This had protection plates fitted to the spare wheel well and to the jacking points, a roll cage was made locally from 2″ X 3¼” square tube. The engine was protected with a sumpguard – made from the leaf springs of a Land Rover, attached to the rear bumper hangers and to the forks by the front gear box mounting. This gave good protection, but still let air flow round the sump. Problems with overheating had been found with a fully enclosing guard – even with this leaf spring guard, oil temperatures were in the 120°C region.
It is difficult to be exact about power output but, working from other tuners data, I would estimate around 55/60 bhp at sea level (where the cars were good for over 90mph), but because most of the Safari Rally is run at a height of 6000ft above sea level, the thin air gives a power loss of about 18%, so the usual maximum was 87mph.
Speeds of over 50 mph were available in second gear, and up to 77-78 in third. This equates to a maximum engine speed of 6000rpm; maximum power was at 4300 RPM.
The rear torsion bars were thicker than standard, and Bilstein dampers were used, not Koni as in previous years. The “Z” bar fitted to the rear suspension was modified to come into action sooner than normal.
Disc brakes were a standard fitment on the 1500, the first Beetle to have them. Most of the cars had the braking system modified with a pressure limiter fitted into the front brake line. This stopped the front wheels locking before the rears came into action.
THE 1967 EVENT
Major car manufacturers were taking the event very seriously. The Ford team, for example, had entered 2 Mkl Lotus-Cortinas and 6 MkII Cortina GTs and they had 36 mechanics mounting service points for their star drivers Roger Clark, Peter Hughes and Bengt Soderstrom.
Finnish Rally Ace Rauno Aaltonen was driving a BMC Mini Cooper but he retired early on when his carburettor air filters filled up with dust and damaged the engine.
The rally started from Jamhuri Park on the outskirts of Nairobi with Soderstrom in one of the new Mkll Cortinas streaking into the lead, his car kicking up vast clouds of dust in its wake.
Bengt Soderstrom was making the most of his number one starting position, for following cars had to drive through clouds of choking dust. Overtaking in these conditions almost becomes a lottery, where faster cars had to drive almost blind through the dust when overtaking slower cars.
The 1967 Rally was later to prove to be the driest Safari on record; this was not good news for the VW crews who needed the mud and the rain that the cars revelled in and in the dry conditions the Fords and the Peugeots were just too fast – they were reputed to be at least 20mph faster than the Beetles.
It is not surprising that under these conditions accidents happened, Tommy Fjastad’s car plunged 100ft down an embankment after he ran out of road near Bura whilst trying to overtake a slower car in the dust – the Beetle was wrecked. The car subsequently caught fire and the petrol tank exploded. Fortunately, both Tommy and his passenger Bev Smith were thrown clear and escaped with relatively minor injuries – it could so easily have been a lot worse.
The dust also had another effect on the Beetles. The cars had been fitted with modified engine bay sealing – extra sealing strips were fitted between the engine and the body to keep mud and water out of the engine. But this did not keep out all the dust – vast quantities of the choking stuff was sucked into the engine bay of the cars by the cooling fans, coating the engine with a thick layer of dust, causing the engines to loose power and overheat.
The torrid conditions were having a marked effect on the usually reliable Beetles. All the Beetles except Bill Bengry’s car had been fitted with electric fuel pumps. As Bill tackled the very rough Nakuru section he came upon Richard Barbour whose car had stalled due to vapour locking caused by the terrific heat given out from his overheating engine, Richard got his car restarted but lost valuable time in the process.
About 20 miles after the next control, Bill’s car stopped when his mechanical fuel pump packed in. He replaced it with a new pump from the spares carried on board the car, but this gave up the ghost 100 miles later when the heat from the engine warped the valves in the pump.
Bill says that at this stage the engine was so hot it was almost impossible to touch anything, they made one good pump from the remains of the two dead ones and went on their way. Only to retire later when a rock damaged the oil strainer plate, the loss of oil causing a big end to go, and that was the end of his rally.
This was particularly cruel luck as he was at that time the leading VW and almost home, the worst of the rally behind him.
George Barbour, in one of the privately-entered cars, was going well until close to Korogwe when he fell foul of some local “pranksters” who thought it would be a good idea to put large rocks in the road on a blind bend – just to see what happened. George hit a large rock damaging a front wheel and smashing the brake disc and calliper. This was later put right, but it had caused other damage that subsequently put him out of the rally. Some things never change – the same fate almost overtaking Carlos Sainz on the RAC Rally in 1994.
The other two 1500 Beetles, driven by Richard Barbour & Mike Doughty and Ernst Ruthmann & Chris McNaughton, finished in good mechanical order – ut well down the field. The best result was 19th 0verall.
The drivers of the 1300 Beetles did very well to finish at all, they were loosing time into every control and were lucky to avoid being excluded for lateness.
COOPERS COUNT THE COST
It was apparent that the Okrasa Group 2 modifications for the 1500 that had worked in the somewhat cooler northern climate were not suitable for the Safari’s tropical conditions. The 1300, with less power and the same cooling system, did not seem to suffer to the same extent.
To be fair, if the weather had been the same as the previous four years – that is, very wet and muddy – all the Beetles would have fared a lot better.
The Cooper Motor Corporation knew this when they entered the rally and gambled on the weather staying wet, it was a gamble they lost. Who knows what may have happened if the weather had been wet, and the Beetles had done better?
This then really was the end. Coopers pulled the plug on financing entries and it was apparent that the Beetle had had its day on the Safari. I can find no record of a 1500S Notchback or a 1600 Fastback finishing the event.
After 1967 no VW Beetle ever again finished a Safari Rally. Not so Tommy Fjastad, he popped up again in 1969 when Messrs Fjastad and Salt brought home an Audi Super 90 into 12th place out of 31 finishers and a well deserved class win – you can’t, as they say, keep a good man down.
Results of the VWs in the 1967 Safari Rally:
Position Drivers Car
19th R Barbour & M Doughty VW 1500 Beetle
25th E Ruthmann & C McNaughton VW 1500 Beetle
41st N S Bachu & P S Bachu VW 1300 Beetle
43rd C Walles & C Dickson VW 1300 Beetle
47th A S Gill & T S Sembi VW 1300 Beetle
Reason Drivers Car
Holed sump at Meru W Bengry & J Bradley VW 1500 Beetle
Crashed & caught fire T Fjastad & B Smith VW 1500 Beetle
Failed to reach Arusha M S Khan & H Reuter VW 1300 Beetle
Bent front suspension G Barbour & W Miller VW 1500 Beetle
Retired at Mombassa J Bhamra & D Parker VW 1300 Beetle
Destination Monte Peter Harper
Tricks of the Rally Game Gunnar Palm & Herbert Volker
Safari Fever Nick Brittan
Safer Motoring Magazine
Various Issues 1994
Tuning Volkswagens Peter Noad
VW Beetle in Motorsport Peter Noad