Have wheels, will travel

They don’t build cars like this any­more, or road trips ei­ther

The Witness - Wheels - - EXPLORE - ALWYN VILJOEN

IN 1963 a young Roger Fresh­man con­vinced three fel­low stu­dents at Bris­tol Uni­ver­sity to drive with him from Bris­tol, Eng­land, across Africa to Cape Town in a car that both he and his daugh­ter would later use as their wed­ding ve­hi­cle.

The mot­ley crew com­prised three engi­neer­ing and one law stu­dent, the lat­ter cho­sen be­cause his dad once owned a sim­i­lar car and he knew a bit of the 1930 Austin Burn­ham 16/6 they were to travel in.

Their aim was to drive the vin­tage car across Africa to Cape Town and there chal­lenge four Cape Town uni­ver­sity stu­dents to make the re­turn jour­ney.

“We gave a name to our ven­ture: VASTA Ex­pe­di­tion, which stood for ‘vin­tage Austin stu­dent trans-Africa’,” said Fresh­man.

The Cape Town crew rechris­tened the Austin as “Mug­wump”, for “Mon­tague’s uni­ver­sity group with un­lim­ited means of propul­sion”, rather than the orig­i­nal mean­ing, which is a fence sit­ter, es­pe­cially on po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Be­fore de­part­ing, Fresh­man’s crew mod­i­fied the oil bath, air cleaner and oil filter, and in­stalled an ex­tra fuel tank and an ex­tra leaf to the rear leaf springs. They also fit­ted a front bumper to pro­tect the ra­di­a­tor, a roof rack and stor­age bins on the run­ning boards.

Their main spon­sor was Lord Mon­tague, who paid £1 000 to ad­ver­tise his Mon­tague Mo­tor Mu­seum.

“We had many other spon­sors of food, med­i­cal sup­plies, camp­ing equip­ment, film equip­ment, spares for the car, as well as fi­nan­cial,” re­called Fresh­man.

Long be­fore one could just ask Google, plan­ning such a jour­ney re­quired a huge amount of work to plan the route, ob­tain visas and col­lect the do­na­tions from their spon­sors.

At the end, they had so much “kit” they had to hook up a trailer.

Along the way, they had to field­stripped the engine to find the source of a “knock”, which disappeared on re­assem­bly. “To this day we do not know what caused it,” he said.

In Spain, three burnt ex­haust valves had to be re­placed. “These had to be ‘lapped in’ so it took a day to com­plete the re­pairs in the square of a small vil­lage, where we were sur­rounded by a horde of young­sters who thought it very funny to pick up parts or tools and pre­tend to run off with them” Fresh­man said.

The tim­ing chain snapped near the Tu­nisian border. “This is quite a ma­jor job and as a dust storm from the desert was blow­ing we had to shroud the engine with blan­kets to keep the dust out while we worked.”

The group were well im­pressed with the old Ro­man city of Lep­tis Magna in Libya. “It was so well pre­served, hav­ing been cov­ered by sand for cen­turies, and was still be­ing ex­ca­vated,” said Fresh­man.

Af­ter Lep­tis they made rapid progress to Alexan­dria in Egypt. ar­riv­ing af­ter a month on the road. There one of the stu­dents was di­ag­nosed with acute ap­pen­dici­tis and he was op­er­ated on by an Amer­i­can-trained sur­geon who charged no fees as a good­will ges­ture to Bri­tish stu­dents. The three re­main­ing stu­dents were al­lowed to climb to the top of the sec­ond high­est pyra­mid. “The high blocks made for a hard climb, but it was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Fresh­man.

When the rest of their kit ar­rived by con­tainer, they did not have enough space to fit ev­ery­thing and in­stead held an im­promptu boot sale. Then they learned the route they had planned across Egypt to Su­dan was tem­po­rar­ily closed due to the build­ing of the Aswan Dam. This saw Mug­wump loaded on a boat down the Red Sea to Port Su­dan, then a train flat bed to Khar­toum and even­tu­ally a Nile ferry that pad­dled its way to the cap­i­tal of South Su­dan, Juba. “This was a very slow 10-day trip, liv­ing third class next to Mug­wump, sur­rounded by the many lo­cals with cry­ing ba­bies, bleat­ing goats etc.”

The ferry was made up of six barges tied to­gether and driven by huge pad­dles be­cause the reeds in the Nile made the use of props im­pos­si­ble.

In Tan­za­nia they vis­ited the Ngoro­goro crater and Am­boseli game park with its mag­nif­i­cent views of Kil­i­man­jaro. There one of the crew had jaun­dice and had to fly home. Now a month be­hind sched­ule the re­main­ing two stu­dents drove on south to then Rhode­sia, where they were wel­comed by the mayor of Sal­is­bury.

They con­tin­ued south to Pre­to­ria on South Africa’s good tar roads, where they swung east to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg to travel through the Transkei and along the Gar­den Route to Cape Town.

“A cav­al­cade of vin­tage cars came out to es­cort us to Cape Town hall, where the mayor had a wel­com­ing re­cep­tion and we met the four stu­dents from the uni­ver­sity who had vol­un­teered to drive Mug­wump back to Bris­tol. It was now just un­der four months and 19 000 km that it had taken us, and Mug­wump was run­ning like a dream.

“The two of us went back to the UK on a free pas­sage on sep­a­rate Saf­ma­rine cargo ves­sels.

“The Cape Town stu­dents took a sim­i­lar route to ours, but crossed the Med from Egypt to Italy and thence to Bris­tol. They had no ma­jor break­downs, but suf­fered from 34 punc­tures, due to new, ill-fit­ting tyres that were spon­sored in Cape Town.

“Mug­wump came back to South Africa when I em­i­grated there in 1964 and was the only car I drove for three years.

“She was my wed­ding car when I was mar­ried in Rhode­sia and my youngest daugh­ter’s wed­ding car in Cape Town,” he said.

Mug­wump, now owned by a mem­ber of the Crankhan­dle Club, is used of­ten for vin­tage ral­lies and is still go­ing strong hav­ing had no ma­jor engine work since her epic two-way trip from Bris­tol to Cape Town and back.

The only re­pairs not noted above in­cluded a bro­ken shock ab­sorber arm, a worn dis­trib­u­tor drive gear, a burnt-out in­let valve, and a worn prop shaft fi­bre cou­pling. “We had 11 punc­tures and the ra­di­a­tor only boiled once, in Morocco,” said Fresh­man.


‘‘Mug­wump’ was a 1930 Austin Burn­ham sa­loon that went down and then up Africa.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.