Transcontinental road trip - CMark {P}
Greetings all. I have recently arrived back home in Jordan having driven my G-wagen out here, 3750 miles from Holland across 9 countries. Here are some motoring highlights of the trip which you might enjoy.

Our first stop was Bonn for a weekend with a friend, which included an afternoon spent thrashing round the Nürburgring race track in his brand new BMW 745i. The Nürburgring is the famous 13 mile track, called by Jackie Stewart, "the greatest and most challenging race circuit in the world", which, previously unbeknownst to me, is often open to the public to drive around at top speed. It was the most excellent fun and half of the cars in the car park were GB registered, from old Minis to Porsches. I promised myself then and there that if I were to live within a few hours drive of the track I would buy a so-called DRT - a Dedicated Ring Toy. For more info have a look at this interesting website by a British enthusiast www.nurburgring.org.uk

Then we headed off south-east a couple of hundred miles to another vehicle test ground - "Off road park Langenaltheim" - the quarry based off-road driving centre 40 miles south of Nürnberg where we spent a few hours having fun exploring the limits of traction of my G-wagen's Goodyear Wranglers. Only open by prior appointment after 1 November, this is a popular venue for individuals and clubs in the summer but be sure to check their website www.offroadpark-langenaltheim.de as manufacturers such as Audi sometimes book the entire site for their prototype testing.

Now we started climbing into the Alps toward Graz in Austria for our pre-arranged tour of the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen production line at the huge Magna Steyr assembly plant. During our leisurely stroll down the full length of the production line we could see why G-wagens are so different and so expensive. Everything is massively engineered and almost wholly hand-built, from the unusually thick galvanised steel body panels down to the stainless steel exhaust.

A noteworthy detail on the line was the anti-corrosion waxing bay that all body shells passed through directly after painting. Here two technicians used a variety from a selection of perhaps 20 tailor-made interchangeable and computer controlled spray nozzles that delivered the precise volume and spray pattern of specially formulated hot wax for each cavity and seam to be protected.

Our host did an impressive job deluging us with facts and figures. For instance, that the G-wagen body has more than double the number of spot welds than the Jeep Grand Cherokee (of which 110,000 units have also been built at the these Works since 1999).

The Magna Steyr plant builds some other interesting cars. Another Chrysler product, the Voyager, has been built in Graz since 1992. Until recently, the PT Cruiser (for markets outside North America) was also manufactured at Graz but last year production was transferred to be consolidated at the North America plant in Mexico.

For Mercedes-Benz, Magna Steyr developed the permanent all-wheel-drive (4MATIC) for the E-Class and has been building the 4MATIC vehicles since late 1996. In August this year production started at Magna Steyr of the new Saab 9-3 convertible making it the first time a Saab car is being manufactured outside Scandinavia. 200 Magna Steyr engineers were also involved in the development of the model.

But Magna Steyr's biggest project to date is the development and manufacture of the new BMW X3. Having seen plenty of early production examples around the factory, I am sure it will storm the sales charts when it gets launched early next year.

When complete, each G-wagen is taken out onto the nearby autobahn for a maximum speed test, which can be up to 135 mph for the fastest G-wagens. Interestingly, the Works have a small series of special, police approved, blue test plates which exempt the vehicle from conforming to the speed limits on the autobahns around Graz. I could use a set of those.

Unfortunately, we could not get a ride on the factory's famous Schockl off-road test track as a slot was not available. But I had already managed a gorgeous afternoon up past the snow line, and in the low November sunshine, on the forestry tracks of the Seetaleralpen and the Packalpe to the west of Graz. These green-lane type tracks are marked on the large scale hiking maps of the area and several had already been closed for the winter by the Forestry Dept.. However, we politely asked the ranger (in German) for permission "to take some photos" and he amiably allowed us to continue once we had reassured him we were not going camping!

After leaving the Puchwerk (as it is known locally in Graz), we headed east, passing through Hungary, toward the wild Carpathian Mountains of Romania where we had planned a day or two of adventurous green-laning. When we arrived at the foot of the mountains, we were lucky enough to meet at our isolated B&B, the ex-president of the Romanian Caving Society and professional mountain guide, Dan Pitic. Dan freely gave us his best suggestions for a high altitude 4x4 experience over several glasses of excellent traditional home-made plum brandy called palinca.

Romania is a country of two extremes: post-communist misery amongst the crumbling and polluted ruins of heavy industry set against old-fashioned rustic mountain charm and little spoilt scenery. There are several third-world countries I have visited that are in better shape. Romania was the least developed country we passed through on our trip; less developed than even Syria or Jordan. However, Romania (and also Bulgaria) has much to offer the adventurous traveller and continues to exert a strong appeal.

In Romania there are almost no dual-carriageways or motorways or even town by-passes (apart from the 100 miles or so of motorway that runs either side of Bucharest). Even National Routes can be potholed mud-filled dirt tracks. Almost all the main roads seem to go right through all the villages en route with their 50 kph speed limits. Driving around Romania is very slow especially at night when you have to watch out for plenty of unlit horse-drawn carts even on the main roads. Beware also of many animals being herded along the roads at dawn and dusk.

The highways and by-ways of the Carpathian Mountains must surely provide the nearest opportunity for extensive and almost unrestricted, long distance 4-wheel driving this side of the Mediterranean. We drove more than 120 miles of continuous mud tracks in a one day round trip without retracing our steps. As well as a full fuel tank, we made sure we had good large scale hiking maps of the area and satellite navigation to back that up as one could get seriously lost in these huge forests.

Interesting websites: www.roving-romania.co.uk - guided off-road 4x4 tours in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania and: www.motoroads.com - off-road motorbike tours in Bulgaria.

Our next stop was Istanbul. It rained hard and long. The traffic was awful. It was rather a shock to be in the middle of a huge city of 12 million people. However the city's smog problem has been significantly reduced following the recent mandate for all the taxis to run on LPG.

Furthermore we had to grapple with an awesome exchange rate of 1,725,000 Turkish lira to the Euro. A full tank of diesel was 100 million lira. That sounds like a lot of money. I have never signed a credit card slip showing 100 million of any currency before. It is a weird feeling. There are so many zeros on the bank notes it makes your eyes water.

From Istanbul it was a straight 10 hour blast of 650 miles to the Syrian border. After Ankara we had our lowest temperature of -2 degrees and were driving for some time at night in heavy falling snow. Our electric seat heaters got much use. I had packed snow chains in the back of the car but the snow-ploughs were already busy. Then a long descent to warmer weather at the Meditteranean Sea coast, a couple of border crossings and home in time for tea the next day.
Transcontinental road trip - harry m
thank you very much for a very interesting post wish i was brave enough to do such journeys. harry m
Transcontinental road trip - Pugugly {P}
Brilliant - thanks. Does the Defender fancy another trip perhaps ?
Transcontinental road trip - smokie
Aern't some people lucky?

Great post CMark, thanks for your time telling us...
 

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