A charity mission to drive a Reliant Rialto from Shaftesbury to The Gambia has been postponed until 2020, due to last-minute mechanical issues.
Nick Merry says he is disappointed that he’s had to call off the ‘One Wheel Short’ fundraiser at the eleventh hour. He had hoped to start the 4,000-mile drive from North Dorset to Africa at 5am on Boxing Day.
Nick’s friend of forty years, Jonathan Buttress, was intending to make the journey with him. The men had told ThisIsAlfred that they considered their mission to be ‘an alternative to the Paris to Dakar Rally without the expense’.
The vintage vehicle is rare and there are fewer than twenty working models in the UK. Nick had to drive up to Birmingham and back on Christmas Eve to secure a vital part. “The company that had the radiator also has a few other parts and very kindly donated a few bits and pieces to me, so I could rebuild the coolant system,” he said.
Sadly, at 4pm on Christmas Day, Nick made the tough call to delay the fundraiser. “The car has certainly been a challenge. It’s decided to not behave itself mechanically at the last moment, so I’ve had to change my plans,” Nick said. “I’ve not managed to fix the car to a state that we can drive it away. I can’t even get to Gillingham and back without huge amounts of smoke and steam.” In addition to issues with the radiator, Nick says that the car’s head gasket failed.
Nick had already arranged to take the time off work, so he has set off on another auto adventure. Nick and Jonathan had been contacted by a vintage vehicle enthusiast who wanted to join the men for part of their journey in his car and share hotel accommodation. Nick has joined the Alfa 156 driver as a co-driver and passenger. “I think he’s picked the only car less reliable than this one,” he laughed.
The driver is heading to Mali and Nick says he will have to, ‘hop into someone else’s car’ to get to Banjul in The Gambia, to fly home on the 18th January.
The men will be covering the greatest distance across France and Spain first, where the roads are better. “It will be 500 miles in one day. After that, it gets a bit easier in the total distance, but the quality of the roads once you get into Africa is very poor and traffic is ‘interesting’, shall we say,” said Nick. He speaks from experience after previously driving across the African continent in a Ford Mondeo.
Nick says there’s been a great deal of interest in his mission since he went public in October. “The car certainly turns heads when we have been going around in it. It gets people asking the question about what we are doing. Then we tell them and they tell us we are nuts.”
Many Shaftesbury residents have shown their support for the challenge and the charity. “I think we’ve raised about £600 or £700 and have more sponsorships to come in,” said Nick. He says the plan is to do the run next year, which will give him time to strip the engine down and sort out all of its issues. And he says he might add, ‘a few extra horsepower too’.