A French man sat with his 24 year old son in the garage looking at a map of the world to find out where the furthest point you can drive to from Europe is. China, with its insane regulations for independent tourists, would be far too much hassle, so forget that… which means that currently it’s the border of Myanmar. A finger-width on the map back from there and the best port to ship the car home this side of Bangladesh is Calcutta. So, the question of where now decided attention turned to how. In the garage with them was a stock Porsche 928, a restored 1962 MK2 Jaguar and a Land Rover 90. Well, everyone else does expeditions in Land Rovers, the Jaguar is too old and fragile… so let's do it in the Porsche. Welcome to the thought process of Phillipe Delaporte which began this amazing 24,000km journey…
For such an insanely big trip maybe your first thought is that they made a bit of a mistake discounting the Land Rover but with trips across Africa, to the Nordkapp and to Iran, all in a trusty Renault 4, Phillipe is certainly no stranger to overland expeditions. He is also not completely crazy. “This was going to be a big father and son journey so my first thought was to go back and retrace the journey I did to Kinshasa in the Democratic People’s Republic of the Congo nearly 40 years ago. But since then a lot of things have happened in Africa so for a travel destination I don't think it's safe there anymore… That's why we agreed on Calcutta, with a plan for a one-way journey to the far side of India and to ship the car home from there.”
But multi-country journeys like this begin a long time before departure with lots of complicated paperwork and visas to sort out. “Visas were quite a headache because we needed to make sure that they were all valid in a chain, one after the other. The Iranian visa was the worst, you need to be invited by a local and they must send a copy of ID card, birth certificate and confirmation he will be a guarantee for you in case of any problems to the Iranian embassy in France. Fortunately a good friend of mine is from Tehran and was more than happy that we would be going to visit his family!”
Another important document you need for getting through all the customs is the Carnet de Passage. It costs about 300 €, and is used so that you don’t sell your car in another country… which is why you have to deposit 150% of the value of the car to get it! We also had to carefully study the weather so it wouldn’t be too hot or cold. For example in August it’s 40C° in Kazakhstan, but sometimes it’s snowing in October in Russia. We decided that our travel ‘window’ would be from September to December.
And there was another big issue with our route to India. There is only one road from Iran to Quetta in Pakistan and it goes through an area controlled by the Taliban… and because they regularly take hostages it’s obviously extremely dangerous. The French embassy said it would be suicide to drive there in a Porsche. So the plan was to ship the car from Bandar Abbas in the south of Iran over to Dubai, then on to Mumbai, but this wasn’t exactly an ideal solution… And there was also the question of the Indian customs…”
Nobody has a Porsche in their garage by accident so I was interested to know why Phillipe had bought a 928 over all other models he could have chosen from. “A neighbour of mine in the late 80’s had one so I’ve loved the look for many years, and so in 2008 when I came across one at the right price I was happy to buy it. I only used it on weekends, mainly just for the pleasure of driving, but although the trip would put a lot of kilometres and mechanical stress on it I thought that going in a Porsche would really enhance the road trip experience. One end of my life in a Renault 4 and the other in a Porsche. I wasn’t wrong.”
There was also a lot of unusual work to do on the car as a 28 year old 928 is not traditionally considered an expedition vehicle. First on the list of course was a big service and brakes, prop shaft, clutch, distributor, ignition, starter motor and alternator were all changed and a couple of ECUs were ordered as spares as Porache electrics are hard enough for European mechanics to sort out, never mind in some places they planned on going. The back seats were jettisoned and the space used for storing extra fuel for the 5l V8 in case petrol stations were a little few and far between, while the front ones were replaced with comfortable Recaro Road Trip ones. “From my time in Africa in the Renault 4 I have a kind of obsession about overheating so I installed a bigger, all-aluminium radiator with electric fans and even an extra temperature gauge… just to be sure.”
For all the expedition oriented changes Phillipe took the car to Pars 4x4, a rally preparation company that usually works with Unimogs and Hummers. “The guy there really enjoyed the challenge of working on the Porsche and we kept in touch so he could follow us on our journey. For the underbody protection we installed a lazer-cut, 8mm plate that was mounted to a special frame. The lights had special protective grills made that allowed them to still open and close and a good friend of mine sourced adjustable rally suspension by Koni that gave a 6cm lift. The roof mount for the spare rear wheel (the spare for the front went inside) was actually one of the most complicated jobs. The supports are on the inside of the roof and there is an internal anti-theft device. I was very happy with this… But because the supports aren’t visible we got stopped many times in Europe because the police kept thinking we'd put the spare wheel on the roof and forgotten about it! But after all that effort, with the Pirelli winter tyres we had we didn’t have a single flat!”
And so the day of departure came and what better place for a Parisian have family and friends come to see them off than in front of the Eiffel tower. “For the first few kilometres the fresh memories of goodbyes made the road seem very lonely, apart from the police stopping us for the wheel on the roof, but we soon felt like real travellers when the Porsche museum in Stuttgart treated us like VIPs! When my son Baudouin and his brother were 10, my wife and I took them travelling every year so they could see some of the different countries and cultures of the world. Over the years we went to New York, Russia, with a night train between St Petersburg and Moscow, China, Egypt and around Europe, but this was the first major trip together since then. I knew that the atmosphere in the car was going to be great… And it was!
The days we had in Europe were fine. We visited nice capitals like Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and drove up the amazing Tranfagarasan pass over the Carpathian mountains, which has to be one of the most incredible pieces of tarmac in the world. It was made by Ceausescu in the 1970’s in case the Soviets tried to invade. We stopped in Kiev and also near the Chernobyl nuclear plant, but you can only get to about 30km so you can’t see anything, but we got to the Russian border a few days early, so instead of just waiting for our visas to be valid we took a detour up through Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. I am a big fan of classical music so in Warsaw I went to see Chopin’s heart. He is buried in France but asked that his heart be sent to Poland because he had duel nationalities.
And then, with a 6 hour wait in line at the Russian border, the real expedition started. The road became narrower and the surface worse and the trees came right up to the road to give a feeling of claustrophobia… which is quite strange for a country so incredibly big. Moscow was full of impressive monuments but it was hard to take photos with the car in Red Square because the security officers didn’t quite agree with us that it was a good place to park…
In endless flat steppe of Kazakhstan we felt a very long way from France. We decided to take the ‘scenic’ road through the country so there were less trucks than on the main highway between Almaty and Russia but it was under a lot of construction so it was like driving off-road and because the country is so huge and empty there was a stretch of road that was perfectly straight for 30km! I never moved the wheel. I never experienced something like that before. We saw the old shore of the Aral sea with the abandoned and rusting ships lift in the desert like a scene from a Mad Max movie and the rocket site in Baikonur where Yuri Gargarin took off to become the first man in space. And then the trip really started as Uzbekistan was really uncharted territory…
Read more in Part 2!