32 Days along the Silk Road by MGB – On the Road – Part 2

Friday, 5 May 2017

◄ Most of our driving in China has been on ‘Highways’, the extensive network of toll roads which have popped up in the last couple of decades. They’re fast, generally well maintained and for the first week or so after we crossed the border from Laos often remarkably empty. They’ve also got pretty reasonable service stops with fuel, shops, a café and/or restaurant and, often most important, well maintained toilets. This one is on the road between Wushan and Yichang.

▲ The tolls are not cheap, I calculate they’re about 40% more expensive than driving on an autostrada in Italy, perhaps that’s why the road are often so uncrowded. Clearly they’re planning for traffic growth in the future, on that first week into China we’d often come up to toll booths, arriving or departing the highways, where only a couple of the lanes would be operating out of a potential 10 to 12. They were generally very slow as well, our temporary Chinese registration plates were usually scrutinized and then there would be an agonizingly long wait before the toll was calculated.

▲ That first week into China was also remarkably mountainous with generally wonderful scenery and lots of trees, from the highways at least China doesn’t appear to be suffering the deforestation which many developing world countries suffer from. Those frequent mountains and valleys meant lots of soaring viaducts and bridges interspersed with a never ending series of tunnel, this one between Chongqing and Wushan was 5km long. They were sometimes scarily dark inside, the thought of running out of petrol in one of the dark tunnels was not pleasant to contemplate.

▲ At almost every stop we would be surrounded by interested Chinese fascinated by our car and our trip. Here’s a group of spectators studying the map on the door of one of our cars. My most amusing encounter was in Shanghai were a young man asked if he could look at the engine and was amazed to discover cars had air-conditioning back in 1973. My MGB is the only one in the group with air-con. He then asked to sit at the wheel and was even more amazed to encounter window winders, there are virtually no old cars in China and anything modern has electric windows.

◄ Although China is reputed to be ahead of the curve with electric cars we never saw one on the open road highways and never saw one charging up at the highway charging points. It wasn’t until we arrived in Shanghai that I spotted my first electric car and, naturally, it was a Tesla.

▲ We stopped for fuel as we entered the gritty industrial town of Jinsha and got a free packet of tissues and a free car wash along with a tank of fuel. Here’s Burgundy, my MGB, getting a long overdue scrub down.

▲ Getting a permit to drive through China is not easy and car or motorcycle you have to be accompanied by a Chinese guide. Ours is a young woman named Green (the Chinese often adopt Western ‘given’ names, sometimes with strange results). Because I’ve got a spare seat through China, Maureen isn’t coming along on this trip, we didn’t need to rent a car and driver to transport her. She doesn’t always travel with me, but Green’s green suitcase does.

▲ MG cars are now Chinese owned and we paid a visit to the SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation) factory outside Shanghai where modern MGs are made. Here’s our lineup of old MGBs outside the factory.

▲ And here we are driving through central Shanghai, en route to the main Shanghai MG dealer,

◄  we were kindly allowed to use their service facilities and 7000km from our starting point in Bangkok gave our elderly cars their first service and oil change. We did some of the work ourselves, but the dealer’s young mechanics did a lot of the hard work, even though none of them had dealt with cars as old as ours before. Modern cars don’t have anachronistic features like grease nipples on the suspension.