If you are at least a bit into cars and road racing, you must have at some point seen pre-war, black & white films of loud, monstrous machines at places like Le Mans or the Mille Miglia in Italy. Ever since the creation of the automobile, road racers have done their best to push their cars and themselves to the absolute limit and history is full of such legendary sporting events. And while here in Slovenia, we might not have a deep automotive history behind us, a part of it came knocking on my doorstep this afternoon.
Meet the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge – a continent-crossing endurance rally for vintage cars that takes participants from – you guessed it – Beijing in China to the french capital of Paris. The oldest cars in the race are just about turning 100 years old and they have been doing 500 kilometers per day for the last month across rural China, Mongolia, Russia and the like.
Forget air-conditioned garages and exquisite showrooms, these gems have faced endless dirt roads, snowstorms, scorching heat and more than a handful of technical difficulties. 107 driver-navigator crews have set out a month ago and up to now only 6 have had to drop out. Along the way they are being helped by a total of 10 mechanics in 5 support vehicles, plus other organising staff and members of the national automobile clubs.
Although speed is important, crews must battle much more than the clock before they reach Paris. Getting these machines to the overnight stay is a big mechanical and navigational challenge and of course the sleeping accommodations aren’t always top-notch either. After 10 hours of battling the steering wheel and the elements, a warm bed is something every participant would eagerly desire. But sometimes, a sleeping bag and tent in the middle of the desert is all they could get.
Like the cars themselves, the event has it’s own unique reputation and history. When the first iteration occurred some of the oldest cars here were considered the best that money could buy at the time. Who knows what stories they might tell if they could speak, but only a lot of love and care of their owners brought them to Maribor today.
Mind you, racing in an event such as this does not come cheap. The cars alone must cost a hefty sum to maintain, and then there is the entry fee. Around 38.000 pounds will get you in, if you have a car that fits the wishes of the organizers. You will be provided a lot of support throughout the race, but it is up to you keep the car running and get to the finish line in Paris.
It is safe to say that I will most likely not see such a collection of magnificent automobilia ever again in my life. Apart from the general amazement of the gathering, several things stood out for me.
Firstly, that you would even take a 70 or 80 year-old car on such a trip and that it would make it when some of the modern cars would surely struggle a lot more. They are of course specially modified, prepared and maintained on a daily basis, but you would sooner expect them on a pedestal in some museum that out in the dirt of the Slovenian hillsides. I loved seeing them in action, some banged and bruised a big, but roaring noisily none the less.
Then, seeing that a lot of the crews were family based. By the names on the doors you could see the husband-wife connection, or even some father-son pairs as well. Doubtless every duo had to share a special kind of bond towards each other and toward the car as well, to even consider signing up for such a race.
Sometimes I wish we had a car culture that would be similar in spirit to those of other countries like Germany, USA or the United Kingdom. I love stories of cars that have been in the family for decades. In doing so they become part of that family, a prized possession and a way of life. For different reasons I have never seriously considered owning an older, iconic car instead of my current mk 4 Golf, though the wish was in my mind. Either it was for lack of money, space or mechanical skill or something else, I always chose the sensible option.
But now after this event I got to thinking about that classic Mini I always thought was so much fun. Perhaps some day one of them might end up under my roof yet.
You are of course invited to look through the rest of the pics from today’s event down below. If you’d like to learn more about the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, I suggest you head over to their official website. Watch out for the superbly stocked gallery as well.
The local classic car club brought some of their gems:
And then there were the participants themselves; you can check the vehicle details and track the race crews on the website.