HEROES IN THE DUST – PART 4

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By Johnnie van Wyk

“There are three secret organisations in South Africa: The Free Masons, The Broederbond and the AA Motorsport committee.” This was Johnny Johnson’s regular opening statement at Total Rally post-mortem meetings at the PMC clubhouse, which would be followed by a slew of detailed gripes about the preceding rally, including too little time at refuelling stops and the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the timing clocks. Heated debates ensued regarding the problems that crews wanted the organisers to fix for the following year’s event.

Rally crews in the ʼ60s mostly consisted of amateurs in their own cars. The route was kept secret from the competitors, servicing for the most part was allowed during your own rally time and crews carried their own spare parts in the car. The likes of Volvo (Lawsons), Datsun and Renault started providing cars to a select few (such as Hettema, Van Bergen and the Porter brothers) but for the club enthusiast or supported driver there was only one event to do… the Total! The result was that entry numbers often exceeded one hundred crews.

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Typical Service crew – here Colin Mohr joined the SAM members guys after retiring his own car.

The Total started in the 1950s as the PMC’s LM Rally – the longest of the season. It usually took place in the first week of September, starting in Pretoria on a Tuesday or Wednesday and running through to Saturday, with the finish at the ATCM’s track outside Lorenço Marques (now Maputo).

From 1958, the PMC based the rally on the Monte Carlo rallies of the time, and it was awarded international status. This saw starting points all over South and Southern Africa (Salisbury, Durban, Windhoek, Cape Town, etc) with a convergence section of around one thousand miles of open controls to even the mileage from the starting points. Where the routes merged, a regularity section usually ran to a parc ferme with a few hours’ break at the City Hall in Pretoria. The scores of the first regularity stage determined the starting order for the next section. From here, the mayor of Pretoria sent the cars off on Thursday at 18:00. Various routes were used through the years, and other than a second, longer service break somewhere like Durban or Nelspruit, the only rest breaks crews got were at refuelling stops.

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Typical privateers – KT de Villiers /Andre Heiberg at the start of the 1971 Total.

Slowly, with more sponsored crews entering, support crews started creeping onto the scene – although thankfully the secret route and regulations minimised service access during the rally, and they were not allowed on the regularity route at all. This helped to keep the playing field reasonably even, and private crews continued doing very well (the likes of Hugo Snyckers, Eddie Bielfeld and Dave Howcroft spring to mind). With Total petroleum sponsoring the rally the event grew rapidly, spurred on by the firm’s commitment to sponsor the winning crew an entry into the following January’s Monte Carlo Rally. The first bit of international exposure came in ’62 for the South Africans when the honours went the way of Phil and Scamp Porter in a Renault Dauphine, but others like Jan Hettema and Ewold van Bergen soon followed. Those who went overseas encountered the ‘practised special stages’ format and many, like Hettema and Van Bergen, then pushed for this format when they returned home.

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Jan Hettema/Willem van Heerden in the imported ex-Mikkola Escort – Pretoria city hall.

Initially (up to 1972), the Total was run as a regularity rally with the competitive sections usually all gravel; most made use of private forest roads which could be closed off. Crews had their jobs cut with the event running over a few days, where one problem on a regularity stage often meant the rest of the section became a high-speed chase to catch up. Although initially there were no clear special stages, the routes usually included difficult sections where it was virtually impossible to maintain average speeds and this really sorted the men from the boys. Seriously tough sections such as Naude’s Neck, Lundean’s Neck, the ‘staircase’ in Swaziland and the ‘unconstructed mountain pass’ near Ofcalago and Burgersfort became notorious.

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Start of the ‘unconstructed mountain pass’ – Ofcalago to Zeekoegat, 1972 Total.

The Totals were long-distance endurance adventures, with many crews falling out. Those breaking before the Pretoria regroup were allowed to enter the rest of the rally, but as a secondary event. The unwritten rule: just get everybody to LM for the party!

Certain years stand out: the ‘snow’ Total of 1962 won by the Porter brothers, the ’69 affair for the Swanepoel/Crous battered Gordini and 1970, which saw an immense Ewold van Bergen and Jan Hettema rivalry (Jan had a few problems before the Natal break but won every stage thereafter and still couldn’t catch the flying Datsun SSS of Ewold).

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The marshall point at the end of the ‘unconstructed mountain pass’, near Zeekoegat. Ben and Braam van der Westhuysen’s Escort in the control. Photo taken from KT de Villiers’ car.

In 1971, just seven cars were classified as finishers – the last heartbreak, which came just before Lorenço Marques, was the Willem du Toit/Dave Erasmus Fiat 124. The effort was so immense that on occasion the sweep marshal (in a regular road car) often caught up to competitors.

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Chris Swanepoel, Lydenberg refuel, leading the very tough 1971 Total.

A class for standard cars was introduced in ’73 and the likes of Peugeot 504Ti, Toyota GSL and Datsun SSS entered with these class honours in mind – one standard Datsun SSS, crewed by Sarel van der Merwe/Chris Hawkins, stood out from the crowd by ending up way ahead of the more specialised rally machines. This year was also the last Total to end in LM and the first time an overseas driver scooped the overall honours: Tony Fall navigated by the experienced South African, Franz Boshoff.

Looking at the results over the years makes for some interesting reading, and it becomes apparent that certain crews excelled in these long-distance endurance events. Hettema won four times (1963, 1965, 1966 and ’67) with different navigators – Hennie Steenkamp, Gus Menzies, Mike Hooper and Robbie Broekmeyer. Hettema, navigated by Franz Boshoff, thought he had another win in 1977 when he outgunned the Sandro Munari Lancia Stratos, but was excluded for speeding on a road section. South Africa enthusiasts still count this as a ‘win’ against that year’s Monte Carlo Rally winner, though.

Chris Swanepoel/Gus Crous won the event three times (1968, 1969 and ʼ71) despite not winning the championship in any of these years. Scamp and Phil Porter won in the ‘snow’ Total in 1962 with a Renault Dauphine and used a Gordini to lift the ’64 trophy. Ewold van Bergen won both the Total and the championship ten years apart – in 1960 he teamed up with Alan van Niekerk in an Austin A40 and in ’70 he powered the infamous SSS TK with his wife, Minota, calling the notes.

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Ewold and Minota van Bergen, always to be reckoned with! (1969).

In the next instalment, we will take a look at some of the many unique and colourful characters in the world of rallying.

INTERESTING FACTS:

  • Due to the ‘issues’ with competitors’ watches, the PMC bought 30 pigeon clocks to record times at marshal points in 1960.
  • In 1960 the RAC would not agree to enforce the use of safety belts!
  • In 1963 the East African Safari winner (Peter Hughes) took part but did not finish.
  • 1964 saw the first use of forest areas.
  • 13 winners of 1964 regional events won free entries to the Total.
  • In 1968 speed group classing for the regularity section was scrapped and engine capacities were used to class the groups.
  • The first European entrants arrived in 1968: Monte Carlo-based Rene Isoart and Anthony Noghes. They took part in a Toyota GT5, but did not finish.
  • Special stages were first introduced in 1969.
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1971 – Lambert Fekken/ ohan Bormann and service crew.

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