Early Safari Rally History

The idea for the original Safari Rally was born in a legendary, much-quoted conversation between Eric Cecil and his cousin Neil Vincent. A true motorsport devotee, Vincent refused to compete at the newly-built Langa Langa circuit. 'I can imagine nothing more boring than driving round and round the same piece of track," he declared. "But if you will organise an event where we get into our cars, slam the door, go halfway across Africa and back and the first car home is a winner, I'll be in it.'

Together with Ian Craigie, the Competitions Secretary, Cecil encouraged the Competitions Committee to organise a long distance rally. Their moment came with the death of King George VI and the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth II in June 1953. A proposal to organise a rally through East Africa to pay tribute to the new Queen was accepted by the Management Committee and the 'Coronation Rally', starting from Nairobi around Lake Victoria through Uganda and Tanganyika and returning back into Kenya was established.

The East African Safari Rally continued every year thereafter, with great interest from international rally federations. In 1957, the FIA marked the East African Rally on its international motor sport calendar and there was genuine surprise amongst the REAAA. The date of the event also moved forward from the end of May to the Easter weekend, so as not to interfere with other European events.

When independence was gained by the three African countries - Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - in the early 1960s, the historic rally route was changed. It would still pass through Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, however organisers were to rotate the start and finish of the rally, to include Kampala and Dar es Salaam.

In 1969, the Tanzanian government closed its borders and the rally was no longer allowed to go though Tanzania. Not only were the borders closed, but the government refused to let its residents compete, which greatly affected many local drivers including Tanzanian hero, Bert Shankland. In 1971, Tanzania re-opened its borders but insisted that the rally start and finish in Dar es Salaam the next year. That year was also marked with the first ever all-international crew to win the safari rally: Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palman a Ford Escort RS 1600.