In September 2023, The REME Corps’ Sgt Matt Leaker and WO1 Gaz Hooson joined REME Veteran and Chelsea Pensioner Chris O’Connor to take on the Dover-Gibraltar Veterans Banger Rally in a 2005 Toyota Corolla. Below is Sgt Leaker’s diary of the event.
On 23 Sep 23, WO1 Gaz Hooson & Sgt Matt Leaker travelled to London to the Royal Chelsea Hospital to meet up with Celsea Pensioner Chris O’Connor, to finalise and do last minute prep for the 8-day Banger Rally Race from Dover to Gibraltar. The race would see us travel through 3 different countries and 7 different cities. The rules were: purchase a banger for no more than £999 (we choose a 2005 Toyota Corolla) and that the team had to be made up of veterans and serving personnel.
We could either scrap the car when we arrived at Gibraltar or keep it and drive back. No matter on how much we tried to persuade Chris to scrap the Corolla, he instead he wanted to drive it back and auction it off for his chosen charity.
After an overnight stay in a hotel in Dover, we found ourselves lined up in a convoy of some unique and amazing cars – 30 in total. We had a police escort from the hotel to the ferry port and every head was turned as we approached the terminal.
After an Hour on the ferry, we were in France and ready to put our foot down.. or rather, Chris was the one that was flooring it as me and WO1 (Gaz) Hooson were very sensible drivers. We decided not to visit Dunkirk and push onto the city of Rouen, in France. Once parked up we decided to venture into the beautiful city centre to get some food and a beverage in the local Irish bar. The first leg was quite long so we decided to put Chris to bed, ready for day 2.
0530 alarm from Chris who took 45 min in the shower only to then continue by waking us up by letting us know we weren’t meeting till 0900 (cheers for the wake-up call Chris!).
After the standard Continental breakfast, we headed to do our daily ‘first parade’ of the wagon, pretty much a turn-of-the-key to ensure it would start. All vehicles were lined up in the car park of a supermarket, minus two vehicles that we had lost from the first leg. Sadly, we also had a few upset and angry teams due to their vehicles being sprayed and defaced by the local thugs. We didn’t let this ruin our spirits and we set off in a long convoy heading to Poitiers in France. This leg was only 4 and a half hours so once again I did most of the driving, whilst WO1 Hooson and Chris relaxed. Later that day we arrived in Poitiers and checked in to our hotel. That evening we had food in a local restaurant and again put Chris to bed to get his well-earned 12 hours sleep.
As usual we were woken up to Chris two hours earlier than needed. However, we were keen to get on the road as we didn’t meet up with the other drivers and we wanted to get to the next destination of Pau in France. The vehicle was still going strong, giving the fact that it didn’t even have a service since 2021; Chris was quickly kind enough to mention that “cars don’t need servicing” – another one of Chris’s fine jokes. The journey was full of Q&A, mainly questions from Chris asking about wars and battles that we had never even heard of and when stated we had no idea, Chris had his usual reply of an angry ‘GORDON BENNET’. Day 4 had finally come to an end and all the driving was catching us up so we settled for a nice Steak and an early night.
Probably the best leg of the race. Driving through the Pyrenees mountains, with breath-taking views, we moved on to Zaragoza in Spain. Along the way we stopped in old café, which was covered in football memorabilia, and we tucked into what can only be described as tomatoes on toast with a little bit of ham (looked dreadful, but tasted amazing!). Chris continued asking random quiz questions which had no return answers from the co-drivers. Zaragoza was a strange city but very beautiful. The heat was well into the 30s and we had to remind ourselves it wasn’t a holiday, and the task was to get Chris to Gibraltar. We arrived at the apartment and met all the other participants at the local Irish Bar for a swift Guinness and moved onto an American diner for some food.
Today’s drive was the one WO1 Hooson and I were most looking forward to – a journey to Benidorm. Chris was more than happy to offer to drive the next day and his words of “what happens in Benidorm stays in Benidorm” made the drive even better for us, we even answered a few of his Quiz questions however, when we got the easy ones wrong Chris had is usual reply of “GORDON BENNETT!!” and a look absolute shock.
Once we arrived me and WO1 Hooson went on the lookout for a suitable fancy dress for the team, due to it being the theme for the night. We decided to sample the local food and drink and order 3 simple T-shirts with the logo GORDON BENNETT on as a tribute to Chris. After collecting the shirts, we grabbed Chris and made our way to the Benidorm strip where Chris got a lot more than he could handle. After a few beers Chris was a tad tired, so we took him to bed while me and WO1 Hooson stayed out for a little longer with the other drivers talking about the journey so far.
Woken up at 0530 once again, this time it was a lot worse due to the slight hangover. Thank God Chris was going to drive the first 3 hours! We set off ahead of everyone, with the remainder at least 4 hours behind us. Benidorm was a good place, but we moved on to Malaga in Spain. This was again a lovely city with loads going on. We used the most of our time there to walk around the city and beach, before having some quality food in the city centre. We were all ready for an early night but one of the vehicles had broken down two hours away from our location and Chris kindly volunteered me and WO1 Hooson to go and save the day. We set off at 1100 to go and find the stranded vehicle, when we arrived, they had stripped the car clean, and they decided to leave the vehicle there. Once we had picked up 2 of the stranded passengers, we headed back to Malaga.
The final 2-hour leg into Gibraltar was an easy drive for me, after a minor wait in customs we were in. The Corolla had made it and the only mechanical fault we had was a headlight. WO1 Hooson tried to fix it but we just watched in amazement as he failed over and over to secure a bulb.
We had made it to Gibraltar and the smile on Chris face was amazing. This was the second year in a row Chris had completed the rally in the same car. Well done Chris and thanks for an amazing journey.
Scribe – Sgt Matthew Leaker