Some Aspects of East African Motoring

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Nairobi, March 30th.

Being one whose work has taken him along the rally routes of Europe, the Middle East and beyond, and sampled roads which vary from multi-track, ferro concrete ribbons to little more than goat paths, I suffer from instant scepticism whenever I hear the expression “Best car in the world”. “Best for which country?” is the question I always ask myself. A car which is eminently suitable for the tarmac highways of Europe may be quite useless for earnest motoring on roads of a more natural quality.

A continent which abounds in such natural roads is Africa where, if you have the right car for the job, it is still possible to enjoy your motoring from the start of a journey all the way to its end.

Sitting here in the warm comfort of Nairobi, taking a rest from preparations for the East African Safari Rally, it is difficult to realise that not far out of the spacious, orderly Kenyan capital the tarmac roads end and in their place are those of packed dirt or murrum. They are dust-raisers par excellence in summer, and in the rainy season can be so incredibly muddy that accepted road classifications are “all weather” and “dry-only”.

But these are by no means the only hazards confronting motorists in Kenya. Dry or wet, murrum roads are often rutted and bumpy, and there is the occasional ditch so deep as to swallow up an entire motor car. Flooding is another problem, and if anyone has been surprised at the speed with which floods can appear in Britain, I suggest he visits East Africa, where tropical downpours in the rainy season can produce instant rivers where once roads used to be. Washaways, too, are frequent and if crossflows of water are strong enough (as they often are) entire roads can disappear.

As one can imagine, the heat has its effect on engines, and a car which tends to run hot in European climates would do no more than serve as a steam supply in Africa. But this is a question of adaptation, and even Volvos and Saabs from the cold of Sweden are made to run quite efficiently in Kenya. A greater problem is altitude variation. Nairobi stands nearly five and a half thousand feet above sea level, and the rare atmosphere renders an engine as lethargic as it does a human being. When carburation is set at optimum for Nairobi, it tends to become too weak when the cars are driven from the capital to, say, the coastal town of Mombasa.

Despite what film-makers would have us believe, Kenya is not all dense jungle, steamy swamps and crocodile-laden rivers. For the most part it is a land of open plains, so that when an oncoming vehicle is encountered on a narrow murrum road it is quite possible to take to the bush in order to pass, although one then runs the risk of punctures on the stout thorn bushes.

Animals are not really regarded as a traffic hazard in Kenya, although drivers invariably give right of way to, say, elephants which can become angry if approached and can reduce a motor car to so much scrap metal with little effort indeed. Although the greatest concentrations of animals are to be found in the game reserves, there are still plenty in the open bush and one can never really disregard the chances of meeting some of them. Baboon, for instance, seem to have an affinity for motor cars and tend to clamber up on the bonnets and roofs of those moving slowly enough. Needless to say, windows should be tightly closed whenever baboons are nearby.

But the motoring peculiarities which would be noticed by a visiting European are not given a second thought by those domiciled in the country. Of far greater import is the question of choice of motor car, and here two factors seem to have the greatest bearing on which car the Kenyans buy; simplicity and strength.

Although East Africa has no motor manufacturing industry, it has plenty of importers and dealers, all of whom have to put up with a sliding scale of duty which can be as high as 80% in the case of a large capacity, eight-cylinder car. Apart from this question of price of the original purchase, Kenyans are very much concerned about the cost and availability of spares. Some parts can cost as much as three times their value in Europe, and cars with expensive innards do not sell very well in East Africa.

Strength is a quality which is obviously sought after by those who use their cars out in the bush. Simplicity goes hand in hand with reliability, and the fewer a car’s complexities the lesser the chances of it breaking down. A breakdown in the bush can be embarrassing, expensive, and often dangerous, for garages are few and far between. Automatic transmission, for instance, has never caught on in Kenya, and even the reliable Kugelfischer fuel injection of the Peugeot is not nearly as popular as conventional carburation.

When driving through Nairobi’s streets, whether they be the wide avenues of the city centre or the narrow back streets, the sporting influence quickly becomes apparent. Although the average man in the street has no sporting ambitions himself, he appreciates the successes of others, and if a visitor did not know beforehand that a Peugeot has won the East African Safari Rally for the past three years, he would realise at once that something had occasioned the popularity of this French marque.

Peugeots, mainly 404s and their estate derivatives, dominate everyday motoring in East Africa. It is not uncommon to find something like half the content of a parking area made up of white Peugeots, white being the most popular colour for all cars since it doesn’t attract the heat as much as other colours. The prestige car is a Mercedes Benz, and among other popular makes are Volkswagen, Datsun, Toyota, Ford, B.M.C., Renault and Fiat. There is the occasional Alfa Romeo, Porsche and Jaguar, and I even caught a glimpse of a Ferrari once, although I was told that it is the only one in the country. Taxis are mainly Mk. I and Mk. II Consuls, minibuses used for tourist safaris are mainly Volkswagens, whilst farmers and hunters opt either for Land Rovers or for Toyota Land Cruisers.

Aside from rallying, which is the most popular of East Africa’s motor sporting activities, Kenya has two racing circuits, one at Nakuru, 100 miles north of the capital, and the other at Nairobi itself. Both are tarmac surfaced, although until last year the circuit at Nairobi had a highly abrasive murrum surface. Single-seaters are rare, and those which are around are pretty ancient compared with present cars in Europe. For the most part, racing is confined to modified production cars, with Escorts, Cortinas, Porsches, Renaults and Minis forming the bulk of the entries. The drivers are highly enthusiastic, although an idea of the class of racing can be gained by watching them leave the circuit in their competition cars, which are then used every day until the tyres are switched for the next race meeting.

In the space available it has been impossible to pen a complete picture of East African motoring. But perhaps the scratches I have made on the surface will serve as partial illustration of the wide gap between the driver in Kenya and his counterpart in Europe, both sporting and everyday. In this paradise of a country, motoring is still immensely pleasurable, and no doubt will remain so for decades to come. Perhaps my opinion is a little biased by an openly confessed liking for unsurfaced roads, but the unexpected always has an excitement potential—and where else in the world could you meet an elephant around one corner and half-clad spear-carrying tribesmen posing for photographs around the next?—G. P.

You may also like

Related products