Adventurers Philip Young and Paul Brace recently managed to break the world record time for driving from Cape Town to London. At the time, the record stood at 11 days, 14 hrs, 11 mins, and had been set in in 2010 by Mac MacKenney, Chris Rawlings & Steve MacKenney driving a Land Rover Discovery Td5. Philip Young and Paul Brace managed to drive the distance in 10 days, 13 hours and 28 mins – improving on the previous time by more than a day.
A couple of things made their performance particularly impressive. Firstly, there were only two of them. The 2010 team had consisted of three members. A smaller team, of course, meant that each member had to spend more time behind the wheel, and less time resting. Secondly, they didn’t tackle the road from Cape Town to London in a proper 4×4 such as a Land Rover Discovery. In fact, they didn’t use a 4×4 at all. They drove a standard 4×2 Fiat panda with a puny 875cc TwinAir engine. Moreover, the Panda hadn’t been overhauled to resemble a rough-and-tough rally car. Apart from a few minor additions, it remained as standard.
So what was changed to prepare it for its African adventure? Uprated springs and shocks were installed, and chunkier tyres were fitted (two spare wheels were also kept inside the cabin). Nothing was changed on the engine, though it did get an extra-tough sump guard. The petrol tank also received added protection, as did the radiator and fuel and brake lines. The 40-litre standard tank obviously could not hold enough fuel, so a 34-litre auxiliary tank was installed where the original spare tyre had been. Inside, the driver’s seat was replaced with that of an old Volvo 340 because of the comfort it provided. A mattress was placed in the back, and the passenger seat was modified so that it could fold completely flat, providing a full-size bed.
That’s pretty much all that was done to the little Panda prior to its trip. And with only these few minor mods, it managed to survive the trip. That’s a truly impressive feat! There is a belief, even among experienced overlanders, that one can’t venture into Africa without a “hardcore” 4×4, especially if you plan on heading into Central Africa. And to be sure, a proper 4×4 sure helps. There are many roads in Africa that are virtually impossible to traverse without a 4×4. But as Philip Young and Paul Brace have demonstrated, you can venture into the heart of Africa with a standard little compact car – provided, of course, you plan accordingly. This was not an adventure that was undertaken on a whim. They planned and prepared carefully.
Yes, a 4×4 is a tremendously useful tool in the overland arsenal, but it is perhaps not as important as some of us think. Proper planning is far more important. If you plan carefully, you can accomplish just about anything.