Rust 2 Rome

So umm… I assume you’re all curious about where Mrs. Toad and I have been for the last couple of weeks, of course. Aren’t you? Aren’t you? WELL?

Well I’ll take that as the deafening chorus of the entire internet shouting yes all at once, and tell you. We went on the Rust2Rome rally. It’s explained in the wee video at the top of the page, but put simply, a bunch of people buy cars for less than £500 and then try and get them all the way from Edinburgh to Rome, through some of the most challenging roads and stunning sights in Europe.

Given my general response to questions of where to go on holiday tends to be a shrug and ‘I dunno, somewhere we’ve not been before’, Mrs. Toad seemed to be kind of relieved that I actually had a real opinion about something for a change and, with a little bit of scepticism, she agreed to us signing up.

Now, I don’t know how many readers of Toad are particularly into their cars, and I am hardly a petrolhead myself, but I have always loved them and shopping for shitey cars under the price of £500 was always going to be awesome fun. I reckoned something big, so we could use it to schlep crap about Edinburgh for the label afterwards, and something… slightly crappy. I have always liked crappy cars. I don’t know what it is – probably a sense of reverse showing off, I suppose.

Anyhow, Mrs. Toad and I bought a 1992 Volvo 940GL for £350 on eBay, and turned up to the launch party to see everyone else’s cars decorated with stickers and special lighting rigs and all sorts of other awesome and ludicrous stuff, and it became clear we were on the verge of rather letting the side down so the following day, less than 24 hours before setting off we bought five copies of the Sunday Herald and a couple of cans of spray paint, drove the car under a bridge near where we live, and did the best job of a Toad-green racing stripe we could manage. It wasn’t exactly perfect, but it did the job.

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So, with the car looking suitably ridiculous, we set off. I can’t really detail all the incredible places we visited along the way, but there were loads. Bamburgh Castle, the Dover Transport Museum, the massive roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of fucking rush hour, the Millau Viaduct, the Tarn Gorge, Monaco, St Agnes, the Col de Turini, Assisi  Siena, and finally Rome itself and the impotent rage of the policemen at the Coliseum as we all tried to park outside in our collection of bangers and assorted shit-heaps.

The old Volvo started up a nasty-sounding death rattle on day one, and I have to confess I wasn’t entirely confident the old dear would make it, but there were several mechanics on the tour and their official advice was: “Is it still going? Ah, well don’t worry about it then.” And it turns out they were right. The rattle vanished as mysteriously as it appeared a day before the end, but the performance seemed pretty much unaffected, and the old girl managed to gamely hold her own against far quicker and younger Subarus, Toyota Celicas and, erm, an Austin Maestro.

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I promised myself, before we went away, that I would drive nice and sensibly and that I wouldn’t go charging around, particularly not in a sensible old family estate car, but that pretty much went out the window on Day Four. Whilst letting everyone bomb on ahead while we trundled along at 70mph was easy enough on familiar, boring British motorways, there was something about those alpine roads and the sight of everyone else hooning off into the distance which I just couldn’t resist. The foot went to the floor and the corners were cut as hard as possible, and I ended up throwing the car around as best I could to keep up with everyone else. And you know what, we managed it too.

I suppose on tricky roads the issue isn’t so much how fast the car is, more how fast you are prepared to drive it, and I was prepared to rag it pretty hard, it seems. And fuck me it was fun. Due to constantly driving terrible old cars (a 1977 Mercedes 200, a Renault 4, a Ford Sierra, and several other ropey old bangers) I have been pretty much forced to drive nice and sensibly since I was in my early twenties. Cutting loose and just booting it proved to be something of a long-forgotten pleasure, and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Toad and I were talking about putting a Ford V8 engine in the old dear and stiffening up the suspension a bit to stop it behaving like quite such a boat on the tight corners.

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Either way, I think we both want to go back next year. Mrs. Toad and I both have a sly love of cars. Crappy ones, maybe, on my part, but two members of her family work for amazingly prestigious garages in London, and it seems to me that just a little bit of petrol flows in her veins too. I couldn’t help but feel that for all my enthusiasm for cars, I didn’t really know enough about how they actually work to be doing this trip, but as I said, there were a good few mechanics who came along, so we wouldn’t have been entirely on our own if anything had happened.

The people who chose to make the trip were a bit of a surprise, actually. I had always thought of this kind of rallying (i.e.: informal piss-ups loosely disguised as a rally) was generally the preserve of posh people with the spare time to gad about Europe and the spare cash to spend on a car which may or may not survive longer than a couple of weeks, and we were kind of prepared to keep ourselves to ourselves a little bit and let the Ruperts and the Portias get on with their own shit. That turned out to be about as far from the truth as it could possibly be, and that was another of the best features of Rust2Rome.

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There were bricklayers, students, design engineers, off-shore workers, bouncers, medical analysts, and shopkeepers and Christ knows what else, but no-one really gave a shit. Everyone just got on and had a laugh. A few teams kept a little more to themselves than others, and a few people knew each other already so spent more time together, but everyone was really friendly and sociable and by the end we were pretty much all good pals. Sharing ludicrous adventures will do that, I suppose.

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So now we just need to get Betty a big fuck-off engine and a new paint job and we’ll be ready for next year. Man that was fun. And total fucking chaos. And fun! Huge, huge thanks to Marko for organising it all – see you in 2014!

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