'You want to go where?'
'Timbuktu. In a Discovery.'
'Does it exist – I thought it was a myth?'
'Er, yes? I mean, I think so. But wouldn’t it be fun to find out?'
It’s the kind of conversation editors of CAR have got used to having with their staff over the years. On this occasion Mark Walton, whose thirst for adventure makes Michael Palin seem like a weedy sea-sick recluse, was pitching yet another pie-in-the-sky scheme, a further attempt to prove that more or less anywhere on the planet can be reached by car.
Adventure is what made CAR Magazine infamous. We’ve been criss-crossing the globe in various unsuitable vehicles since the days when JFK proved how dangerous travelling by car can be, and we’re still not cured.
I was lucky enough to be editor for a bit, squeezing into a chair once occupied by greater (and thinner) men like Gavin Green and Mel Nichols – men who were chugging through various deserts in perilously unreliable cars on bicycle tyres virtually before I was born. They were pioneers, and inheriting their legacy was a big deal.
So, when lunatics such as Walton and Richard Bremner and Jason Barlow and Paul Gregory used to sidle up to my desk with that ‘I’ve just had a great idea’ look on their faces (Bremner wanted to drive to the end of the world in a Ferrari, for god’s sake), I felt the best thing to do was send them off with my blessing. And a photographer.
First, it was my duty to the legacy and, more importantly, it was ‘rather them than me’.
Usually, they came back. Always they had a tale to tell. Collectively, they furnished a legend.
Walton eventually made it to Timbuktu – as much because we said it couldn’t be done as for any other reason – and produced a feature no Car reader can ever forget, not even with the aid of tablets. Next month, presumably, he’ll be attempting to become the first man to conquer the North Pole by Caterham. While wearing short trousers. Or something.
If he does it, the only place you’ll read about it is right here.