Lada heart for well-travelled banger

BUTT of many-a-joke it may be, but this car has a Lada heart - and two young Suffolk adventurers have got a lot to thank their humble car!Michael Unwin and Chris Pearce, from Felixstowe, have just returned from taking part in The Plymouth to Dakar Challenge 2003 - a grueling 3,000-mile drive using a car worth no more than £100.

BUTT of many-a-joke it may be, but this car has a Lada heart – and two young Suffolk adventurers have a lot to thank it for!

Michael Unwin and Chris Pearce, from Felixstowe, have just returned from taking part in the Plymouth to Dakar Challenge 2003 – a grueling 3,000-mile drive using a car worth no more than £100.

The 21-year-olds opted for the cheap Russian reliability for which the Lada is famous – and sometimes infamous – and they easily made it in one piece.

"We took plenty of spare parts for everything," said Michael. "But the only things we replaced was a petrol filter and an air filter. We didn't even lose a single tyre.


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"In fact the worst thing that happened was the number plate falling off."

The challenge started on Boxing Day last year when around 40 bangers blasted off down to Africa and they arrived in the Senegalese city about three weeks later.

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The trip was full of fantastic moments but the boys will cherish the experience of racing across the haunting scenery of the Sahara desert.

"It has been brilliant and it is a shame to have to come back to reality," Michael said. "Driving in the desert was definitely the highlight. We had the Lada airborne a couple of times and it is quite surprising what you can put a standard car through.

"At one point we were doing 50 or 60mph across the sand, listening to the Rolling Stones – it was quite something."

Some cars had to be abandoned after they became stuck in the sand but it was not just natural hazards that got in the way.

Michael said: "I think we spent most of our trip money on bribing customs officers and policemen in places like Senegal and Mauritania so they would let us continue our journey.

"They took things like T-shirts and tins of beans. You had to give them something or they would keep you standing by the side of the road all day.

The boys found an innovative solution to this problem.

"We picked up a hitchhiker who was an officer in the Senegalese police and he wanted to go through Gambia. With him on board we blasted through all the check points no problem and saved about half a day."

The pair paid just £7.50 to enter the challenge, with a little help from their sponsors Lombard Shipping.

They are eager to go on similar adventures but they won't have the help of their Lada again as it had to be left behind. Michael is also worried that future challenges might be too costly.

He said: "We'd love to do it again but I think the challenge will be more expensive next year as they are making it more professionally organised to make money."

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