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France or bust for Orland man
A vintage Chrysler will leave Glenn County next month and make its way to China for an amazing automobile race called the Peking to Paris Rally.
Phil Putnam of Orland has served as mechanic on the 1936 Chrysler Imperial Airflow sedan, and he will be the co-driver in the event — joining owner Monte Gingery on this adventure.
Gingery, of Rockville, Maryland, became acquainted with Putnam through the Chrysler Airflow Club of America.
"The reason I got involved in this is because of my familiarity with the Chrysler Airflow," Putnam said Monday. "The club told him to call me."
Putnam is a chief club judge and Chrysler restoration expert who has worked on these 1930s vehicles for 35 years.
"He asked me to join him, and I gladly accepted," Putnam said. "We have been working on this for a year and a half."
The 33-day race kicks off May 28 at China's Great Wall north of Beijing, formerly known as Peking, he said, and ends in Paris, France on June 29.
There are 100 vintage and classic cars entered in three categories.
This will be Gingery's second attempt at the 8,200-mile race.
He was set to go in 2010 but had to pull out because his co-driver could not make it, Putnam said, and there was no time to find a replacement.
Once the cars leave Beijing, they will travel through Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, Uzbekistan, Siberia, Russia, Austria and more countries.
Other entries will include a 1934 Dodge, 1934 Packard convertible, 1936 Bentley sedan, 1938 Chevrolet coupe and a 1939 Cadillac La Salle, Putnam added.
Only a handful of Americans enter this race, he said.
Distance plays a part in that because the cars must be shipped to China. The $50,000 entry fee also could be a reason, Putnam said, as it is a rich man's game.
Of course, the rally is quite popular in Europe and Great Britain with another handful of Australians and New Zealanders joining it, he added.
The first Peking to Paris Rally was held in 1907. However, the second race was not conducted until 90 years later in 1997.
Recent races included one in 2007 and again in 2010.
There really is no significant prize money for the race, Putnam said. Winners get medals.
"It is just something wealthy people want to do," he said. "Money is no object to them."
In the meantime, Putnam and Gingery have been driving the red Chrysler sedan on some local runs to make sure it is ready.
"We just did a 1,200-mile test drive up the Oregon coast and came back down I-5," he said. "It runs perfect."
The men also took the car on the California Mille in 2011, which is a 1,000 mile course around the back roads of the Bay Area and included a day at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows.
Putham rebuilt the car's starter, alternator, brakes and transmission along with other things like the drive line.
He said there is no outside "backup" allowed on the race, so spare parts and supplies will have to be carried in the car for repairs.
All told, the car will weigh about 5,600 pounds on race day — including the two passengers and its cargo, Putnam said.
Sadly, the beautiful car will not look like it does today at the end of the race.
The roads are rough and it will have to cross seven streams or creeks along the way, and likely will be beat up by the end.
Race organizers spend a year or more scoping out the route and choose the worst roads they can find, Putham said.
Putnam got interested in the Chrysler Airflow three decades ago.
"The very first time I seen a Chrysler Airflow, 'I said What the heck is that car,"" he said.
From there, he bought one and has owned about 10 of these unique Art Deco era vehicles.
Their look appeals to him, he said, as they are a lot different from most cars of that era and had more advanced features.
Chrysler Airflows were built from 1934 to 1937 and are pretty rare today, he said. Putnam just sold two ground-up Airflow restored cars last year but continues to work on motors and parts for other owners across the US.
At 70, Putnam said he just made the age cut for the race but is looking forward to the adventure. Gingery is in his early 50s, and the two men will have to "rough" it in sleeping bags during some parts of the trip while staying in hotels on other portions.