Here are some stories about the experiences of previous participants of our rallies.
100 Leg Trek
The 100 Leg Trek story started in October 2011 when Ben first floated the idea of entering Barcelona Bangers. The original plan was to have two Astramax vans joined together and a pair of two-man teams to pilot the front and rear halves. However, after a few conversations with VOSA and scouring the classifieds, we had to have a re-think. A month later, with a chance visit to a building site and an opportune conversation, a Y-reg Citroen C15 was liberated from under a sofa in a garage in Solihull.
For the next few months it wasn’t really banger-fettling weather, but when we started the C15 up again for the first time in February – with pools of water in the floor and mould all over the seats and dash – she started up first time, an omen for the future, perhaps?
A couple of weeks later another C15 was sourced – an 03 plate this time, but the automotive equivalent of Keith Richards – and we started turning the Y-reg into a runner. The ’03 van donated seats, front suspension, front brakes, radiator, fan, bumper and headlights and our friends Dave and Mick Fairbrother spent two days welding the bodywork so that the “Prime Mover” would pass the MOT.
On 10th March we set to work on removing the engine and gearbox from the ’03. Ben had applied some Ross Brawn style lateral thinking to the Barcelona Bangers rules and had worked out that he could get the second van at net zero cost if he sold the engine, gearbox and all unused scrap metals from the two vans, so the vehicle we were creating would still fall within the £250 limit. As you can see from this video clip, removing the van from the engine and gearbox with a crane didn’t go entirely to plan…..
For the next month we had a bit of an anxious wait as we needed some specialist help to build us an A-frame to link the two vans together. We’d got in contact with Danelock Engineering, who’d agreed to do the work for us, but if you’re relying on someone’s generosity to do the work for free, you aren’t exactly going to chase them up like you would if you were paying for it! While we waited we put a third seat in the back of the towing van and fitted the sunroof from a Range Rover.
On 12th April the day finally came when the Centipede could be joined together. The trailer was loaded onto the back of a Willshee’s skip truck and taken down to Danelock for the A-frame to be fitted. The maiden voyage wasn’t exactly an auspicious start, as the trailer fell off in Burton town centre outside Sainsbury’s. Oops!
After some more road tests we applied a few modifications, strengthening the A-frame and raising the rear ride height of the towing van so that the Centipede didn’t bow in the middle. Then the trailer van was boarded out and carpeted to provide the sleeping quarters, complete with net curtains, ornaments on the window sill and some wallpaper donated by Laura Ashley, and we were ready to fit the decals. Oh, and a last minute addition of a grill under the bonnet to have our barbecues on!
On the Thursday of the rally we set off at 5:45am for Dover, calling in Solihull on the way to meet Mark who we’d bought the first van from – once he heard what we were doing he wanted to put the first tank of diesel in to set us on our way, a lovely gesture. When we got to Dover we met Team 25 The Fen Rats in the Happy Chef cafe and filled up with a Full English before boarding the ferry. Customs and Excise gave our vans a once over but were satisfied that the crates of beer were for our own consumption and sent us on our way. Once in Calais we located a camp site for the night and then joined the other teams at the Ibis to check out everyone’s creations.
Day 1 – Calais to Lyon
The next morning, once everyone’s hangovers had subsided and the challenge for the day was handed out, we decided to bolt for the start line, as we figured that everyone would be passing us on the way to Lyon and a head start would at least give us a sliver of a fighting chance! At the first services we met a family from Nottingham who naturally asked us what on Earth we were doing, and were kind enough to make a donation. At the next pit stop Andy’s Formula One (Auto Centre) experience came to the fore as a diesel spill in the engine bay was fixed while we refuelled.
The night out in Lyon was an unforgettable one for all the wrong reasons, we were accosted by a local drunk while we were waiting for the bus into town, and despite numerous attempts to shake him off and incurring the ire of the bus driver, he followed us all the way to the Gorge de Loup station and was insistent on leading us to who knows where on a Metro system we didn’t know. Eventually the “If We Can’t See Him He Can’t See Us” trick worked and he skulked off confused into the night…
Day 2 – Lyon to Nice
The next morning we had some fun exploring Lyon’s one way system – more than once – and met up with the other teams for the next day of motoring. We found from the first day that just getting to our destination at a reasonable time was a challenge, never mind the tasks that were set along the way, and today was no exception. Once we hit the Alps the steep inclines took their toll on the 60bhp 1.8 diesel engine on the way up and the brakes produced a lovely toasty smell on the way down. The little van soldiered on, though, despite one of the locals being unappreciative of our efforts in first gear up some severe inclines. I didn’t get what the woman said in French, but she seemed to be gesticulating that we should have only brought ONE van….
Just outside Gap we spotted a gaggle of Bangers and formed a convoy for the trip to Lac de Castillon for the barbecue. After some bangers of the pork-based variety by the lake we continued along the Alpine roads down to Nice. With the gradient in our favour the Centipede came into its own and turned out to be a sweet-handling vehicle through the sweeping bends. Once we got to Nice it seemed there was “no room at the inn” as every campsite we found was closed, until we chanced upon one near the Cote d’Azur Airport. After an arduous day’s driving we were too tired to deal with Nice’s brand of Bus Maniacs so we got the stove on and sank a few beers.
Day 3 – Nice to Barcelona (via Monaco)
The day started with a little treat – a trip along the coast to Monte Carlo and a couple of laps of the circuit. A feast for the eyes, amazing to be cruising round the same bit of tarmac we’d seen the F1 fraternity racing on the weekend before. We were hampered a bit by a couple of backmarkers (a bus and a lady popping to the shops) but we reckon a 5 min 37.1 sec lap was definitely achievable.
After that it was lots of motorway miles to get through to reach Barcelona. Determined to make the party at a reasonable time, it was hammer down time with minimal stops. Our crossing of the border into Spain was greeted with torrential rain and thunder (we thought race control definitely should have brought out the safety car) and then just as we were ten miles from our destination… an ominous metallic rattle from the rear of the van, amplified as we entered a tunnel.
We pulled over to see if, as the noise suggested, something was hanging off. It wasn’t. A few mechanical checks of the wheels and suspension revealed nothing untoward, other than the usual squeaks and rattles we’d grown used to by now. It was 8:30pm and we had a party to get to. We decided to limp it slowly to the camp site and deal with whatever the problem was in the morning.
We got on the train from Mataro (“Camping Barcelona” is somewhat less central than their name may suggest) to the Placa de Catalunya. After running around the streets in the rain trying to find the venue we eventually arrived at the bar, to be told that unfortunately our trophy had been damaged in transit but Chuck would be able to re-weld it for us. Our rabbit in headlights expressions no doubt prompted Gordon to explain that we’d actually won the rally. Shocked and amazed, we managed to utter a few words on stage before the important business of drinking some well earned pints and catching up with the other teams, until there was no more drinking and catching up to be had.
The Journey Home
We had a rest day in Barcelona the next day to nurse our hangovers, fix the van’s death rattle and then take a trip up to the nearby Circuit de Catalunya where the MotoGP test was taking place. It was closed to the public but we had a good nosey at the team trucks and drove round the service roads where we could hear the motorbikes, if not see them.
On Tuesday we set off for northern Spain, travelling through the Rioja region (vineyards as far as the eye could see and not a drop to drink) to a nice little town in Basque Country called Bermeo. After an overnight stay we travelled across the border to Biarritz, then hit the motorways, taking in Bordeaux, Saintes and Poiters before stopping for the night in La-Ville-Aux-Dames just outside Tours.
The next morning we were up early to for a whistle stop tour of Le Mans and Paris. A quick Google search revealed the location of the Mulsanne straight and we duly set the controls for maximum velocity down this historic piece of road. Onwards to Paris and after some lengthy queuing followed by some crazy city driving we got the tourist snaps by the Eiffel Tower and tried our hand at the freeform traffic system around the Arc de Triomphe.
On the way out we passed through a ghetto area of Paris where we thought even our banger would stand a chance of getting jacked, particularly with the massive concrete speed humps to make us easy prey. Once at Calais we hitched up the trailer at the camp site and then grabbed a few bottles of plonk from the nearby Auchan, then the next morning it was a 6am ferry back to Blighty.
What a fantastic journey. We’ve got so many great memories from the experiences along the way and we’re hugely grateful for all the support we’ve received, and for the amount of money we’ve managed to raise for charitable causes that have affected our families in some way. What’s next for us? We have an idea for the Centipede Van’s next mission, so are putting together a proposal for the charity in question. In the mean time, we’d better start cooking up some off the wall ideas for Barcelona Bangers 2013!
Ben, Andy and Dave
100 Leg Trek Team
Team Shaguar in the Jaguar ‘yeh baby’
Drive to Barcelona in 3 days in a car worth less than £200. Sounds like a laugh, so why not?
Our first job after signing up for the rally was to find a suitable car. Two days later sitting on my drive is a 1993 Jaguar XJ6 4.0 litre with more problems than Kate Moss and Pete Doherty combined.
A bargain at £150 but lots of work to be done before 7th September. Though, with nearly a year to do it all in, we couldn’t see it being a problem.
- Rewire fuel pump
- Fix overheating problem
- Stop the car cutting out
- Fix kickdown fault
- Fix oil pressure fault
- Fix heater (only blowing out hot air)
- Sort out coolant leak
- Sort out faulty abs
- Sort out paint job
So by Friday 1st September 2006 all the work is done, NOT. The fuel pump has been rewired and the all important CD player is fitted, and that’s it.
To the paint job then. At 10pm we decided to mask the car and paint the red and blue, Saturday morning the white, leaving Sunday for the graphics and trying to explain to the neighbours that the eyesore in their street won’t be around for much longer, so no need to claim a refund on the council tax!
Thursday 7th September:
- Car – check ( although it’s not exactly had the time spent on the mechanics that perhaps it should have had)
- Insurance Docs. – check
- MOT Cert. – check
- Driving License – oops, forgot I’d lost it, oh well
- Luggage – check (we are staying for a month, yes? Er, no, a week)
- Team Mates – oops, one missing
- Passports – check (after emptying the bag four times)
So, here we go then? No, not exactly. The Shag decided to cry before she left Evesham. A quick top up with water and a pit-stop at Halfords for the Radweld and we’re off.
On our arrival at the Ibis Hotel, in full fancy dress, we had a chance to chat to some of the other competitors and check out their rides. Who knows what the locals must have thought. I imagine they were pleased as we drove away from their hotel.
We had decided to drive the distance to Nantes off the toll-roads, but nearly three hours and 100km into the journey we had a change of heart. Maybe it was the smell of petrol (worse on winding roads) or perhaps it was withdrawal from beer, who knows?!
Several hours later, and with the oil light being on in The Shaguar for the past 200km, we arrived in Nantes. Our luck was in as we immediately picked up signs for the Ibis Hotel. Fighting through the traffic was a nightmare as The Shag kept cutting out at the most awkward moments (yes, in hindsight we should have fixed this problem), but we were happy and excited as we went to the reception to check ourselves in for the evening – happy at the thought of no more driving until the morning.
We had anticipated a language problem as between us ‘bonjour’ was about all the French we knew and our Spanish phrase book wasn’t going to be of much use yet. But no, the receptionist managed in very good English to explain to us that we had arrived at the wrong part of Nantes and if we travel back through the traffic for about an hour we should find the correct Ibis Hotel. SHIT!!!!
We eventually met in the bar of the right hotel to exchange stories of the day and to get some beer to top up the alcohol system, which, by now, had far too much blood in it for my liking.
A heavy night on the town starting with a respectable steak and chips with Leighton and Mark (The Capri Boys) ended in a not so respectable bar with Little John (The Alcaneers) and a very drunk and epic journey to find the hotel again.
Wow, what a hangover and judging by the green faces of most teams in reception I speak for us all.
The teams left Nantes at pretty much the same time, all those that didn’t need to do some minor repairs that is. The Shaguar had decided to leak again so we had a half hour session looking over the car and set off, puzzled by the one Euro coin left under our wiper. Turns out a loving couple had taken The Shaguar too literally and christened the bonnet in the early hours of the morning. Cheers for the room rent, people.
Today the oil light stayed on and was joined by the engine management light and occasionally the gearbox management light; can’t be serious can it??
A steady ride to Toulouse today and more ham and cheese baguettes and tea with no milk. More truckers giving us appreciative air horns and cars with staring passengers wondering what the stupid Brits are getting up to now.
Thanks to The Ghostbusters and TomTom for guiding us direct to the hotel in Toulouse, no repeat of Nantes for us today!
A repeat of Nantes was to be had regarding going out, with only one word needed to describe the town – WOMEN, ’nuff said.
Words cannot do Day Three justice. Although, carnage maybe comes close.
We leave Toulouse and meet at the nearest services, by now swapping bumper rubber has caught on. After the photo opportunity we set off in convoy, stopping at the tolls to test the strength of each others bumpers. Sorry about the number plate Mark we didn’t mean to push The Alcaneers that hard, honest.
What the locals must have thought God only knows. A fleet of painted bangers from the UK throwing drinks, crisps, yoghurt and TicTacs at each other, passing around the same porn mag, taking photos from various positions outside of the cars, flashing arses and the now infamous Henry trying to take us out on a roundabout (cheers dude, glad our car was twice the weight of yours).
Our next quick stop is at the foot of the mountains to check the cars and for The Alcaneers to test the air horns again and again and again and again – for fucks sake turn the things off.
As we leave the parking area in a cloud of dust, Henry side swipes the wing mirror off The Shaguar, which then decides that gear changing is a bad idea so gets stuck in 2′. After a brief panic and a restart The Shaguar carries on fine. A few miles down the road we come across a row of bangers parked up due to the premature end of the Renault Safrane.
Revenge is sweet as I side-swipe The Alcaneers Cavalier changing the crude lines that Vauxhall intended for the Cay. Oops, our red white and blue Jaguar now has a streak of orange down the drivers side.
We stay there for a while watching as teams try to start the ‘terminally’ dead Safrane and The Capri Boys, with the help of a hacksaw and big hammer, cut open the Capri in an attempt to get some air to the engine bay.
Off we go again, driving up the mountains on some of the most spectacular roads and the most amazing scenery you could ever see. And we saw a lot of it at the speed The Shaguar was going, the engine had gone into ‘safe’ mode and would change gear at 2,000 revs meaning uphill she was slow, very slow.
In Andorra we stop for a bite to eat at a hillside restaurant, eventually getting egg and chips, ordering by sign language and what looked like the Birdie Song. On we went towards Spain but not before leaving The Montego Boys a present of a bonnet full of horse manure, which, with the help of the wind, ended up inside the car, sorry!!
Also an apology to the Saab driver we nearly wiped out forgetting they drive on the wrong side of the road over there.
On the journey back down the mountains all was well except for the brake pad warning light joining the rest of our dashboard lighting display, and the Scottish crew in their Shitreon XM reversing into us with the suspension raised. The grill is only cosmetic but we liked it the way it was. We’ll get you back next year, boys.
We make it to Barcelona. Again by following the TomTom of The Ghostbusters we, with the odd detour, make it to the hotel.
That evening we have the Award Ceremony. WE WON!!! Sorry, was that loud enough? WE WON, with The Alcaneers second and The Capri Boys third, all well deserved I might add.
After a brief ‘dip’ in the pool and a quick change, the beers started flowing and flowing and flowing. Some of us, er, I mean other teams, were making trips to the car park to sabotage other teams cars. Bumpers and wing mirrors went missing amongst other memorabilia. Then Henry, taking the word ‘banger’ a bit too literally went into the car park and the rest is Barcelona Bangers history!! But I believe Mark’s car was still driveable, which is more that can be said for the Cavalier and Montego.
We stayed in Barcelona for another week with Henry, lounged by the pool, went karting (enthusiastically), went to see Barcelona play at the Nou Camp, amazing stadium, and generally went out and drank far too much beer.
Had a good week, met some great people and are looking forward to the 2007 Event.
Raiders of the Lost Car Park
2008 was our second year of taking part in the rally, after we’d all enjoyed 2007. In 2007 we had a pirate theme, but our car was sadly under-decorated compared to the competition, so with this in mind we bought our car for 2008 (a 1988 Volvo 360) 4 months before the actual rally, giving us plenty of preparation time… or so we thought – nothing can go wrong with a Volvo, right? Unfortunately, it did – two months before the rally we discovered that fuel was not getting to the engine, and despite plenty of effort and a new fuel pump the car still wouldn’t start, and we decided to give up the weekend before the rally, giving us five days to find a car and decorate it. Time to panic! Numerous internet searches, failed ebay bids and phone calls eventually led us to a car close to where Rich and I work near Heathrow, which we were able to collect on the Monday before the rally.
Despite now only having three days to complete the decoration, thanks to Anna’s design and roping in the neighbourhood kids to help decorate we ended up with something not looking too bad! Our theme for 2008 was ‘Knights of the Round Table’, so we painted the car to look like a castle, with some cardboard cut to look like ramparts to be affixed upon arrival in Calais. We finished the painting on the Wednesday evening, just before a short rain-storm threatened to undo all our work, but thankfully the paint had dried enough for it not to matter.
The drive down to Dover the next day was uneventful, but the car was running which was all that mattered! We had the usual bemused glances from other drivers as we drove past them! Once in Calais we found our way to the hotel and quickly set about completing our design, fixing the ramparts to the top of the car with vast amounts of duct tape. After this we set off to practice our French in the local bar, with varying degrees of success (note to Rich – the French for castle is not Bastille!) On our way back to the hotel we had a quick look in the car park to check out the competition, and were pleased to find that our castle car was amongst the better efforts, although the clear winner was the ‘Mystery Machine’.
Day 1 – Calais to Lyon
The first day involved a long drive to Lyon, with the challenge being to take pictures of things on a list given to us by the organisers. We quickly learned that fixing cardboard to your car with duct tape doesn’t work too well when you’re driving at 100mph! At least half of the ramparts had gone before we had even left Calais.
We decided that finding a Frenchman riding a bike with a string of onions around his neck was going to be fairly difficult (although at least one team managed it!), so we concentrated on the rest. We stopped off in Troyes and Dijon on the way, attracting lots of puzzled looks thanks to our knight outfits. The woman in the tourist office in Dijon must have thought she was going mad when an Englishman in a knight costume came in and asked if there was a shop that sold Barbie dolls nearby! The knight outfits were also quite uncomfortable as the French were enjoying some brilliant warm summer weather.
Unfortunately we only came third in the contest, mostly due to the fact that our pictures of a cow, a sheep and a fire engine had all come from the toy shop where the Barbie doll was! But we were pleased with our efforts and enjoyed a nice meal in a local restaurant, followed by plenty of the local beer and wine…
Day 2 – Lyon to Nice
The second day was a drive over the Alps to Nice, with the challenge to take as many pictures of churches as possible. The three drivers all took a turn driving through the mountains, whilst the remaining people all sat with cameras at the ready to take pictures. We had planned to cross the Alps for most of the journey, but unfortunately the Tour de France had the same idea, meaning we had to take a bit of a detour, but this led to some brilliant windy roads which were practically empty of traffic, and also led us to some extra churches!
We eventually found our way to the main motorway running along the south coast, and made our way to Nice with plenty of time left before the challenge was due to finish. In the end we ended up with 41 pictures, easily enough for us to win the prize of a trophy and 100 euros!
Day 3 – Nice to Barcelona
There was no challenge set on the final day, so we had a leisurely drive back along the coast on the third day, making it to Barcelona late afternoon, although it took us a while to navigate all the one-way streets to find our hotel, even with the sat nav! The hotel was relatively posh compared to the Ibis’s we’d been using so far, and were surprised to learn that the mini-bar in our rooms was free! Sadly that sounded a lot better than it actually was, as each fridge only had one beer and one non-alcoholic beer in, plus a few soft drinks.
We met up with the organisers and the other teams in a local bar for the awards ceremony. Somehow or other we came 3rd! We won a trophy and 100 euros for the beer fund which was much appreciated! The deserved winners were the team with the Mystery Machine – the bloke in the Scooby Doo outfit must have been sweating buckets on the first day!
Finally, some advice for people taking part. It’s best to agree on a playlist before you set off (apparently some people don’t like Bon Jovi!) Phrasebooks can be useful – we knew just enough French to get by, but our Spanish was non-existent! At the very least, knowing the words for beer (biere in French, cerveza in Spanish) is a must! Also, we’d recommend taking water pistols – they’re a great way to endear yourself to other teams by squirting them at toll booths(!)