Some Europeans seem to have fixed but not entirely accurate conceptions of African rallies; they are either flat-out blinds over open bush or winding escarpments, or long, interminable endurance runs through rock-strewn deserts. This isn’t the case at all, for down in South Africa they have rallies which are very similar in style to British special stage events. The best, and longest, of these is the Total Rally which has in recent years adopted a style not unlike that of the RAC Rally.
Based at Pretoria and organised by the motor club of that city, the Total Rally is sponsored handsomely by Total South Africa and backed to the hilt by South African Airways, two organisations which together have made it possible for a group of European competitors to take part in the rally over the past several years, at the wheels of cars entered by local motor manufacturers or dealers. Over the years the event has become increasingly prominent and in 1974 the CSI sent observers along in order that they could “officially” satisfy themselves that it was worthy of inclusion in the World Rally Championship. It has already been included in the list of championship qualifiers for 1976, subject to a favourable report from two other observers who went along to watch this year.
Its competitive content is ample and straightforward – 29 special stages strung out between Wednesday and Friday mornings, all of them on rough dirt roads, most around 10 kilometres long but several stretching into the twenties and thirties. Between stages the road sections are slackly timed in order that no one will be tempted to break speed limits, and the whole thing is recorded by computer at a base in Pretoria linked by radio and telephone to the various controls. However, timekeeping was not particularly good this year, the “pigeon clocks” which stamp three clock faces on a card being unsatisfactory. We imagine that the timing system will be revised long before next year’s rally.
Whilst Britain was enjoying its freak tropical heat and humidity, the Transvaal was in the middle of its winter, with sunny days and chilly nights. But temperature was of no consequence; the important thing was the complete lack of rain in the months before the event, resulting in very dry ground and huge billowing clouds of dust trailing from every car. In the absence of wind, the dust took a long time to disperse, far longer than the two minutes which were officially allowed between each car, and there were cases of faster cars overhauling slower ones but being unable to get within striking distance because of the lack of visibility. No one had notes, of course, because practice is forbidden on the Total Rally and the route is only announced the evening immediately before the start.
Even without World Championship status, the Total Rally attracts works or works-backed cars from Datsun, Toyota, Chrysler, Leyland, Alfa Romeo, Ford and Peugeot, “works” in this case meaning either the parent companies or their South African manufacturing plants. In the case of the latter, cars may be “production models” in South Africa but they are hardly produced in such numbers as to satisfy the FIA’s homologation requirements. For instance, a V8 Marina, a straight-six Datsun 160 or a V8 Firenza would by no means pass scrutiny in a European international event.
If the Total Rally becomes a World Championship qualifier—and, timing apart, we see no reason why it should not—the CSI should really make some sort of provision for accepting cars of South African manufacture which do not hold international homologation. If this is not done, it would be grossly unfair on those South African manufacturers to have their cars banned from their own major event simply because they are not produced in sufficient quantity.
After an early lead set up by local drivers (if one can call recent German emigrant Klaus “Jochi” Kleint a local man) on three short and fairly familiar stages in the vicinity of Pretoria, the overseas professionals soon forged through the dust to get ahead, the lead being taken by Bjorn Waldegard in a Toyota Corolla with 2.1-litre twin-cam (but not 16-valve) engine. Britain’s Roger Clark, in a locally-prepared Ford Escort II with 2-litre 16-valve engine, had a slow start but he always stayed within striking distance and towards the end, when the going became more mountainous and there were steep uphill gradients on the special stages, he easily made use of the Escort’s power to forge ahead, providing Ford South Africa with exactly the right kind of boost they needed for the recent launch (just days before the start) of the Escort II in that country.
Datsun did not have a very happy event, for initial leader Kleint rolled into the trees very early on and the next best performance came from Karry Källström who finished fifth. Also in a Datsun was Britain’s Chris Sclater, but a variety of problems delayed him so that he was just tenth at the end. The Peugeots didn’t shine at all, which some may consider to be uncharacteristic of them in African events—until you remember that the style of the Total was similar to that of European events so that a good power/weight ratio was essential for success. A Volvo 142 entered for Per-Inge Walfridsson didn’t really get going and went out when its distributor failed, whilst an Avenger, marketed under the Dodge name in South Africa, driven by Andrew Cowan managed to finish eighth despite being grossly over-geared as a result of the wrong gearbox and the wrong rear axle. In addition to Clark’s new Escort, there were two such cars with the old body also under the care of Ford South Africa, but both retired, Andre Liebenberg’s when a driveshaft failed and Roelof Fekken’s when a broken alternator bracket caused the fan belt to be thrown right into the teeth of the camshaft drive belt. When that came off, too, there was no hope of continuing.
Looking back on the Total Rally we have no hesitation in saying that we enjoyed competing in it. It was a tough, fast, competitive event which produced that satisfied feeling when it was all over. There is no doubt in our minds that it would fit very well into the World Championship, provided the organisers completely revise their timing methods.—G.P.
1st : R. Clark/S. Pegg (Ford Escort II RS 1977)…. 6 hr. 06 mm. 30 sec.
2nd: B. Waldegard/H. Thorszelius (Toyota Corolla 2150)…. 6 hr. 07 min. 13 sec.
3rd : O. Andersson/A. Hertz (Toyota Corolla 1600)…. 6 hr. 19 min. 04 Sec.
4th : H. Mikkola/J. Todt (Peugeot 504 1971)… 6 hr. 21 min. 14 sec.
5th : H. Kälström/L. Drews (Datsun 1600U SSS 1889)… .6 hr. 21 mm. 48 sec.
6th : J. Kuun/C. Kuun (Toyota Corolla Estate 2140)…. 6 hr. 28 min. 45 sec.
7th : H. Fekken/P. Swanepoel (Ford Escort RS 1800)…. 6 hr. 38 min. 26 sec.
8th : A. Cowan/G. Phillips (Dodge Avenger 1599)…. 6 hr. 38 min. 46 sec.
9th : L. Cloete/F. Boshoff (Datsun 180U SSS 2565)…. 6 hr. 40 min. 47 sec.
10th : C. Sclater/H. Lidden (Datsun 160U SSS 1889)…. 6 hr. 41 min. 21 sec.
100 starters, 52 finishers