Across Europe in a €500 car

3750 kilometers over steep Alpine and Pyrenean passes, along breathtaking coastlines, through the dry and dusty plains of northern Spain to the metropolis by the sea: Two KUKAners dared to embark on an adventure the penultimate summer and drove a 24-year-old Volvo 850 from Munich to Barcelona as part of an “off-the-beaten-track-rally”.

Sören Papsdorf and Youssef Ben-Abdelafou both work in Production Engineering at KUKA. The department develops assembly concepts and plans the series assembly of new products such as mobile robots. Papsdorf has been working for KUKA since 2002, Ben-Abdelafou joined the company in 2011 – and so the two got to know each other. At work, they share an office, but they are also good friends in their private lives. With Papsdorf’s brother-in-law Benjamin Heller, they came up with the idea of taking part in the “Rallye München-Barcelona“.

The journey is the reward

The journey started at the end of July alongside 124 other teams. The main goal of the rally is simply for the car to make it to the end. That is difficult enough, because all driving takes place on side roads – highly challenging routes for the drivers and cars. The price of the cars was not to exceed €500. This increases the appeal and creates an equal playing fi eld. But the off -the-beaten-track rally is not held in a competitive spirit anyway. All teams want to finish together.

Prior to the rally, the two KUKAns and their teammate prep the Volvo aka “Spruce Moose” for the strain that was about to be endured on the road. They invested in spare parts and put around 200 hours into the car until it was deemed ready for the challenge. They replaced wearing parts, installed underbody protection and heavy-duty suspension, and opted for a motorcycle navigation system. “Some of the teams were already experienced and well prepared. Others arrived completely starry-eyed and had to rely on their fellow drivers when they needed spare parts or help fastening things,” Papsdorf recounts.

The way to Barcelona was divided into seven stages. Each team could choose their own route – the only compulsory date was the driver briefing every morning. Only there was the exact location of the meeting point announced the next day. In addition, the participants received route recommendations and information about particularly beautiful places on the route. “For me, the morning briefing was one of the biggest highlights of the day. It always took place at well-chosen, remote places with a special view. Impressive was the contrast between absolute silence and the short moment when 125 humming engines broke this silence. This was reminiscent of roaring lions early in the morning on safari,” recalls Ben-Abdelafou.

The first leg covered a 700-kilometer route from Munich to Arona in northern Italy. On the following day, the three continued their journey over the Maritime Alps and the highest asphalted Alpine pass, Col de la Bonette, but also over unpaved roads and gravel roads to Antibes on the Côte d’Azur. Afterwards the route led along the French Mediterranean coast into the stormy Camargue to the Rallye Camp in an old salt mine area, to which one could find only after coordinates. There all participants camped together for one night on a large open space in the middle of nowhere, in the slipstream of their cars.

The rally team around Sören Papsorf and Youssef Ben-Abdelafou on the highest paved pass in the Alps, the Col de la Bonette.
The rally team around Sören Papsorf and Youssef Ben-Abdelafou on the highest paved pass in the Alps, the Col de la Bonette.

Every day there was a day mission, which was documented by a photo on Facebook. On the fourth day, on the way from the Camargue to Spain, a team photo was to be taken with a French policeman. “Youssef then lured one out of the bushes by driving slightly too fast. That cost us 90€, but he was persuaded to take a picture with us and his laser pistol”, says Papsdorf.

Teamwork to fend off breakdowns

On their fifth stage, the adventurers from Andorra to Pamplona chafed through the oil filter. With provisional repair measures they drove another five kilometers over the pass and then let the car roll down 21 kilometers with the engine switched off. “As if that wasn’t enough, we had a puncture on the way down,” recalls Papsdorf. Abdelafou and another team went on a search for a garage, other rally participants towed the broken car there.

A lucky escape: it wasn’t until the next day that they found out that towing by a private party is prohibited in Spain and can result in a €500 fine. The penultimate section of the route led over dusty side roads through deserted plains with dilapidated houses and small villages in scorching heat to Teruel. On the last day of the rally, the team drove asphalted roads in sections to minimise the risk of a puncture on gravel roads. The remaining teams met at a service area outside Barcelona – ten of the original 125 cars failed on the track. Together they led the final leg through Barcelona to the final meeting point by the sea.

“The whole thing was much more exhausting and stressful than we thought it would be. Every day we sat between 12 and 14 hours in the car. One section was on average 500 kilometers long,” explains Papsdorf, “but I would do it again. The way is really the goal. One experiences new impressions again and again, behind every curve there is something new. Partly we were in areas where no holidaymaker would get lost.” Ben-Abdelafou also likes to remember the adventure: “Even though we had little time for sightseeing and longer breaks, the rally has aroused my curiosity to explore Europe even more. I know a few insider tips for great holidays with my family, and I like to share this knowledge with my colleagues.”

You thought that was an extraordinary story? Then read in the article “Between Augsburg and the Himalayas: Aid campaign on the roof of the world” how two KUKA employees are cycling over the highest drivable passes in the world for an aid campaign.

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