Long-Distance Motoring

Just recently there has been a lot of discussion on the subject of long-distance motoring, with the Monte Carlo Rally, but more particularly with the London–Sydney Marathon. For many years now Australians have been driving from Australia to England in all manner of vehicles, one of the most popular being the Volkswagen van or Caravan. At the time of the Marathon, while works rally cars were driving to Sydney accompanied by teams of service crews, service cars, aeroplanes and so on, two young fellows drove the route in the opposite direction in a second-hand Holden, unaccompanied and unhindered by any problems. As the Marathon was finishing I received on unexpected letter from India. It was from a friend who had “disappeared” from my local scene and had set off for Australia. A keen reader of Motor Sport and a sports-car enthusiast, he had owned a Lotus Elite and a Lotus Elan, but the last time I had seen him he had a Renault 16. I can do no better than quote from his letter for I found it most interesting.

“I managed to sell my R16 and got a sound 1966 VW Devon Caravanette with 9,000 genuine miles on the clock. Compressions and oil pressure were well up to par—and what else is there to check on a VW? I had Cibié conversions fitted in place of the normal feeble lights and they’ve really proved their worth, as it gets dark early in these latitudes and we’ve done a lot of night driving—quite alarming at times, I might add. Duckhams supplied a quantity of oil—with replenishment and service in Kabul—and we got two sets of Champions. “At Ostend the Cibiés were switched to r.h. dip by movement of a little lever inside, and we were on our way. By-passing Brussels we struck through Luxembourg and picked up the Munich autobahn at Karlsruhe. Stayed with a friend who is the Mercedes-Benz agent at Pfafenhoffen, who obtained our spares, and treated us to some energetic driving in an Audi 60—good car. Through Austria and into Yugoslavia via the Loibl Pass we went, Yugoslavian driving being pretty hairy with enormous unguarded drops, a thing we are well used to now, but a new experience then. From here on East the driving— other people’s that is—got worse and the condition of some of the trucks is laughable, until you get stuck behind one on a hill! In Turkey, I imagine the coach drivers were giving some of the Marathon boys a run for their money, and everyone sports air-horns that are guaranteed to move anything. Iranian truck drivers decorate their vehicles with a ridiculous number of coloured lights so that one is never sure which way they are pointing. Green, red and blue to the front and nothing at the rear is commonplace! What were the rest of the salesmen doing when Mercedes-Benz were supplying these countries with cars and trucks? I have never seen so many and 99% of the trucks in India seem to be Mercedes. To their credit B.M.H. appear to have sold all their old jigs and dies for the old-style Morris Isis. Fiats are the only other indigenous car.

“The VW has stood up to the inevitable hammering extraordinarily well—you’ve probably heard what the route is like from the Marathon crews—and it is doing an overall 30 m.p.g. I spoke to some of the Marathon crews at the Delhi checkpoint—they seemed to be enjoying themselves but is Sprinzel always in such a foul mood? If he thinks that bit was rough he should go where we’ve been!!! Met the Robs Slotemaker and Janssen in Afghanistan and later in Delhi—what a charming person is Janssen! I’d give a lot to do this trip again in a well-prepared rally car, it must be a piece of cake.

“Eleven thousand, five hundred miles so far and a lot to go yet. The sacred cow should take over here, it must have more sense than this lot. Penang is our next objective and then Australia. Motor Sport has been unobtainable so far, hope to find it in Aussie land.”

Undoubtedly this particular VW Caravanette has got to Australia by now, although there was no particular time schedule, their feeling being that this would probably be a once-in-a-lifetime trip so they were determined to get the most out of it. I am quite sure that for every vehicle heading along the England to Australia route, crewed by young and adventurous British lads who are prepared to have a go at anything, there is one coming in the opposite direction, and it might even have an embryo Jack Brabham at the wheel! The Marathon and this letter brought to mind two entertaining motoring travel books that would stand re-reading. One is the story of a journey round the world in a 2 c.v. Citroën, “Round the World”, by J-C. Baudot and J. Seguela, and the other is “Behind the Wheel”, by David McKay. The adventures of the two Frenchmen, both motoring and non-motoring, are well worth reading, and spread over one year and one month and 100,000 kilometres, a great deal happened to them. The Australian book is mostly about racing but contains five chapters on the trip Sydney–London in 1955 with a VW Kombi, which are full of interest.—D. S. J.