A few years ago I went on a rally across Europe. It wasn’t the sort of rally where you have high-performance sports cars and swan around in posh hotels instead we weren’t allowed to spend more than £100 on our car and we were raising money for charity. My chum Henry had invited me and some other chaps along as he was going to write about it for a website he worked on.
Our car, customised to look like a Pirate Ship

Our car.

We got hold of a Volvo 740 and customised it to look like a pirate ship, or at least a Volvo owned by pirates. Everyone else on the rally had customised their cars too which made the event feel like an episode of Wacky Racers.

Note the custom pirate dash board

Note the custom pirate dashboard

The first half of the rally was very jolly. We had a Sat Nav but no charger so we could only turn it on in emergencies. So instead we managed to navigate across Europe using the map in the front of a copy of Asterix and Roman agent. As you can imagine we got lost quite a lot but it was all part of the fun. Even the bit where we sort of drove through someone’s front garden was good. On the second day we awoke in Switzerland. We had driven in the night before so we hadn’t seen much of the view so went we woke up it was a lovely surprise. Switzerland is extremely pretty, and it has some of the most wiggly roads I’ve ever seen.

Look at how bendy that road is

Just look at how bendy that road is

Even though we were supposed to be doing a challenge on that day (Every day we had a different task to complete and there were prizes for the best teams at the end) we decided to abandon any pretence of gaining points and just spend a day driving on really wiggly roads. It was absolutely fantastic fun, I’ve never enjoyed driving a car so much and yet we were constantly passing motorcycles and their owners taking a rest with huge grins on their faces. It looked like they were having even more fun than we were, more on that later.

After a day of brilliant riding we decided that the only sensible thing to do would be to leave Switzerland via the infamous Stelvio pass. Henry was driving and so at the bottom of the pass we stopped the car, checked stop watches and set off. At the first corner the breaks failed and we went up on to two wheels. Henry managed to slow the car down by driving it onto a bank and we came to a stop. One of the other chaps in the car went into shock at this point.

The corner we nearly fell off

The corner we nearly fell off

Even though we had enough computers with us to send a spaceship to the moon we didn’t have any tools. Yup, not a single tool. It turned out that our day of thrilling driving had boiled off the brake fluid. The RAC refused to come out and help us because we weren’t going to bring the car back from Europe and so we were rather stuffed. The sensible thing to do at this point would be to slowly work our way down the hill and wait out the next day.

Instead another team said we could ram them if we needed to slow down and so we attempted the Stelvio pass without any brakes. Let me find a good picture of the pass so you can get an idea of the sort of undertaking this was. 

Yes, that is a road

Yes, that is a road

The next two hours were life-changingly scary – absolutely terrifying. At every corner we could have died and we knew it. We even started doing video messages to our loved ones if we didn’t survive but that was so depressing that we stopped.

Tsk, look at the car in front showing off with his brakes

Tsk, look at the car in front showing off with his brakes

We made it, and the first pint we had when we stopped was the best tasting pint I’d ever had. Nothing like a bit of death to make drink taste better. Anyway the rest of the trip was marvellous and it was the best holiday I’ve ever been on. Even my dad was impressed and talking about the rally was the moment when we started to bond again for the first time in years.

Anyway, since returning I’ve often thought about those motorcyclists having the time of their lives and so Henry and I are going to try the Stelvio again but this time on motorbikes. Just thinking about it makes my legs go a bit wobbly so I think I’ll get a bit of practice and possibly some specialised training before I decide to hit the pass. Oh and this time it would be nice to have some brakes.