Australia’s Sue Slater and her husband Ken never planned to spend seven years driving a classic MG sports car around the world.
But when a friend of the couple told them about “this guy, Dave, from Queensland,” who wanted to drive MGs from Beijing to London, Slater said she and Ken looked at each other and immediately said “yes”—and then wondered if they should have said “no.”
“That first trip was monumental in terms of getting your head around the things that would have to happen,” said Slater. For example, first, they had to buy an MG.
Dave from Queensland
“Dave from Queensland” turned out to be Dave Godwin, who had bought an MGA convertible 10 years earlier and wanted to drive it from Beijing to Paris.
“I had set it up with a bloke who had done it before, but he hurt himself at the last minute and couldn’t make the trip,” said Godwin, who posted ads in MG enthusiast magazines and found a group of fellow Aussies to go with him, but to London instead of Paris.
Among them were the Slaters, who ended up buying an MGB GT, a hardtop that replaced the convertible-only MGA in the 1960s.
“Dave would have liked us all to have MGAs and drive with the top down like he does, but we’re just a bit more conservative,” Slater said.
“Conservative” is a strange word to describe anyone who has undertaken five epic journeys in seven years: China to the U.K. in 2010; Cape Town to Cairo in 2012; London to Norway in 2013; Argentina to British Columbia along the Pan-American Highway in 2015; and B.C. to Newfoundland along the Trans-Canada Highway in May and June of 2016.
The convoy swelled to a high of 11 cars for the Cape Town-Cairo journey, while just one other couple joined Godwin and the Slaters for the Norway drive.
“The convoy becomes an entity unto itself,” Slater said. “On our first trip, we were driving through China, the ‘Stans,’ Iran and other places, and people were running from villages and fields to wave to these crazy cars.”
“It’s beyond your wildest expectations, really. If we’d done this in four-wheel-drives, so what? But these cars have so much character.”
Breakdowns and new friends
British cars are known for their character, which is a nice way of saying they break down frequently.
“The people who prepare their cars the best are the ones who have all the mishaps,” said Godwin, who had to take the engine out of his MGA three times to replace a $7 seal. Slater says their MGB also gave them “heaps of trouble,” but that the payoff is meeting new people along the way.
“Because we’ve had a few hiccups, we’ve stayed with people and we’ve got some amazing stories to tell,” said Slater. “So, in fact, if you don’t have any hiccups, it’s probably a bit boring.”
Even without car troubles, these were not boring drives. Slater and Godwin described a 10-hour, 125-km trek through Kenya along a “road from hell,” driving along city streets lined with police and armed soldiers, and passing through Khartoum, Sudan three days before a massive munitions factory bombing.
Godwin said the group almost packed it in on the Africa trip when the Libyan government wouldn’t let them pass through the country, despite having paid for visas.
“We never got a straight answer, but we believe the Libyan government couldn’t guarantee us safe passage,” he said.
On the positive side, the support that these travelers have received from MG owners around the world, who have offered garages and beds “all because they’re part of the MG family,” has been amazing, Slater said. “It was an uplifting, fabulous thing.”
The Slaters and a convoy of MGs on a Grand Prix race track in Montreal
When I caught up with Slater and Godwin in Ottawa in late June, they were nearly two weeks from reaching their final destination of Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the easternmost point of North America.
Slater said it was fitting that the group arrived in Ottawa on July 1, so they could pay their respects to Newfoundland soldiers who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, and celebrate Canada Day and the impending end of their journey with local MG owners.
“We’ve now been around the world, both east to west and north to south; we’ve been to the highest point, the lowest point and all the way ‘round,” said Godwin. “To us, that’s a monumental trip.”