Peking to Paris - 2019

 

In 1907 the French newspaper, Le Matin, published a challenge: “What needs to be proved today is that as long as a man has a car, he can do anything and go anywhere. Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?” On the 10th of June 1907 the race started. Of the forty teams that signed up, five teams ended up shipping their cars to Peking.

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There were no rules in the race, except that the first car to Paris would win the prize of a magnum of Mumm champagne.

There were no rules in the race, except that the first car to Paris would win the prize of a magnum of Mumm champagne. The race went without any assistance through countryside where there were no roads or roadmaps. For the race, camels carrying fuel left Peking and set up at stations along the route, to provide fuel for the racers. The race followed a telegraph route, so that the race was well covered in newspapers at the time. Each car had one journalist as a passenger, with the journalists sending stories from the telegraph stations regularly throughout the race.

Of the five cars that started, one team did not make it. The team that did not make it was the team of Auguste Pons with their three wheeled vehicle called the Contal Mototri. Whereas the initial plan was that the five teams would work together, it would soon become a competitive ride. This resulted in the fact that Auguste Pons was left behind alone in the Gobi desert, with no fuel. He had to abandon his Contal Mototri and walk back to China, a trip he barely survived.

 
Auguste Pons and the Contal Mototri in 1907.

Auguste Pons and the Contal Mototri in 1907.

 

112 years later…

112 years later, the Peking to Paris rally was revived in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of the original 1907 race. The rally is now a returning, three yearly, event in which classic cars can participate. Classic car enthusiasts from all over the world participate in a broad range of cars, varying from prewar Bentleys to more modern Lancia Fulvia’s.

I have always had a keen interest in this truly remarkable event. There is something truly mesmerizing in seeing classic cars driving on the vast, desolate landscapes of Mongolia. And thus, when starting the brand I soon had the ambition to work together with the event or the participants. When the Amalfi Series was published in Motorsports Magazine, I read the story of Anton Gonnissen, a Belgian architect/entrepreneur with a very impressive rally CV (amongst others; Paris-Dakar rally three times on three different vehicles and he drove his prewar Bentley on different stages in the world). After finishing the Peking to Paris rally in 2013 with his Bentley, Anton Gonnissen read about the story of Auguste Pons, this enlighted a new and bigger adventure for him. Anton now wanted to finish where Auguste Pons had started.

 
 
The Bentley has now 58.568 km and I had the feeling that the time had come for the ultimate adventure, the last quest, a grand finale.
— Anton Gonnissen
 

The Grand Finale

To start his grand finale, he inquired with the organisation if it was possible to still participate. The organizer of the rally replied to Anton; ‘You are nuts!’ On which Anton replied; ‘Yes, I am.’ And despite the fact that it was officially no longer possible to enter, they had no choice but to let him enter with starting number 1. Now he ‘only’ had to find and prepare a Contal for the rally…

What must be taken into account is that the modern Peking to Paris rally is a true endurance rally. In 30 days the competitors have to drive a distance of 13.694km. This is a big difference to the rally in 1907, where the competitors did not have such a strict time schedule. To make the challenge even bigger, the first part of the route is through rural and offroad Mongolia. Bearing this in mind, one can understand that preparations were taken very seriously. Research was done by the University of Gent to reinforce the frame, the contal has no suspension, and thus all the impact is taken by the frame, wheels and driver. Next to reinforcing the frame, the riders seat has been ‘upgraded’ with a small suspension system to take the biggest impact of the holes.

With the unergonomic riding position of 1907 it is not the question if Anton will injure his wrist or hand, but when or how soon. To cope with this inconvenience a special brace was made to support his hand in the riding position.

Anton Gonnissen and Herman Gelan testing the Contal Mototri for the Peking to Paris rally 2019.

Anton Gonnissen and Herman Gelan testing the Contal Mototri for the Peking to Paris rally 2019.

 
An Amalfi Series dial with C1 Super Luminova for the Peking to Paris rally 2019.

An Amalfi Series dial with C1 Super Luminova for the Peking to Paris rally 2019.

Amalfi Series

During this amazing adventure Anton and Herman will wear a special made Amalfi Series watch. These watches will use the best available lume on the market, special straps and special engraved cases. The Peking to Paris rally will be the ultimate test for the Amalfi Series to see how it will deal and survive in a true and rough driving environment. The feedback of the drivers will be very valuable for future references.

 

Laurens de Rijke