The sahara my way, in an xjs v12...
I finished putting the rear solid mount subframe upgrade in place at 11pm the night before we left. nothing to worry about then!
If I'm honest I didn't come up with this idea entirely myself... I watched Harry Metcalfe drive a Ferrari Testarossa to the Sahara and it looked amazing. If you're reading this Harry, thank you for your inspiration! From the moment I saw the sand dunes, I had a silly idea of my Jaguar XJS, the Pearl, skimming over the sand dunes...
As I'm the organiser of the Rust 2 Rome car rally I decided it was time to have a go at driving to the Sahara Desert. I've been organising Rust 2 Rome since 2006 and up till 2014 we had only ever driven to Rome. It was time for a change and in 2015 I came up with Rust 2 Romania along with a new route to Rome via the Swiss Alps. I presented Rust 2 Romania to all my Rust 2 Rome veterans and only the most hard core of them responded... Off we went to Romania and tested out the brand new route much to the envy of everyone following us on Facebook. This special group of adventurers became known as - The Rust 2 Rome Pioneers.
After Romania the Pioneering trip became a thing! They were asking what was next and the mere mention of the Sahara had them already booking time off work. So the dates were set and in between organising the now official Rust 2 Romania 2016 and the two other Rust 2 Rome trips I was able to put together an incredible plan for Rust 2 The Sahara... but that was only half the battle.
I got back from Rust 2 Romania the year before after completing three of my rallies that year. The Pearl was parked up with a broken diff and a whole host of other problems needing addressed. I started swapping over the whole rear subframe for an outboard disc version and also solid mounting it while I was at it. On top of all that I upgraded my Gaz shocks with my own design 3D printed servo mounts allowing me to control the comfort from inside the car, kind of like an M5 but much less sophisticated and that's not to mention the additional two air con evaporators I still had to fit and gas up! All in all, I'd take on another massive amount of work and I had a strict deadline to meet. Thanks to that deadline, I drove the Pearl out of the workshop at 11pm the night before we set off. I took it on a test run down the road, stopped, done a wheel spin to 'test' the suspension. I didn't hear anything break so headed back to the workshop threw my tools in the boot and off I went.
Rust 2 The Sahara leaving day came around and I'd only had 3 hours sleep after being up all night finishing bookings. I was so tired I could barely pull of my morning brief to the crowd that had came along to spectate the launch of the latest pioneering trip!
Thankfully the Rust 2 The Sahara route involves a lot of boats so I had plenty time to catch up on sleep on way. The route I had planned out was incredible. Rather than just driving straight to Morocco, I wanted to take an alternative route but also get there with as little driving as possible. I mean we've all sat on the motorway forever getting to a destination. If I can get us there quicker I'm all over that! We took a boat from Almeria to Melilla which got us into Morocco although we were still somehow in Spain. After 4 hours at the border we were free to start our journey to the Desert in this strange new country...
On our second day in Morocco, the roads just stopped. That was that. I was leading the convoy of 7 cars for most of the trip since I was the only one who had the Moroccan maps. I knew if we stopped to have a discussion about it we'd waste time deciding whether to go back or not so I decided just to crack on, through the rough gravel tracks that were apparently roads according to Garmin! We battered on for another 20 minutes through a mix of sinking sand and rough gravel stones. As soon as we could stop on something solid enough not to sink in we got out the our cars and marvelled at our surroundings... we could see the sand dunes on the horizon as the sun was setting.
The following day I was starting to get quite comfortable driving at 40mph whilst listening to every part of my XJS slowly vibrate itself to pieces. That was when we arrived a the sand dunes. So close that we could in fact drive on them and suddenly my idea came flooding back! I had to have a bash at this driving or rather skimming over them. I manage to find gravel firm enough to build up speed so that I could fly over the dunes and return to the hard gravel before I'd lost enough momentum to dig in and get stuck! This cost me my exhaust after several attempts but it was incredible to look at the photos of it flying over the sand dunes!
After our sand dune experience we proceeded on route to take on the Gorge Du Dades and followed the mountain road... It took us on a 6 hour gravel track up to 9500ft. Not knowing this I hadn't even filled up that morning nor had I brought a spare tyre. In fact I was running racing tyres so I was really not at all prepared for this. After my tyre popped I stole my Dad's spare from his Camaro, knowing that it was the same stud pattern! It didn't fit though so I had to put it on the wrong way around. I essentially drove off that mountain with my fuel light flashing and essentially a bicycle tyre on my XJS.
Right after that my Dad's Camaro hit the rocks and burst it's oil filter... So I was limping and he was being towed by Ger in the Subaru Legacy... At this point we were desperate to get off this mountain and find our hotel for the night! As we came down the mountain we stumbled across a small Moroccan mechanic's garage. We pulled over and within 3 hours, I had my broke suspension welded, tyre repaired and Dad's oil filter had been braised. All for £30!
I can say for sure I had no idea what was in store for us when we took on the Sahara. I can also say I was very unprepared for it and only just made it there and back. I believe we made it because of two things... Firstly, my Jaguar XJS is a sturdy old machine and never lets me down when I need it most and secondly because I was travelling the best companions I could ask for who dealt with every situation as if it was a part of their daily lives! So I'll leave you all with a photo of us jumping as high as we can on the Sahara Desert!