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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Epic trip for classic British car
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

Very little manages to stop the traffic which roars
Oxford2oxford in Paris
The penultimate pit stop in Paris (Photo: Stuart McAlister)
ceaselessly around the Arc de Triomphe but 50-year old Florence certainly did, with her sleek body and black-and-white top attracting curious and admiring stares from normally blasť Parisian drivers and world-weary pedestrians.

Florence is, of course, a car - a very British Morris Oxford, with a sporty black-and-white-checked roof, now on the final leg of a 20,000-mile epic fund-raising journey from Oxford, England, to Oxford, New Zealand, and back, by British Red Cross volunteers Joanne Bowlt and Tim Nicholson.

Chartered surveyor Tim Nicholson, 37, and PR consultant Joanne Bowlt, 36, gave up their jobs last year, put their possessions in storage and set out on their trans-continental motoring odyssey in May 2004.

She's steered clear of camels in the deserts of North Africa and dodged Australian kangaroos and erratic emus on route to New Zealand.

They drove from the dreaming spires of Oxford to the rather more rural Kiwi town of the same name - to raise money for the international charity, with Florence the star of the show on their 'oxford2oxford' road trip, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the famous Morris Oxford Series II.

It was, in the words of veteran explorer Michael Palin, "a very silly adventure", but also one with a more serious purpose.

Tim and Jo have raised some £10,000 for the Red Cross along the way, and are hoping to raise more on their return to England via Dover on Tuesday, 19 July.

They are finishing their journey with a triumphant trip down Oxford Street on Friday, 22 July, and then on to the home straight to Oxford City centre to be greeted by the mayor at Radcliffe Square on Saturday, 23 July.

They have visited Red Cross projects in 12 countries across four continents.

"We chose the Red Cross because it's a charity that does great work around the world, but has national societies - which ensures that it's local people dealing with local needs and issues," said Tim, as the two enjoyed a brief pit-stop for poisson and frites near the Seine.

Florence the car
Florence was remarkably sturdy for a 50 year old car

Throughout the journey, Florence has proved remarkably sturdy, attracting admiring glances across the world.

She has steered clear of camels in the deserts of North Africa, avoided elephants and holy cows on the monsoon-potholed roads of India, and dodged Australian kangaroos and erratic emus on route to New Zealand.

She was greeted by 6,000 enthusiastic New Zealanders and 600 other classic cars in Oxford, NZ, who welcomed the couple after their epic journey with a song inspired by their travels, and woolly hats made by a local sheep-shearer.

The couple relied on donations, sponsorship and their imagination for lodgings across the world - staying at a Coptic Monastery in Egypt, an underground hotel in Tunisia, a yoga ashram in southern India and even an Australian brothel in the mining town of Kalgoorlie.

"Leigh, who ran the brothel, was one of the kindest, most generous people we met en route," said Jo, "and although I was a bit worried that our room had no lock on the door, it was fine."

The mammoth drive took the couple through France and Spain, then across North Africa through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt , and around southern India.

It's remarkable that a 50-year old car, with a few modifications, has undertaken a journey of this type with so few problems

They then went by ship to Singapore and on to Australia, from Perth up to Tom Price, and around the southwest, and across the Nullabor Plain to Adelaide, along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, over the Snowy Mountains to Eden and up the coast to Sydney.

Another ship took them from Sydney to Auckland and then Oxford, NZ.

Joanne was already well-accustomed to desert conditions, having served as an officer with the British Territorial Army in Iraq during the war in 2003.

And Florence was certainly the right car for the adventure. So simple that spare parts could be found at most places en route, with no air conditioning or power steering to go wrong.

'It's remarkable that a 50-year old car, with a few modifications, has undertaken a journey of this type with so few problems," says Tim.

Wanderlust

Another reason they chose the Morris Oxford is that the most popular car in India, the Hindustan Ambassador, was based on it, making India a good place to find spares and expertise.

But Florence suffered remarkably few mechanical problems, needing only a new battery in Adelaide and a replacement gearbox in Oxford, NZ, making the trusty Cowley-built sedan the ideal choice.

So what next? Tim and Jo want to write a book about their adventures and give Florence a well-earned rest. But then, they say, they will see where Florence's wanderlust leads them to next.

For more details of Florence's adventures, and how to make a donation, see www.oxford2oxford.co.uk.


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