It is our experience that people who have no first-hand knowledge of the continent of Africa frequently labour under grave misconceptions concerning its geography. A popular notion is that the northern part is all sand, deserts, pyramids and Foreign Legion forts, and the south a mass of hot, steaming jungle and dusty plains. Equally popular is the conception that rallies in North Africa take place in desert conditions, whereas all those more to the south pass through jungle terrain.
Deserts do feature strongly in the Morocco Rally, and the East African Safari Rally (now renamed simply the Safari Rally since it is to be confined to Kenya in future) does pass through thickly vegetated areas, but all Africa is not Kenya or Morocco and there are several rallies in the vastness of Africa which conform to neither pattern.
In South Africa, for instance, the major rally of the year is the Total Rally and, were it not for the climate, competitors in that event could easily imagine that they were passing through Kielder or any other of Britain’s forest areas. Most of the special stages of that event are in dark pine forests along tracks made for logging operations and there are distinct similarities between the Total Rally and the RAC Rally of Great Britain.
Until last year it was possible to run a rally over the dirt roads of the least populated parts of Transvaal, Swaziland and Mozambique without a great deal of thought for average speeds. In fact, road sections were often so tight that even the slightest mischance would produce a lateness penalty of one degree or another. But things have since changed, and although the effects of the petrol shortage of the early part of the year have gradually faded away in most parts of the world, in South Africa they have not. There is still an overall 80 k.p.h. (about 50 m.p.h.) speed limit in South Africa, for instance, and a rule which forces filling stations to close at nightfall and throughout each weekend. All this meant that the Pretoria Motor Club, organisers of the Total Rally, had to set low average speeds for their road sections and confine the competitions to the special stages on private forest roads.
Whereas in the past the event has been a kind of cross between Safari and RAC, this year it most certainly leaned towards the style of rallying practised in most populated and built-up countries. Furthermore, the petrol shortage (which most South Africans believe to exist on paper only) was more acute in Mozambique than it was in South Africa. This, coupled with the recent change of regime and colonial policy in Portugal, meant that the organisers had no course but to remove the Mozambique sections from the route and finish the rally back in Pretoria instead of in Lourenco Marques.
For an event not in the World Championship - not yet, anyway - the Total Rally attracted a considerable number of competitors from Europe. This has been the case for a number of years and is due firstly to the enthusiasm for the sport of South Africa’s car manufacturers and importers. Without this keen support for rallying there would be no cars for the visitors to drive, for the cost of transporting cars from other continents is considerable, not to mention time-consuming. Secondly, the sponsors, Total South Africa, have always been alive to the publicity opportunities afforded by the presence of top European crews in south Africa for the Total Rally and have made it possible, financially, for the local factories to seek the services of crews from other continents by making a travel agreement with South African Airways, another very sporting-minded company.
This year’s visitors from other continents included Roger Clark/Tony Mason (UK) to drive an Escort RS, Harry Källström/Claes Billstam (Sweden), Oda Dencker-Andersen/Charlotte Heuser (Denmark and Germany), Walter Boyce/Paul Manson (Canada), Klaus Kleint/Willy Pitz (Germany), and Christ Sclater (UK) with local man Franz Boshoff to drive Datsuns, Hannu Mikkola/John Davenport (Finland and UK) to drive a Peugeot, Andrew Cowan and Geraint Phillips (UK) to drive a Dodge Colt, Ove Andersson/Arne Hertz (Sweden) and Björn Waldegard/Hans Thorszelius (Sweden) to drive a Volvo with local man Kassie Kasselmann, and Simo Lampinen/Henry Liddon (Finland and UK) to drive a Mazda.
Owing to import regulations in South Africa, most cars built or assembled there need to have a high percentage of local content if their prices are to be competitive on the home market. Thus it often happens that what might be, for instance, a Vauxhall Firenza in Britain could very easily be something quite different in South Africa. For instance, Firenza-bodied cars driving around South African roads are labelled Chevrolet and some of them have oddities such as Volvo drive-shafts and even 5-litre V8 engines. The Mitsubishi Colt is sold as a Dodge and Leyland has strange models (one being the Apache) which are not seen at all in the UK.
Because of all this, there are obvious homologation problems, for the hybrid cars of South Africa could never be manufactured in sufficient quantities to satisfy the requirement of the FIA. They have their own equivalent of homologation, of course, but on a very much smaller scale than that which operates internationally and we wonder what European scrutineers would say if a Granada V8, a Peugeot-engined Dodge Avenger or a 5-litre Chevrolet Firenza turned up in Monte Carlo or even in York!
If the event becomes a qualifier in the World Rally Championship, for which it was officially observed this year, some sort of dispensation will have to be made in respect of locally-built cars which are not, and probably cannot, be homologated according to present FIA requirements. In the case of the Press-on-Regardless Rally in the US, dispensation was given to cars of American manufacture for one year only, after which they required proper homologation like all other cars. However, most American cars are made in sufficient quantities to be homologated whereas most South African cars are not. If the Total Rally becomes part of the World Championship it will need something other than a year’s dispensation, for it would be very sad indeed, and completely wrong, if South African manufacturers were prevented from entering their own cars in the premier event of the own country.
In the past, the Total Rally has started at various parts of Southern Africa and, after concentration runs to a converging point, continued with competitive sections in the Transvaal, Swaziland and Mozambique to finish at the latter country’s capital, Lourenco Marques. This year that was all changed. The concentration runs were scrapped owing to a petrol shortage which, in theory anyway, still exists and the visit to Mozambique cut out of the route altogether.
Roger Clark had a rather unhappy rally, for at an early stage the gaiter through which the clutch operating fork penetrates the housing came away and allowed fine dust to penetrate. This caused the plates to seize and no amount of blowing with an air line would free them. For a long time he carried on without the clutch but ran into trouble at every overshot junction and wrong turning. So much time was wasted struggling to turn the car around that eventually they retired. Per-Inge Walfridsson drove tremendously well in his Volvo and was challenging for the lead at halfway only to retire almost immediately after the restart with severe overheating. Harry Källström, using a Datsun 160 with a 16-valve engine built in Japan, retired when the camshaft drive failed and the engine stopped very suddenly and very noisily.
Dense forests, steep escarpments, very rough, rock roads, fast straights and successions of unpredictable bends and corners through which it was not possible to acquire any sort of rhythm as drivers are able to do in British forests, all came up in succession and competitors were even taken through a bush fire for good measure. Ove Andersson and Chris Sclater were the two drivers who were making the winning efforts, the wily Swede always staying just far enough ahead of the Englishman to win eventually by 25 seconds in his 2-ltire, twin-cam Celica GT.
Despite a few administrative problems which can only be put down to comparative inexperience, the rally was tough, competitive, enjoyable and possessed of a character which is still predominantly South African. Whether it becomes part of the World Championship or not, we trust that it will always have these qualities.–G.P.