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The longest night...

And so the two pistons of the little Panda find themselves beating away up the length of Italy. The final section ahead, and the 875cc engine suddenly seems to be going better than ever, cutting across the land of its birth.

A sudden diversion due to a shock snow-fall forced the Panda Pair onto a new, longer route up the right side of  Italy. Bari, Bologna, Milan were never going to figure in the route-plan, we wanted to skip up the left side via Naples and Rome. It added distance and time and stress… we have a welcome-party to attend at Marble Arch.

Hope of reaching the finish line by 5.30pm looked doubtful when the Panda found itself sliding around in snow after the Mont Blanc Tunnel - and on past Geneva. Progress slowed some more, limping in single file across a landscape that had suddenly become a total white-out. What a contrast from the long sandy stretches and boulders the size of footballs across Northern Kenya.

However, the pace was back on and the crew back "on it" in the run up to Dijon and with the turbo spinning away, gulping in the cold wintry air, the hope is now to make Calais around 2.30pm.

From thinking we had a few hours in hand, to thinking we could be late, the long night and final day is proving to be a roller coaster of emotions. But the Panda - one of the smallest cars you can drive out of a UK showroom – is now sprinting to the finish line, having raised a most encouraging bucket load of cash for Farm Africa along the way.

Crossing its second continent, the Panda will have clocked up 2,675 kilometres non-stop from Palermo in Sicily by the time we reach Calais.

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We are sailing...

The crew had spent the afternoon resting in Tunis. Paul processing pictures, Philip meeting with Dhafer Bassalah a local rally enthusiast who is leading a revolution within the national motor-club to set up a totally new organisation. Over several rehydrating glasses of orange juice we hear of Dhafer’s pent up frustrations. The existing club had been receiving substantial annual government grants… but there have been no accounts for the past 12 years. Perhaps a microcosm of the problems Tunisia has been going through in recent years.

Soon it was ferry time… then, the ferry was delayed by two hours. Tunisia is in crisis following the funeral of the assassinated opposition leader. There is an impression of paralysis with nobody wanting to be responsible for making the smallest of decisions. There was also a mini crisis in the Panda-team as an over-officious passport officer could not find the entry-stamp in Philip's passport - just a case of an old passport having too many stamps. It took some running around various large sheds to find his superior, who spoke no English. Panic attack over, the Panda finally climbed the ship’s ramp. And so we set sail for Sicily and chugged on through the night.

On a chilly morning under a clear blue sky the mountains of Sicily hove into view on the distant horizon. The shorts are remaining in the travel bag and a blue poncho that looks rather similar to a cabin blanket is around Philip's neck as the Panda Pair made their way around the decks looking for a bite of breakfast, carefully stepping over dozens of bodies cocooned in blankets on the floor. The best that could be found was a plastic cup of American coffee and a half-warm chocolate croissant. While sipping the over-strong piping hot coffee, a TV monitor sprang into life to entertain the cafeteria... with an old black and white Norman Wisdom film, all dubbed in Italian. It's Norman Wisdom in a policeman's uniform being chased over back garden fences by other uniformed coppers - all shouting Italian. You couldn't make it up.

Down below, the rumble from the engine room changed to a deeper throb, the ship slowing. Have the stoker's arms become tired of shovelling on the coal? ... Doesn't he know he has two passengers with a race to win?

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Out of Africa...

Misrata Checkpoint

We crossed from Libya into Tunisia at 4.0am - the night air was freezing, and running round empty custom sheds chasing down the stamps in shorts and t-shirt is not a lot of fun, particularly when one essential official is asleep in his car covered in blankets. It was a time confusing game of hide and seek in the dark.

To reach Tunis there is a mere 600 kilometres on top of the 1,500 just knocked off in crossing Libya.

The early mornings seem to suit the Panda the best, and with Paul asleep after a gruelling session of night driving with countless checkpoints and speed bumps, he handed over to Philip and instantly fell asleep. The road up through Tunisia proved a delightful change. Good but a bit bumpy gets the pulse stirring and the revs rise and fall with the little turbo engine singing its heart out. It's the final day in Africa.

The sun comes up and the first sight of the Mediterranean sees the Panda carving its way between the trucks towards the Tunis port, probably running quicker now than at any time since Cape Town. Darting through the roundabouts and sprinting from corner to corner, small seaside towns and villages are rapidly dealt with. The roads become quieter and the Panda Pair with the compass on the dash showing North push on under the swaying branches of the gnarled and twisted cork trees that line the road, overhanging branches swing in the sea breeze, waving the car onwards.

The crew are snatching their first rest with a hot bath in the Hotel Sidi Bou Said, overlooking the sea. In a few hours the Panda boards the GNV Florencia and sets sail for an overnight run to Palermo. The route plan uses as much land mass as possible, so it’s Sicily at the toe of Italy and the long haul across Europe. Of course the Panda cannot possibly go to Sicily without taking in some of the hallowed ground of the fabled Targa Florio road-racing course... is a little diversion allowed?

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Food on the Run...

We dined on the hoof today, eager to put as many kilometres of Libya under our wheels as possible. Two Hot Pack meals cooked up in the passenger footwell, Beef Casserole for Paul and Veggie Curry for Philip. The self-heating bags continued to cook on while the Panda-Pair scoffed their grub… soon the inside of the car took on a new smell… burning carpet. Our second course consisted of finishing the Dutch cheese that David Williams handed us back in Nairobi with a bag of local flat bread, not dissimilar to pizza minus the topping. Now and again an arm would appear out of a window from the escorting cars holding out black plastic bin-bags with tins of drink - Red Bull, Vimto and fruit juices.

Our two armed escorts are driving an old Mitsubishi Lancer and a newer Kia, and they're having to work hard to keep up at times as on the sections with no speed limit the Panda bowled along with the speedo-needle hovering over the 90 mph mark. The engine thrums as fresh as it did when driven out of the Mellors of Wantage showroom.

At fuel stops the Panda dives to the front of the long queues, the roof lights flashing. Locals get out of their cars to come and shake the crew by the hand. Paul gets a hard slap on the back while sucking on a carton of Kia-Ora orange-juice, and his Farm Africa T-shirt instantly gains a long orange streak... everyone is delighted to meet us.

Tobruk, Sirte and Misrata pass by as the Panda gobbles up the 1,500 kilometres to the border of Tunisia. The Panda passes rusting tanks left by the roadside, and pick-up trucks with big machine guns, one truck has an anti-tank rocket launcher, reminders of the anti-Gaddafi revolution.

On into the night. The Panda stops at a camp site under a bridge near Misrata, where so much of the fighting took place. A group of local youths are huddled around a fire, brewing a pot of tea. The Panda pulls up cautiously some distance away. Philip gets out, and slowly wanders over to sit by the fire. The local lads seem pleased to have someone new to talk to, even if the conversation is a bit limited. They are keen to show the Panda-Pair their 106mm rocket launcher and SPG-9 bazooka... and they give the crew a cup of black tea. Local youths are the same the world over, just not enough to do - and home life is just plain boring when you can play with real weapons and smoke fags around a camp fire along with mates who also face an uncertain future.

A little further on the Panda is flagged down by a group of locals who are keen to pose for pictures with our car. They have been waiting in the cold night air for over an hour, having followed our adventures on this website. Children run around shouting. "Fantastic to see you!"

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Into Libya...

Not quite the final frontier, but certainly the hardest nut to crack. At 6.45am local time, just over 24 hours and 1,813kms after crossing the Nile at Abu Simbel, we rolled up at the tiny white-washed sentry post after saying goodbye to "Turbo" and Hatem, who have fixed things for us across Egypt.

We have shaken hands with our new team - an armed guard will lead us, another armed guard will follow. Nobody seems at all bothered by the Union Jack across the front of the Panda.

And so it has all come down to a charm offensive. Two small boys both aged ten ask for "money, money!". They get some chewing gum and pens but as they don't go to school they're not a lot of good.

Libya has the tatty remnants of a Libyan flag flying over an arch, and a rusty pole that lost its sign is about to fall over, the scruffy customs sheds are empty. This could be anywhere in North Africa. We are doing plenty of talking… Nobody is telling us "foreigners are banned" - and it looks like our preparatory work has made a lot of impact. Libyan officialdom seems very pleased to see us. Everyone is smiling.

Long bread rolls arrive in the passport office which has no doors and windows, the perfect excuse for officials in hooded cloaks huddling over the desks to stop work. It’s breakfast time. It's all a game of patience - this is not the moment for hustling. Eventually, a big rubber stamp with a red handle is found in the bottom drawer... things are now looking up. But! Just wait five minutes! We must now wait for a fax from the police station up the road.

A chilling reminder of Libya's recent past... as we waited for stamps in our passports, there were three muffled explosions. We ask the obvious question and back came the reply, with a casual shrug of the shoulders, "People with no visas, they risk walking around the outside of the walls, here ...setting off land-mines". Nobody left the queue in the shabby passport office to go and look.

Suddenly, our passports are back all approved !!!  ...and we are on the move passing through a rusty gate. Three Libyan car-mad enthusiasts have come to see the Panda in the flesh and cheer us on our way, waving frantically. We are now driving into Libya - when plenty warned us it would prove to be a border too far, an immovable anvil which would see the hammer come down on our nine months of planning.

Our two cylinders are purring with a contented thrum, pulling us into yet more desert scenery. It's to be a day with the Sahara on our left, the sparking Mediterranean out over our right elbows, and 1,500 kilometres ahead before Tunisia.

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Reporting from Cairo...

Coping with a tyre drama in Cairo

It's been a great day for seeing a huge chunk of Africa roll under our wheels. From the Nubian Desert north of Khartoum, and across the Nile and on through the Eastern Desert we saw nothing but sand today. Then the drive up the side of the Nile from Aswan to Luxor gave us more sand out over our left shoulders... the edge of the Sahara.

Today we have certainly covered a tremendous amount of ground. The two cylinders of the Twin Air have had a lot of hot work to do, but interestingly when we lifted the bonnet at mid-day yet again no water was needed - we haven't topped up the radiator since the day the car was shipped out of England. Given it’s a tiny turbo working its guts out that's impressive, and a credit to the Evans Coolant we are using. Also, again, no topping up of oil is needed either - by now we expected the engine might like a drop of fresh Red Line oil, but the dip stick says otherwise.

We stopped to fit our spare pair of rear shock absorbers, drop the sump guard and give it away - surely we have seen the last rough patch - and change the wheels around. The front tyres, being bald, now run on the back. We are taking time out in Cairo to visit a tyre dealer to buy two new tyres. The Firestone van tyres have been impressive, good in sand and not a single puncture so far, but two won’t be going any further.

But... we spoke too soon and jinxed it. Driving through Cairo the Panda ran over a patch if glass - we collected four punctures, but deflating sufficiently slowly we made it a tyre repairer. We have managed to buy three and repair the best of the Firestones. We have also lost some time.

Later we are off to the Libyan border - full of hope but feeling anxious. All foreigners are banned - officially. Surely, even the toughest Kalashnikov-carrying border guard has a heart that can be melted by the sight of our Panda. In eight hours’ time and after a drive across the top of Egypt, passing El Alamein, we will find our answer.

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A Historic Border Crossing...

An eerie first light, a smudge of orange, lights up the faces of the enormous ancient carvings of the Temple of Ramses at Abu Simbel - once the southern gateway to Egypt. Pharaoh Ramses has been looking out over the Nile, watching travellers, for over 3,000 years. This is his first sighting of the arrival of a Fiat Panda.

The Panda is being re-fuelled on the deck of our barge as we cross Lake Nasser.  Our ‘fixer’ has our every need in hand. Right now a tyre compressor has been converted into a fuel pump to push 40 litres of petrol into the Panda. The back of his old Toyota Landcruiser is full of jerry-cans filled with 95 octane fuel.

For the last nine months our Egyptian ‘fixer’, Mahmoud ‘Turbo’ Ezzeldin, and his Sudanese counterpart, Midhat Mahir, have been working with the cooperation of many government officials and with the assistance of letters from Lord David Steel, president of the Endurance Rally Association to make this border crossing possible. It is hoped that the route we have used today will be ready for a public opening as the regular crossing route between Sudan and Egypt in a few months’ time.

Our prediction is that official welcome receptions will be kept short ... Given that both crew say they are rather smelly.

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Fed and Fueled...

As we passed through Khartoum there was still no time to stop so local agent Midhat Mahir had a lad waiting on Victory Bridge to hand us two chicken burgers wrapped in foil. They would have been cold had we been late but the Panda crossed the bridge over the White Nile spot on time. Lunch was washed down with an alcohol free beer.

Now we have left Khartoum behind and will drive north alongside the River Nile tonight - we have 900kms to do before reaching Wadi Halfa in the early hours of the morning and will hopefully see this off before completing a historic crossing into Egypt. Our crossing from Sudan to Egypt has involved arranging an army barge, more usually used for commando training, to cross Lake Nasser, from Qustul to Abu Simbel. The barge crossing comes after driving a newly built, but so far unused, road from Wadi Halfa to a new frontier post on the line of the Sudan – Egypt  border at Eshkeet. This is the crossing route that has been promised will soon be the official tourist route. Much depends on enormous goodwill among local officials and for months of detailed planning to come together for the arrangements to fall into place.

We are driving north with vast sandbanks on either side and, as the sun drops, a strong wind is building up, blowing clouds of sand into the radiator. We will have to check the air cleaner when we get to Egypt. Problems at moment… the rear shocks are very soggy so we have more bounce than Zeberdee… the sump guard and exhaust pipe are now close neighbours sending out vibrations through the floor, and sand in the cd slot has ruined it for Simon and Garfunkel.

Both fuel tanks are full and we’re settling down for another long haul. There are long patches of wind-blown sand across the road… and to think, we threw out the sand shovel in a major chuck-out of weighty items back in Cape Town. The black curtains have been drawn across the middle of the car and over the rear window, and the Mini Van roof vent is open, as PY ends his three hour driving stint. Having scoffed his hot chicken burger, he curls up for some sleep.

Paul is at the helm for the first innings of the evening. The front wheels go thump over another sandbank.

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Running on Empty...

The Panda Pair's worst nightmare: losing all chance of the world record just because of something simple… like running out of petrol. More than two hours was dropped in the middle of the night with fruitless searches for "benzine"  ...but the national shortage of petrol meant garage after garage could only offer diesel. With tired nerves now set jangling, the exhausted crew had only one option: to put all their faith in the Panda's economy. Time was dropped as they adopted economy-run tactics of cruising down the sides of mountain slopes with either the gear lever in neutral or with the engine turned off. The green 'Eco" button was pushed on the dash - it gives better fuel economy. The final section was 200 miles to the border. But the Panda's on screen computer said they would run dry after 150 miles.

At 9.30 they rolled up onto the dirt in front of the woven-willow wicker style shack of Ethiopia's customs department. A walk to another office - a converted shipping container, staff inside stamp carnets baking in a steel oven, lit by candles, and then it’s off to the next shed for passports to be stamped.

The Panda had EC light up on the fuel gauge - Fuel Emergency? After running on empty for most if the night, it was no surprise that when the fuel cap was opened to take 35 litres siphoned from a drum, nobody could smell any fumes. The Panda had used up the fumes in the last mile.

Just 45 minutes was all it took to whisk through the formalities and hit the road again. The Panda is now bouncing down the road literally - the rear shock absorbers are clapped out - but the crew want to be through Khartoum and following the Nile north to Wadi Halfa.

The next big hurdle? Getting into Egypt and slicing through the maze of bureaucracy in record-breaking time.

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From the Blue Nile Gorge...

Ethiopia has been a remarkable country - full of contrasts. The locals cheer you on, and if you stop beside the road, even in the middle of nowhere, a local will stop to ask if you need help.

Fuel had been our biggest worry - a country that in reality is just one big donkey sanctuary has problems we have not seen anywhere else. Petrol is a rare commodity.

Our night haul to the border has been a massive ordeal, at midnight we still had 600 kilometres to the Sudan border. We took a wrong turning. And found ourselves on a rough gravel road driving between boarded up buildings, all rough-hewn wooden shacks... a ghost village. We had been the only ones on the track for over half an hour. This mistake proved costly as we turned around, now further behind schedule.

The night drive saw us descend into a dramatic spur of the Rift Valley. This deep gorge has a road that spirals down, hugging the cliff. A seat-swap had been pre-arranged, so Paul didn't see the way molten tarmac, like toothpaste squeezed from the tube, rolled out across the road as he slept through the descent over weird humps and bumps. Once the driver change had been completed on the Blue Nile Bridge, it was Philip's turn, having fallen instantly to sleep, to be driven over the strange molten folds in the road that hugs a cliff.

And the beauty of this place becomes lost on both of us as the Panda climbs its way up the staircase of hairpin bends.

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On the Road From Mars and into Ethiopia...

Someone has to do it ...

It's been a hot day… after a hot night. Ten hours on the "road from Mars" was hard work. We picked up our armed escort Toyota Landcruiser outside of Marsabit. Before setting off they wanted to shake hands and tell us we had little hope of reaching Moyale... the Panda is totally unsuitable. We were then shown the various bullet holes in the bodywork, souvenirs from previous escort-duty. Why keep on doing it, if bandits in the bush take pot-shots at you with a Kalashnikov? Well says our philosophical guard… "Someone has to do it - and we like to think when we fire back we might just be successful… We might be tonight". The big white truck has a bullet hole just to the rear of the driver’s door and three more in the chassis near the front wheel. We the set off into the night with big clouds of dust billowing out as our lights arc left and right, picking up the tracks.

The long sandy stretches are unexpected and more worrying than the banging and crashing over huge ruts and craters. When it comes to sand, we need not have worried. The Panda proves remarkable in the sand, even with the floor rubbing on the surface when the wheels fall into deep ruts previously carved out by trucks, the Panda just keeps barrelling its way forward. Our tyre choice has been the saviour of the night. These "old stock" six ply Firestone van tyres are blessed with thick strong sidewalls. The Toyota escort had chunky off road tyres that claw down. Our Firestones have a boring-looking zig-zag pattern, we can "plane" like a speedboat on the surface of packed sand, knobbly tyres would dig in too much. Our tyres are good all-rounders and got us down the Mars road puncture free. The Toyota stopped for 20 minutes to change a wheel after a rock tore a hole in their off-road tyre.

By midnight, it’s time for a driver swap-over… We see the Toyota at a standstill, up to its axles in soft powdery sand. Now it’s our turn. The Panda is given some stick, but soon the revs fall away… but then the turbo does its stuff - lots of low down torque keep the front wheels turning, and we inch past the Landcruiser, not stopping till we reach hard ground another 100 yards further on. We stop to change seats. Torches are found and pointed back at the escort-crew. Being beached out here in bandit country in the middle of the night is hardly fun. Philip shouts back to those stuck in the four-litre Toyota gun-ship, "Are you OK? Shall we bring the Panda back... and give you a tow? "

Now in Ethiopia, it’s been a difficult morning with constant diversions into terrible crap. The rear shocks are gone but David Williams brought out spares… we only need time to fit them. The biggest problem with Ethiopia, where the people are the friendliest on the planet, is a chronic lack of petrol. We’ve been calling in at several gas stations and it's either all diesel, or one pump of petrol but run out, so we lost time looking but we have now filled right up, two tanks plus the rubber jerry-can donated by Simon Ayris, and a can in the passenger seat footwell. Hope to find another top up in Addis so we can feel a bit more secure until the Sudan border.

Towns have a different kind of traffic jam out in rural Ethiopia. Gridlock is a daily fixture, with India style tuk/tuk scooter taxi cabs mixing in with lots of carts pulled by ponies or donkeys… cows wander across the road in herds, and goats and horses come at you down the middle of the street. Out of town there are camel trains wandering along the hard-shoulder. It is a total contrast to anything that we've previously experienced. Keeping to our time schedule has been very testing today.

A long hard night lies ahead, through the Highlands, to bring us to the border of Sudan.

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Pit Stop at Barney's Bar ...

A few kilometres south of the equator we stopped for omelettes and bacon all round washed down by lashings of mango juice at Barney’s Bar airstrip cafe where the music throws out country and western classics. Also a chance to change shirts and underwear... Paul left his smelly clothes on the floor of the gents as a souvenir for the cleaner.

A check around the Panda by David Williams – Peking to Paris winner and the former manager of WRC champion Richard Burns - has revealed that the Panda is, in David's words "shaken but not stirred".  He found two rear shock absorber rubbers in a bad way, the exhaust all fine, the sump guard unmarked. Gaiters on front struts fine and nothing falling off.

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Slow Progress ...

Compare the attitude of the Tanzanian customs chief with that of the lady who works out of the gatehouse on leaving Zambia. The lady has an open fronted three sided wooden shack with a couple of sheets of corrugated iron on the roof. She is the last person you see of Zambia's officialdom and it is her job to see that anyone leaving has their paperwork in order. We give her our passports - correctly stamped. And the Carnet de Passage, the booklet of counter foils that enables a car to cross international borders without paying import duty. Ah, says Mrs Zambia, your Carnet needs a rubber stamp! She then instantly apologises. The Chief keeps the stamp, and he has gone to church. "But you can go without a stamp - I will sign it instead" signatures are added, a counter foil record is torn off, and we are waved away with a "Good luck, safe travelling".

One hundred yards across the muddy compound, you find the customs office of Tanzania, and a process hidebound in red tape. Drive out without the chiefs rubber stamp and it will have all the checkpoints in Tanzania glad of something to do.

Moving towards Kenya neither of us will be sorry to see the back of Tanzania. The country cripples itself by placing speed bumps every few kilometres. Some are vicious, designed to catch out the unwary. Gullies, holes, trenches are also mixed in and today we have seen the country's transport system first hand. Broken down trucks litter the countryside. Progress in terms of delivering goods from one place to another is a hit and miss affair. Truck drivers face a daunting task - we have passed several trucks that have run off the road, mangled wreckage suggesting that severe injury and death is a daily occurrence.

Endless checkpoints, usually young police on the make, hamper our progress. We are spending a night of slow progress, wondering what else we can give away when the caps, t-shirts, cigarette lighters and miniature whiskey bottles have run out.

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Night Driving in Africa ...

Well before 2.0am, after a hot meal and a few precious hours sleep, we left the Mazingo Hotel  to the sound of loud creaks from the heavy iron gates, leaving behind a place you cannot deny as "interesting". Two rooms and two hot meals, with two cokes, came to 85 dollars. For this you get a square brick cabin, a low bed with a sheet blanket, and just off the room - no door - a toilet and shower. There's no wi-fi or beers but the home-bed is what is most appreciated. Tiles are everywhere, the pink washed walls remind you of Morocco. Bronco toilet paper and old fashioned Lifebuoy soap are nostalgic little touches. Neither of us managed to get the hot tap in the shower working. Over landers and bikers come here - if there is a better spot in town we haven't heard of it. Basic… yes, but perfectly up to the job of rest and replenishment. We dined well on piping hot spaghetti - sauce comes from an HP bottle - spinach, and two veggie sausages plus a bottle of coke. The first hot dinner since leaving Cape Town went down well.

After our short sleep we are on the road again. As we climbed uphill steadily, leaving the plain of Mpika behind, we are both surprised at the number of trucks on the road at this early hour. No longer clipping along with the speedo hovering over the 70 mark, our usual pace has dropped. The road is a lot more bumpy and while the combination of good headlights and two spotlights is proving so useful, deciding if a black streak across the road is a freshly patched hole, or just an oil-stain... or a vicious pothole that jars the suspension joints with a crack that makes you fear for your wheel bearings, is hard judgement call.

We come across numerous lorries sitting on their axles. Broken trucks with no lights, and no warning triangles - drivers having put out branches of brushwood - now dominate the night. A few times we are hit by light showers of rain. Butterflies, moths and insects have smeared greasy streaks across the windscreen, and with what was left of the contents of the washer bottle used up in yesterday's thunderstorm, the temptation to flick on the wipers just has to be resisted. Adding to the concentration, sudden patches of thick fog slows progress even more.

We have decided to split the night drive to the border 50/50, leaving each passenger cursing why the driver hasn't got the speed scrubbed off before clouting a trench or hole in the road. It proves impossible to avoid hitting the odd hole so hard we are both left wondering why the dashboard and wiring loom are not around our ankles. Respect for the Pandas strength and its preparation grows by the hour, and mixed into the emotions of our frustrating progress.

We flick on the two small hazard lights on top of the screen pillars. Like birds in the jungle that puff up their size as a defensive tactic, the flickering roof lights make us more visible, a more unusual shape to the oncoming truckers, in the hope we get a few inches if extra room as we pass on the narrow strips of broken-up Tarmac. Oncoming drivers try to intimidate the other in a game of chicken, the loser having to swerve onto the rough dirt strips that line the edges of jagged bitumen. Avoiding a puncture from the edge of a lump of tarmac rubbing the inside of a tyre is a constant worry.

The road to Tanzania has been the hardest and the most challenging so far. At 3.30 am and with 168km to go, we find ourselves down to first gear - weaving in and out of muddy pools of water. A Mitsubishi Shogun pulls over and signals us to overtake. We have been in convoy, a close-formation drive at walking pace, but the 4x4 driver now wants to use our better lights and tuck in behind the Panda. We come across a truck on its side. Then another, having run off the road, brake failure, steering failure or dozing driver responsible for tipping a heavy load deep into the brushwood. Roads like this are crippling Zambia's economy.

Tall grass, over three metres high, suddenly lines the road and creates weird shapes to the shadows dancing across the road ahead… and all the time the agile little Panda flicks from side to side, weaving in and out in a bid to avoid the worst of the craters that litter the road to the frontier. From one side to the other, using the full width of the road, again and again, we zig-zag our way onwards.

The average speed to the start of the day in this night-drive drops some more when we both decide it’s time to open up the two flasks of coffee, given to us yesterday lunchtime by Lynn Szeftel. No time to stop, it’s breakfast on the hoof. Paul in the passenger seat turns the top of the dashboard into a kitchen table while balancing flask between his knees, a plastic box of sugar on one leg, a pack of long life milk in one hand, cup in the other, and two spoons in his mouth. Suddenly... Bang! We've hit another blasted crater.

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Tropical Thunderstorm ...

Grappling with torrential rain on the road to Mpika

We promised Lynn Szeftel of the Zambia Motor Sports Association that we would reach her road-side Lusaka pit stop at 1.15pm and with one minute to go, Paul turned the Panda off the main road into Sandy’s Creations garden centre after driving the five hours from Livingstone and the Kazungula pontoon.

A further eight hours remained before our next planned stop, Paul opting for an afternoon ziz after we had tucked into Lynn's sandwiches and flasks of tea. He woke up to find the wipers on full speed and Philip grappling with torrential rains of a tropical thunderstorm. Clouds so black the headlights were on and vision was down to 20 yards. And while he had managed to sleep - with the cd belting out Cheryl Crow's long and winding road, the Panda had been excelling at its traffic beating qualities cutting through the traffic snarled streets of Lusaka. No big and heavy 4x4 will weave in and out, punch its way down the outside of a line of slow moving cars to jump into what look impossibly small gaps, with anything like the remarkable agility of our Fiat Panda. The car that Autocar journalists voted as their top city car has just proved itself invincible at punching through gaps of African cities.

Vicious thumps of 'sleeping policemen' along with ruts and potholes, conditions today have been the hardest going so far, apart from the surprise turn of the weather.

Our hectic non-stop foot-down press on regardless approach to all this sees us finally snatch a short break tonight. We are ahead of our schedule - beating our own target - so plan to take a couple of rooms at the Mazingo Lodge in Mpika. A bowl of hot soup and spaghetti, followed by a shower and a first change of clothes since Cape Town, and maybe a few hours sleep, is hopefully the prize for being early. We plan to be back on the road again before 2.0am for the final 400kms to the border with Tanzania. We want to be there at 6.0am... border opening time.

So far, the car has not missed a beat, with over 3,000 kilometres under our van-tyres, which reminds us... it really is time we lifted the bonnet, for the first time since the start, and checked the oil.

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Crossing the Zambezi ...

On the Chobe Drifter ferry over the Zambezi

Day Two: we crossed Botswana during the night. A shame we could not have seen more of this beautiful country. At the Kazungula ferry, border formalities were processed in minutes - getting hold of immigration forms in advance shaved off a lot of the hassle and time and we successfully reached the Zambezi as the sun rose over the water. Nearly a mile wide and fast flowing at this time of the year, our crossing into Zambia had to be done by a pontoon. With just the Panda and crew aboard, we chugged our way across, in the company of a pair of crocodiles.

Once the ramp bit into the dirt of the northern bank the Panda's front wheel inched forwards off the pontoon and squeezed through a gap in a line of trucks. Border formalities took less than ten minutes - and we were being waved out of the gate and onto the road to Livingstone.

We are taking a little time out for a quick and wonderfully invigorating shower and our first proper breakfast since leaving the Cape Town. The Cross Roads hotel are providing omelette and chips, and we have arranged a pit-stop refuelling to take on 20 litres of avgas. The idea is to use this to pep up the local petrol which is only 92 octane. The start of day two sees us having knocked off 2,400 kilometres so far... and the Panda is performing magnificently.

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Relieved in Mafeking ...

A brief relief stop on the way to Mafeking

The sun hung low over the Western horizon as we rolled downhill into the dusty town of Mafeking, the town embedded in the folklore of The Scouts movement, after running all day non-stop except for two fill-ups. We could have gone for super-long stretches between fuel stops, but decided the battle-plan would be to use only the Panda's standard fuel tank. We are saving the long range second tank for later as it keeps weight off the rear suspension, vital if we are to help conserve our shock absorbers.

Today has been uneventful as we set about establishing a shift system of three hours driving, three hours resting, and each of us found little difficulty sleeping on the move. Last night was restless for both of us.

The long ribbon of baked Tarmac with rich red earth on each side, with the odd stray donkey, has taken us to the town where army commander Robert Baden-Powell first won fame for withstanding a siege in the Boer War. In 1899, he kept the townsfolk of 1,500 residents together, against a siege of 8.000 South African troops for 217 grim days. Quite what the British were doing here in the first place was a basic question lost on public opinion back home, where every town and village organised wild celebrations at "the Relief of Mafeking". Later Baden-Powell went on to form the Boy Scout movement. We would like to think he would rather approve of our little initiative test as we grapple with maps and a compass.

Today Mafeking is an untidy scruffy and run down mining town, shabby streets lined with litter. You would struggle to find anything you could regard as attractive - and we failed to find any reminder of those who lost their lives in the Alamo-style conflict that made this town famous for guts and determination.

The Panda Pair also struggled to find some fast-food joints. Having got here with a little time in hand, a pizza or burger seemed a good idea but we contained our hunger and kept the wheels turning. The sun finally gave up its struggle and fell behind the far horizon as the Panda made its way out of town, heading to the frontier of Botswana. A long night is ahead - when we next see the sun we hope to be approaching Zambia.

Philip - cruising on day one

Earlier Today

11:45 (GMT) - Lots of roadworks now. Long waits. ITV Meridian will be running a progress update tonight.

10:00 (GMT) - Six hours on the road, just breezing along. Both crew have enjoyed an hour's good sleep. The sheepskin seat covers are brilliant. The Panda's economy suddenly improved vastly at the expense of a noticeable drop in power... Then we noticed someone had hit the "Eco" button on the dash. Normal service now resumed.

This morning has been about crossing the vast open plains of the Karoo region - long straights, good smooth tarmac and very empty… truly open road motoring. Got caught by a few road-menders traffic lights. We were tempted to try out our nifty little flashing orange roof-lights to dodge down the outside and weave through, but have both agreed that as today is surely going to be one if the easiest days in Africa we had better settle for being in Best-Behaviour mode.

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Relaxing before the storm...

In the Heart Radio studio

This is coming to you from the garden of the Mount Nelson Hotel, yards from the rose bushes where Eric Jackson landed after crashing through the flower beds at the end of his record 50 years ago. We are now chilling out in the balmy warm sunshine with not a cloud to be seen over Table Mountain, relaxing but eager to hit the road.

The day began very early with a manic rush around the Cape Town studios - first a six minute live interview with the presenters of South Africa's national Breakfast programme, Expresso, then a race across town to meet a deadline with the presenters at Heart Radio.

We have heard from the official time-keeper being sent to time our departure by the South African Motor Sports Association - that just leaves things like laundry to collect, charge the camera batteries, and sling the one small hold-all each into the back of the car, and we are good to go.

The Mount Nelson has been a great place to relax before the off. The old fashioned charms of a hotel that has seen everything since 1899, including World Record attempts, offers an old-fashioned sense of personal service you rarely experience these days. It has left us feeling that one day we will be back again... for a less stressful stay.

We are naturally wondering what lies ahead. We hear it’s now raining in Kenya. That could not be worse news. Does it mean the track across the desert will be rivers of red mud?  There is already speculation of extra delays getting a special barge to carry us over the Nile on the border between Sudan and Egypt... and what hope of the Panda getting into Libya? Politics in Africa, like the weather, can change fast - the outlook now looks so different from when we started planning this nine months ago.

Our next report will be on the road... ahead is 10,000 miles and the schedule is virtually non-stop. First hurdle is crossing the fast-moving waters of the Zambezi River, a few miles up-stream from Victoria Falls. If the game plan is working well, a pontoon will be waiting for us at the crack of dawn on Saturday, little more than 24 hours and 1500 miles from the imposing Greek-style gateway of the Mount Nelson. Almost as big as our finishing target of Marble Arch, Eric Jackson must have been truly exhausted to not find this impressive Cape Town landmark all those years ago.

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Fillet Steak and Kendal Mint Cake...

Cape Town Car Wash - Click to enlarge

It was a tense moment at Cape Town's docklands this morning when the time came to open the rusty brown doors of the shipping container. The Panda was well boxed in, almost literally, with planks of wood nailed to the floor at the front and rear of each wheel. The CARS team had also roped the car from any further movement with a lashing to the front nudge bar. Crowbars and hammers were found, then a careful inspection in case any protruding nails had been missed.

A note on the windscreen said "battery disconnected" but we hoped this was just a bluff to impress officialdom. When the Panda refused to show the slightest signs of life even with the help of a giant fork-lift truck battery we had to believe the note. After clipping an elusive dangling earth lead to the bare post on top of the aptly named Odyssey battery our two cylinder turbo began purring in satisfaction.

The rest of the day has been spent blowing the diet plan on bumper breakfasts and cream teas in the splendid surroundings of the Mount Nelson Hotel before packing the car - which saw the first heated debate. This resulted in a shopping trip for a scissor jack, to replace the unused bottle-jack, the reasoning being that saving three pounds in weight will make a difference. Equally, lots of items have been dropped simply because there is no more space without compromising the rear sleeping area.

Our inner tube, air compressor, and puncture repair kit - vital kit when you only have one spare wheel - have also been left out. They are going to Nairobi - before our terribly rough day crossing the desert if Northern Kenya. Clothes and personal items are reduced to such a minimum that Paul says he knows of a handbag carrying more life-saving equipment than we have.

What's left to do? Shrink the new shorts, hopefully with a swim in the pool; sort out how to get planned TV footage of us crossing of the Zambezi back to ITV in time for Fred Dinenage’s South of England regional news next Monday; we also have to finalise Gerard Brown’s photography schedule that needs pictures to land on the Sunday Telegraph picture desk to tight deadlines on Saturday. Then we have to shop for Kendal Mint Cake, Paul reckons it helps to keep him awake - and sample the fillet steak of Mount Nelson’s restaurant.

There’s much to do, with no lazy extra hour in bed to start our final pre-start day tomorrow... we have to cross town to the Expresso studios of South Africa's top breakfast TV show before 6.0am as the car and crew are due in the studio for a live slot with the programme presenters. After battling through the snow meet ITV's Fred Dinenage in Portsmouth last week the Expresso breakfast show should hopefully be a reasonably easy start to our last day before starting the Record Run.

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The Best Laid Plans...

It's almost time for our taxi to Heathrow and by now we had hoped to see all the last-minute details of the months of planning finally drop into place.

Destination Marble Arch

In the last couple of days we've collected a permit from the RAC Motor Sports Association. They govern all timed motor events on the public roads and because we need official timing at Marble Arch to verify our record attempt we have to have the MSA permit.

Why Marble Arch? Because that is where Brigadier John Hemsley finished when he set the last record in 1983, which has remained unbeaten for 30 years. The RAC official in those days was Neil Eason Gibson who sat in a deck-chair under the arch after receiving a tip-off call from journalist Phil Llewellyn who was covering the story for Autocar. Llewwllyn had called him up having caught up with Hemsley’s Range Rover as it drove out of Dover docks. Back in 1983 all the Range Rover had to do was drive under the arch and park on the concourse. But these days it's not so simple and you can’t drive under Marble Arch without... you guessed it... a permit. This one comes from Westminster Council and it arrived yesterday from their Special Events Department.

So, things are indeed dropping into place? Er, not exactly... there's one remaining glitch. We have been informed that the Libyan borders with both Egypt and Tunisia are closed to all foreigners! When we started planning this nine-months ago, Yvonne Mehta, who has rallied throughout Africa, warned us against trying the record attempt on the basis that “things always upset the best laid plans – it’s Africa”. Needless to say, we have worked extensively on the diplomatic front and have made good progress – a few days ago we received confirmation that the land border between Sudan and Egypt will be opened specially for us, but we are now only days away from the start.

Philip flies out on Monday afternoon and Paul follows on Tuesday. The first job in Cape Town is to get the customs sorted for the Panda, which should have arrived after being trucked 750kms in its container since being unloaded from the Maersk Gateshead in Port Elizabeth.

The Mount Nelson Greek Pillars

It looks as we will be setting off uncertain of how all the planning is going to shape up... but with South Africa’s Breakfast TV filming our start and so much work behind us there is no question of delaying things and no question of turning back now.

Historical footnote: In Cape Town we are starting our record attempt from the historic 'Old Colonial' Mount Nelson Hotel. It was here that the time keeper waited for the arrival of Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers in 1963, in the then-new Ford Cortina Super. Failing to find the hotel entrance... “those Greek pillars can’t be it!” ...they circled round Cape Town looking for the entrance, finally spotting the hotel through the trees... dead tired, having driven non-stop from Nairobi, they drove over the pavement into the bushes... it had been raining, and that’s where the car stopped. The commotion brought the official time-keeper from the bar and he stopped the clock. The record had been taken, but only by 18 minutes. Eric quotes the saying from the battle of Waterloo... "it was a damn close-run thing."

Meanwhile, look out for a major preview-feature in the latest issue of Octane, out on the bookstalls any day now.

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As Seen on TV

Click the image to watch the interview

It was snowing hard when Fred Dinenage of ITV’s Meridian Tonight show began his interview. A lot was packed into four minutes, with Paul putting in an excellent spot of name-dropping for Hot Pack our suppliers of self-heating food packs, and for Farm Africa.

Getting to Southampton was something of a marathon drive with trucks having failed to stay on the tarmac due to a complete white-out and clipping the soft grass verges and becoming instantly bogged …all a far cry from driving across Africa except we too might well be forced to stop and get out the shovel.

Alan Gibson Ltd. the Basingstoke Fiat Dealership supplied a stand in for our Panda that's currently somewhere on the South Atlantic heading for Cape Town. Borrowing a car had proved a real problem, so many thanks go to them …no doubt they will have a sticker on the windscreen when the car goes back in the showroom proclaiming “As Seen On TV!”.

Meanwhile, we've have been biting our nails with suspense in recent weeks wondering about crossing the frontier from northern Sudan into southern Egypt. Until now this border has involved many hours on a barge travelling the length of Lake Nasser. A new border post was due to be opened last September, then postponed to January …this has been postponed, yet again, but when the planning for this whole venture was first suggested over six months ago, it looked highly likely the border would be open to all overland travellers.

To overcome this problem we've been working hard with our local operators to seek Government permission for a “special case” permit to use the new border crossing. Yesterday we received some positive news …it looks hopeful, but then no record-breaker has ever set out on a drive of this magnitude without a kit-bag full of known unknowns.

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Panic Stations!

We have just a few weeks left before flying out to Cape Town. The days are rushing by tying up loose ends - inevitably there are going to be some items of kit left behind, either forgotten or jettisoned in thinking we already have too much clutter to pack. We have the highs and lows of riding a roller-coaster of emotions now the start date is nearly here after six months of steady preparations.

Firstly, the news comes that the container ship Maersk Gateshead carrying the Panda set out 15 days late, and... it won’t be stopping at Cape Town. It is now scheduled to dock at Port Elizabeth only a few days before our start date. Arrangements are hurriedly in hand by Jeremy Barker at CARS to unload the car and truck it the 750 kilometres to Cape Town for customs formalities - hopefully this can all be sorted before our start-date. Nervous times indeed.

Just when we needed a shot of good news we got some when we took a call from Travcour, the visa experts... the always cheery voice of Amanda Wooders announced that the final hurdle in the visa front has been completed. We now have a full deck in our passports with the final visa in place - we can now drive into Libya.

Then we heard from Raju in Nairobi. Good news, says our helpful fixer with lots of local knowledge... a long section of rough dirt track to Marsabit has been recently graded, and it’s good - he says we could drive over it in an old Mini. Then he gives us the bad news... the track out of Mars’ to the Ethiopian border at Moyale is worse than ever before, with craters the size of Pandas thanks to the damage left by December's rains... and the giant ruts have baked like concrete in the hot sun.

We are both off to doctors’ surgeries next week for an armful of various jabs, and ITV want the Panda crew in a studio, with a white Panda. We thought Fiat's press office might be able to assist with this one, but apparently not, so we are telephoning around various Fiat dealers.

Every day sees something else demanding last-minute attention.

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Rain... Mud... and Red Tape

Final Testing

Philip at the Kazungula Ferry Office

When rumours reached us that the ferry across the mighty Zambezi river often stops running in the rainy-season, and right now it's raining hard, we thought there is no point sitting by a telephone fretting, so packed a rucksack, jumped on the overnight British Airways plane to Lusaka, and hired a car for the 500 kilometre drive south to investigate.

The Kazungula Ferry is an essential link on our route - and without making a last-minute diversion via Zimbabwe, which would require more visas and planning, we need to do all we can to make our route-plan work. What if the ferry is not running on the morning we arrive?

We discover that during the worst of the wet season truck drivers prefer the slightly longer route via Zimbabwe to cross the river over a bridge at Livingstone because they can avoid getting stuck in a long muddy climb past the immigration and customs shacks at the Zambia frontier. When it's wet and muddy and there are no trucks it becomes maintenance-time for the ferry that should be chugging to and fro across the river from Botswana to Zambia.

The rumours were true. When we arrived, an engine-overhaul was going on the large flat steel deck of the pontoon. Can we rely on it all coming right when we turn up on Saturday morning, February 2nd? Hopefully, after our meeting with officials who run the ferry-service, normal service will be resumed. But, the phrase "this is Africa" is always on people's lips when it comes to trying to make things run to a plan. However, while there, we took advantage of visiting the various run-down offices of Kazungula to buy various permits.

To sit on the flat-bed pontoon and cross this vast river from Botswana is to enter another world. When you leave Botswana, you walk down concrete steps from a modern building, drive down a fairly new concrete slope, and roll neatly onto the deck of the pontoon. It can rain as much as it likes, nothing will effect your progress. Cross the river, and things become different on arrival into Zambia. You are now going back in time, you have landed in "real Africa". Kazungula is a dusty shanty town that you might see in a Clint Eastwood Western, low tin roofs, broken windows, a fly-blown litter-strewn street that turns to a quagmire of slippery muddy slime when it rains. A tropical thunderstorm broke as PY arrived (by taxi, the hire-car having blown its clutch). An old transit van had its wheel arches clogged up with sticky mud within minutes... the rear wheels spinning but it was going nowhere.

Duck out of the rain onto the verandahs of the various dark little offices where all arriving travellers join a queue... here you pay for things like a Carbon Tax receipt, next, a Local Income Tax permit, go next door and and now pay for a Road Toll permit... before moving on to the main gate for local insurance.

We left Kazungula with a brief-case filled with permits - and assurances that come Saturday February 2nd, all will be running like a Swiss clock. Let's hope it won't be raining, a front wheel drive little hatchback is probably going to find no more grip than the old van.

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Learning from the past

Final Testing

Crossing rivers was always a problem for the pioneers in their attempts to snatch the World Record... this Riley expedition can't have been successful as we have no knowledge of a Riley Nine doing better than Gilg's remarkable run in a Morris 8. However, the floats-idea here is novel, could it help us cross the Zambezi?

We could easily lose an hour if we find on arrival at Kazungula that the ferry is on the other side. Foley's, the enterprising Land Rover specialist in Livingstone, point out that the Victoria Falls are only a few miles down river, and there is no shortage of crocodiles.. that was their response when we asked them to knock us up a Panda sized home-made ferry out of oil drums.

We are not giving up on this one, as every minute will count if we are to make it to Tunis at the top of Africa in time.

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Cup Cakes and Clacket Lane

The Sunday Telegraph’s ace photographer was busy snapping The Queen’s visit to Downing Street where she attended her first-ever Cabinet meeting when he got the urgent call. “Get yourself to the Ace Café and find a Fiat Panda that's about to set off to conquer Africa!” So, packing up his step-ladder, he pushed his way across London to the famous old biker’s café, where the Panda was found alongside Kawasaki twins, old Triumphs and a BSA Gold Star. Here was a photoshoot that every news photographer enjoys – one that is totally exclusive.

In half an hour 500 frames were rattled off, except Fleet Street’s finest doesn’t call them frames any more, then he was off, to report back to the Picture Editor working on this Sunday’s paper.

Good Luck cup cakes

The Panda returned for its final check-over with the lads at Tony Fowkes Autos, where Janine had prepared lots of chocolate cup-cakes specially iced over the top with the words “Good Luck, Panda” …doesn’t she know we're on a diet these days, part of the keep fit regime that has seen PY drop a shirt-size and now has every pair of trousers falling down?

Just as it was about to force its way into the rush-hour traffic, Tony Fowkes spots that the shield covering the brake pipes under the floor is held on with two rows of bolts… so what? You may well ask. This is no good, Tony tells Roger, and within seconds is busy dropping the nuts off, with a rivet gun in the other hand. The plate is now more securely mounted with two rows of rivets flying in close-formation protecting the vitals.

Tyre pressures dropped a tad to 30 lbs, the oil-level checked  and it was off – finally the Panda, after six long months, has left the workshop for the last time. Andy Fowkes looked pleased and relieved to the see the back of it going up Corby Road. Still, he can at least now dine out on chocolate cakes with specially-made extra-thick layers of icing for the rest of the week.

Loading the Panda at Clacket Lane

Then it was just a case of packing a few light bags into the car – small indeed, there’s a Mulberry handbag out there bigger than our bag of tools – and the Panda was then off to Clacket Lane Services to meet Andy the CARS transporter driver who swept the Panda off its wheels for the journey to Felixstowe Docks. We will not being seeing it again until we fly into Cape Town at the end of January. That left PY on the M25, to hitch a lift to nearby Sevenoaks railway station.

Meanwhile, the homework goes on – talks with Westminster Council’s events-department for permission to park the Panda at Marble Arch, where the next time we hopefully see a Fleet Street photographer will be the finish; Lord Steel is writing on our behalf to all the British Embassies along the route; we are trying to hire a ferry to cross the Zambezi at Kazungula, near Livingstone; Gill Cotton is helping our logistics and is off to interview famous 1960s record-holder Eric Jackson with a Zoom tape recorder that might find its way to the BBC’s World Service programme, Crossing Continents; our contacts in Sudan are talking to the Egyptians on the thorny question of a fast-track border crossing for us and much else.

With so many devils hidden in the details, the preparation will be going on right through Christmas.

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Final Testing

Final Testing

A final test-run down a bumpy track full of water-filled pot-holes near the Ridgeway saw the Panda romp it all on its freshly revised suspension settings.  Tony Fowkes has raised the front a tad, and given the Gaz struts a degree of negative camber to compensate for the extra lift we gained from the stronger springs and taller 165/80x14 Firestone van tyres.

Then it was the turn of Simon Park, roving reporter from Auto Italia magazine, to take the Panda for a test-drive through the lanes to the Williams Formula 1 factory and back. Simon is the first scribe to drive the Panda and seemed to get on with it very well declaring himself a big fan of the Twin-Air engine.

In a previous life Simon was better known as the composer of ‘Eye Level’, the chart topping signature tune for 1970’s TV detective series Van der Valk. Simon also knows something about driving a small car a long way having written a ‘A Little Goes a Long Way’ about his experiences driving a Mini on the 1977 London to Sydney Marathon.

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Midnight Oil and Meeting the Press

Fiat Panda sleeping department

Philip Young shows off his Panda bedroom

The Record Run Panda, with fresh silver paint on the wheels and an hour spent with a tin of polish was then ruined trekking round the mucky roads of London’s North Circular to Teddington for a visit to the journalists at the Haymarket magazine group.

First out was the Deputy Editor of Motorsport News, James Attwood, who tried out the seating position, and wanted Philip to demonstrate how he'll fit between the spare wheels on the foam bed in the back of the car…”it's all completely nuts, but a great story!”, said James before he dashed off to get words and photos into the Christmas issue of Motorsport News (out next Wednesday at all good newsagents).

Finishing touches to the Fiat Panda

Jamal and Roger add finishing touches

Jim Holder, the Editor of Autocar, looked around the car. He wanted a photo of an egg frying on the top of the turbo, but accepts he might have to wait until we are in Africa… he promises a four-page feature providing we snatch a World Record. Jim was particularly impressed with the sheepskin covers on the seats. We then met up with an old friend, Mick Walsh from Classic and Sportscar.

In preparing the car for its “meet the Press” day, Roger Fowkes spent all night in the workshop, and reckons he took a kip in a sleeping bag in the back of the Panda. We have yet to work out if this was because he suddenly found lots of extra items on the job-list, or whether he was in need of a dog-house and in trouble with the missus for all the hours he has put into the Panda preparation.

When Philip arrived at the workshop – at 6.0am – Roger and Jamal were painting the wheels with a can of silver spray at the end of an all night session… clearly a lot of midnight oil has gone into the final preparations.

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Road Testing

Taking in the sights of London

Road testing round the sights of London

It's all coming together in the final days before shipping, with the car due to go to CARS UK, our shipping agents who will be packing the Panda into the hold of a ship for Cape Town, before the December 20th sailing from Felixstowe.

A road testing drive across London saw a test of the latest suspension settings of the Gaz shock absorbers on the sleeping-policemen around Hyde Park, and a less than sleeping policeman stopping the Panda for no other reason than he wanted to look over the car and hear about the forthcoming run.

The change of gearbox oil to Red Line MTL has made a noticeable improvement, the change was lighter and visibly smoother during a morning spent mixing it with London traffic, attracting attention whenever we stopped.

There are always more jobs to be done: finish wiring in the Garmin GPS, changing the air-horns, which might be suitable for London's road-manners but not up to the cut-and-thrust of Nairobi or Cairo.

Next week the car is off to be inspected by the journalists at Autocar, Motorsport News, Autosport and What Car? All this must be squeezed into the hectic schedule before collection by CARS UK… we hear we have to rendezvous with a car transporter at Clacket Lane Services on the M25.

The Panda is going well – and is now approaching the 3,000 miles point in the speedometer.

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Final Preparations

Roger Fowkes completes the preparations

Roger Fowkes completes the preparations

Tony Fowkes Autos in North London have been busy finalising the preparation adding a lightweight bull-bar across the Panda's nose and finishing a mountain of other last minute jobs. Red Line MTL gearbox oil is in the transmission, there are extra cooling vents to blast cold air up to the turbo, stronger mountings for the radiator, which is now filled with Evans coolant. The bed in the back has had more attention with two inches of hard chip-foam from Didcot mattress makers, The Foam Company, with a further three inches of softer foam on top. The headlining has been given more glue with its layer of tin-foil covered bubble-wrap behind, the black curtain that will darken down the rear sleeping area will be retained by an extra-sticky strip of velcro across the centre of the roof....

There has been a lot of time spent on the electrics - the Panda now has a Monit GPS trip-meter along with a Garmin GPS that will be programmed with our route details. The dash-top mounting for our Yellowbrick tracker is in place ready to blip a signal every 30 minutes, to update a map on this website reporting our exact location.

Roger Fowkes has been out testing the car on bumpy tracks and the front has been lifted on its adjustable Gaz shock absorbers, stiffening the suspension a touch more, and there are adjustments to the seats to be dialled in... then it's down to packing the minimum oddments and one small holdall per crew-member for personal luggage, confined to not much more than a change of clothing, and securing things like the bottle-jack and wheelbrace.

The Panda has to have one long road test before shipping to South Africa... then anything that's forgotten will just have to remain forgotten.

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Meals on Wheels

Self Heating Meal Kit

We are now down to the small details as the car reaches the end of its preparation - how are we going to keep body and soul together if it's non-stop driving?

Self-heating army-rations have come on a long way from the heavy Hot Cans of the 1980s, and now there are packet deli-meals with a big menu choice...

With both crew members wearing Shreddies charcoal-lined underpants, there is even a vote for Baked Beans and Sausages that heat up in self-heating bag. Hot ration packs, vitamin pills, and water bottles bought from re-fuelling stops at roadside garages, plus the crew's general knowledge of road-side bakers that serve delicious hot bread in the early mornings, are all part of a game-plan to eat and drink plenty while keeping the stops to a minimum.


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Supporting Farm Africa

Paul Brace and Philip Young meet Farm Africa CEO Nigel Harris

Paul Brace and Philip Young meet Nigel Harris

Farm Africa believes that Africa has the power to feed itself and we're pleased to have joined them to do our bit to help make it happen. We're asking for your support and hope you can help us raise a substantial sum to leave some lasting goodness in our wheeltracks.

Farm Africa is different. For starters, over 90 pence in every pound actually reaches those who are being helped in local communities – the ratio of overheads and money-raising costs to funds that actually reach local communities could not be bettered.

Second, Farm Africa is working to end the cycle of despair that so often hits Africa – we have all seen Band Aid and other projects, and vast sums from Governments that go out in “aid” that fails to reach the afflicted.

By working with local farmers with agricultural projects, improving knowledge as well as equipment, Farm Africa has made an enormous difference to thousands of farmers – Africa could and should sustain itself and many African countries with the right know-how could export food to neighbours. Farm Africa are doing a great job, and the fact they have projects in numerous countries along our Record Run route makes them ideal partners…

We were pleased to meet with Farm Africa's Chief Executive, Nigel Harris during the day of our London film night. Nigel is very enthusiastic about the opportunity to link with our Record Run and the fund raising possibilities it offers.

Of Farm Africa, Nigel says... "For too long, Africa has struggled with the problems of hunger and poverty. Again and again, images of famine have challenged the world to end this human tragedy – but still it happens. Today, with climate change to deal with too, the need is more urgent than ever. Farm Africa is helping Africa’s farmers to end this cycle of despair: we’re there, on the ground, ensuring farmers have the equipment and know-how to manage their land more effectively. Working shoulder to shoulder with farmers, we help the best farming techniques take root and spread so there’s food not just this harvest, but every harvest. We bridge communities, governments and businesses so that farmers can not only grow food but also sell it too, so that African farmers can take charge of their own future and build better lives."

Please visit our, Farm Africa fundraising page, and help us support this valuable project.

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Royal Geographical Society – Film Night

The Royal Geographical Society

Philip Young and Paul Brace at the Albert Hall

The world-famous Royal Geographical Society, next door to the Royal Albert Hall, hosted a night of rally-films on Tuesday, November 27th, with the premier showing of the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally that ran earlier this year. Our Record Run will be driving much of the rally route but in the opposite direction.

Philip Young and Paul Brace were on hand to meet many of nearly 400 who attended, with many coming from far and wide… one flew in from New York and there was more than one from Australia and New Zealand. This reunion for Peking to Paris and London Cape Town World Cup participants was informally staged in two bars set up in the world-famous Map Room.

The films were shown in the iconic main lecture theatre where Dr. David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton and Scott of the Antartic all regaled audiences with their gung-ho tales of ground-breaking travels. Supporters of the Endurance Rally Association enjoyed films including the premier showing of the London-Cape Town Rally. The evening was so well supported it was standing room only.

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Our Mission – The Gameplan

The World Record for driving from Cape Town to London was established by Brigadier John Hemsley and his wife, Lucy, who set a time of 14 days and 19 hours in a factory-prepared Range Rover V8. Their effort  went into the Guinness Book of Records setting a record that has stood since 1983. Thirty-years later Philip Young and Paul Brace are attempting to crack their epic time, this time using a one-litre Fiat Panda.

The Africa Record Run Route Outline

We've already driven much of the route. During the preparation and running of the 2012 London to Cape Town World Cup Rally we drove our planned route twice. We also have more than 25 years experience of driving in Africa since competing on Paris-Dakar in 1986. In recent years the Endurance Rally Association has been to Africa many times with events such as our 2005 London to Dakar and The Trial to the Nile in 2009 that ran through Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. We know that breaking the Cape Town to London record is not simply a matter of jumping in the car and driving non-stop to London. African road conditions and bureaucracy bring their own very particular set of problems. Before we can start there have been extensive discussions with various Government officials to help speed up the transit at frontier crossings.

Many of the countries in Africa have a speed-limit of 75 mph. The current outright record holders who set a blistering new time in 2010 driving from London to Cape Town in a Land Rover Discovery with a three-man crew covered most of Africa cruising at 65 mph. They carried a satellite tracker to confirm that they were not exceeding the speed-limits. The earlier pioneers of the 1950s and 1960s were none too concerned about speed limits which mostly didn't exist, or were not enforced. They were out to prove not only that the cars of the day could go anywhere, reliably, but could cover whole continents swiftly but, like most of the world, Africa has changed since then. Our plan is to keep the Panda within the speed limits to break the Cape Town to London World Record set by John Hemsley and his wife Lucy in 1983 while averaging a tad faster than the ultimate time of 11 days, 14 hours, set by the Max Adventure team in their Discovery. Maybe we can snatch the quickest time ever.

With a six-hundred-mile range from our fuel tanks, and capable of covering the 11,000 miles on one set of tyres, going light might just be offering an advantage against the heavier Land Rovers that had to stop more often than we are planning with the Panda. Our baby Fiat will be carrying virtually no luggage and hardly any spares - a throttle cable, a fan-belt, a tube of super-glue, a roll of duct tape, an adjustable spanner and a screw-driver is the sum total of the tool-kit.

We have opted to tackle the record by "driving home" from Cape Town after researching the opening and closing times of certain critical borders that need to be in our favour. At the moment, the plan is to drive up from South Africa to Egypt, and then cross the top of Africa through Libya to Tunisia, for a ferry crossing of the Mediterranean and the final dash to London, ...naturally arriving after stopping for a change of clothes and a bumper celebration breakfast at the Lenham Transport Cafe on the A20.

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