Would You Enter Your Daily Driver into a Winter Rally?
Photographer: Dennis van Loenhout
This Benz was made for working, and that´s just what it´ll do.
It’s rear wheels are fighting for grip on this snowy road. It’s been like this for an hour or so. Snow, trees and not a soul in sight. The heavy winds sometimes cause whiteouts severe enough to leave you guessing where the road ends…and the forest begins. Another 224 kilometers to our destination of the day, and it’s getting dark fast. The old Mercedes doesn’t mind though. It just drones on, shielding its occupants from the outside world. Good thing, because the outside world is pretty darn hostile over here.
We’re in Sweden, heading for Norway, in a car that, as the rules of the game stipulate, has a maximum value of 500 Euros (~$535 USD), and was built before 1998. Welcome to the Carbage Run, a Dutch initiative that aims to be a poor-man’s alternative to the world-famous Gumball rally, and one that wants to teach petrolheads the beauty of trekking long distances in an old car.
Prizes are awarded for the teams that turn their car into the funniest creation—but that’s not mandatory. Many of the 300 participating teams are in it simply to enjoy the ride. As are we. And we chose the perfect car for doing just that: a 1996 Mercedes-Benz E250 Diesel Estate, member of that legendary Baureihe—series—the W124.
The Mercedes-Benz W124 is becoming a bit of a legend. Introduced in 1984, it’s the successor to the equally revered W123-series. Bruno Sacco gave the new car a design that’s timeless even 30 years after its introduction, and its mechanical robustness has proven to be the stuff of superlatives.
So: taking it on a 4,500 kilometer round-trip should be enough to find out what is what. Is it really that reliable? Well, on merit of its reliability it got to go on this trip in the first place. See, originally the intention was to take my 1991 Ford Sierra on this jaunt, but a day before the event it plainly refused to start. It turned out to be some kind of problem with the ignition, and there was no way to fix it on such short notice. So, this Mercedes—although my daily driver, and in a slightly better state than the 500 euro-rule would dictate—was the logical replacement. Pre-1998, and it started!
Fast forward to a Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Danish capital of Copenhagen to be exact. The car is on a workshop bridge, with the manager and mechanic underneath it. Moving the wheels to the left and right makes them cringe and cover their ears. The lower right-hand ball joint is producing a terrible noise. I just hope these men have the answer to my question of whether or not the wheel will fall off if I continue driving.
“No”, they reply. They say I’m safe, that it’s merely a dried out rubber, and that a bit of WD40 will work miracles. But they tell me I’ll have to have it replaced when I come home anyway, “Because your ears can’t take it for much longer. Trust our medical advice,” they say.
On, they send us, after categorically refusing payment for their 30 minutes of work on my 19-year old beast: “Mercedes-Benz Service!” they insist. Hat tip to René Karas of Mercedes-Benz CPH A/S for being so helpful. Cheers!
Mere miles after leaving the dealership, the poor Mercedes picks up a puncture, which makes us end up in the second workshop of the day, but it doesn’t matter. And admiring mechanic patches up the tire and wishes us good luck. We manage to make it to the Swedish border.
Doing so requires crossing the the Øresund Bridge, that connects Sweden and Denmark. The clear skies and somewhat grim surroundings make you feel like you’re in a scene of the popular TV-series The Bridge. Oh, wait, that show was recorded here!
Promptly, we’re being pulled over by a Swedish cop. No homicides here, though, he merely wants to make sure we’re not drunk. After breathing into his breathalyzer, we tell him what we’re up to. He gives us a wry smile and says: “Sounds tiring. Have a safe journey.”
We trek further into Sweden, only to find frozen trees, frozen lakes, frozen roads and a frozen star on the bonnet of the Benz. Frozen things truly open your eyes to the wonders of the polar world, and you’re left in humble silence while the faithful five cylinder diesel pulls you through this fairytale-like scenery. The furthest point of this Scandinavian tour is the city of Trondheim in Norway. We arrive there late on a Wednesday evening, long after dark.
Although I desperately need sleep after days of driving, I can’t resist heading to the coast, hoping to catch a glimmer of the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. While I’m standing there in the freezing cold, gradually losing sensation in my toes, I can’t help but think they wouldn’t only perfectly suit the Turmalin-green color of my Mercedes, but they would definitely make this a trip of a lifetime. “You won’t get lucky tonight, son,” says a Norwegian passerby, “You only see Northern Lights here in winter.”
He disappears round the corner just after I manage to stammer: “What the hell do you call this weather then?!”
With stopovers in Mora and Nörrköping in Sweden, we round off the trip and drive back home. But not before getting hopelessly stuck on a slippery road that is too much for an RWD-car to cope with. Fortunately some fellow Carbage Runners, driving an all-wheel-drive Subaru, do get through and are kind enough to give us a much needed push.
On we soldier, only to discover that here even a sluggish W124 Diesel can drift on this slippery surface. Hell, we even get to use snow chains that make the Mercedes look at its most purposeful. It looks as unstoppable as it is. Later on, the snow gradually disappears, but the landscape certainly doesn’t get less beautiful: the crystal clear water of the lakes is like a mirror, and when you drive close enough to the edge, reflected in it you can see the image of your car conquering the world. It’s a damn beautiful sight.
The final miles home bring the Mercedes to its home territory, the German Autobahns, where there is plenty of time to think about the significance of this trip.
First of all, kudos to the organizers of this Carbage Run. Not only do they provide a budget-friendly way of enjoying the most gorgeous roads in the most beautiful countries of Europe. The Carbage Run has both a winter and a summer edition. Previous events visited places as Monaco, Italy, Croatia and Barcelona, and in terms of beauty, this edition is right up there. Another joy of participating in this event is the wide variety of participating cars that you can constantly admire along the way.
Okay, a lot of teams go for the safe choice and buy a Volvo 850, a BMW or a Mercedes like ours, but there are more than enough “exotics”: a pair of Fiat Panda 4x4s, a Porsche 924, and even an extremely rare Renault 20 make it to the finish line.
And whatever the choice of car, the joy of driving is everywhere to be seen, even to the untrained eye.
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