A Drive To Istanbul and Back

A Drive To Istanbul and Back

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The Silk Road was a famous route that traders in previous centuries used to travel between China and Europe. As ships and then aircraft provided easier and faster transport between continents, the importance of the Silk Road diminished until it became little more than a historical reference. It is still used today but only for short-range travel through the countryside.

Among adventure travellers, going along the Silk Road is one of the much-desired journeys. And this year, a group of 68 Malaysians also left their tracks in the dust of the Silk Road as they drove and rode from Malaysia to Istanbul via the famous route. They were participants of the 2-month Petronas Silk Road Adventure 2001, a major event for the Petronas Adventure Team (PAT).

For this expedition, there were 21 vehicles – including one Mitsubishi Storm – and 5 motorcycles. The presence of the Storm, which had a manual transmission, was due to the interest of USF which supplied the vehicle. According to Doreen Wan. USF’s Marketing Manager, the reason for supplying the Storm was ‘to prove a point’ about its capabilities.

“We know that there are many people who feel that the Storm is just a ‘good looker’ but not a tough vehicle. Well, now I think it has been shown that is not the case as the Storm – which was only modified to carry heavy loads and for occupant protection – completed the 20,100 km journey in good shape. In fact, we had provided a lot of spares for the team and they returned almost everything!” she said.

According to the expedition leader, Halim Abdul Rahman, there was scepticism about the Storm when the members learnt that it would be included. They felt that its 2.5-litre turbodiesel would not have enough performance to keep up with the bigger 4.2-litre ‘Ninja Turtles’ (the nickname given to the big Toyota Land Cruisers).

“We were quite surprised because the Storm kept up with the ‘big boys’ and could maintain average speeds of 80 km/h over the rough terrain like the rest. The only precaution I gave was that the driver needed to keep an eye on the engine temperature. Other than one engine problem which we fixed, it was very reliable and we will be using the same unit for future events,” said Encik Halim.

The vehicles, all with diesel engines, ran on the new Petronas Syntium synthetic engine oil and never needed an oil change throughout the journey. However, Encik Halim added that the oil supplied by Petronas to the team was blended specially for the purpose to cope better with the extreme conditions that ranged from below freezing to well above 48 degrees C in the deserts.

“The drive was not really as tough as some other expeditions and we drove on defined tracks virtually all the way,” he said. “The toughest sections were in Laos which was very muddy – and delayed our progress for 6 hours – and ascending the steep mountain ranges at the Laos-China border where the altitudes rose to 5,000 metres. There was also one time when we drove 12 hours non-stop but usually, we travelled about 400 kms a day.”

In all, they spent about US$35,000 on fuel (this included petrol for motorcycles). Getting fuel was not difficult although each vehicle carried two jerry cans of fuel as emergency supplies. Steven Sim, who was responsible for vehicle maintenance and support, said that the fuel quality varied a lot and in Pakistan, they found the fuel pretty dirty most of the time and had to change the filters often.

The Silk Road Adventure has gone into the Malaysian Book of Records as being ‘The Longest 4×4 Expedition’. A documentary on the trip will be shown over TV3 in November.

At the press conference today to meet the participants of the event, USF’s Ms Wan revealed that the company is in the final stages of establishing the ‘Stormers Club’ for Storm owners, of which there are nearly 3,000 on Malaysian roads. “We plan to offer members various activities including 4×4 training and off-road drives,” she said. She added that virtually all Storms are privately registered and some 80% are the automatic version which is what makes the Storm unique among locally-assembled pick-ups.

Ms Wan said that some recent developments at the USF centre outside Kuala Lumpur will see the waiting period for the Storm being reduced, with the target being ‘immediate’ delivery.

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