December 8th

How one British couple conquered the greatest motoring adventure on the planet – in a Honda Jazz

Imagine embarking on an extremely tough 10,000-mile trek through mountains, deserts and rivers, not in a 4x4, but a small city car. Crazy, right? 

Well, earlier this year one British couple did precisely that, beating the ‘Mongol Rally’ in a Honda Jazz with no performance modifications. So, with the release of the new Honda Jazz just around the corner, we spoke to Liz and Pete Roberts about the highlights of their trip, from drag racing in Turkmenistan to navigating the black markets of Uzbekistan.

“If nothing goes wrong, everything has gone wrong”

According to its organisers, the Mongol Rally is “about getting lost, using your long-neglected wits, raising shedloads of cash for charity and scraping into the finish line with your vehicle in tatters and a wild grin smeared across your grubby face.” Its motto: “If nothing goes wrong, everything has gone wrong.” This year’s rally spanned a total of 55 days, 23 countries and 11 time zones, 2 arrests and 1 military detention. (No, we’re not joking.)

Kicking off on the famous Goodwood hill in West Sussex and ending in Ulan-Ude, Russia, there are only three rules:

Rule one: You can only take a “farcically small” vehicle of 1 litre or less.

Rule two: You’re on your own. No support crews. No Sherpas. Nothing.

Rule three: You’ve got to raise at least £1,000 for charity.

Not exactly a walk in the park, then. So why on Earth did Liz and Pete Roberts enter?

“Probably a glass of wine had something to do with it!” says Pete. After flirting with the idea for years, they just figured, why not?

Mongol Jazz

The million-dollar question though is, of course, ‘Why the Jazz?’

“I mean, if we had a choice we’d have taken a CR-V or an HR-V. But rules are rules.”

According to Liz and Pete, the Jazz hardly missed a beat. They even spent three nights sleeping in the car when they we were too shattered to put a tent up!

“We’ve driven it through rivers. We’ve taken it 15,000 feet up, over the second highest mountain pass in the world. We’ve even taken it drag racing,” reveals Pete. “When we looked at the state of the roads, we never, ever thought we would make it. But how wrong we were!”

Trials and tribulations

The trip had its fair share of dangers – on the road, especially. Travelling on major roads is banned by the race’s organisers, so participants have no other choice but to follow the so-called Pamir Highway: a criss-crossing section of deadly mountain trails through Tajikistan, Kurdistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. But the voyage to Turkmenistan – in a cargo ship, no less – proved to be the most stomach-churning chapter in their adventure by far.

“It was dreadful,” says Liz. “I can’t even begin to describe how disgusting it was. We were treated with contempt by the crew, the boat was knackered, they wouldn’t sail it over four knots…”

And then there was Turkmenistan itself, described by Pete as the most secretive country in the world after North Korea. “We were warned by both the Foreign Office and the rally organisers not to overstay our visas even by a second.” Nevertheless, they still found time for a 4am drag race on their last day – as you do – and made it over the border with barely 20 minutes to spare.

But the biggest challenge on the last leg on the journey was, without a doubt, Uzbekistan. Not due to the rough roads – or even rougher authorities – but because the only fuel available is LPG. Seeing as the Roberts’ ride ran on petrol, this was a big problem. “We saw people in backstreets selling LPG out of water bottles,” says Pete. “It’s a constant problem getting enough petrol of high enough quality.”

They somehow managed to scrape together enough fuel to keep the Jazz running and finally made it to Ulan-Ude, where their amazing adventure came to a close. But the end of the Mongol Rally was just the beginning of an even bigger adventure.

A Jazz at 18,000 feet?

Liz and Pete assure us that there’s still plenty more fuel left in the tank.

This endurance game really has got me,” Pete says. “We love the high-altitude stuff for the stunning scenery and most of all, the challenge.”

So what’s next? According to the couple, the Andes. Or rather, driving in the Andes at over 18,000 feet on crumbling mountain paths. In the same Honda Jazz.

Well, it is the safest car in its class…

Up for an adventure? Then click here to learn how to plan the road trip of a lifetime, courtesy of Guinness World Record-breaking adventurer, Steph Jeavons. And while you're at it, click here to see our feature on the top 6 adventurers, starring Honda Hero Emilio Scotto.