Over the years, the Roof of Africa has evolved into among the most extreme motorcycle hard enduros on earth that attracts the cream of the crop to Lesotho from around the world to tackle the toughest the Maluti Mountains can dish out. But it was not always like that and for those who hold the classic Roof dear, there’s great news — presented by Live Lesotho and Motul, the Retro Roof of Africa will call back the past in so many ways when it happens for the first time on 21 September 2019.
“The Retro Roof of Africa will be a 250km one-day dash around the Maluti foothills to evoke memories of the last millennium race around the mountains first run in 1967,” event organiser Charan Moore confirmed. “Open to cars, bikes, quads and side-by-sides, the Retro Roof will take competitors back to the roots of the classic car and bike Roof of Africa across the rugged Maluti Lowlands.”
The Roof of Africa Rally was dreamed up by Bob Phillips, the Roads Engineer who had just completed ‘the worst road in the world’. Phillips urged the Johannesburg Sports Car Club to organise a car race over the tortuous route and the Roof of Africa was born sponsored by The Star newspaper in 1967.
The bikes joined in 1969 and the Roof soon became legend as it ran annually for 30 years in mid-September – a volatile weather period in the Malutis. Starting with the mad Round the Houses dash on the streets of Maseru to set start times for the race, the route ran over the Malutis and through the border up to Matatiele in the early years, before heading back around the Mountains to the finish in Maseru. In later years, the Roof became two treacherous laps around Lesotho, when the bikes would divert to legendary mountain challenges like Rampai and Letele, Slide Your Ass and Baboons Pass too.
The Roof legend grew over the years and attracted the best riders and drivers from around the world who came to take on SA’s finest — rally champions like Ove Anderson and bikers including world champion Elio Adreoletti and US wizard Malcolm Smith, the first man to win on both two and four wheels. Tales of competitors caught in blizzards, sleeping in mountain schoolhouses and flooded river crossings were regular fare, let alone the legends of the men who beat it all to finish and win.
Alas, factory teams became ever influential in SA off-road car racing and the Roof of Africa, which did not precisely serve their exact needs, was eventually dropped from the SA championship in spite of huge privateer racer resistance to the move. So the Roof became a bikes-only event early in the new Millennium and has now evolved into the standalone extreme challenge it continues to be today.
Interest has however grown of late to see the return of a ‘real’ Roof of Africa and now the Retro Roof do just that as it takes competitors back to the roots of the car and bike Roof of Africa on its traditional late-September date across a combination of faster tracks with a few technical challenges across the rugged Maluti Lowlands. Unlike the bikes-only Mother of Hard Enduro Roof of Africa later in the year, the old school Retro Roof is open to cars, motorcycles, quads and side-by-side machines.
On two wheels, the Retro Roof caters for all current Cross Country Auto and Moto classes, as well as several unique and most appealing additional categories. The regular motorcycle classes include open-class OR1 spec, 250cc OR2, over 36-Senior and over-15 Juniors, as well as two unique over and under-1000cc Adventure Motorcycle classes and a pre-99 Vintage Motorcycle class.
On four wheels, the Retro C1 class caters for Class A Special Vehicles, as well as FIA and Class T Production machines, while Retro C2 caters for Class P Specials and Class S Production vehicles and Retro C3 is meanwhile open to old school Class B, C, D, E, F & Class 1-12 off-road cars. There are also separate open classes for Side by Side vehicles and quads, while the non-competitive social and service vehicle Sweep Class is open to 4×4 vehicles.
Run over a single 250km loop with outlying refuelling points where teams can either send crews into the mountains to refuel their competitors, or riders can send fuel to each point with an organiser’s truck to refuel themselves as it was back in the day, estimated speeds should be similar to those of classic Roof of Africas by an average of less than 60km/h.