- Written by webmin
In the world of rally racing, the East African Safary Rally has long been considered one of the most brutal events. Conceived in early 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (and thus its original name, the Coronation Rally), it took cars through three countries – Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – in a route circling Lake Victoria. By 1957, the FIA officially recognized the rally, and three years later it became the East African Safari Rally, a name change no doubt prompted by the burgeoning independence movement in all three countries at that time.
Shamefully, but not surprisingly, no American team had entered the rally in its first decade. Ford would change that in 1964, however, when Fran Hernandez, then responsible for Lincoln-Mercury’s racing activities, entered at least five new Mercury Comet Calientes (though some sources claim 10) into the rally as a sort of extension to Ford’s rally efforts with the Falcon. Fran, as we’ve seen before, kept quite the collection of photos from his career, and his sons have been uploading those photos to Fran’s Facebook account. While most of Fran’s photos depicted more domestic racing efforts – Trans-Am, NASCAR and drag racing – his photos from the 1964 East African Safari Rally show a much different, more rough-n-tumble experience.
To prepare for the event, Fran actually had two Comet Calientes (numbered 0 and 00) sent over early to see what they would be up against: mud, giraffes, water buffalo, and more mud. Based on the photos and on the license plates on the cars, it appears those two were not part of the group of cars entered in the actual rally. Fran even got Ray Brock involved in the rally itself, though it appears Brock served more as a mechanic and consultant rather than as a driver.
We know that, of the 94 cars that started the rally, just 21 finished. Two of those finishers were Comets, though they placed a disappointing 18th and 21st. In an almost comical twist of fate,a Ford did end up winning the rally for the first time in the rally’s official history, though it was a Cortina GT driven by the privateer team of Peter Hughes and Bill Young, both Kenyans. It appears Ford never again sent a team to compete in the rally, which eventually would become an event on the World Rally Championship’s schedule. At least one of the Comets remains active on the vintage racing scene today.
We did find a video of the 1964 East African Safari Rally by British Pathe, though it doesn’t mention the Comets: