The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007

May 27 - June 30 2007





It’s only to be expected that on an event like the Peking to Paris for us to see more than just a few personalities emerge – after all, it takes rather unusual qualities to enter in the first place.

Ten years ago, on the 1997 event, the Officials and Marshals had their own pet names for a few… nobody on that event, for example, will ever forget ‘Dip and Dazzle’ who drove a Rover, or, the character who drove an open Allard, to win the Marshal’s ‘Richard Head Trophy’ only to ask at the prizegiving, “who on earth is Richard Head?”

However, the characters that made the 1997 event such an epic are no match for this bunch. Given that today is a rest-day, it’s time for Syd Stelvio to reveal some of the antics of a few. However, one driver is very much couched in mystery. He says little. He turns up, drives, posts good times, and then fades into the background. You don’t see him at the bar, you don’t see him eating the restaurants. This is a driver who has been with us since China, and doesn’t ever eat or drink. He doesn’t even sleep with us when there are alternatives in town. Yet he knows exactly what he is doing, and is right up with the leaders – a deadly serious sort of bloke then.

This is the driver of Car 35, who drives a four-litre Alvis, and even de-tuned and running on the world’s worst petrol, it has the best part of 200 horse-power and enough torque to plough a field. His name is Horst Friedrichs, and as German as they come, but when his green two-seater comes speeding into a Time Control, the Marshals just call say “here comes the German Spy.” He looks every bit as if he should be riding a rusty bicycle around Norfolk with Michael Caine in the film about a plot to capture Churchill, or, perhaps, scrambling across Scottish moorland in his tweed jacket and cap, seeking a secret rendevous with a U-boat. 

He wears a Dunhill jacket, it goes with the dashing image of the green Alvis perfectly. He buys his shirts in Jermyn Street. He wears a variety of cloth caps, but with a certain jaunty style that suggests his hat maker is in the same class as his Lobb brogue shoes. The accent is perfect, what comes from years no doubt of whispering down valve-glowing radio sets kept under the bed, with the call-sign ‘Buckingham Palace.’

Quite what his mission is on the Peking to Paris is difficult to fathom, but he is in fifth place in the Vintageant Category. The bulge in the waistcoat maybe because he packs a 9mm Walther PPK, or merely a silver Dunhill flask for his Schnapps.

We are trying to find out more, as like you we are filled with curiosity, but this is not as easy as it sounds. Take coming into town yesterday: At the traffic lights, we pull up alongside German Spy, rorty Alvis exhaust turns heads. A stunningly glamourous lady is laughing alongside him. How did she arrive? What is she doing in his car? What has happened to the person who is neither co-driver, or navigator, but described by the Marshals as “The Accomplice?” Has he met a grizzly end, and is now lying face down in a Siberian ditch? Should we not know the answers to these questions?

So, our photographer grapples with his telephoto lens in the back of our car for the photo that will confirm all this, while shouting to German Spy: Who is that lady?… it can’t be your wife!’ Back comes the response, “of course it’s my wife, look…” and he lands her a big long kiss, while holding up the traffic. Alas, the photographer is so surprised by all this he drops his camera. The lights change, we drive straight on, as per route-book, but German Spy turns right, adding to the mystery, as he has not been seen since. We are convinced his latest travelling companion is not his wife. He is no doubt now in disguise, living in a back street bed and breakfast, wireless set connected to coat hangers as an aerial, sending out messages under the code-name Buckingham Palace, while the mystery blonde now wears a little black dress in a coffee shop collecting messages on the back of till receipts. All this is very odd.

If you have ever secretly thought you would like to indulge in the murky world of espionage, get yourself over to St. Petersburg. You have 24 hours to solve the riddle of the mysterious driver everyone calls The German Spy. Our photo shown here is your only clue… he is not in the rally hotel, and we have no idea where you should begin the hunt.

Before Paris, Syd Stelvio would like to have the answers to the biggest mystery so far of the Peking to Paris. 


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