It was with great sadness that the organisers and sponsors of the Kenya Airways Safari Classic Rally learnt of the death of Joginder Singh in London on October 20th. As recently as 2007, Joginder was the patron of the Safari Classic for that year. He met all the competitors, flagged them off from the start and was present during the rally and at the prizegiving.
Anyone seeking for an example of determination and perseverance could do worse that to pick Joginder Singh. In his twenty-two consecutive attempts at the Safari Rally he posted three wins, only three retirements and eleven times he finished inside the top five.
Born in Kericho, high up amongst the tea plantations of western Kenya, Joginder learnt his automobile engineering in his father’s workshop before moving to Nairobi where he landed a job as Kenya’s first mobile Automobile Association patrolman. His journeys around the country with motorbike and sidecar were to stand him in good stead when he started rallying in 1958 with a friend, Raman Patel, in a Morris Minor. His first Safari was in 1959 when he drove a private VW to ninth place accompanied by Raman Patel. This good result triggered some modest support from Cooper Motors for whom he and brother Jaswant drove Volkswagens for the next three years, finishing every time and with their best result fifth overall in 1962.
Joginder’s next Safari car was a Fiat 2300 with which he and Jaswant finished fourth and could have been much higher had it not been for multiple punctures. For 1964, Joginder was signed to drive one of the Lincoln Mercury Comets brought over with much razzmatazz from Detroit by the Ford team but which went home rather subdued. The Comet gave Joginder his worst Safari result at twenty-first overall. However, other teams were even unluckier on that 1964 Safari and, after it was finished, he was able to buy two of the works Volvos PV544s that were deemed not worth shipping back to Sweden. For the 1965 Safari, Joginder pulled start number one of the hat in the starting order lottery and drove his self-prepared, second-hand Volvo – already with 42,000 miles on the clock – to win brilliantly by a big margin. This victory triggered appearances supported by Volvo on various European rallies that included the Swedish and RAC Rallies as well as the Acropolis where, on a rally closer in style to his beloved Safari, he finished ninth overall.
He drove Volvos for the next few years on the Safari and always finished well with a third in 1966, a fourth in 1967 and second in 1969. He had a brief dalliance with Datsun coming fifth in 1968 in a Datsun 2000 while in 1970, driving a Datsun 1600SSS, he finished second. As a result, a Datsun contract loomed for 1971 but he also had an offer from Ford to drive their Escort Twin Cam and he chose to go with the British team. Sadly, he had poor luck with his two Escorts, posting his first retirement ever in 1972 with an RS1600. Short of a drive for 1973, he looked around and chose the 1,600cc Mitsubishi Galant and, as with the VWs and Volvos before it, prepared the car himself with help from his brother, Davinder. First time out he finished eleventh after losing an hour going back for a control stamp when an official failed to mark it properly. He then lost three hours re-fitting the rear axle to the car at the side of the road with tools from the car after hitting a bridge parapet. It was a drive typical of Joginder’s “never give up” philosophy.
With some help from the importer and a modicum of interest from the Japanese factory, he became Mitsubishi’s advance guard on the WRC scene and rewarded them by winning a very wet Safari in 1974 with a Lancer accompanied by David Doig. They could well have won again in 1975 had not the engine developed a problem with its valve gear. In a typical example of Joginder doggedness, he tried to continue by using a cylinder head from a service car but it was a long job and he ran out of time. On another rainy Safari in 1976, the team of three Lancers prepared by Joginder swept the board with Joginder winning his third Safari with Robin Ulyate second and Andrew Cowan third.
For 1977 which was if anything an even wetter Safari, the lack of power from the Lancer’s 1,600cc engine proved to be a handicap and Joginder could not do better than fifth overall especially since he also ran some distance with broken steering. His last three Safaris were behind the wheel of various works Mercedes, twice in 280SEs with one retirement thanks to water getting into the engine and an eleventh overall. Then on the last occasion, he drove a 450SLC in which he was partnered by an American TV star from Baywatch. This gentleman, one Parker Stevenson, received a lesson in stoicism when Joginder contrived to remove the side window and most of the co-driver’s door in an early accident. They eventually finished fourteenth but for Joginder, his rallying days were over. He had learnt the hard way that works cars were more often than not more susceptible to breaking down than ones he had prepared himself. He disposed of his interests in Kenya and moved to live in London.
To Kenyans, Joginder will always be ‘Simba ya Kenya’ (the lion of Kenya) while for his fellow Sikhs he will be recalled as ‘The Flying Sikh’. To his many friends in the rally world he was known simply as ‘Jo’. And to thousands of rally fans around the world, he will be remembered as a quietly spoken man who had no need to trumpet his rallying achievements and car preparation skills since, whenever he drove on a Safari, they were evident to all.