Two years in the making

Preparing a classic sports car for an epic 15,000km international rally.

Ashton Roskill purchased a 1954 Austin Healey 100 three years ago with the intention of competing in the 2019 Peking to Paris Endurance Event. But that was only the start. Teammate and RACQ member Giles Cooper takes up the story …

“First, we had to get an entry. More than 400 applicants, yet in early 2017, and much to our surprise, we were awarded one of just 120 starting spots,” he said. Giles took charge of preparation and it wasn’t long before the enormity of the task became evident.

Austin Healey testing

“Suffice it to say that it ended up as a bare chassis rebuild and restoration, with much rust and corrosion being cut out,” he said. “About the only original items on the car today are (some of) the chassis, outer body panels and the engine block.  Everything else on the car and in the engine is new or re-created. 

“The biggest challenge was that no one has ever tried to turn a low-slung Austin Healey into an off-road rally car before. The Peking to Paris event is held mostly on very poor dirt roads.  So, the entire rebuild has been about trying to raise the car as much as possible – not easy when the rear axle is underslung – which means you cannot raise it up at all.  So, we achieved 20cm of clearance by fitting 80 profile off-road tyres, re-routing the exhaust from underneath to the side; redesigning and raising the sump and all internals to above the main chassis rails; fitting stronger springs; moving fuel tanks and spare wheel; and saving weight wherever.”

Austin Healey stripped down

And, despite the painstaking preparation, the work doesn’t stop there

“This is a true endurance event – every competitor is expected to fend for himself,” Giles said. “On the Peking to Paris, every car has to carry its own spares and effect its own repairs.  There are mechanic helpers on the event, but they are only to help the competitors keep running – It is up to the driver and navigator to keep doing the work. On eight of the nights, crews are required to camp in tents (which they have to carry) because there are no towns or hotels nearby. Fuel is delivered in trucks to the camp sites. There is also medical back up, but only in an emergency.”

Read about the Peking to Paris journey here.

Austin Healey before and after