HEROES IN THE DUST – 2

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Words and images by Johnnie van Wyk.

Dust, dust, dust – you just hope to see the sides of the road or the rear lights of the car in front. Catching the car ahead of you could mean that they had an ‘off’, took a wrong turn, had a flat tyre or were just too slow.

It was in such a situation during the infamous 1969 International Total rally that Chris Swanepoel ran the Renault South Africa Gordini into the back of Harry Fekken’s red Volvo 122S, putting Harry and Bokkie Steyn out of the rally. Chris, with regular navigator Gus Crous, won the first national rally of 1969, the Transvaal Trial, but thereafter either Hettema or Ewold and Minota van Bergen had dominated. But Chris and Gus were determined to regain some form and defend their 1968 Total Rally win.  

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The Total was organised by the Pretoria Motor Club (PMC), and sponsored by Total South Africa. The event you just had to do, and it drew 80-plus crews. Like the Monte Carlo Rally of the time, the Total consisted of a convergence section, culminating in a service break and parc fermé in Pretoria. Crews could nominate their start towns from a list such as Windhoek, Bulawayo, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The individual convergence routes were open sections with passage controls, and although obviously very different, evened out the distances travelled. Starting on the Tuesday, the 1969 routes merged on Wednesday in Kroonstad with a competitive regularity section from there to Pretoria, arriving at 11:00 at the city hall into a closed parc fermé and an approximately six-hour break.

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Early Saturday morning refuel near Mozambique border: Kirsten/Johnson (Porsche) Odendaal/Kuun (Alfa Roemo), Howcroft/Boshoff (Volvo) and Phil Porter/Mike Semmens (Renault Gordini).

Service in the parc fermé was allowed only 30 minutes before the start times. First car was then off at 18:00, arriving in Durban 10:00 the next morning for a 24-hour break. Car number 1 then headed off at noon on Friday, arriving in Lourenço Marques the next morning at 08:30. Competitors had to pace themselves and keep concentration (regularity rallying!) for many hours on end on dusty public roads, mostly night driving with the accompanying hazards.

Looking at the 1969 entry list, you’ll see that 80% of the field was made up of enthusiasts in private cars. Prepared by themselves and with support from friends and family, this became a key aspect and Total Rally memory for many hundreds of South African motorsport enthusiasts.

Ewold van Bergen’s works Datsun SSS was entered as a ‘SSS TK’ – according to Ewold, the ‘TK’ stood for ‘Toyota Killer’. This highlighted the rivalry with Hettema’s imported twin-cam GT5. Other interesting cars were the 5-litre V8 Chev Kommando of Lambert Fekken/Willie Nel, Gerry Gericke/Falkner in a Triumph 2000, WPMC’s Robin Thompson/Ralph Behm in an imported Opel Record 2.5 Sprint and the Porsche 911S of Franz Kirsten/Grahame Johnson (Amatola Rally Club, Rhodesia). A visiting overseas crew, Dieter Eiman/Heidi Utz brought an Audi and the Mozambique ATCM club was represented by the likes of an Isuzu Bellett and Saab 96.

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The SSS TK of the Van Bergens at the start.

Motorsport mind games are nothing new, with Hettema often leading the way. In ’69 he famously said to Franz Kirsten in the PMC pub prior to the event: “Franz, with the 911 you will arrive 30mph faster than me at the same corner… who will negotiate it successfully?”

From Pretoria, Ewold and Jan (Toyota GT5) were head to head with Chris/Gus climbing up in the order during the Natal sections. Running well were Robin Thompson/Ralph Behm in the Opel Record, as well as Franz Kirsten in the potent 911S, with Francis Tucker/Robbie Broekmeyer (Volvo 144) and Howcroft/Boshoff 122S also in the mix.

By the Paulpietersburg midnight refuel Hettema/Schjolberg were out, and Ewold came in with a badly damaged sump guard when a buck went under the car – “not a boerbok – they have road sense”.  The buck also damaged the rear axle, which eventually led to their retirement.

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Damage to the Van Bergen Datsun after hitting a buck.

On the Swanepoel/Crous Gordini front it didn’t look good either after the crash, with motoring journalist Ben van Rensburg referring to the Renault as “broken in half”. But in fact it was not as bad as that, and in the six-hour-long break Scamp Porter and crew made a special bonnet with the spotlight attached and special opening for filling the petrol tank (as the bonnet now had to stay closed).

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Pretoria park ferme, with Scamp Porter and team in full action on the Swanepoel/Crous Gordini.

The crew did wonders to get the Gordini rally-ready again, and with Chris and Gus concentrating on the task at hand, eventually arrived in Lourenço Marques well ahead of all the other crews. Despite the blue Gordini’s very well-bandaged front end, the pair also scooped the win on the last test of the rally – a gymkhana slalom test around 44-gallon drums in Avenida de Republica, Lourenço Marques.

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The final test: a gymkhana in in Avenida de Republica. Winners Swanepoel/Crous pushing the battered Gordini.

The pair successfully defended their 1968 win, beating Dave Howcroft/Franz Boshoff in the 122S and the Elbie Odendaal/Mike Hooper 1750 Alfa to the line.

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Chris and Gus’s Gordini office.
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Tucker/Broekmeyer Volvo 144S in full swing on the final test.
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Ewold, Minota and crew servicing at Pretoria parc fermé.
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Chris Swanepoel and Gus Crous at Paulpietersburg.
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Ewold checking the Datsun SSS oil.
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The Van Bergen SSS TK arriving at the Paulpietersburg refuel at midnight on Friday.

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