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21 Countries, 25,000 Kilometers – No Problem!

The Mongol Rally Adventure: Johann Frankenstein from the Braunschweig plant made the journey from England to Russia in a 25-year-old second-generation Polo.

Johann Frankenstein (top) completed an incredible voyage with Niclas Langhans (left) and Tobias Gumz.

21 countries in seven weeks. At least 25,000 kilometers. Steppes, mountain ranges, deserts, coastlines, villages, cities… You name it, these three men in a 25-year-old second-generation Polo saw it. Johann Frankenstein from the Braunschweig plant joined forces with his friends Tobias Gumz and Niclas Langhans to take on a crazy challenge – the Mongol Rally.

"We wanted an adventure that would also mean something positive."

"We wanted an adventure that would also mean something positive," explains the 30-year-old when asked about his involvement in this unusual competition. The rules: Start in London, finish in Ulan-Ude, Russia, not far from the former destination of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. It doesn’t matter which route you take to get from A to B – you can go any way you like. Another condition is that the participants have to donate at least 1,200 euros to charity. And finally, your vehicle has to be at least twelve years old, with a maximum engine size of 1.2 liters and a current market value of no more than 500 euros.

"Despite being crammed full and having to cope with unconventional terrain by Central European standards most of the time, the car held out and lasted the course."

The children in Uzbekistan loved the Polo.

A mechanical engineering graduate, Frankenstein is an assistant to the Head of the Technical Competence Center in Braunschweig. He and his friends pitched in to buy a one-liter Polo with 45 bhp, and they were not disappointed. "Despite being crammed full and having to cope with unconventional terrain by Central European standards most of the time, the car held out and lasted the course," shared the Volkswagen employee, adding that they "even survived the Ak-Baital Pass in Turkmenistan." This pass is 4,655 meters high and forms part of the Pamir Highway, which is the second highest paved highway in the world.

The three friends made a few changes to the car before taking part in the rally. These included adding a searchlight and additional panels for underbody protection. After reaching their final destination, the trio met a group of English people who went on to drive the Polo from Russia back to Germany – without any major issues.

The only thing that broke down and could not be repaired during the rally was the odometer. "This meant we couldn’t be entirely sure how many kilometers our Polo actually covered," reveals Frankenstein. He reckons it must have been between 25,000 and 30,000 cf. previously kilometers.

What he particularly enjoyed about the journey was the hospitality of the people he met – particularly in Iran. "We often found ourselves invited to dinner, and complete strangers would let us sleep in their homes. In some cases, these people would then find someone else to host us the following night." And whenever there were no sleeping facilities available, the three would sleep in a tent. "It was a real adventure with so many unknowns," reminisces Frankenstein, emphasizing that it was "a fantastic contrast to our typically well-organized lives." It was also a great experience to be able to rely on other people in some of the most remote parts of the world. In Georgia, for example, the travelers needed a spare part for the gear shift and were able to find one in a junkyard thanks to the support of the local people. And then there was the time the trio got stuck and desperately needed a push. Nothing was ever a problem, no matter whether they nearing the Chinese border or close to Afghanistan.

The trio even slept in a yurt – the traditional tent of the nomads.

Another nice touch was the donation to a good cause. The Volkswagen employee and his buddies collected around 3,000 euros from sponsors and friends for the aid organizations Cool Earth and Doctors Without Borders. But best of all, they made it to the end! According to Frankenstein, "there are so many people who don’t make it all the way. No more than 60 percent of the participants reach the finish. Even then, there’s still the question of whether they managed it with the same car they started out with."

"We would love to drive across Africa."

So is that the end of adventures like the Mongol Rally? Frankenstein laughs and, after taking a moment to think, says "we would love to drive across Africa." But he’s thinking they’ll wait at least  a year or two.