Sowerby seeks fifth record before retiring

When my college buddy Ken Langley and I decided to quit our jobs and raise $250,000 to set a new around-the-world driving record, we realized it was risky business. Paychecks, job security and cushy offices would be a memory. And there were no guarantees our venture would ever get to the start line, let alone propel us around the world in record time.

Before approaching an organization for sponsorship, we needed a plan, a sales package and a way to convince the corporate world that our idea was a savvy way to meet their business goals. Once they bought into the idea, we still had to convince them that we were the guys to do it.

We figured sponsors would rather deal with another corporate identity than a couple of individuals, so our first step was to incorporate Odyssey International Limited. We sold shares to 49 investors, a gaggle of friends and relatives. The $25,000 seed money would be used to finance our research, to develop a sales package and pay for travel expenses to meet with potential sponsors. It would also be used to commission an artist who would develop a key ingredient of Odyssey's image: our logo.

Odyssey International Limited was incorporated Feb. 15, 1979, amid a gathering of shareholders and business associates. It was a celebratory affair. We drank cocktails, feasted on beef Wellington and charmed our guests. After dinner, we sipped fine cognac while signing incorporation papers in a haze of cigar smoke and dreams of grandeur.

Of course we needed a logo. My first meeting with the graphic artist happened the next day at 9:30 a.m. Feeling a tad seedy from incorporation night festivities, I advised our receptionist I would be taking a nap and to make sure she roused me before letting the visiting artist into my office.

I laid down on the purple shag carpet behind my desk, covered up in my sports jacket and drifted off. Of course, our receptionist was out for coffee when the artist arrived, so he nosed his way into my chambers.

"Ahh, errr, I was just getting a little rest," I mumbled, rubbing my bloodshot eyes. My necktie was choking. My hair was wedged into the shape of an anvil.

I was thinking about the throbbing in my temples as he unveiled his logo rendition with the word "Odyssey" above "International Limited" in smaller font. The "O" in Odyssey had been filled in with a map of the world representing our challenge to conquer the planet.

Good concept, I thought. But the more I looked at it, the more I saw a globe in front of "dyssey." Or was it more how I felt at the time ... "dizzy International Limited."

Ken and I presented the artwork to our board of directors who all agreed that "Dizzy International" was not the way to go. The next day, I met with a young artist who had a studio just one floor up from our office. She assured me our logo problem could be solved in a few days for $50.

Meanwhile, Ken and I lined up a series of sponsor meetings in Toronto, Canada, about 1,000 miles away from our office on the East Coast, and bought a 1962 Ford Thunderbird for $1,500 to make the trip. It was in fabulous shape. We planned on selling it in Toronto for $3,000 using the profit to pay for the trip, a prudent business maneuver of which our shareholders and directors would obviously be proud.

On the eve of our departure, I met with the artist. Since time was tight and I still had to road-test the T-Bird for the sponsorship trek, I asked if she wanted to talk about the logo while I checked out the car's road manners on a 60-mile driving loop.

She showed me her concept, simply an arrow made up of five smaller blue arrows. She was clearly pleased with her work and I also liked it.

"When we break the around-the-world record, we'll make one of the arrows gold," I suggested, feeling somewhat concerned that the T-Bird was constantly drifting to the right.

By the time we headed back from the test drive, logo talk had evolved into a career concept. Odyssey would go on to set more world records, making another arrow gold after each accomplishment. When there were five gold arrows, I would retire.

Back in town, the T-Bird's drift to the right had been eclipsed by dreams of gold-arrow evolution. Then, about a block from our office, at precisely the time I asked her to apply the artwork to our much-awaited letterhead, the right front tire exploded. The brake had been dragging, causing the pull to the right, overheating the brake drum, which made the tire pop. The force of the blowout ruptured the brake line which spewed fluid on the overheated assembly.

A fire broke out and within minutes the front end of the T-Bird was toast. So, I sold it to the wrecking company for $500, thwarting plans for a profitable sales trip.

But I've used the logo ever since. The one on the Volvo we ended up racing around the world in 1980 has one gold arrow, our Africa-Arctic Suburban has two and the GMC Sierra that was driven from the bottom to the top of the Americas has three. In a museum in England, the Vauxhall Frontera with which I set another around-the-world record has four gold arrows in its logo. And so does the latest version of our business card and letterhead.

But there is still one more gold to go. And every now and then, I scratch my graying head and wonder when or where the fifth will come from.

Garry Sowerby, author of "Sowerby's Road: Adventures of a Driven Mind," is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.