BREAKING down before they had even crossed the Channel was not the best of starts to their gruelling challenge.
But the team of students hoping to make it all the way to Italy in a clapped-out 21-year-old Nissan Bluebird had few worries – after all, they were more than clued up on the complexities of car mechanics.
The team, comprising students and lecturers from West Lothian College – all part of the third-year City and Guilds Motor Mechanics class – had been gearing up for the task since March when they first set eyes on the car they dreamed would see them complete the 3250-mile “banger rally”.
Lecturer Robert Drummond said: “It was lucky there were so many mechanics in the car as we had a tyre blow out in the outside lane of the M25 as we made our way down to catch the cross-channel ferry. We were only 50 miles outside Dover but after stopping to repair the tyre it was a race against time to get to the quayside. We made it though.”
Mr Drummond was joined on the mission by fellow lecturer Ewan McAdam and students Conor Barton and David Reid on the Motoscape Banger Rally, travelling from St Omer in northern France to Bologna in Italy.
The challenge was the culmination of a project which began with getting the vehicle ready for the road, before the four-man team finally left Livingston last month.
Mr Drummond said: “The students serviced it all and got the car through its MOT. There were some last-minute repairs as the cylinder head gasket was replaced the week before we left.”
The men crossed France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Belgium in the space of just five days. Despite the hectic race pace, they also dropped in for visits to the Nurburgring race track, the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati museums and took a drive along the Stelvio Pass in the Alps.
Mr Barton said: “It was really good to see the different countries and cultures. We had been working collaboratively with Cumbernauld College and they also had a team in the rally. At the beginning we didn’t know any of the other competitors, but by the end of the week they were all friends. We would meet up at night and swap stories on which route they’d taken and the fantastic places they’d seen. I’ll never forget it. I’ve already put my name down for next year.”
A well as completing the challenge – a non-competitive race – the team also won an award from the Institute of the Motor Industry at an awards ceremony last Thursday, in recognition of the college’s contribution to developing skills in the Scottish automotive workforce.
Many local businesses who donated time, equipment and money to allow the team to take part in the rally, including the RCA MOT Centre in Stoneyburn, Starting Grid in West Calder, Neill Technical Services in Livingston and All Signs Scotland.
West Lothian College principal Mhairi Laughlin said: “This is another fantastic example of Curriculum for Excellence in action and integrated working between the college and the wider community.
“I’m delighted everything came together to create this extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience for these young people. The team effort that went into putting this together was phenomenal.”