’t know that we weren’t allowed on the autobahn, they informed us that our car was unsuitable for the highways. This is starting to sound familiar, but it was a bit more serious than the telling off we received in France. The police convoyed us into a test centre and our Ligier was scrutineered to determine its road worthiness. It wasn’t good news. Even though we tried to say our 4 wheeled banger recently scraped through the annual Motor Ordinance Test in the UK, our car was not exemplary in Germany. The Germans didn’t buy our argument and fined us €1000. We left the autobahns and didn’t go back. Lesson learnt.
It was an incredibly long drive on the German equivalent of A-roads to Munich, but after regular driving shifts and keeping awake on coffee and red bull we made up some good ground. Despite having angered lorry drivers sitting on our tail for the most of the journey, and the many times we heard ‘wichsers’ shouted at us, we made it to Munich. Here we decided to push on to the border with Austria and made it to the capital, Vienna.
Day 2: The Dorf and the member
Tuesday morning was miserable for both us and the car. We woke up with excoriating back pain following a horrendous three hour sleep in the cramped seats of our donkeyless cart. Additionally, we arose to a flat battery with the beast refusing to start and we were still desperately low on san plomb 95.
Since the four wheeled wonder has an internal alternator mounted inside the crank pulley and a volt sender unit we could not jumpstart the car as we’d run the risk of damaging the ignition system or alternator, something that we’d already done in the UK, which proved to be very costly. With this in mind and us both feeling glum, we walked across the street to find somewhere to charge our battery so we could kick our beast back into life.
Knocking on a few doors in Gleen, Holland, we found a benevolent old man who offered to charge our battery for half an hour - just enough to bring our urban destroyer back from the brink. Luckily, on half a choke it fired up and came back to life.
Aaron, an expert on running a car on fumes thanks to years of training from his mum, then managed to nurse the mean machine to the nearest Total petrol station. We were forced to leave the engine running so that the battery could charge while we injected 14.5 litres of fairy dust into our tinkerbell. This was both highly illegal and extremely dangerous and after being shouted at in double dutch by a man in clogs, we drove off on our route for Germany.
Blistering down the backroads to Germany we hit 50mph, a speed that is not supposed to be possible our two cylinder powerplant. We arrived in Germany shortly later, pushing all 15 of our horses to their limit. Straight away we could see that the Germans did not find our horseless carriage very funny at all. We had gone from cheers and applause by the Flemish to shaking of heads and the making of rude hand gestures from the Germans.
Yesterday in Ghent, we got talking to an acrobatic couple who invited us into their apartment so we could download some offline maps for Belgium. Looking back we should’ve downloaded the mapping data for the neighbouring countries too. As a result of our lack of forward thinking, we had a shortfall of detailed maps for Germany. This is the reason we’re using for ending up in Dusseldorf today, which is a little off our intended route.
The roads in Dusseldorf are a complete nightmare to navigate. The city is full of infuriating one way streets, more traffic lights than a Christmas tree and frustrating tram-only roads. In 30 degree city centre heat we went round and round in circles for what seemed like hours getting more and more irked. Feeling like we were trapped in a maze, we needed a break and agreed to stop for refreshments. We attempted to be legal and leave our car in a multi-story car park, but, with no run up, our station wagon couldn’t make it up the slope. One of us got out to push, however this effort proved ineffective. We asked some nearby local Germans for a helping hand, but they shook their head and were not willing to offer their assistance. With the engine temperature gauge starting to climb to over 100 degrees we had no choice but to abandon our granny-mobile just outside the car park to let it cool down. We were worried we’d get towed away, but the many parking attendants we saw marching around somehow managed to miss us.
While wondering around the Dorf, we found A&A Digitalprint and decided to use the opportunity to get some more vinyl stickers printed off. The days leading up to the launch were very hectic and we ran out of time getting some of our sponsors logos stuck onto the Ligier before we departed the UK. We obtained a Just Seventy Fives banner, our Adventure before Dementia logo and a Master of Malt banner for a discounted price.
While we were waiting for our vinyl to be printed, we saw an old man at one of the self-service machines print some peculiar photos. In broad daylight, he was printing off dick pics. We saw peckers of all sorts of shapes and sizes as the pictures dropped down to the paper out tray and the old man acting like it was normal. It was really quite bizarre.
Master of Malt very kindly sponsored us a bottle of scotch whiskey which should help us to keep hydrated on our epic journey. Single malt scotch whiskey and driving to Mongolia go together like a house on fire, right? At the Hastings pit stop, Josh from Master of Malt also gave us a bottle of horrendous sounding ‘Naga chill vodka’ weighing in at 250,000 scovilles. We don’t fully understand the Scoville scale, but that seems like a big number. Many of the reviews mention a burning sensation and one person even talks about a hospital visit for 1st degree burns to their urethra. Both bottles will no doubt be superb thirst quenchers when we break down in the middle of the scorching hot Gobi desert. Thanks to Josh and Katie at Master of Malt. Top chaps.
After we finished looking around the city, we were too tired to drive any further and made the decision stay the night. We found a hotel with an underground car park to keep the Ambra secure. It was only after we drove down when we thought that we might struggle to get back up. But, that’s tomorrow’s problem.
Day 1: The rozzers and the guest appearance
Cast aside by Team OMJ and waking up to torrential downpour in Dunkirk, we set off to Brussels. Blasting down the French highways at our max speed of 43mph and suffering from Chinese water torture from the holes in the roof, we suddenly heard the ominous sound of police sirens (which were not ours). The rozzers’ Peugeot escorted us on to the hard shoulder to the nearest junction and told us that our 100% road legal lawnmower was actually not legal on the French highways. The fine was €1000 by credit card or €22 for cash. We attempted haggling which they were not happy about. Next we attempted to play the dumb tourist card and pretended were lost but to no avail. Reluctantly, we handed over the cash. The term on the receipt they gave us translates to ‘stupid car on motorway’ which made us chuckle.
The boys in blue instructed us to take the back roads to our destination, Belgium, which we did for a bit. Ignoring their advice, we went back on the motorway to make up some time. However 5 minutes later we were kicked off again by different cops and had to pay the same fine. After paying more money into the popo’s Christmas fund we made it to Gent, Belgium.
Getting evicted from motorways is costing us considerable amount of time and money and as a result we seriously needed to reassess our options and schedule. At this point we have already missed two checkpoints and it was increasingly probable that we would miss all other checkpoints in Europe. We are also getting concerned that we’d miss the the last staggering of the finish line party at the beginning of September.
In Ghent we were welcomed by the locals who adored our loveable steed. We met two students who brewed us some tetley while we made some adjustments to our car underneath a bridge that the pigeons use as their defecation pit. We fixed our dangling off exhaust and tuned the carburettor as it was dangerously over-fuelling. The two students then let us charge up our electrical devices in their plush pad. They told us to stay as Gentse Feesten, a huge 10 day festival, was in full swing in the city. Apparently it had all the major artists there, including Picasso. We kindly refused as we needed to make time up and head towards Germany.
We started driving out of the city and got ourselves a little lost. We had no detailed maps and found ourselves going deeper and deeper into the city centre so decided to ask a Flemish version of Noddy Holder for exit directions. Following his instructions, we followed a tram line down a narrow cobbled street leading to another cobbled opening. These cobbles were a good test for things to come in the desert. The road we were travelling down was clearly closed for the festival with no other vehicles or trams in sight. We did think that was suspicious.
In hindsight we think Noddy deliberately lead us in the wrong direction because when we looked back in the rear view mirror we saw him pissing himself with laughter. We had no time to prepare ourselves for what was next to come. We were looking at Ghent’s version of Glastonbury going on 100 yards in front. We had gone too far to turn around and rapidly saw the situation getting worse and worse as we continued. Tens of people crowding the car turned into hundreds. We were swamped by festival goers keen to look at two fools driving a ridiculous motor. We had dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of. Feeling highly embarrassed, we wanted to leave as quickly as possible. We had one way out which was past the main stage and out the pedestrian exit. Luckily, the locals of Ghent seemed to enjoy the situation and moved aside for us to crawl past at 1mph. They probably thought we were one of the attractions. Many were filming us and we suspect we’re the subject of many YouTube videos with the title of ‘2 idiots drive stupid car through Gentse Feesten’
Now global internet celebrities of Ghent, we finally got out of the city and headed towards the German border. On the motorway, we got low on fuel so decided to turn off at the next junction to find a fuel station. This junction took us into The Netherlands which turned out to be a bad idea. At around midnight, the Dutch ghost towns were derelict and the only station we found was closed. All of our cards were declined and were forced to wait until morning so we could pay in cash.
We had a quick look around for a campsite or somewhere to stay the night but we only found a hotel car park and just decided to park up there. Feeling exhausted, we were too lazy to put the tent up, so settled on sleeping in the car. This was another bad decision. It turns out that our car was not designed for sleeping in. The seats are angled like church pews and lacked any sort of adjustability. They defiantly weren’t designed for comfort. We both agreed to avoid doing that again.
Day 0: The launch
We left Eastbourne at 4:30 on Sunday morning to give us plenty of time to get to Goodwood for the 8 AM registration. The trouble with we had with the ignition system the day before meant we couldn’t make the registration and party on the Saturday, so taking the late registration on Sunday was our only option.
Taking it slow and steady, we arrived at Goodwood at around 7 AM. We were both feeling excited that we’d finally made it to the start after countless hours of work and very little sleep. All that preparation was finally coming to fruition. All the stress and anxiety the powder puff had caused us was worth it.
All we needed to do now was register, finish putting the stickers on the car and prepare ourselves for the blast around the track. We parked up in the paddock and loads of people started taking a shine to the Ligier and laughing at just how ridiculous it looked.
We were in the second batch of cars to take on the challenge of the circuit. We found out that there was a minor fender bender in the first batch, so there was a short delay while we were waiting for the debris to be cleared up. Finally, it was our turn. Frantically accelerating off the start line, we eventually hit our top speed of 40mph on the second to last corner and overtook about 10 cars. Of course we were overtaken ourselves by at least 20 cars beforehand.
After the lap it was straight back out on to the public roads. We found ourselves leading the second batch for roughly 30 seconds before everyone got fed up at our top speed and overtook us. At least we were ahead of the third batch!
We were scheduled for the Hastings pit stop at 1PM and to our surprise we were only 30 minutes late. We rolled in and parked up to find friends and family standing around waiting for our arrival. Thanks to Mikey and Hastings Council for the free fish and chips which landed in our hands without us noticing and to everyone who turned up to see us off. Your support really helps to keep us motived in achieving our goal.
Sirens blaring, we departed the Stade and began our ascend up the A259 towards Rye. At the traffic lights we had a red light which stopped all of our momentum. We now needed a hill start. But it was here that we discovered that our car didn’t have enough unicorns to cope. One of us had to get out and give our fairy a push which is not a good sign of things to come. Without shredding some pounds, this is only going to get a lot worse.
2 hours later we arrived at Dover ferry port after a few close encounters with lorries and a worrisome number of hills. Our top speed limitations meant we missed our intended ferry so we queued up to get the next one. In the queue we met around a dozen other teams who we got chatting with. They were telling us how surprised they were that we made it this far. Even the lady in the checkin booth told us that our car was barmy and the smallest Mongol Rally car she’d seen. We told her that this was the record we were aiming to beat.
90 minutes later we docked in Calais and had reunited our 4 wheeled wonder back its native motherland. We got out of Calais, formed a convoy with a few other teams and fitted our duct tape improvised beam deflectors. A little while down the road, team OMJ had overheating troubles. After cooling down their Mini Scamp, we both made our way to Dunkirk before sunset to hold up overnight.
Day -1: Catastrophic failure of the second and third degree
After buying the only set of drive shafts in the UK and fitting them to our shitmobile, we thought we were ready for the MOT, but this was not the case. We failed the MOT on ‘ineffectiveness of the bonnet retaining mechanism’ and a sodding windscreen wiper. Surprisingly the rest of it was structurally sound. That’s probably because plastic can’t rust or rot.
At Just Seventy Fives’ workshop, which was now defying its namesake and a couple of minutes of expert engineering, we fixed the problems uncovered in the MOT. The car was ready for the retest. We flew through it with flying colours, but on our drive back down the B roads the engine started to cook with the water temperature hitting 120 degrees. It then backfired and cut out.
Yet again, we were in trouble. And with less than 72 hours until the Goodwood launch we were seriously starting to worry about making it to the start line in time. We even started to think about contingency plans with a spare car, but didn’t want to let our sponsors down.
We identified that the spark was missing from cylinders so we started to troubleshoot the highly complex ignition system which comprises a spark control box, a coil pack and a magnet.
The big problem we now had was that these components are extremely hard to get hold of. The only stockist is located in Daventry, so were were forced to take a 400 mile round trip to collect the parts the same day. Upon fitting the new parts we had a running engine for all of 30 seconds before it rattled and dislodged the cam sensor magnet causing it to smash into a million pieces.
Now with time getting as thin as the plastic shell on our Ligier, we contacted Joe from Reliant Car Spares who kindly stayed late at work to break a working engine just to get us the part we needed. We had to drive to Worcester, another 400 mile round journey, to collect it from a glove box of a 1950’s Austin. After spending most of the night hammering it back down the M40, we arrived in Bexhill at 7AM and began fitting the uprated part.
With less than 12 hours till the big launch, our little mean machine coughed into life. We could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We had a car that has only broken down 3 times and completed a grand total of 10 miles. It was rally ready.
Next, we just had to get to Goodwood for the start.
Day -5: Thanksgiving
We’re very grateful to a bunch of businesses who have supported us on our fundraising campaign and our additional quest to find out the true taste of fermented yak’s milk. Thanksgiving normally falls in late November in the US, but we’re keen to display our appreciation straightaway. Also, we’re English and don’t celebrate thanksgiving nor care about it
Based in Eastbourne, Professional Insurance Agents offer a wide range commercial insurance services to business of all sizes. They’ve selflessly sponsored us £100 of fuel money which should help get us to dover. Thanks Graham!
Jewson Ltd in Bexhill gave us some glorious wood. At first we made lightsabers like children, but then we used the wood to mount the roof rack and add a roll cage. Some two by four should prevent the aluminum frame from buckling under high pressure, right?
eAutomotive donated £250 to our Virgin Money Giving page which will go straight to our two chosen charities’ good causes. Their generous donation helped pushed our total over the £1000 mark. Luckily for us, it seems they missed they part about getting to set an embarrassing challenge for us to perform and film while we’re out on the road. If you read in the fine print you’ll find that the challenge must be declared no later than 24 hours after the donation was made. Sorry guys! If you’re reading this, how about a double or nothing bet? If you donate a further £750, we’ll promise to drive our shitmoble all the way back to the UK…in reverse. How does that sound?
Just Seventy Fives have been been helping us with final car preparations and helping to make sure it’s Mongol ready. Just Seventy Fives are a MG Rover tuning specialist based in Bexhill, East Sussex. As well as being a top mechanic, Sean has been giving us many helpful tips to increase our chances of survival and to prevent our likely deaths.
Dave from Dave’s Tyres in Bexhill have provided us with a set of discounted tyres which we’re thankful for. Apparently, the average number of punctures ralliers experience on the trip is 9. So four spares should be enough, right?
Our hosting partner, Firmswitch have been providing us free hosting for this very website since our crazy idea came into fruition late last year. With amazing support and 100% uptime, they have been nothing but exceptional. Thanks Craig!
DigitalBra are independent SEO experts from Sussex that has helped reduced adventurefordementia.com’s bounce rate and increased our SEO juices. Our rankings are now pushed almost to the top of Google’s SERPs. It’s only slightly ironic that their site is down and they have no ranking in sight.
We’ve done some extensive research and apparently there are no Tescos in the Gobi Desert, so we thought it was best to take plenty of water and survival food with us. We’ve received some high energy dried meals from Expedition Foods, the world renowned experts in survival food. They’ve even written a post about us on their Facebook page. The Strawberry porridge they sent us should go nicely with fresh goat’s testicals.
Tesco Extra in Hollington supplied us some camping gear including two sleeping mats and a travel kettle vital for Aaron’s tea.
Halfords at Ravenside, Bexhill gave us some kit we needed for complying with the European road laws including a warning triangle, GB stickers and high vis jacket. Just Seventy Fives helped us out with breathalysers and a spare bulb set.
Ebe Deddie at B&Q Eastbourne kindly donated 2m of ultra secure chain and threw in some padlocks to stop any Turks pinching our fuel. Thanks Ebe!
Euro Car Parts in Eastbourne kindly sponsored us a brand new battery to power the bug’s vital mods and other luxurious extras.
Without their kind-hearted generosity, our mission to be the smallest car to attempt the Mongol Rally would be a non-starter. We’re sincerely grateful for everyone’s support. Many thanks guys!
Day -11: Hastings pit stop event
We recently found out that another team from Hastings are equally as mad as us by taking on the Mongol Rally this year. As well as being mad, Team OMJ are also very generous and have organised a gathering in Hastings in which you’re all welcome to attend.
- Date: Sunday, 19 July 2015
- Time: 1pm - 2pm
- Location: The Stade, Hastings old town
Team Adventure before Dementia will be leaving Goodwood just before midday and we’ll arrive at the Hastings pit stop at 1pm on our way to Dover. This is of course, very variable. We’re not even sure if we’ll make it to Goodwood at this rate, let alone Mongolia.
There will be free fish and chips, a local paper taking photos of the foolhardy lunatics and their horseless carriages and possibly a TV crew if all goes to plan. But Mongol Rally teams and plans are polar opposites. They contradict each other like an honest politician or the French resistance, so who knows what will happen?
Keep informed on the Facebook event page.
Day -15: Catastrophic failure of the first degree
With just under two weeks left before the big launch from Goodwood, we’ve experienced a minor hiccup on the first test run. On the 10 mile journey to the MOT centre, our rusty chariot decided to spit its dummy out and break a leg. More in the literal meaning than the theatrical slang meaning. The nearside drive shaft snapped in two leaving us stuck on a zebra crossing on a ram-packed Bexhill seafront.
Many curious residents started crowding around our car, pointing and laughing at us whilst taking pictures of our disheartened faces. It was at this moment that we suddenly realised that we had no breakdown cover. What an oversight that was!
After a quick chat from a nice policeman (yes we were surprised they exist too), we were helped pushed off the zebra crossing and awaited collection from our knight in shining armour. Alas, Sean from Just Seventy Fives arrived half an hour later where he immediately laughed at us and reminded us that we hadn’t even made .001% of our journey before breaking down.
The assessment at HQ was grim. To get the paperweight going again we would need a new pair of drive shafts that are as rare as rocking horse shit and spare time, neither of which are plentiful.
Mongolia is looking quite far off at this point.
Day -16: Tool sponsorship
We are very grateful to Paul from Licharz and Dave at Dantre Workshop Supplies Ltd who have both generously donated a top spec set of tools to aid our adventure.
Duct tape, WD-40 and a hammer are all included in the tool set which we’re sure will fix any problem that could possibly arise!
Day -23: Owen Contractors Ltd
We’d like to thank Owen Contractors Ltd who have kindly agreed to become our first fuel sponsor. Their sponsorship will make our treacherous journey somewhat more possible. Owen Contractors, based in Eastbourne, are one of the largest brickwork and scaffolding specialists in the South East.
If you’d like to become a sponsor or know any company that would be interested, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Day -27: The mods
After nursing the little smurf back to the Adventure before Dementia HQ, we realised that we needed to inject some serious fairy dust into the Ligier to ensure it would be capable of surviving the huge task required.
At the workshop we increased the size of the carburetor jets, lightly ported the cylinder heads, side gapped the plugs, fitted a straight-through exhaust and installed a larger air filter. We’re sure these performance modifications will give us a better bang for our buck and significantly increase the number of unicorns in our little roller skate. Of course it’s also highly possible that it’ll do the complete opposite and make it much less reliable.
With the engine taken care of, we thought it would be a good idea if we were able to stop our little tinkerbell! We decided to replace over 25 feet of brake pipes throughout, re-assembled and fitted new pads to the front calipers and topped up the tank with DOT 4. Also just for a good measure, and to increase the maneuverability of our urban bus, we fitted a hydraulic handbrake so we can turn on a sixpence.
Now the car is running and stopping better, we needed to slightly adjust the interior of the Ligier, so we ripped it out. Why? Well, we wanted to carry on with Ligier F1 heritage and further lighten our inadequate brum to help that well-tuned 2-cylinder thoroughbred pull us along as fast as possible.
With the interior gone, we found another critical issue. The standard horn on the Ambra was about as good as a Stevie Wonder’s sunglasses, so back to the drawing board we went once more. After hours on the line scanning eBay we found an ideal upgrade: 170 decibels of Hong Kong’s finest Dukes of Hazzard style horn kit which was sold to us as a musical horn set to get past the UK dB laws. Once we fitted all five of Nelly’s trunks to improve our redundant horn and had our ears bent from Aaron’s brother’s girlfriend for noise pollution, we had one last major task.
It suddenly dawned on us. How are we going to carry luggage and equipment in a car that is just over 1.25 metres long? After lots of scientific research and head scratching, we decided to build a custom roof rack that would fit on the egg-shaped roof, which we’ve now identified as being made from dried yak’s milk.
With 90% of the modification completed, or bodged, we have the small job of completing the wiring before we can begin the first road test. Neither of us are electricians, but how hard can it be?
Day -31: The car
Where do we start? It’s a French microcar called a Ligier Ambra which is a distant relative to the company’s previous vehicles which were Maserati V6 mid-engine sports cars that had fantastic power to weight ratios and were lighting fast. Unfortunately for us the only thing sporty about our Ligier is its badge!
The Ambra is a car that was designed to be used once in a blue moon for the odd journey to the shops and back. That’s if you’re lucky enough to get it back before it overheats or breaks down. The little roller skate is powered by a 2 cylinder, 4 valve Lombardini 505cc power plant. All 15 of its horses are delivered to the front wheels by a CVT belt-driven single-gear automatic gearbox that’s not much bigger than a toaster. This little eco warrior also has the ability to achieve 80+ miles per gallon as long as it can do 80 miles without breaking down or spontaneously combusting itself.
The Ambra is effectively a road going go-kart that has a plastic body and an aluminium frame sitting on top of 13 inch tyres. If you are luckily enough to be able to get hold of a GLX model you’ll get electric windows, electric boot release and a tape player thrown in. It is loaded with the latest safety features, like lap seat belts, which means it legally doesn’t need to have a Euro NCAP safety test. The master gurus at Ligier also used their Formula 1 backgrounds to develop a car whose dry weight is 296 kg and can be easily lifted by a couple of grown Frenchmen.
After researching for months (it was actually 5 minutes on eBay) to find the perfect car to cope with some of the harshest terrain in the world we think we’ve found ourselves a winner. We’re sure you’ll agree that the Ligier Ambra is the ultimate all-terrain vehicle for the monster task we have ahead.
Upon collecting our trusty chariot and limping it the 40 miles back to the workshop we realised that this little powder puff had some severe issues that would need to be addressed…
Day -50: The Route
The Mongol Rally is about the unexpected. The Adventurists talk about the un-route and forcing teams to get lost and to embrace the unknown. This kind of talk is perfect for us because we’ve hardly done any planning at all. We’ve got a rough idea of the countries and dates, but really it’s a bare minimum just so we can get the paperwork out the way.
Even though The Adventurists decide the start and finish points and let the teams choose their own course, traditionally, the rally has three different routes: the northern route, the central route and the southern route and the other southern route. Oh wait, that’s actually four routes.
We’ve chosen the central route which will take us through Europe to Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. We’ll then probably be waiting around at Baku for up to a week for a decommissioned military landing craft to take us across the Caspian sea. We should arrive at Aktau, Kazakhstan 3 days later. Whilst trying not to run out of fuel, food and most importantly beer, we’ll drive the length of Borat’s glorious nation, Kazakhstan, a country longer than Europe!
At the border with Russia, we’ll head up into Siberia for a bit and then back down into Mongolia. In Mongolaistan we’ll be driving through the Gobi desert, one of the hottest and driest places on Earth where temperatures can reach over 50°C. We’re just hoping that the plastic body on the Ligier doesn’t start melting. Finally after we’ve applied our aftersun, we’ll head back up to Siberia and end in Ulan-Ude, Russia where the finish line for this year’s Mongol Rally is. There’ll probably be some kind of celebration at this point.
In total, we’ll be travelling a third of the Earth’s circumference, traversing 17 countries over Europe and Asia. It should be…interesting. It’ll probably be dangerous and perilous at times. It might even be an adventure.
Day -77: Welcome to Adventure for Dementia
On 19 July 2015 we’re going to set off from Goodwood Motor Circuit and drive 10,000 miles to Mongolia in a 2001 Ligier Ambra. A car so crap the French disowned it.
It’s part of the Mongol Rally, an annual adventure where hundreds of teams try their darndest not to kill themselves on the way to Mongolia. We have no backup plan, no support, no real route, very little skill and frankly no idea how we’re going to do it. But we will!
We’re doing it to raise money for Dementia UK and Cool Earth.
Dementia UK improves the quality of life for all people affected by dementia. The number of cases of dementia is growing 163,000 each year - they need our support now more than ever.
Cool Earth works to halt rainforest destruction. They give local people the control and resources they need so they aren’t forced to sell their biggest resource - their forests.
James, 25, is a web developer in East Sussex. Aaron, 24, is a VoIP engineer in Northampton. They met at university 6 years ago and have since travelled across Europe and South-East Asia - all preparing for the Adventure for Dementia.
The car is a 505cc 2 cylinder automatic Ligier Ambra GLX. It cost £100 and had 2 previous owners - they’re both now dead. The GLX model has all the mod-cons, including wind up windows and a string-based boot opening mechanism. If you press the roof, it wobbles like jelly and to move the seats you have to unscrew them. The car has a top speed of 50mph and a blistering 0-62mph time of… never. If you want to listen to the radio, you can use the cassette deck or listen to French radio. We’re not sure how it even picks up French radio. That’s probably the most advanced feature in it.
We’re currently organising the paperwork, routes and gearing the car up with roof racks, spare tyres and doing everything we can to make sure it gets us there in one piece. The prognosis is still unclear.
But regardless of how the car holds up, we’ll get to Mongolia one way or another.
Throughout the adventure we’ll be posting regularly irregular updates here on adventurefordementia.com, so keep an eye out!
We’re asking for donations of £10, £20 or more on our Virgin Money Giving page which will be split 50:50 between Dementia UK and Cool Earth.
Any single donation of over £200 gets to set a challenge for us (within reason!) that we have to record and post on the blog as soon as possible. So if you want to see James wear a Borat mankini in Kazakhstan or Aaron get a tattoo on his arse, now is your chance.
If you can help us out with any corporate sponsorship or equipment for our trip then please email us. Here’s what we’re looking for…
- Spare wheels + tyres
- Jerry cans
- Water containers
- Tool kit
- Engine fluids
- Sump guard
- Ligier spare parts
- Video equipment
So get donating now and we’ll get this thing going!
James and Aaron