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Vintage Roadsters Complete London-Beijing Rally

May 30, 1990

BEIJING (AP) _ It took Marco Polo four years to travel overland from Europe to China in the 13th century. But a caravan of 61 vehicles, including many vintage roadsters, traveled from London to Beijing in 52 days.

Drivers in the 9,700-mile London-Beijing Motor Challenge pulled into the Chinese capital Tuesday, ending an odyssey that took them through a dozen countries, including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union.

Their vehicles included a 1912 Simplex, a 1939 BSA motorcycle, a 1929 Model-A Woody Wagon, a 1948 Allard and several Rolls-Royces.

Participants said there was only one dropout - a $250,000 Lamborghini jeep that broke down near Istanbul, Turkey.

The roads in the deserts of western China were ″indescribable or totally non-existent,″ said Tom Troxell of Allentown, Pa.

Troxell, 54, plans to ship his Model-A to Seattle and continue on what he hopes will be an ″around-the-world-in-80-days″ journey.

Tony Ord of Britain, driver of a Range Rover, said the rally participants felt some tension driving through the Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which have been hit by ethnic unrest.

The caravan was closely watched by police when it passed through the Xinjiang region of far western China, where Moslem separatists have recently clashed with Chinese security forces.

Ord said there were a few ″major confrontations″ when Chinese police refused to allow cars to stop to take pictures or stray from the group.

But he said the Chinese hosts tried hard to make the trip a success, and in some areas thousands of people lined the road to greet the caravan.

Ord said he had mixed feelings about arriving at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the focal point of last year’s student-led pro-democracy demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by the military in June.

Some 145 people from 11 countries finished the rally, which was based on the route taken in a 1907 Beijing-to-Paris motor race.

Each car paid fees of ranging from $33,800 to $42,250 to join the tour, which was sponsored by Voyages Jules Verne of Britain and, in China, by the China International Sports Travel Co.

Update hourly