The Nile Trial
The Endurance Rally Association is organising a 15-day rally through Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Leaving Carthage on January 26th, 2009, and arriving at El Gouna on the Red Sea on February 9th.
The route will be similar in style the Peking to Paris with optional Time-Trials for those seeking a more testing option. For those with a more relaxed approach almost the entire route can be completed on good tarmac roads. The course crosses the Mediterranean to Tunisia, drives through some of the stunning Tunisia countryside via the extensive Roman ruins of Carthage, to the northern border of Libya, and drives the coast-road to Tobruk, Benghazi, and on to Egypt and El Alamein. The route then drives from the Pyramids in Cairo to the Red Sea coast before heading inland to the Nile and Luxor before returning to the exclusive Red Sea resort, El Gouna, for the finish.
It’s a route that will take in many evocative sights brimming with history – remote roads that provide us with a chance to enjoy the company of vintage and classic car enthusiasts with some winter sunshine. Get your time-card stamped in the shadow of the pyramids!
There will be categories for pre-1920 model-types, pre-1941 model-types, and pre-1968 model types, (similar to the Peking to Paris) with medals to be won on optional Time Trials. This is largely touring in nature with competition that is optional – decide on the day if you want to have a bash and win individual medals. The timing and the course is being designed to be practical and feasible for a pre-war car, with rest-stops that place an emphasis on the social side of historic-rallying.
The Nile Trial – Route Itinerary
|Day and Date
|Ferry: Marseille to Tunis
|Tunis: Sightseeing and preparation
|Carthage to Kairouan
|Kairouan to Tataouine
|Tataouine to Sabratha
|Tunisia / Libya
|Sabratha to Misratha
|Misratha to Sirt
|Sirt to Benghazi
|Benghazi to Apollonia
|Apollonia to Tobruk
|Tobruk to Marsa Matruh
|Libya / Egypt
|Marsa Matruh to Cairo
|Cairo – Rest Day and sightseeing
|Cairo to Soma Bay
|Soma Bay to Luxor
|Luxor – Rest Day and sightseeing
|Luxor to El Gouna
|El Gouna: Prizegiving and homeward preparation
The first thing to say is that after the first four days of the Nile Trial and nearly a week since we left England all the cars that started from Tunis are still running and everyone is in fine spirits…. although of an alcohol free kind during our time here in Libya.
Perhaps we should explain that some crews have elected to take a relaxed, Touring, approach to the Nile Trial so that they can linger longer at many ancient sites along our route and avoid the off-road sporting sections that might be a little hard on their cars. Crews on the Touring route do not feature in our results reports so please understand that the fact a crew is not listed in the result does not indicate that they are having problems.
We should also point out that there are several days on the event without timed sections and for which there are unlikely to be any changes to the results. This, combined with the sometimes-difficult connections to the internet, does mean that our news and results reports are likely to remain occasional.
There are so many new experiences for those of us on the Nile Trial that we have to think back to remember meeting up on the dockside at Marseille nearly a week ago. It had be a very rainy and stormy run down through France the previous day and there was still quite a storm blowing as we queued for the ferry, to the extent that it was believable when a rumour spread that the ship would not be sailing that day. However, rumour, it turned out to be and the ship left Marseille on time with the Tannoy announcing that we would be in Tunis, on time, at 8:30 am the next morning.
Kim Bannister, our Clerk of the Course, had sensibly decided that the long crossing would be an ideal time to hold a competitor briefing and had hired the ship’s conference room for the meeting. By the appointed time about five hours into the voyage several of our number were already suffering seasickness on what was surely to be the roughest voyage most had ever endured. In the restaurant there was the continuous sound of breaking plates from the kitchens and furniture, pot plants and passengers alike were being thrown from side to side. But let’s get back to the conference room meeting taking place almost in the bow of the violently rolling ship.
It had been decided to upload route information to competitors GPS units during this meeting. Unfortunately Chris Bruce who was squinting at his lurching computer screen while trying to complete the uploads was unable to hold back the nausea… enough said…. and, with Kim Bannister and several of the attending competitors also looking a little green it was quickly decided re-convene the briefing on dry land the following day. As far as we know most of our party spent the remainder of the crossing sliding from one end of their bunk to the other.
We docked in Tunis a little after nine and thanks to the great efforts of Dhafer Bassalah, our man in Tunisia, we quickly disembarked and completed the customs and police formalities to be on our way to our comfortable Tunis hotel. Unfortunately permission for the event to start from the museum at the ancient site of Carthage had been withdrawn at short notice but the crews had plenty of free time on Sunday afternoon to make individual visits to the museum. Meanwhile the very excellent ERA breakdown crews of Peter and Betty Banham and Andy Inkskip / Simon Ayris where already busy sorting a few car dramas back in the hotel car park. The Jaguar MkII of Jean and Anne Steinhauser, although looking to have been beautifully prepared, kept Peter Banham occupied for some time tracing wiring that seemed to have too many circuits routed through a single fuse. Various other crews had the usual problems with non-working trip meters and other minor problems. Many crews were also nervous about the use of GPS and how much part it might play in their navigation.
Tunisia has some wonderful rally roads so we were looking forward to a great two days of interesting and varied driving to get the Nile Trial off to a special start…. and so it was to be, but not exactly as planned. On each of the first two days there should have been three timed sections for those taking part in the Sporting category. The first timed section ran exactly as planned on an interesting tarmac road starting beside an ancient aquaduct and running through the gently undulating countryside. Setting the early pace it was Nigel and Paula Broderick in their Datsun 240Z who, returning for their first event in several years, have obviously lost none of their touch and recorded a time over a minute ahead of the next placed car.
The second test had been a wonderful gravel road of sweeping bends when the route survey team made the route last July. It is now a wonderful road of newly laid smooth tarmac with a few loose gravel patches on the surface to catch the unwary. Quickest on this section was the powerful Mercedes 450SE of Terence Ward and Geoffrey Nicholls who outpaced the Brodericks in second and Jose and Maria De Sousa’s ex-Tony Fall Volvo in third.
Next up before reaching our first event overnight in the beautiful Kasbah Hotel at Kairouan was to be an off-road section approached through a river bed crossing. The local police had notified that the winter weather had left the river crossing in difficult condition so Lee and Sue Vincent went ahead in their Land Cruiser to check the situation. They did make it though the deeply rutted muddy approach to the river but with so far to go an so many immaculate cars to consider the section was cancelled and a quickly arranged re-route lead the cars to Kairouan for a very comfortable overnight.
Late to arrive at the end of the first day was the 1926 Vauxhall 14/40 of Geoffrey and Linda Cook that, apart from being a slow car by modern standards, was also suffering from a fuel feed problem caused by what seemed to be a silicone type material in the fuel tank blocking the lines. An alternate supply had to be rigged feeding fuel from a small can on the running board requiring refuelling stops every 60 kms. We hear that this problem has been overcome after a replacement fuel tank found by our sweep mechanics was fitted during the first overnight halt in Libya in a job completed at 3am on the morning of Day Four.
The Steinhauser Jaguar was also late in after even Peter Banham’s expertise had been tested with seized front wheel bearings that had completely welded themselves to the stub axles. The cause is not known unless they had been tightened excessively during preparation. As usual Peter was not beaten and even managed to locate more spares that Jean Steinhauser went to fetch using a local police car for the taxi service. Jean was thought to be considering if he should continue into Libya after these problems but happily he is still with us here in Mirsrata with no further problems other than brake lights that are not working.
Day Two, our final day in Tunisia, was to be another with three timed sections but once again a long section through the mountains had to be cancelled because the winter weather had exposed long stretches of vicious bedrock that would have been too punishing for the cars on this event. Once again a pre-planned alternate route took the crews through some very scenic mountain roads via Matmata to the overnight on the road to the Libyan border at Tataouine.
The day had officially started some 90kms from Kairouan at El Jem where time had been set aside to view the ancient remains of this great amphitheatre where all manner of sport had taken place in earlier times. Our sporting action consisted of two enjoyable (for most) off-road timed sections that ran as planned. On the first it would once again be the Brodericks quickest but this time it was Clive Dunster and Cecilia Agger in their Lotus Cortina that would be second. In the Vintage pre-war category Harry and Catherine Hickling, 1938 MG SA, beat Michael and Sarah O’Shea, 1948 Jaguar 3.5 saloon, by half a minute.
The next timed section was along a service track beside a railway This test was generally over a firm but sandy track but also included several water filled patches of mud. For cautious and alert crews there was an alternate track driven by local drivers around each of the bad patches. Needless to say some of our crews were not so cautious. We will not be so ungallant as to name them here. Many of them suffered enough by taking a test maximum penalty after having to wait until Lee and Sue Vincent towed them out of their muddy sticking point. Later, at the evening dinner in Tataouine one crew was awarded the quickly invented chocolate mouse trophy for the amount of time spent trying get them out of the bog.
Of note on the Railway test was Paul and Sandra Merryweather known to many of us as a competitive and quick pairing. Paul and Sandra are on the Nile Trial in the Touring category insisting they are here just for the holiday but the railway test was right beside the main road so Paul couldn’t resist giving it a go, and Sandra generously gave her permission. Driving his remarkable 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe look-alike Paul set a time exactly equal to that of, once again fastest crew, the Brodericks. Applause must also go the David and Karen Ayre in their mighty 1907 Itala who picked up the day’s award for the best Vintage performance on this test. David spares no effort when driving this extraordinary car and perhaps he’s paying the price as last night he rebuilt the entire multi-plate clutch in the hotel car park and is once again performing the same feat here in Misrata declaring it worse today that yesterday. There has been a large audience of amazed onlookers watching as the whole inside of this car is dismantled and laid out piece by piece in the hotel car park.
Wednesday, Day Three, was our day to enter Libya…. a new adventure for nearly all our crews on this the first international Classic Car event to cross this country. Once again Dhafer Bassalah had worked his magic and the diplomatic channel at the border was opened for us to breeze through into Libya to meet Nuri Lamin, our man in Libya. Sadly his task was not as straightforward in this country where the people are so friendly but where the authorities are also mindful of how outsiders might react to any problems. Consequently the police and tourist officials being determined to avoid any risk to their guests did exercise a tight control over border proceedings. Enough to say that it was some hours later that we completed the 80 kms run in Libya to the hotel at Sabratha too late for our planned visit to the ancient ruins that afternoon. With the co-operation of the Sabratha authorities the site gates were opened an hour early on Day Four so that everyone could visit before continuing via the outskirts of Tripoli to Leptis Magna a truly remarkable site that is surely one of the highlights of the Nile-Trial.
A memorable day experiencing the wonders of the ancient Roman antiquities and the unique experience of driving in Libya concluded tonight as we have enjoyed a splendid tented dinner provided by our Libyan hosts. We were greeted by traditional costumed horsemen and serenaded by local music and dancing joined by Kim Bannister.
To make those at home just a little more jealous…. We knew that fuel would be cheap in Libya but it still takes some getting used to. One crew with a large fuel tank filled up and saw the money meter tick round to 1500 so they peeled off 150 Libyan dinar thinking that £75 pounds was not so cheap after all for 100 litres of fuel. The very honest… as everyone seems to be…. fuel attendant then returned nearly all the money. It really was only 15 dinar, or seven pound fifty, for a full tank of fuel. We have nearly all changed too much money based on the amount for fuel we’ll be using before we reach Egypt.
It’s Friday, Day Five, tomorrow. We cover a relatively short run to Sirt and restart the sporting action with two tests close beside the line of the great man made river project….. a massive underground river built to deliver fresh water across Libya. We’ll report again when time and connections allow.
It’s Day Six today and we have driven from Sirt to Benghazi. The drive was 570 kms through scenery that could not be described as particularly interesting…. a few camels here and there and the wind blowing sand across the wide and long stretch of tarmac that lay ahead. We passed through a few typical truck stop towns along the way. There were three rally checkpoints with each one set-up at a local café where the crews could take a welcome break to sample a tasty local snack such as a hot chicken sandwich or whatever else took ones fancy. It was a slight worry to find an ostrich strutting around behind one of the café control points. “Where’s the toilet?” asked most crews of control marshal, Martin Clark when they arrived.. “Turn right at the ostrich” said he….. “just do it…” he added to the bemused looks.
As mentioned in our previous report there were two test sections on Day Five. The first was almost a straight line for 40 kms along the line of the great man-made river project. The route was very wide consisting of many parallel tracks worn by trucks and local traffic. If one section of track becomes too rough the local drivers just start using an alternative way that is gradually worn smooth before it too becomes rough and rutted. The skill on this test was for each driver to pick the best track. The annoying part about the process is that the track to left or right always looks much smoother than the one you are driving on…. that is until you swap over to the other track. An excellent point about this test was how closely it resembled road travel in Mongolia. Several of our crews are entered for, or considering taking part in, the 2010 Peking to Paris rally. On this test they were able to see how their cars handled the bump track and consider what further modifications they might need to make.
Once more it was the Brodericks who showed a clean pair of heels or exhaust pipes to the rest of the field. Michael and Anne Wilkinson took second in their Holden HK with Frederick Robinson and Roy Stephenson third in the ex-works Morris 1800. Romao and Maria de Sousa were fourth in the Volvo. The Nissan Pathfinder of Roger Allen and Maggie Gray are one of a handful of modern cars taking part in the Nile Trial. Their 4×4 should have proved ideally suited to tackle this slightly bumpy test but they suffered a puncture causing them to lose quite a lot of time. Another car going well here was the MkII Jaguar of Stephen Hyde and Janet Lyne who took fifth place but perhaps they were trying just a little too hard as they struck trouble a little way into the next timed section that immediately followed.
The pipe line service road apparently continues in a straight line for another 80 or more kilometres so to add a little variety our route turned away to run back across open country to rejoin the tarmac road being used by those crews running on the Touring route. This short 8km section on tracks through open scrub was considered an ideal section to practice GPS route navigation. At the start of the test crews would activate a Route pre-loaded in their GPS then follow the GPS pointer directing them to each new point along the way while also being guided by the written route notes and watching the track ahead. One or two crews got a little lost adapting to this new skill but everyone rated it as a valuable exercise. Obviously taking to the process very well and looking to be thoroughly enjoying the experience as they chucked the heavy Morris 1800 through the scrub was Frederick Robinson and Roy Stephenson who took the fastest time on the test. Equal second, just two seconds behind, came the Allen / Gray Pathfinder and the Ward / Nicholls Mercedes.
Once again the sweep mechanic crews had some work to do. This time it was the MkII Jaguar we mentioned earlier. They had both rear shock absorbers break away from the axle causing the car to leap alarmingly in the air. It took Peter Banham a little time to sort the problem out so that they could reach the overnight hotel in Sirt where replacement brackets were welded to the axle and alternative shock absorbers fitted. Among other smaller problems being fixed the Rolls Royce Coupe of Mark Robinson and John Austen was seen stopped at the roadside suspecting a blocked fuel line that the mechanic crews traced and sorted as an ignition fault.
Apart from the cost of fuel in Libya we cannot believe that any Nile Trial competitor will forget the actual experience of driving in this remarkable country. It has been quoted that the accident statistics here are not good but we have not seen anything like as many accidents as in many other countries although the Mustang of Arnold and Dorothy Denman does have a slight battle scar to mark one close encounter. This is a country of high speed motoring with consequently huge differentials between the lumberingly slow heavy-laden trucks and the very high speed Chevrolets and Hyundais that the locals drive. To add to the spice of three abreast overtaking it is not uncommon to have vehicles coming the wrong way against the traffic on a dual carriage-way or the wrong way on a roundabout to take the shortest route from their entry to exit point. Your writer hasn’t quite mastered the local skill where traffic lights are concerned with the red and green lights obviously only being for some kind of visual decoration. From the evidence of our few days here the general driver skill level is high and there is the added comfort of knowing that the other driver will not be drunk in charge.
It’s now 5pm Saturday and all but one crew have arrived safely here in Benghazi. The remaining car on the road is the venerable Vauxhall 14/40 of Geoffrey and Linda Cook for whom this was always going to be the longest day of the event. Their replacement fuel tank fitted a couple of nights ago has cured the fuel feed problems but we now hear that they have another problem the cause of which we have not yet heard. They have the very able mechanics Andy Inskip and Simon Ayris with them and are looking for parts some way back up the route. We’re sure that they’ll make it to Benghazi soon. Today is Andy Inskip’s birthday…. Happy Birthday to him…. he’ll probably remember today as the birthday he spent looking for car parts in a Libyan town.
A few other jobs are being chased up while we are here in Libya’s second largest city. The Mustang has lost its rear brakes and is having repairs made. Stephen Hyde s trying to arrange the correct replacement shock absorbers for the MkII Jag to be delivered from England to somewhere ahead down the route. Bill and Bridget Bolsover are looking for a replacement alternator for the E-Type Jaguar. Meanwhile those without dramas are going off to the Benghazi souk and returning with all manner of souvenirs.
It is almost certain that there will be no rally penalties today so there will be no fresh update to the results pages. Tomorrow we have a short run to Apolonia, the site of more extraordinary ancient ruins with a stops on the way to see a museum of glorious mosaics at Qasr Libya and the ancient site of Cyrene.
For those with the stamina to read these reports please forgive the continuity as some of it was written on-the-go hoping to be able to post it as we went but this was not possible. So… rewinding a day or three to pickup where we left off………
Over the last couple of days we have been concentrating on the sightseeing aspects of the Nile Trial.
To bring car matters up to date we previously reported that the Cook’s Vauxhall had not arrived in Benghazi. Well, as expected, they did duly reach the hotel and even in time for dinner to be served. The problem had been with the wheel bearings that had probably been run with too little grease. It’s likely that the car had never undertaken such a long single journey in the previous 80 years of its life and without sufficient lubrication the bearings had become over stressed. There were also difficulties finding a correct sized spanner to dismantle the bearings but after locating suitable tools the bearings were repacked and we’re happy to report that the Cooks safely reached Sousa at the end of Day Seven but that was not the end of their worries. On the road to Tobruk the axle noise became more of a clunk so once again the Vauxhall axle is receiving attention in the hotel car park. The axle pinion is badly chipped but there is little that can be done other than careful cleaning and reassembly with a hope and a prayer that the car will reach Cairo under its own power.
Day Seven was a relatively short run of less than 300kms but packed with places to see. The first rally checkpoint was at Tolmata with an interesting museum and a small tea room for refreshments set among an expansive and sparsely excavated site. Beneath every footstep around this ancient city one could stoop down to pickup fragments of brightly coloured ceramic or carved pieces of stone.
From Tolmata a short run took us to Qsar Libya where a small museum houses a very fine collection of Byzantine mosaics. Beautiful images of exotic animals, buildings and other scenes including the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria are depicted in some 50 mosaic panels. There was more to come after another 60kms when our route reached the next control point at Cyrene. On the way to Cyrene we took a short detour through a valley to see the caves from where Omar al-Mukhtar, a hero of the Libyan resistance, organised his rebels before being captured and executed by the Italians in 1931.
Cyrene is outstanding. Quoting from the guide books… The ancient city of Cyrene is one of the undoubted highlights of any visit to Libya… and impressive it certainly is, as much as anything for the spectacular setting on several levels stretching from top to bottom on its hillside location. The head guide we met on arrival has been a custodian and worked at this World Heritage Site for over forty years. He told that only a tiny proportion has been excavated and recalled his early years when much was being done but little has been changed in recent years.
A final 20kms run to Susa took us to our overnight hotel on the harbourside next to site of the ancient Greek city of Apolonia. Crews who still had the strength for more sightseeing quickly checked in before taking on this final site of the day. Others with less stamina relaxed a little knowing they could tick off Apolonia at the start of Day Eight sets off on the road to Tobruk.
In rally terms the only major work being done in the car park was another change of shock absorbers on the MkII Jaguar. This time a pair of Nissan Navara shocks were replacing the ones fitted a couple of days to try and prevent the suspension bottoming out.
A large crowd of friendly and interested locals turned out to see the remarkable array of classic rally cars arranged around the harbour. One of our guides came back from an evening visit to the local mosque reporting the experience of unusual chatter among the assembled worshipers. Rather than the normal discussions on aspects of the Koran today’s talk among the elders was exclusively of rally cars as much as 100 years old that were in their midst.
During a very excellent dinner Kim Bannister thanked the core members of our hard working and very excellent Libyan hosts headed by Nuri Lamin for their hospitality during our time in Libya. We have one more night here before crossing into Egypt but tomorrow our group is split between two hotels so this opportunity was taken to applaud the Libyan team and offer some small gifts of rally memorabilia.
Day Eight was our final full day in Libya. With just over 200 kms to cover there was a late start so crew could take time to stroll among the Apolonia ruins before leaving Susa. A short and uneventful run took us to the day’s final checkpoint at the beautifully maintained Knightsbridge war cemetery. A few reflective moments could be taken among the 3649 graves of soldiers from many nations. Tobruk was the scene of some of the most important battles of WWII and there are many war cemeteries around the town.
As the only large hotel in town is undergoing a major rebuild we are split between three hotels here so the rally has a slightly disjointed feel tonight. Without doubt we’ll all meet up again at the border on what will be another day when we just have to ‘go with the flow’ hoping for a straightforward crossing into Egypt.
It’s the end of Day Nine. The exit from Libya worked like clockwork and we were through the formalities and saying goodbye to our Libyan helpers in no time at all. Somewhat later we made it into Egypt and reached the meeting place on the beach where our Egyptian hosts were waiting to greet us. The welcome party included several Egyptian classic car enthusiasts who will be joining us with their cars for the rest of the rally. We are expecting more to join us when we reach Cairo tomorrow.
Fortunately we had not arranged any test sections today so once we were on the road from the border it was a matter of ticking off a couple of hundred kilometres to reach the hotel and the welcome sight of a beer or two. We were escorted on our way by a variety of vehicles with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing causing lots of local interest and making for a speedy journey.
There is a party atmosphere in the air tonight. The whole street outside the hotel has been closed off to park our cars and a special welcome show is under way. Beer and wine sales are doing well and the display of loud music and energetic dancing is being watched by many of the crews. Outside in the car park the sweep mechanics have been busy changing a head gasket on the MG SA of Harry and Catherine Hickling. The Cook’s Vauxhall arrived here without further problems after its Tobruk axle rebuild.
At 8am tomorrow it’s back to business with two timed sections planned during a long day on the road to Cairo. Day Eleven, the day after we reach Cairo, is a very welcome day off……. the first since we left Tunis.
There will be time to take in the Pyramids and all the other sites of Egypt’s great capital city or maybe a day of relaxation with time to get the laundry done.
Day Ten turned out to be one of those days that will remain in most crews memories for many a year. It’s a fact that when everything is easy and days pass without a challenge the memory fades but when there is a problem to overcome that’s a little out of the ordinary we’ll relive the tale again and again. Today was one of those days….. And, the Nile Trial reached Cairo, the Nile and the Pyramids.
Our run from Marsa Matruh to Cairo was a little under 500 kms. There was a mid distance relaxed lunch halt at a very modern and exclusive marina resort. Either side of lunch two test sections where on the agenda.
The first test section of the day was over a hard baked dirt track that had changed a little since our route survey was carried out some time ago. The crews had a series of pre-loaded GPS waypoints to follow and with a couple of slight route instruction amendments given to the crews as they arrived at the start this test would best be tackled as a slowish technical exercise in GPS navigation.
Best suited to the slightly bumpy conditions was the modern Nissan Pathfinder of Roger Allen and Maggie Gray who covered the test twenty seconds quicker than the Volvo of Romao and Maria de Sousa. In an uncharacteristic fifth place on the test the Broderick’s Nissan arrived at the finish along a tarmac road from the opposite direction to the normal route losing a minute to the first placed car.
In the short run from the test finish to the marina lunch halt we turned a little off the main road for a passage check and time out to visit the Alamein museum. There are many relics from WWII on display. Tanks, guns and other military hardware including the rather beaten up remains of British fighter plane are arranged outside the museum buildings. Inside a series of rooms are divided according to nationality. The displays provide an excellent and terrible idea of the vast scale of the wartime campaigns across North Africa.
After lunch came a short little test that had rather ominously been given the name Sandy Road on account of the generally sandy nature of the area. It wasn’t a difficult test to navigate but there was a short 200 metre section that would test the endurance of many crews. It’s not clear who was the first to get stuck. What is clear is that several following crews did not react quickly enough to the sight of stranded cars ahead in time to stop on firmer ground before becoming stuck themselves. A few crews managed to push and shove their cars through the soft patches but several had to wait to be pulled out. The good news for those involved was that on such a short section the test maximum penalty was only 10 minutes so the affect on their overall score will not be as severe as it might have been.
Mindful of the fact that he is running in modern 4×4 vehicle, Roger Allen said…. “I don’t expect much sympathy, but from the test start I had the Nissan in four-wheel-drive and a few metres in the car died and would only limp along”. It seems likely that something in the Nissan’s computer brain put the car in limp mode.
Another car to suffer on the Sandy Road was the mighty Itala of David and Karen Ayre. We haven’t caught up with the exact cause but the Itala has a bent front axle and a broken wheel. The car arrived very late at the hotel on the back of a flat bed truck that had itself become stuck in the sand. David is confident that he can fix the problems during our day off here in Cairo.
It’s sad to report that another car to reach Cairo on a flat bed was the Vauxhall that finally cried enough. Geoffrey Cook had been driving the car with great care but it seems likely that the series of vicious speed bumps on the approach to many junctions proved too much shock to the already weakened transmission.
A couple of cars with less serious problems are the Duster / Agger Lotus Cortina with a broken engine mount and the Robinson / Freeman Morris 1800 with gear selector problems. Our day off is going to be a busy one here in the Mena House hotel car park.
There was yet another car to arrive on the back of a truck. This one was the MG Midget of Nigel Freeman and Richard Dorman. They have a blown head gasket and even though they don’t have a spare the ever helpful local enthusiasts are sure that if a gasket can’t be found there are people here in Cairo that came make a replacement.
With a huge smile on his face and even considering the day’s difficulties Nigel Freeman remarked as he downed a beer in the bar of the sumptuous Mena House hotel…. “That was just the best day ever…”.
The Nile Trial had been running for ten days without a day off since we left Tunis on the 26th January so the rest day in Cairo was very welcome. The day may have been a break from the rally and long days behind the wheel, but was none the less busy for most crews. There were sights to see, laundry to wash and cars to fix.
The major repair job of the day would be on the Itala. The front axle was seriously bent and there were bad cracks in several of the wooden front wheel spokes. By early morning the ever resourceful Mahmoud ‘Turbo’ Ezzeldin had recruited some local expert horse-cart builders to examine the damaged wheel and they soon disappeared with the broken pieces. Meanwhile David Ayre set to dismantling the hub assembly from the bent axle beam. It was always going to be a difficult job but after a day of hard work the Itala was ready to start from Cairo the next morning.
A genuine A-series head gasket was found for the MG Midget so that was another car that made it to the day twelve start in front of the Pyramids. Unfortunately the Vauxhall 14/40 was loaded on a transporter to begin the journey home after the axle finally cried enough. Other crews with time to spare spent a hot and sunny day amidst the hot and sunny Cairo tourist traps with thoughts of those back in the ice and snow in England.
There can be no more iconic image of Egypt than the Pyramids and this was backdrop for the start of our long day on the road to Soma Bay on the Red Sea. As often seems to happen here the start turned out to be a little chaotic but everyone got away to join the teeming morning traffic across the Nile bridge and out of the city. It was going to be a long hot day at the wheel not made easier for many crews by the fact that several had been struck down with stomach troubles.
A late addition to the day was a short test section to be run in both directions on the way up to, and away from, our lunch halt at St. Paul’s Monastery. Quickest on both these tests was the Dunster / Agger Lotus Cortina who set exactly the same time in both directions. Of the pre-war cars is was the O’Shea’s Jaguar Saloon who were quickest on both runs but they were a little slower on their return run through the test. There is a system of awards for each of the tests sections that by-passes crews who have previously taken an award. By this system the St Paul’s pre-war category award went to Philip Lunnon and Michael Heads in the Humber Snipe with the post-war category being won by the every cheerful and hard charging Stephen Hyde and Janet Lyne in the Jaguar MkII.
All that remained for the day was a 300kms run to the overnight halt at Soma Bay on the Red Sea. At the Soma Bay hotel the top of the Lotus Cortina engine was being stripped down to reveal a cam follower with a large hole in the top and two more with serious wear problems. After making temporary repairs the mechanic crews managed to get the car running again hoping it could be coaxed through the day to Luxor. Cecilia Agger declared that Clive and herself would be “going for it… come what may”.
This was always going to be a big day. Two days of competition remain on the sporting route and today the crews tackle a long test through a range of rugged hills through a stony and sandy region where only the occasional acacia tree grows. There was drama at the start when the army arrived and blocked the route, perhaps unable to comprehend that old cars would want to go this way. Confirmation that all the required permissions were in place was eventually confirmed and most crews were soon on the test. There are some cars on the Nile Trial that would not normally be considered suitable for rallying but such is the crews enthusiasm they were determined to join the sporting action rather than stay on the alternative all tarmac road to Luxor. Some might be re-thinking that decision before the Day Fifteen, slightly lengthened, re-run of the same section.
The Lotus Cortina is a true rally car and had come on the event looking forward to the long tests as a highpoint of the rally. Very sadly it expired on the run out to the test and had to be taken to Luxor. There might still be hope for Day Fifteen as some spare engine parts have been flown out and we have a rest day in Luxor when repairs might be possible. Removal of the cam covers early on the rest day revealed that one of the cams has broken into four pieces. Will the valves be bent? A compression test shows one cylinder a little down but “it will run…. ” says Andy Inskip as he gets stuck into the rebuild.
After nearly an hour on the Gold Mine test the Broderick Datsun 240Z came out just nine seconds ahead of the Wilkinson Holden. Behind them came some awesome performances from crews in cars that might be classed as not suitable for such punishment. Harry and Catherine Hickling took their MG SA to fifth place on the test and now lead the unofficial pre-war category leader board. Caroline Greenhalgh and Rosie Gibson came close behind in the Alvis 4.3 and now hold second place in that unofficial pre-war leader board. These two ladies have developed a real competitive spirit during the event and approach every challenge with great gusto. “Before I came on the rally I was nervous of a speed bump on the school run… now we fly over such hazards without slowing at all” said Caroline at dinner last night.
The organisers have been trying to suggest to Bill and Bridget Bolsover that they might stick to the tarmac in their E-type Jaguar but they would have none of it. They were one of those to suffer on Gold Mine and would arrive late in Luxor on a rope behind one of the rally breakdown crews after holing the sump. They were expecting to be kept busy on the day off looking for a local expert at aluminium welding but Peter Banham soon fixed the problem by riveting a plate to the sump using body filler to seal the joint. The Hyde / Lyne Jaguar MkII arrived making a huge amount of noise after knocking off the exhaust and adding to the racket with a loose sump guard dragging down the road. The MkII also has a hole in the lower fuel tank. The car has an extra tank fitted in the boot so with a little expert plumbing by Peter Banham this is not such a problem. One of the rally official cars arrived with another sump guard they had found on route. This turned out to have come from the Rolls Royce coupe of Mark Robinson and John Austen. Once again praise must go to local hero ‘Turbo’ Ezzeldin for arranging rescue trucks and everything else for crews with problems.
The pre-war category award for the Gold Mine test went to George Howitt and Monique Rombouts in the lovely but fragile looking Aston Martin MkII while the post-war category award was taken by the VW Beetle of Matthew and John Keeler.
The final day saw a sting in the tail with two Time Trials to shake up of the survivors.
The first Test Section was a seven kilometre stretch of interesting tarmac on an unused section of road through the mountains. This was always going to be a test to favour the more powerful cars and so it proved with Terry Ward and Geoff Nicholls leading the second placed car by over 20 seconds in their Mercedes 450SEL. Arnold and Dorothy Denman had been taking a gentle approach on the Touring Route of the Nile Trial but took the opportunity to have a go on this smooth tarmac test. They took fifth place here and would later receive the special test award for the section as the four cars ahead had already been previous test winners.
The second Test Section was much more daunting. Named ‘The Long One’ the test ran for 84 kilometres over stony and sandy tracks through the desert, with hills on either side. Much of the test was a reverse direction repeat of the Day 13 test with a 20 kilometre extension at the southern end. Several crews found the Day 13 test very hard and elected to bypass the section to make sure they reached the El Gouna finish. For the crews in rally prepared cars the test would be a final opportunity to have a real go. Almost everyone who romped over this thoroughly enjoyed it. The Brodericks were able to take things easy and were beaten by the Holden HK of Michael and Anne Wilkinson who took nearly two minutes off the Datsun crew. The 1800 ex-works Landcrab, a survivor of the original London to Sydney, was more cautious coming third a further four minutes behind the Holden. Their cautious approach was understandable as the crew decided to leave the sump-guard at home on the basis that it was too heavy!
Marius Winkelman and Victor Silveira da Conceicao had been looking forward to the test as a good opportunity to test their Plymouth PB3 coupe before next years Peking to Paris but they were thwated by an engine breakdown before reaching the section.
After replacement tyres had been found in Cairo and brought to Luxor overnight the Nissan Pathfinder of Roger Allen and Maggie Gray was ready to go but once more suffered a puncture after which the crew took things very gently to make sure they reached the end.
Michael and Sarah O’Shea were another crew running very low on tyres and came to rest in the test with a puncture and no further spares. Eventually Peter Banham arrived to cut and fit two sections of scrap tyre to a wheel using ty-wraps so that the Jaguar could reach the end of the test.
Others to limp out of the desert, included the immaculate Chevrolet Coupe of Paul and Sandra Merryweather who had been in the touring class, treating it all as a motoring holiday for once, but decided on tackling the final test as a shake down for Peking to Paris.
The Chevy romped it, but then came out limping with rear brake issues. The Humber Super Snipe – an early side-valve model saw its front suspension collapse, with the sweeper crews of Simon Ayris and Andy Inskip, and The Banhams, working hard to the end.
After joining a parade of cars through the streets of Hurghada all that remained was the final run to the Red Sea resort of El Gouna where a good crowd of onlookers cheered the cars through the finish arch set up beside a harbour full of glamorous boats. The evening prize giving party, an outdoor affair around the hotel pool of the Steigenberger Hotel, proved a success.
Harry and Catherine Hickling took top honours for the best effort in a pre-war car in his rare Kellner-bodied MG SA tourer, with the Alvis Girls, Caroline Greenhalgh and Rosie Gibson, in second place – a great effort given this was their first ever rally. The Classic Class was taken by The Brodericks with their ultra reliable Datsun 240Z with Michael and Anne Wilkinson in second place in the Holden.
David and Karen Ayres won the Spirit of the Rally as apart from the gallant effort with the oldest car – the Peking Paris 1907 Itala, David had been helping other competitors with mechanical ailments.
The True Grit Trophy went to the ever cheerful crew of Stephen Hyde and Janet Lyne who soon realised their Jaguar MkII was not best suited to some of the route conditions but carried on anyway.
Against All Odds went to Bill and Bridget Bolsover who got their Jaguar E-type to the finish, quite literally ‘against all odds’ even after holing the sump and punishing the lovely car to the end.
And so ended the first-ever classic rally to come this way. The Nile Trial has broken new ground – rather a rare accomplishment in the current political climate. Entrants have driven across the top of Northern Africa taking in Tunisia and Libya to reach Egypt – a memorable Endurance Rally Association first.
How long is the event in total?
The route in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt is about 4,800 kilometres. Add another 1,100 kms if you drive from Dover to the ferry in Marseilles so the total is about 6,000 Kms or 3,700 if you prefer it in miles.
How do I get to the start?
We all meet up before the boat sails from Marseilles, but you can hook up with others who are driving across France, drive down with the Organisers, or, put your car on a train – some want to try that – and one or two will be using a car transporter from CARS UK who regularly truck cars to the start of events, and then fly down. France is a free run.
Is the ferry across the Mediterranean included?
Yes. We also organise the hotels and most of the meals each evening, one or two evenings leave you to make your own plans but we suggest some local restaurants…
How do I get my car home?
We work closely with CARS UK, a specialised car transport company, who will ship the cars out of Alexandria in Egypt. That’s a cost of £1,500 if you drive there from the finish (allow a day) or £2,000 if you want to just hand over the keys and carnet and let them truck it to the port for you. You then are free to fly home.
What if I break down?
Our sweep-mechanics drive the route in mobile-workshops and are highly experienced in fettling rally cars in the middle of nowhere… the locals are also pretty good at fixing nuts and bolts.
What about the Carnet de Passage?
We are organising a Group Carnet with the RAC Travel Dept for everyone on the event.
Is the competitive part optional?
Yes, nobody is making you do anything – but we have already dialled in lots of time to see the ancient ruins and local sights as you go, that’s part of the appeal of this route. The off-road Time Trial sections are there for those who want the spice of a bit of competition, and there are awards for these sections – you can miss them out if you prefer.
What are the roads like?
We were surprised at the quality of the tarmac, the roads in the main are very good, particularly in Libya.