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Peking-to-Paris: The Ultimate Road Trip

Maserati Quatroporte
You may recall the 2400 mile cross country trip in a 1940 Buick convertible that I wrote about in 2004.  My wife and I drove from Chicago to SF in mid-summer and thought we had a pioneering experience.

That same 1940 Buick now belongs to my great friend, John Horton, San Francisco’s long-time Toyota dealer.  As you read this, the Buick will be arriving in China on the first leg of the 2007 Peking-to Paris Rally, with John at the wheel, and assisted by Robert Brooks, a retired SF policeman who’s always ready for the unknown.

They left Beijing on May 27th, to drive 12000 km (7500 miles), arriving in Paris on June 30th.  Other cars entered include two 1907 Italas (like the car that won the original Peking-to-Paris race one hundred  years ago) and eight other pre-World War I cars.  Of the 132 entries, 95 are pre-World War II cars, like Horton’s.  The youngest car is a 1969 Aston Martin.

Reading the rally instructions gives an idea of their adventure.  Countries traversed:  China, Mongolia (for 1200 miles!), Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and France.  They’ll need a Chinese license plate, Mongolian driver’s licenses, portable navigation systems, and a satellite phone.  They’ll also have a tent and sleeping bags.

The organizers will provide road maps of China, Mongolia and the rest of the route and a Cyrillic alphabet book to help with Russian road signs.  The Russian portion is particularly difficult as regards travel documents (surprise).

There’s no place to do laundry until the sixth day.  Chinese gas stations don’t accept credit cards.  In Mongolia, the organizers have arranged for fuel tankers to follow the cars.

It’s truly an international entry, with many British, who seem especially drawn to this sort of thing (the organizers are British).  Also represented are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Belgium and Uruguay.

USA accounts for 17 entrants, in some very interesting cars.  One team is in (on?)a 1909 Model T Ford, another in a 1916 Lancia (Italian).

Horton and Brooks warmed up for this adventure by doing a 6000 mile drive from Rio de Janeiro to Quito last year and a London-to-Sydney marathon before that.  They chose a new Toyota pickup for London-Sydney, and an old Toyota Land Cruiser for the South American drive.

For Peking-Paris, they wanted to try a pre-war car.  There are no Toyotas that old, so the handsome old American Buick was an easy choice.

Obviously, the car has been thoroughly checked over and prepared for the difficult route.  But still, it’s 67 years old, and will tackle roads that would be difficult for a modern car.  In its favor is the fact that it’s strong and simple.  And in unsophisticated areas, mechanics are accustomed to doing the impossible, as long as they’re dealing with mechanical, rather than electronic, parts.

During June, let’s all drink a toast each evening to John Horton and Robert Brooks, the only San Franciscans adventurous enough to tackle Peking-to-Paris.

Footnote:  Since the 1907 event was known as Peking (not Beijing)-to-Paris, the 2007 event retains the same spelling.  A good world atlas will enable you to follow their route starting in Beijing, then Ulan Bator, Hovd, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Nishnly Novgorod, Moskva(Moscow), St. Petersburg, Riga, Gdansk, Potsdam, Reims, on to Paris.

Maserati Quattroporte

When I drove this car a year or so ago, I loved it except for its very hard edge manual/automatic transmission.  Now, this best-looking-of-all-the-sedans-out-there has a proper fully automatic transmission.  The only significant objection to this stunning car has evaporated.

Almost as interesting as the car itself is the Mill Valley showroom, and the paint and leather color samples you get to choose from.  In typical Italian fashion, Maserati designers have re-thought the whole process, and set a new level for showroom presentations.

At just a little over $100,000, this Maserati is a romantic yet practical alternative to more obvious choices.  It used to be that exotic cars were a pain to use everyday.  That changed about 15 years ago when Acura introduced their NSX supercar.  A high-performance, Ferrari-challenger, the NSX was not a big commercial success.  But it was an extraordinarily good car, as practical and trouble-free as the everyday Acura passenger cars.  Honda, with the Acura NSX, showed Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche and others that high levels of reliability and everyday usability were possible in a supercar.

If design is important in your life, you’ll find the Maserati hard to resist.


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