Car club takes on the world in classic style

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

An Alaska AP Member Exchange

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- For having just been driven across the Himalayas and Asia, the 1934 Lagonda M45 touring coupe looked in remarkably good shape.

''Lots of dusting,'' said its owner, Englishman Christopher Claridge-Ware. ''Actually, it's a lot of bloody work. We were up 'til 4 this morning at Alaska Spring putting on new rear springs.''

Some of the 35 or so classic roadsters competing in the Around the World Challenge were on display here Sunday afternoon.

Locals who like old cars were in heaven, ogling vehicles like the red and black 1953 Studebaker Commander, the 1949 Buick Super ''Woody'' wagon with real wood exterior trim, and the 1965 Ford Mustang. Classic car clubbers brought their vehicles to show off beside the rally runners for a motor car love-in.

The rally began May 1 in London. Drivers and their partners came across Europe, the Middle East, southern Asia and China before loading cars and support vehicles on a cargo plane. The cars landed here late Saturday.

The rally was organized by the British Classic Rally Association. Competitors come from 25 countries, and most said they were attracted by the sheer novelty. This is the first round-the-world auto race since 1908, which traveled west from New York to Paris via a boat trip across the Pacific from Alaska to Vladivostok. This rally ends back where it began, in London, on July 18.

The Sunday display was meant to show off the cars and bring attention to the rally.

But a few contestants stayed behind at the Inlet Towers hotel parking lot to tend to more serious matters. Like William Balfour, also from England, who was changing the rear tires on his 1933 Talbot AV 105 Alpine.

''I've got this funny tan now,'' Balfour said, holding out his left hand. His forearm and the back of his hand were tanned. The fingertips were not. ''From being wrapped around the (steering) wheel. We've had the (convertible) top up a total of four days the whole trip so far. It's been beautiful all the way.''

Indeed, except for about 180 miles of what Buick driver Pat Brooks of Iowa described as ''heavy washboard, almost nonexistent road'' between Kazakstan and China, motorists said the trip so far has been a thrill.

''The people have been absolutely great wherever we've been,'' said Chris Dunkley. With his wife Jan Dunkley, the Kent, England, couple are driving their 1935 Bentley open tourer.

''Imagine a street lined deep with people. And they're fascinated with you. Number one, it's our long noses. Number two, it's the cars.''

Today, the rallyers are scheduled to head down the Alaska Highway, cross into the United States through Montana, then follow a northern-states route to New York. Then another plane takes the road show to Morocco for the last leg of the trip through Spain, France then London.

An event like this costs a lot of money. Teams will spend an average of $120,000 by the time they're done. Some teams have sponsors, but many are like Claridge-Ware, either independently wealthy or successful business owners.

''Who else would have the time and the money to do this,'' Claridge-Ware said. ''Actually, we're all slightly bonkers.

''Seriously, this is the longest car rally ever. We've driven places no Westerner has ever driven. Something like this will probably never happen again. You can't really turn it down, can you?''

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