November 2000 - the car was in the desert, bent and twisted – emotions were running high, and the priority was to retrieve the car and transport it back to Dubai. No problem, Team Saluki had had the foresight to purchase the Arabian Automobile Association’s ‘Gold Card’ package – which allowed unlimited desert recovery…
This was not to be the case – even after double checking that the recovery service would cover rallies, we discovered that AAA were not going to honour their promise. Heated phone calls followed and eventually after many hours (persistence does pay off!), it was agreed that they would recover the vehicle, but “never again”.
Team Saluki went deep into the desert to prepare the car to enable it to be pulled on to the 4 X 4 transporter. Upon reaching the tarmac after recovering the car, the police happened upon the motley crew. "Where are you going?”, “Where is your police paper?”, “Why are you in a restricted oilfield area?”.
The transporter team’s licenses and work permits were ‘captured’ and the team was stuck… nowhere to go, police milling about the car, rabbiting away in Arabic, pointing at the wreckage and generally insisting that we had a serious problem on our hands. No kidding…!? Meanwhile, we had struck up a conversation with one of the senior police officers who basically informed us that we were in a restricted area and this was causing him a problem and was not too sure how to handle this one. Interestingly enough, we felt that he was also miffed that he was NOT advised of the fact that he had over 150 contestants blasting through his sector!
Thinking that we could blag our way through this one, we persisted with the fact that this was an official rally (which it was) and that permission was granted (which it was) to blat through his oilfield and that a police report was not necessary (which it wasn’t – I think).
This went on for a couple of hours, when we decided enough was enough… we phoned rally control and requested that Mohammed Bin Sulayem call us and speak to the police at this far-flung outpost. Ten minutes later, we had a phone call and passed Mohammed on to the police officer. Another ten minutes and we were on our way…! The Arabs have a great word for this; this being 'wasta' - which is basically a get out of jail free card! (or more succinctly, who you know!).
The car was delivered to AAA Service Centre (no relation to the recovery service company, strangely enough), where they proceeded to strip the car and salvage bits and pieces. The worst thing was that the chassis was twisted. As the car was stripped, so a huge pile of broken lights, body panels, etc, started to build up. Mercifully, the engine and gearbox were in one piece. The fact that the car had captive engine mounts played a major role in not allowing the engine to take off into the desert at a great rate of knots and causing further damage. All re-useable items were boxed ready for the eventual rebuild.
And so the search was on for a new chassis. Scrap-yards in and around Dubai and Sharjah were scoured, and shoes that were once shiny ended up covered with a mixture of dust, oil and mud. It's amazing what these scrap-yards try to palm off on their clients!
Finally we managed to locate one in Sharjah - a rolling chassis which was absolutely straight and rust free. 'Rust free?', I hear you cry? Well just a bit of rust on the rear bumper section which we cut off anyway and welded a box section into it's place. The vehicle use to belong to Sultan Qaboos of Oman… No, not one his personal vehicles, but a 1986 110" pick-up with a dustbin body on the rear! Apparently, all it did was to drive around the palace grounds emptying dustbins! Well, that's the story I would like to believe - it did have 56,000 kms on the clock - this was borne out by the service stickers on the bulkhead, along with the nearly new pedal rubber.
Stiffeners on the old chassis were duplicated on the new one by a local garage and day-by-day the new chassis started to take shape. Improvements were made on the old design and soon it was completed. A decision was made to galvanise the entire chassis for additional protection. We could see the car beginning to take shape at last.
The front axle from the 'dust-bin truck' was stripped, stiffened and rebuilt with Quaife differentials and half-shafts. A Range Rover rear axle was sourced and had the similar treatment. The bulkhead was fitted along with the wings and the bonnets. In the meantime, the existing HT shock absorbers were sent to Sweden for a rebuild and new HT springs were ordered.
We had a rolling chassis but no rear 'tub' (the pick-up section). This was to cause a problem as trying to find a tub in a clean condition was virtually impossible - pick-ups are designed to carry heavy loads! Finally one was spotted… only problem was that approximately one tonne of goat droppings were being stored in it! But to try to find the owner was virtually impossible! Eventually we managed to track him down and a deal was struck, but not before he removed the droppings and the tub could be inspected! The tub was collected (courtesy of Al Thika Packaging, a new support sponsor who would provide a garage for us to store the car and spares, etc. in), cleaned up and fitted to the rally car.
Things were starting to move - we could see progress! That was the car, but the hunt for sponsorship was on again. So far GAC Shipping said that they would continue to support us for 2002. Serck Services, Al Thika Packaging and Angliss also made commitments to support the team.
A 'think tank' was pulled together and the first meeting was held on the 18th September 2001. This core group consisted of Tim Ansell, Ian Barker, David (Streaky) Chambers, Graham Evans, Peter Orange and the two original Saluki's, David Pryce and Mark Powell. The purpose of the meeting was to set out a strategy in order to raise sponsorship. These meetings also helped to outline our marketing plan to increase our profile.
The main sponsor still eluded us - the one who would take the lead profile and go some way to support the team financially. Al Tayer Motors (the Dubai Land Rover agents) were approached and after a couple of weeks of discussions, they were on board. The all important service team issue was resolved.
The 2001 Desert Challenge came and went - Team Saluki envious of the teams who were participating. Once again Jean-Louis Schlesser won in his buggy. Jutta Kleinschmidt was pushing hard but retired 60 kms from the finish with a blown engine. A local entrant, Yahya Bilhilli, finished second in his Chevy Tahoe.
Not to miss out on the action, Mark assisted the Desert Challenge organisers in the safety helicopters generously provided by the Dubai police. On the flight home from Liwa, the helicopter Mark was in was asked to delay their landing - this meant that he had to cruise up and down the Jumeirah beach killing time! The police captain commented: "I love my job; just look at all the bikinis!"
Determination set in once again; the car was nearing completion, and the new year was upon us (which meant that we had to include another web page!!)
So close, yet So far!
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