For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here
It was 1962. My wife Jan and I had recently graduated in our respective vocations, her as a kindergarten teacher and me in architecture.
When we met, Jan had a ticket booked on a liner bound for the UK, but those plans were put on ice and it was marriage for us instead.
Before we got together I had done a fair bit of travelling, including a six-month stint in Japan, so seeing the world was high on the agenda rather than settling down, as a few of our friends were already doing.
Back in the 1960s, after graduating with some sort of degree or in a trade, youngsters in Australia (and many in Europe) seemed to gain the urge for adventure.
We were no exception, and began drawing up plans fairly soon after our wedding, but air travel proved prohibitively expensive. There were bus trips available to various parts of central Asia and India, and it was pretty basic travelling.
All on board would help to pitch tents and cook, yet it seemed a great way to see the world without having to look after your own vehicle.
But, having decided to go to Europe, we elected to drive and we chose a 1928 Model A Ford to do it in – after all, nearly five million buyers between 1927 and ’31 can’t have been wrong about these rugged workhorses.
We were living and working in Melbourne at the time, and after talking to other adventurous types it soon became clear this sort of journey was possible. Not easy, perhaps, but possible.
That was enough: the challenge was there and we were young, healthy and eager.
Decision made, although our parents were not so sure…
Mutual friend (and fellow architect) John Dalton, was keen to return to the UK so joined us for the trip, packing his own one-man tent.
After a basic restoration of the Ford, our running around in Victoria prior to departure did little to indicate what lay ahead for the car.
We left Melbourne in late November 1962, with my brother and family accompanying us until our lunch stop. Jan’s sister, Sue, and a couple of friends were also present early in the morning to bid us farewell.
They were probably all wondering if they’d ever see us again.
In Adelaide we met Jan’s elderly grandparents and two aunts, who all raised eyebrows at our chosen mode of transport, and on leaving the South Australian capital we happened upon a roadside weighbridge for grain trucks.
We drove on to the platform and were surprised to find that we weighed in at 39cwt, or 1950kg. Empty, the Model A tipped the scales at 21cwt (1067kg), so inevitably, as well as overheating, we had a few tyre problems.
We started with the best 450x21in rubber we could rustle up, but it let us down.
We bought four new tyres in Perth, and those then took us through to London, but compared with the vehicles of the many other fellow travellers we subsequently met, the Ford turned out to be relatively trouble-free.
We were really lucky to have decided upon the sturdy and simple 3.3-litre, four-cylinder Model A.
Even the ubiquitous Volkswagen Kombis and Land-Rovers were not immune to problems, generally with springs or clutches, and often because they were heavily overloaded.
We even spotted a Sunbeam-Talbot and a Morris 1100 – the latter was the first I had ever seen, and it wasn’t handling the conditions well.
Some travellers had converted small buses into caravans, with youths and families going to Australia, and all too often they suffered from mechanical issues.
Citroën 2CVs seemed to put up with the tough conditions well, though, and later in Germany, shortly after waving to a 1928 Bentley that was broken down on the autobahn, one tore past us as we sat at a steady 40mph.
Before leaving Melbourne, we had equipped ourselves with some rudimentary camping gear: a not-very-waterproof canvas tent, some good eiderdown sleeping bags, 1in-thick mattresses and cooking equipment, including a most useful and much-used pressure cooker.
Generally our overnight equipment was kept on the roof-rack because it was all relatively lightweight, and we also carried two four-gallon water containers, strapped to each running board.
One was for drinking water, which was not always available, the other with water of a more questionable quality, which was saved for washing dishes.
For the initial 10-day slog across the Nullarbor Plain we camped, except for a couple of nights in Adelaide.
They were probably the roughest roads we encountered: 1100 miles of gravel, corrugations and frequent dust holes, where the compacted, rocky road surface had completely given way to become a huge bowl of dust.
When we reached Perth we stayed with my parents in Applecross prior to embarking on the boat bound for the state of Travancore-Cochin on the southern tip of India.
Our ship out of Fremantle in Western Australia was a cargo vessel with three state rooms for lucky passengers – in this case just us. It was oldish and slow, and everything on board smelled of curry.
We ate with the ship’s officers in their dining saloon and everything was imbued with Indian spices: boiled potatoes, eggs, even the traditional English Christmas dinner.
We took all it in our stride, although Jan was the only female on board and spent most of her time and energy keeping amorous crew members at bay.
We disembarked in Madras (Chennai) and, after various unloading delays, eventually motored on.
The sort of hotel we could afford in the city offered vegetarian food only, served on a banana leaf and with no cutlery.
We stayed there for a couple of days and after a bit of searching found some food we recognised in the small street-market stalls.
Then we were off.
Seeking out appropriate camping spots in India was a challenge but we managed, with locals appearing from nowhere to watch every time we stopped: not helpful when you want to find a bush or dig a hole for the loo.
Jan managed to make interesting meals from whatever we could buy: in our courting days we had done a bit of fairly basic camping in some beautiful parts of the Victorian High Plains, with minimal equipment.
Our honeymoon was spent camping in the Omeo region, including tackling the Omeo Highway in a 1928 Chevrolet National tourer – hand-powered windscreen wipers, no sidescreens and all.
It’s a rough road, snowy and cold, but it was where we first learned that a pressure-cooker would be an asset on our trip – particularly because some of the meat in India and Afghanistan was not very well protected from flies.
Nonetheless, you could always find eggs, tomatoes and the basics in the markets.
We spent a few nights in the Salvation Army hostel in Bombay (Mumbai) and continued on to Ahmedabad in the west, where we stayed with a delightful Brahmin family who befriended us.
Their address had been given to us by friends and, once we’d recovered from a bout of food poisoning, we headed to Agra for a couple of days to see the Taj Mahal.
Somehow, we’d made friends with the owner of a newly opened and flash hotel, who invited us to be his guests.
On a few rare occasions we spent the night in dark bungalows, accommodation set up in country areas by the British for western travellers and traders to stay in.
They were simple buildings, generally comprising hard surfaces that could be cleaned easily.
The roads through India and Pakistan were reasonable, albeit busy with bullock-drawn wagons meandering along, their drivers often sound asleep.
Camping continued through Pakistan, the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan to Kabul, where we stayed for 10 days and made contact through a chance meeting at the British Embassy with an English couple who were there teaching languages.
They were kind and gave us accommodation, and even showed us around northern Afghanistan in their Hillman Husky.
Visiting embassies, either Australian or British, was our only method of getting mail en route.
This generally worked well for receiving letters from concerned parents, but we would also often meet expats and fellow travellers who could offer advice about what lay ahead.
We carried a small amount of sterling with us, too, sometimes converting it to the local currency on the black market – sterling and American dollars were keenly sought after, and the going rate in Kabul was three times the official figure.
To obtain money we carried ‘letters of credit’, which were promissory notes issued in Australia by our bank to be presented at a major branch of the local country’s lender.
The car carried its ‘carnet’, a sort of car passport requiring a stamp at the border to get in, and then again to get out when leaving the country. Afghanistan’s border controls didn’t understand the papers, resulting in lengthy delays and explanations to get the in-and-out permissions.
On entering Iran after crossing south Pakistan’s Baluchistan Desert, we had to spend two days in a police compound to keep us safe while we awaited our visas.
The road south from Kabul to Kandahar was slow and rough, with 83 washed-out bridges to be negotiated, and it took three days to travel the 300 or so miles.
The local villages always had delicious, freshly baked naan breads, buffalo butter, a few vegetables and meat.
The pressure cooker was working overtime.
As we drove over snow-covered mountains from the Caspian Sea towards Turkey, the next delight was the hot black tea sipped through lumps of sugar, and the fantastic Turkish coffee. Small roadside cafés served it in beautiful glasses, which kept us fully charged.
From Turkey we wanted to turn south to Syria and Iraq, but this simply was not permissible because of border wars. So we pressed on to Greece, where, as we pitched our tent on a rocky hillside, we found wild thyme to add to the lamb stew pot.
Camping in the orchard of a small farm in Yugoslavia, we were supplied with a foaming jug of fresh cow’s milk by the farmer’s wife; in Germany we had fantastic sausages and beer in Munich.
From there it was an easy run on to London. We made it, all fit and well, on 1 June 1963.
We crossed Tower Bridge and were delighted to see red double-decker buses, black London taxis and Mars bars! It was the end of the most memorable six-month experience, one that cannot these days be repeated.
Apart from its not-so-effective brakes, the Ford did a great job. The car averaged 18mpg as it got us back to the capital and John safely home to Devizes in Wiltshire.
The overheating problems had gradually disappeared in India, but the water pump began rattling and weeping.
It was supposedly an uprated new part, using roller bearings instead of bronze bushes, so in Bombay we drove to the large Ford agent on the Grand Esplanade, told them of our problem and they sent an apprentice off to the local market. He came back an hour later with a brand new bush-type water pump, which is still in the car today.
Apart from the welded wheel spokes cracking at the hub, our only other problem was a keyway on the rear driveshaft breaking up.
We were close to the ringstrasse in Vienna and were noticed by the local Ford distributor, whose team looked after us, fixed the problem and reserved a spot for us outside its prestigious showroom for the duration of our stay in the city.
Our cost for the basics of food, petrol and occasional accommodation was AU$800 per head.
Although the trip was challenging at times, we look back on the whole experience in awe and ask ourselves just how on earth we managed it. Oh, to be young again!
Words and images: Wal Hunter
In 1975, having moved back to Perth, the Hunters sold several cars including the Ford to fund the purchase of a Jaguar XK120.
But the story doesn’t end there: in 2001 their son, Andrew, decided the time had come to buy back the Model A and he tracked it down to a farm in Western Australia, where it had languished in a tin shed in the middle of nowhere for 25 years.
Having done the deal, he took dad Wal with him to collect the long-lost adventurer.
“It was the most wonderful feeling to see father and car reunited, and was a day I’ll never forget,” says Andrew.
Words: Alastair Clements
Reliving an epic, 8000-mile adventure across India by Rolls-Royce
60,000 miles around the world in Minis