Endurance races are designed to test the mettle of both man and machine – hence their name. However, while all are tough, some seem downright impossible. The inaugural Road to Mandalay event, slated for February 1-23, 2015, and presented by the Endurance Rally Association, falls into that “borderline crazy” category. The grueling 24-day drive from Singapore to Rangoon would be hard enough to complete no matter the vehicle, but the Auburn, Pennsylvania, father/son team of John Rich Jr. and John Rich III are making the journey in a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air – tailfins and all.
“This (rally) is all vintage cars so we had to build this Chevy kind of from scratch,” Rich III said, noting that it had to be tweaked and modified to handle during the off-road portions of the trip, as well as built to last for the sheer distance. “The car we purchased was just a frame pretty much, we did a custom rear axle, driveshaft, transmission, (added a )350 crate engine and just kind of built the body around it.”
The transmission is a TCI 700R4, one of the cornerstones of the drivetrain leader’s product lineup. The team building the car knew of the brand’s strong reputation and what it took to make a vehicle live through an entire endurance event of this magnitude. As a result, TCI seemed like a natural choice.
The team had that knowledge of endurance contests because the Riches have done this before. The two first embarked on an endurance trip in 2013 when they piloted a 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser on the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, held from late May to late June that year. The Land Cruiser finished sixth overall and first in its engine class.
The Rich family has long been involved in the automotive industry. Pennsylvania natives John Rich Sr. and John Rich Jr. founded the JWR Auto Museum in Frackville, Pennsylvania, after the elder Rich, a well-known philanthropist, retired and opened his collection of classic automobiles to be studied and admired during group visits and charitable events. The vehicles, ranging from a 1915 Simplex to European sports cars such as Bugattis and Ferraris, to American icons like Mustangs and Thunderbirds, also make appearances at prestigious shows around the nation, including a variety of Concourse d’Elegance events.
It was through such an occasion that Rich Jr. learned of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge and decided to give it a shot. During that event the Riches caught wind of the Road to Mandalay and decided they would give it a try as well.
Rich III works at a coal mine full-time, but often makes the easy trip to the shop and museum in Frackville to work on various projects, which recently included the ’57 Chevy that he and his dad are competing in. His expectations are high, yet realistic.
“ To finish somewhere where we did in the last one would be nice, if (we can’t do) better,” he says about the goals for the trip. “But definitely just to finish is an accomplishment.”
For more information on the event, visit: http://www.endurorally.com/pages/road-to-mandalay
*Update: The team finished 7th overall and first in engine class during the event.