Collector Classics: Rally Round Africa

Gary Anderson and Harry ‘Enrico’ Dobrzensky are back in Vancouver after their latest 7,000-kilometre trek in their 90-year-old rally car through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa. But their 1930 Ford Deluxe Cabriolet didn’t make the entire trip. It’s broken and on a ship out of Cape Town, South Africa.

The globe-cruising adventurers have competed in eight rallies through some of the world’s most challenging terrain. The last was the 2015 Singapore to Mandalay Rally where 60 cars started out on the 9,000-kilometre run through Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). There were several accidents between rally cars, many more on the road and the organizer was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Harry and Gary’s Model A, dubbed the Little Red Car, was hit in the rear by a competing 1957 Chevrolet convertible but was able to rally on.

In the early Eighties, Harry had met international sailboat racer Anderson when the latter was presenting a slide show. They became friends and many years later they decided to throw-in together in further afield adventures.

Harry participated with his brother-in-law Michael in the 1990 London-to-Peking Rally – the first euro-Asian transcontinental rally since the original 1907 Peking-to-Paris challenge. Gary took part in the 2013 Peking-to-Paris Rally with his son John.

Together, Harry and Gary rallied in a one-car event from Vancouver to Ushuaia, on the tip of South America. They hiked with their wives through Nepal to the Kingdom of Mustang, completed a motoring circumvention of Australia and then participated in the Singapore to Mandalay run placing third in the ‘Vintage’ class with the same 1930 Ford model A Cabriolet.

They would not be that lucky after leaving Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania on Oct. 3 for the run through the heart of Africa to end in Cape Town on Oct. 27.

Six of the 27 cars wouldn’t complete the rally and the 1930 Ford co-owned by Harry and Gary would be one of them.

“Gary had done some modifications to the car that I was not too enthusiastic about,” Harry says in retrospect. “I did not mind the upgraded brake system and better link between the old and new fuel tanks but he changed the carburetor and did other alterations to the engine to increase the horsepower. I think that may have caused the problem.”

The pair had traveled about 2,000 kilometres and was close to Lusaka, Zambia when the crankshaft cracked. Their trip in the 1930 Ford was over.

“I was extremely disappointed,” Harry says. “For the two days after the breakdown, it was very difficult for me to speak with Gary. Thank God we have done a few other trips together.”

He says there must have been very few cars in Africa in 1930 as motoring on the continent really began after World War Two. Today, there are no parts available and no one to fix a vintage car.

They marveled at how much attention their ancient convertible coupe drew everywhere they went in Africa. “The kids would go berserk when they saw us. It was like the space shuttle landing. They wanted to touch it. The police would pull us over just so they could take pictures of the car,” Harry says.

Gary says biggest challenge was driving at night on a two-lane tar road where it seemed the entire population of Malawi was walking on both sides of the crumbling road. “It’s a country so poor, people don’t even have bicycles. By far it was the worst time in the 120,000 kilometres of rally driving we had done. It was a nightmarish experience and a wonder we didn’t kill someone.”

Only one car was older: a 1929 Chrysler 75 roadster rallied by David and Barbara Berks from Ottawa who won the competition in large part due to David’s driving ability and Barbara’s navigation skills.

“’In Barbara We Trust’ was our motto. All we had to do was stay behind them to find our way and make it in good time,” Harry says.

Still on speaking terms, Harry and Gary were able to soldier on after crossing the border from Zambia to Botswana by renting a 2017 Ford Ranger. “It had air-conditioning. What luxury,” Harry says of their continuing rally.

Breaking the old Ford was the low point. But there were many positive experiences to remember. The rally of only 27 cars was small by comparison to others and it brought the participants closer together. The trip was very well organized by Rally Round and their helpful team of mechanics, chase vehicles and a doctor.

There were accidents but only one serious collision where a 1951 Bentley tourer from England was so badly damaged it was no longer drivable.

“There are many visible differences between poverty-stricken countries and those that are mineral rich,” Harry says. “I was most impressed by the advanced engineering and technology for paved roads considering the climate and temperature.”

He says the forest in the mountainous region between Botswana to Durban is marvelous: “They have an army of forest specialists. Forestry seems to be an extremely advanced science there with well treed forests and the introduction of non-indigenous plants.”

Harry is very proud of his commitment with the CARE Canada organization and used the rally as a means of building awareness and fundraising for that cause. For more information go to http://careca.convio.net/goto/RallyRoundAfrica

The 1930 Ford Model A cabriolet rally car is expected to arrive in Vancouver at the end of January after an eight-week journey from Cape Town.

“Gary and I will review the damage and fix it,” Harry says. “We paid a dear price for sending it on dirt roads and pushing the power. We started the rally in a 1930 Ford and finished still in a Ford but a 2017 Ranger.”

They won a prize for finishing the race in first position in the Rally’s newly added ‘modern vehicle’ class.

Problems aside, the friends are already planning their next rally next November from Cartagena, Columbia to Lima, Peru once the venerable red Ford is repaired and road ready. But things will be different next time.

“We had less than one week to drive the car before shipping it to Africa,” Harry says. “All I drove the car was from the repair shop to the shipping container – not more than 20 kilometres. That’s not acceptable. We will test it for three months and drive it at least 2,000 kilometres before we put it in another container.”

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. aedwards@peakco.com

 

 

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