Updated June 2017

Driving across Africa is now politically impossible. Our 1960 such two-way expedition across all Africa was the very last known. We started in mid 1959 – and exited the Sahara cloon 28 April 1960. The track was closed that night. It has never re-opened. Further, Africa’s centre, right down to Zambia, has ever since, been far too dangerous even to consider.

Here’s the story of that trip.

In 1954, whilst with de Havilland, I designed a unit to simulate vibrational forces associated with guided missiles. I later designed a far larger whilst working for Vauxhall/Bedford Research. This one was to specifically replicate rough track surfaces under controlled conditions. It was needed because testing, involving vehicles circling tracks of simulated roughness, was too rough on the test drivers.

The concept worked, but was nevertheless hindered by (then) lack of factual knowledge of Africa’s roads and tracks. This was an issue as Bedford was specifically seeking to increase African sales.

Backing obtained

There was also an ulterior motive, namely to travel the length and breadth of Africa. The astute department head felt the concept was fine. But, sensing that other motive, said it was not one the research division the company could financially support. He did, however, assist unearth a totally unused and very rare 1940 ex RAF Bedford QLR for a nominal amount.

QL climbing jpg

 The modified QLR on trial in the UK – seen here climbing a plus 45 degree slope with ease.

Whilst aware of its rapidly escalating politics, I felt it was still just politically feasible to do so.

Mobil Oil provided political assistance, and fuel and oil throughout. The British Army supplied (then) experimental dehydrated food. It proved excellent. Many other organisations assisted.

Finding no takers within Vauxhall/Bedford I persuaded my long term friend, Anthony Fleming, to join me. Anthony was an ex de Havilland engineering apprentice but, following a stint as a mica miner, was (despite being only 24) a police inspector in Mombasa (Kenya). Also with us, initially, was ex de Havilland trade apprentice Rex Yates.

QL tony, collyn, rex

En-route in southern Spain: Left to right: Anthony, Collyn and Rex.

 Driving across Africa –  QLR Bedford

The basic QL was designed, just prior to WW2, as a versatile off-road military vehicle. It was powered by a 3.5 litre Chevrolet petrol engine designed in the early 1930s. This provided a rarely attained (and governed) top speed of 32 miles/hour (about 50 km/h).

A fully laden QL makes an oxen-drawn wagon seem like a Ferrari. Nevertheless, it has an extraordinarily low bottom gear – of (104:1). Minor gradients slow one to walking pace but, given enough time, a QL almost climbs the side of a house.

Ours was the rare QLR version. Only a few were – as mobile airfield control centres. Ours had a massive centre-mounted winch and huge 12 volt, 600 amp dynamo. Both, plus an air compressor and front and rear axles, were driven by separate power shafts from a huge transfer box.  It had a heat-insulated metal coach body. We converted this to crude working/ living quarters.

Africa - desert encounter 1

One of the QLR’s endearing features was a machine-gun hatch over the passenger’s seat. This provided access to the living section whilst on the move. (One climbed through the hatch, up and over the cab, and down through a second roof hatch into the separately sprung coach body.)

The QLR originally had two 180 litre fuel tanks. We added three more, plus five 20 litre jerry cans. The resultant 1000 litres provided a safe 3500 km range. This was specifically needed for the two Saharan crossings. We carried 700 litres of water of water. Cooking was via a couple of paraffin-fuelled Tilley pressure stoves. Internal lighting was 12 volt electric.

Driving across Africa – initial planning

Our planned African route was through Europe to Gibraltar. Then across to Tangiers, and along the North African coast to Algiers. From there, south via the Atlas Mountains, then across the Sahara to Kano (Nigeria). Then right down French Equatorial Africa. We’d then somehow cross the Congo river – and down through the (then still) Belgian Congo, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and South Africa down to Cape Town.

This had, however to be truncated at the South African border. The visa requirements were deemed impossible.

The return was via Northern Rhodesia, across to Dar es Salaam, and then north to Mombassa on Kenya’s east coast. From there toward the Sudanese border, then back-track to cross Africa east-to-west just north of the equator. Then to Kano, and hopefully back across the Sahara.

We had expected our biggest problems in driving across Africa would be mechanical or geographic. They proved, however, to be mainly political.

The war in Algeria had escalated, nevertheless our only possible route was through it. There were serious independence struggles in the Belgian Congo, and uprisings in Rhodesia. The Mau Mau was only too active in Kenya. There were skirmishes in the French and British Cameroons.

But we were in our twenties back then – and thus still immortal. We worried mostly about whether the food could be made edible (it was). And if Anthony’s reasonable (and my less so) French would be as despised in French-speaking parts of Africa as mine was in Paris.

Driving across Africa – Gallic intransigence

The biggest problem was France’s battle with the fellagha (Algerian freedom fighters). Nevertheless, we had to obtain permission to drive through the war zone. I spent two months in Paris battling bureaucracy. But aided by Mobil Oil’s clout, we eventually gained permission. It was conditional, however, on driving only from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm. Also, when ordered, to travel in army conveys. And to stay within police or army compounds at all other times.

The authorities however overlooked something vital. It was the marginal ability of a 3.5 litre engine pulling 7.0 tonne over the Atlas mountains. It was the only route – and vital to both sides. A short way up the first (of innumerable) mountain passes, were cries of ‘Merde alors – le camion anglais est un ^&%$*&% escargo!’. (Loosely translatable as: ‘Odure! the truck of England is a ^&%$*&% snail’.) The army left us to our fate. They did, however, invite us to dine in their officers’ mess. ‘If you actually make it’!

The Atlas crossing reduced the QLR to a mere 3-5 km/h. That, plus trigger-happy conscripts in concrete bunkers every few kilometres, is not an experience we’d willingly repeat. There was ongoing gunfire but we were never attacked. The fellagha won shortly after, gaining Algeria’s independence.

We made it safely each night, dining with the officers who’d previously abandoned us. We stayed shortly, in a semi-safe town, to regrind the exhaust valve seatings. (This became an ongoing chore). We finally reached Ghardaia oasis without undue incident.

There, the QLR was inspected and certified for solo desert travel. That validated our Saharan driving permits – specific to the declared vehicle and driver/s.

Ql leaving in salah

The last bitumen for 3000 km – leaving the oasis of In Salah.

Driving across Africa – serious Sahara

Formalities cleared, we entered the Sahara: the world’s largest hot desert. At 9.2 million km2 , the Sahara is larger than mainland USA. It has spectacular gorges and a high mountain range (the Hoggar). Most, however, is sandy and stony. There are massive dunes and 700 kilometres of very soft sand to its south.

Africa sahara nightfall smaller

Peace at last – nightfall in the northern Sahara – about 1000 km from Algiers

The first partial crossing (in 1922) was to Tamanrasset, about 2500 kilometres south of Algiers – about 60% across. It was by caterpillar-tracked Citroens: to quote the leader, ‘apre des difficultes sans nombre’ (after difficulties without number).

caterpillar track citroen

The caterpillar-track Citroen was based on a standard production car. It was only 1452 cc (developing 20 bhp at 2100 rpm). A 3-speed gearbox drove the tracks.

Apart for rare explorers, complete crossings only began after WW2. Long after our trip, the route was bitumenised to Tamanrasset. The work was, however, crudely done. It soon became unusable and was later land-mined.

The Sahara, about 2500 km (north-south) has innumerable large dunes. The, route (at times there is no track as such) winds its way between them.

Its southern part is mostly vast expanses of sand. It is just passable early in the morning (using very low tyre pressures), but not after noon. There are also ultra-soft bulldust-like patches kilometres across. These are driveable only by rubber caterpillar tracked vehicles.

Sparsely populated

With few oases a long way apart, the Sahara is sparsely populated. We did however encounter two groups of Arab traders. Each travelled the 8000 plus km return journey (from Lake Chad almost to Algiers), with up to a hundred or so camels. They serviced oases with spices and (highly prized) salt. Each return trip took them up two to three years!

Africa camels web

We encountered two Arab traders – who mainly sold salt and spices. They would take two-three years to travel the 10,000 km round trip.

Camels apart, there was little other traffic. There was, for instance a few heavily armed French Foreign Legion patrols, and about a dozen army convoys a month, each of three or four vehicles. La Societe Algerienne des Transports Tropicaux ran a heavy passenger carrying truck between Ghardaia and Tamanrasset once every 14 days or so.

Only officially Sahara-certified 4WD trucks, such as ours, could travel alone. Apart from that there were six to ten private vehicles each year attempting the overland crossing – mainly Land Rovers in twos or threes. 

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The little-known Citroen 2CV 4WD Sahara. With Gallic logic, it had an engine and transmission system at each end with coupled controls.

The Saharan crossing was only permitted between 16 October and 28 April. Rains across the whole of central Africa make most tracks impassably flooded from July until December. But, as we found out the hard way, heavy rain can occur at almost any time. And did.

Driving across Africa – finding the way

There was a clearly defined route (but not always a track as such) as far as Tamanrasset. But once past there, there was no track as such. On the contrary, it was a ‘direction of travel’ delineated by thin black posts about 10 km apart.

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Southern Saharan route marker – not the easiest to see from 10 km away. It points out the general direction – but there is no track.

The concept is to head navigating by magnetic compass (and sun compass), in what you hope is the general direction. The next drum could usually be spotted, via binoculars from the QLR’s handy ex-gun turret. But only when about half-way between the two. This was a tricky part of the crossing. To skirt soft sand, it was frequently necessary to veer kilometres to the left or right  It was thus vital to remember whether one had veered off to the left – or to the right of the route markers.

Africa article - sahara bogged (Toureg helping)web

Bogged in mid-Saharah – Collyn ‘supervises’ as Rex and a hitch-hiking Toureg dig it out. And not a route marker in sight.

Driving across Africa  – sans visas

With the Sahara crossed, our major problem became border guards. Visas were required for the 50-plus jurisdictions we were travelling through. These were only obtainable by possessing one specifically valid for that immediately after. The problem, however was that no visa was valid for more than a few months. Having 50 sequentially-valid visas for a journey of unknown time was thus impossible. Our visas inevitably became way out of date.

Fortunately I had been forewarned. An enterprising ex-diplomat suggested the solution. He knew we had official Mobil Oil signage, plus letters from Mobil Oil verifying our purposes. And that we would have papers legally guaranteeing the truck would finally be returned to the UK. (We also had Africa-wide vehicle insurance cover etc.) He suggested we arm ourselves with Trans-African Survey Expedition letter heading, an impressively large rubber stamp, a bright red ink pad, and a portable typewriter.

Lord Alistair Clutterbuck

Following this ‘diplomatic advice’, before each border crossing we’d type and stamp an impressive looking letter. This was often duplicated in French. It requested that the ‘bearers of great distinction be accorded le passage priorite’. These were signed ‘Lord Alstair Clutterbuck’, ‘Sir Washington Irving’,  or whatever seemed impressive at the time. It was red-stamped accordingly.

That, plus the Mobil insignia on the truck, so impressed border officials that most overlooked (or consequently ignored) our visas had expired months before. Where it didn’t, a packet or two of Gauloises (hideously strong French cigarettes) only once failed to suffice. It did so spectacularly in a frenzy of Gallic rage. Even that relented, however, following the third or so bottle of Beaujolais. That compromise, nevertheless required a 2000 km detour. But at least we were not stuck in central Africa.

Driving across Africa – Citroen presse 

Still in the vast Afrique Equatoriale Francaise, about 500 km on, the narrow track was blocked by the two halves of a (then) 30 year old Citroen 10 truck. Its African owner/drivers had been stuck there for two days without food or water. They were reluctantly preparing to abandon its remains (their only possession).

With time no great object, we made and shared a meal. Then worked out how to fix it. Using a tree and the QLR’s powerful winch to align the truck’s two halves, we reunited them – using 12.5 mm (half-inch) steel plate we were carrying in case needed for the (then underestimated) QLR.

All this took the better part of two days. Sixteen big holes had to be drilled through that steel and truck chassis. We did this with one of those hand drills – back then aptly called ‘gut busters’. We then bolted the Citroen together, repaired broken brake rods and straightened the bent drive shaft.

The now delighted owners invited us to stay in their village – 100 km south. There, the tribe put on a party with alcohol made from things I still prefer not to think about. An embarrassing invite associated with the (French-speaking) head man’s daughters was tactfully handled by Tony. He explained that alas ‘we are too fatigued to do full justice to their extraordinary beauty’.

Africa -the party web

 The morning after the party – the still happy Citroen’s main owner is in the foreground.

Driving across Africa – a continent yet unspoiled

Then and in a few rare areas still now, central Africa was pleasantly primitive. Many Africans, as yet unbothered by missionaries, were almost or totally unclothed. They lived, as they probably had for tens of thousands of years, in small self-supporting communities. In these areas we never once felt even remotely in danger. 

Africa - africans on way to a gigTribal African musicians on their way to a gig (Afrique Equitoriale Francaise).

Deep in central Africa (back then), almost every African we met was kindly and courteous to an extreme. We felt far less secure in allegedly ‘civilised’ areas.

 I still clearly remember the beating of drums at night. It would come over the top of curious and sometime alarming jungle noises. We’d often wake up in the morning with every move watched avidly by tiny and charming kids.

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Some bridges were scary! 

Leaving French Equatorial Africa, now with the essential permit, we shipped the QLR across the Congo river on an African-built barge of planks lain on top of two oversize canoes.

Africa - crossing the congo

 Crossing the Congo river (fortunately at a narrow point).

Driving across Africa – the mission belt

We continued (south-east) down and across the-then Belgian Congo. Then, via the only north-south route, we skirted the full length of the Ruwenzori mountains. These are often called the ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

Africa winching truck web

                        roblem. The track gave way beneath the QLR’s seven or so tonne and came close to rolling                                                            over. (Here, Collyn uses our Tifor winch to pull the QLR upright).

This was full-on mission belt territory of varying and conflicting persuasions. Incongruously wealthy missions were sited every 10 or 20 km along the route. In some, native Africans had been obliged to wear clothing more suited to Victorian London than the Congo’s 38-400 C (approx 1000 F). Plus over 95% humidity. Most were abandoned (or about to be) as Belgian rule had  virtually collapsed. As with the Congo generally, this part of was virtually in chaos only a month or two later. 

Africa - Congo mission

A mission in the then Belgian Congo (1960). There were about twenty such along 300 km. Most, as is this, were in the process of being abandoned.

Here was none of the spontaneous gaiety and openness characteristic of ‘less civilised’ areas. This area and time is truthfully and wonderfully captured in Barbara Kingsolver’s aptly name book, The Poisonwood Bible.

A need to avoid danger

This area, and our return through part of it, was the most potentially dangerous part of the trip. The long and despotic rule of Belgian government resulted in white colonialists’ overbearing attitudes toward Africans. For example, Europeans had right of way on the ultra narrow single lane tracks. Their enforcement of this in the rainy season caused bitter resentment.

We descended from the mountains to the then called Elisabethville, now Lubumbashi. It had just become a fully autonomous city – demanding immediate independence. The resultant nationalist movement, led by Patrice Lumumba, shortly after resulted in the Congolese civil war. Most of the 100,000 or so white population had fled – or actively doing so.

We were there just prior to onset of serious fighting. Anti-Belgian feeling was so strong, however, that as in Algeria, it was far too dangerous to stay.

Driving across Africa – saving a semi-trailer

Just prior to leaving the Congo, we were cautiously descending a mountain range. Rounding a bend, we found the track blocked by an African-driven truck and trailer (from Kenya). It had slid partially over a steep embankment (with several hundred metres vertical drop). At considerable risk, local Congolese had unloaded the trailer’s fortunately light cargo. They could not, however, retrieve the truck, let alone the trailer without a big winch. We had one. So we secured the QLR by steel ropes and ground anchors, and partially winched the truck onto the track.

At this point arrived a gun-armed and furious Cadillac-driving Belgian. White people here were rarely ever seen driving trucks – let alone helping Africans. He did not register we were there. Furiously berating the locals, he demanded at gun point, they cut the cable to let him pass. He was ‘summarily dealt with’ by ex police inspector Anthony – who, normally gentle, was nevertheless good at that sort of thing.

With the Belgian having ‘rethought his position’, we retrieve the truck (but not alas the trailer) and headed off. Anthony commented (in his quietly reserved English way), ‘that bounder may think twice before he tries that again’.

This incident could readily have resulted in that Belgian’s death. The Belgian police and army had long since fled. Whilst leaving virtual anarchy behind them, the days had thankfully gone when white fellas routinely pointed guns at Africans.

(We had to re-enter the Congo on our return route, via Uganda. We were not threatened, but travelled as quickly as a QLR can allow.)

Driving across central Africa – Rhodesia and South Africa

Our time in the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was relatively uneventful. But, here too, curious attitudes nevertheless prevailed. We visited Mobil headquarters in most countries – where we’d also fully refuel. At one such (then Salisbury) we were told ‘some Africans make good drivers’, and a few could ‘even’ become mechanics. All except menial office jobs, however, were deemed unthinkable. Most were already taken anyway by those of Indian descent. But Indians too seemed confined to trade and non-managerial work.

Contrarily, on entering Uganda, (1000 km northeast) Mobil Oil’s local manager was African. Furthermore, his tribal background was Rhodesian. He did the identical managerial job, with almost all African staff, in a different branch of the same company.

I was in Africa to study road surfaces, not politics or racial attitudes. Notwithstanding, I was (to put it mildly) surprised.

Some 40 years later I still wondered why. I subsequently completed four years of Aboriginal Studies at the mostly Aboriginal-studented Broome campus of Notre Dame University. That partially helped.

Driving across Africa – a break in Kenya

We spent an idyllic few weeks in Tony’s previous town of Mombasa, eating in local markets, and swimming in the phosphorescent Indian ocean under a full moon.

04_Slides_005

Sometimes we’d borrow a boat to sail on the harbour.

We often watched and listened to the dhows drifting in after their long voyages from the East: their slow-beating drums marking another successful passage.

From Mombasa, we headed north, driving through what a decade or two later were to become game reserves. We stay for a week or two with Anthony’s father. He was a retired RAF group captain, living on the slopes of Mt Kenya, complete with peacocks on the lawns. His (also ex RAF) companion had a Cessna in a hanger used for supply trips into Nairobi. He was sadly killed six months later – whilst rescuing people fleeing the Sudan.

Driving across Africa – beating the rains

Travelling south for a bit, we then headed west. This was prior to seriously organised game smuggling. Central Africa back then was swarming with wildlife.africa-elephants evening

Here, elephants gather to enjoy an evening drink. 

Once, from a high Ugandian escarpment, we saw herds of elephants. They stretched, as far as the eye could see, in either direction.Africa hippos swim web

In Uganda, we saw this river swarming with hippopotami. In retrospect foolishly, we walked amongst them when they came out of the river to sleep at night. We saw no lions, but heard many.

The intent was to cross Africa, east/west before the rains made tracks impassable. That, we failed to achieve! Many times we could only move by using four-wheel drive with heavy tyre chains on all four 11.00 by 20 tyres. It was heavy going. We bogged several times.

IMG181ILFORD

The ever cheerful Anthony fitting the heavy steel tyre chains. Three more to go! 

We eventually arrived back in Kano in Nigeria (at the northern end of the Sahara). There where we gave the QLR a thorough overhaul before its second Saharan crossing.

We did this work in the local Mobil Oil depot. There, whilst working on the QLR’s engine, it burst into flames – about 30 metres from a huge petrol storage tank. It was rapidly extinguished by the African staff – using larger fire extinguishers than we previously knew existed.

Driving across Africa – Jeepers creepers

In Kano, we encountered two forlorn Americans. They were attempting to drive a forward-control Jeep around the world. This had suffered by their not knowing how to change into the (non-synchromesh) first gear whilst moving. Nor that, by double declutching, it was possible. Constant use of second (of a four speed gear box), when first gear was sorely needed, had taken its toll. A smashed rear differential left with only front wheel drive.

This was far from their only problem. Despite being less than half way, the Jeep had broken virtually one of everything. All that worked was the drive to the front wheels. And (usefully!) its power winch.

Africa - jeep close up on tow

Not a happy Jeep! 

‘Would you allow us to travel with you across the Sahara – there’s a Jeep agent in Algiers’ (5000 km south!) they asked. For reasons that now escape us, except temporary madness, we agreed. ‘Travelling with us’ proved to be pulling and winching this barely mobile wreck across most of the Sahara.

Cola-colonised

Whilst lacking the needed Jeep agent, Kano was Coca-colonised. The Jeep jockeys’ perks was having it free. Six cases, all in glass bottles, were loaded into the QLR. Most broke within hours, flooding the truck with a syrupy glug that’s probably there to this day. (We didn’t even like the stuff!)

That 104:1 low-range gear was used a lot. But, apart from seven tonnes of QLR towing five-tonne of useless Jeep with our 58 brake horse power, the Saharan return crossing was uneventful. 

Africa toureg on roof plus Jeep small

Another picture that Jeep lovers prefer not shown! The Toureg on the roof of the QLR is Akhakmadu.

We stopped about 1000 km from the next closest human beings to assuage the motor’s increasing appetite for exhaust valves. Their re-grinding had become routine every 10,000 km. Various bits of engine lying around freaked the Jeep drivers. They temporarily ceased their personal re-enactment of the American Civil War, presumably to contemplate their assumed demise.

Akhakmadu

Part of this crossing was enlivened by a young Toureg named Akhakmadu. He was hitching the 1200 km from Agades to his home in Tamanrasset. He was delightful company and saved us a lot of digging by showing us that sand that looked hard usually wasn’t. And vice versa. Akhakmadu also told us that the sand formed a crust in the early hours of the morning, that lasted only until noon. So we then stopped accordingly.

Akhakmadu also taught us more about dates and date palms than we really wanted to know. Moreover, some very rude Saharan-French epithets – still handy from time to time. Akhakmadu is perched on the QLR’s roof in the picture above.

Driving across Africa – but not yet home!

Political problems had changed by the time of that Saharan return. Paris had accepted Algerian independence. French airborne forces and many local French, however, were now in open and armed rebellion. We came within 1000 km of Algiers. We there left the Jeep using its remaining front wheel drive. I pitied the Jeep agent who was to cobble the thing together again.

Minus the Jeep, we travelled via minor tracks to the then-French Foreign legion town of Colomb-Bechar (now Bechar) on the Moroccan border. There, I bought a pair of French Foreign Legion officer’s baggy dress trousers. I wear still them to the occasional party.

From Colomb-Bechar we headed toward the North African coast. Then through Morocco to Ceuta, and by ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain.

Africa web home via the French and Italian Alps.

Crossing the Stelvio Pass

Once back in Spain we took on enough fuel to detour to Monte Carlo (for the French Grand Prix – and the launch of the Peugeot 404) and thence over the Maritime Alps, and eventually to London.

Driving across Africa – the last ever trip

Our driving across Africa experience ended when we arrived (back in Dover) late on the 28th of April 1960. Africa by then had virtually exploded behind us. As that date was also the last time for decades that the Sahara was open for traffic the QLR was almost certainly the last vehicle to complete this route. The Sahara is again far too dangerous for travel. Driving across central Africa is currently not possible. The only route now is via the east coast.

That Jeep

The Jeep saga has a curious sequel. Unknown to us, around 1965, world-wide promotion (showing it) boosted the great American know-how that had allegedly enabled that (seriously troubled) machine to circumnavigate without breakdown.

In early 2013, Anthony (now owner of world famous Fleming Yachts and living in California) located one of the Jeep’s drivers. He revealed that the Jeep had broken down time and again. He had seemingly raised such a storm that not only was the promotion halted, but the (Forward Control) Jeep ceased production. Curiously, it now has an iconic (ironic?) following in the USA, presumably amongst those unaware of that debacle. And not, presumably this article. Nor its pictures.

Our QLR – a truly great truck

Apart from consuming exhaust valves like carrot sticks, the QLR performed superbly. It hardly put a tyre wrong in over 60,000 km, of which only 15,000 or so was on surfaced roads. The QLR traversed tens of thousands of kilometres of tracks that make the Gibb River Road and the top end of Cape York seem like bitumen highways.Africa WEB Exiting the Sahara pdf

On the way back, it travelled virtually the whole width of Africa in low-range four-wheel-drive, ploughing through deep mud. It survived the return Saharan crossing, at times pulling the over five tonnes behind it through soft sand. It was one tough truck.

Years later I realised what caused its exhaust valve appetite. Seemingly, to limit water cavitation around the valve guides, the cooling system needed to run (at what was then) quite high pressure. We had experienced problems with the radiator cap pressure valve even in the UK. We later adapted a Schrader tyre valve to hopefully do the job. It now seems likely header tank pressure was too low. Consequent cavitation around the cylinder head prejudiced cooling.

Given a bigger engine (preferably diesel) and appropriate gearing, a QL would be an excellent machine today. The Bedford ‘R-type’ was its later civilian and armed forces successor. It was less unsophisticated, at least having synchromesh and more power. I felt however, it lacked the very real personality of the QL. In many ways the Australian designed and built OKA is more the QL’s spiritual successor.

The QLR’s ending

The QLR came to a curious end. It was bought, for a nominal price, without previous sighting, by an English aristocrat to transport guest shooters around his country seat in Leicestershire. I suspect he’d thought it was smaller. Apart from other curious habits, upper-class Poms shoot unfortunate birds bred for the purpose. They are directed to fly across their path (but only at a certain time of year).

I last saw the QLR being driven behind the good Lord’s Rolls Royce. His clearly bemused and somewhat snooty chauffeur was audibly encountering a non synchro-mesh gearbox and a close to negative power/weight ratio for the first time.

It was a good trip. Along the way I gained a fair (albeit mainly subjective) understanding of track surfaces and, in particular, corrugations.

For a time I seriously believed I’d established corrugation’s cause. Until I found papers reporting it on bullock cart tracks in the early 1800s. And on the vertical steel guide bars of some elevators. Meantime GM had taken a different approach to vehicle testing, but the info I had gained was passed to them for what it was worth.

My following years

The experience was such that I found it impossible to settle down in Britain. Following a time in Libya, I booked a sea passage to New Zealand, but fell in love with Sydney on the stop-over and did not get back on. I sadly never saw or heard of the QLR again.

Tony felt likewise. He moved to Asia (and now lives in the USA). See below.

In Australia, following some years designing and building engineering and scientific equipment, I started what became, eight years later, the world’s largest circulation electronics magazine (Electronic Today International) ending up with editions in six different countries. In 1982 I left to start my own writing and publishing company.

Following a year or so driving around Australia we settled deep in Aboriginal territory (north of Broome, in the Kimberley) for 11 years. There, we physically self-built a home and large workshop on 10 acres of Indian Ocean frontage. It had no facilities except unlimited crystal clear bore water. The whole property is all-solar. We built the solar system first so it was even built using little energy other than solar. See All Solar House on our associated site (successfulsolarbooks.com).

Further Information

My first edition of my Campervan & Motorhome Book, finished in 2001, was inspired by much of what I had learned on that last drive across Africa trip. Later editions of my books included twelve plus return trips across Australia via mainly dirt tracks – from Broome to the east coast and back in our OKA. Plus three in our 4.2 litre Nissan Patrol and Tvan. We also circumnavigated Australia. This book was replaced by an all-new edition – the Caravan & Motorhome Book in mid-February 2016.

If you enjoyed this article you’ll like my books. All are written in a totally down to earth manner and are 100% free of industry involvement. They also include Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, Solar That Really Works, and the Camper Trailer Book.

We now live in a now all-solar home in Church Point, overlooking Pittwater (30 km north of Sydney). I remain a writer and publisher (and have very much ‘walked the walk’). My wife (Maarit) is a psychologist specialising in working with traumatised children.

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NOTE: The names of many African cities and countries have been changed since becoming independent. I use their earlier names throughout much this article. This not out of a lack of respect. This is a historical article and some readers are likely to be more familiar with them than are used today.

DVD available

 Anthony Fleming (later the founder of the world famous ocean going Fleming Yachts is also a superb documentary maker. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that trip, Anthony produced a truly brilliant DVD of the trip. It uses the original but now surgically cleaned colour film – scanned at an extraordinary 3000 pixels – and blended as if it were almost a movie. It has an equally superb music-backed voice-over, by Anthony himself.

Africa Trip DVD small

This 43 minutes DVD is now available from Caravan and Motorhome Books for A$15 including postage (Australia only) – or $50 post free for five. To purchase please write to us at Caravan & Motorhome Books, PO Box 356 Church Point, 2105 – or telephone 02 9997 1052 business hours Monday-Friday). Or via email at [email protected]