Welcome to my blog!
I’m Phil Burgan, the chairman and CEO of Maria Mallaband Care group. You can learn more about me here.
The Peking to Paris rally is a notoriously strenuous and difficult classic car rally in which many participants don’t make it. This year, I’m attempting it!
I’m currently making this epic journey with my co-driver and navigator John Wright. We’re driving a beautiful 1959 Volvo from Peking (now Beijing) to Paris through Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and Russia, amongst other places. In an attempt to finish we’ve been travelling between 350km and 750km a day in this! Thankfully we’ve got Mrs. Crimbles and Mattsupps to keep us going.
The car was prepared by RPS in Oxford, and rebuilt and reinforced prior to the event. Though a tough rally, I’m sure this will help her through.
The rally itself started in 1907 when French newspaper Le Matin challenged readers to drive from Peking to Paris. “Is there anyone who will agree to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?” read the headline, and with that the rally was born.
Just five teams took part in this first, historic rally – an Italian team, a Dutch team and three teams from France. It was won by Prince Scipione Borghese of Italy, and the prize? A magnum of Mumm champagne.
The route raced along a telegraph line and each team took a journalist, who relayed stories via the telegraphs regularly. Fuel was transported by camels, and there were no maps, no roads and no garages. Safe to say it was a tough ride!
Though done in “classic” cars today the first rally was done in cars far less suited to the harsh conditions. The winning car was a 7-litre Itala which, at one point, fell through a wooden bridge. Touch wood, that hasn’t happened to us (yet!)
Since the initial race in 1907, there have been only four more – this being the fifth incarnation of the classic rally. This is a testament to how hostile and tough Peking to Paris really is! Both John and I had to train hard to ensure we were in the best physical condition possible to undertake such a gruelling task.
Eventually after a lot of training, hard work and sacrifice, we arrived with the car in China.
After parking up in parc ferme we saw some of the other cars we would be racing against. There were some truly stunning machines, including this incredible green monster. I’d love to have one of these one day! It just seems such a shame to put it through the torture it will see across the race.
Eventually after checking the car, prepping, preparing, pumping and checking the car again we passed scrutineering and started the rally. 0 miles down, 9,317 miles to go!
Quite soon we realised that the car, whilst looking amazing, was perhaps not best suited to this race. It felt slightly slower than the other cars in our class, and our hill speed wasn’t great. We have around 100bhp, compared to 140 bhp on another Volvo we’re racing against. This feels slow, however when you compare that to the 35/45 hp that the winning Itala had in 1907, it’s like a Formula 1 car!
In our first two days we had to carry out some repairs to the car’s exhaust and developed an oil leak, amongst other damage, and this really puts into perspective how hard that first rally must have been. What’s even more impressive is the fact that while roughly 11 per cent of people don’t finish the modern rally, four out of the five cars made it all the way to Paris in 1907. The size and impracticality of those cars (not to mention that the car had only existed for around 20 years at that point) makes it all the more impressive. As you can see, we had to carry out some repairs to the back of our Volvo in less than perfect conditions…
The desert stages are tough, and can take a real toll on the car. Whilst the roads are generally smooth, there’s the occasional suspension-breaking pothole which will appear from nowhere and slow you down, however having driven on UK roads I’m used to it! John’s doing a great job of navigating, and we’re not losing time unnecessarily.
The weather is generally okay – much better than in previous years. The first race was subject to persistent rain and mud – not something you’d want to deal with when racing in loud, open-top cars!
It’s easy to get caught up in the race and be in your own world feeling safe; however on day 8 we heard two cars rolled over. One, a VW, had to retire but this Japanese Nissan carried on. What a trooper!
Everyone on the rally loves racing and pushing their cars to the limit, however staying safe should also be at the forefront of your mind. Tragically a fellow participant, Emma Wilkinson, was killed while driving through Russia in her Chevrolet C10. She was a fun and lively part of the rally, and the thoughts of everyone doing the rally are with her and her family.
We knew the rally would be tough, but we didn’t realise just how tough. Damage and repairs to the car have to be done daily to ensure the car still works, and the uncooperative roads do nothing to help the already old suspension. Time penalties are given if you’re too late to a checkpoint and can be hours long – easily destroying the hard work it took to shave minutes off your time. Still, when you see views like these mountains over the Russian border, it makes the trip worthwhile.
After traversing the Gobi desert, we took stock and had a look at what had happened to the car. The grand total of damage was;
- Lost one rear wheel, one front wheel
- 2 rear brake pipes, one front
- 2 rear shock absorbers
- 1 rear axle strap
- 1 front upper suspension arm, with linkage
- Pulled out anti- roll bar twice and damaged camber adjusters twice
- Had to re- set track twice
- 1 rear silencer box
- Badly damaged under tray, front suspension crossmember, front exhaust
- Assorted engine problems mainly attributed to sand, heat and bad petrol
It’s interesting to find out what a drain the rally is not just on your mental health but physical health too. In the first seventeen days I’ve had RSI from battling with the steering wheel on windy, poorly maintained roads, cuts and bruises from repairing the car and I’ve lost half a stone. Still, onward and upward!
Currently we are on day twenty of our trip, and have reached the Ukraine. Kharkiv to be precise. It’s been a long, arduous trip with plenty of mishaps, breakdowns and low points, however it’s a fantastic trip and we’re hoping to improve on our current position of 28th overall and 13th in class. There are still plenty of miles to go but now the Gobi, Mongolia and Russia are out of the way, we know we’re getting closer. We’re really just trying to finish this monster rally, but even if we don’t it’s been a great ride. See you in Paris!
We’re doing this trip in aid of the Prince’s Trust, and have so far raised a fantastic amount. We’re blown away by how generous people have been! You can see the donations and make one of your own at our Just Giving page here.
Author: Phil Burgan