Procuring a Polo

By the time we arrived at Heathrow, two of our precious rally preparation days had been taken up in transit, and (most) thoughts of tourist-ing it up in a city that Wade and I have both had the opportunity to fall in love with previously, vanished like Wade’s luggage. Instead, we would be spending the remainder of the week in acquiring and kitting out the miniscule motor vehicle that would be our home for six weeks.

First step: pick up the car.

Purchased in advance by Wade’s cousin, Nigel, and subject to as many safety checks as he could think of, the 2000 VW Polo was everything we had dreamed. 1.0L, tiny, red, literally one lady owner. No central locking, no electric windows, and no air con.

Wade and I left Darcy at the hotel, as he had already fallen asleep on the train, and caught the bus to the gorgeous little village where Nigel lives. Having both spent some time in England previously, we both knew that the fully detached houses and perfectly manicured lawns suggested there was a lot of money in the villages we passed through.

Walking to Nigel's house through the English countryside

The super cars narrowly escaping being side-swiped by the bus kind of gave it away too.

Compared to the BMW and Mercedes also parked in Nigel’s driveway, Pixie (the Polo) could have started out with something of an inferiority complex, but she knew that she was destined for a greater adventure than either of the others could even imagine.

The first part of which was returning to the hotel without running out of fuel, when we missed the petrol station Nigel recommended and drove the entire way with our fingers crossed.

Step 2: Introduce Pixie to the team mechanic.

There’s always a risk in buying a vehicle sight unseen, so we were a little nervous the next morning, when it came time for Darc to pass judgment on the mechanical sturdiness of our collective purchase.

After walking around it a couple of times, commenting on the lack of hub caps and tyre tread, it was time for the moment of truth. Would it even start again?

Well, start it did. With a noise that caused Darcy’s face to contort into a grimace of physical pain before he declared that our precious Polo had the death rattle.

Darcy's first sight of the car

Nothing less than a new engine would do.

A new engine that we would need to source, purchase, and replace, within three days.

We prepared ourselves for some very long nights.

Wade and Darcy going over the car

But then in true Mongol Rally fashion, we decided good enough was good enough, and decided to wing it instead.

Step 3: Convert grandma’s shopping trolley into a rally car

Bonus points for involving an actual shopping trolley.

Although the point of the Mongol Rally is to take a POS, entirely unsuitable, runabout car as far across Eurasia as it would go before dying, we decided that some minor concessions to practicality and comfort would be allowed.

First, we bought a skid plate for the bottom of the car to prevent rocks from peppering the underside with holes like bullets from a tommy gun.

Darcy tightening bolts on sump guard

Surprisingly, sourcing a custom rally part for a VW Polo was less difficult than actually picking it up. That required us to take our newly-condemned bomb into Central London, find parking, and track down a guy who was selling them out of his flat – and who wasn’t home.

Luckily, his flat was only a few blocks from the hostel I used to live and work at, so – after navigating the traffic and locating almost enough space to constitute a car park – we swung by for lunch.

Translate Bar, Shoreditch

As well as protecting the bottom of the car, we also needed to make some more room on top. None of us are small people, and we needed all the room we could get inside the car.

Plus no one really wants to share a confined space with a full fuel container for six straight weeks while trying to concentrate on avoiding potholes and driving on the wrong side of the road.

We needed a roof rack.

Sure, we probably could have bought one, but where’s the No. 8 Wire mentality in that?!

Instead, we tracked down a garage where we could rent a bay with a lift and a bunch of tools from some lovely members of the Russian mafia for a couple of hours, and started work on building our own.

We decided on the classic shopping-trolley-bolted-to-the-roof-with-blocks-of-wood-to-prevent-it-from-collapsing design, and scoured the mean streets of north London for an abandoned shopping trolley victim.

Something must have happened to clean up the city since Wade last lived there though, because no trolleys were anywhere to be seen.

Not one to be thwarted at the first hurdle, Wade headed out in search of a place to purchase some towels and pillows for Darc, who had unfortunately forgotten to bring any, and returned shortly after with the necessary acquisitions and a shopping trolley from a store which, for legal reasons, shall remain nameless.

Wade's return with shopping

Soon after, the basket had been separated from the frame and wheels, courtesy of some stellar grinding work from Wade,

Wade grinding trolley to make roof rack

and the boys were lining up the drill to attach it to the roof.

Darcy and Wade drilling roof holes for trolley roof rack

Careful testing demonstrated that no one would be giving themselves a concussion from the bits of 4×2 protruding into the car’s interior, and chunks hacked out of the roof lining ensured that the one good thing about the car – a surprisingly tidy interior – was ruined before the rally had even started.

Interior hole in ceiling for roof rack bolts

Eventually, the physical transformation was complete.

After disposing of the extraneous trolley parts in the skip bin out the back (sometimes it’s convenient to work with the Russian mafia – they don’t ask questions), Pixie was ready to hit the road (or lack thereof, as the case may be in some places).

Leftover roof rack trolley bits

As we pulled out of the garage, a guy came up to us to let us know that we had left a basket on our roof, so that it didn’t fall off and cause damage to passersby. The combined look of shock, confusion and amazement when he realised that not only was it there intentionally, but it had been bolted on for safekeeping, was priceless.

Step 4: Get in the rally mindset

Physically, Pixie was ready to go, but the boys were of the opinion that she wasn’t truly in the right headspace to take on such an epic journey until she was stickered up like an entrant in Le Mans.

Continuing the trend of visiting old stomping grounds while working on the car, the carpark next door to the Prince of Wales, where Wade used to be Assistant Manager, was converted into a creative workshop, as we applied the Mongol Rally decals to the doors and bonnet, and various other stickers, from the logo of Nigel’s genuine rally team, to a Kiwi-themed but less-than-appropriate Jake the Muss picture, all over the car.

Pixie with rally stickers, Prince of Wales carpark

Personally, I was of the opinion that less is more when it comes to stickers, but in true democratic fashion I was outvoted, and Pixie had no choice but to get in the zone to begin her life as a rally car.

Drivers side with stickers, Goodwood Motor Circuit

Leave a comment