Journey of Discovery: Day one

We've joined Land Rover for the final leg of its epic expedition from Birmingham to Beijing - find out how our first day went

If you haven’t heard about Land Rover’s Journey of Discovery, allow me to fill you in. Two months ago, Land Rover built its millionth Discovery, and to mark the occasion decided to send that car, along with a convoy of three identical Discoverys, on an 8,000-mile trip from Birmingham (where it was built) to Beijing, just in time for the Beijing Motor Show.

Forty-five days later, and a crew of Land Rover Experience experts and media from around the world have passed through 13 countries en route to China, tackling every type of terrain, from deep snow to deserts. Auto Express has been drafted in for the last leg of the trip - a two-day 700-mile drive from Zhongwei to Beijing - and tasked with helping the convoy to reach its final destination in one piece.

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The first thing to note is that these are standard-spec cars, with a few small exceptions. Because of the scarcity of diesel in some countries, they are powered by 5.0-litre V8 petrol engines (not available in the UK), roof racks have been fitted to carry jerry cans of fuel and spare tyres, and there’s extra under-body protection to guard the mechanicals on the worst terrain. So far a couple of punctures and stone chips are the only battle scars the cars have picked up. No pressure then.

The day began with a 6am breakfast and a 6.30 start from our hotel in Zhongwei, and soon we were crushing the miles on the newly-built and virtually empty motorway heading east. Worryingly, our sat-nav told us there was over 1,100km to cover, but it turned out to be a temporary blip. Apparently the Chinese are building new roads at such a rate that drivers are advised to update their sat-nav software every three months.

With a 200km stint under our belts, we pulled over for fuel – the Discos have been averaging just under 20mpg over the entire journey I’m told – not bad for a 385bhp V8 fully loaded with passengers, luggage and equipment. At the service station I turned down the local snacks – for some reason vacuum-packed chicken’s feet weren't what I had in mind.

Just as the scenery was becoming monotonous and the misspelled road signs telling you to ‘Buckly Up’ were coming thick and fast, we came across a traffic jam that made the M25 at rush hour seem tame. For 20km, coal trucks sitting nose to tail were stuck in the right-hand lane behind an accident up ahead. Luckily for us it was illegal for them to use the left lane when there’s a jam, so we passed serenely by. Our guide told us that a third of all China’s coal travels along this road, the Tsing Tao expressway, 24 hours a day. The sheer volume of trucks served as a stark reminder of what’s fueling China’s booming economy.

After lunch in an ancient town called Pingyao, we finally arrived in the city of Taiuan – home to 4.1 million people and seemingly the same number of cars. By luck more than judgement, we managed to weave our way though and get to the hotel unscathed. Tomorrow it’s the final push – a six hour drive into Beijing where, all being well, the celebrations can begin.

Read Journey of Discovery: Day 2 here.

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