Jan Hutchings

Jan and Andrew's fundraiser for The Royal Marines Charity

Fundraising for RMA - The Royal Marines Charity
Peking to Paris Endurance Challenge, 18 May 2024
This year, the 28th October marks the 360th birthday of the Royal Marines Commandos. To celebrate this special birthday, we would love it if you would join us to raise £360 in your own special way - run, walk, cycle, bake - the choice is yours!


This is the story of two ex-marines pursuing an adventure once released from the handcuffs of making a living elsewhere. It starts, however, with the sudden death of a good friend in 2019, another ex-marine, at the same time that publicity was circulating about the finish, in Paris, of an incredible motoring challenge which saw competitors drive wonderful old cars from Beijing in China to the French capital, across deserts, through rivers and over mountains.

His passing was a wake-up call, familiar no doubt to so many, that one must guard against taking for granted the regular beat of life. It was a reminder to seize opportunities as they arise to enjoy a more colourful, fulfilled existence, and to try help others less fortunate along the way. We are raising money for The Royal Marines Charity which offers support to those of the Royal Marines family who need it. Thank you for helping.

For more detail, read on……

The Race

In 1907 France was leading the world in the emerging automotive technology, and to take advantage of global interest, the Parisian newspaper, Le Matin, threw down a gauntlet for a race from Peking to Paris. Five vehicles entered from France, Holland and Italy, with each team planning its own logistics, and most importantly the provision of fuel often shipped by camels in advance. Unsupported, the teams suffered great hardships but they were also well received in many cities and towns along the way. Journalists traveling with them chronicled the thrills and spills and using the well-established telegraph system were able to keep the world informed of their progress. On 11 Aug, 2 months after they started out from Peking, Prince Scipione Borghese crossed the finishing line, outside Le Matin’s offices in Boulevard Poissonière, to win in his 7ltr, 40h.p. Itala, escorted by two mounted patrols of the Republican Guard. Many thousands of onlookers had gathered to celebrate his victory, the race demonstrating to the world that this new form of transport had genuine advantages over the horse.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the second Peking to Paris motor challenge was held. Rather than using the latest technology, it was organised to test vintage and classic cars. Since then, the rally has been held every 3/5 years, taking a variety of routes between these two great cities.

2024 sees the 8th rally, a net-zero emissions event. Starting on 18 May, it has almost 100 entrants, from over 25 countries, with the oldest vehicle built in 1914. From Beijing, the route heads for the Gobi desert and then follows much of the Silk Road through western China and Kazakhstan before crossing the Caspian Sea and heading for the mountains of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Greece. It crosses the Adriatic Sea, follows the Italian east coast to San Marino, and then across to Genoa. Finally, 38 days after starting, and some 14,000km later, the rally will finish in Paris on 23 Jun.

The Car

Having caught my imagination back in 2019, I knew little about cars and less about rallies. The organisers seek to test both the car and its crew and thus I needed some advice. I wanted to take part in a quintessentially British sports car. A good friend, Chris Wainwright of DD Classics in Kew, London, has helped a great deal and we eventually came up with 3 marques; Austin Healey, Bentley and Jaguar. All have a robust chassis which is critical for the early stages of the challenge. I settled on a 1953 Jaguar XK120 Open Top Sports, we call her The Goose, a prettier car would surely be hard to find.

Sir William Lyons designed the car after the war, allegedly as a limited edition stop gap for a motor show. It was an immediate success however, and went into full production as the fastest production car in world. Clark Gable owned one and Cary Grant starred in the 1955 film ‘To Catch a Thief’ using an XK120 as his get-away car. Drivers raced them at Goodwood, Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and Pebble Beach. By today’s standards there is nothing sophisticated about the car, but at its core lies a dual overhead-cam, 3.4ltr, straight six engine with an aluminium alloy cylinder head. This engine’s basic design, later modified, continued to be used in later Jaguars until 1992.

The cockpit feels like that of a WW1 fighter, with a bead of red leather surround acting as a grab rail. The bonnet stretches out in front with vents to help cool the engine, while the boot is surprisingly accommodating; which it needs to be for all the spares and tools we are taking. Its windows are detachable and the lightweight, canvas top folds away behind the seats.

The Team

Our team comprises our mechanic, Stewart Wells, back at base, and the two drivers/navigators Andrew Clutterbuck and I.

Stewart runs SW Engineering in Ripley, Surrey where his team specialises in everything mechanical for classic cars, particularly old Jaguars. Chris introduced us since he uses Stewart extensively for his customers’ cars. Stewart’s attention to detail is uncompromising, his patience legendary and his ability to impart knowledge to two automotive luddites uncanny.

After Oxford, Andrew and I served together in the Royal Marines where we struck up a long-lasting friendship. We both left in our late 20s, he was called to the Bar eventually taking silk, and I went to the City. Note that there is little in our CVs to suggest we are well qualified for this rally, except perhaps that our miliary experience taught us to prepare well ! Older, a little wiser but still up for an adventure we are at least sitting down rather than yomping over mountains or through the jungle, and hopefully the commando spirit will see us through the more demanding episodes to come. I have been focussing on the mechanics under Stewart’s tutelage, and Andrew on the navigation; plenty to blame each other for then.

And finally the car, nick named The Goose, since past competitors have advised that all cars should have one. Why The Goose (?), because of my wife’s ability to ‘goose a queue’.

The Preparation

Organisers and past competitors alike advise that a car cannot be over prepared. This is a little daunting at first when the ambition to participate is not matched by the knowledge to do so. Fortunately, the combination of guidance from the organisers and Stewart’s experience has meant we have most bases covered. The event’s scrutinisers are clear that only in-period changes can be made to certain key components, so one has to be careful about modifications.

First off, the engine has been partially rebuilt, the head came off, cylinders and pistons checked, valves and camshafts replaced, the block’s cooling channels cleaned and cleared, and its top re-surfaced for a tight seal. New engine mounts have been fitted. The clutch, gearbox, drive shaft and half shafts have been replaced.

The car’s original 6-volt electric circuit has been changed to 12-volt, the dynamo replaced with an alternator and the distributor rebuilt with new capacitor, points and rotor arm. Its water repellence has also been improved with a Marigold washing-up glove! An emergency electric circuit has been fitted should the main circuit fail.

We have replaced the fuel pump with two new units, one acting as a back-up. In addition, we have fitted a fuel filter and serviced the carburettors. Perhaps at most risk, however, is the suspension and so we have fitted new leaves at the rear and dampers at the front, with a set of spares just in case. The car was weighed to ensure the correct replacements were used.

For safety reasons, I was keen to replace the front drum brakes with discs, however this modification is specifically excluded unless in-period. Dunlop was introducing disc brakes in the early 1950s although XK120s were factory fitted with drums. Sadly, there is no record of racing drivers modifying their 120s, probably because they were prohibited at the time. However, my research led me to a photograph from the Nov 1953 edition of Pilot magazine which illustrates a road-going 120 fitted with disc brakes; problem solved.

The XK120 is notorious for overheating and thus we have given a lot of attention to the cooling system. As previously noted, the cooling channels in the engine have been checked, but also the radiator has been serviced, a new water pump fitted and an auxiliary fan. We even have a heater for when it gets cold.

We have been advised to protect the car from knocks where possible. We are using the most robust tyres available, fitting cross climate Michelin van tyres which are supposed to be almost indestructible – watch this space. The sump and differential are fitted with skid guards and the lights and radiator with mesh stone-deflectors.

And finally, world famous hatters Lock & Co have been very generous in their support of our endeavours. Our heads, surely now well protected from the sun, wind and rain by an array of their finest hats, will be more able to focus on the tasks at hand ! For those with an interest in following our progress check us out on Instagram at ajpekingtoparis or the rally more generally at https://www.hero-era.com/rallies/2024/05/peking-to-paris-2024

Commando’s do what they do with courage, pride and a great bond among their number, asking little in return. Inevitably, however, from time to time things go wrong, so thank you for supporting our charity, which offers a helping hand when it’s needed to all those in the Royal Marines family.

On, on !!

About the campaign

This year, the 28th October marks the 360th birthday of the Royal Marines Commandos. To celebrate this special birthday, we would love it if you would join us to raise £360 in your own special way - run, walk, cycle, bake - the choice is yours!

About the charity

RMA - The Royal Marines Charity

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RCN 1134205
Offering lifelong support to the Royal Marines Family.

Donation summary

Total raised
+ £891.25 Gift Aid
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Offline donations

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