Peking to Paris, 1982
When Prince Scipione Borghese undertook his amazing pioneer drive from Peking to Paris in the summer of 1907, bringing his famous Itala into Paris on August 10, he could never have imagined that seventy-five years later other enthusiasts for motoring adventure could well be following his tracks.
What is more, his imagination could not have pictured the types of vehicle which his counterparts of the ‘eighties would choose for such a journey; various combinations of driven and non-driven axles, engines driving one or several of them and body types catering for everything from goods carriage to public transportation.
It has been known for some time that serious efforts are being made to run a Peking to Paris Motoring Challenge in June and July of 1982 to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Prince Borghese’s achievement, and with little over a year to go we felt it timely to review, though not in great detail, progress to date.
It is not every day that motorists pass overland from China, through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, to France, and to organise a competition such as this, knowing that massive interest could produce an enormous cavalcade, presents difficulties enough even without taking into account the somewhat delicate diplomatic negotiations which are necessary.
These negotiations have been going on for some years and have reached the highest level, and although the final rubber stamps of China and the Soviet Union have not yet been applied to the approval papers, the stage of negotiation is so far advanced that many of those who have already submitted entry papers have already begun preparing their vehicles, discussing with sponsors and planning the myriad of technical and administrative complexities of the Challenge. Indeed, television and other media are already involved in their own planning.
The organising body is the same as that which produced the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Rally a few years ago, though with a changed staff, and there have been sceptics — indeed, there still are — who could not bring themselves to believe that such an event would be possible, due mainly to the difficult international negotiations involved. We must confess that we were not at all convinced of the feasability of such an ambitious event but, even though those vital approval stamps have still not made their marks, Peking-Paris 1982 looks much more like a probability.
Fine details such as the exact route to be followed, service arrangements and en route facilities have not yet been fixed, but the overall plan is that there should be three separate routes, all in the same general direction and close enough to converge at regular intervals.
The most difficult route, with special stages, will be for modern competition cars. An intermediate route will be laid down for those using vehicles such as lorries, buses (yes, buses!) etc., whilst a somewhat easier route will be provided for those who will undertake the journey in VEV fashion, and there will be many. Travel in China and the Soviet Union will doubtless not be permitted at night, and the plan is that each of the three routes will converge at a common overnight stop each evening. Those overnight stops will be close to sidings of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and it is very likely that service crews will travel from night stop to night stop on this railway, accompanied by their crates of spares, tools and supplies in the baggage cars. Fuel will also be available at these stops, which on average will be some 300 miles apart.
A massive flood of enquiries have been received by the organisers, but many have been from those who are no more than casually interested and have no real intention of taking part. However, the “serious” entries are themselves numerous and the variety of vehicles named on entry forms is quite amazing.
Some have written to the organisers with queries concerning climate (which they can get from a map), foreign exchange (which is common knowledge anyway) and even to enquire whether they should be considered too old for the trip at, say, sixty. In the case of the latter, we imagine that they don’t want to go anyway, but would feel better by being told that rather than deciding for themselves.
“Gelignite” Jack Murray, that amazing Australian character who is veteran of many trans-Austrailian and round-the-world trips, has, at an age somewhere in the seventies, lost a leg as a result of gangrene, but he is nevertheless determined to go on the Challenge. If he can still water-ski in Sydney’s bridge-to-bridge race then he can still drive from Peking to Paris, and all praise and encouragement to him for his ageless tenacity. The oldest entrant is a 79-year-old former member of the US ambassadorial service.
On a techical note, the event is open to vehicles having three or more wheels, and the winners will be the crew who visits all or the greatest number of controls and loses the least time. Penalties will be expressed in days, hours and fractions of hours. The entry fee varies from £4,000 to £750 per vehicle, according to class, and the total number will not exceed 400.
The organisers’ address is PO Box 6, London SW1W 9EX, but we have been asked to convey that they would appreciate enquiries from genuinely interested parties only, who express the nature of their interest, and who enclose a large s.a.e. — G.P.