x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

My Car: From Ferrari 456 to Citroën Saxo for Mongol Rally

His grandfather's recommendation inspired Jean-Loup De Reymaeker to buy the 456, but the Belgian will embark on an epic journey across continents in a little 1.1L Saxo.

De Reymaeker followed his grandfather by buying a 456 but he will spend a lot of time in the less salubrious surroundings of a Saxo. Satish Kumar / The National
De Reymaeker followed his grandfather by buying a 456 but he will spend a lot of time in the less salubrious surroundings of a Saxo. Satish Kumar / The National

It's one of the most gorgeous modern Ferraris there is, and for Jean-Loup De Reymaeker, 27, it was a childhood dream come true to finally own one. "Who wouldn't want a Ferrari?" asks De Reymaeker. "But the main reason I wanted this particular car was because my grandfather used to have one, and he told me it was by far the best car he'd owned."

Three years ago when De Reymaeker found one for sale in Dubai at Al Tayer Motors, he didn't hesitate. "A friend of mine told me about it," he explains. "I'd been looking for some time, but couldn't find a clean example. When I checked this one, it was immaculate, with low mileage and, best of all, was in the original blue colour of the launch cars - how could I resist?"

Launched in 1992, the 456 boasts a mighty 5.5L V12 engine producing 436hp. At the time, it was the world's fastest production four-seater with a 0-to-100kph time of 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 302kph.

Despite the fact that De Reymaeker's car is automatic, he doesn't drive it as much as he'd like, often falling back on his other car, a Hummer H3. "It really depends on the weather, but there's no issue with reliability. In the last three years, I haven't had to touch anything. The only things it's needed are servicing and regular check-ups - nothing has had to be replaced."

Only a limited number of the 456 were built and it's a beautiful milestone Ferrari, but it's a bit of a sleeper, too. It's a discreet, subdued car from the glamorous Italian marque and not exactly an attention-getter, not that De Reymaeker is seeking attention - he is seeking adventure.

Which explains his most recent car purchase: a 2003 Citroën Saxo 1.1L. Compared with the Ferrari, this has 377hp less, it takes more than twice as long to get to 100kph and only manages just over half the top speed. This is downsizing on a substantial scale, so what gives?

"I'm going to do the Mongol Rally this year." The what? Covering about 1,600km, it's a car rally that starts from the Goodwood Circuit in the UK and ends in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and is dubbed "the greatest adventure in the world". All the cars must be ordinary road cars smaller than 1.2L and less than 10 years old.

"I've done some rallies before, but never anything like this," exclaims De Reymaeker. "We'll be driving through deserts, over mountains, through rivers in a little car that was never designed or built to do any of that. It's very exciting and I honestly can't wait to see how it will go. My teammate and I decided to do the rally because it's the ultimate dream for a petrolhead - to experience an epic road trip."

And, of course, the participants raise money for charity. "Everything that we will do and bring to Mongolia will go to the Lotus Children Foundation, a Mongolian organisation working with vulnerable children and families to provide shelter, food and education and care for up to 150 abused, orphaned and abandoned children.

"So not only are we embarking on a rally where anything could happen, but we are doing so to help children who don't have much. All of our gear, including the Saxo itself, which we've already bought in the UK, will be donated to charity."

The rally kicks off in July and could take up to four weeks with the route going through Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, Iran and even Afghanistan, depending on how the participants wish to do it. It's not without its dangers though. In 2010, two British participants died and another was seriously hurt after a road accident in Iran.

How is De Reymaeker preparing for the rally? "We still have a bit of time, so right now I'm just searching for sponsors; doing that many miles in an old car, we will have breakages and we'll need some money to do repairs and keep going. All other money raised will be for the charity and we really want to bring the car to Mongolia and finish the rally. For the car, we're getting it brand new suspension, a protection plate underneath, a roof rack and additional batteries."

So if in August you see a battered-looking little Saxo trundling across the region with a lanky Belgium chap at the wheel grinning absurdly, give him a wave.