The East African Safari

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Another East African Safari has run its course, and this time Fords have apparently confounded their critics by not only winning the event outright but backing it up by taking the Manufacturers’ Team Prize, the index of price/performance award, and having six of their cars in the twenty-one finishers. Another pointer to the extent of their success was that these were the only examples of British-made cars to finish the rally.

To everyone now—and that includes the general public, if the advertising coverage in the popular Press is anything to go by—the East African Safari stands for the ultimate in punishing tests for everyday motor cars. For a variety of reasons, most important amongst them being the fact that only near-standard cars are allowed to compete, the rally also rates very highly as a basis of comparison between various makes for the journalist and motoring writer. That this should be so is a very good thing, for this is one reason why the manufacturers support rallying and why International rallies are fast becoming the shop window in which the ordinary motorist chooses his car. Of course, it may be argued that he then chooses his car for virtues that he may never require, but there is sufficient evidence in the Ford range itself and in such cars as the Sunbeam Rapier and the Mini-Cooper to discredit such a suggestion.

As a rally like the Safari is used as a critical basis for comparison of different makes, it is important to see exactly what the Safari represents as a rally and what is required to win it.

Firstly, the rally itself. When compared to International rallies run nearer home the Safari appears either tougher or just less subtle, according to your personal taste. The R.A.C. Rally run as Britain’s number-one rally uses roads every bit as rough as the Safari in places, but these roads are only used to provide 400 miles of special stages and the rest of the rally comprises getting the cars between the stages on tarmac roads. On the Safari, there is a total of about 300 miles of tarmac in the whole 3,180 miles of it. The Continental rallies spurn the idea of rough or even loose-surfaced roads (the Liège-Sofia-Liège is an exception which travels into Yugoslavia and Bulgaria), and depend for their results on a series of speed hill-climbs incorporated in the route.

In Africa, which no one could by the wildest stretch of the imagination call highly populated, there is little or no restriction on the average speed that the organisers can set for any given section and the whole thing is more akin to a road race in the style of the Mille Miglia. The only difference is that set times are given to cover the stages and, occasionally, a few top drivers in quick cars manage to clean sections. The general pattern, though, is of time gradually lost, and the winner is the one that loses least.

Conditions during the rally are generally appalling; the Kenyan equivalent of our Easter weather usually prevails and this year was no exception, with rain on the first night and the last day causing the competitors and organisers much trouble. Often for hours on end the cars plough through mud inches deep or through water splashes that seem to have no end. When the rain and mud relent, the terrain is revealed at its uncertain and dusty best. Receded floods leave their mark upon the roads in the form of fissures, cracks and washaways which are often big enough to accept a car.

A recital like that may leave one wondering how cars that are supposedly standard ever survive for more than a few hours of the battering that even a skilful driver must give them in order to maintain an average speed that hovers near the 50-m.p.h. mark and rarely falls below the 40-m.p.h. figure.

The answer is, of course, that the cars are as standard as the makers want them to be when they compile the homologation form for submission to the R.A.C. or whichever national automobile club is relevant. Such cars as the Ford Falcon, the Saab and the Cortina all have recognised variations—the Futura Sprint, the Saab Sport and the Cortina GT—which are high-performance versions, still capable of running under Group I of Appendix J. This same regulation allows modifications to be carried out to these cars which suit them for rallying but are not supplied by the manufacturer to the general public. These include oil coolers, harder brake pads and linings, bigger carburetters, high-performance shock-absorbers, lighter or reclining seats, spare tanks and petrol pumps, wide rim wheels and special tyres, and, for the Safari, sump and petrol tank shields.

Some of these items, such as the wide rim wheels, can only be used if they are listed as optional extras on the recognition form. These are not supposed to enhance the performance of the car and should be available to the general public; they may not enhance the performance of the car but when a car is struggling for traction in mud, they must be a great advantage. In the same way, the lighting system of the car need not be standard in any way, with the single exception that the Safari does not allow lamps to be mounted above the bottom of the windscreen, which explains all those shielded lights mounted on the wings of Safari cars.

As well as being able to do all this sort of thing to his cars to ensure that they go quicker, handle better and are generally safer and easier to drive than the standard model of his range, the manufacturer is also free to strip the cars before the start and carefully rebuild them by hand. In many cases, locking washers and methods of drilling and wiring bolts are used to prevent physical parting of essential items during the rally. Having already spent a lot of money on the preparation of his entries, he will usually go two stages further to safeguard his investment; one is to send the drivers and navigators right round the course of the rally to make notes on the route, and the other is to provide service during the rally. This latter is somewhat curtailed on the Safari as certain parts are not allowed to be changed (engine, gearbox, axles, etc.) and, in years past, official service points have been frowned on.

We come then to consider how Fords won this year’s Safari and what this, proves about the rally, the cars that enter it, and the drivers.

Why did Fords win? Apart from having a basically strong motor car which has passed through intensive development, they took full advantage of the opportunities available to them to prepare their cars so that they stood the best chance of winning—in the Safari, that means finishing. They reconnoitred the route carefully and their leading Kenyan driver, Peter Hughes, who eventually won the rally, had been over the complete thing no less than nine times. Their service was probably equal to none and, on the last day, they even used a front suspension unit from one of the service cars in an attempt to keep Henry Taylor going.

In the matter of drivers, it was another triumph for the local boys, who must be congratulated on managing to beat the Scandinavians for yet another year. After Erik Carlsson’s fantastic performance last year when he opened out such an enormous lead over the other cars, he and his Saab were tipped as hot favourites for this year. At the half-way point, when the cars had arrived back in Nairobi at the end of the northern leg, Hughes was leading from his Cortina-mounted compatriot, Mike Armstrong, by a single minute and Carlsson was one minute behind him. The works Volvos had already dropped out before they could really make an impression; Sylvia Osterberg burnt out her clutch when stuck in mud, Tom Trana got stuck and crashed trying to get back on time, while Gunnar Andersson broke a half-shaft. It is perhaps worth noting that the Volvos did not arrive in East Africa until a very few days before the rally started and thus did not have a chance to practise.

On the second leg, down to Dar es Salaam and back through Mombasa to Nairobi, the advantage of an early number really came into its own, for mile after mile of the route passed along a narrow track saturated with water and edged by jungle, and when one car got bogged down, those behind had to push or wait. The first class, that of the Cortinas, got through in nearly all cases, but the later classes, which included the Saabs, were often delayed. At one point between Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, Pat Moss became bogged down in her Saab and lost some quite considerable time, and this naturally delayed the cars running behind her, including her husband’s. Thus it was that the Saab fell back and, despite trying very hard over the last sections from Mombasa to Nairobi where he caught back his time on the Armstrong Cortina, Carlsson was still eleven minutes short on Hughes at the finish.

Why didn’t the Saab open out the gap and go into the lead as it did last year? There seems to be little doubt that Carlsson considered that his tactics should be to drive to finish and keep within distance of the leading cars, which he felt, probably rightly, he could out-drive if it came to it. His only comment on the rally was typical and was to the effect that he had not gone fast enough.

All credit is due to the Ford of England team, who got six of their cars classified as finishers amongst the select twenty-one, and, more important still, were the only British cars to finish.

Circuit of Ireland

While the Safari was being run in East Africa, the Irish were running their own version over in the Emerald Isle. The Circuit of Ireland does not attract a full works entry despite the fact that it is trade-supported by such firms as Castro! and Dunlop.

Rootes sent over three works cars: a Rapier for Rosemary Smith, who won the ladies’ prize, a Super Snipe for Adrian Boyd, who, if not for getting stuck for almost an hour at one point, might have won, and an Alpine, the ex-Le Mans car, for Charles Eyre-Maunsell. Alan Fraser added two Rapiers and managed to scoop up second overall with John la Trobe and Julian Chitty. About the only other works cars in the rally were the two Simcas, one a 1000 and the other a 1300, entered by Simca Motors for Bill Bengry and Mike Hinde.

The Circuit still depends a great deal on the skill of the navigator for ultimate success and it was no surprise to find an Irish crew as the eventual winner. This was Ronnie McCartney and Terry Harryman in a Cooper S, who won despite putting a hole in their car’s sump on the first night while negotiating a typically rough Irish road. Cortinas did well in this other big rally of the Easter holiday, for Ford’s long-distance driver, Eric Jackson, finished third, only a short distance ahead of the Irish Cortina exponent, Frank Robinson.

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