Rally Review, May 1966

East African Safari

The East African Safari is surely the toughest organised endurance test ever invented for man and his car. Every April nearly a hundred crews set forth to do battle with the elements and the tortuous terrain, and every time only a handful survive. This April it was a smaller handful than usual with only nine finishers out of the 88 starters. Curiously it is not just the appalling monsoon type rains of this time of the year that make the organisers hold the event over the Easter week-end, but the fact that most of the 70-odd far-flung controls on the 3,000-mile route are manned by enthusiasts, farmers in the main, who can only spare time over the holiday.

While on the subject of organisation it is worthwhile examining the two most interesting sides of the Safari, the organisers and the cars. If you have recently been surprised at the painstaking and pernickety thoroughness of the scrutineers on the Monte Carlo Rally and the Italian Rally of the Flowers, you would be even more amazed at the ruthlessness with which the Safari organisers scrutineer. When they say that only cars complying with Group 1 of Appendix J may compete you can take it for granted that competitors’ cars will be as near standard as Group 1 allows them to be. Naturally enough some manufacturers have cars which are more Group 1 than others, as an example the 1966 Ford-Lotus Cortina with wide rim wheels, twin-cam engine and limited-slip differential—very difficult to imagine this as a docile standard production family touring saloon which is what most Group 1 cars are. Nevertheless, 5,000 models of that high-performance vehicle have rolled out of Dagenham, and so Group 1 it is. In fact it is a tribute to technical advancement that one of the once oh-so-fragile Lotus Cortinas should finish the tank testing terrain of the Safari, let alone he placed fourth overall.

Once the scrutineering is over, nearly all the major engine, transmission and suspension parts are marked and sealed. Enough is enough you say, but the organisers are not satisfied yet. They will occasionally suddenly appear out of the bush and check cars for replaced parts. This practice aims to prevent competitors from changing damaged components enroute and replacing them just before Nairobi, in order to avoid losing marks at final scrutineering. Such a devious operation is possible if you consider that, the minimum amount of lateness allowed is six hours, and this year it was extended to ten to get as many cars as possible in from the entry-decimating first leg through Tanzania. Replacedpart penalties have become quite a bone of contention, many competitors feeling that the road penalties incurred by time taken out for servicing are severe enough without them being penalised again at the finish. Anyway all this is to ensure that everybody abides by the same set of rules so that the private entry is not at a disadvantage to the works entries, in terms of service.

Talking of entrants, apart from the two official factory teams of SAAB, and Nissan, the bulk of the so-called private entries come from garages or importers of cars to whom a result for their particular brand of car means much extra business. Of the nine finishers only the two Datsun P411-TKs were official works entries. The Japanese with their as yet infant car industry are trying to penetrate new markets all the time, and events like the Safari are good for prestige value. It is a thought, though, that the Nissan Motor Co. had hired local drivers for their cars, whereas if top class European professional drivers had been hired they would have most probably driven the pretty little Bluebirds that much harder and the cars might not have lasted nearly as well as they did.

There are some things which are allowed by the East African organisers that would not be allowed in Europe, such as removing the rear seat to take spare wheels and water and hand and foot grips on the rear for co-driver to use while bouncing, but these are a peculiarly African requirement dictated by the conditions that exist over there.

Bearing in mind that the organisers are determined to let only standard production cars do the event, and also bearing in mind the trouble they go to in ensuring heavy penalties for service, one can see that they fully intend only the fittest cars and crews to survive. What sort of demanding conditions do they plan for the crews ? Well, they can be generally described as appalling; the Kenyan equivalent of our Easter weather usually prevails, and this year was no exception, with torrential rain on the first loop causing 72 of the 88 starters to drop out. Often for hours on end the cars ploughed through mud inches deep, or water splashes that seem to have no end. In one particularly nasty spot water covered the road to a depth varying from one to three feet for three miles ! On the second loop from Nairobi up through Kenya and Uganda the rain relented somewhat this year, and revealed the terrain at its uncertain and dusty best. Receding floods had left their mark upon the, dare I say it, roads, in the form of washaways and fissures which are sometimes large enough to engulf a car. No one could call Africa highly populated, even by the wildest stretch of imagination, and so there is little or no restriction on the average speed that the organisers can set for any given road section. Thus the whole affair becomes more akin to a road race like the Mille Miglia used to be. The only difference is that set times of 50 m.p.h. plus average are given to cover the stages, and occasionally a few top drivers in quick.cars actually manage to clean sections. This was the case on the first eleven sections out from Nairobi on the second leg after the downpour had abated for some few hours.

It is a fact that no European crew has ever won the Safari although some have come close. Two main reasons for this, one that local knowledge is a great help, especially as the route is known several months in advance and a more quaint reason is that a knowledge of the dialect helps a great deal when the car is stuck in a mud-bath with a dozen African villagers standing gleefully by. A method which can be extremely useful is to carry lots of bright shiny shillings, a handful of these hurled into the crowd will often bring quick assistance — money talks!

Getting bogged down in the thick oozing mud is perhaps the most common cause of retirements. Crews shattered and exhausted by the sheer horror of manhandling their cars through axledeep swamps just expire left and right. One may well wonder why the average speeds are set so high if the conditions are so difficult. The answer lies in the unpredictable weather. It only requires the rain to let up for some few hours and the waterlogged roads become dust tracks which are capable of taking the high speeds. The same reason explains why six hours’ lateness is allowed from the beginning. The fact that the order of starting is obtained by drawing numbers from a hat also has a bearing on this problem of getting stuck. Top class crews complain that without seeding they may well he started after novice drivers who become immobile more easily and so baulk them. The organisers retort that crews do win from the back of the field, but this only shows that an expert crew will do well anyway given a certain amount of luck.

Those who competed in the rally were certainly unanimous that this had been the toughest ever—funny, every year they say the same. Certainly, though, the 1966 event was a gruelling one. Not since 1960 had the cars been sent southwards first, and this disastrous first leg removed all the overseas challengers, to leave the Safari with its jealously guarded reputation of never having been won by an overseas driver.

The first withdrawal was the Alfa Romeo of Bettoja, and after helicopters, aircraft and cars had been sent out to scour the African bush for the crew they were discovered sleeping in their hotel room in Nairobi. Bettoja had felt depressed and had turned back after only three miles !

After Annie de Montaigu and Nicole Roure retired their Peugeot 404 at Soni, Pat Moss-Carlsson and Elizabeth Nystrom in the Saab became the only contestants for the Coupes des Dames award, while being second overall as well. Unfortunately this didn’t last for long as they retired at Dar-es-Salaam after having lost a lot of time repairing their rear springs. Pat was consoled to hear that her husband, Erik Carlsson, had taken over second place in his Saab. He was the only overseas entry left but lasted only to Mombasa, half-way round the leg, to retire with a cracked crankcase.

Leading back at Nairobi was the Tanzanian driver Bert Shankland in the fuel-injection Peugeot 404. He, with co-driver Chris Rothwell, had lost four and eight minutes on the road, and set off towards Kampala on the northern leg with a 1 hr. 6 min. lead over the Citroen DS19 of Jeeves/Collinge. Fifteen minutes behind came the previous year’s winner Joghinder Singh in a Volvo PI32. In case you are wondering what quaint beastie a P132 is you can rest assured that it is only the 2-door version of the Volvo Amazon, the I22S as we know it. This car had been prepared for Singh in Sweden, but entered by him privately. Out of the 20 Ford Cortina variants entered five remained at Nairobi, while there were only three out of 26 Peugeot 404s. All three Datsun Bluebirds remained intact. Thus there were three groups of contestants left in the running for the most coveted award, the manufacturers’ team prize.

Two of the luckless Peugeots were out soon after the restart and Flermann’s Mercedes followed soon after with oil-pump failure. The 230SE had been a serious challenger for the lead as it had been rapidly overhauling Shankland since leaving Nairobi. Then within sight of the finish the Cortina GT of Smith/ McConnell broke a half-shaft. The service crew was summoned and quickly fitted a new one. They got going again, but not for long. The crankshaft had fractured and two pistons had to be removed. Moving at 10 m.p.h. under its own steam and at other times being pushed by the service car the Cortina made Nairobi with 18 minutes to spare, which goes to show the fantastic determination of these crews. The third Datsun of the Cardwells was not so lucky and they were time barred after having mechanical troubles. Ford therefore clinched the team prize, as they did in 1964 when they won it outright as well, by making full use of the very service which the organisers wish to deny them.

However. it was the old-established firm of Peugeot that took the laurels and so kept up its enviable reputation of high placings on the East African Safari.—A.E.A.K.

Circuit of Ireland

B.M.C. triumphant third year running

While Hughes Ltd, Ford Main Dealers in Nairobi, had cars spending the Easter week-end winning accolades for the Dagenham giant in East Africa, Fords themselves spent Easter much nearer home trying to carry off some laurels on the Gallaher-sponsored International Circuit of Ireland Rally.

In this, the second year that works teams have shown any official interest in the Circuit, Fords had even less luck than in 1965. Last year all three works Cortina GTs were trounced by the lone 1275 Cooper S of Paddy Hopkirk, although Vic Elford hung grimly on to the flying Ulsterman to finish only 10 Marks behind. However, Fords did win the manufacturers’ team award after David Seigle-Morris limped home with damaged suspension.

However, before saying any more about the battles and heartbreaks of this year’s event, it is worthwhile having a look at the way in which the Ulster Automobile Club has improved its rally. As recently as 1963 the Circuit still had a minority of special stages compared to driving tests and navigational sections. In 1964 the driving tests were dropped, the navigation was made much more difficult, and so the result was decided on the road.

For 1965 the organisers had taken heed of comments from competitors and increased the number of special stages to thirty four. However they still insisted on providing the navigator with plenty to do, and there were several moans at the finish about the use of complicated navigation when the result, as in most European Internationals, could come from the special stages alone. Again, very sensibly, the organisers took heed of comments and for this year the number of special stages had been increased to fifty, and the need for good navigators had been substituted by the more normal International rally requirement of good co-drivers. This was simply achieved by dividing the 1,500-mile route into five sections, and issuing excellent Tulip-type road books at the start of each one. Another change was the omission for the first time of the touring event, which had merely been a separate group of competitors who covered roughly the same route as the other rallyists but did not attempt all the tests.

If the Ulster Automobile Club could circumvent the ruling made by the Federation Internationale de Automobile that each country may only run one event counting towards the annual European Rally Championship, and if they keep improving the standard of the organisation up to the high level expected of a championship rally then the U.A.C. could quite easily be running one of the finest rallies in Europe within a few years. The reason is that in Eire public roads can be closed with apparently consummate ease, therefore laying open to the organisers a myriad of possible stages. Not only can public roads be closed but the traffic in Ireland, once away from the towns and the few main trunk roads, is virtually non-existent even over the festive holiday period of Easter.

While on the subject of roads the Irish lanes must have been laid out with rallying in mind. They vary from miniature, Alpine type passes, like the Tim Healey complete with hairpins, to narrow gravel surfaced lanes between high banked hedgerows. Another thing about the roads, or lanes, is that instead of being made levelled, if there is il hollow the lane dives into it, and if there is a hump then the lane is built over it, so making many blind brows. This undulating cross-section provides motoring which tests both the skill of the driver in controlling his oft airborne vehicle and also the wheels, suspensions and chassis of the competing cars.

The Circuit has something known as the “Sunday run” which is a superb tour of fast smooth tests in mountains round Cork and Bantry. The Sunday run starts off with a stage down the main road south from Killarney, known as the Moll’s Gap. Considering the numerous smooth tests it is not surprising that B.M.C. were using Dunlop R7 racing tyres for over two-thirds of the time, while Fords used the latest Goodyear Ultragrips which are reputed to be only seconds, slower round Goodwood than conventional racing tyres. Some of the fast open stages were set at averages as high as 80 m.p.h., and as is usual with very fast rallies the number of retirements due to accidents is high. Unnecessarily one or two overly rough stages had been left in.

Back fo what happened this year then, last year’s main combatants, Hopkirk and Elford were the first of the five works cars to retire this time, Hopkirk first when he rolled on the sixth stage and Elford next on the eleventh after crashing badly on the very first stage. This left the two Lotus-Cortinas and Abingdon new boy Tony Fall in the running. Roger Clark pulled out a steady lead until he retired on the Sunday with oil pump failure, so leaving the remaining Lotus-Cortina of Brian Melia to hold off the flying Yorkshireman. Melia was surprising everybody with the turn of speed that he was showing. However, although he was behind at the beginning of the third stage, Tony Fall with Henry Liddon slowly increased their lead and held it to the end. This win gives Fall his first international victory. Rootes had entered Rosemary Smith and Val Domleo and the ladies took the appropriate award as expected. No official cars had been sent from either Standard-Triumph or Rover, but a Triumph 2000 had been lent to Roy Fidler who brought the bulky machine home to a good fourth place on what was a very fast rally, while Tony Cox had been lent one of the works Rover 2000s.

It should not be long before the Circuit manages to attract a more international entry, especially if the organisers lay more emphasis on the various classes, as after all class wins are worth advertising to manufacturers who do not have cars which are capable of winning a scratch timed event outright.—A.E.A.K.

The Vintage M.C.C. holds its Bristol Section non-competitive South-West Coast Run on May 8th, starting from Bristol at 10.30 a.m. and going via Clifton suspension bridge to Weston-Super-Mare for lunch, via Portishead and Clevedon, returning to Bristol around 4 p.m. Vintage cars are included.

Singapore G.P

The. 45-mile Singapore Grand Prix for saloon cars was won by Albert Poon of Hong Kong for the second year running, on April 10th, in a Lotus Cortina. He finished the 14 laps of the three mile circuit in 39 minutes 13.6 seconds, fighting off a challenge from Australian Steven Harvey in a 1,310 c.cC. Austin Cooper S and Philip Scow of Singapore in a 2,000 c.c. Japanese works Prince.

This year, for the first time, the race was officially recognised by the F.I.A. A 60-lap formula Libre race on Easter Monday was won by a Lotus 22 driven by Lee Han Seng of Singapore.

Old-car auction sales

Auction sales of historic vehicles are on the increase, but it seems doubtful whether they represent the best way of acquiring the type of vehicles sought after. At one which we attended recently, the vehicles, were not driven more than a few yards into the sales arena and if they refused to start they were pushed or towed in. There was no way of ascertaining their mechanical condition and no come-back if what was bought turned out to be a pregnant pig without any poke. Some of the cars offered were in extremely poor condition, such as a small Rolls-Royce saloon rusted all over, an Erskine with some of its radiator literally eaten away, the badge indiscernible, and we even saw a Derby-built Bentley minus its cylinder head. There also seemed to be very vague information given about the vehicles for which bids were accepted, notably in respect of a home-brewed special with British Salmson engine, curious single-seater body and pressed-steel wheels, for which, surprisingly, £175 was bid. But a 1931 12/50 Alvis saloon in average condition failed to make its reserve of £150 and a reasonable 3 1/2-litre Bentley saloon went for under £250, while some optimists were able to acquire “vintage” cars for as little as £60.

An unusual book

We have received, from a reader, not from the publisher, an unusual book, which may have escaped the notice of the 750 M.C. and other Austin 7 organisations. Its title is “Whatever Became of the Baby Austin ?” and it is sold by mail-order only in Canada and the U.S.A., the author being John W. Underwood, the publishers Heritage Press.

It is really a history of the Austin 7, enlivened by photographs, cartoons and reproduced advertisements. But because it is an American publication many of the pictures and references relate to the American Austin 7 or Bantam. More of these were sold in California than anywhere else, the book claims, and a double-page spread illustrates celebrities and incidents with these little cars in this locality. The demise of the original American Austin 7 factory with 1,500 unfinished cars on hand and its revival in 1932 by Roy S. Evans is covered, there are pictures of different Bantam models, including a van and a 4-seater 1939 version of the Speedster and the 1940 Hollywood convertible, and finally the war-time demise of the Bantam project is dealt with, just when it was planned to set up an assembly line in England. The following chapters are concerned with the war-time Bantam “blitz-buggy” and Bantams which still exist today, while rivals in quantity production like the VW are referred to. This is a slice of well-illustrated Austin 7 history which may have escaped the pundits.—W.B.

The Brooklands re-unions

Rex Judd held his B.M.C.R.C.-riders Brooklands Re-Union at the “Hand & Spear,” Weybridge, on April 30th. The other Brooklands re-union, including admission to the Motor Course, takes place on June 11th. Those requesting tickets should apply to Motor Sport, quoting their associations with the track, as soon as possible.

Forest roads for rallies

The R.A.C. and the Forestry Commission have formulated a joint plan to allow rally organisers to use forest roads as part of their routes. Hitherto only available to Internationals, these roads will now also be allocated to National and Restricted events, the total not to exceed 30. There will be certain administrative charges to be met by the organisers who will also be obliged to contribute to a central fund from which claims for damages will be met.