The Rally is designed to be an adventure for the participants, and not a traditional rally race. The organisers are careful to point out that racing on highways is illegal, and that no recognition is given to the first finisher. There are other differences from mainstream rallies, particularly the fact that no support team is provided and no other arrangements are made such as for accommodation.
The inaugural rally took place in 2004, in which 6 teams started and 4 completed the course. The second rally, in 2005, was entered by 43 teams, and 18 automobiles arrived intact in Ulan Bator. The 2006 Rally began on July 22 with 167 cars setting off. 117 teams made it to Ulan Bator.
The Mongol Rally was run as a charity event from 2004 to 2006 with all of the proceeds from the entry fees used to organise the event with the remaining donated to charity. From 2007 the event is organised by the League of Adventurists International Ltd, a UK registered company.
The 2007 rally left Hyde Park, London on the 21 July and was limited to 200 teams. Registration for 2007 was far more popular than the organisers could have foreseen, with the first 100 places being allocated in 22 seconds. Due to this popularity, the final 50 places were awarded on the result of a ballot.
There are an array of suggested routes that teams may take, all beginning in Hyde Park, London. Participants then generally proceed, via Prague, to Moscow, Kiev, or Istanbul, though teams have travelled as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Many teams then reconverge upon Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
The final leg of the rally takes any remaining vehicles into Mongolia and on to finish in the capital Ulan Bator. None of the available routes are comfortable or safe: damage to cars, robberies and minor injuries are common. As of yet, nobody has been seriously injured taking part in the Mongol Rally although there have been several car accidents and participants have required hospital treatment. Depending on the route taken the total distance driven is around 8000-10,000 miles (12,800-16,000 km) and most teams complete the rally within 3 to 4 weeks.
Participating automobiles are allowed to have an engine displacement of no greater than one litre (1000cc). Motorbikes with an engine displacement of 125cc or less are also permitted. Exceptions to this rule "may be considered for vehicles of notable unusualness with high comedy value". The Rally's rules have traditionally stipulated that a participating car must "generally be considered to be crap." The choice of vehicles, therefore, is limited to those apparently unsuited to rallying. Seemingly unlikely cars such as the Citroën 2CV, and Fiat 126 are common. The 2cv is more suitable than most of the other vehicles for the event - providing it isn't rotten. It has an air cooled engine, height adjustable long travel suspension designed for poor roads and 15 inch wheels. Other unusual vehicles that have participated in the Mongol Rally have included a Bedford Rascal motorhome, an Austin Mini, Daihatsu HiJets, a Morris Minor Traveller, a Morris Minor saloon, a Ford Granada Hearse and a London Taxi. The best vehicles for the event are low-tech and can be easily fixed by the roadside.
Many of the cars do not make it to Mongolia; they are abandoned or sold when they break down, or left behind due to time pressure. Previous rally vehicles can now be found operating throughout Central Asia thanks to enterprising local mechanics who have repaired abandoned vehicles.
The organisers make arrangements for all of the cars to be imported into Mongolia without any import duties. From 2004-2006 they made use of a standard procedure used by non-profit making organisations, charities, and non-governmental organisations in Mongolia that provides exemption from the most significant taxes of 1000USD or 2000USD levied on older vehicles. Under Mongolian law the importing organisation in Mongolia is then prevented from selling the vehicle for 3 years.
In 2007, the organisers have set up an agreement with the Mongolian Government based on an existing law which allows exemption from the recently increased import duty of around $4000. The organisers are also collaborating with Mercy Corps to make the necessary arrangements. The cars will be sold and the money donated to a project as chosen by the drivers of the rally. All administration costs for both the sale of the vehicles and those incurred by Mercy Corps for overseeing the project will be borne by the organisers not the charity.
The organisers have faced some concerns, including within Mongolia, that the event has the effect of importing old and worn out cars from Europe into Mongolia. However, the high import taxes on older vehicles has created a car market in Mongolia where even an old, high mileage, Hyundai Excel, a common car in Mongolia, can be sold for US$2000. There are many organisations in Mongolia who are grateful for vehicles that are more affordable. Furthermore, the low cost of labour in Mongolia makes it economical to repair and run old cars that would be scrapped in Europe. Nevertheless, due to the concerns, the organisers of the Rally stipulated in the contract with teams in 2006 that they should not remove components from the car, such as the rear seats, to ensure that the vehicles can be fully utilised by the charities after the Rally.
In 2004 there was no entry fee, although the 6 teams had to raise a minimum of £500 each, to be paid directly to the rally charity Send a Cow.
In 2005, an entry fee of £50 per person was paid to the organisers to cover the expenses of the rally and the Mongol Rally website "About us" page stated:
"The Mongol Rally is an entirely non-profit making organisation. This means that any monies raised that are not used in organising the event either get put towards next years run or given to the charities. All those involved in organising the event do so as volunteers."Teams were also required to raise a minimum charity donation of £1000 per team split equally and paid directly to the chosen Charities Send a Cow and Save the Children.
In 2006, the entry fee payable to the organisers was increased to £227. The Mongol Rally website stated that "The Mongol Rally is now part of the mighty Institute of Adventure Research, a not-for-profit organisation striving to make the world less boring and raise huge amounts of cash for charity in the process." Teams were required to raise a minimum of £1000 per team: £250 payable to Send a Cow with the remaining £750 payable to either Mercy Corps, CAMDA, Wild Cru or the Christina Noble Children's Foundation. In 2006, the teams taking part in the Rally together raised in excess of £200,000 for the Rally charities.
More recently, the Mongol Rally has been organised by the League of Adventurists International Limited a UK registered private company limited by shares (number 05995303) incorporated on the 10 November 2006.
The company now also organises the Rickshaw Run, the Ruta del Sol, and the Adventurists Rally Africa. The company states that its goal is for teams taking part in their adventures to raise at least £1 million pounds a year for charities that support sustainable development projects around the world.
Jack Osbourne, son of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, took part in the 2007 rally with Amaryllis Knight, the daughter of the former editor of The Economist and News Corporation director Andrew Knight, in a 1991 750cc Fiat Panda; their journey was aired on a television show named "Jack Osbourne, Mongol Rally".
In 2001 Mr Tom and Mr Joolz found themselves staring in awe at their slightly dishevelled Fiat 126 wondering what to do with it. After not very long they came up with the only sensible plan - to drive to the most ridiculous place they could think of. Mongolia was chosen, being 10 000 miles away as the drunk crow flies and sporting a fine selection of the world's worst roads it seemed perfect. So with no changes of clothes, a packet of cheap cigars and a hunting knife, they set forth. Although they didn't quite reach Mongolia because of visa and border trouble they enjoyed themselves so much that they swore to return and try again. From this premise the great Mongol Rally was born.
The idea later formed part of Tom Morgan's BA degree in Sculpture and was displayed at the Winchester School of Art BA Degree Show in 2003. After graduation he enlisted the help of friend and fellow Students' Union officer, Stephen Edwards, a website was created and the first teams left in summer 2004.