A Brief History of the East African Safari Rally

The East African Safari Rally, first named the Coronation Safari Rally, began in 1952 and was held to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, organised as a demonstration of the ability of the showroom production car.  There was no overall outright winner but a VW Beetle and Standard Vanguard were generally credited with best performances.  Ford Zephyrs did well and were credited with two outright wins, then along came the Mercedes-Benz Factory Team with their Pontons and Fintails dominating the late 1950s epics.

photo, taken by Jitze Couperus who was a support driver for DKW on the event

Joginder and Jaswant Singh on one of their early attempts at the Safari Rally.  Joginder, of course, went on to become one of the most famous of all of the East African Safari specialists.

Peugeot 404 rally car

Surviving cars from the Safari Rally are rare but it is hoped that an original-condition Peugeot 404 will make it to Gaydon to join our line up.

The event grew in popularity, and severity, with super-long competitive sections run on open public roads, with mud and dust and unpredictable weather making it a true endurance marathon.  With days and nights and the wheel there was no need for timing to be to the nearest second – all timing was to the minute and penalties were racked up in hours and days.

Datsun 240Z East African Safari Rally 1971 Shekhar Mehta + Mike Doughty
Datsun 240Z East African Safari Rally 1971 Shekhar Mehta + Mike Doughty

The Peugeot 404 was the most universal successful car in the 1960s, with several outright wins and many top ten places, taken over by the Datsun 240Z (winning twice).

Ford Escort East Africa Safari

The 1972 Safari winning Escort of Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm, fitted with a 1780cc BDA motor, detuned to 205BHP to cope with the demands of an endurance event coupled with the possibility of some pretty low-grade petrol

The Ford Escort won twice but Datsun dominated the winner’s rostrum until in more recent years Toyota and Mitsubishi took over. The event lost its status as a round of the World Rally Championship in 2003 due to lack of sponsorship, but the event still runs and there is also a thriving Classic Safari Rally, which runs to a shorter sprint concept with greater service back-up than the original theme, where reliability and self-reliance was an essential ingredient.

​The late, well renowned Shekha Mehta won the event no less than five times – unmatched by any other driver.  British navigator Fred Gallagher won it three times alongside the late Bjorn Waaldegard and Fred has been invited to attend Historic Marathon Rally Show.  Fred was an official on the first-ever international rally for classic cars, the 1988 Pirelli Classic Marathon and is no stranger to long distance rallying, having  a second place overall on The Dakar among his many achievements. He has also been Clerk of the Course of the Rally GB for the past 20 years.