It started with a pint..
As I pulled up outside The Cricketers Inn, in Longparish, Hampshire, I noticed a vintage car outside the pub. I was meeting an old friend for a quick pint after a tough days fly fishing at the end of the mayfly season, the friend in question was Chris, I knew immediately that the vintage car in front of the pub would be his.
I found Chris in the garden of the pub with a pint of Guinness. We briefly discussed the days fishing as we had fished on different beats, then the conversation turned to the car outside the pub. The car was an olive green 1928 Ford Model A Phaeton and Chris proclaimed proudly that it was his car for the Peking to Paris Rally in 2010. He had mentioned this once before, but I had not really taken him seriously, but now he had bought a car and confirmed a place on the rally with Mark “Salty” as his co-driver.
I was fascinated and enthralled with his plans. As I was driving back to London I thought about what Chris had been saying; 13500 km in a vintage car from Beijing, across the Gobi desert, five weeks later, with luck, arriving in Paris. What an adventure ! I got home and told my wife Julie about Chris’s new car and his plans for the Rally. Much to my surprise, Julie seemed very interested in his crazy plan.
Over the next few days, both Julie and I looked into the Rally in more detail and sent off for an application pack. The seed of an idea had begun to germinate and we found ourselves talking semi seriously about doing the rally. After a long chat with Chris, we initially decided to plan on finding another Model A, the advantages of sharing spares and mechanical skills were obvious. Chris had bought his car from a dealer in the UK who ships cars from Australia, cars from Australia are rust free and usually in good condition.
I spent long hours trawling the internet and set off to look at some cars on the first Saturday in June. I first looked at a Daimler 20/70 and a 1927 Vauxhall 20/60, both were good cars, the rally organiser, Philip Young, had said that he felt the Vauxhall would make a good car for the Rally. I then drove to Herefordshire to look at a 1927 Oldsmobile 30E Tourer, my research showed that a large 6 cylinder engine was a good idea and that pre war American cars were built to drive on unmade roads, whereas their British counterparts were designed to run on metalled roads – lets face it, there won’t be many metalled roads in the Gobi desert ! The Oldsmobile had been sold that morning, possibly to a couple planning to do Peking to Paris, so I took a long look at a beautifully restored 1930 Willys Whippet 96A Tourer, newly arrived from Australia, a very pretty car.
On returning to London we gave the Willys a lot of thought, but eventually decided that the 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine was just too small for the demands of the run to Paris. I then happened upon the very same Willys on an Australian website, marked as sold, but at about half the asking price in the UK. Decision made, the car was going to be American with a big 6 cylinder engine and be sourced in Australia. The real search began, then I found my first Buick, a well restored silver 1929 Buick 25x Phaeton for sale in Adelaide, I emailed Philip Young for his thoughts on this car and I got an enthusiastic reply saying ” she’ll give the Bentleys something to think about, go for it !” – that sealed it we were going to buy the Buick. But on calling the dealer we discovered that she had been sold that afternoon, we had missed the opportunity by just a few hours. For a couple of days I was waking up at 5am to check emails in the vain hope that the buyer had pulled out, he didn’t.
The dealer selling the silver car said he knew of another 25x for sale and would put me in touch with the seller. Several agonising days passed waiting and hoping he would be good to his word and give us the details. Then one morning on arriving at work, I had an email from the dealer in Brisbane selling the second 25x, I called him immediately and he described the car in detail, she sounded perfect, 10 minutes later we were looking at pictures of her on his website. I persuaded him to hold the car until I could get her inspected, this would take a few days. We had contacted Bill at 1929Buick.ca, who proved to be a mine of useful information and this more or less made up our minds. Four days later, I arrived at work to find the pre purchase inspection report in my inbox, together with lots of digital images. I called the chap who had carried out the inspection and we talked about the car and his views, in his opinion she was a good honest, original car in excellent condition. So the money was wired and we became the proud owners of Mathilda a plum and black 25x Phaeton, we named her after the famous Australian bushman’s song “Waltzing Mathilda”.
The only problem was that Mathilda was in Queensland Australia and we live in London. I contacted a freight forwarder that we use at work and asked them to take care of the shipping. She was loaded into a 20ft container on the last Friday of June and was ready to ship to the UK via Singapore.