From New York to Athens

We first met the owners of this car in Tuxtla Guiterrez, Mexico, at the start of La Carrera Pan Americana. This is a six-day, many mile, historic rally that recreates the original event and twists through Mexico from the south to the north. Silas and Vicky Ford had come to ride along with our team-- the Pepsi/Volvo-sponsored Volvo 544 of Bill Shanahan and Danny Velloretti-- on the rally. The Fords were eager to see what it was all about. We (the Vintage Racing Services Inc. crew) had restored, prepared, and were supporting Bill Shanahan's Carrera-winning 544 Volvo at the event.

Si is a dedicated, Aston Martin enthusiast with vintage motoring in his blood. His wife, Vicky, seemed enthusiastically tolerant. They seemed to enjoy La Carrera, sharing the excitement and coping graciously with the discomforts.

Years later, the spring of 2001 to be exact, found them at our shop to discuss and plan a new adventure. The London-to-Kathmandu Vintage Rally proved the object of their query. A long and demanding road rally of this nature demanded planning-- and a degree of respect.

We reviewed various vehicle options taking into account the perils of the event. Logic and event rules conspired to lead us to select an early 60's Ford product. This is a vintage event and we sought both the right (read strong/safe/reliable) car with a period rally precedent. Our "gearhead" recollections revealed that the Ford Motor Company had prepared and rallied their Mercury division's Comet Caliente in the mid-sixties with some success. The die was cast.

Acquisition of a suitable example followed, as did an extensive restoration and preparation process. Times changed, terrorists intervened, and Kathmandu became Athens. The Fords were undeterred and the completed, very tested, and reliable Comet left our shop via container, bound for the U.K. in September of 2002.

As of this writing, the rally is underway, with Silas and Vicky speeding along some distant highway en route to the finish line. We will let you know how they do in our next installment, but no news is good news with the event nearing completion.

Historic rallies are an extremely enjoyable part of our classic automotive past time. The planning and designing is as pleasurable as the driving, and we have very much enjoyed being a part of the Fords' effort.

EUROPE, Fall 2005 – What has become of our international Comet & the ever-adventurous Si and Vicki Ford? The saga continues: London to Athens was a smashing success. The Comet & “Team Ford” complete 3,000 Kilometers with only minor maladies. Of paramount importance is the fact that they had a great time. Excepts from Vicki’s account of the journey follow.

Vicki Ford tells the story

The World Cup Rally, organized by the Classic Rally Association of the U.K., comprised 64 cars, each with a driver and navigator, leaving from Blenhiem Palace in Oxford, England for a ten day driving adventure crossing through 10 countries, covering 2900 miles, over all types of roads, in all kinds of weather before finishing in Athens, Greece.

The Rally organizer's had spent 5 months preparing the specific route book which each team had to follow to avoid time penalties. The car with the fewest penalties on reaching Athens was the winner. The organizers had also set up the checkpoints each car had to reach at an exact times (many on remote mountain logging roads), as well as the hotels, and general details.

So, on a bright Saturday morning, we set off in car 59, our 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente Coupe, for the unknown adventure ahead. Our first objective was to cross the channel by ferry from Dover to Calais.

Each car drove on the same designated route by following specific directions outlined in the Rally route book. Cars were spaced by starting one minute apart, but could overtake once underway. It was the task of the navigator to read the route book and guide the driver through the detailed directions.

So off we went, as quickly as possible. Speed was important, so, if you made a wrong turn, you had time to correct and still reach your checkpoint on time. Our first overnight was in Rastell, Baden-Baden, Germany. Fortunately, there was no time check that evening, since our generator quit at 10:00 PM somewhere in France and it took well over an hour to change to the back-up generator we had in our spares box.

More importantly, the reality of this unusual adventure was now upon us. Making decisions, the need for clear communication, the way the car handled, and the giving and receiving of instructions required focus on both of our parts. It became evident that the overall performance of car 59 required a concentrated team effort.

The real challenge began the next day negotiating the back roads in Austria, most over very mountainous terrain, with endless switch backs. Each car had to arrive at specific checkpoints at a precise time to avoid time penalties, and after hours of pounding on dirtfracks, frayed minds and shaken bodies were a reality. Many of the roads were at best dirt-logging tracks, with mud, rocks, and washed out sections, with little or no sign postings. Negotiated as fast as possible, sliding up and down switchbacks, was a test on car, driver and navigator.

At the end of each day, often in the dark, we would arrive at our hotel. The car needed to be carefully checked to make certain that nothing of significance had rattled loose. Si did that, while I worked through the route for the next day. Then, after a quick meal, it was off to bed to be ready for the early morning start and the challenges of another very long day.

After driving through the mountains of Slovenia, then down the beautiful Adriatic coast through Croatia,with an incredible rest day in the old walled castle town of Dubrovnik, it was up into the mountains of Bosnia, Montenegro, and into Albania, with an overnight in Tirana, the capital.

On the next day we crossed into the very mountainous countryside of Greece, with steep narrow dirt roads, picturesque valleys and glorious autumnal gold splashed across the mountaintops, since it was the height of the leaf changing.

We overnighted in loannina, and then Delphi, with a breathtaking sunset looking like unfurelled pink, purple and dark purple silk in the western sky, before arriving in Athens, proudly having completed what is known on the world rally tour as the toughest course in the annual calendar of amateur rally events.

Of the 64 cars that started, 56 finished, because six crashed and were undrivable, and two suffered major mechanical failures. Only a few finished without significant time penalties (driven by semi-professional drivers). We were pleased to finish in the middle of our car class, and 47th overall.

Our navigation proved very good, because we rarely took a wrong turn, but our overall speed did not match the more seasoned drivers. The car held up, although we did lose our rear brakes chasing down a dirt track in the Greek mountains. The others competitors were terrific, with everyone helping when needed, and the organizers deserve great credit for their efforts and support.

Reflecting on finally crossing the line, we both felt that being one of the finishers of an event that had carried us into part of the world we would normally never visit will not be quickly forgotten.

We will never forget the warm welcome in Rejicka, Croatia, with a uniformed brass band serenading the cars finishing the long day's drive at the town square.

Nor will we forget crowds of school children cheering our car through the remote mountain towns in Albania, or the sorrow and anguish at the devastation caused by the recent flood that had left families without crops and cattle.

Nor will we ever forget the hope incarnate in the next generation, standing 10,000 strong in a driving rain to hear a rock concert for 3-1/2 hours in the main square below our hotel room in Albania.

Or the courteous professional help of the 1,000 Albanian policemen who helped guide our car along the narrow winding roads in what clearly was a gesture of welcome to the western world. One wants to reach out a hand to Albania and provide help and reassurance as this country begins the fast forward into a more modern existence.

And the memory of trusting the people who were around to help, even in remote mountain villages where visitors are rare.

Or the burned-out villages, the houses ravaged with bullet pocks, and the discarded shells of cars and machinery that were left useless as a result of the Croatian and Serb civil war, along with the miles of yellow plastic tape around fields that are still harboring active land mines.

Or the older men and women in the high mountain regions ecking out a living by cutting grasses and wood and hauling them to their hut on a donkey with no hope of change entering their minds. They had not registered the graffiti slogan "The winds of change are here" written on one mountain wall in English, and yet the grandchildren of these same people were joyously shrieking, cheering and motioning us on as we sped by.

Finally, for us, we practiced teamwork, problem-solving, calling on each other for help over and over in the ten days of being put to a test, as well as being grateful to be a brief spectator moving by car through the cherished lands of other nations.

What an amazing world this is in 2002. We viewed the annals of recorded history as we saw its scattered remnants along our journey. Certainly the activity of travel has been one of man's methods and means of exploring and enriching his mind throughout the ages. And our trip was no exception. We gained in knowledge and understanding that is rarely captured in ordinary travel. We have a clearer view of our changing world, keeping our outlook on the horizon, and, as the distance becomes the present moment, we hope to continue our growth in the future.

Back in the States after the London-to-Athens Rally

Following the car’s return stateside, our Comet dutifully served as Si’s daily driver until the Spring of 2004 when the team decided to enter Mexico’s La Carrera Pan Americana Rally which has a late October start date. The car required service & race preparation. We have taken cars to La Carrera every year since 1992, so we know the drill. 3,500 hard kilometers with several hours of closed-road stages where the cars are run at maximum speeds. After a thorough once-over, we loaded car and spares into one of our trailers, hooked up a dually pickup truck and were off. A few days later; it is October 2004, Si and Vicki meet up with the crew (Brian, Julio, Kenneth, and Sven) just about where we first met “Team Ford” several years ago, at the Fairgrounds in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico….way down south.

Various inspections followed by testing, tweaking and tuning, then they are off on a new rally adventure. Another great time is had by all as, 7 days later, the Fords, Comet, and crew all find themselves at the finish line in Neuvo Laredo, Mexico, just across Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. Again “our” little Comet has performed flawlessly, as have driver Si and navigator Vicki. All too soon, “Comet” is back to the Northeast, and it’s far less exotic life ferrying Si to and fro. Another long winter, another spring, and another announcement, Si and Vicki have entered the Targa Newfoundland to be run on closed roads in September of 2005 throughout this scenic Atlantic Maritime Province. The hard miles were beginning to show and preparation for this event included a transmission rebuild, a steering system rework, and new paint to make our beauty glow.

Just after Labor Day truck, trailer, and Tim Ritchie with the Comet in tow set off for its 2005 adventure. Everyone assembled in St. John's Newfoundland right on time. Another exciting week of rallying, and an exceptionally enjoyable event. Si’s comment after all the excitement: “Check the car over carefully. We went faster and used it harder than in any previous event.” As of this writing, the Comet is getting a new limited slip differential and some needed service. Yes, you guessed it, the car is destined for a winter as Si’s “Driver,” though the Comet may be feeling this a little mundane and itself a little over dressed and its shiny new paint … but wait! There are rumors of Targa New Zealand in the pre winter winds… More to follow.

The Fords have it just right. They are really enjoying the diverse activities the collector car hobby offers. We often say this business is more akin to the entertainment business than the car business. Whether it is rallies, races, shows, tours, or just a Sunday drive, it’s the fun and enjoyment that we each derive, not the transportation utility the cars provide that fuels the amazing growth this “hobby” as experienced. We are all pleased to be a part of the fun and we enjoy seeing the fruits of our craft provide special experiences.