These routes are journeys with a difference, taking you down seemingly mythical routes laid down - in most cases - decades ago, delivering spectacle and adventure in equal measures.
Climb aboard as we look at some of the most memorable road trips ever embarked upon - some of which you could do, too, - and hopefully soon after this Covid-19 nightmare is over:
It all started in with a pub conversation and ended in an epic 27,000-mile journey from the northernmost licensed premises in the world to the southernmost. If that wasn’t a crazy enough plan, its creator, the Briton Ben Coombs, decided to make it in his TVR Chimaera. Just to get to the beginning of this huge adventure required 3000 miles of driving to reach the start point in Svalbard, just 700 miles from the North Pole.
After 24 countries, 27,000 miles and passing along many of the most inhospitable roads in the world, Ben finally reached Puerto Williams in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. With seven months of driving under the TVR’s wheels, this was the southernmost pub outside of Antarctica. Ben has written a book about his adventure and sums it up by saying: ‘It wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey.’
What better way to mark the opening of a new road that stretched from the top to bottom of Mexico than a flat-out road race? This is how the Carrera PanAmericana came about in 1950 when the 2178-mile Pan American Highway was completed in 1950.
The race was divided into nine stages and was almost a flat-out charge from start to finish. There was the added challenge of the route going from sea level to high altitude, so the cars often struggled for power on more elevated sections. The first winner was Hershel McGriff (born 1927) in an Oldsmobile 88. The race was cancelled in 1955, but now runs as a classic rally along the same route.
Peking to Paris
To prove the durability of new-fangled automobiles, French newspaper Le Matin came up with a 9300-mile trek from Peking (now Beijing) back to the French capital. Every car taking part had a journalist as a passenger to send regular reports and updates to keep the waiting public on tenterhooks. Eventual winner Prince Scipione Borghese finished in exactly two months driving an Itala. The prize? A bottle of champagne..
Repeats of the race became impossible during the Cold War as Russia became inaccessible. However more recently there have been several classic car Peking to Paris adventures, with the first starting in 1997 and continuing to the present day.
Le Jog, or Land’s End to John O’ Groats, is a long-standing test of stamina for car and driver. Driving between the most extreme points of Great Britain - a distance of 837 miles - pioneer motorists undertook the journey to prove the strength of their cars. In recent years it has become a hugely popular classic car rally.
To make the going even tougher for entrants, the classic Le Jog is run in December and competitors face many of the most isolated roads in the UK in snow-bound conditions. Everything from 1920s open-top cars to 1980s hot hatches take part and the aim is to win a coveted Gold Medal for completing the many stages with as few navigational penalties as possible. How long does it take? In 2018, driving continuously and only stopping (once) to refuel, Autocar performed the run in just under 15 hours in a Skoda Karoq SUV.
A curiously British event, the Beaujolais Run has been going since 1970. The aim is simple: drive to France, pick up a bottle of the newly bottled wine and be first back to the UK with the vino. It evolved from a private race between hotelier Joseph Berkmann and wine critic Clement Freud into a navigational run open to everyone.
The emphasis is now on raising money for charity, but there are two prizes up for grabs on each Beaujolais Run. The first is for the team that raises the most money, while the second goes to the crew that has worked out the shortest route from the UK to Burgundy, France.
The film of the same name may be more famous, but the original Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash is much more interesting. The brainchild of motoring journalist Brock Yates (1933-2016), it was conceived to celebrate a 60-hour coast to coast drive made by racer Erwin Baker (1882-1960) in 1927.
The first Cannonball was held in 1971, with Yates the only competitor taking part as a protest against tough new traffic laws coming into force. The idea caught on and the event ran a further four times, growing in numbers. Formula 1 driver Dan Gurney (pictured right) won the second event in a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, while the fastest time was set in a Jaguar XJ-S by Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough in 1979.
Liège Rome Liège
Fans of long distance adventures had plenty to choose from in the 1930s, but the toughest was the Liège-Rome-Liège. It quickly gained a reputation for gruelling stages and car-breaking roads, covering as much as 3200 miles in just five days. The first race was won by Willy Toussaint and Alphonse Evrard in a Bugatti Type 49.
In the 1960s, the route changed so the rally became the Liege-Sofia-Liege and it also became known as the Marathon de la Route between 1965 and 1971. Several attempts to revive the race failed, but it is now back as a classic car rally run over four days.
Monte Carlo Rally
The modern Monte Carlo Rally tests WRC cars to their limits, but this long-running event started as an even bigger adventure in 1911. Rather than the rally being based around the principality, Monaco was the finish line as cars set off from far-flung cities in other countries. This tradition continued into the 1960s and competitors would often have driven 1500 miles before they even started on the special stages
Alongside the modern WRC event, there is a Monte Carlo Historique rally that mere mortals can compete in. This takes in many of the classic stages, such as the Col de Turini, and still requires entrants to start from a nominated city that can be as far away as Glasgow or Marrakesh.
The Mille Miglia might now be a classic car event for the well-heeled and glamorous, but it started out as a non-stop dash from Brescia to Rome and back. As the name suggests, the route covered 1000 miles and was run on public roads. What made this even more of an adventure is those roads were not closed to everyday traffic while the race was run.
Stirling Moss is one of the most noted winners of the Mille Miglia when he lifted the trophy in 1955 with co-driver Denis Jenkinson (pictured). Using pre-prepared pace notes, the British duo completed the race in 10 hours 7 mins 48 seconds at an average speed of 97.96mph in their Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. That time was never bettered on this version of the course.
Anyone can drive the Targo Florio route today, though it does involve getting to the island of Sicily to do so. Make the effort and you’re rewarded with one of the most scenic and challenging drives you’ll ever enjoy and it’s all thanks to Vincenzo Florio who came up with the idea of race on this island.
Florio started his eponymous race in 1906 and it covered three laps of Sicily, totalling 277 miles. It quickly became one of the most important events in the motorsport year and the quickest ever lap was set by the Finnish Leo Kinnunen in a Porsche 908/3 at an average speed of 79.89mph, taking just 33min 36secs to complete a lap. The last proper Targa Florio race was held in 1973, by which time safety concerns made the race impossible to stage again. In this particular photo, a young racer named Enzo Ferrari pilots an Alfa Romeo 20-30ES in the 1921 event.
It’s a measure of just how much of an adventure the Trans-Siberian Highway remains when you know its full length was only fully tarmacked in 2012. Stretching 6800 miles from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, it runs the whole width of Russia and claims to be the longest national highway in the world.
Even though the whole route is now properly surfaced, the Trans-Siberian Highway remains a massive challenge for drivers. Much of the road passes through the most remote parts of Russia and there are few service stations or towns as it heads east into the lightly populated parts of central Russia. It’s also regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the world due to the number of collisions on the route and poor driving standards from many who use it.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in California is often cited as one of the most scenic and enjoyable drives in the world. Even with a heavily enforced speed limit, it’s a great road to drive and features on many enthusiasts’ bucket lists.
However, if you want more of an adventure, it’s worth taking on the full length of State Route 1, which takes in the PCH. This road goes all the way from Dana Point to the south of Los Angeles all the way to Leggett some 656 miles north. Hugging the coast all the way, State Route 1 takes in all of the big landmarks as well as passing through LA and San Francisco to give a much fuller flavour of driving on the West Coast of the USA.
Round the World
Circumnavigating the globe is the ultimate motoring adventure and one few car drivers attempt, though many motorcyclists manage it. Working out a route is complicated by war zones and political strife, as well as weather and changing seasons. Plus, you’ll need a car tough enough to cope with every type of condition imaginable.
None of this put off Aloha Wanderwell (1906-1996), a 16-year old woman who set off round the world in 1922 in a Ford Model T. She undertook the trip in stages and completed the journey in 1929, documenting it on film and travelling with her pet monkey.
Inspired by the Targa Florio, the Targa Tasmania is another island-based driving adventure. You can choose between the Tour or Competition events, with the Tour offering six days of driving on the Australian island’s best roads. The Competition version covers 1200 miles of flat-out stages over the same number of days and is widely regarded as one of the best races in the world.
Open to modern and classic cars, everything from Lamborghinis to Citroën Traction Avants (pictured)compete. Run on tarmac roads, the weather can still play a big role in the Targa Tasmania as the course runs from the coast up into the mountains and snow can be an issue. As a result, many competitors think of this as the best driving adventure on the planet.
Originally staged from Paris to Dakar (the capital of Senegal), secutrity issues in Mauritania reasons meant that from 2009-2019 the event was held in South America, with the 2020 rally held in Saudi Arabia. Depsite these hitches, the Dakar is still one of the world’s most testing driving adventures. In 2020, the route was 4800 miles long and 3000 miles of that were special stages. Almost all of the racing is on sand.
What makes the Dakar such an adventure is not just the challenge of the stages, sand or heat, but the preparation that must go in years in advance of taking part. The physical, mental and mechanical demands of this race mean every competitor has to build up to it to develop the tenacity to finish, never mind race for a podium step.
North Coast 500
Scotland isn’t short of great driving roads and the North Coast 500 brings together many of them into a single coastal route around the northern ‘top’ of the country. Covering 516 miles, there’s every type of road and scenery along the way, making it an adventure whether you choose to meander over several days or cover the distance in a shorter time. Either way, it’s a driver’s paradise, complete with fine hotels - some of them castles - you can stay in along the way.
Starting and finishing in Inverness, the NC500’s roads have always been there but it was only conceived as Scotland’s ‘Route 66’ in 2015. Since then, it has been accused of being a victim of its own success, so it pays to plan what time of year you visit in order to avoid the summer tourist jams. But off-season, it’s heaven.
When you know that many car companies use the Stelvio Pass to test the brakes on new models, it’s tells you everything you need to know about this 47-mile round in the Ortler Alps in Italy. It features 48 hairpin bends which, going down, will find any weakness in a set of brakes. On the way up, you’ll ascend the second-highest pass in the Alps.
As one of the world’s greatest driving adventures, tackling the Stelvio has become a very popular pastime, so it pays to get up early and dodge the queues. It’s worth it for the views alone.
The 1030-mile long Eyre Highway links Adelaide and Perth by traversing the Nullarbor Plain in south western Australia. Although it’s essentially a straightforward highway road, it’s length and simmering temperatures make it one of the most adventurous drives in the world. It’s also home to one of the world’s longest straight sections of road that goes on for 90 miles without any deviation.
It took until the mid-1970s before the entire length of the Eyre Highway was fully surfaced to cover up the dust track it emerged from. Service stations are far apart, so it’s still recommended that you leave travel details with someone before departing on the highway and let them know when you arrive in case of a breakdown along the route.
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