Safari Fever - The story of a car rally they said no European could win
by Nick Brittan
Additional material by John Davenport
Rallyist and motorsports writer Nick Brittan attended his first East African Safari Rally in 1971 and was so taken with the event that he returned in 1972 to chronicle the rally from the perspective of the Ford team. He could not have picked a better year or team as it turned out to be successful for Ford. Rather than provide the details as an extended news story, Brittan tells it from the perspective of the particpants, the drivers, co-drivers, mechanics, and all who were involved in getting a Ford Escort to the winner's podium.
The tale begins with Ford's Director of Motorsports, Stuart Turner, getting budget approval for a four car team from Walter Hayes, then Vice-President of Ford of Europe. From there it's on to preparations, building the cars, making sure spares are available, and that everything will run according to a well-planned schedule. The teams of Timo Makinen/Henry Liddon, Hannu Mikkola/Gunnar Palm, Vic Preston, Jr./Bev Smith, and 1969 Safari winner Robin Hillyar with newcomer Mark Birley are all a great part of the narrative as they get comfortable with their Ford Escort RS1600's. From recce, through pre-event jitters, and all through the four days of the Safari Rally as it travels through Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, Brittan puts the reader in the middle of the activity within the Ford team, riding along with the crews on the dusty highways, changing flat tires, slogging through the mud, making roadside repairs, and always concerned about where the other competitors are in the standings.
Brittan's story ends on the highest note possible with Mikkola and Palm capturing victory, the first Europeans to win the Safari. Ford also takes the team prize with Preston/Smith in third, Hillyar/Birley in fourth, and Makinen/Liddon managing eighth after considerable setbacks during the rally.
Rally co-driver and writer John Davenport adds 30 pages of history on the event. The rally originated in Kenya as the Coronation Rally in 1953, commemorating Queen Elizabeth II's rise to Monarch of the Realm. The rally grew to travel through three countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and became known as an event which only the strongest cars could survive. It earned international fame when factory teams from Europe set out to prove that their cars could complete the grueling course. Despite the European drivers showing well in the early going, for years only drivers from East Africa took home the winner's trophies.
The story is illustrated with 32 pages of photos, plus the Shell Oil map outlining the course followed in 1972.