Son beats cancer to join dad on 1600-mile trip

Nicol and Robert Benn with the Fiat 500 estate they are restoring ready for the journey to Le Mans. Picture: Esme Allen
Nicol and Robert Benn with the Fiat 500 estate they are restoring ready for the journey to Le Mans. Picture: Esme Allen
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WHEN Robert Benn and his son Nicol decided to revive a rusting old car which had been off the road for 18 years and drive it to France, they expected a few setbacks.

But as their ambitious project to ride the 1968 Fiat 500 estate known as The Puddle on the 1600-mile round trip to Le Mans began, it wasn’t anything mechanical that scuppered their plans.

Instead, Nicol, aged just 20, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and had to undergo surgery and endure months of gruelling chemotherapy.

But after being given the all-clear, the father and son team have picked up where they left off, and are determined to get The Puddle up and running in time for their June journey.

Nicol, from Tranent, said: “When I was growing up, the car would be sitting in front of the house. Even then it was rusting. A lot of people don’t think we’ll be able to do it, but it’s just made us more determined.”

Nicol first made an appointment with his GP in May last year after he noticed swelling, and after being referred to specialists, he was told he had testicular cancer.

“I was just in disbelief,” he said. “I never thought it was going to be a tumour.”

The project to restore The Puddle was put on hold, and Nicol went under the surgeon’s knife at St John’s in Livingston to have a testicle removed, before he began chemotherapy at the Western General.

After nine-weeks of chemotherapy during which he felt constantly sick and lost his hair, Nicol got the all-clear. “I was happy, but it didn’t sink in at first,” said Nicol, who has since raised more than £3000 for the “excellent” cancer ward at the Western. He is now back at work as a support worker with disabled adults.

Dad Robert took the tiny two-cylinder vehicle to Le Mans seven times, but the last trip was in 1994 and it hasn’t been on the road since.

Even once the restoration work is complete, the car has 79,000 miles on the clock and a top speed of just 60mph.

They will be joined on the journey by Nicol’s 15-year-old cousin, Adam Welsh, and his dad’s friend Robert Good, a medic with the British Army.

The car, not known for its comfort, was dubbed the “puddle jumper” because water on the road would splash into the vehicle if it drove through them. In its heyday it took Robert, who bought the car for £80 in 1979, to the Sahara Desert.

Robert, a 58-year-old driver for Windy Mains Timber said: “The car has been the last thing on my mind. I went down to the workshop a couple of times when Nicol was in hospital, but I couldn’t do anything.

“But his results are fine, and we’re delighted. If we’d got the car to Le Mans last year, it would have been fantastic, but because of what’s gone on it’s hopefully going to be even better.”

To follow the Benns’ progress, visit their Facebook page, called Fiat 500 – Le Mans.

Good survival rate

TESTICULAR cancer is most common in young men aged between 15 and 44.

The most common symptom is a painless lump or swelling in the testicles. Other symptoms can include a dull ache or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum.

Each year in the UK around 2100 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer, according to Cancer Research UK. It is one of the most treatable forms of the disease, with almost 95 per cent of men who are diagnosed with early stage testicular cancer going on to make a complete recovery.

Even cases of more advanced testicular cancer, where the cancer has spread outside the testicles to nearby tissue, have an 80 per cent chance of being cured, according to the NHS.