1958 Morris catches fire in Istanbul & wins best car of POI Rally 2022
Harry, Rowan and Ben bought a wrecked 1958 Morris Oxford to take on the Poles of Inconvenience Rally 2022.
The wheels fell off in Latvia. An actual fire melted a bunch of wiring in Istanbul. The engine had to be replaced twice. They put a new one in just after buying the car for £400 as a ‘non runner’, and another one two days after they set off.
It broke down almost every day and arrived at the finish line in Tbilisi with the bonnet strapped to the roof.
Despite all that they managed to drive 27,000km through 27 countries, bagging 12 Poles of Inconvenience along the way.
Today we crown them worthy winners of the Best Car Award. But not just for the perfectly unsuitable machine that seemed determined to shit its mechanical pants every 10 minutes. The judges were also impressed by Team Gear Knob’s utter stubbornness and inability to admit defeat. Even when they ran out of money at the finish line.
These plucky fellows launched a crowdfunding campaign on Instagram, raising a whopping £1000 in a matter of hours to fund the ancient Morris’ journey back to the UK.
Here’s Harry with an impressive report on some of the best bits of their adventure.
Engine Replacement #2 – England
“We got to within around an hour of reaching John O’Groats and Ben noticed the oil pressure gauge drop to zero. Since this was the only gauge that had been working, we decided to pull over and check. As it turned out, the car had blown its head gasket and most of the oil had fled the scene.
“Knowing what car we were dealing with, and British engines having a reputation of blowing head gaskets, we had packed a spare. We got to work changing the head gasket in the car park. When we started her up, our worst fears had come true. For lack of a better phrase, coolant was pissing out of the side of the head. In layman’s terms, the engine was fucked.
“We pulled over in a layby and slept in the car for a few hours. When I woke up, Ben was at the wheel and the car was full of smoke. He had managed to drive a little further, but the car had finally given up. He Googled ‘Classic Car Specialist near me’, and Chic Doig Classic Cars popped up. He was located 15 minutes away on the outskirts of Perth in Scotland. On what sounded like two cylinders, we set off.”
“We arrived at his front gates in a cloud of burning oil and coolant and explained to him that we were in desperate need of a new engine so we could make the Czechout launch event in time. He walked into his barn and found an engine that turned over. Over the next two days, we not only fitted the engine to the car, but got to know the amazing couple that is Kate and Chic Doig. They kept us fed and watered over the two days and gave us all the parts and tools we needed for free. We couldn’t have met nicer people, and this was within the first few days of the rally.”
From Scotland the team headed to the launch in Czechia and then to catch a ferry north and tackle Scandinavia.
Ferry to Finland
“We set off on the 15-hour drive to the ferry port in Tallinn, Estonia. The plan was to get the ferry to Helsinki from Tallinn, and then make our way around Scandinavia via the poles in Norway and Sweden.
“As with everything on this trip, it was all going so well – until it wasn’t. I was asleep across the back bench, when I suddenly wake up after being flung up against the roof of the car and then landing back onto the bench. I ask Ben what has happened, as he is trying to control the car into this little side road. He tells me that the rear wheel has just fallen off.”
“We were also running the car on old cross-ply tyres, which were bought for £10 each on Facebook a few days before we set off. They seemed like a good idea at the time, but they lasted around an hour or two before ripping themselves apart. We had enough spares to get to Finland, but we’d need to buy some new ones when we got there.”
Bodge job repairs and a Paris ditch
“Whilst we were getting the new tyres fitted, Ben had the chance to try and fix our front suspension bushes. He took the old ones out, and there was barely anything left. The rubber was old and falling apart, so he had no choice but to try and bodge some new ones. From some rubber repair and some spare radiator hose, he managed to make a new set of trunnion bushes. At the time we didn’t know how they’d fare, but I can say now they made it the entirety of the trip and are still on the car to this day!
“On the long drive down to the southern points in Norway, the roads were not only some of the best we had ever driven on, but they also had barely any traffic. We made some great progress. Route 63, the Trollstigen mountain pass… photos and videos don’t do this place justice, it is genuinely the most beautiful place any of us have ever been to. It was a winding mountain pass, with a viewing centre and an icy lake at the top. Obviously, we had to take the opportunity for a daily dip, cheered on by the Norwegians who must have thought that we were crazy. All we can say about the experience is that it was so cold it burned.”
Gear Knobs’ original plan included Morocco so they headed south towards Spain…
“We decided to make our own lives difficult when we were in Paris. We had limped the car to the Moss Classic Car parts shop, as the brakes had decided they didn’t want to stop the car anymore and the radiator hoses were a patchwork quilt of rubber repairs. We managed to get the parts we needed (well, enough to keep going) from Moss, so once again we were on the hunt for a daily dip location. We had found a what looked like a lake on Google Maps, but it was trying to take us down what looked like a footpath. Ben looked at me, knowing full well what I was thinking.
“We all agreed to send it, and as soon as the decision had been made, we were stuck in a ditch.”
“We were stuck in this ditch for the rest of the day, and we only managed to get the car out with the help of a local called Thiago. He brought us another car jack and some wood to stick underneath the wheels. Eventually, the car was free from the ditch, so we gave him some beer and cigarettes for helping us and then we were on our way once again.
“It was short-lived though, as we broke down in more ways than one a few miles down the road in the next town. The fan belt finally stopped squealing, only because it snapped. This sent us over the edge, but Ben especially; he was understandably fed up with fixing the car.
“We pulled off the road and parked up in the field to pitch the tent. The next day, we replaced the fan belt and discovered that we had fallen into the hole in a town called Pussay, and then broken down in Angerville. You couldn’t make it up.”
Bye bye bonnet
“Thankfully, the drive to the pointy thing in Spain was relatively trouble free, and we even managed to have a shower in a French service station on the way. When we were once again tightening up the fanbelt whilst at the POI, the bonnet decided it didn’t want to be attached to the car anymore and for lack of a better phrase, fucked off into the Spanish countryside. This incident actually turned out to be useful, as not only was it easier to work on the car with no bonnet, it allowed us to add a bonnet raise for better cooling in the Spanish heat.”
“Ben and I had both been looking forward to Africa, probably the most out of everywhere we were planning to visit, but the reality of our situation hit on the drive south. We didn’t have the time or the money that we needed to visit the African poles, so as much as we wanted to go it just wasn’t possible. The days spent fixing the car had taken their toll, and the spare time we once had was no longer there.”
POI #13 – Zelengora Pass, Bosnia & Herzegovina
“The drive to Bosnia was quite a simple one, with nice roads and not much traffic. The road up to the pole of inconvenience was one of the hardest roads that we travelled up on the entire trip, made more difficult by our dodgy carburettors sapping most of the power of the engine.”
“Our sump definitely took a beating on the way up the Zelengora Pass, but when we got to the top it was worth it. The view was incredible, and we met some other crazy people that were also driving up the pass. The way down was just as bumpy, but a lot easier and a lot faster. When we got back on the normal roads, we found a lake pretty quickly and managed to give Ely her first daily dip!”
POI #52 – Trambotic Twisty Track Tribute, Serbia
“We felt like we had to hit the POI in Serbia, given how much the Trambotic Lemons had helped us [with medical attention needed for a very swollen spider bite]. They added the pole to the map, and it turned out to be one of our favourite on the trip.
“The drive to the POI was through some amazing scenery, with amazing tunnels and dirt roads. The roads were quite smooth up until the final couple of miles, where I’m not sure you could even call it a road anymore. As usual, Ely struggled her way up to the top, where we were greeted by an incredible view of the Serbian countryside.”
Engine fire and a Turkish mechanical miracle
“After being well and truly beaten in a race by Tim and his Citroen AX, we turned off the road and got onto the toll road that would take us into the city. After paying for the toll road at the toll booth, Ben noticed a flame come from the bonnet raise. I stopped the car as fast as possible, and Rowan found the fire extinguisher. Ben ripped the bonnet off the car and quickly put the fire out. Even though the fire was only burning for around one minute, in that time it had managed to melt all of the wiring in the car as well as anything else that was plastic in the engine bay.
“Ben somehow worked his magic once again, and after being pushed to the side of the toll road by the police, he managed to wrap a load of wires in electrical tape and then hotwire the car to get her started. We think the fire was caused by the exhaust backfiring onto some fuel which was dripping out of the overflow on the broken carburettors, so we tied the bonnet to the roof so we could see if it happened again. We couldn’t believe that the thing that we were on our way to fix set fire to the car just before we got there.”
“Since we were only ten miles away from Istanbul, so we drove down the hard shoulder through all of the traffic and limped the car to the garage. What happened next was the craziest 24 hours I think any of us have ever experienced, and what can only be described as a Turkish miracle.
“After spending 24 hours [with various local mechanics and Ben doing a lot of rewiring] and around £150 in Istanbul, we had a car that might just get us to the finish line in time.”
“We set off from Istanbul just after 5pm on Friday, the day before we had to be in Tbilisi at the finish line. We had 22 hours of driving ahead of us, over 1000 miles where Ely couldn’t afford to break down. The latest we could appear at the finish line was 6pm, so we had 25 hours to work with.
“After some more crazy driving and even getting the Morris up to 95mph, we arrived at the finish line at the Tbilisi Auto Museum in a cloud of dust after drifting into the car park. We arrived at half five, not knowing what to expect and how many people would be there waiting. As we turned the corner, we were given the most amazing welcome to the podium. Everyone seemed about as shocked as we were that we had actually made it.”
Crowdfunding the trip home
“We also created a GoFundMe that evening and posted it to our social media. This was to try and raise some money to help us get the Morris home, as by this point, we were all flat out broke. We had borrowed money from everyone that we could think of, so this was our only option. We were amazed at the sheer number of donations and the generosity of our supporters, as we had raised over £1000 by the next morning.
“I’m not going to bore you with all the details of our way home, as it was a lot of long drives. However, there are a couple of notable stories to tell before I get to the end of this story. We had to be back in the UK within four days, so as usual time was not on our side.
“After a long wait to get back into Turkey, Ben decided to fix the carburettors once and for all. He spent two hours doing this, and when it was finally done the car was running like a dream. Until the clutch gave up half a mile down the road.
“We had to get our third tow truck of the trip in the morning, and we spent the next day replacing the clutch with some more amazing Turkish mechanics. We were lucky to be carrying a spare, as it would have been very difficult to find one that would have fitted in the small town we were in. We worked late into the night and finished up at around 3am when everyone else had gone home.”
“I had no brakes all of a sudden”
“We made it halfway to Istanbul, until once again our brake cylinder on the front left gave up. I had no brakes all of a sudden, so I had to try and stop the car by engine braking and using what we had left of a handbrake. We pulled over in a service station and the bloke the helped us get a tow truck to the nearest garage. They couldn’t fix our problem, but they could bodge it so that we could maybe make it to Istanbul. They blocked the brake line going to the front left wheel, so we had to somehow make it nearly 400 miles with only our front right brake working properly.
“We made it to within around 100 miles of Istanbul until we drove past some police, and they immediately jumped in the car when they saw us. Ben clocked onto this, so we hid behind a lorry in a truck stop and saw them drive past. We continued, but a few miles down the road a police car appeared directly behind us and we had no choice but to pull over. We were asked to get out of the car with our hands in the air, and we were then searched. They thought we had stolen a dog and were trying to leave the country with it. [The team had in fact temporarily taken on a stray dog who needed help but didn’t intend to leave the country with it]. After frantically typing on Google translate to explain what had happened, the Turkish military turned up.
“We spoke to them for about half an hour until they took us in their van to a BP service station to give a statement. They were exceptionally nice to us. As soon as the commander found out I was from Manchester, he started playing ‘glory glory Man Utd’ at full volume in the van. In was one of the weirdest experiences of our lives, but after a few hours they let us go. They took a photo with us and the car and then we were back on our way.”
The End… until the Mongol Rally next year
“The trip from Dover to Oxford was a rather depressing one, as we both came to the depressing realisation that the trip was coming to an end.
“I don’t want to end this story on a sad note, as the trip was probably the craziest thing any of us had ever experienced and we can’t wait to do the Mongol Rally in an even more outrageous car. We are proud to have been able to complete the trip in Ely, against all the odds.
“We are also forever thankful to everybody who supported our charity fundraiser, as well as our fundraiser to get Ely home. The support was absolutely incredible, and just enough for us to cover the cost of fuel and Rowan’s flight. We had £80 left over once we had got back to Oxford, which we put straight in the charity pot.
“That feeling of making it to the finish line in Georgia will stick with us forever, and we are grateful for all of the amazing people we met on the trip as well as to The Adventurists for putting this craziness together.
“Thanks for taking the time to read about our journey, and we’ll see you again in Mongolia.”
Harry. Plus Ben and Rowan – Team Gear Knobs
Follow the team on Instagram @gear.knobs or on their Facebook page.
Find out more about the Poles of Inconvenience Rally – it’ll run again in 2023.
They also raised £1,125 for charity, split between Park Lane Special School (Macclesfield, UK) and SSAFA (the UK armed forces charity).
Full list of POIs reached:
POI #5 – Breast High Road
POI #6 – Rudland Rigg Byway
POI #14 – Slightly Inconvenient Road
POI #11 – Laver Ghost Town
POI #7 – The Monsen Forgotten Road
POI #20 – Jotunheimvegen 1995
POI #19 – Mountain Track
POI #17 – Pointy Rock Thingy
POI #21 – Carril del Chaparral
POI #13 – Zelengora Pass
POI #52 – Serbia
POI #53 – Georgia Finish Line – Soviet Auto Museum