Ian Neuss, who has owned his 1920 Dodge Tourer since he was at High School, decided that he wanted to drive the fully restored Dodge from Australia to Finland, to visit his old friends from the Outokumpu Mining Company, a Finnish company, and his employer of twenty years in Australia. He persuaded an old work colleague, Bill Amann, who also owns a couple of vintage cars, to bring one of them on the expedition.
An initial crew of five friends, all retired except Bill, set out in April 2014, with the cars, including a veteran back-up Toyota Land Cruiser, shipped to Bangkok, then driven through Thailand, Laos, then the Silk Roads route through China, Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, where they were stored over the northern winter, departing the following May through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia to Finland. The ten countries between Thailand and Finland were all once our Cold War communist enemies.
Although the travelling crew never exceeded six, a total of ten variously flew in and out, swapping for certain legs of the journey. We were on the road for a total of six months, covering about 20,000 kilometres.
The cars, especially Bill’s Whippet, had many mechanical problems and Bill’s considerable mechanical skill was regularly supplemented by enthusiastic local support along the way. There was never a threat or attempt at extortion. The convoy was welcomed and celebrated all along the way. The crew’s politics crossed the left-right spectrum but we were all were blown away by the decency and hospitality we received everywhere.
We kept a blog for the benefit of families and friends at home, and this was soon being hit from all over the world, especially Russia as we made our way through there over five weeks. Near the end we agreed that the trip had become more than a Big Boys Toys tour and there was a story worth telling about civility and common humanity we experienced over many encounters. We could even possibly make a small contribution to international peace and understanding.
BTW our alliteratively cute expedition and book title turned out to be geographically ignorant, as our Finnish hosts pointed out to us. Finland is NOT on the Baltic Sea.
Pete made it through Chinese Customs. The $ 30 per kg excess charge in Perth had been picked up by a grumbling Bill but at Chengdu there was no more fuss than could be expected if you tried to carry a suitcase full of ancient metal car parts through airport customs in any part of the world.
Bill was now ready for serious testing of options for reliable Whippet performance. You see, while Ian’s Dodge represents a loving rejuvenation over many years, with a brand-new paint job and careful testing of every component, by now it was clear that Bill’s Whippet represented, to Bill, a collection of mechanical components that were replaceable, repairable, interchangeable, renewable, re-arrangeable, by-passable, adjustable, bendable, straightenable, disposable, glueable, invertible or re-machinable, all hanging behind a well-worn Willys Overland badge, over the leaping Whippet logo on the grille
BONDI TO THE BALTIC
A vintage Silk Road journey
Two vintage cars, a few old mates, and the journey of a lifetime – Bondi to the Baltic is a fascinating story told through photos and the distillation of blogs and diary entries by some foolhardy, adventurous blokesBuy Now at $32.95
Read what Sergey …………………………a young Russian out to see his country says about meeting and travelling with a couple of vintage cars going the same way as him and how he gets us out of trouble.
It turned out that the Kazakh authorities weren’t satisfied with the car papers. They wanted originals, registration papers, and a tax file number. Ian and Bill had a contact man working on it. He took them to the tax office to pay a ‘fine’. After a four-hour wait, the office was closing and, again, the papers weren’t ‘right’. And there was no procedure for payment. Come back tomorrow.
The next day was Gerry’s birthday. On this day the previous year, we had struck our only uncomfortable hotel in China, at Lugu Lake. Maybe Gerry’s birthday was jinxed?
Back to the Tax office and another long wait. They eventually decided that it wasn’t possible to pay a fine; instead they required registration fees, about $ 20,000 for each car! Their concern was that cheap cars are smuggled in from Kyrgyzstan. Cheap cars? Horace, Ian’s beautiful 1920 Dodge? Bill’s Whippet maybe but not Horace.
Plan B, someone suggested, was to………………………………
Aussie blokes having the time of their lives driving halfway across the world in vintage cars. This ripping yarn has all the features of the best road movie: cars with character, great mates sharing the good times and bad, thwarted expectations, surprise encounters, heart-warming revelations and brilliant visuals. There’s something about Aussies and road trips – and John’s deadpan sense of humour nails it in this book. It’s a winner!
The best kind of travel writing: engaging, informative, perceptive and generous in spirit, the work of a mind curious about the world and accepting of difference.
Stunning photographs and, above all, a wonderful adventure.
Take a couple of vintage cars and their owners’ determination to drive them on a pilgrimage from Australia to Finland and you have a fascinating story told through photos and the distillation of blogs and diary entries by some foolhardy, adventurous blokes.
Starting out from Thailand, their travels took them through Laos, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia and Finland – a six-month journey spread over two legs in successive years.
Told in an engaging, self-deprecating and personal style, the reader enters the journey, every step of the way: following the ancient Silk Road route into the mountains of south-west and western China and the Tibetan Plateau where Muslim and Buddhist communities have lived for centuries, through the '-stans', and beyond.
Many an adventure, impossibly sticky situations, near misses and regular mechanical breakdowns were inevitably resolved with the support and civility towards this motley group of travellers in their ancient cars, by locals renowned for their hospitality. Nothing was ever too much trouble.
They had no sponsor, no professional photographer or filmmaker, no journalist to publish the story, no ‘name’ to add fame and celebrity, no contract in the pocket for a coffee table book with quality photos and deep, or informed historical and cultural insights, and no travelling mechanical workshop. There was just a determination to get each of these old cars to Helsinki in one piece and smell the roses along the way.
Wild Dingo Press
"Bondi to the Baltic" by John McCombe tells the story of an extraordinary vintage car journey halfway across the world. Ian Neuss, a member of the VVCA, driving his 1920 Dodge Tourer and Bill Amann of Perth in a 1927 Willys Whippet covered an astonishing 20,000 kilometres in two stages in 2014-15.
John composed the blog that recorded their adventures on the road and has now written a book describing the amazing adventure from its genesis in the garages of Sydney and Perth across the countries of the old Silk Road to its culmination in Helsinki, Finland.
There are plenty of details about the cars: how they were adapted to the conditions they would face, innovative solutions to problems with the engines and wheels, and the way they attracted the attention of other drivers, journalists, immigration officers and policemen as well as curious bystanders.
It becomes clear that the Dodge was a very reliable vehicle for the task; the Willys Whippet not so much!
But it’s not just a story of cars with character. With a sense of perspective and history John weaves in other features of a great road trip – heart-warming encounters with locals, tensions with border force personnel, and fascinating cultural experiences. The generosity of the people they met all along the way obviously humbled the travellers and challenged many of their pre-conceived ideas about other countries.
The book is full of glorious photos of the cars as well as scenes from the exotic places they drove through and people they met along the way. In one of the best photos taken in Kyrgyzstan the VVCA banner stars, proudly displayed on the back of the Dodge.
I am not an unbiased reviewer, being the partner of one of the main protagonists, but I can assure you that it is a ripping yarn, told by a born story teller with a laconic style and a dry wit.
It would make a great gift for anyone interested in vintage cars, adventure stories and the wonderfully diverse world we live in.
“BONDI TO THE BALTIC” by John McCombe is available from April 1 and can be bought online at Wild Dingo Press or at your favourite bookstore (priced at $32.95).