Fast cars and loose morals

So far as car rallies go, you need balls for the Gumball.

Alan Miller

Topics Politics

Fast cars, huge petrol consumption, five-star hotels, breaking all the speed limits….

The Gumball Rally 2002 – a cross-country car race that departed from New York for Los Angeles on 25 April 2002 – is like an advert for all that is un-PC. And for this reason alone, it was an enticing proposition.

Gumball rallies are the brainchild of Maximillion Cooper, who has staged three of them in Europe. This was the first in America, and although I was in a relatively humble Mustang convertible, my friends didn’t want me to go.

‘You’re mad’, said one, ‘you’re going to get shot at and imprisoned in the South’. But in our cautious age, for me the rally was like a red rag to a bull. There was no whining about how much petrol we were burning up, and there was an entourage of 200 stunning vehicles all dedicated to the pursuit of speeding across America. What a ride.

Inspired by the (altogether more dreary) film The Canonball Run, the rally kicked off in New York. Over the next five days, we drove and drove, only stopping once we reached our destinations for the evening.

The first stop after a gruelling overnight run was the ghastly ‘Opryland’ in Nashville, Tennessee – which looked more like a cross between Brent Cross shopping centre and Heathrow airport than anything resembling a hotel. A quick pitstop in Graceland and we were off again: an eclectic mix of car enthusiasts, accompanying Playboy bunnies, and a fair few saddos.

One review, headlined ‘Yet another reason to hate the rich’, lamented the toffy nature of the participants and their desire to race and copulate (1). There were indeed some toffs and at least one extremely sad case on the rally. One particular driver had posted on the internet for prospective ‘co-drivers’, who he selected from photos (all female naturally). He then paid the selected candidate $2000 to join him, flew her first class across the USA to do so, and spent over $8000 on clothes for her to wear. All in all, I thought it entirely exhilarating to rally in a convoy of pristine motors.

Getting drunk on a Mississippi steamer, wearing tuxedos in Dallas, playing the tables in Las Vegas (Hunter S Thompson had nothing on this lot), larging it up in LA – the most striking thing about the rally was the participants’ unapologetic nature. It was unadulterated good fun.

There was the Viper that sped off from the police at 180mph and then hid until the cover of night; and the London brokers who started the race in a vintage Ferrari but finished it in a hired car, after they burned out every vehicle they got in.

Some were a bit more concerned about the petrol-burning levels. Charles Morgan, grandson of the founder of the British sports car manufacturer, told me of his ambition to hold a similar rally using water instead of petrol. He said it would be achievable within 10 years, and hoped that all the ‘petrol heads’ (car aficionados) would go for it.

The Gumball Rally won’t make it on TV travel programmes or ‘eco-friendly’ travel guides – but boy, if you want a road movie experience to remember, start saving now for next year’s Gumball.

Alan Miller is currently directing a TV show in LA.

See the Gumball Rally website

(1) The Gumball 3000 rally: Yet another reason to hate the rich,, 27 April 2002

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Topics Politics


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