THE EAST AFRICAN SAFARI
THE East African Safari comes round every year and with monotous regularity reduces a field of about a hundred cars down to what can only be described as a handful. The car that emerges on top is not always from the same manufacturer, for in the past Mercedes, Volkswagen, Peugeot, Ford and now Volvo have supplied the winner but the high average speeds over the local roads have always required a local driver. This year was no exception with the first seven cars home having at least one local driver in them while no one could be more local than the two Singh brothers who won the event outright.
However, before getting too involved in a discussion as to whether it is essential to know the bush roads and their pitfalls as a result of long experience, let us consider the two most interesting sides to the Safari—the organisation and the cars. As it has no pretensions to being a sophisticated European event, when the organisers say that only cars complying with Group 1 of Appendix J are eligible to compete, they scrutineer with absolute ruthlessness so that to start with you can take it for granted that the cars are as near standard as Group 1 allows them to be. Naturally some manufacturers have quite a lot of ” extras ” homologated as standard options so that if you compared one of the cars entered on the rally with your own runabout you might find differences in the number or size of carburetters, the width of the wheel rims and the self-locking properties of the differential. What their scrutineering does do is ensure that everyone abides by the same set of rules so that the private entrant is not at a fantastic disadvantage to the works entries. Some things are allowed by the East African organisers that you would not be allowed to do in either Groups I or II in Europe such as removing the rear seat to take spare wheels and water but this is a peculiarly African requirement dictated by the conditions that exist over there. Two other things are required by the organisers that you do not always find over here: that no lamp can be mounted above the bottom of the windscreen and that the windscreen must be of laminated glass and not just zone toughened. This last requirement gave the Nissan entries from Japan a bit of a headache as they had not got any marking on their screens to say that they were in fact laminated so that one of the drivers had to take a hammer to the windscreen of a service car to prove his point. Expensive but effective.
Once the scrutineering is finished, nearly all the major engine, transmission and suspension parts are marked and sealed as they have been in past years but in 1965 the organisers had thought of a new innovation. At undisclosed points around the route— one was at a ferry crossing where the cars were immobile anyway— scrutineers popped up out of the bush to check the cars for replaced parts and any car found to have replaced a part was heavily penalised accordingly. This obviated any possible help that service cars could have been to the entries and prevented what happened last year when cars were getting almost to the finish on replaced parts and then swapping them back for the old broken parts so that they could limp in and avoid marks lost at scrutineering. This system of spot checks seems to be the answer to the amount of service that is handed out on rallies like the R.A.C. and the Swedish where easy transport sections link the hard going of the special stages. In East Africa, they are very fortunate in being able to keep the road average so high—often above 60 m.p.h.— that any time taken out on the road section for service is bound to be lost in minutes at the succeeding control.
Much has been made of the fact that not only were the Singh brothers, Joginder and Jaswant, driving a privately entered car but also that it was still being bought by them on hire purchase as a second-hand car and that it had covered 42,000 miles before this rally even started. To begin at the beginning; this car was one of the fully prepared PV 544s that was brought out by the Volvo factory in their attempt to win the event last year. The only reason that they decided to compete last year, incidentally, was that Tom Trana had won a free entry in the Safari by virtue of winning the R.A.C. Rally and they thought that while they were sending one works car out to East Africa, they might just as well send a team of three. Why they failed to win is not important except in that Tom Trana crashed his car on a very muddy section and, when the Volvo team returned to Sweden, it was left in Africa. The Singh brothers decided that they would like to buy it so they arranged hire purchase terms based on a figure of £350 (East African currency) and then rebuilt the damaged front end of the car themselves. Since then, they have competed in many of the East African rallies with a fair amount of success and, in all, they have covered 42,000 miles in the car which doubtless is endowed with a nice Group 1 engine, heavy duty suspension and, probably most important of all for this event, the limited slip differential that Volvo use.
At the end of the Safari, it was thought that no team had finished intact for though enough Mercedes and Citroens crossed the finish line, no three of them were in a team together. Some quick calculation in the closing hours showed that Peugeot could win, so that frantic telephone calls went down the line to chivvy along the last team member and the team prize was theirs. Peugeots’ record in the Safari is an enviable one and their second place overall plus four other finishers proves not only the speed but the strength and reliability of the French cars. Their rivals— if that is the correct term—in the Citroen team also did well to get four cars home at the finish and had the distinction of winning the ladies’ prize with Mmes Pointet and Houillon. Citroen were the only team to finish with completely non-African crews for although Lucien Bianchi had a local man with him, Guy Verrier/Patrick Vanson, Robert Neyret/Jacques Terramorsi and the two girls had only the experience of their own reconnaissance to rely upon. This reflects very well upon the Citroen DS19’s as they probably had to extract themselves from more trouble because of a lack of bush experience and were thus subjected to greater punishment.
Those who competed in the rally certainly seemed to be unanimous in that this was the hardest Safari that they had ever done, for the organisers had added on several new and tricky sections. The biggest problem on the Safari is the soft mud roads where choice of a bad line or too much exuberance on the throttle can lead to the car becoming bogged down. Even Eugen Bohringer with all his varied experience got bogged down on the first few sections, while Anne Hall and Lucille Cardwell in another works Mercedes 300SE turned over in thick mud and had to retire with badly damaged suspension.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the local drivers came from Pat Moss and Liz Nystrom in the works Saab which was reported to be leading the rally at the halfway position. Pat’s experiences on this rally would probably make a very full book but to give some idea of the punishment that was being handed out to the cars, her rear axle became completely detached from the body of the car and had to be wired on—almost sewn on !—by the Saab mechanics so that she could continue. An excursion into a rock face while on a very muddy section had removed most of her lights and then the piece of wire that was holding on the rear axle had to be taken round the steering column to stop that coming out. Despite all this, the Saab was still lying second when a lorry hit it and smashed the front suspension on one side. Repairs to this item took so long that Pat ran out of time at a subsequent control hut she did get the car to the finish. Strongly favoured at the start was the other Saab crew of Erik Carlsson and Pat’s brother, Stirling, but they were unlucky enough to have the trip-meter fitted to the car break in the middle of a section and Stirling, who was relying on the distances given in their notes and the road book, failed to take the correct turning and they went astray. This in itself would not have been disastrous to their chances though it would have lost them many marks but the car started to give trouble with the carburetters and, by virtue of being off route, they naturally could not find the service crew which virtually put them out of the rally. Lastly, the Cortinas which won last year could only manage a third place from Vic Preston whilst last years third place man, Mike Armstrong was the only other one to finish and that in tenth place. The winner from last year, Peter Hughes, was considered to have a very good chance of completing the double as he had a very high starting number but right from the start he took second place to the two Cortinas that finished and eventually went out with a broken half-shaft. It may just be coincidence but in 1964 the cars were prepared and supported by Fords own team from Dagenham while this year the entries came from Peter Hughes Ltd.
Congratulations then to Joginder and Jaswant Singh as the first private entrants for some time to win a big international rally and also to John Sprinzel and Lucien Bianchi who as European drivers showed themselves to be every bit as good as the locals.