Matters of moment, June 1971

The impact of the East African Safari
Once again the East African Safari Rally, reported in Motor Sport last month, has been an unqualified success and has left its considerable impact. With the World’s motoring customers becoming increasingly aware that, exciting though they are, the majority of International rallies are won by highly specialised and costly cars relying on almost as elaborate support vehicles and the instant-services of skilled mechanics, the Safari gains in interest, not because support vehicles and resuscitation by welding torch and spares availability are absent, but because such organised assistance is far less effective on a high-speed thrash over 3,800 miles of some of the most difficult motoring terrain in existence.

Consequently, winning the Safari means a great deal, collecting the Team Prize even more. It sells motor cars to those who follow the fortunes of the different makes which compete in this unique and punishing event. The impact of the Safari is reflected in long editorial leaders in its favour in the East African Standard and the Daily Nation, a total of more than 22 prominent column inches, and by the presence at the start of President Kenyatta—as if the RAC Rally occupied the main editorials in The Times and the Daily Mail, and Prime Minister Edward Heath flagged the contestants away!

A correspondent tells us that he was not particularly interested in rallying until he went to Kenya and watched a Safari, after which he became enthusiastic, especially about a Peugeot 504 contriving to finish third against costly special cars, perhaps because the Safari is, as this correspondent puts it, “one special stage, allowing works-teams only a limited time to keep re-building their machinery, so that a strong, fast and reliable saloon has a chance.”

All credit to Ford, Porsche, Saab, Lancia, Peugeot, BMW, etc. for entering this tough, closely-watched rally and the highest praise to the Datsun 240Zs for finishing first and second and taking the coveted Team Prize, in an event which eliminated 75 of those who started in it.

There was a time when Motor Sport was reluctant to give publicity to Japanese cars, on the grounds that Britain would have enough to do to stem the invasion from Europe, let alone that from further afield. But the outcome of the 1971 Safari Rally will go strongly in Datsun’s favour. As the East African Standard has said, “Datsuns will score heavily out of their fantastic successes”. The writing is on the wall for the British Motor Industry to read, as a result of a rally which ordinary car-buyers find of the greatest interest. It is to be hoped that next year we shall field effective opposition to competition from the inscrutable East and from a certain highly-individual French manufacturer…

Group One racing
Just as the Safari Rally appeals to those who like to see reasonably normal cars stand a chance against expensive works entries, so there is something to be said for racing Group One saloons. We are aware of the scrutineering problems which “catalogue-car” competitions cause and the argument that ordinary cars are too dull to arouse interest, too frail to survive, in modern races and rallies.

We are not advocating Group One racing as a substitute for the faster established races for specialised saloons. But we commend the Castrol Challenge Series of races for Group 1 cars as an attempt to return to the sort of saloon-car events once current, wherein Minis out-cornered 3.8 Jaguars driven by the great names, and when seemingly improbable makes sometimes put up unexpectedly interesting performances. At present the Castro! Challenge Series is the preserve of virtually standard examples of that excellent little motor car, the Ford Escort Mexico, with Brian Williams’ British Vita Racing Mexico currently in the lead, writing before the third round, which was held at Llandow on May 31st.

Occasional events for simple, closely-competitive Group 1 saloons are worthwhile, particularly if they could extend to other than Ford-Aveley products, thus adding make-against-make interest to the keen driver competition, using cars much the same as you can buy for a reasonably small sum of money and drive on the road. This the BARC has organised at Thruxton, for instance, on a handicap basis, which seems to appeal.

Last month’s Editorial on the ADO 28 Marina has resulted in interesting comment from Motor Sport readers. Some take the line that we were unduly pessimistic and that if the latest Morris is what the multitude wants, British Leyland have been right to supply it, especially if it will earn them money to devote to further developing their V12 Jaguar, V8 de-Dion-axled Rovers, fuel-injection Triumph 2.5s, and their commendable range of British sports-cars.

The opposite view agrees with our own opinions and as it is nice to receive endorsement of editorials we publish one of many letters received:

— Sir,
Having disagreed previously with your outspoken article on British Leyland and the Triumph Stag, my views remaining unchanged, it gives me great pleasure to agree with every word of your editorial concerning the “new” Marina.

British Leyland have themselves been guilty of one of the worst offences, i.e. advance publicity, and had built up great hopes in the heart of most people involved in motor cars as either dealers, users or onlookers and for such a mundane product to appear after this is bitterly disappointing. (I used this very expression to describe it before reading the article!)

Mechanically we expected, and I feel, with such an outlay, deserved, something really good and advanced, instead of this “mixture as before”. Stylingwise the Avenger, Viva and Cortina (Mk. 2) have all managed to get in and even the coupé is just like the little Opel!

Having had fourteen Ford Cortinas for business use (in addition to various sportier cars for pleasure) I was thinking that if BL had something good to offer I might give them a try, but having had a Mk. 3 Cortina for just over two months (6,000 miles) I feel that the price difference is more than cancelled by the finish, the roadholding and the room, to say nothing of the styling which I find most pleasing. I have had no faults either and the car starts first time every time. The Marina gearbox is, as you say, not up to Ford standards!

I wonder how much BL paid some joker to think of the name!

N.M. Struthers.