Everyone knew it would be hard. 6,000 kilometres over minor roads and on a tight schedule was only ever going to be a tough ask for man and machine. The Allgäu-Orient Rally 2017 is one of the world’s longest endurance rallies and only cars at least 20 years old are eligible to take part. Team 5ever – supported by BMW Group Classic all the way – lined up for the event with a triumvirate of E34 BMW 520i Tourings and fought their way valiantly across Turkey and Israel to the finish line in Jordan. Second place was their reward.
A former military parade ground, somewhere in the middle of Turkey. On one side of the dusty strip stand the rally protagonists, on the other their cars – well past their sell-by dates and loaded to the rafters for the expedition ahead. On the starter’s signal, the teams sprint off their marks like a rabid mob, jump into their cars and push pedal to the metal. So far, so Le Mans (with a bit less glitz), the opening salvo in a proper race where first across the finish line will be crowned the winner. The cars may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but their drivers spare them no punishment. And why would they? Their carriages are all the wrong since of 20 and have lightened their wallets by no more than 1,111 euros. In this neck of the automotive woods, your faithful steed will be wearing its bruises with pride and it doesn’t do to be precious.
Opening exchanges completed, the air is heavy with dust, not to mention the whiff of tortured clutches and burning rubber. Team 5ever ranks fifth in this test, just one of many in an event of myriad parts.
The Allgäu-Orient Rally – one of the last great automotive adventures.
The Allgäu-Orient Rally is one of the longest-distance endurance rallies on the planet and does not make life easy for those who cross its path. The low-budget nature of the event keeps it resolutely free of frills; don’t come here expecting luxury, high tech or the beaten track. Team 5ever recruited an E34 BMW 520i Touring for the job at hand, its torquey 150 hp six-cylinder engine boasting a reputation for toughness and a thirst for miles. Added to which, there were plenty of reasonably-priced examples to choose from. The BMW Group lent its support to the young team when it came to both finding the right car and prepping it technically for the voyage ahead (see our earlier reports).
Challenge no. 1 at the start in Oberstaufen: staying warm and dry.
The action had got underway in Oberstaufen on 7 May in the midst of a torrential and sustained Allgäu downpour. Despite their youth, the six members of Team 5ever were already old friends. The hatcher of the plan Julia Hiltrop (32) and organisational brains behind it Adil Sbai (31) had thrown down the gauntlet, and Sofia “Soffa” Wieczorek (26), Sebastian “Basti” Schulz (30), Andreas Zachai (28) and Regina Herz (29) did not need asking twice. Progress was quick and smooth through Austria to Hungary and on to Serbia. But with motorways firmly off the menu, the cars got used to the feeling of dirt under their tyres rather than asphalt.
The first sign of trouble for Team 5ever arrived just shy of the Turkish border, leaving the BMW pit crew from Borusan Oto with a couple of hours’ drive in their X3 to reach the scene of the crime. While they were there, the mechanics also helped out two other teams in need. Restored to health, the cars continued over the Bosporus to the Asian side of Turkey, where a team of rally participants took on a line-up of Turkish national team veterans in a football match. 5ever team member Basti chipped in with a goal as the rally line-up sealed a 3-1 win.
That “enthusiastic” Le Mans start at the old military base was not the way to treat a car of a certain age, of course, and may well have been partly responsible for the engine issues that caught up with one of the 5ever three-piece in Denizli. Suffice to say that the necessary repairs to the cylinder head, radiator and oil pump were not a brisk, by-the-side-of-the-road job.
Turkish delight thanks to a top-class breakdown service.
Luckily, BMW Öztürk went beyond the call of duty, its mechanics working long into the night to get the stricken Touring on the road again. Basti and Sofia duly climbed back in and Team 5ever resumed their passage across Turkey at full strength. By this point, the roads were mostly stony, steep and deserted, taking the teams to places few tourists will venture.
Next up the desert, as Israel and Jordan await.
The journey to Israel was by plane for the driver teams and by ferry for the cars, before the two were reunited again in Haifa. A started motor was repaired down the road in Jaffa, saving any more (very willing) bystanders the task of push-starting. Here, Regina and Adil dropped in on a multi-faith school and handed out presents to the kids, in keeping with the Allgäu-Orient Rally’s mission to act as a bridge between cultures and bring people closer together. The cars continued in convoy to the monument dedicated to David Ben-Gurion, the founding father of the state of the Israel, before stopping off at the Dead Sea on their way to Jerusalem. From there, the route led the field through the Negev Desert to the finish line in Wadi Rum, The Valley of the Moon. The last 3,000 kilometres had passed without a single breakdown.
So close to a camel.
This was a long, gruelling and energy-sapping event – a rally with all the trimmings. But it was also one that left Team 5ever marvelling at the solidarity of the participants and the overwhelming hospitality of people along the way, most notably in Turkey. 2nd place in the overall standings was the unexpected icing on the cake. Indeed, 5ever only narrowly missed out on claiming the winner’s camel. The three dust-caked BMW 5 Series Tourings had given an impressive account of themselves and bustled their way into the hearts of all six team members. But this was to be the end of the road for the car/driver partnerships, as the human element boarded a plane for a rather easier journey home. The cars, meanwhile, stayed behind at the finish to be broken up and sold as parts, the proceeds donated to various aid projects. And with that, an extraordinary adventure had come to an end.