The milestone of his 50th birthday was approaching, so Macko Laqueur figured he'd circle the globe with the wind in his hair.

But not in a balloon, like several adventurers have recently failed to do, but in a vintage Bugatti touring car.After two years of planning, the birthday dream has turned into a 30,000-mile quest that is taking Laqueur and his business partner from the sun-scorched country roads of South America to remote trails nestled high in the Himalayas.

Laqueur and Bob Meijer are doing it in style in two Bugatti T46 Petit Royale convertibles from the 1930s.

The Bugattis were aimed at the Rolls-Royce market when they were built. But Laqueur and Meijer don't like to keep their treasures for show.

"We collect antique cars to drive them - and to drive them to places where we have never been before," said Laqueur, who with Meijer owns 20 classic cars.

Back home for a break after the second leg of their two-year, seven-stage drive through 24 countries, Laqueur giddily recounted the highlights of his expedition through South America.

"Everything there was new for us. . . . You try to soak up all the new impressions on these trips and remind yourself how privileged you are that you can do this," said the now 52-year-old businessman.

"These cars are incredibly forgiving and they are ideal for this trip," he said. "They are very comfortable, big, sturdy and simple. They were made for long distances, yet they handle like sports cars."

When the pair is not exploring the world in their hefty eight-cylinder Bugattis, they run their own company in Amsterdam called Venture Capital Investors.

The odyssey began last July in Molsheim, France, where the Italian-born Ettore Bugatti created his motoring legends.

From there, the pair traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, where the cars were loaded on a ship and carried to Ushuaia, Argentina. The second leg took the men through Argentina and Chilean Patagonia and then up the Lake District of Chile.

For the next stage, which they plan to begin Tuesday, the pair will pick up the trail in Santiago, Chile, and head up to Bolivia and Peru.

After South America, the partners will pick up the trip in Japan and later wind through China, Tibet, Nepal and India.

After a winter break, the trek heads across Pakistan, back to China, then through a chain of former Soviet republics to Helsinki, Finland.

The pair plan to finish off their journey by traveling to Budapest, Hungary, where they will meet other Bugatti enthusiasts for a final drive back to Molsheim.

Laqueur said the trip is costing them "a few hundred thousand" dollars.