The Ramshackle Rally 2011 begins in July so it’s time to pimp up an old banger, throw a costume together and get ready to take part in Europe’s silliest car race. Matt Risley took his chances last year…

Erm, guys. I don’t know how to break it to you … the Mario Brothers died in the tunnel and the Muppets didn’t make it either.”

Short of snorting a bucket of absinthe or shacking up with Charlie Sheen, I can’t imagine that’s a sentence I’ll ever come close to hearing again. But such is the random, hilarious and utterly bonkers appeal of the Ramshackle Rally; a banger car race through Europe that requires teams to buy a knackered motor for under £150, ‘pimp’ their vehicle to their heart’s (or inner four-year-old’s) desire, deck themselves in ridiculous fancy dress, then navigate through 1500 miles of the continent’s most spectacular scenery.

The Ramshackle Rally

Imagine Top Gear, only sillier, funnier and with 100 per cent less racism.

As I sit here in our attempt (a wing-strapped Saab automo-plane), I’m the first to admit that, visually, it’s a work of vehicular art. Mechanically, we’d be lucky if it got us to the corner shop and back without exploding.

We’ve navigated our way to the Calais starting point and we’re parked in a relatively inauspicious, deserted French shopping centre car park waiting for the sun to rise and the other teams to arrive.

As all manner of amazingly crafted minis, vans and three-wheelers chug and sputter into view, it’s clear we’ve got a creative fight on our hands. A gleaming aluminium foil-strewn UFO careers into view as Thomas The Tank Engine trundles alongside. Just as the hustle, bustle and astonished laughter from the 60 assembled teams begins to settle, in comes a masterpiece to top them all – a yellow felt-blanketed car made to look like
Sesame Street’s Ernie, driven by four life-size costumed Muppets.

Ramshackle Rally

With the sun out and the Paris inner-city traffic system tactfully avoided, we treat ourselves to a congratulatory lunchtime break in Reims. Quaffing champagne and attempting to look manly while experimenting with frogs’ legs seems an appropriate start to our cultural jaunt through Europe, but before long we’re back on the road to not only get to our first night’s stop, but find it in the first place.

We reach the  idyllic commune of Annecy, south-west France, having lost the aforementioned three piggies and Mario Brothers to mechanical failure, and awake the next day to a blindingly beautiful sunrise. Our campsite looks straight over the lake, an improbably still body of water sprinkled with sailboats, blanketed by ancient chateaus and enveloped by some truly breathtaking mountains.

Ramshackle Rally

We press on and a few nail-biting passes through the French Alps later, we cross the border into Italy and certified, snow-capped mountain ‘Alpen advert’ country.

During the next three days our comedically communal convoy moves in style along a perfectly plotted route through France, Italy and Spain; we roll into Monte Carlo and attempt to race each other and all manner of billionaire’s cars along the Monaco F1 track, make an impromptu pit- and lunch-stop on the beaches of St Tropez, and triumphantly drive through searing summer heat on to our Valencia-bound finish line.

This truly is the life: All the fun of Jeremy Clarkson without having to act like him.

Check out some Ramshackle Rally action from 2010.


The world’s craziest races

Gumball Rally
Partially inspired by the 70s movie of the same name, this traditionally supercar, and increasingly celebrity-centric, 3000- mile race pops up annually with a different route around the globe. For 12 years, star-studded teams including the Jackass crew and Tony Hawk have raced from London to Italy and back, along the Nurburgring circuit, through Budapest and across North America.

Mongol Rally
Three deserts, five mountain ranges and 10,000 miles. Oh, and a car ‘designed for old ladies’. A rally from London to Mongolia more intent with the spirit of adventure than the trifling matter of actually finishing, it tackles a third of the world’s surface along a freewheeling ‘un-route’ of your choosing.

The Piedmont Race

It’s a local tradition dating back to the 13th century, and a high-stakes, legendary race known to all around. Every October 3, the sleepy Italian village of Piedmont hosts its own Palio and a Donkey Race to determine the winner of an age-old feud with the neighbouring town of Asti.

Essential information

When to go: Five Ramshackle events take place across Europe, from Pamplona to Krakow, at various dates from July until September. See
Getting there: Buy a car from eBay, Auto Trader or a friend for less than £150 and make your way to the start and finish lines.
Getting back: It’s tradition to scrap your car on arrival at your destination, so we flew via easyJet. Flights from £80 one-way.
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