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TG on the Gumball: the first leg
Cold, wet and waiting for a flatbed lorry to piggyback us to Oslo. That’s not what I had in mind for Day One of my first Gumball Rally. But as I’ve quickly learned, when you’re Gumballing literally anything can happen.
It all started so well, if not a bit, er, fuzzily.
Having attended the opening party the night before - that just so happened to coincide with my birthday - I can confirm that Gumball’s uber-party claims don’t need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Unless you’re drinking tequila, that is. Let us say only this: the Gumball crew discovered it was a day of celebration for me, and the celebrations were thorough indeed.
Early next morning a sea of glazed eyes filled Stockholm’s Grand Hotel ballroom for a drivers meeting.
Flanked by the head of Swedish police, Gumball founder Maximillion Cooper gave a pep talk ordering us to have fun, not drink and drive, and watch out for moose on the road. I underlined that last point a few times.
So with Stockholm’s streets lined with selfie sticks and kids hanging precariously from street furniture, the rally kicked off outside the Royal Palace at midday.
The Gumball cars leave in order of generosity - the earlier you want to depart, the more you have to give to the Gumball Foundation, a charitable arm that seems like a handy way to morally offset a week of debauchery and decadence.
But to keep you on your toes, driving routes are unknown until crossing the line. Kicking off the 2015 rally was a 331-mile jaunt through luscious, lakey Sweden with a stop-off at Orebro castle before heading to Oslo, Norway.
The support for the rally along the route was extraordinary. Dads, kids, grandmas: pretty much anyone with a smartphone was dumping their car in a ditch, lining streets, motorway bridges and petrol stations to post something on Instagram.
Early in the afternoon, the acrid smell of clutch started to infiltrate my nostrils. At any time, that’s a worry. But the fact it wasn’t coming from my car, but the #81 Guess Jeans Dodge Viper - one of the cars I’m doing the rally with - that was a mile ahead and only 200-odd miles into a 2,500 mile trip definitely wasn’t a good thing.
The Viper was being piloted at the time by LA-based street artist Tristan Eaton, a man who at the time was wearing a t-shirt adorned with the slogan ‘Destroy All Toys’. I fear he was taking that a bit too seriously.
As the stench of cooked clutch grew stronger, we came across the #81 Viper stricken on the roadside. Sending the others on ahead in our healthy car, I offered to nurse the cooked Viper back to Oslo. No chance, I discovered as they blazed off into the distance. The Viper was a goner. Quite how a clutch can be that heroically lunched in under 200 miles is baffling, borderline impressive.
But ‘never leave a man behind’ is a phrase regularly batted around the #GumballFamily, so I knew help would be at hand soon.
It wasn’t. Fourteen cars boomed past without bothering to slow down and see what was up, until David, a six-foot-three Scandi who looks like Jesus if he was covered head to toe in tattoos, arrived celestially out of the gullwing door of an SLS.
David helped organise a low-loader to get the car delivered the rest of the way to Oslo. That was at 10pm. At the same time Howard, another Gumballer and Norwegian native who had got wind of our troubles, phoned us to see if we were OK.
Howard turned out to be our guardian angel, speaking to various shipping companies and hunting through his big book of contacts to source spares.
But the Gumball schedule is ruthless and doesn’t leave much time for sleep. So only a few hours later I found myself back on the grid with my thumb out.
Luckily, I hitched a lift in Team AnastasiaDates 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, a slammed, 450bhp globule of distilled ‘Murica.
With a big-block V8 and unrestricted exhaust, the thing is outrageously loud, a true fan favourite. And the public reception in Oslo was just as staggering as at the start line, the sort of welcome normally reserved for returning servicemen or a World Cup win. Not rich - probably hungover - people in supercars.
Day two was a 382-mile run from Oslo to Copenhagen, with a stop-off at the Koenigsegg factory in Sweden.
And Christian von Koenigsegg - he of the of sensationally streamlined head, dihedral door design and Triplex suspension - was there to meet us and show us around his definitely-not-Bond-villain-spec facility.
In one of the biggest ‘my dad’s better than your dad’ moments in history, the tour was disrupted by one Gumballer who put a call in to one of his mates in the Swedish military. Said mate just so happened to have popped out in his fighter jet and gave us an impromptu low-level airshow. Very surreal, very Gumball.
Then, as there obviously wasn’t enough testosterone pumping around, the Guess models were dispatched to marshal drag races down Koenigsegg’s runway while being chased by a helicopter.
Shooting footage for an upcoming Gumball movie, the chopper followed us to Denmark, and across the Øresund Bridge into Copenhagen as the sun went down. You can see what that looked like here. Pretty epic, no?
But sleep-deprived, delirious and slavishly obeying the strict lady from Google Maps navigation department, my co-driver saw us record our first ‘bust’ of the trip. Cheekily hopping a kerb to get to our hotel car park quicker, our rear view mirror was soon full of flashing blue lights and two-tones.
With no Guess girls to mediate the situation, I thought we’d be in for it. But thankfully, unlike the Viper’s clutch, it wasn’t game over, as we escaped with a warning.
Let’s just hope that’s the only run-in with the law we have…