Andy Strachan and Emily Crouch lined up in Northfleet in their 40-year-old Mini late in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 22.
Ahead of them was a gruelling 96-hour journey to and from Turin, the city immortalised in The Italian Job, the 1969 film starring Michael Caine.
Given that neither of them had driven on the continent before, and the Mini had attempted nothing like the 1,500-mile trip since being prepared by Andy for the marathon to the home of Italian motoring, uncertainty littered the road ahead.
The rally was being organised by Keyline, a subsidiary of Travis Perkins, Andy’s employer, which wants to raise £100,000 for the Prostrate Cancer Charity.
Andy and Emily, who want to raise £1,500, were sponsored by Adrian Flux Insurance Services.
Here is the story of the couple’s Mini adventure, in Andy’s words:
Wednesday, June 22
A small group of cars, including six classic Minis, met up in Northampton at 12pm, arriving in Northfleet – via a stop-off at Minispares at Potters Bar – at 4.20pm.
We were de-briefed, our documents checked and we had some group promotional photos before a tunnel was set-up for all the classic Minis to drive through.
Prostate Cancer Charity spokesman Tommy Walsh was also there to wish us good luck and we were all given charity tins to fill with cash.
We left Northfleet at 5.30pm straight into rush hour, and incorrect traffic information led us straight on to the A2, which was closed due to an accident. Many of the participants took the chance to collect money for charity from stranded travellers.
After getting lost, we finally reached our hotel (and our dinner) in Folkestone at 9.30pm.
Our alarm was set for 3.30am, but it didn’t matter as I woke up at 1.15am and couldn’t get back to sleep!
Thursday, June 23
The first, and longest, day of the rally (without having had much sleep!) and I already knew that we would be cracking open a 24-pack of Red Bull later in the day!
We re-packed the car and had to top up the oil as we had a leak through the timing chain seal.
Off to Dover, and as we got to the terminals I took the wrong turn into the cruise terminal. Luckily Emily spotted our other team members heading in a different direction so I was able to quickly turn our Mini around. We got the to the ferry check-in with 15 minutes to spare.
When we all left the ferry, it was difficult for us to keep up with the main pack, as we were restricted to 55mph. That’s what you get for having a 3.44 differential with 10-inch wheels!
Another oil top-up in Verdun at 3pm after meeting up with the team for a classic French lunch – McDonalds.
The team, minus one car, met up just after Luxeuil-les-Bains, after Emily and I had got some fuel and items for our challenges – something gold (Gourmet Gold branded cat food), something Italian (genuine Italian spaghetti) and exactly 25 litres of fuel (it was a good thing that we had a Jerry can so we could do this task!).
We travelled in a convoy into Vesoul for 8pm, where our team leaders got us lost and it took us an hour to reach our nearby campsite. After a tiring and very long day, I didn’t wake up early the next morning!
Friday, June 24
After waking up at 6am, we washed, packed up our belongings and left the campsite at 7.15am after topping up the Mini with more oil!
We stuck to 50mph and went from France into Switzerland via the nearby border. The journey used reasonably flat roads and we decided not to go via the mountain route, as we did not want to stress our heavily loaded Mini. But as we left Switzerland back into France towards Chamonix, to cross into Italy, we were very surprised to be met by a very high winding mountain road!
Our poor car struggled to pull along in 3rd gear but, as the oil pressure really dropped in 4th, we stuck to 3rd. Although the temperature read normal, we could both smell burning oil. We pulled over two thirds of the way up in a lay-by and gave our poor car a rest. The weather didn’t help as it was bright sunshine and around 30C. It was baking!
As Emily and I admired the scener,, one of our team members appeared and pulled in behind us. They also stopped and opened their car bonnet to air it and have a quick break. They only stopped for 10 minutes before setting off again but we rested for 40 minutes. When we stared off again, the engine temperature was cooler and we were able to use 4th gear. We were grateful that we were nearly at the top when we had stopped. Now it was down hill! The temperature really dropped as a nice breeze was able to get into the engine. As we were cruising through the Alps back into France we played On Days Like These from the Italian Job CD. It seemed very fitting with the fantastic scenery around. Luckily there were no surprise mafia JCBs hiding and waiting for us!
The scenery was stunning – Emily had never seen frozen ice glaciers so close up and in the hot summer weather. As we left Switzerland we entered France into Chamonix and towards the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Our Mini didn’t like it when we stopped to queue up for the Mont Blanc tunnel and the engine temperature started to rise. Luckily we were able to get through the queue, pay (about £30) and drive through the tunnel into Italy without too much of a delay.
Once on the other side we looked for a petrol station. Surprise, surprise, there was a one of our minis there. This was a team leader who was trying to meet up with the rest of his team as so they could get to our Turin destination as a team. Apparently they were further up the A5 Italian towards Turin. As the other mini set-off in pursuit of their teammates, we filled up with fuel and set-off. The engine seemed much hotter now after our brief stop and there were fumes of burning oil coming from the exhaust briefly until we could pick up some speed and cool the engine down.
As we travelled on the A5 toward Turin we passed the other team, all together, having a rest and a chat. We continued past them at our standard 50mph. A little later on they all whizzed past us but the Mini that we had seen in the petrol station seemed to be struggling and pulled-off the motorway. We could see oil fumes from the exhaust and we followed them. When we stopped we informed the drivers of what we saw and recommended that they stick to 50mph like us as to not overwork their engine. They were suffering a loss of engine performance.
We were informed that our convoy lead car had an illegal device – a sat nav! We were able to get to the Lingotto complex (the old Fiat factory) with reasonable ease after a brief detour via the local train station, and soon the great finish line was in sight – the banks of the famous Lingotto rooftop track were in sight.
We all entered the complex, wondering where to access to roof track. Suddenly a security guard appeared on a scooter and pointed us the way. The destination line was so close. No longer leading the convoy we followed the directions and suddenly and spiral ramp appeared inside the building. We all drove up it beeping our horns, with our lights on, windows down and The South Preservation Society blasting from our CD player.
We must have all been surprised to see a large double door opened on the 2nd floor revealing a shopping centre with innocent passers by looking shocked and wondering what was going on.
It was tempting to do a real Italian job stunt and drive through it, but we had already passed it on our way up to get to the track.
We could only use half of the track, the far side had huge concrete bollards and was roof felted, while the straights also had some speed bumps. That didn’t deter us from having fun on the other bank and the partial straights.
I have always respected our Mini and she had done so well to get there. However, it was this girl’s 40th birthday, so I put my foot down and created a huge wheel spin. I powered it around as close to the top of the bank as I dared. Emily was screaming! It was such fun but I only did that the once. I drove our Mini respectably again after that and being the only white classic Mini, we were requested for all of the promotional photo shots.
Dinner was served at 8.30pm where we all wore fancy dress from the classic film. There were many in blue boiler suits and helmets and a couple of Camp Freddies. The star had to be an older gentleman as Mr Bridger in his smoking jacket with a toilet roll and The Times newspaper. Emily had dressed as Lorna and I as Big William.
Saturday, June 25
After breakfast, it was time to head home via a more direct route. It was another scorcher of a day, so we again travelled at 50mph with small stops to let our car cool down.
We only took one wrong turn in the village where we were staying so there was minimal panic.
The scenery was yet again very beautiful throughout the day and travelling at 50mph you can really to appreciate it.
Sunday, June 26
The dash for the finish line!
Unlike the campsite from the previous night, where we were unable to leave until 7am, we could leave this site at any time. As our Mini was speed restricted, we left the site at 5.30am, and used the direct motorway route as we had to be in Calais for noon for the finish.
We knew that all of the other cars would over-take us at some point.
As we got to the first service station we were surprised to see a convoy of classic Minis arrive hot on our tales as we were getting ready to push on. Many cars over took us en-route to the finish line and we decided to make the bold decision to increase our speed from 50mph to 55mph.
There weren’t many service stations on the way back and I was so grateful that I had our Jerry can of full of fuel in the boot. We would have really been in trouble without it! After cracking on again with minimal stops, we got to Calais ferry port at 11.45.
We made it!