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Markham’s Garage Embark on Charity Rally

09 Nov 2023


Simon Powney of Markham’s Garage in Herefordshire raised money for We Are Farming Minds in the legendary Monte Carlo or Bust banger rally, Champagne Charlie, with a helping hand from NAPA. We joined him to reflect on the event.

Markham's Garage staff with NAPA carEstablished in 1925, Markham’s Garage is a 10-bay workshop nestled in the quiet village of Kingsland, located just outside the rural town of Leominster. While the garage offers what you would expect — services, repairs, MOTs — the small village life also brings with it some unconventional requests. It’s not unusual to find Markham’s staff fixing lawn mowers, moving furniture, herding cattle out of roads, and more.

Two of the directors, Simon Powney and Tavey Cameron-Swan, also work for the Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service. They follow in the footsteps of Bryan Markham, who was once Watch Commander at the station while running the garage founded by his father, Maurice.

“We have a small fire station. We probably go to about 120 calls a year,” Simon explains. “When the alerters go off, we drop work [at the garage] and go deal with whatever emergency arises.” Simon Powney has worked at Markham’s for 32 years, starting as a teenager alongside his dad, and has put in over 29 years with the fire service.

NAPA car with Markham's Beetle

Markham’s and Motorcare: Hereford’s Finest

Markham’s Garage is a long-standing customer of Motorcare Motor Factors in Hereford and a proud supporter of NAPA, both in parts and in motorsport.

“They look after us very well,” Simon says of Motorcare. “They were particularly good in helping me with this project. When I said I was going to do this crazy thing of driving across the French countryside on this rally, Jay Flanagan [Motorcare Branch Manager] said ‘I’m sure we can get involved with that as well,’  which was fantastic.”

We reached out to James Flanagan to ask about Motorcare’s experience, and he couldn’t praise Markham’s Garage enough. Colleagues Steve Jones [Business Development Manager] and Kai Daly [Assistant Manager] supported the sentiment, citing fantastic relationships with the team.

“We will always strive to do our utmost for all our customers here at Motorcare Hereford. Markham’s Garage have been an absolute pleasure to work with,” Flanagan says. “Supporting this event — especially when they’d be raising money for such a great cause — seemed like a great opportunity for us to show our appreciation to a very loyal customer, and to give something back.”

Champagne Charlie

Simon Powney's Champagne Charlie team holding chequered flagMonte Carlo or Bust is a series of banger rallies that challenge participants to “drive some of Europe’s most spectacular roads in an unspectacular car.” With no set routes or time limits, it’s not a race to the finish line. The focus is on unique challenges, adventure, camaraderie, and fun. Many participants take the opportunity to fundraise for charity.

Founded in 2013, Champagne Charlie is the original Monte Carlo rally. Participating drivers are tasked with finding and fixing up a “banger” car for as little money as possible. All cars are welcome, but older, smaller, and cheaper cars can gain bonus points.

Simon decided with friends — Will Mears, Steve Duggan, and Iain Berrill — to participate in the Champagne Charlie rally before the pandemic, only for the event to be delayed three years.

“I’m one of those people: if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it,” he explains. “So we got the entry, we waited until it was running again, and I bought a VW Beetle convertible.”

A NAPA Makeover

While not in terrible shape, the neglected Beetle required a fair bit of work to be road-worthy. Participants typically scrap their cars at the end of the rally and fly back home. Simon, however, was determined to get the car ready for a round trip.

Motorcare stepped up to ensure Markham’s Garage had everything it needed for the job. This included a full NAPA service and a complete set of NAPA Brakes.

“Knowing Simon is such a huge fan of everything NAPA, it was clear to me where we needed to start,” says Flanagan. “I immediately reached out to NAPA, and the response we received was fantastic!”

Simon recounted meeting another mechanic who expressed some doubts about NAPA parts, only to experience brake failure going down Great St. Bernard’s Pass later that day. “I quite smugly said, ‘we didn’t have that problem!’”

Three Days, Five Countries

The Champagne Charlie rally is a 3-day petrolhead adventure through scenic vineyards and mountains. From St. Quentin, France, participants first make their way to the historical and F1-famous Reims-Gueux racing circuit in the Champagne region. They can drive through the stands and stop for photographs before heading onwards to Dijon, France.

Day two takes the drivers into Switzerland, around Lake Geneva and over the Great St. Bernard’s Pass, which you may recognise from The Italian Job or Top Gear, among others. “[The pass] is absolutely incredible,” Simon recalls. “It’s nice to be able to say we’ve been there and we’ve driven through it.”

The day ends in Turin, Italy, home of the Fiat and the Italian National Automobile Museum. On day three, participants dip back across the French border and into Monaco for the grand finale: a lap around the iconic Formula One circuit in Monte Carlo. Drivers then meet up in Nice, France for one last celebration.

Given the nature of a banger rally, breakdowns aren’t uncommon, but the VW Beetle held up tremendously the entire trip.

“Everything seemed to go without a hitch,” Simon says. “Absolutely amazing experience. It was such a lot of fun.”

NAPA Beetle at Le Mans 24 hour circuitWhilst most Champagne Charlie rally entrants scrap their car and fly home, Simon and his teammate Steve drove a further 1,200 miles home, with a detour to Le Mans along the way to make the most of the experience.

An Important Cause

The Beetle was adorned with prominent NAPA stickers on the sides, bonnet, and boot, along with other sponsors. NAPA also got involved in the charity fundraising. “NAPA was very generous,” Simon says. “They gave us lots of NAPA merchandise, so we did a prize draw.”

A variety of NAPA goodies were up for grabs, including a hoodie, cap, football, mug, and four tickets to the Donington BTCC weekend in August. At Donington, NAPA Racing UK’s Ash Sutton broke records for the most wins in a season.

NAPA cap inside car on the Great St. Bernard's Pass“NAPA couldn’t do enough to support,” says Motorcare’s James Flanagan. “Especially once they heard about Markham’s Garage, the charity, Simon himself, and the crazy adventure he and the team were about to embark on.”

“I was amazed that NAPA got involved,” Simon recalls. “We were very appreciative of the assistance they gave us, and it was nice to have the backing of a big company.”

Markham’s Garage raised an impressive £1,802 for We Are Farming Minds, a Herefordshire-based charity that provides essential mental health support to the local farming community. With many farming family, friends, and customers, it’s a cause close to the hearts of all Markham’s Garage staff. In total, the rally raised £30,000 for various charities.

The NAPA Beetle

With the VW Beetle now home from its European adventure, its exterior has been stripped back to display only NAPA for its second life as a courtesy car for Markham’s Garage customers.

“It’s a Herbie-looking Beetle with NAPA all over it,” Simon says. “Everybody wants to drive it. It’s so popular and it’s been spotted all over the place. It gets around!”

When asked if more rallies were in his future, Simon was enthusiastic. “There is talk of us doing it again in a couple of years. There’s a [Monte Carlo or Bust] rally that goes to Barcelona — we fancy doing that.”

Community is at the heart of everything Markham’s Garage does, and that’s something NAPA values highly. The NAPA Network are lucky to have people like Simon Powney on board and we look forward to the bright future of the Markham’s legacy

Do you sell or fit NAPA parts? Do you have an interesting story to share with a NAPA twist? Speak to your local representative or get in touch at [email protected] for a chance to be featured in NAPA Network!

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