Category: Carnage

The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done PT1

This post is about a series of time between Summer 2017 and Now. This post is joyous, this post is about victories, failures and battles in the workshop and the desert. This post is about people coming together and making something amazing.

I spotted a post on Facebook last summer looking for teams of three people to build a mad-max style car and do battle in the desert. I applied immediately – then I messaged my boyfriend, Zako and asked him if he would be the second member of our three person team. He replied straight away with a yes. We now had to find a third member; that came in the shape of Tom, a friend Zako made during his time as a Petrochemical Engineer. Tom loves Mad Max, Tom hates leaving the house. He said yes.

We had a team of three! We now needed to pass the interviews. One phone interview each, one Skype interview with casting, one in-person interview at our workshop… this took place over a few weeks and each time we felt more and more excited about the prospect of £7,000 to build the adventure of a lifetime. At the start of September I got the call; “Check your bank, you’re in, go build a car.”

Joy, terror, anticipation, we made it. We made it into the 30 teams chosen from thousands of applicants. We made it. We didn’t know how hard this was going to be, but we didn’t care. Dad tutted and stayed out of the way unless we asked for help. He knew. He’d done TV before.

We immediately set about finding the car we needed – we settled on a Discovery 1 v8, manual. These are rare beasts, but we knew the engine had the power we needed, we were experienced with Land Rover and knew what to look for. On the other side of the country one popped up. Roller-painted in matt green with an army theme, we knew we had to act FAST or someone would buy it out from under us. We know now this car’s name was “Sarge” before we bought it.

One phone call, one 4-hour drive to Sussex later, the cash handed over… we drove the beast towards the Safety Prep centre (Bickers Action), also in Sussex. We didn’t even take the Discovery home first, we didn’t do a long test drive, just long enough to test that it drove. 15 miles away from Bickers Action it overheated. The thermostat was stuck open and the engine didn’t want to deal with the heat of the day.

Disaster. An angry phone call. Tom saved the day by calling his bank’s AA cover. The AA man was a total legend and towed us the 15 miles to Bickers Action. We left it there, key in the visor in their secure compound on a Sunday afternoon. Apprehensive about it’s return. We celebrated with a Wagamama’s on the way home.

Two weeks of planning, buying bits for the weapons and waiting later, the car returns triumphant on a trailer. Bickers had fitted all the safety equipment needed – a roll cage, a bucket seat, a fuel cell, a cut off switch, makrolon everywhere. There were problems with a few of these things, but we could work past them, fix them, improve them! The car refused to turn off on the cut off switch, our electrician Tim fixed it right away, rewiring every part of the car to take the strain of heat, battle and the weapons we were to wire into the system.

Battlecar on it’s return to the workshop

We had 7 weeks from now to make the car battle ready. We all worked 9-5 jobs. The car was stationed at a workshop near the Severn Bridge in Wales. Tom worked in Gloucester, I worked in Hereford, Zako worked at the workshop! For those 7 weeks we would finish work, get changed and get down to the workshop as soon as possible. Some nights Tom and I wouldn’t get there until 8pm. Some weeknights we stayed until 2am – there was trouble with every part of the build, things we could have done better, things we shouldn’t have done, things we should have done. Looking back now it was chaos!

Partway through the build we realised that all weapons would have to be operated by the driver, so we purchased an Automatic gearbox for the car. Tom and Zako swapped this over two evenings with a lot of swearing and grunting. It proved to be both a pain and a good idea out in Africa! More on that later.

Zako & Tom changing the Gearbox

We tested weapons, we triangulated steel, we gained first name status with the local steel supplier, the local hydraulics place (Turner Hydraulics) very generously supplied items at cost price, we went through welding wire, plasma cutter tips, welding gas like sweeties. We taught my step-brother Danny to cut and to weld, we taught Mimi to cut, Simon helped to weld things that needed to be strong (he’s a fast welder), Dad worked out the hydraulics and helped fit and weld the ‘mangler’ on the back, Danny used his furniture and industrial design skills to design the tusks. Tom spent hours cutting them out.

A planning sketch

We realised we needed to cool the engine. Since it overheated in Sussex all we’d done was sort the thermostat and service it. Here’s where I popped an email to Evans Coolant – immediately they were happy to supply enough coolant and prep fluid, so long as we gave them feedback on the performance. We made no other changes to the cooling system on the Rover V8. It was made for deserts. It had this in the bag.

Some of Mimi’s fantastic paintwork

8 weeks later – we overran due to a few delivery issues, this caused total panic at production and we narrowly made the port’s deadline for shipping – a recovery truck turns up at the workshop. Simon and I are still welding spikes on, its time for the beast to go. I manage to squeeze in a quick test drive up and down the lane, to see if it changes gear properly – we hadn’t even been able to test it! Together with Tim, Simon and I loaded it up and waved goodbye. I sent photos to Tom and Zako, I cried. It was gone. 

We didn’t see it again until February. I missed the mad evenings at the workshop, I missed the constant activity, but my body did not. I needed to rest, Zako and Tom needed to rest. We took time apart from Tom so we could all come back together as a team in February.

Zako didn’t have a passport – so over Christmas we applied and had one sorted for him, Tom reapplied for his, mine was fine surprisingly! The flights were booked and I could barely focus on work. Work as a business was changing hands, the previous owner had sold the dealership to a group and things were all a bit up in the air. I was stressed but I could feel the good vibes coming. The week of the flights to Africa rolls round, I leave my newly purchased car at the dealership (on my return I would have a company car and a new job) and go home to pack.

15 days holiday each were booked, and we were off. I guided the men-children through the train system, to the airport, through the airport and onto the plane. Relax. We met another team in the waiting area (we now know they were Team NFG; they approached us… “are you guys going camping?” “…uh yes, yes we are” “we are too… see you out there!” We knew it was code.). We started to recognise groups of three on the plane – petrol-head t-shirts, groups of three people heading to Cape Town looking a little lost. At Dubai we knew who to follow to the connecting flight based on who looked like they’d packed for the desert…

Part 1.