Ben Coombs, unpacking his travel gear from his little red Corvette parked outside Ivy Guesthouse, said the first thing he’d be doing in Siem Reap was to see Angkor Wat at dawn. “But I won’t drive there, I’ll take a tuk tuk,” he said, adding, “To be honest I’m a bit sick of driving.”
And fair enough because he was, after all, unpacking gear from his car fresh from driving from the UK, a journey of over 18,000 kilometres that saw him travel from London to France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Laos, Thailand and into Cambodia via Siem Reap.
He spent a few days in town resting up, and trying to nut out how he would complete his mission, dubbed ‘V8 Nam – The drive of 2013’, to actually arrive in his final destination, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The drive had presented few problems, but getting permission to take his vehicle into Vietnam was the bureaucratic mess he was trying to sort out.
He encountered minimal mechanical problems during his epic drive – but the major problems he had faced were red-tape nightmares of being able to enter and leave countries in his vehicle, and border problems in China had been particularly challenging.
Ben Coombs, a former marine surveyor from Plymouth UK, is an adventure driver specialising in doing long treks in “inappropriate cars” in tandem with other drivers such as Anthony Neville and Laura Reddin.
“It’s a tradition of ours,” Ben told Insider, “Seven years ago we did the Mongol Rally in inappropriate cars. We took two Minis to Mongolia, and that sort of set the scene. We’ve been doing these sort of trips ever since.”
“The last big trip Laura and I did was in late 2008, when we drove an old classic Porsche from England to South Africa, a trip that took 62 days and resulted in 27 breakdowns.”
For this England-Vietnam trip, Ben’s vehicle of choice was a 1990 5.7 litre V8 which he purchased for $6,000. While driver Laura Reddin joined him in the Corvette for a portion of the trip, Ben did most of the trek driving in tandem with friend and co-adventurer Anthony Neville who was equipped with a 1997 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow 11.
But Anthony dropped out of the trip in Luang Prabang, Laos where he sold his Roller.
“Anthony was in convoy with me for almost all of the trip,” Ben said,” But in Laos he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. He sold the Rolls Royce to an hotelier and it will now be used as an airport shuttle taxi.”
Ben said that both the Corvette and the Rolls Royce had been “surprisingly reliable” during the trek, in contrast with his South African journey which had been marred with numerous breakdowns.
“The only problem we had with the Corvette was with electronics, and I also had to replace two rear tyres in Thailand. With the Rolls Royce, we had some problems with the exhaust manifold and that was it.”
Ben and his friends finance their own journeys and don’t even bother approaching major sponsors. Ben said major sponsorship comes with too many restrictions and he likes to drive as he pleases. He added, “Plus we drive stupid cars that possibly won’t make the trip, so it’s hard to find sponsors.”
But Ben’s Corvette was sporting a sponsor logo for something called “Dewerstone.” This, said Ben, is his own company, an adventure clothing company that he plans to launch on his return to his hometown Plymouth in the Old Dart.
It’s no point asking Ben why he engages in these long treks in seemingly inappropriate vehicles – it’s obvious that he does it simply because he can, and that he enjoys it.
His co-driver Laura said the reason she goes along for the ride is, “Because it’s great. It’s a total adventure and a great way to see new places.”