Blog : Now We’re Montegoing to Romania…

Alex Sebbinger

It was about two years ago that my good friend Rhydian Edwards and I decided to partake in a Banger Rally. Having read about the adventures of Keith et al’s previous adventures on StreetSafari trips, we decided that it would be fun to have a go for ourselves. After much decision (literally two minutes over a beer) we opted to go on Home2Rome last year. As banger rally ‘newbies’ we thought we’d take a very understated and simple car. A Rover 827 Limo covered in leopardskin effect fur, with neons fitted underneath. Just the job then…! Now We’re Motoring!

Understated, of course…

The limo (which affectionately became known as ‘XXL”) performed brilliantly on Home2Rome and aside having the turning circle of Somerset got us there and back with very few problems indeed. It was during our trip to Rome, that we first heard about a new StreetSafari event for 2011; the RatRod Rally. When Justin Clements (StreetSafari gaffer) announced the 2011 rally line up early last November, after literally seconds of deciding whether to do it, we had booked in for RatRod. The countdown had started…

Car-wise, as much as we liked the Limo, it was as much of a liability as it was fun. Every parking manoeuvre required strategic operational planning, and very soon the novelty wore off. We decided that a new rally car would be chosen for the trip to Romania. This proved to be a wise decision, as come the new year the MOT of the limo was not so much a failure sheet, more of a reference list of failure items… Anyway, I diagress.

After a few possible cars came and went, one evening Sam Skelton of the Maestro and Montego Owners Club told me of a 1989 Montego 1.6 LX for sale. It had tax, MOT until October and most importantly the asking price was within the required budget… After an email conversation, we agreed to buy the car and the weekend of Pride of Longbridge we popped up to Sheldon to hand deliver the folding. A few weeks later we collected the car. I took a train trip back to the Midlands where I met Rhyds, and before long we were both co-owners of an LC11.

The first thing we had to do was ‘shake down’ the car, so we drove back to Mid Wales to put the car through its paces and see what was what. ‘MONGO” (the nickname that the car acquired very quickly) was taken on Welsh Rally Stages, up mountain roads and on all sorts of varying roads. It just worked. It tackled the drive back to Devon with ease too. This car was fit for purpose, and rally preparation could begin.

Back home in Devon, MONGO sat largely untouched for a few months (there is no point in rushing things now, is there), but as and when time allowed I tackled the odd job on it. I gave it a full service, and that little S Series engine ran like a sewing machine. One weekend I decided to tackle a cam-belt change job; I’d never changed a cambelt on a car so thought that there was no better car to learn on than a Montego. I changed the belt, the car still ran, and I was pleased with myself. Well, until the following week when the water pump sprang a leak. I knew I should have replaced that…

In the end I took the car off to my mechanic to re-do the belt change, fit a new exhaust centre section, change the brake fluid and give it a general check-over. Two tyres were also looking past their best so I sourced a set of part-worn Woosung DitchFinders… Sorted!

With the car now retaining it’s coolant and running a treat, it was time to start preparing it cosmetically for the rally. Now, I had been under strict instructions NOT to polish or in any way ‘mint this car up’. People who know me will agree that I like things shiny. Well, other than the odd wash and chamois dry I did nothing to this car, but it still looked reasonable. That said, it needed ‘distressing’ (the theme for the rally was ‘Rat Look’) so I set aside decorating the car. My intention was to make everything totally reversible so that upon return to the UK the car could either be sold on, or possibly restored as a reward for doing so well. Several weekends were spent fitting three sub-woofers, an amplifier the size of Rutland, a PA system and some other ‘optional extras’. At the end of all that prep I felt like I knew the wiring of a Montego backwards…

Let’s make some noise…All professionally* rigged here for testing purposes.

With a week to go before the trip, things were pretty much sorted. Far, far too organised! Something had to be left to chance… Cue a phone call from my good friend Rob Bambridge. ‘Alex; Andrew ‘Pearly’ Elphick needs a team. Keith cannot make the trip and he has booked leave. Can he ride with you to Romania?” All of a sudden, Team 363 ‘Now We’re Motoring” had a new member!

After what seemed like an eternity, finally, it was the day of the rally. It was time. Friday 2nd September was here, and Rhyds arrived at my place at lunchtime, giving time for some final last-minute prep to the car. To avoid the risk of missing the Ferry on Saturday we’d decided to get ourselves up to the South East the day before, and would meet up with Andrew and Team Piston Broke en route to Dover on Saturday. This was a good call, it took six hours to get from Devon to Essex that day…

MONGO, ready for the off from Devon!

After a last minute stock up of essentials from Halfords (I am cautious so bought a gallon of oil, some coolant and some other odds and ends, ‘just in case’) we drove over to Andrew’s house. To this day I’m not sure what his neighbours made of a Montego entering his road with the sound of an Intercity 125 train horn blasting out of the PA. I’m sure it’s not that unknown, even in Essex. Rob, Tony, and Tanguy from Team Piston Broke were waiting for us, and after a quick demo of the car’s optional extras (read SUBZ), we convoyed down to Dover. The journey went without even, other than the driver of a Picasso taxi who attempted to hold a conversation with me whilst driving towards the ‘Tellytubby tunnel’ on the A20, ‘Is that a 1.6?” ‘I had one, did over 200k miles in it” ‘Great cars” ‘Good luck”. Random. Nice, but random…!

Once we got to Dover, after getting stopped by Customs officials (have they never seen a Montego with white wall tyres before) for a routine check, we were ready to board the ferry. We got our first sights of the ‘competition’ too. Before long, Rhyds was reparing the stereo in a pink Skoda (don’t ask), and it was time to board. Farewell White Cliffs!

All aboard!

Once in France, remembering that ‘in this country they drive on the wrong side of the road” we headed to rally check in. Somewhere near Calais. The sat nav got us there. After signing all the registration paperwork, we were issued with our stickers. As the evening progressed more cars arrived. I nearly spilled my pint when I saw a Mk1 Rover 800 drive into the car park all decorated up; this really was going to be a trip and a half!  Shortly afterwards, Team FTW arrived with their 216 ‘SLEGTi”. More familiar faces! With all the paperwork done it was time to start the evening’s jovialities. Then France welcomed us all by showing just how heavy a French thunderstorm can be. Still, we had beer, good food, excellent company and this year the car was not covered in fur. What could possibly go wrong?!

The following morning it was the start. Day 1, the climax, the build up, the anticipation was electric… We arrived at the starting ‘grid” (some car park in the backside end of Calais) where I irritated half of the town (and all of the rally teams) with inane noise from the car’s PA. Justin announced ‘Start your engines” (always a nervous time on these rallies… will it start?!), and it was officially GO! Well, for all of us except the 820 that had suffered a distinct loss of electricity…

MONGO spoils view of competition.

‘It’s Electric” was the sales line of the 1.6 LX Montego. Just as well it wasn’t for the 820…

As we left Calais, we started a convoy with Team FTW in their 216, and Team Piston Broke with their Saab 900 Turbot. After a few minutes we stopped at KFC. We needed to synchronise sat navs…

Day 1 was to be a journey to the Nurburgring, seeing us pass through Belguim and (briefly) The Netherlands. Once underway, MONGO started its trend of needing refuelling every five minutes so we stopped at the first service station. When I say stopped, I think ‘locked brakes and slid there” is a more apt description… Foreign ‘off-slips” are not as long as ours… Still, no harm done. I needed a coffee… MONGO was going a treat though, and was showing the 216 just how overtaking should be done. I won’t mention white 4x4s though. Suffice to say, Belgian driving standards left little to be desired.

We pressed on to Aachen, where we saw AROnline editor Alexander who made us all very welcome with tea and biscuits. Quite what Aachen made of me playing ‘Warning, low oil pressure” (spoken by a Daleky sounding voice in German) through the PA I am not so sure. As Steven Ward described in his blog, Alexander suggested we stop en route at this fascinating former finishing school, where we enjoyed some fantastic Schnitzel. After that, it was time to press on, via some twisty roads towards Nurburgring.

It was by now I was regretting the decision to fit part-worns. MONGO handled like a pig on a skateboard, nearly losing it on every bend, particularly in the wet. This was interesting. Comedy ‘70s cop car tyre squeel’ was given to us on every corner. Without PAS, MONGO was interesting to steer at the best of times. By the time we got to the Nurburgring, I felt like I had developed arms like Geoff Capes…

Team FTW were of the view that the MONGO would be able to do a nine minute lap of the Nurburgring. I was hoping to prove them right. Sadly, due to an accident on the track I was not able to do so (I’d hate to have beaten that target anyway), so we pressed onto the hotel, dropping off co-driver Andrew who was staying with Team FTW that night.

All teams were staying in places over a wide radius but we met for drinks at a bar a few miles from our hotel. The Germans take beer very VERY seriously. We ordered a cab to get to the rally meet, and in the meantime had ordered a beer at the hotel bar. The taxi arrived before we had finished our drinks, and the driver was insistent that we did not rush them. You’d never get that in the UK.

After a very pleasant evening sampling the finest of German beers, I’d pretty much committed myself to buying another car (I never learn) and it was time to head back to the hotel.

The following day, we arrived at the starting with more noise emanating from MONGO. I think Germans liked the Crossroads theme tune. No, really I do. We pressed on towards the destination of Chur. Convoying with the furry Volvo and the Saab, we lost Team FTW as they detoured to take in some of the Trackside scenery… We caught them up somewhere on the French/German border. Team FTW needed an air filter. We needed more stickers, a stop for lunch was made.

We pressed on via more windy roads, and a selection of motorway jaunts. The MONGO was as much of a handful as ever, but in the dry, if handled right, it was quite fun. In the wet it wasn’t. At all.

Late in the day we crossed the Swiss border. DO.NOT.SPEED. These words were fixed in my mind. By now we were convoying with Team FTW and Team Piston Broke. Another filling station stop later and TPB turned one way, Team FTW turned another… ‘Follow TPB” my two co-drivers said. DO NOT SPEED.

Switzerland is a beautiful country, but to me, driving in it is reminiscent of driving on the North Circular. You’ve just got one eye on your speedo the entire time for fear of getting done. Not pleasant. DO NOT SPEED. We arrived in Chur quite late in the day, having had a splendid drive through Lichtenstein and other Swiss villages. Beautiful. We checked into our hostel which was surprisingly pleasant (if not expensive), but it had a disconcerting smell of paint thinners throughout. Oh, and it was in the red light district of the city.

An evening’s socialising ensued, followed by the statutory trip to a kebab shop. Rhyds had two meals. Where did my burger go? Oh, cheers Rhyds…!

The following morning, the start meeting point was somewhere half-way up a mountain. It was cold. Very cold. Shorts and flip-flops, no problem*. It was at that point we had to do something about the handling of the car. I’d put the tyres at the standard ‘fully laden” pressures, and had even checked with the Owners Club to double check what they should be. Steven Ward advised us to put the pressures up from 26 front 28 rear to 34 all round. This piece of advice was the best advice of the trip. The car was transformed. So much for following the manual… Whilst I was pumping up and repainting the tyres (the whitewalls needed reapplying), soft porn was being handed out by other teams… All par for the course on a rally!

Chur meeting point. It was cold. Filth was distributed.

With air in the tyres, MONGO was all set for the mountain roads that were ahead. This day saw us travel into Italy and then into Austria. Andrew handled the car brilliantly through the mountain roads. The brakes on the car however were starting to show some signs (and smells) of strain. By lunchtime we were in Italy and we stopped at this most fantastic restaurant on the border. Well, when I say stopped, I mean bumped into the rear end of the 216. ‘Sorry chaps, bad brakes”. (as if).

We pressed on, aiming towards the Jurgen Pass. A simply stunning mountain pass. En route, we received a distress call from Team Piston Broke. The Saab had not enjoyed climbing the pass and had dumped its coolant. Team NWM had one or two bottles of water (I swear they multiplied overnight by some form of osmotic reproductive system) so we said ‘sit tight, we’ll be along shortly’. With Rhyds at the helm, MONGO tackled the pass with no issues at all. The 216 got hot, the Saab had boiled. MONGO was as cool as a cucumber. S Series FTW!

It’s in there somewhere…

With water back in the Saab, it was time to head towards Austria. I took the helm of Mongo for the descent of the pass. By goodness the car was handling a treat (well, relatively so) now. Though these mountain pass descents are very challenging, getting the braking/gearing right so you don’t cook the brakes is a real skill. One I alas do not have. ‘Fried Monkey Brains” anyone…? Phew, that smell is rank.

Once into Austria, it was motorway jaunts all the way. En route we got an SOS call from the Saab, which had decided it liked going wrong. It had started whining. We stopped at a service station and consulted the net. Various doors were banged into each other. In the end, it was agreed that fix would be to just press on and see how it went. With the whine of the Saab sorted, we pressed onto Saltsburg.

Saltsburg is a fabulous city, and the evenings merriment went on way into the small hours. The poor lady behind the bar at the Beer Keller pleaded with us all to leave when it was closing time… Some of us called it a night (via a cheeky beer in the hotel bar), whereas some of us, ahem, didn’t.

We awake to an avalanche of text messages saying ‘We’ve lost Ducky”. Team FTW had been on the hoi pretty much all night, and had carelessly mislaid a member of their team. A meeting was called in the car-park of the hotel that Team FTW and Andrew were staying in. A plan was put together. The Montego was bounced, things were discussed, calls were made. The Duck was located.

Team Piston Broke had elected to get their oil changed in Saltsburg before pressing on. We had to track down and rescue Ducky. Oh, and we had the best part of an eight our drive to Hungary. Collecting Ducky saw a scene reminiscent of a budget 80s film with two cars weaving through traffic, on a mission to collect their friend. MONGO was squealing like a pig around bends, but it was fun. Once we’d got Ducky, it was time to press on. Via a fuel stop of course. ‘It’s a Sin”.

MONGO has picked up an additional passenger for this leg of the Journey, with Steven Ward joining us for the day. At one point I had a car full of passengers who were all spark out, with heads lolling about like bladders on sticks. Where did I leave my peaked cap?!

Endless miles of motorway…

After about 93 fuel stops, we’d made it to Hungary, bought another Vinaigrette tax disk, and the Saab caught us up. We had most of Hungary to get through, so we pressed on. Stopping only for refuelling. One or two times.

We arrived at our destination for the evening’ Szeged. Our trusty Sat Nav took us the ‘scenic route’ where we saw some interesting sights. Upon arrival though, the hostel was immaculate and the town was splendid. I’d been a trifle concerned about what to expect in Hungary; I needn’t have worried, everything was splendid. This night was designated the ‘free night’ as in there was no set destination on the rally. Several other teams had chosen to stay at our location, which made it a very pleasant stop over. After a brilliant (and very inexpensive) meal, we had a few drinks and had an early night back to the Hotel. Tomorrow, we were off to Romania…

The morning arrived, and it was time to set sail. After a nice omelette (lots of paprika) a visit to the Spar shop (had to be done), we’d bought more water. The car had more bottles in it by now than the average milk float…

We set off, and the Sat Nav did it’s worst, sending us round in circles. No matter, just aim for the motorway…

We caught up with all the other teams at the Romanian border. Another frontier, and another Vinaigrette to buy.

We had been warned that Romanian driving was, shall we say, interesting. We all therefore broached this next leg of the journey with some trepidation. Upon arrival to Romania, the change in scenery from Hungary was quite dramatic. There are still many many signs of the Soviet era remaining. There are very few motorways. There were dogs everywhere. There were dead dogs everywhere. There were Dacias everywhere. I HEART MY DACIA.

Many of us convoyed at this stage. The destination for the night was Sibiu, and although not a great distance the roads meant it was many hours away. Team FTW demonstrated how to drive like you stole it, bumpers were nudged, pictures were taken. Tempers got a little tested at times… All par for the course. By the time we got to Sibiu the Sat Navs were useless, a quick stop at MaccyDs to check the maps and we were sorted. In the end we parked the MONGO outside Team FTW’s hotel, safety in numbers (or so we thought). We needn’t have worried. All was fine.

We hot footed it to our hotel, which was utterly splendid. A happy evening was spent in the hotel bar drinking fabulously inexpensive beer, listening to the world’s most limited and worst CD collection on loop. There is only so many times one can hear ‘Roxette, Joy Ride”…

The following morning was the last rally start. We were off to the Transfăgărășan Highway…
We met up with the other teams (the first time we saw many of them for a few days) to find that the Audi 200 had suffered suspension collapse, which caused quite a bit of damage. Fortunately they were still mobile, and most importantly, unharmed.

By now, MONGO had suffered FAIL. Well, the radiator cooling fan’s bearings had become loud. A quick spray of WD40 soon silenced them. We were feeling quite smug…

We left the starting point and drove up to the Transfăgărășan pass. Words cannot describe it. I’ll not use a string of clichés, but it was unbelievable. Built as recently as 1974, unlike many mountain passes it is wide. This proved to be very useful indeed. Each of us took the helm of MONGO. We all used that car to beyond its maximum extent, it squeeled, it revved its nuts of, it was thrown around everywhere, epic body roll… It loved it, and did not object to it in the slightest. We followed the 216 up it, down it, up it and down it again!

Enjoyment beyond imagine

I took the helm of MONGO for one leg of the pass, ably guided by my co-driver Andrew. I was essentially under instruction not to ‘wuss out” or do anything other than what he advised. I’ve not driven so hard in my life. It was amazing! I’m told that a photograph exists of me performing an overtaking manoeuvre where the MONGO shows quite some body roll. I’ve not seen it yet but being in the car, I can only imagine what it looked like from outside. I’d never had such an adrenaline rush in a car.

MONGO only complained after all that fun by starting to squeal again from the cooling fan. This time, some heavier oil was applied (well thrown) over it, that did the job in silencing it for good.
Sadly, it was time to leave the pass, and head to our final destination; Brasov. The journey there (in convoy with Team FTW) was largely uneventful, save the usual performance with Sat Nav failure. We reached the hotel, and that was it. Destination Brasov, rally over. Time now for the awards and the much-anticipated beer-festival.

Brasov had two festivals on that weekend; the Oktoberfest (although it was September) beer festival, and a fish festival. The whole town square smelt of fish… We congregated for the prizes to be given out (I’m surprised I did not win one for ‘most annoying’, with the PA alone, but hey). Then came the evening’s entertainment. It was a good evening. Apparently. Not that I recall much of it…

The day after was designated as a ‘no driving” day. It was our day off, to stay out of the car and just enjoy where we were. We met up with Teams ‘DoofusF1” and ‘ADDS” and had a very pleasant day taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Brasov, including a ride in a cable car.

Brasov from above

A return visit to the beer festival was a must, and the day was concluded by having a splendid meal. We said our farewells to everyone, and prepared for the return trip home that we’d commence in the morning.

When these rallies come to an end, I find the days immediately after the last night quite sad in comparison; no more convoys; no more CB chat. We were on our own now. We’d also said goodbye to Andrew who had pressed onto Bucharest with Team FTW, who was to meet up with Keith Adams who would make the journey back to repatriate the 216. It was just me, Rhyds, MONGO and ‘Alan” (The sat nav).

We returned to the car that morning to find a flat tyre. Great. Fortunately I had the tyre pump in the boot, so that was swiftly re-inflated. Somehow though, in all the faffing the gallon of oil that we’d brought with us had been upset, so that the lid was off and the contents were now quickly soaking into the boot carpet. How nice.

Inside, I’d been quite nervous of this day. We had the whole of Romania to cover, with only 40 miles of Motorway available to us. As before, I needn’t have worried. We stuck to main roads, and everything was fine. MONGO just worked. We’d read that upon leaving Romania you could be eligible to have to pay tax on fuel. We therefore decided to run the car low on petrol, cross the frontier into Hungary and refuel as soon as possible.

I make a seamless and un-noticeable entrance to the Hungarian border post by inadvertently driving up a raised kerb at speed (no damage was done fortunately). We get in the queue to leave Romania, show our passports, and are let through. The guards looked at the car with some interest. Surely they’ve seen a Montego covered in stickers before?!

A few minutes later and we were in Hungary. Our destination for the evening being Debrecen. The fuel gauge was in the red. On a facelift Montego, the fuel gauge is graduated really helpfully so that anything under a quarter full shows as ‘in the red”. A personal ‘thing’ of mine is to never get too low on fuel, so I was now getting a little wary. Silly I know, but that’s me. Of course, in Romania there were filling stations aplenty. As soon as we got into Hungary, none. Then the SatNav directed us off the main road into the sticks. We still had 40 odd Kms to go. I was not best pleased… Sadly my knowledge of the Hungarian language does not extend to ‘where is the nearest filling station”…

In the end, for the first time on the rally I drove economically. As in ‘drive like there is an egg under the throttle” economically. As luck would have it, in the middle of nowhere we came across a petrol station. Phew.

We pressed on towards Debrecen, where the Sat Nav attempted to take us down pedestrianised roads. Eventually we found our hotel. By now we were hot and tired (it was over 30 degrees, the car stank like an oil well). We needed a drink or three. The car was also starting to fall to bits (trim falling off, and the exhaust was starting to blow at the back box). It was still running though, and running well.

By this time, we had heard that Team Piston Broke had suffered issues with their Saab on their return leg. The exhaust had come off near Vienna, and they’d decided to call it a day and fly home. We had agreed to collect some of their equipment (CB etc.) the following day when we reached that city. This was starting to feel like something out of a Len Deighton novel (collecting  a package in Vienna)…!

Debrecen is a beautiful place. We spent a thoroughly relaxed evening drinking beer and had a wonderful meal for very little money. What struck me is how tidy everywhere was, how polite everyone is. The UK could learn a lot. I liked Debrecen.

The following morning it was time to set sail for our next leg on the return journey. Destination, Vienna. It meant nothing to me. We’d got word from the TPB boys that we didn’t need to collect their parcel (aww, I was looking forward to that!) so it was destination hotel.

We pointed the car to the motorway, and took turns in navigating the endless miles to Vienna. An uneventful journey, the car made it there with no problems at all. We checked into our hotel and spent a very nice afternoon and evening strolling around that beautiful city. I got to go on the Ferris Wheel as seen in ‘The Living Daylights”, so was happy!

Vienesse WHEEL.

The following day, I gave MONGO a quick check over. All tyre pressures fine, oil level perfect, no water used. It was in fine fettle save a blow from the back box. I’d already been onto Rimmer Brothers website and seen that a new one was less than £15, so was not overly worried.

Suddenly, I got a text from Andrew that the 216 had packed up in Budapest. With the 216 down, the Saab out, I remember saying to Rhyds ‘I feel smug to the power of 5000 with the way MONGO is still soldiering on”. That was it. FATE, TEMPTED.

The next destination on our return leg was Nuremberg. Rhyds had booked us in a very nice hotel, just outside the city not far from the airport. This should be an easy leg, easy to find. A nice relaxing day. Oh ho ho ho…!

We refuelled MONGO as we left Vienna and headed to the Motorway. As we were driving along I thought I noted the indistinguishable smell of petrol. It faded so I thought nothing of it. Or rather chose to ignore it. Although it had developed a reputation for needing refuelling very frequently, that day, it became more frequent. We chewed through half a tanks worth within an hour of motorway driving. We had a leak. I was not going to look for it, we’d not caught fire and there was no smells that apparent. ‘It’ll be fine”.

We refuelled at a filling station in Germany, where I chose to put 102 octane fuel in. ‘That’ll get us there” I thought. We pressed on, and MONGO made light work of the German Autobahn. Fuel consumption did not seem as bad, and all was well. We follow the Sat Nav  to our hotel, arrive, park up and get our bags out of the car.

After I locked the car, I walked round to the front of the car and noticed a trail of liquid leading to the parking space. Oh dear. The trail followed everywhere we had manoeuvred in the car park. Balls.

Expecting it to be a fuel leak, I popped the hood and started the engine to look for the cause. Imagine to my surprise when I see a leak from the (new) water pump. Coolant was pouring out around the bearing, onto the floor. Revving the engine gave rise to a rather nasty ‘that bearing is shot” style noise.

It was game over. MONGO would not be pressing on further. We evaluated the options; get it recovered home; get it fixed here and wait; chalk it up to experience, fly home and scrap it.

Rhyds checked into the hotel and was tasked with a quick Google search of ‘Nuremberg Scrapyards”. I text Andrew to tell him that MONGO had gone wrong, and I pop back into the hotel to freshen up and think.

When I walked back to the car, I noted another puddle emerging from the car. This time, under the rear end. The fuel tank was leaking. This was it. Sadly, the point had been reached where MONGO had reached the end of her journey. I hated the thought of scrapping what was otherwise a pretty good car, but it had gone wrong in quite possibly the best place possible; at a hotel near the airport. Flights back to Stansted were available, and I just was not prepared to risk getting stranded by risking pressing on.

Rhyds had found a scrapyard within five minutes of the hotel. Result. They closed at six o’clock. No matter, let’s leave it until tomorrow morning to take time to clear the car out, dispose of the car, then get to the airport and fly home. Job done.

Then I received a text from Andrew along the lines of ‘We need drivers, we can get to Nuremberg and give you a lift”. I rang him back immediately. Keith had injured himself badly, Andrew’s leg was suffering from the driving. They were hot-footing it back to the UK in one leg. Could we join them? You bet we could…!

With Andrew and Keith en route to Nuremberg, we prepared ourselves for an epic overnight drive. We were to leave Nuremberg and aim to get to Calais (over 500 miles) in one hit. Course we could do it.

We did however have the small matter of MONGO and all the stuff inside it to sort out. We had one hour to clear the car, find the yard and get there before it shut. We made two piles of stuff to ‘keep” and stuff to ‘bin” (as in leave in the car). In a manner that would befit a car theif I set out ripping out the stereo, the amplifier and all the optional extras I had fitted. Alas, I had to sacrifice the SUBZ. Rhyds de-stickered the car, and within a quarter of an hour we’d got it stripped and rescued all the stuff we wanted to keep.

MONGO, before ‘operation strip-down”

The scrap yard was entered into the Sat Nav, and it was time to get the poor car on its last journey. We arrived there a few minutes later, with the car (although leaking fluids) still driving a treat.

In my finest pigeon German I managed to communicate with the scrapyard lads. The paperwork was done, and at a cost of 60 Euros, MONGO was gone.

Farewell MONGO. You were good to us.

We held a two minute silence.

We got back to the hotel, freshened up, got some sleep and had a nice meal, and waited for the 216 to arrive.

Keith and Andrew arrived in Nuremberg at about 22:00. We heard the 216 well before they arrived; it had quite a major blow from the back box so sounded like the worst chavved up Saxo ever. With Keith and Andrew here, we had our ride home. We set sail for Calais at 23:30.

Rhyds and I took turns in sharing the driving, helped out in the middle by Andrew. When I first got into the 216 I was grinning like a little school boy. It FLEW! It had PAS, and (appealing to my Essex instincts) sounded GREAT! The novelty of that blown exhaust soon wore off though. It (quite literally) became a headache.

Getting into the 216 after MONGO could not be more different, although the two cars were registered within two years of each other, the 216 felt light years ahead. It clearly was the product of a different generation (which after all, it was). I took advantage of the Autobahn’s Unique Selling Point, and caned it as much as I could, where it was safe to do so. After a number of stops, sleeps, swap-overs, we made it to Calais at 08:30, boarded the boat and had the best English Breakfast ever.

Once back in the UK, it was destination Essex to drop Andrew and Keith off. I’d since agreed to purchase the 216, primarily to get us back to Devon so was now the proud owner of a loud pocket rocket!  We arrived in Essex, all occupants safe and sound.

Through the generosity of Team FTW members Steven Ward and Tim Colley, we had a solution to our exhaust blow. Tim had a spare exhaust system that I could have! After we dropped off Keith and Andrew, we pointed the 216 back over ‘The Bridge” towards leafy Surrey to get the exhaust, and drop off Team FTW’s effects that were still in the car. Fortunately, we managed to find a garage to fit the rear silencer. It made such a huge difference.

We left Surrey at about 16:00 after chatting with Tim and sorting out the exhaust. We headed south via the A3(M) and the excellent new Hindhead Tunnel, and got back to Devon at about 19:00. An uneventful journey and the car just worked. It’s (already good) performance being improved by the replacement silencer.

RatRod 2011 was an amazing trip, filled with laughs, dramas, tension, enjoyment and trepidation. Think of a superlative or cliché and it pretty much was there. The rally ended quite suddenly and I am sad that MONGO did not make it home, however the situation that we were presented with, and the generosity of others made that situation part of the adventure.

My thanks go to my ever-suffering rally co-driver (and very good friend) Rhydian Edwards and our rally mate (for the outward trip) Andrew Elphick. Thanks must also go to Keith Adams, Stephen Ward, Tim Colley for their generosity and help with getting us home, as well as Steve ‘Ducky” Wright,  and Dave Leader for being involved with the 216 that saved the day.

Alex Sebbinger MMXI

Keith Adams


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