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Earning Their Stripes

Tales of global adventure sound equally daunting and exciting, but we’ve all browsed the websites and brochures of rally organisers and pondered whether to take on the challenge. 

But what’s it really like in the world of long-distance rallying, and what advice would be given to someone contemplating taking a vintage Bentley around the world? We spoke with Gra-ham Goodwin, who bought his first vintage Bentley in 2015, participated in his first rally in December 2016 and returned victorious after coming first in the Vintageant Category in the famous Road to Saigon rally in his Medcalf-prepared 1925 Bentley Super Sports. 

Medcalf was right, Graham told us, when he said that buying a vintage Bentley was just the beginning. Since that day, the husband and wife team of Graham and Marina Goodwin have taken part in a number of major events – travelling tens of thousands of competitive miles. 

Their participation in the Endurance Rally Association Road to Saigon, a 27-day adventure taking in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, saw the Goodwin team rack up their first event win – no mean feat for relative newcomers and especially impressive when you glance at the 29 cars entered, many of which were built as recently as the mid-70s, a number driven by some very experienced racers and rallyists.

“The places the route passed through were steeped in history and are full of great people, and there is no better way to see the world than from an open-topped vintage Bentley. Tak-ing part in a rally leads you well off the beaten track so you see, smell and feel things that many other visitors to these countries miss.” 

While some moments get the adrenaline running for all the wrong reasons, others bring sheer joy. When a rally passes through a town or village, the locals welcome you with open arms. “No matter how small the village, or how remote, the locals always produce a smart-phone to take a photo of the car.”

Sometimes the pace can be upped, where the 100+ MPH potential of the Bentley Super-sports can be exploited. The rally organisers ERA had arranged for a number of test stages to be completed on closed roads. It was here the Goodwins could really push the car – and the results spoke for themselves. Many stages saw them positioned in the top three, often beating much faster machinery – testament to the skills of Graham behind the wheel, Marina as navigator and the Bentley Supersports as a formidable machine. The results of the rally saw the Goodwins cross the line a huge 12 minutes clear of the second-placed car.

When asked what the secret of success is, Graham replied immediately and without hesi-tation: preparation. “These events are a big investment, in both time and money, so it is essential that every element is prepared meticulously,” he explained. “First you need to find the best specialist, and the Medcalf team are certainly the best when it comes to vintage Bentleys. Things will go wrong with your car, especially when it is subject to day after day of large mileage and arduous conditions, but to have confidence in knowing your car is in perfect mechanical condition before you set off is invaluable.”

Graham recalled a time, ahead of a previous rally, when William advised him the clutch fitted to his car would need upgrading before the event, and if he didn’t upgrade then he should at least take a spare with him. Graham chose the latter option and, sure enough, the part failed meaning lost time and an overnight clutch swap.

Preparation is just the start, however, and Graham told me he had little mechanical knowledge when competing in his first rally. Over time, he has become at one with his Bent-ley and knows what to check at the end of each rally day; more importantly, he knows how to fix it. “Bentleys are straightforward,” Graham said. “And while newer cars may be faster, they are nowhere near as reliable, nowhere near as robust. Learning your car is essential, especially the main elements of fuelling, cooling and ignition. When you are at high altitudes, knowing how to tweak your carburettors is crucial and William can teach you all that.” 

“Rallying gets into your blood, not only for the adventure, the challenge and the opportu-nity to see the world, it’s also because you become part of the rally family,” said Graham. He also mentioned that he will know many of the competitors on rallies nowadays and lifelong friendships have been made. Graham and Marina have a full schedule ahead and a spot on the 2019 Peking to Paris, regarded as one of the toughest events in the world!

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