That feeling of being watched…

Tuesday an unusual day.  The alarm fired up at 04:45, and the TVR wasn’t far behind it.  Destination Dartmoor, and a rendez-vous with the good folk of Vertical Horizons Media, who are partnering the forthcoming Pub2Pub expedition by providing top-end aerial footage for the expedition.  Several hours of driving on deserted tarmac while being stalked by 7 kilos of whirring airborne high-tech later, and the footage was in the bag.  Here’s a few stills from the shoot, while the video itself can be seen here – enjoy!  We’re looking forward to carrying out some similar shoots in more exotic locations once the expedition is underway…

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11895155_10155978092820451_5315783943692548576_oRemember to keep track of all the latest Pub2Pub developments by liking the expedition Facebook page, found here: facebook.com/Pub2PubExpedition

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Because it’s there.

As the planning phase of the Pub2Pub expedition accelerates, we’re carrying out our research with half an eye on the record books, because the very nature of the trip lends itself to pushing the boundaries of what’s been done in sports car-based travel.  And rest assured, we’re not just talking about ticking off ‘the world’s longest pub crawl’ (although predictably, we’ve already made contact with the good folk at Guinness World Records to ratify an attempt on that particular record!)

So what other monumental acts of record breaking daring-do are we looking into? Firstly, there’s the question of elevation.

When you drive across it, the world is anything but flat.  During the AfricanPorsche Expedition, we took a sports car along the lowest road on the planet; the smooth tarmac which runs through Jordan next to the Dead Sea, 418m below sea level.  V8Nam saw our over-engined steeds reaching heights of 3,767m on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, while on the Rickshaw Run we coaxed our 8HP beastie to over 4,000m on the Rotang La in northern India.

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But on Pub2Pub we’re looking to go a stage further, by boldly taking a sports car higher than any sports car has gone before.

So just how high have sports cars reached before? A tough question to answer, but an easy one to guess at.  The highest tarmac road on the planet is claimed to be the Ticlio Pass in Peru, which reaches a height of 4,818m – or exactly 11m higher than Mt Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.  It’s reasonable to assume that sports cars have crossed this, but what of the other higher, unsurfaced passes of the world?

The highest mountain pass in the world is the Mana Pass, a graded military road on a sensitive part of the India-China border which was completed in 2010 and reaches a height of 5,610m; however the likelihood of the Chinese military letting anything so frivolous as a sports car along it are pretty much zero.  The highest non military passes are Semo La in Tibet at 5.565m and Marsmik La in India at 5.582m.  While it’s unlikely that any of these rock-strewn arteries have borne witness to anything so ridiculous as a passing sports car, it’s obviously a possibility, meaning that to be sure of setting the record for the highest altitude ever attained by a sports car, we’re going to have to beat these elevations.

So where on Pub2Pub’s long and meandering route could this be possible?

There’s really only one place – the otherworldly landscape of the Atacama.  This, the driest desert on Earth, harbours a brooding landscape of volcanoes which soar to well over 6,000m.  Near the summits of a few of these volcanoes, industrious pioneers once established sulphur mines, with service roads leading up to said mines.  Other mountains are home to high altitude solar observatories, also with their service roads, while some volcanoes seem to have tracks leading high up their flanks because… well, just because.

After a fairly extensive bout of research, we’ve came up with a list of mountains with tracks on their flanks which, with care, a sports car might be coaxed up.  Here’s the list:

Guallatiri, a 6,071m high Stratovolcano in northern Chile.

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As the volcano which the Top Gear team attempted to drive up on their ‘Bolivia Special’ episode, this fine protrusion was a logical starting point for the research. In the TV show, Clarkson & Co reached approximately 5,250m before the altitude proved too much for them.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t have got much further if they’d persevered – a mountaineering guide to the volcano states that ‘at approximately 5200m, the track becomes impassable, and you must continue on foot.’  This probably coincides with Top Gear’s highpoint, and means that the chances of getting a sports car any higher on the mountain are slim.

Cerro Sairecabur, 5,971m

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This spectacular mountain is located near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, right in the middle of the driest desert on Earth. The region’s clear air makes it one of the best places on the planet for astronomy; the justification behind Sairecabur’s biggest claim to fame – it’s receiver lab telescope, located on the mountain’s flank at an altitude of 5.525m.  Predictably, there’s a reasonably passable gravel track leading up to the telescope installation, which morphs into a rougher track that leads to a mountain refuge at 5670m, meaning there’s definitely potential for getting a sports car higher than any of Asia’s high passes.  And if it turns out to not be possible?  Well, there are worse places to set up camp and spend a night than on the side of a mountain beneath the Atacama’s legendary night skies.

Volcan Aucanquilcha, 6,176m

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This mighty stratovolcano was once the setting for the highest road the planet has ever seen – a mining road that used to run to its summit, and was plied by 20 ton trucks bringing down load after load of valuable sulphur.

However, since the mine closed in 1993, the road has fallen into disrepair.  The best information we’ve been able to uncover is that several landslides have severed the road above 5,500m; despite this, it seems that several cyclists have succeeded in reaching the summit recently, so it may still be possible to push on above 5,500m.  Further research is needed, as the volcano looks to be a fascinating place to visit, having a history of mining dating back to 1913, and still harbouring the world’s highest permanent settlement, a village 5,334m above sea level.

Ojos Del Salado, 6,962m

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Considerably further south than the other possibilities, Ojos Del Salado is not only the world’s highest volcano; it’s also the location of the current world altitude record for cars – if you can call the jacked up, over-tyred, supercharged Suzuki that Chileans Gonzalo Bravo G. And Eduardo Canales Moya coaxed up to 6,688m a ‘car’.

While the terrain high on the mountain is almost certainly too tough for a sports car, like all the mountains on this list, there’s a track which runs high on the mountain, servicing the mountain huts which provide shelter for mountaineers.  Most climbers are taken to 5,200m on this track, where they start their ‘on foot’ ascent from the Refugio Atacama; however it seems that some of the local 4×4 owners are willing to take climbers further along the track, all the way to the Refugio Tejos at over 5,800m.  If further research shows this route to be in reasonable condition, then it may be the best possibility for setting an indisputable altitude record for sports cars.

So there you have it – our research has so far turned up 3 potential venues for an attempt at getting a sports car to over 5,500m altitude.  Whether the road conditions will allow success in this rather random goal remains to be seen, but finding out will bring yet another interesting slant to the fascinating mosaic of interests which Pub2Pub is fast becoming.

I mean, who’d have thought 2016 would see us going mountaineering in a sports car?

Through the Darkness…

There’s not a huge amount of automotive daring-do in this latest blog post I’m afraid, but there’s a reason for this – all will become clear by the end of the post!

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‘While everyone else relaxed in the courtyard, preparing first popcorn then dinner on the stoves, I sat silently, my mental faculties effectively shut down by the deluge of negativity which had flooded my mind over the previous six hours. I wasn’t considering how to fix the car, or whether to sell it. My thoughts had dried up, being replaced by a cycle of depressed emptiness as I stared into space. I was dead to the world, dead even to my own attempts at rational thought. Finished.

The car and I had a lot in common.’

 – Survival of the Quickest, Chapter 9, p.232.

Marsabit, Northern Kenya – during the AfricanPorsche Expedition.

To anyone who has read Survival of the Quickest, the book I wrote about my first properly groundbreaking – and carbreaking – road trip, the jist of the paragraph quoted above will be familiar.  At various times during the trip, I was mentally unequal to the considerable stresses I faced, and it doesn’t take an A-grade in psychology to figure out why.

From the moment when the Porsche’s engine spontaneously combusted 17 days before departure, right the way through to our return to Britain 4 months and 15,000 brutal miles later, the uncertain, pressure-cooker nature of the trip never let up.  As the person who’d dreamed up the idea of crossing Africa in a Porsche, shot down the naysayers who said it was impossible and convinced others to join the trip, the more things went wrong the more I felt a burden of stress hanging over me like a cloud.  And, as much as I fought to always be equal to the burden, occasionally I cracked under the load by shutting down as in the passage above, while on other occasions my response to the continuous pressures would manifest itself as an irrationally low mood, sometimes lasting the whole day.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from depression.  As I had been for a fair few years leading up to the expedition.

Going into detail about the whys and wherefores of depression would be about as out of place as you can get on a generally light-hearted blog about a guy with itchy feet and a passion for cars, but suffice to say that despite its outwardly mental symptoms, depression is a physical illness whose symptoms are most commonly triggered by putting one’s self under an unsustainable level of stress for too long.

Ironically, it was the act of writing Survival of the Quickest – and particularly looking back through my often doom-laden notes from the trip – which first brought it home to me that I was suffering from depression. Prior to the cathartic process of writing the book, I’d always assumed any negative moods I experienced were a direct result of the things happening in my life at the time, rather than an actual illness.  Depression was something that happened to other people, not me, and felt almost like a taboo subject at the time.

However, since accepting it as a fact of my life, and learning to understand it – and even rationalise it through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I’ve been able to minimise its effect on my life, and on the thankfully now very rare occasions when it does flare, I can at least recognise and understand it for what it is.

So, let’s now fast-forward to the happy ending – four years after The AfricanPorsche Expedition, I spent 5 months driving from England to Singapore and thanks to my coming to terms with my history of depression, depression played almost no part in the trip.  It still raises its head occasionally, but since accepting it as part of my life, it’s never been able to come remotely close to dominating my thoughts like it once did.

So what’s all this non-car related whaffling in aid of?

Well, if you follow this blog you’ll already know that I am currently in the early stages of organising ‘Pub2Pub’, a road trip from the northernmost pub on the planet, to the southernmost.  Which sounds absolutely awesome.  However, I’d like Pub2Pub to do more than simply entertain; I want to use the trip as a vehicle to improve the lives of those living with depression in some small way, and I feel Pub2Pub has the potential to help people currently suffering from depression on several counts:

  • Firstly, I hope it can inspire people who currently live with depression to not let their condition stand between them and achieving their dreams, and
  • Secondly, it’s my intention to use the expedition to raise money to support those currently struggling with depression,
  • And finally, if the expedition can through education, help to dispel some of the myths surrounding the condition, then that’d be great!

So, with the above goals in mind, Pub2Pub is going to be teaming up with the mental health charity… ‘mind’.  It’s my hope that not only will pub2pub be one of the most awesomely stylish adventures to take place in 2016, but it will also change peoples’ lives for the better, whether by inspiring folk to believe their dreams are within reach in spite of everything, helping fund vital support for those who need it, or enabling people to understand and recognise the condition’s symptoms in themselves and others.

Thanks for reading, and because this is a car blog, I feel compelled to finish on something car-related.  So here’s a picture of a 1967 Iso Grifo. Isn’t it simply awesome?!

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Ben

Planning a route…

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The planning for the forthcoming Pub2Pub expedition has been getting into its stride over the past few months, and much of this planning has been focused on the most critical aspect of the journey – the route.

If you’ve read the previous few blog posts you’ll be aware of the goal – to travel from the northernmost bar on the planet to the southernmost, in as stylish a manner as possible.  Given that this basically means journeying from the high Arctic to the Antarctic while remaining totally dapper throughout, it’s a pretty tall order.

But here on 80breakdowns, tall orders are what we thrive on.

According to our research, journey’s start is at the hotel bar of an obscure former mining settlement called Pyramiden, on the island of Svalbard, about 400 miles north of Tromso, Norway.  Founded in 1910, Pyramiden was once a bustling mining settlement of around 1,000 residents, and boasted, among other things, the world’s most northerly swimming pool, grand piano…and bar. The settlement ceased to be viable after the fall of the Soviet Union resulted in an end to the subsidies required to maintain this Soviet outpost on the edge of Europe, and the town was abandoned in 1998.  Since then, it has survived as a ghost town, frozen in time amid the permafrosts and polar bears.  However, for a few months each summer, the settlement’s hotel is opened to accommodate passing adventurers, scientists and tour groups, and provide them a place to sleep amid the ruins; and a place to get a drink in the evening – the hotel bar.

(Coincidently, our research has shown that there is probably at least some sort of bar located yet deeper into the Arctic north, either at the former Soviet airbase at Nagurskoe, on Franz Josef Land, or the Russian scientific research station on Hayes Island in the same archipelago – however assuming said bars exist, the chances of them being open to passing visitors is basically zero, so for the purposes of pub2pub, we’ll only be considering bars which are open to the passing public.)

So there’s the starting point. The ghost town of Pyramiden, located 78 degrees north.  Or to put it another way, 120 miles further north than Top Gear reached on their rather awesome ‘North Pole’ expedition.  But what of the finishing point?  This is slightly easier to pinpoint, as there’s only one bar open to the public on the whole of the Antarctic continent, which is located at Vernadsky Research Base on Galindez Island, at 65 degrees south, where you can buy vodka distilled on site for $3 a shot.

But how to get between these two arbitrary points on the world’s surface?

Well, that’s where the fun starts!  The first leg of the journey will be from Pyramiden to Longyearbyen, capital of the Svalbard Archipelago.  There are no roads linking the two locations, but fortunately the terrain means there are a few exciting options for the leg one’s more of transport – sea kayak or snowmobile being two of the most likely options.

From Longyearbyen, the expedition encounters its next obstacle – the small matter of a 400 mile trip across the Arctic Ocean to mainland Norway.  This will be the first of several ocean crossings, and dictates the leave date of the journey, as sea ice blocks access to and from the islands for a large portion of the year.

Once the expedition reaches mainland Europe, normal service is resumed – road trip mode is engaged!  Over the course of a few weeks we’ll travel down Norway’s stunning Arctic highway and across Northern Europe, eventually finding ourselves in Southampton, suited up to the hilt and all set to quaff champagne just like one did back in travel’s golden age.

The Queen Mary 2 is the last remaining ocean liner which maintains a tradition of trans-Atlantic extravagance that harks back to heady days before the routine blandness of air travel.  As the spiritual successor to the Titanic, the Blue Riband trophy rivals of the ‘30s and the glamorous Queen Elizabeth II, this leg of the journey promises to be quite the experience, for there is no more civilized or stylish way of travelling from Europe to North America.

After docking in New York, Pub2Pub returns to its road trip roots, driving across the States and down to Mexico.  Central America promises to be a fascinating place to drive through, a heady trip down the pan-American highway, with its mix of beaches, volcanoes, rainforests and ruins which only ends in Panama, at the impenetrable Darien Gap.

Said 150 mile section of rainforest acts as a natural barrier separating Central and South America, and necessitates another aquatic excursion, shipping both car and crew across the water to Colombia, from where our road heads south.  Equador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina will all pass beneath our wheels as we push on, taking in such incredible landscapes as the Atacama Desert, Machu Pichu, the Bolivian Salt Flats and Patagonian Grasslands in the process.  And so the expedition arrives at the most southerly city on Earth – Ushuaia.

And from there, Pub2Pub will begin its final leg, sailing out across the Strait of Magellan, past Tierra Del Fuego and into the storm-strafed waters of Cape Horn, before setting a course to the South East, dodging icebergs on route to the last bar on the planet.

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So there you have it – the Pub2Pub expedition.  24,000 miles, 22 countries, 4 continents, several ocean crossings and more awesomeness than you can shake a stick at.

It’s gonna be a good’un!

In search of style…

A road trip isn’t simply defined by its start and finish points, or even the places between said points, through which it passes.  No, each road trip has its own individual character, which is shaped by every aspect of the trip – the landscape, the people, the roads, the weather, and last but certainly not least, the car.  In fact, such is the importance of the choice of car, that it shapes the very essence of the journey.  As an obvious example, the V8Nam expedition was a very different experience for the occupants of the apocalyptic-sounding, bone pounding Corvette, in comparison to those experiencing the journey from the regal comfort of its Rolls Royce travelling companion.

So, the Corvette lent my V8Nam experience a raw, anarchic air.  The AfricanPorsche Expedition felt a very different trip in comparison, in part due to the aloof, workmanlike nature of the Porsche.  So where, you’re probably wondering, am I going with all this?  Well, in my last blog post I summed up my goal of making Pub2Pub a journey defined by its stylishness; in fact the exact description of what I want to achieve went along these lines:

‘…while the golden age of travel may have passed, its spirit still exists.  A spirit of conviction that travel goes far beyond simply visiting a place; it should be a stylish expression of how life should be lived – bold, daring, elegant and stylish; and with just a hint of glorious madness.’

So that raises a big question; what vehicle would fit the bill?  What car best captures the essence of ‘bold, daring, elegant and stylish, with just a hint of glorious madness’?  Well predictably, I’ve been putting some thought into the matter, and have come up with some vehicles which I think hit the mark.  Some are viable options, whereas some of the possibilities listed are so outrageously unobtainable only an oil sheik could contemplate their purchase.  But I think they all demonstrate just the right blend of old-fashioned style, elegance and madness which I’m looking for.  So, without further ado, here we are – 5 vehicles which tick the boxes by blending elegance and style with that hint of madness:

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Jaguar XJS

Remember Jaguar’s most memorable advertising slogan – space, grace and pace?  Well, it pretty much sums up the USP I’m looking for in the Pub2Pub wheels.  Jaguar as a company has focussed on producing, sleek, stylish and comfortable cars for its entire history, and so there are any number of Jags which would fit the brief, from the gorgeous XK120 right up to the modern-day F-type.  I’ve singled out the straight-6 XJS as it’s the most attainable option, combining sleek lines, a mellifluously smooth powerplant and a gorgeous handmade interior for less than £3,000.  And also, because I’ve always thought one would look absolutely fantastic in the middle of a desert, fitted with chunky tyres and a slimline roofrack.

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Aston Martin DB-series

When it comes to combining chiselled good looks with a spot of dashing madness, It’s hard to look beyond Aston Martin.  To undertake any epic adventure in an Aston would be the trip of a lifetime, as despite the company’s turbulent history, they never seem to put a foot wrong when it comes to manufacturing stylish, overengined awesomeness; well, except for the Cygnet, but we can ignore that little hiccup.  The Astons which suit the brief best have almost all bore the ‘DB’ moniker – from the grand-touring DB4s of the ‘60s through to the present day DB9 and DBS.  I’m going to attempt to be sensible by going for the DB7 as my choice.  Someone once said that style is the apparent lack of effort, and on this measure, the DB7 is the most stylish Aston DB of them all, sitting between the overtly chromed glamour of the early cars, and the self consciously bulging confidence of the more modern offerings.  Oh, and the DB7 is the only Aston I’d ever have a vague chance of affording for a road trip too…

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TVR Cerbera

So, style and madness, combined – surely that’s TVR through and through? What other manufacturer would be so mad as to replace doorhandles with buttons hidden beneath the wingmirrors, or fit right angle exhausts which can shoot flames at cyclists in the adjacent bus lane with the merest twitch of the foot?  TVRs have always been beautiful and bonkers in equal measure, and while they may lack the glamour and pedigree of some of the other vehicles listed here, what they lack in outright badge-appeal, they more than make up for with their glorious madness.

While we wait to see what the newly reborn TVR car company comes up with, we’re stuck with perusing the marque’s back catalogue, meaning the perfect choice for a big trip would surely be the Cerbera; TVR’s only real stab at a grand touring vehicle.  Sleek, low, uncluttered and brutally, biblically, unjustifiably powerful, there can’t be many more stylish ways to arrive at an obscure city.  And it wins extra style-points for the fact that once it’s out of the UK, nobody will have the slightest clue what it is; only that it’s bloomin’ awesome.

AC-Cobra

AC Cobra

If TVR warrants a mention by virtue of blending brute power with beauty, then surely the AC Cobra – along with its surprisingly affordable replicas – represents the ultimate expression of the stylish muscle car?  While obviously moving quite a way from the restrained dignity and comfort of a modern Aston or Jag, the Cobra was, in its day, not nearly so far removed from the products of such companies as it’s perceived nowadays. Just like it’s contemporaries from Jaguar, Chevrolet and Ferrari, it’s definitely stylish, it has a pugnacious grace all of its own, its history is as daring as any automobile and when it comes to being an expression of glorious madness, nothing else on the road can touch it.  I think it’s an awesome, timeless vehicle which warrants its place on this list for its side-exit exhausts alone.

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Bentley Dartmoor Coupe

And now, we head to the stratosphere.  Look at it.  Just look at it.   Has there ever been a more perfect expression of automotive style than this coachbuilt coupe?  The £400,000 price tag may be a slight obstacle when it comes to a typical 80breakdowns road trip, but hell, just look at it.  Again.  Inside and out, from its salubrious 6.7l straight-six to the artful chrome bumpers, it’s every inch the art-deco interpretation of the perfect grand touring automobile.  And I love it.  I’ll just have to sell another few hundred thousand copies of my book before I can afford one… and even then I couldn’t bring myself to then clatter across the Atacama Desert in such a stunning work of art.

So there they are; five different interpretations of what the ideal vehicle for a bold yet stylish road trip could be.  Obviously some of the vehicles mentioned are pipe dreams, but their inclusion still serves to aid the distillation of ideas which results in a choice being made, just as a few years ago, a similar process led to us selecting a Corvette for the V8Nam trip.

The clock is ticking.  Not long now, and it’ll be time to start shopping…

Pub2Pub – rediscovering the lost art of travel

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It’s now over a year since the 80breakdowns crew got back from the V8Nam expedition, which raises an obvious question: what’s next?  How can you possibly top driving a Rolls Royce and a Corvette from England to the farthest reaches of Asia?

A tough question, but one we’ve been working on for a while now.  And we’ve come to the beer-fuelled conclusion that the perfect road trip isn’t simply a line on the map linking a series of curious locales.  No, for the ultimate travel experience, the style in which the journey is undertaken is just as important as the places it passes through.  So for our next expedition, we’ve decided that in contrast with our previous undertakings, style is everything.   We’re planning to make the trip a modern interpretation of the golden age of travel, when every expedition was a thing of elegance, and beneath every immaculate trilby was a carefully maintained moustache concealing a stiff upper lip.  So, without any further ado, here’s the thinking behind the forthcoming pub2pub expedition, which will be surging forth across the globe in summer 2016:

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Travel has changed.

There was a time when travel meant glamour.  It meant proud ocean liners plying the oceans from Ceylon to Constantinople, and elegant railways sweeping overland to the Orient.  It was the rarefied domain of well heeled clientèle, swathed in the latest London fashions as they set off on their grand tour. It meant Brunel, Stevenson, Younghusband and Livingstone.  And it meant achieving the impossible against the odds, while never letting one’s style or dignity waver even for a moment.

But not any more.  The very word ‘traveller’ has been lost to the masses, diluted by a thousand grimy hostels and dreadlocked wanderers.  Once, there was the majestic audacity of the journey; now a thousand anodyne Boeings sweep their cargoes blandly across the globe.  The infinite allure of the unknown has been banished by tick-list tourism and off-the-shelf adventures.  Bespoke has given way to budget.  Elegance to blandness.  Panache has been swept away by humdrum.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.  There is still a place in this world for the lost art of travel.  Because while the golden age of travel may have passed, its spirit still exists.  A spirit of conviction that travel goes far beyond simply visiting a place; it should be a stylish expression of how life should be lived – bold, daring, elegant and stylish; and with just a hint of glorious madness.

This is the rationale behind 80breakdown’s latest project, the forthcoming pub2pub expedition – a very British blend of elegance and eccentricity.  A 24,000 mile overland journey from the northernmost bar on the planet, to the southernmost.  From the Arctic to the Antarctic, across oceans, continents and cultures; travelling by grand touring car, kayak, yacht and ocean liner.  All undertaken with a style and panache which harks back to that glorious age when travel was an art form.

So there you have it.  Whereas our previous big trips – the AfricanPorsche Expedition and V8Nam – were shaped primarily by the practicalities of touring the globe in a sports car, Pub2Pub will be different.  The all-important practicality will be fused with stylishness, making Pub2Pub the ultimate expression of just how debonair travel can be if you think outside the backpacking box.  Everything from the clothes we wear to the car we drive will be chosen as for its ability to bring a unique, classical elegance to the trip, making it different to any road trip that’s gone before.  Very different.  Basically…

  • Where V8Nam could be likened to a Nirvana album, Pub2Pub will be Wagner.
  • If V8Nam was a Tom Clancy novel, Pub2pub will be Oscar Wilde.
  • Where V8Nam thrived on bottled lager, Pub2Pub will be the domain of fine whisky and chilled champagne.
  • And whereas V8Nam was dominated by an uncouth sports car, for Pub2pub we’ll be seeking a car which combines unrivalled style and comfort with real grand touring credentials.

So there you have it – Pub2Pub.  The road trip as an art form.  It’s a whole new thing, and it’s going to be an exciting 18 months bringing this unique take on travel to fruition!