Corsair v. "Windsor Castle"

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Mike Cotton

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– an honourable draw

“They flew half the way,” the deck steward told an elderly lady passenger on the Union Castle ship “Windsor Castle” at Southampton, looking down on the mud-plastered Ford Corsair 2000E standing at the quayside. Eleven and a half days previously the car and the ship had left Capetown on a “race” in the oldest tradition, but while the vessel peacefully plied the “sunshine route” the car, driven by Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers, and its support crew met adventures that would make good material for a James Bond saga. Eventually the car arrived 20 minutes before the ship and the contest was declared an honourable draw.

Getting the flying into perspective, the Corsair was air-lifted a total of 600 miles over water and across the Cameroons, that territory being impassable for diplomatic rather than physical reasons. It was driven about 9,000 miles.

Records of this nature have no official standing, so it made the endurance run the more pertinent to challenge the Union Castle’s claim that, next to flying, it is quickest to sail – all the more fitting to choose a Corsair. No one, at any rate, will dispute the shipping line’s claim that it is best to travel by sea, since Jackson and Chambers were the first to agree.

Even with all the planning, support and finance put into the effort, the achievement was spectacular. Three-quarters of the distance was desolate and half the mileage, through central and north Africa, so remote and undeveloped that if anything serious had gone wrong with the engine, transmission or suspension it would not only have put paid to the record run, but would have put the crew in serious danger. Added to the natural hazards were the risks of driving through the Congo where Ford’s special events manager, Mr. Edgy Fabris, Castrol’s competition manager, Mr. Jimmy Simpson, and three journalists were arrested at gunpoint and held captive for five days. Fabris, travelling in a Piper Aztec ‘plane, was co-ordinating the supplies of fuel and tyres at points along the route, so luckily his planning was sufficiently good that things didn’t go wrong in his absence.

As soon as they left Kenya, Jackson and Chambers had to turn the clock back fifty years. They were repeatedly held up by armed troops at road blocks, then allowed to go on since their papers had been prepared comprehensively. They had to pull up two nights running because of curfew, losing 16 hours, and at times the supply of petrol was so precarious that they were literally stopping at village stores, once even at a convent, to keep their 49-gallon tanks replenished. Petrol pumps in the Congo were smashed, they reported, and the jungle was closing in on the ghost towns.

At one point in the Congo the Corsair travelled 135 miles through forbidden rebel-held territory between Aketi and Lisala without the crew realising it. Maps were sketchy, to say the least, at 66 miles to the inch, and the journey nearly ended in a 50-yards-long waterhole. Even at the Congo/Central African Republic border the drivers were in trouble, being arrested for eight hours for trying to cross a river after the customs point had closed for the night.

Tyres were the biggest problem, for with the car overloaded by half a ton the pressures recommended were inadequate. Altogether the crew repaired 37 punctures, having to discard 24 covers, and in the heat the task sometimes exhausted them to the point where they had to rest before going on. Jackson had to walk 12 miles to buy new inner tubes in Kenya, when the supply ran out, while in the Congo they had to make an unenviable decision to travel the shortest and roughest route without any spare tyres at all, because they hadn’t enough petrol to travel a smoother route.

Union Castle sent permission for the crew to overfly the Cameroons and Niger, where political strife made it impossible to get the necessary visas, so 1,000 road miles were saved and the drivers rested up to cancel any unfair advantage. The next, perhaps the most dangerous, task lay ahead crossing the Sahara, which has been undertaken and written about so many times by adventurers that armchair critics might believe it to be an overestimated formality. The worst part was tackled at night, since there was time to be made up, and the journey nearly ended when the road fell away and the Corsair became airborne at 60 m.p.h. The heavy landing splayed the front wheels out, cracked the windscreen, jarred the drivers, and the weight of the roofrack punched a concave depression in the roof – the crew thought the engine mountings must have sheared, yet after quick repairs to the track rod the Corsair was on its way. The 1,350-mile Sahara crossing was completed in 43 hours of virtually non-stop driving, believed to be a record in itself.

A scheduled 16-hour stop in Algiers was cancelled to bring the Corsair back on time, and the journey was completed uneventfully. The overall average based on time elapsed was 35 m.p.h., and the running averaged 42 m.p.h. The dynamo was replaced twice, two fanbelts broke, a fuel tank was punctured, the steering bent, a battery split and the speedometer cable broke.

Compared with the send-off or the reception in places such as Rhodesia and Kenya, the welcome was sparse at six o’clock on Monday morning. Some may think of the run as pointless, but in terms of personal achievement for the drivers it was magnificent, and equally so for the car. – M. L. C.

Typical!

British motorists are getting tired of police persecution, and rightly. As Chambers and Jackson ran towards the successful conclusion of their epic race from the Cape against the liner “Windsor Castle” in the Ford Corsair V4, according to the Daily Express they were stopped, in England, by the police – for having dirty number plates!

But what can you expect, in a country in which, as reported by the Cheshire Observer, the managing director of a Chester company was disqualified for six months and his livelihood thereby jeopardised, for parking a mini-van 10 ft. beyond some pedestrian-crossing studs while parking in a crowded street while delivering some goods? This in spite of an explanation to the Chester Magistrates that this driver averaged over 20,000 miles a year, on business, that two other convictions against him were not for dangerous driving, and that it would be little short of disastrous if he were deprived of his right to drive.

There but for the grace of God (or St. Christopher, whose celestial department this is) … go the licences of all non-criminal but unlucky drivers. – W. B.

Over 250,000 drivers change to Castrol

In the six months following the introduction of New Formula Castrol well over a quarter of a million British motorists, owning approximately 313,000 cars, changed over to this oil, claim Castrol, who say this figure, a very conservative one, is based on an independent survey.

Biggest increase, reports the Company, is in those drivers using Castrol XL, the 20W/50 multi-grade designed to control oil consumption in cars where this is a problem. Three in every four of the converts to Castrol are using this grade, which is the biggest selling 20W/50 oil in Britain. These figures do not include new motorists buying oil for the first time during the period in question. Indications are that this trend was continuing at the same level during the early part of 1967.

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