River deep, mountain highs
This is they story of how an expat scotsman came within a whisker of scoring a safary rally hat-trick in the sixties. Bert Shankland is a legen in Africa, an unknown here. John Davenport puts matter right.
During the late 1980s while driving towards Dar es Salaam, Bert Shanldand discovered the true meaning of fame. Thirsty, he stopped to buy a coconut from a roadside salesman. The man had a dog that preceded him, walking jauntily as they went to get the fruit. “That’s a fine dog you have,” said Bert. “Yes,” replied the man, “he’s called Shekland.” “Why?” asked Bert. “Oh, after that champion driver who won the Safari twice.”
When Bert Shanldand moved from Scotland to Tanganyika in 1957, he had no idea that he might become a rally driver or indeed one of Tanganyika’s most famous sportsmen. Trained as an agricultural engineer, he learnt of a vacancy at the main Ford dealers, Riddoch Motors in Arusha, while doing a hydraulics course at Ford’s agricultural site in Boreham. Rallying only entered his life when a local cattle buyer, John Aitkenhead, asked him to co-drive his Ford Consul Mk2 on the 1958 East African Safari Rally. They took along Erik Nielsen, a Danish engineer who worked for Riddochs on the car side of the business. Preparation comprised fitting two mud-grip tyres to the rear wheels and two spotlights to the front of the car. They were finishers in a year when there was no overall classification.
The following year, Bert teamed up with a local farmer, David Read, to compete in a Ford Zephyr Mk2 and things were going well in what was quite a dry year until the stub-axle broke and catapulted them into retirement. For his third attempt on the Safari, Riddoch Motors came up with a Ford Anglia. This was a 998cc version, absolutely standard and consequently far too high-geared for rallying. His co-driver was Aitkenhead and, despite some worrying moments in the mud of Tanganyika, they came through to finish 23rd.
Shortly after that, Bert moved to Dar es Salaam and took over responsibility for servicing Ford cars for Riddoch Motors but lost his connection, temporarily, with a supply of Ford cars for rallying. He did not compete on the 1961 Safari but was offered a Simca Montlhery 1500 for the ’62 event by the importers, a Danish firm called TOM Overseas Trading. The car came with Fritzten Hope as codriver, but was sadly considerably below both their expectations. Prior to the event, Fritz’s boss had enquired, “This bloke Shankland works for Ford do you think he’ll drive it properly?”
According to Bert, the Simca was the “biggest heap of rubbish I ever saw”. Just about everything broke on the dry northern leg in Kenya. The final blow came on the way into Mombasa, when the petrol tank fell out and started digging into the ground, severely impeding progress. Bert threw it away and jury-rigged the engine to run on a supply from a petrol can. But their time loss was too great and they were time-barred. It was about six months after that traumatic run in the Simca that Chris Rothwell came into Riddoch Motors to arrange a service for his Anglia. Chris had come out to Tanganyika after leaving the army to develop a Special Forces programme for the Colonial Police. He got talking with Bert and evinced an interest in rallying, mainly based on doing navigational events back in England. Bert suggested that he should come along to the Tanganyika Motor Sports Club, and they started contesting small rallies together.
For the 1963 Safari, Riddoch Motors provided Bert with a Ford Cortina 1500 and Hughes Motors in Nairobi fitted it with Pat Moss’s recce engine before the start. His co-driver was Pat Townsend, an Arusha man who should have known the roads round Mount Kilimanjaro well, but ‘forgot’ one ditch and ended their rally by driving into it at high speed. Until then, they had been doing rather well, mixing it with the works Cortinas. Encouraged, Riddochs gave Bert a 1340cc Consul Classic for the 1963 Tanganyika 1000 and he took Chris Rothwell. In the course of what they both describe as a ‘tricky’ event, they discovered an ability to work together in difficult situations to create a successful outcome. For example, at night near Handeni, the road and the area surrounding it had deteriorated into a bog dotted with trees and rally cars. The Classic had lost reverse gear so no mistakes were permissible. Chris went off into the undergrowth with a torch and found a way through. Bert took on a bit of speed and followed the signals. For Chris it was a character-forming exercise as, at the furthest end of his recce, he was convinced that he could hear lions roaring. Bert heard them too, but he was able to reassure Chris afterwards that the growling was nothing more than a car with a broken silencer trying to drive through deep water.
They won the rally — the first of six wins on the Tanganyika 1000— and a partnership formed that was continue for another seven years. Their first Safari together, however, was not until 1965. At the end of 1963, Bert left Riddoch Motors to join the Peugeot dealer Tanganyika Motors, and for the 1964 Safari he shared a 404 with one of their regular drivers, Ken Kassum. They finished sixth overall in a year that was fairly wet and saw only 21 cars get to the finish. The following year, the car was a 404 Injection, supplied by the factory, but with final preparation done locally under Bert’s supervision. Driving the new car back from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam before being worked on, Bert had problems with the fuel feed that were not fully identified; they came back to haunt him on the rally.
The problem was a small in-line fuel filter whose purpose was to protect the fuel injection pump from dirt that could get into the tank. But there was too much dirt and the filter blocked easily. Unblocking it required the crew to lie down on their backs under the front wheel, uncouple the filter and blow out the line with compressed carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, petrol would be cascading down on them. Chris in particular took more than his fair share. Control officials on the event were often treated to the sight of a man leaping from a rally car wearing only underpants. The overalls were drying out in the rear of the car in an attempt to prevent petrol burns to sensitive parts. It’s worth mentioning that the seats on these rally cars were just normal standard production affairs (a split bench job).
This enabled Bert and Chris to change drivers while on the move and thus prevent another car from repassing them and making them eat dust. The manoeuvre started with Chris getting into the back and reaching over Bert to put his hands on the wheel. Bert would then duck sideways while keeping his feet in play and Chris would swing his legs over the back of the seat to complete the change. “It was best done at about 50mph on a reasonably straight downhill stretch,” Bert confides. The 404 also benefited from what Peugeot called `thermostable’ brakes. The system comprised much larger drums fitted with special shoes, both of which were trailing, plus a double-size servo.
“I never found anything better until we got discs with the 504,” says Bert. “They were as good in water as out of it The only thing you had to be careful with was that they had a very quick and effective action in reverse.” With all the fuel problems, it was not surprising that Bert and Chris finished a relatively lowly 11th. But it might have been considerably lower still had it not been for their creation, with Hugh Lionnet and Phillip Hechle, of the first four-wheel-drive Peugeot to tackle the Safari. From Bagamoyo up to the main road at Msata was always a horror in the mud, and this year was no exception. To get up the hill, they simply lashed the two Peugeot 404s together, fitted chains to all four driving wheels and drove flat out past dozens of other cars.
By the time of the 1966 Safari, Bert and Chris had won the Tanzanian rally championship four times the change in title came with Tanganyika’s amalgamation with Zanzibar in 1964. All they needed was a good starting number from the draw and they felt they were in with a chance. They got number 15 and, with a wet Tanzania kicking off the event, were never far from the front. By quarter distance at Dar es Salaam, they led Erik Carlsson in the Saab by just one minute. By the halfway point back in Nairobi, Erik was out with a broken sump and only 16 crews out of 88 starters were running. This was despite the total permitted lateness being increased to 12 hours.
The Tanzanian pair led by 100 minutes setting out on the northern leg. The only driver to erode that lead was Vic Preston Snr, but then, running first car on the road, he got stuck at a bridge behind a lorry and the Peugeot’s lead was safe. They came home 55 minutes ahead of Preston, top finishers of just nine survivors.
The following year could not have been more different. The conditions were dry and many of the sections were easily completed in the time allowed. The run down to Mombasa through the Taita Hills saw Bengt Soderstrom take an early lead in a Ford Cortina GT, with Bert and Chris second by six minutes. So dry was it that the flying Swede took only two more minutes off them on the whole of the Tanzanian section back to Nairobi. But then Soderstnim crashed into some roadworks.
The next challenger to the Peugeot’s inherited lead was another Cortina, driven by Jack Simonian, which flew through the classic Kerio Valley section, one of the few that was not driveable in time, to be 12 minutes quicker than Bert and Chris. But it was a short-lived lead since Simonian crashed while avoiding a deer on the run up to Meru behind Mount Kenya, and once again it was left to Vic Preston to follow a triumphant Shankland and Rothwell over the finish. Their only disappointment? “Well, we didn’t get quite as good odds with the bookies that second year.” Peugeot were delighted and, with these wins added to that of Nick Nowicki’s in 1963, East 32.4 Africa was indeed, as their adverts suggested, looking like ‘Peugeot Country’. The Safari had had double winners before D P MarwahaNic Preston and Bill Fritschy/Jack Fllis but now came the question as to whether the Tanzanians could make it a hat-trick. That they so nearly did is stuff of legend.
It was wet in 1968 and a mere seven cars were destined to finish -just as there had been in 1963. The first leg went into Uganda and back round Mount Elgon. It was damp and slippery but nothing like what lay ahead for the second leg down in Tanzania. Joginder Singh in a Datsun Cedric was the pace-setter but then he got stuck for a couple of hours so that the Cortina of Peter Huth was leading at Dar es Salaam. Then Huth got stuck on the infamous Kiroka Pass and took an hour and a half to cover 20 miles, letting the Peugeots into the lead.
Bert and Chris were now a close second behind Nowicici. They had a few problems, one of which was that a baffle inside the sump of the 404 that had been spot-welded in place had worked loose, and the spot-weld itself had started to leak oil. “Every time we saw the red light come on, we would stop and pour some more oil in,” recalls Chris. The engine rattled horribly but seemed to be coping with the strain. They had an agreement with Nowicki and Paddy Cliff that they would pull over before Nairobi in order to allow the hat-trick. But it was a ploy that was never needed as, going into Arusha with three controls left in the 3500-mile rally, a connecting rod broke. For a long time, Bert and Chris assumed it was the lack of oil that had caused it to go, but the Peugeot engineers brought back the bearings to show them. They were perfect.
In 1969, Tanzania fell out with the Safari organisers because the event always started in Nairobi, and forbade any of their nationals to compete. The rally was held only in Kenya and Uganda; Bert and Chris went fishing.
The following year, the rally started in Kampala, with a promise to start in Dar es Salaam in 1972. Literally at the last minute, the Tanzanian crews were authorised to compete. Their numbers were not drawn in the ballot but allocated at the end of the field, so Bert and Chris drew 94. The car was a Group 1 Peugeot 504; to say it was hastily prepared would be a gross understatement. Even so, this event proved their most satisfying
Safari drive, even Wit only netted third place. To pass so many cars they were 12th car on the road by Mombasa in an unproven car was a feat to be proud of. “I think everyone was feeling sorry for us and pulled over in the dark,” says Bert, “but we were also driving fit to bust with nothing to lose. It was the car that was suffering.”
This was also the swansong for this Tanzanian double act In 1970, Chris Rothwell returned home to live in England where he became an Estate Manager in Dorset Bert Shanldand quit his post as Managing Director of Tanganyika Motors 17 years later, and returned to Midlothian where he pursues his hobbies of fishing and shooting. It was a further three years before Chris came home one evening to hear familiar tones enquiring: “Do you know of any good shooting round here?”
Nowadays, their joint activities are restricted to some quiet fishing on a loch and exchanging stories about rallies past, though the mention of getting ‘Old Number 15’ out of the Peugeot museum for a possible Safari revival in 2002 was well received. The driver-swapping might have to take a back seat of course.