They must have seemed as naive as hell with their world scale plans in this tiny, partly wooden antique car. One suspects that they both probably had their doubts too once they had finally got going! How would a car without a water pump or cooling fan that had cost the equivalent of only about ₤800 in today’s money, cope with the climb to 10,000 feet in the mountains of Turkey, or deal with the unplanned-for dramas like monsoon floodwaters and unfinished river bridges in India? It was an equally immense human challenge also, and one that of course in 1960 did not benefit from any of the modern technological aids that are so familiar today.
The continual payback which no doubt fuelled their enthusiasm all the way, was the steady stream of mostly wondrous and helpful admirers who witnessed this intent little team of three emerging in the strangest of places. They ranged from the Bactiari tribesmen in the Middle East to Burt Lancaster in Los Angeles!
The 9 Horse Wonder is a fascinating and little known story which began 50 years ago in 1960 in the small village of Billericay in Essex, England.
This was the starting place of a bold and unique plan to circle the world in style, post-war austerity style that is. The intention was to travel all the way round the world with a starting budget of just ₤130, in a pre-war vintage car saved from the scrap yard by Billericay motor mechanic, George Yallop. George, together with his then wife Eileen, believed that their 27 year old Riley ‘9’ Kestrel had many more miles still to go. This old Riley was apparently never destined to be melted down or even put on ‘light duties’ in old age.
So in August that year they set off to discover the world, and began what is now thought to be the longest ever journey in a vintage car; a curious distinction and a remarkable achievement at that.
Amazingly, they departed England to begin a daring drive across 16 countries on a set of re-treaded tyres. Although several firms kindly supplied products for their journey, perhaps understandably, offers of sponsorship did not litter the doormat each morning prior to departure!
As well as the scarcity of cash, there was also a ration on roads. Long stretches through the Middle East and Australia were no more than well beaten tracks in 1960, often corrugated and strewn with rocks.
That this journey did not quickly end as an embarrassing disaster by a roadside in Belgium is probably part miracle. The Kestrel was so heavily laden with equipment inside that it was virtually impossible for the driver to see behind using the rear view mirror. The car never had door mirrors from new! ‘Calisay’, as the car later became known, was an elegant sporting saloon with narrow tyres and was designed in the 1930’s for the moderate climate and roads of the UK. This enterprise was going to be an extremely thorough road test for the model, albeit a few decades late!