The Bosporus to Bagdad. The trial run.

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The Bosporus to Bagdad. The trial run.

Bob wilkinson

 THE Bosporus to Bagdad.

 The Trial Run.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       



I have always had an interest in old cars, and during my travels have come across, some rare and interesting vehicles.

Once when travelling in NSW I found, in a back yard under a Mulberry tree  an Australian Six motor car.

This vehicle had been cut down many years before by the store owner, into a more workable ute, It's now in a Museum.  (That story can be found at, (Australian six )

So when I was in Bagdad, and I was asked about having any interest in old cars, I said, Yes I do .............          


I was in Bagdad for our few nights stay, on my way with the Alexander Overland tour group we had made the run to The Hanging Gardens of Babylon the day before, and we would soon be heading towards Iran and then onwards through the other countries to India.


The hotel manager in Bagdad, was a nice fellow, and Western type tourists like us were not often seen by the bus load.

So when we first went to stay at his hotel which overlooked the Euphrates river, he was very happy to see us, and each time we called to stay, he greeted us and treated us very, very well.


On this particular occasion he asked me about my interest in cars, for there were  many older models in Iraq, and plenty driving around Bagdad. 

That is when he told me about THE very old car and asked would I be interested, and would I like to see it.


He said, it was important that I should understand that the Politicians and Secret Police in Bagdad were very dangerous, and anything of value was and could be lost to the providers of this so called law, and if and when they ever found anything of value, it would be confiscated, and go towards their greater need.....and those found hiding  such things from them, well, one shouldn't begin to think about that outcome.


That was why he said, that he and his friends were most interested in myself, as they hoped and wondered, if I could maybe help them out, by devising a plan and removing an old vehicle from Iraq for them that he said belonged to he and some friends.


They knew it was a valuable and a collectable thing, but worthless as it was now, and they lived with the constant worry that the Secret Police might discover the vehicle one day, just by chance as they say.

It was well known that they followed most everybody at sometime or other, and informers were a constant worry, for you never knew who they were.


I said to him that I couldn't see how I could help them, as we needed a Carnet de Passage for our own vehicle, and that we organised in London via the Royal Automobile Club and that gave a safe passage for our vehicle to travel from country to country under a deposit system placed in the UK.

However I said, I would certainly like to see the car if it was alright to do so.


The arrangements were made and when the time came it was night time and we drove about all over the place, two cars one sort of following the other to ensure we weren't being followed around the streets of Bagdad.


We eventually arrived in some part of Bagdad, I had no idea where we were, and finally we entered a yard with a high tin fence, with a huge warehouse, full from top to bottom, full of rubbish like the tip, everything seemed to be in there.


It took some little time but they knew what they were doing, and soon we had a passage through the heaps of stuff, until we came to the back rear corner, and under rags, boxes, and roofing iron was eventually a tarpaulin, there it was sitting there, one of the sweetest old car of them all.


It was long and black and chrome, and covered in muck, like it hadn't seen the light of day for many, many years, which was very probable.

It was one beautifully old car, and when I looked closer I could see it was a rare Italian made, Isotta Fraschini. 


How it got there I never ever found out, it is such a remarkable thing, the mystery of such a thing as this, still astounds me, even today.

Maybe a Sheik from somewhere or even Laurence himself may have been responsible, who would know, but there it was.


Well I saw it and marvelled at it, and wondered how it got there.

We eventually left the sheds and made our way back to the hotel.     

I went to bed, and in the morning the Manager asked me what were my thoughts, and what did I think about the old car.


We talked about it for some time and eventually I said, our group are all leaving in the morning for Iran and maybe when I came back next time IT, Might be Gone, then I wouldn't have to think about it any more.

He was most eager for some positive feed back about it's removal, but what could I say, I told him it was almost impossible, the risk involved etc, and he shouldn't begin to start thinking that I could help.


 I drove through all those countries, out to India, and I was on my return journey with the new group, and while motoring along I often thought of how much in dollar terms would the Old car be worth to a serious collector, or the  price the car might bring at the auctions in Europe or London, and I new that a car such as this one, was Rare and Definitely worth a Fortune.


There I was in Esfahan, sitting and just looking about in Jahan Square, when a old delivery van pulled up and the driver got out, and disappeared into a building, soon out he came with another man, they went to the rear of the van and the driver took a rag from his pocket and wiped the rear door handle to wipe away the dirt and dust, and then he opened the rear doors.


Then it came to me in a flash, sure I thought, that's it, that could work, tourism, that might be the way, and I thought back on all the trips I had done through all those countries, and all the border crossings I had been through.


 The one thing that came to me was that we had never ever had the coach inspected, sometimes a border guard might climb on the stair well, but I was in the habit of shooing anyone off, as we always had stuff lying about, and campers are mostly a little untidy.


So there it was, the thought that motivated some careful planning and  some I suppose daring, to enable the rescue and the transfer from one place to another with hopefully minimal attention from any customs or border guards, or anyone else for that matter.


All the way from Jahan square and out of Iran and into Iraq, the idea turned over in the mind, I became more and more interested, and excited, in the collectable and valuable old Italian motor car, The Isotta Fraschini, and the mould was set, only thought now was not if, but, How to do IT.


On arrival back into Bagdad, I went with them once again to see the car, this time I had a really good look and I measured it every which way, and took photos from all angles, there wasn't much light but I knew something was going to be better than nothing.


It was some 18 feet long, almost 6 foot wide, and the height was about 6 foot also. The weight was just a guess but at least a ton or more, maybe about twenty five something passengers, in weight, but would it would fit, I wondered.     


The idea of, How To Do IT, just came to me, thanks to Isfahan, it just seemed to float into my brain, and right away I was hooked.

This would  be a great and somewhat exciting prospect, I knew that was why we did some of those unusual things from time to time.


So on arrival back into England at the end of the tour, I made several calls regarding Collectable Cars for Auctions in Switzerland and enquired of others who took a active part in the restoring and collecting of old cars.


It was all very interesting, and with one contact, we had several conversations and he brought to my notice the subject of Barn finds as they called it, where someone found in a shed something mislaid, forgotten, old and rare.


I then had several phone conversation with the well known coach company in Holland, and went over to see them, it was all too simple really, they arranged a 3 year old coach/bus with under floor engine, for purchase, and they followed the instructions given, all it took was some money, and I had some of that from another previous interesting journey that I had done from another country.


The thing I didn't have much of, was time, how to get a holiday away from the work I was involved in.

However, eventually time off was finally organised, and I went to Holland to inspect and to finally collect the coach.


The coach was brightly painted as a camping tour company and stood out like a beacon it was so brightly painted, good, very good I thought, just right.


The floor was re enforced somewhat, and the springs were re done and it was raised so it was impossible to look through the windows when standing outside on the road.


The very rear of the coach was converted to double doors which opened and closed for easy loading, with no door handle outside, only inside.

Makes for easy loading of the camping and cooking gear, well that's what they were told.

I bought four large trestles and 2 large tarpaulins, and along with the other travelling gear, loaded all in the coach, and drove non stop to Istanbul, Turkey. 


On arrival into Istanbul, I asked about at the pudding shop, who might want a ride to Bagdad and back.

I said it was just a Trial run to see how it all went, before we started a regular run to and from, The Bosporus to Bagdad. 


I had some fourteen seats available for this journey, and for those who were game, that had passports and had or could get the visas required, they were welcome to come along, on a free trail run.

A free ride, but they must pay their own expenses, food accommodations etc.           

I explained there was no sightseeing as such, just overnighting on the way.


I told them, we would probably be away some sixteen days or so, give or take a day or two, depending, depending on what, I didn't dare say.


I loaded the all fourteen passengers, all with their requirements to travel, and away we went, five long days later we had covered the two Thousand two hundred odd Klms and were parked in the rear yard of the Hotel in Bagdad.


The border controls were no problems and on each occasion they were delighted to see me again, and would now be able to drink Nescafe coffee until it ran out, whilst smoking the popular Rothmans.


The passengers were a great lot, and they played along with everything we did, and we had a very successful arrival into Bagdad.


I told them we would be here for at least two days and would most likely depart on the third night.

The coach I parked in the rear yard of the hotel, and the passengers took everything belonging to them from the coach with them and went into the hotel. 


The viewing, and loading arrangements for the old car were made, and at dusk on the third evening I drove with some caution, slowly following the managers car loaded with his friends to the big sheds.


The vehicle had been moved to the front of the shed and even though it was dark we soon managed to have the ramps in place and the car loaded, the swing doors at the rear of the coach worked a real treat.


It was only when we got the car about half way in, did we have a minor problem and this was soon rectified by fitting the jack under the rear of the ramps and then jacking it up, so that it was more level to enable us to push the car right inside the coach.


We simply pushed it in, chocked the wheels and pulled the tarp over it, and I drove the coach back to the rear yard of the hotel.

On arrival into the rear yard of the hotel, I asked the Hotel man if he could prepare some food to take with us., and please tell everyone we are leaving in two hours.


The motor car I jacked up and took the wheels off it, which wasn't easy but I got it done, which lowered the car a lot, it sat on the rubbers I had brought along,  I chocked the vehicle carefully and then covered it all over with the tarps.


Next to the car on both sides, I fitted the four trestles and made them fast.

It was after all supposed to be a kitchen area, and though it wouldn't pass any inspections, I just hoped my luck held, then all would be fine, if not well ??. !!


When the passengers came on board for our departure, they all looked and asked what is this, I told them the truth, I said, I am taking a car to Switzerland to be discovered and sold, there was much laughter and chatter about it, but that was all.


At ten pm Iraq time we drove out of Bagdad, the vehicle rode really well and we just motored on until we reached the borders.

Just about everyone seemed to asleep most of the way, but I was feeling wide awake and a little anxious, how they all slept with the up and down of the wavy road I never know, but they did.


When the daylight finally came we were not to far from the border.

So there was the border, better get it over with I said to myself, however before we went, I inspected the outside rear of the coach and was very happy, we were covered in a thick layer of dust and it was almost impossible to see the door joins and having no door handle helped, it looked just like all the other coaches they would have seen.


We joined the other vehicles waiting to cross into Syria, and soon

we said farewell to Iraq, and drove through into Syria without a hitch.


After Abu Kamal we followed the Euphrates river until early afternoon and then drove through Aleppo and onto the Syrian border exit.

Just one more to go and we were into Turkey.


Things went well and soon we were on our way into Turkey and onto  the South Coast and Silifke and we drove along and into the BP Mo Camp.

I was very tired and was looking forward to getting to the Mo Camp, it was a  little bit like coming home really, it was a great camp, with very nice people too.


There we would stay a couple of days at the camp, for me to sleep a little and the others to swim in the blue ocean waters of the Mediterranean.


I asked the passengers if they wished to return to Istanbul or would they like to go to Greece.

Because I said, I was going via Athens and on to Igoumenitsa, and to then to take the Ferry to Brindisi, in Italy.


They all decided to stay on board, and I was happy to avoided Istanbul, and went to Canakkale and over on the ferry to Eceabat and up past Gallipoli.


Along the way through Greece most of the group departed with only the last two of them coming to Italy with me, fortunately they had all enjoyed the trip, and there were some fond farewells.


I finally met The (buying) Man, in a Swiss village, we then made all the arrangements regarding the payments for the gents in Bagdad via a Swiss Bank accounts.

Naturally there was just a little in the way of risk management and travel expenses.


We put the wheels back on the old car, and that night we unloaded her onto a ramp, and with a sigh I wished her well, as she disappeared into the darkness.


Three weeks and six days from start to finish, I drove into Holland, I left the Coach in the yard of the Dutch coach company for them to resell, and I returned to London, the Zambesi Club, The Duke of Richmond, and the Pot Cafe and the every day excitement, of work in wonderful Hogarth Place, Earls Court.


I was asked if I was rested after my holiday away, and I said yep, I sure was  and I felt great and very, very happy to be back, and that was surely true.


It's common knowledge now that a famous car was found in a shed in Switzerland and eventually went to auction and sold for near One Million Pounds.


The reports in the news papers and other media, said it was a Barn Find, and marvelled at just how lucky some people can be.


That's just what I thought too, just how lucky, lucky, lucky, can one person be, and I promised myself never again, I don't know who said, Third Time Lucky but I had no intention of ever exploring that possibility.


Always with fondest memories, and best regards to those fab, fourteen, who I suppose are still somewhere out there, only you would recognize this particular trip, and know who you are, I often wondered, how your photos of that trip turned out, and perhaps, if any of you ever read this, you might let me know, one day.!!?.





                                       Robert (Bob Wilko) Wilkinson                                                                                       Sundowners London

                                              1964 - November 1977 


                                                 The Limestone coast.

                                                          April 2018.

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Re: The Bosporus to Bagdad. The trial run.

I might say that I really don't know what to think about your stories. True, the stories are well written but doubt the authenticity of them. They make for good reading and can you claim these events happened to you? If they did happen to you, WOW! if not perhaps you could add a subscript to them.