Couple join an adventurous trek across Africa in classic roadster
Urchfont couple Nigel and Sue Fowler experienced high temperatures, rocky roads and corrupt officials as they drove their MGB GT the 12,000 miles home from Cape Town.
Mr and Mrs Fowler, who live at Bowdens, were in a cavalcade of 11 MGs that travelled the length of Africa and across Europe between September and November.
They will be sharing their reminiscences of the epic journey with an audience at the village hall on February 9 but have given the Gazette a sneak preview of their experiences.
Mr Fowler, a retired data communications engineer, said: “We’ve been members of the MG car owners’ club for many years and I read in their magazine about a journey from the new home of the MG in China to its old home in Abingdon along the ancient Silk Road.
“It said the same man who organised that trip, Dave Godwin, was planning another one, this time from Cape Town. Sue and I always wanted to do a long road trip and this sounded perfect.”
But the couple were not willing to risk their vintage MG roadster on the dicey roads of east Africa, so they shopped around for a more robust model and found an MGB GT which still needed months of work before it was ready.
Mr Fowler said: “The car’s colour was described as vermilion red but it is, in fact, bright orange, so our call sign on the two-way radio system on the trip was Tango.”
The car was shipped to South Africa and the convoy set off from Cape Town on September 9 after six days of testing along the challenging Prince Albert Pass.
The MGs were driven through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Mr Fowler said: “Most people had never seen cars like this so they just watched us go past and waved. But there was some resentment and a couple of cars sustained damage from stones thrown at them.”
Road surfaces varied from the Chinese-constructed blacktop highways through Sudan to the Road from Hell on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Mr Fowler said: “The Road from Hell earns its name. It took us two days to go 400 kilometres, driving for 14 hours a day. We rarely got out of second gear. There was deep sand with rocks hidden in it.”
There was also danger from bandits and the group debated whether to employ an armed guard. They decided against it as it might attract violence.
Temperatures sometimes reached 50 degrees Celsius inside the cars and two four-wheel-drive support vehicles kept the tourists supplied with bottled water.
They rarely ate on the road, waiting until they had reached their hotels each evening.
They finally arrived in Egypt just as Syrian refugees were struggling across the border from their war-ravaged country.
Mrs Fowler, a retired bio-chemist, said: “Some of them were on foot with their belongings in plastic bags.”
It was after they arrived back in Europe, in Turkey, that they hit their first serious incident of corruption when a customs officer refused to give nine of the 11 cars clearance until he received a $50 (£30) payment for each one.
All 11 cars made it home.