Featured: Petrolicious, A Porsche 912, And Thousands Of Miles To Go Between Peking And Paris

Petrolicious, A Porsche 912, And Thousands Of Miles To Go Between Peking And Paris

By Petrolicious Productions
May 21, 2019

The first Peking to Paris endurance rally took place in 1907 as the result of a general challenge to automobiles and their drivers. Cars were still novel, new, and at the dawn of their potential in the very early 20th century, and the article in Le Matin wondered if anyone was willing to attempt the 9,000-plus-mile route from Peking to Paris in one; if the personal motorcar really was a revolutionary means of freedom bound only by the amount of fuel in the tank, completing this grueling journey would make for compelling evidence in support.

The original 1907 race saw just five teams actually show up in what was then Qing (which became Peking, and is now Beijing), with four of them finishing the event in Paris. Camels carrying fuel were sent off ahead of time to various points along the all but uncharted route, and between the lowland deserts, mountains, and all the treachery in between the teams frequently broke down, made improvised repairs on the side of the not-road, and had to propel their machines with some good old manpower from time to time when the route proved un-drivable. Each of the five drivers was paired with a journalist during the inaugural race, who would report on the event first-hand whenever they stopped in a town capable of sending a telegram.

This summer, the Peking to Paris will mark just the seventh edition since 1907 (the event was dormant after the initial running until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and has only run sporadically in the years since), and Petrolicious is teaming up with Porsche to provide insider access to the marathon event. Rather than riding shotgun with a notepad and a handicam, we’ve loaded up a few SUVs with camera gear and granola bars and shipped them to China to provide insight and coverage of the event in our signature filmic style.

In a brand-new film series for Petrolicious Members, we’ll be chronicling the preparation of our friend and former Petrolicious film star Kurht Gerhardt’s Porsche 912 in Southern California, from which point we’ll follow him to the other side of the globe, tailing the mean little Irish Green 912 as Kurht traverses desert expanses and mountain passes along the Peking to Paris route this summer. He’ll be riding with his friend, navigator, and master mechanic Derek Boycks, but it takes more than just the two-man team in the car to complete this challenge.

We begin the series by exploring not just the reason for attempting the route, but by also introducing the cast of characters that Kurht turned to when he decided to put his dream into practice. A longtime owner and early air-cooled Porsche enthusiast in general, Kurht happened upon a genuine barn find of a 912 back in 2017, and decided that the simpler four-cylinder, VW-derived power plant would better lend itself toward the rigors of the journey (and the low-quality fuel available along the way) than the more complex and higher-compression flat-six like the one in his 911T. To begin, the 912 was stripped down to the metal, repainted by Kurht’s friend and Porsche paint pro Stephen Cognata, and then methodically rebuilt and modified to put up with the tribulations of driving a half-century-old car across Mongolia and Europe. Proper shakedown testing in Baja California was both fun and necessary.

With the help of more friends and specialists like Derek, John—who had already modified an early 911 Targa to a pretty tough “Safari” spec in the past—and Porsche engineman Richard Dick, Kurht found a private garage space that would serve as the headquarters and workshop for the team’s forthcoming Peking to Paris attempt.

The addition of a massive 100-liter fuel tank was followed by suspension tweaks, skid plates, a rebuilt and lower-compression motor (again, to cope with the low-grade fuel available in remote Mongolian villages), and redesigned air intake paths to mitigate the clouds of inevitable dust.

Kurht sent his application in as early as possible to make sure one of the 100-odd available spots would be allocated to him and his 912. Neither he nor navigator Derek were overly confident about their chances of getting accepted—this will be the first major endurance rally for both of them—but Kurht arranged all the necessary paperwork and had a proper car to compete with, and the team was accepted to join the group taking on the gargantuan two-month trek.

The Peking to Paris is indeed a timed event—the clock starts just after they leave the Great Wall behind and only stops once they reach Paris’s Place Vendôme, but this is not a simple race to measure. There are out-and-out competitions—various timed and regularity-based tests—within the continent-crossing rally that allow the competitors to gain up and lose their position on the leaderboard, but you can’t gain positions by passing other cars on the open road between these tests. However, breaking down out there will certainly cost you if the aim is to come home with the big trophy.

Ask anyone who’s done it though and they’re likely to say the other cars aren’t the opposition, but rather the route itself; everybody is competing, but nobody wants to arrive in Paris alone. To complete this feat of endurance is all the sweeter when you can savor the experience with those who also came out on the other end. We’re on our way to the starting line in China as we write, and we hope you’ll join us on the adventure to come.

The Peking to Paris series will begin streaming this fall and will be available to Petrolicious Members only.

The series will join ongoing Member-exclusive series like Homologation Specials, Master Mechanics, and Soul Made. Sign up to be a Petrolicious Member to enjoy these films and other perks.

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Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson
5 years ago

Dream car and dream adventure!
With lower compression, did the builder do other things to the engine to keep the power at least to stock specs? The story’s a bit shy of technical tidbits some of us crave but exciting nonetheless!

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