If you’ve ever travelled around Africa, you’ll know that, even in a 4x4, it’s often a bumpy ride. Imagine, then, attempting a trek across West Africa in a vintage car – and with no backup team to help you. Well, that’s what team Chocks Away – the graphic designer David Aspinall and the filmmaker Ben Stevenson – did recently for charity and, despite a fair few problems, they had a great time.
To raise money for good causes, the duo planed to drive thousands of miles from Senegal to Cameroon in Sally, a 1934 vintage car with a 750cc engine and a top speed of 48mph.
“Like many good things in life, the trip was discussed over a cool gin and tonic,” says Aspinall. “We decided we would like to venture out of our native country and, if we did, we would do it in style.”
When they spotted their vintage vehicle, they “knew there was no other car for us”, says Aspinall. “Modern cars lack charm and elegance, something that Sally radiates in abundance.”
Stevenson adds: “Sally was in a sorry state when we found her, so we spent much of the summer restoring her. We stripped her down to her britches and cleaned every bit of her we could. A lot of elbow grease later, a fully restored engine and body emerged. After a few hundred miles of running her in, she was behaving and driving perfectly.
“We also had to overcome several thousand feet of red tape, which we spent a good few months sorting out, and we had a busy media schedule.”
The trip kicked off on 13 December at the start of the Africa Rally 2009 in Surrey, with Chocks Away leading the pack for a lap of the track. They then shipped Sally to Senegal to begin their adventure, but faced problems when she was broken into on the ship, losing, among other things, her starter motor. Undeterred, they soldiered on in good spirits.
One of the highlights of their trip was a Christmas party at an orphanage in The Gambia run by one of the charities they were raising money for. “There were 50 beaming children jumping all over our tiny car, testing her horn and generally causing mayhem,” says Stevenson. “Their energy was infectious and, by the end of the party, we were throwing them up in the air, much to their amusement.”
Several days after the Christmas party (on 8 January), Sally broke down. “Poor Sally, she is now in bits in the middle of a dusty town,” they blogged. After a long – and expensive – repair, Sally lived to drive another mile, but she hadn’t been up and running long when she started leaking oil. Another repair failed to stem the flow, and then disaster struck.
From Sévaré in Mali, probably the most remote place on the route, Aspinall said: “Sally is, indeed, beyond repair, although not for a lack of trying. We have had the engine out no fewer than five times, but she has decided to go no further. Her stubbornness has led us to postpone taking her to Cameroon.
“She is a resilient little thing and, once back home, she will be polished and restored back to her former self. There is the smallest of possibilities that we may try to get her running once more in Africa, but that remains unlikely.”
The boys were given a big boost by Great Britons, a competition run by British Airways to help talented individuals and groups achieve their dreams by giving them flights to BA destinations all over the world.
They won flights back to the UK, ensuring that more of the money they raise goes to good causes. As it happened, their trip ended sooner than they had expected, so BA flew them all home, Sally included, from Lagos in Nigeria at the end of January.
“Our first attempt at winning Great Britons was rewarded with being shortlisted, but, for some baffling reason, we did not win. We would not be defeated and reapplied,” says Aspinall.
“We were again shortlisted, and put all the effort we could muster into making sure we would emerge victorious. It was a good day when we won – and a good night, as we recall. It’s a huge honour to have the support of BA, without whom the trip may not have been possible.”
Read about the adventure and donate to the chosen charities at chocksawayrally.co.uk