Look back in history Sunday: The Safari Rally

If there was one iconic rally car that came out of the 1970s, it would have to be the Lancia Stratos. (Some may argue that it is the Ford Escort MkII but this is not as rare as the Stratos). The iconic affordable GT sports car that came out of the same period was the Datsun 240z. If you had one today that would be a great investment.

While the 240z wasn’t necessarily built for European rallies, it was known for his prowess at the East African Safari winning the 1971 (Edgar Herrman/Hans Schuller) and 1973 (Shekhar Mehta/Lofty Drews) events. (1973 was the first time it was incorporated into the World Rally Championship (WRC).

The event was was first held in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (first known as the East African Coronation Safari) and covered Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

Back in the 70s, the East African Safari (which became the Safari Rally from 1975) was more an endurance event. Roads were either rough or non-existent, break-downs were frequent and those that were able to finish needn’t be the fastest to gain success. It became known as the most difficult rally in the WRC to win with cars constantly requiring repairs. Add in the heat and humidity and you had a rally with a huge reputation and kudos for any winning crews.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the event adopted the Special Stage format.

Kiwi driver Possum Bourne competed in the event a number of times. Mike Fletcher co-drove for him in 1986, (Subaru RX Turbo, crashed out in during the second leg), Kevin Lancaster was his co-driver in 1987 (Subaru RX Turbo finished 11th) and with the late Roger Freeth in 1988 (finished ninth Subaru RX Turbo), 1989 (7th Subaru RX Turbo), 1990 (retired – Subaru Legacy RS).

Possum Bourne & Kevin Lancaster, Safari Rally 1987

Those were the days when it was just too hot for all the safety gear.

“It was too hot to wear helmets but cars had super good insulation around hard objects in case of head contact in a crash,” says Kevin Lancaster. “You only drove at 6/10ths on the rally and there were no special stages. We stayed in the car for 10 hours at a time in 40c degrees.

“We wore short pants, tee-shirts, sports socks, head and wrist sweat bands. It was immpossible to wear overalls!”

Now the Safari Rally will rejoin the WRC after a 17 year hiatus with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta making the announcement in the capital city Nairobi, after the FIA World Motorsport Council approved WRC Promoter’s calendar.

It won’t be the same as the ‘good-old-days’.

The rally will be based in Nairobi with the service park and stages located near Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita, north-west of the city in the Great Rift Valley.

Ugandan-born Kenyan Shekhar Mehta holds the record for Safari WRC wins with five victories (1973 Datsun 240z, 1979 Datsun 160J, 1980 Datsun 160J, 1981 Nissan Violet GT, 1982 Nissan Violet GT.

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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