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Classic Velocity Blog

East African Coronation Safari 1953-1954

Classic Velocity


With the Dakar underway, long distance endurance rallies are on the mind. Going back in time, these rallies were really extended reliability trials. If you finished on Sunday (winning was even better), it went right onto a poster for the sales department to use on Monday. Even today, I wonder how many manufacturers would send a bone stock production sedan vehicle off to race across sub Saharan Africa, wth just a couple of tires and a gas can strapped on the back. But I digress.....

The East African Coronation Safari was first run in 1953 crossing Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. It was initially held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, since She was in Kenya and became Queen, when King George died. It became widely regarded as the toughest Rally on the circuit, if not in the world. 3000 miles, punishing terrain, and unpredictable weather, all combined to cement the reputation of this Rally. However the first two instances of this Rally really set the stage. The initial rally had three starting points, although the majority started in Nairobi. It wound its way around Lake Victoria. Performance on the cars was required to be showroom, meaning no mods. Four classes were determined based on vehicle price. There were only 57 entrants for the first Rally, including DKW, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Tatar, and Volkswagen. There were only 27 finishers, with the top spot (least penalties) going to the split-window Volkswagen Beetle of Alan Dix and Johnny Larsen. In 1954, Volkswagen triumphed again but this time at the famous hands of Vic Preston and D P Marwaha. Average speed decreased due to the increase in mandatory rest stops and control points. The following year, the Rally adopted FIA rules and an RAC permit was required, effectively ending the initial minimal regulations approach.