Peking to Paris is a tough trip even now. In 1907 when the first motor car competition ran, it was an epic feat of endurance and navigation. Four of the five vehicles entered made it to the finish; the fifth is lying forgotten somewhere in the Gobi desert, its exhausted crew having been rescued from near death by some passing Mongol tribesmen.
Now an optimistic Belgian pair intend to complete that 5000-mile journey in a similar car – a three-wheeler with no suspension and its passenger perched between the two front wheels like a human crumple zone.
Belgian architect Anton Gonnissen has restored a rare 112-year-old Contal Mototri to exorcise the ghosts of that past failure, aiming to complete the Endurance Rally Association’s 8500-mile 2019 Peking-Paris. Despite strengthening the chassis, Gonnissen elected to retain the solidly mounted rear fork under his saddle, while brave navigator Herman Gelan has the luxury of cart springs beneath his projecting bucket seat. In between the two sits a radiator and a one-cylinder motor driving the rear wheel.
In 1907 there were few maps and fewer roads along the route, and contestants resorted to animal haulage and local manpower to overcome mud, sand and collapsed bridges, a telegraph line their chief route guide across land which had never seen a car. Petrol was sent ahead by camel, but when Frenchmen Auguste Pons and Oscar Foucauld got lost they ran out of fuel and water, resorting to drinking from the radiator before abandoning their tri-car. Despite agreeing to stick together across Asia, the others went on to the finish, led by Prince Borghese’s 40hp Itala.
With three Dakars and other desert rallies behind him Gonnisson, 58, is no novice to adventure and is determined to complete the trip for Contal and for Pons, although unlike the first attempt there will be support crews to assist. The 2019 event, for pre-76 vehicles, starts on June 2.
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