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Vintage 1929 Bentley to the Himalayas

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The Himalayan Challenge will see 40 participants in various classic and vintage cars making it through the mountains over 21 days

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The more I spoke to Jonathan, the more my mind was blown. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like too much of a big deal — here’s a man from England who has decided to come to India to drive to the Himalayas. No biggie. Hundreds of them do it every year, a lot of them on motorcycles. But then I found out what he was driving. And then I found out exactly what route he was taking. It is a big deal. Just look at those pictures, you’d know.

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What you see there is a Bentley 4 1/2-litre. This specific car dates back to 1929 — making it close to 90 years old. Forget the fact that it looks like it’s in mint condition, it also runs like it is in mint condition and Jonathan Turner is heading out on a 21-day rally in it. The Himalayan Challenge is a rally being organised specifically to cars older than 1975. They started from Delhi on September 21, and will go to Chandigarh, Manali and then to Kaza and Sangla.

This is a route people don’t attempt in modern cars without being thoroughly prepared. This man (and the rest of the guys on this rally) are heading out in some proper old-timers. That’s not all though, because from Sangla, they head to Shimla, Nainital, cross over in to Nepal to reach Kathmandu and then head south, back to Agra.

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The car itself is a 1929 Bentley 4 1/2-litre. It’s a huge machine, quite unlike anything you see on the roads these days. It’s got a massive four-cylinder engine, and though they made a few supercharged ones, this one was naturally aspirated. It’s got a fabric body coachwork by Vanden Plas — Bentley would just make the rolling structure while coachbuilders would design and drape it according to customer tastes.

Jonathan acquired it in 1996 and the first rally that they did was the Monte Carlo Rally. Then decided to do the Peking to Paris rally, a massive undertaking in a car like this. In fact, he’s got stickers of all the countries he has visited on the flanks of this car. It was probably this rally that has inspired him to come back.

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“When you drive through countries like this, you get to see so much of the culture and of the people.”, said Jonathan. Doing the Peking to Paris profoundly changed him as a person, gave him a different perspective on life and made him realise the privilege he has to live in a country like England. Which is why he wanted to do it again — to relive this experience, but this time around with his 18-year-old son, hoping this will make him feel the same way. And of course, there’s the thrill and the adventure that goes with driving a near century-old machine through unforgiving terrain.

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Jonathan Turner and his son set off early yesterday morning. He’s not too worried about making it to the finish. The car is very simple, and entirely mechanical — anyone with a mechanical bent can help him out on route. While on the Peking to Paris rally, people all along the route helped him without a second thought. Someone in Pakistan fashioned out a new leaf spring when the Bentley’s rear one broke. “The people are friendly and always willing to help,” he says.

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