The 1960s saw the growth of rallying both locally and internationally. It was an exciting time where the sport was for the people, by the people and often in the people’s cars. Here’s how it worked on our shores.
Rallies were organised by individual clubs such as the Western Province Motor Club (WPMC), South African Motor Sport Club (SAM), Pretoria Motor Club (PMC), Rand Motor Club (RMC), NMCC (Natal Motor Cycle and Car Club), Western Province Motor club (WPMC) and the Sports Car Club (SCC).
There was a natural progression with competitions running from club through to provincial and national levels, and the openness of the events allowed the clubbies a chance against more experienced and professional outfits – this was seen at the annual Total Rally where the majority of the 100-plus entries were from club enthusiasts. Marshals were like-minded family and friends who, covered in dust, would congregate at the finish and recall the event’s war stories. Development of competitors and officials was important and I remember at least two club ‘feeding programmes’ – SAM had a very active affiliated University of Pretoria Motor Klub (UPMK) through which names such as the Fekkens, Jan Kriek, Wammy Haddad and others graduated, while the SCC teamed up with the University of Witwatersrand Club.
Club events were the place to start as car prep went along the lines of removing your daily runabouts hubcaps and installing stiffer shocks (don’t tell the missus!), maybe fog lights and a fixed reverse light on the back bumper. Then you’d add a navigator’s board and a variable mechanical odo running off an undriven wheel (if from up-country, you sourced this from Control Instruments in Braamfontein). A navigator’s door light was fitted for the marshal reading the watch and numbers, and your club’s sticker, if not already stuck to the window, needed to be placed. Judging by the pics, painting the bonnet matt black seemed to be mandatory – even if only for the image – and the final bit of prep was to obtain a competition licence from the Automobile Association in Braamfontein.
Rallying is all about calculating ideal route times, and most navigators started off with slide rules or ‘rally tables’ (the SCC printed rally tables) although some designed their own. To do the maths faster, mechanical calculators became the weapon of choice for navigators and they chose their ‘coffee grinders’ with utmost care. Some swore by Ohdner, others Brunsviga or Remingtons, while the Facit reportedly jumped the digits when the roads got rough, throwing your calculations out the window.
Mechanical watches were carefully tuned. Generally, two watches were kept, one of which was fixed (sealed by the scrutineer in a Perspex box) on the scoring clipboard. Variable ratio odometers were mostly hand built. They were driven from a non-driven wheel by cable to a variable speed converter, usually two knurled cones running a rubber belt that could be moved to a higher or lower ratio so that one could adjust the ratio to get closer to the measurements of the organiser. You also had to be able to add or subtract distances to correct readings. Overseas crews used Halda Speedpilot odometers, but these were not accurate enough for South African regularity precision. Conversion to the metric system in 1971 suddenly saw the hundredth digit on the odo running to a blur in comparison to the miles!
Mechanical watches had to be carefully tuned and many believed that putting them in a briefcase while at work simulated a shaking car. It was pure luck if a mechanical watch ran less than 6 seconds early or late in 24 hours. In longer rallies (the Total, running over days), it was necessary to check the watch every 12 hours. South African standard time was given on a shortwave frequency by the South African Astronomical observatory.
Initially, marshals read the competitors’ sealed watches, but this was soon superseded by mechanical clocks used in pigeon racing but adapted for rallying; these could print the face of the clock on paper. Marshals then clocked the rally cars by stamping the time on paper and handing the printout to the navigator. The chief timekeeper of the rally had to synchronise all the pigeon clocks before distributing them to the marshals – often as many as 60 clocks! With the Total Rally, where the clocks were distributed all over Southern Africa, keeping the clocks on the correct time was done using the short wave radio frequency.
Once you were fully into rallying, the next step was modifying your daily a touch to improve acceleration in order to get up to speed and maintain the required average time after slowing for corners, hazards or marshal points. Rallyists started shopping for multiple Weber or SU carbs and playing with cylinder heads – the two-stroke DKWs responded well to having port work done by experts like Coen Spamer or Bokkie Steyn. Better road holding meant maintaining or getting back up to required speeds faster, so in came better shock absorbers, limited-slip differentials and tyres. At scrutineering one could spot multiple shocks on both sides of the back axle on some Volvo 122Ss while the rubber of choice moved from Michelin X, to the asymmetrical XASs (negative camber Gordinis loved them!) or to Dunlop SP49s, SP73s and eventually Dunlop’s M&Ss.
Ferodo DS11 brake pads were chosen stoppers and weight was saved by removing rear seats, bumpers and interior trim. With many crews holding weekday jobs, most rallies ran at night so spotlights and mist lights were essential. Cibie spotlights ruled the roost but Ewold van Bergen topped the pile with his Datsun SSS fitted with aircraft landing lights.
Events and stages became iconic. There was the WPMC Cape Double Twelve, NMCC’s Rally of a Thousand Hills, the PMC’s Moonlight Rally and of course the LM Rally – which, like the Monte Carlo was a multi-day event with convergence sections to Pretoria followed by a route to Lourenço Marques.
Ringing any old rally bells? How about Lundean’s Nek, the staircase in Swaziland and the ‘unconstructed mountain pass’ from Ofcolaco to Zeekoegat? Or places like Babanango, Qumbu, Mossiesdal and De Tweedespruit. Then the scary canals: Brits had tight sections while Groblersdal saw high-speed road sections next to the Armco-less concrete canals; drivers had very little warning of corners and unfortunately a few cars went into the canals. Gauged concrete at the low water crossings showed that sump guards were a good investment and teams delivered some wondrous innovative fixes, with masking tape becoming a construction element. Because this was all really accessible and achievable, a lot of fun and spirited competition was had by all and the sport of rallying blossomed. Regular drivers and navigators became stars, car makes became leading brands and rallies and stages etched themselves into folklore.