Belated Book Reviews

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I was aware that Frank Gray completed a satisfactory crossing of Africa with two 7-h.p. Jowetts in 1926 but only recently, through the thoughtfulness of a reader, had I seen the nicely-produced little book the Jowett Company published to celebrate the feat. Called “Across Africa By Car in 60 Days”, it is signed “R. Robertson, Cairo”. He summarises Mr. Gray’s account of his journey as published at the time in the Daily Sketch, adding some fresh details. It seems that Gray accused British manufacturers of not making the right kind of cars for Overseas use. He did this to draw attention to his proposed venture, then refused two offers of free cars for the expedition. He bought his Jowetts, which he did not see until they were unshipped at Lagos. He had, however, met William Jowett and Mr. Mitchell, the General Manager of Jowett’s. He was greeted by a band of Jowett owners when he embarked in the “Elmina” at Liverpool. His fellow adventurer was John Sawyer, and they took natives with them.

The expedition was unique on account of the low horse-power of the cars and the fact that they were entirely self-contained, even petrol supplies being carried with them-188 gallons for the 1,500-mile haul from Maidugati freeing a shackled slave woman and giving her a lift in one of the cars. The first day they covered 118 miles, and on the second day, 180 miles, the greatest daily mileage. On some occasions they averaged only 2 m.p.h. Troubles were few—two minor fires, clutch slip, a damaged universal joint and a bent front axle. The gallant Jowetts, which had two-seater bodies converted into platform trucks where the dickeys would have been, were called “Wait” and “See”. They gave up to 45 m.p.g. in spite of the heavy loads and even on the stretch from Maidugati to Khartoum, hauling the trailers for over 2,000 miles, hundreds of them in bottom and second gear, they gave well over 30 m.p.g. The radiators used only a quart of water between them. The total distance was nearly 3,800 miles (done in 60 days, or 49 days’ running time, an average of 65 miles per day) or about the mileage Motor Sport accomplished in four days in our BMW thrash round Europe in 1972, but over very different terrain. Of course, in Gray’s time Britain had an Empire, so the travellers were often generously entertained. Gray, who came home by P & O, said: “It was a romance to cross Africa; the Jowett made it a commercial proposition.” Amusingly, as he drove into the Grand Hotel yard at Khartoum one Jowett, which had previously been difficult to start, died and refused “even to move five yards”. I bet it was that condenser inside the ignition coil, that refused to function when hot! – W.B.

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