Driving across Africa – in 1956/60 the very last time it was possible

Jun 17, 2020

Updated 2020

Driving Across Africa

Driving across Africa is now politically impossible. Our 1960 such two-way expedition across all Africa was the very last known. We started in mid-1959 – and exited the Sahara on 28 April 1960. The track was closed that night. It has never re-opened. Further, Africa’s centre, right down to Zambia, has ever since, been too dangerous to even consider.

Here’s the story of that trip.

In 1954, whilst with de Havilland, I designed a unit to simulate vibrational forces associated with guided missiles. I later designed a far larger whilst working for Vauxhall/Bedford Research. This one was to specifically replicate rough track surfaces under controlled conditions. It was needed because of testing involving vehicles circling tracks of simulated roughness. It was proving too rough on test drivers.

The simulated concept worked. It was nevertheless hindered by a (then) lack of quantified data relating to Africa’s roads and tracks. This was an issue since Bedford was seeking to further increase sales in Africa.

Backing obtained

There was also an ulterior motive, to travel the length and breadth of Africa. Beford’s then astute research department head felt the concept was fine. But, sensing an ulterior motive, he said the research division could not financially support. He did, however, unearth a totally unused and very rare 1940 ex RAF Bedford QLR. Its cost was a nominal 100 pounds.

QL climbing jpg
The modified QLR on trial in the UK. It is seen here climbing at 40 degrees with ease.

Whilst aware of the war in Algeria, and Africa’s rapidly escalating politics, I felt it was still feasible to travel across Africa’s full length and breadth (and back).

Mobil Oil provided (invaluable) political assistance, plus fuel and oil throughout. The British Army supplied (then) experimental dehydrated food. It proved excellent. Many other organisations assisted.

Finding no takers within Vauxhall/Bedford I persuaded long term friend, Anthony Fleming, to join me. Anthony was an ex de-Havilland engineering apprentice. Following a stint as a mica miner, (at only 24) he became a police inspector in Kenya. Initially with us as ex de-Havilland apprentice Rex Yates.

QL tony, collyn, rex
En-route in southern Spain: Left to right: Anthony, Collyn and Rex.

 Driving across Africa – QLR Bedford

The basic QL was designed, just prior to WW2, as a versatile off-road military vehicle. It was powered by a 3.5 litre Chevrolet petrol engine designed in the early 1930s. Its power output is much the same as a current Suzuki Jimny, but had excellent low-down torque. Its top speed, a governed 32 miles/hour (about 50 km/h) was only possible on a totally flat road.

A fully-laden QL makes an oxen-drawn fully-laden timber wagon seem like a Ferrari. It has, however, an extraordinarily low bottom gear. It was 104:1. Minor gradients slow a QL to walking pace. Given enough time though, a QL is superb off-road.

Ours was the rare QLR version. They were mobile airfield control centres. Ours had a massive centre-mounted winch and a 12 volt, 600 amp dynamo. Both, plus an air compressor and front and rear axles, were driven via a huge transfer box. It had a superbly-made heat-insulated coach body. We converted it to working/ living quarters.

Africa - desert encounter 1
One of the QLR’s endearing features was a machine-gun hatch. This provided access to the living section whilst moving.
The QLR originally had two 180 litre fuel tanks. We added three more, plus five 20 litre jerry cans. The resultant 1000 litres provided a range of 3500 km. This was needed for the Saharan crossings. We carried 700 litres of water. Cooking was via a couple of paraffin-fuelled Tilley pressure stoves. Internal lighting was 12-volt electric.

Driving across Africa – initial planning

Our planned African route was through Europe to Gibraltar. Then across to Tangiers, and along the North African coast to Algiers. From there, south via the Atlas Mountains, then across the Sahara to Kano (Nigeria). Then right down French Equatorial Africa. We’d somehow cross the Congo River. Then down through the (then) Belgian Congo, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and South Africa.

This had, however, to be rethought at the South African border. The visa requirements became impossible.

The return was via Northern Rhodesia and across to Dar-es-Salaam. Then north to Mombassa on Kenya’s east coast. From there toward the Sudanese border. We then back-track to cross Africa east-to-west just north of the equator. Then to Kano, and back across the Sahara.

We’d expected our biggest problems would be mechanical or geographic. They proved, however, to be mainly political. The war in Algeria had escalated. Our only possible route was through it. There were serious independence struggles in the Belgian Congo. Uprisings were growing in Rhodesia. The Mau Mau was only too active in Kenya. There were skirmishes in the French and British Cameroons.

But we were in our twenties back then – and thus still immortal. We worried mostly about whether the food could be made edible. It was. And if Anthony’s reasonable French would be as despised as mine was in Paris.

Driving across Africa – Gallic intransigence

The biggest problem was France’s battle with the fellagha (Algerian freedom fighters). Nevertheless, we had to drive through the now war zone. Obtaining permission to do so tool two months in Paris battling bureaucracy. But aided by Mobil Oil’s clout, we gained it. It was conditional on driving only from the (curfew limited) 9.00 am to 4.00 pm. Also, if, to travel in army conveys. And to stay in police or army compounds at all other times.

The authorities overlooked something vital. It was the marginal ability of the QLR’s 3.5 litre engine pulling 7.0 tonne over the Atlas mountains. It was the only route – and vital to both sides. A short way up the first mountain pass, were cries of ‘Merde alors – le camion anglais est un ^&%$*&% escargo!’. (‘Odure! the truck of England is a ^&%$*&% snail’.) The army left us to our fate. They did, however, invite us to dine in their officers’ mess. ‘If we make it’.

The Atlas crossing required climbing 150 km of fellagha-populated mountains at 3-5 km/h. There were also trigger-happy conscripts in concrete bunkers every few kilometres. It was an experience we’d not willingly repeat. There was ongoing gunfire but we were never attacked. The fellagha won shortly after. They gained Algeria’s independence.

We made it safely each night, dining with the officers who’d abandoned us. We stayed shortly, in a semi-safe town, to regrind the exhaust valve seatings. (This became an ongoing chore). We finally reached Ghardaia oasis without undue incident. There, the QLR was inspected and certified for solo desert travel. That validated our Saharan driving permits. These were specific to the vehicle and driver/s.

Ql leaving in salah

The last bitumen for 3000 km – leaving the oasis of In Salah.

Driving across Africa – serious Sahara

Formalities cleared, we entered the Sahara: the world’s largest hot desert. At 9.2 million km2, the Sahara is larger than mainland USA. It has spectacular gorges and the Hoggar mountain range near its centre. Most, however, is sandy and stony. There are massive sand dunes. There are 700 kilometres of very soft sand to its south.

Africa sahara nightfall smaller

Peace at last – nightfall in the northern Sahara – about 1000 km from Algiers

The first partial crossing (in 1922) was to Tamanrasset. That is about 2500 kilometres south of Algiers – about 60% across. It was achieved by caterpillar-tracked Citroens. To quote the leader, ‘apre des difficultes sans nombre’.

caterpillar track citroen

The caterpillar-track Citroen was based on a standard production car. It was only 1452 cc (developing 20 bhp at 2100 rpm). A 3-speed gearbox drove the tracks.

Apart from rare explorers, complete crossings only began after WW2. Long after our trip, the route was bitumenised to Tamanrasset. The work was crudely done. It soon became unusable. It was later land-mined.

The Sahara, about 2500 km (north-south) has innumerable large dunes. The route (at times there is no track) mostly winds its way between them. Its southern part is mostly sand. It is just passable early in the morning (using low tyre pressures). But not after midday. It has very soft patches kilometres across.

Sparsely populated

With few oases a long way apart, the Sahara is sparsely populated. We did, however, encounter Arab traders.

Africa camels web

With 100 or so laden camels they travelled the 8000 plus km return journey (from Lake Chad almost to Algiers).ss They serviced oases with spices and salt. Each return trip took up two or so years!

Camels apart, there was little other traffic. There were a few heavily-armed French Foreign Legion patrols, and about a dozen army convoys a month, each of three or four vehicles. La Societe Algerienne des Transports Tropicaux ran a heavy passenger-carrying truck between Ghardaia and Tamanrasset oases every 14 or so days. Apart from that, there were a few private vehicles each year attempting the overland crossing. They were mainly Land Rovers in twos or threes.

Only officially Sahara-certified 4WD trucks, such as ours, could travel alone.

SONY DSC

The little-known Citroen 2CV 4WD Sahara. With Gallic logic, it had an engine and transmission system at each end with coupled controls.

The Saharan crossing was only permitted between 16 October and 28 April. Rains across the whole of central Africa make most tracks impassably flooded from July until December. But, as we found out, heavy rain can occur almost at any time.

Driving across Africa – finding the way

There was a clearly defined route as far as Tamanrasset. Once past there, there was no track as such. Instead, there was a ‘direction of travel’. This was indicated by thin black posts about 10 km apart.

IMG096Ilford

Southern Saharan route marker – not the easiest to see from 10 km away. It points out the general direction. There is no track as such.

The idea is to head in what you hope is the intended direction. The next drum could be spotted about half-way between posts. This was the trickiest part of the crossing. To skirt soft sand, one constantly veers kilometres left or right. It’s vital to remember if left, or right, of the markers.

Africa article - sahara bogged (Toureg helping)web

Bogged in mid-Sahara. Collyn ‘supervises’ as Rex and a hitch-hiking Toureg dig it out. And not a route marker in sight.

Driving across Africa – sans visas

With the Sahara crossed, our major problem became border guards. Visas were required for the 50-plus jurisdictions we were travelling through. These were only obtainable by possessing one specifically valid for that immediately after. The problem, however, was that no visa was valid for more than a few months. Having 50 sequentially-valid visas for a journey of unknown time was thus impossible. Our visas inevitably became way out of date.

Fortunately, I had been forewarned. An enterprising ex-diplomat suggested the solution. He knew we had official Mobil Oil signage, plus letters from Mobil Oil verifying our purposes. And that we had papers guaranteeing the truck would be returned to England. We also had an Africa-wide insurance cover. He suggested carrying Trans-Africa Survey Expedition letter heading. Also a large rubber stamp, a red ink pad and a portable typewriter.

Lord Alistair Clutterbuck

Before each border crossing we’d prepare an impressive looking letter. It was typed in both English and French. It requested the ‘bearers of great distinction be accorded le passage priorite’. We signed it ‘Lord Alstair Clutterbuck’ or, ‘Sir Washington Irving’. It was red-stamped accordingly.

That, plus the Mobil insignia on the truck, usually impressed border officials. Most overlooked our visas had expired months before. Where it didn’t, a packet or two of Gauloises (strong French cigarettes) only once failed. It did so in a frenzy of Gallic rage. Even that relented – following the third or so bottle of Beaujolais.

Driving across Africa – Citroen presse 

While in Afrique Equatoriale Francaise, the narrow track was blocked by halves of a Citroen truck. Its African owner/drivers had been there for two days without food or water. They were about to abandon its remains. Their only possession.

With time no great object, we made and shared a meal. Then worked out how to fix the truck. The QLR’s winch realigned the truck’s two halves. We then rejoined them – using 12.5 mm (half-inch) steel plate carried for possibly repairing the previously-underestimated QLR.

All this took the better part of two days. Sixteen big holes had to be drilled through that steel and the truck’s chassis. We did this with a big hand drill – back then aptly called ‘gut busters’. We then bolted the Citroen together, repaired broken brake rods and straightened the bent drive shaft. The now delighted owners invited us to stay in their village. It was 100 km south.

There, the tribe fuelled us with by alcohol. It was made from things I still prefer not to think about. An embarrassing offer (associated with the head man’s daughters) was tactfully handled by Tony’s ‘alas we are too fatigued to do full justice to their extraordinary beauty’.

Africa -the party web

The morning after the party – the still happy Citroen’s main owner is in the foreground.

Driving across Africa – a continent yet unspoiled

Central Africa back then was pleasantly primitive. Many Africans, as yet unbothered by missionaries, were almost or totally unclothed. They lived in small self-supporting communities. In these areas, we never felt in danger.

Africa - africans on way to a gig
Tribal African musicians on their way to a gig (Afrique Equitoriale Francaise).

Almost every African we met was kind and courteous. We felt far less secure in ‘civilised’ areas further south.

 I still clearly remember the beating of drums at night. It would come over the top of curious and sometimes alarming jungle noises. We’d often wake up in the morning with every move watched avidly by tiny and charming kids.

aFRICA BRIDGE CROSSING WEB

Some bridges were scary!

Leaving French Equatorial Africa, we shipped the QLR across the Congo River. It was on an African-built barge of planks lashed to two large canoes.

Africa - crossing the congo

 Crossing the Congo river (fortunately at a narrow point).

Driving across Africa – the mission belt

We continued (south-east) down and across the-then Belgian Congo. Then, via the only north-south route, we skirted the full length of the Ruwenzori mountains. These are often called the ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

Africa winching truck web

A minor problem. The track gave way beneath the QLR’s seven or so tonne. It came close to rolling over. (Collyn uses a Tifor winch to pull it upright).

This was full-on mission belt territory of varying and conflicting persuasions. Incongruously wealthy missions were sited every 10 or 20 km along the route. In each, native Africans had been obliged to wear clothing more suited to Victorian London than the Congo’s heat. Plus over 95% humidity. Most missions were abandoned (or about to be). The often brutally ultra-harsh Belgian rule had virtually collapsed. As with the Congo generally, this part of was virtually in chaos only a month or two later. Any remaining Belgian was at risk of being killed.

Africa - Congo mission

A mission in the then Belgian Congo (1960). There were about twenty such along 300 km. Most, as is this, were in the process of being abandoned.

Here was none of the spontaneous gaiety and openness characteristic of ‘less civilised’ areas. This area and time are superbly captured in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

A need to avoid danger

This area, and our return through part of it, was potentially the trip’s most dangerous part. The long and despotic  Belgian government rule resulted in overbearing, ultra-harsh attitudes toward Africans. Europeans even had right of way on the ultra-narrow single lane tracks. Absolute enforcement of this caused bitter resentment. As no European there ever drove a truck, our QLR was probably the first driven there otherwise.

We descended from the mountains to then-called Elisabethville, now Lubumbashi. It had just become a fully autonomous city. The locals were demanding immediate independence.  Most of the 100,000 or so Belgian population had fled – or actively doing so. The resultant nationalist movement shortly after resulted in Congolese civil war. We were there only a few days prior to serious fighting. Anti-Belgian feeling was so strong it was far too dangerous to stay.

Driving across Africa – saving a semi-trailer

Just prior to leaving the country, we were descending a mountain range. Rounding a bend, we found the track blocked by an African-driven truck and trailer (from Kenya). It had slid partially over a steep embankment (with several hundred metres drop). At considerable risk, local Congolese had unloaded the trailer’s fortunately light cargo. They could not, however, retrieve the truck, let alone the trailer, without a big powered winch. We had one, so stopped to assist.

We secured the QLR by steel ropes and ground anchors, and partially winched the truck onto the track. At this point arrived a car driven by a fleeing gun-armed and now furious Belgian. As white people here were rarely ever seen driving trucks – let alone helping Africans – he did not we were there.

Furiously berating the locals, he demanded at gun-point, they cut the cable to let him pass. He was ‘summarily dealt with’ by ex-police inspector Anthony – who, normally gentle, was nevertheless good at that sort of thing.

With the Belgian having ‘rethought his position’, we retrieved the truck (but not alas the trailer) and headed off. Anthony commented (in his quietly reserved English way), ‘that bounder may think twice before he tries that again’.

This incident could readily have resulted in that Belgian’s death. The Belgian police and army had long since fled. Whilst leaving virtual anarchy behind them, the days had thankfully gone when white fellas routinely pointed guns at Africans.

We had to re-enter the Congo on our return route, via Uganda. We were not seriously threatened, but travelled as quickly as a QLR can allow.

Driving across central Africa – Rhodesia and South Africa

Our time in the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was relatively uneventful. But, here too, curious attitudes prevailed. We visited Mobil headquarters in most countries – where we’d also fully refuel. At one such (then Salisbury) we were told ‘some Africans make good drivers’, and a few could ‘even become mechanics’. All except menial office jobs, however, were deemed unthinkable. Most were already taken anyway by those of Indian descent. A few had started businesses but most Africans seemed confined to trade and non-managerial work.

Contrarily, on entering Uganda, (1000 km northeast) Mobil Oil’s local manager was African. Furthermore, his tribal background was Rhodesian. He did the identical managerial job, with almost all African staff.

I was in Africa to study road surfaces, not politics or racial attitudes. Notwithstanding, I was surprised. Decades later I still wonder why. (I subsequently completed four years of Aboriginal Studies at the mostly Aboriginal-student Broome campus of Notre Dame University. That partially helped.)

 

Driving across Africa – a break in Kenya

We spent an idyllic two weeks in Tony’s previous town of Mombasa, eating in local markets, and swimming in the phosphorescent Indian ocean under a full moon.

04_Slides_005

Sometimes we’d borrow a boat to sail on the harbour.

We often watched and listened to the dhows drifting in after their long voyages from the East – usually around full-moon. Their slow-beating drums would mark another successful passage.

From Mombasa, we headed north, driving through what a decade or two later were to become game reserves. We stay for a week or two with Anthony’s father. He was a retired RAF group captain, living on the slopes of Mt Kenya, complete with peacocks on the lawns. His (also ex RAF) companion had a Cessna in a hanger used for supply trips into Nairobi. He was sadly killed six months later – whilst rescuing people fleeing Sudan.

Driving across Africa – beating the rains

Travelling south for a bit, we then headed west. This was prior to seriously organised game smuggling. Central Africa back then was swarming with wildlife.

africa-elephants evening

Here, elephants gather to enjoy an evening drink.

Once, from a high Ugandan escarpment, we saw herds of elephants. They stretched, as far as the eye could see, in either direction.

Africa hippos swim web

In Uganda, we saw this river swarming with hippopotami. In retrospect foolishly, we walked amongst them when they came out of the river to sleep at night. We saw no lions but heard many.

The initial intent had been to cross central Africa, east/west before the rains made tracks impassable. That, we failed to achieve! Many times we could only move by using four-wheel drive with heavy steel tyre chains on all four 11.00 by 20 tyres. It was heavy going. We bogged several times.

IMG181ILFORD

The ever-cheerful Anthony fitting the heavy steel tyre chains. Three more to go!

We eventually arrived back in Kano in Nigeria (at the northern end of the Sahara). There we gave the QLR a thorough overhaul before its second Saharan crossing.

We did this work in the local Mobil Oil depot. Whilst working on the QLR’s engine, it burst into flames – about 30 metres from a petrol storage tank. The fire was rapidly extinguished by the African staff. They used larger fire extinguishers than we previously knew existed. Fortunately, the engine was not damaged.

Driving across Africa – Jeepers creepers

In Kano (Nigeria), we encountered two forlorn Americans. They were attempting to drive a Forward-control Jeep around the world. This had suffered by their not knowing how to change into the (non-synchromesh) first gear whilst moving. Nor that, by double-declutching, it was even possible. Their constant use of second gear (of a four-speed gear box), when first gear was sorely needed, had taken its toll.

In effect, despite being less than halfway through their trip the Jeep had broken virtually one of everything. This included its rear differential.  All that still more or less worked was the drive to the front wheels. And (usefully!) its power winch.

Africa - jeep close up on tow
Not a happy Jeep!

‘Would you allow us to travel with you across the Sahara – there’s a Jeep agent in Algiers’ (5000 km south!) they asked. For reasons that now escape us, except temporary madness, we agreed. ‘Travelling with us’ proved to be pulling and winching this barely mobile detritus across most of the Sahara.

Cola-colonised

Whilst lacking a sorely needed Jeep agent, Kano was Coca-colonised. One of the Jeep jockeys’ so-called perks was free Coca Cola. Half a dozen cases of the stuff, all in glass bottles, were duly loaded into the QLR. Most broke within hours, flooding the truck floor with a syrupy glug. This dried, leaving a sticky deposit probably there to this day. (Anthony and I didn’t even like the stuff!)

The QLR’s 104:1 low-range gear was used a lot. But, apart from seven tonnes of laden QLR towing a plus five-tonne, all but useless Jeep through soft sand with 58 brake horse-power, the Saharan return crossing was almost uneventful.

Africa toureg on roof plus Jeep small
Another picture that Jeep owners prefer not shown! The Toureg on the QLR’s roof is Akhakmadu. (See text below).

We had to stop for a couple of days, about 1000 km from the next closest human beings. This was to assuage the motor’s now increasing appetite for exhaust valves. Their re-grinding had become routine every 10,000 km.

Various bits of QLR engine lying around the Sahara totally freaked the two Jeep drivers. They even temporarily ceased their ongoing personal re-enactment of the American Civil War. We presumed this was to contemplate their assumed demise.

Akhakmadu

Part of this crossing was enlivened by a young Toureg named Akhakmadu. He was hitching the 1200 km from Agades to his home in Tamanrasset. He was delightful company and saved us a lot of digging by showing us that sand that looked hard usually wasn’t. And vice versa. Akhakmadu also told us that the sand formed a crust in the early hours of the morning, that lasted only until noon. So we then stopped accordingly.

Akhakmadu also taught us more about dates and date palms than we really wanted to know. Moreover, some  Saharan-French swear words – still handy from time to time. (Akhakmadu is on the QLR’s roof in the picture above).

Driving across Africa – but not yet home!

Political problems had changed by the time of our Saharan return. Paris had accepted Algerian independence. French airborne forces and many locals, however, were openly rebelling. We came within 1000 km of Algiers. We left the Jeep to reach there using its front-wheel drive.

Now minus the Jeep, we travelled via minor tracks to the then-French Foreign legion town of Colomb-Bechar. There, I bought a pair of French Foreign Legion officer’s baggy dress trousers. I still wear them occasionally at parties.

From Colomb-Bechar we headed toward the North African coast. Then through Morocco to Ceuta, and by ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain.

Africa web home via the French and Italian Alps.

Crossing the Stelvio Pass

Once back in Spain we took on enough fuel to detour to Monte Carlo (for the French Grand Prix – and the launch of the Peugeot 404) and thence over the Maritime Alps, and eventually to London.

Driving across Africa – the last ever trip

Our driving across Africa experience ended when we arrived (back in Dover) late on the 28th of April 1960.

During those last two months, Africa was virtually exploding behind us. That date was the very last time for decades that the Sahara was open for traffic. It is almost certain that the QLR was the last vehicle to complete this route.

The Sahara is still too dangerous for travel. Much of the area still has land mines. Driving across central Africa is likewise not possible. The only route now is via the east coast.

Jeep saga

The Jeep saga has a curious sequel. Unknown to us, around 1965, Jeep began promoting its ‘great American know-how’, alleging that (seriously troubled) machine had circumnavigated the globe unaided.

In early 2013, Anthony (now the owner of world-famous Fleming Yachts and living in California) located one of the Jeep’s drivers. He revealed that the Jeep had broken down time and again. He had seemingly raised such a storm that not only was the promotion halted, but the (Forward Control) Jeep ceased production. Curiously, it now has a following in the USA amongst those unaware of that debacle. And presumably this article and its pictures.

Our QLR – a truly great truck

Apart from consuming exhaust valves like carrot sticks, the QLR performed superbly. It hardly put a tyre wrong in over 60,000 km. Under 10,000 km or so was on surfaced roads. The QLR traversed tens of thousands of kilometres of tracks that make the Gibb River Road and the top end of Cape York seem like bitumen highways.

Africa WEB Exiting the Sahara pdf

On the way back, it travelled the whole width of Africa in low-range four-wheel-drive, ploughing through deep mud. It survived the return Saharan crossing, at times pulling the Jeep’s over five tonnes behind it through soft sand. It was one tough truck.

Years later I realised what caused its exhaust valve appetite. To limit water cavitation around the valve guides, the cooling system needed to run at high pressure. We had problems with the associated pressure valve in the UK. I adapted a Schrader tyre valve to hopefully do the job. It is likely the pressure was too low. This had prejudiced cooling.

Given a bigger engine (preferably diesel) and appropriate gearing, a QL would be an excellent machine today. The Bedford ‘R-type’ was its later civilian and armed forces successor. It was less unsophisticated, at least having synchromesh and more power. I felt however, it lacked the very real personality of the QL. In many ways, the Australian designed and built OKA (I had one) is more the QL’s spiritual successor.

It was a good trip. Along the way, I gained a fair (albeit mainly subjective) understanding of track surfaces and, in particular, corrugations. For a time I seriously believed I’d established corrugation’s cause. Until I found papers reporting it on bullock cart tracks in the early 1800s. And on the vertical steel guide bars of some elevators. Meantime GM had taken a different approach to vehicle testing, but the info I had gained was passed to them for what it was worth.

The QLR’s ending

The QLR came to a curious end. It was bought, for a nominal price, and without a previous sighting, by an English aristocrat. He was intending to use it to transport guest shooters around his estate in Leicestershire. Apart from other curious habits, upper-class Poms shoot unfortunate birds bred for the purpose. They are somehow directed to fly across the shooters (but only at a certain time of year).

I last saw the QLR being driven behind the good Lord’s Rolls Royce. His clearly bemused and somewhat snooty chauffeur was audibly encountering a non-synchro-mesh gearbox, and a close to negative power/weight ratio for the very first time.

My following years

The experience was such that I found it impossible to settle down in Britain. Following a time in Libya, I booked a boat passage to New Zealand, but fell in love with Sydney on the stop-over and did not get back on. I sadly never saw or heard of the QLR again.

Tony likewise left the UK. He moved to Asia (and now lives in the USA). A brilliant engineer and designer he started building ocean-going motor yachts. His now Fleming Yachts are recognised as the world’s best.

In Australia, I initially designed and built engineering and scientific equipment. Eight years later, I started the  Electronic Today International magazine. I expanded to separate editions in six different countries. In 1982 I left to start my own writing and publishing company.

In 1999, my Finnish-born wife (Maarit) and I drove around Australia, in our OKA seeking somewhere to live. We found that deep in Aboriginal territory (north of Broome, in the Kimberley) for 11 years. There, we physically self-built our home and large workshop on 10 acres of Indian Ocean frontage. It had no facilities except unlimited crystal clear bore water.

We first designed and a 3.4 kW solar system first. so the house was even built using little energy other than solar. See All Solar House on our associated site (solarbooks.com). The whole property is (still) all-solar.

Maarit and I lived there for ten years, but moved to a now all-solar home in Church Point, overlooking Pittwater (30 km north of Sydney). I remain a writer and publisher (and have very much ‘walked the walk’). Maarit is a supervising psychologist specialising in working with traumatised children.

Further Information

My first edition of my Campervan & Motorhome Book, finished in 2001, was inspired by much of what I had learned on that last drive across Africa trip. Later editions of my books included twelve-plus return trips across Australia via mainly dirt tracks – from Broome to the east coast and back in our OKA. Plus three in our 4.2 litre Nissan Patrol and Tvan. We also circumnavigated Australia. The original Campervan & Motorhome Book was replaced by an all-new edition 2016 and fully updated in 2018.

If you enjoyed this article you’ll like my books. All are written in a totally down to earth manner and are 100% free of industry involvement. They also include Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, Solar That Really Works, and the Camper Trailer Book.

NOTE: The names of many African cities and countries have been changed since becoming independent. I use their earlier names throughout much this article. This not out of a lack of respect but that most readers are likely to be more familiar with them, than those used today.

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eBook versions

Paperback version

Prices for the paperback version including delivery can vary dramatically.  RVBooks recommends you shop around.  We've included a number of reputable booksellers you may wish to consider. Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of How to Choose and Buy an RV. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6487945-5-4.

The Caravan & Motorhome Book

The Caravan & Motorhome Book covers every conceivable aspect of campervan and motorhome usage. If you own a camper van or motor home, you'll want this book.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of The Caravan & Motorhome Book. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-5-4.