I don’t know how it was in other places, but if you grew up in 1950’s Britain you couldn’t help be aware of the developing turmoil in central and southern Africa. These were the days when Union-Castle Line passenger ships, which regularly plied the route to and from the Cape, appeared on Christmas jig-saw puzzles and these sunnier lands were an attractive destination for would-be emigrants.

catleMoreBut things were rapidly going wrong, as the graphic newspaper headlines and stories about the Mau Mau troubles in Kenya illustrated from late 1952 until at least  1956. Further south, the problems in South Africa hardly entered this teenager’s consciousness, but doubtless had a lot to do with his father’s decision in the late ‘fifties not to take up a senior business posting in Johannesburg. How things might have been different?

This is not the place to go over the still-unfinished Southern Rhodesia story; but it is part of the background of Coopers in Africa that it was, from 1953, part of a dominion called, variously the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland or the Central African Federation, which consisted of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, respectively). This lasted until 1964 when Britain granted independence to Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia remained a British colony.

Cooper Jap Mk4 10.32 001

So why am I telling you this? The main reason is that Ivan Glasby, owner of the remains of Cooper 10-32-49 (above), has just died in Sydney. A charming man that I hardly knew, he spent much of a day some time ago taking me through his reminiscences of motorsport in Rhodesia. Ivan’s father, Eric, had a Morris and other BMC cars dealership in Bulawayo, and had been active in local motorsport, racing a Cooper Bristol and a Morris Minor during the 1950s.

Union CastleIvan was apprenticed to the family company and soon he was racing a Cooper Formula Junior but suffered a bad crash at the 1962 Natal Grand Prix which put him out of racing for some years. Eventually the Glasbys had a team of Minis with Ivan becoming Rhodesian saloon car champion, with a mere 970cc, in 1969. The photo, below, shows a wonderful mixed bag at Salisbury’s Marlborough circuit.

Meanwhile Southern Rhodesia had a ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ (UDI) and politically things went from bad to worse. Like most whites the Glasby’s left the country and they headed to Australia in the early nineteen-eighties, with Ivan’s father and mother settling in Tasmania and Ivan specializing in parts for, and work on his beloved Mini’s in Sydney. Brother Bruce was first in South Africa but is now back in Bulawayo.

marlboroughstartline - Doug Brown
A wonderful mixed bag at Salisbury’s Marlborough circuit in 1961. Note the Cooper 1100 twin of Chris Underwood, probably Mk9-12-55. Hard to spot behind the ERA is Eric Glasby in his AC Bristol.

Getting any kind of asset out of what was now called Zimbabwe was a major problem and Ivan had tales to tell of dismantled cars being exported across the border to South Africa as ‘agricultural equipment’, a ruse that was well known to racers importing cars to Australia at one time. The Cooper Bristol, the Mini and another Cooper Mk5-6-51 were among many African cars or parts thereof that the Glasbys saved from decaying away in the bush.

There were, by my reckoning to date, at least eight Cooper singles and twins in South Africa and Rhodesia in the 1950’s. A number ended up beach racing on the Atlantic coast of South West Africa (now Namibia) at which point engines and chassis all got mixed up so it is hard to be certain what is what these days. Suffice to say most have been repatriated, with at least one other Cooper, Mk5-8-48 crossing the Pacific to Western Australia.

Bob Gerrish, Cooper JAP, tackles the Menengai hillclimb in the Great African Rift Valley, Kenya. The caldera, top, is said to be the world’s largest.

Further north in Kenya, there was also a vibrant motorsport scene, with maybe four single-cylinder cars competing at one time or another. There is so far no record of any twins, although one car with an early, if brief, twin history, 5-8-48, is reported to have been there from 1965-1975. A  set of hillclimb photographs by Charles Trotter survive in Duncan Rabligliati’s collection and some were recently published in “The 500’ with reminiscences of Bob Gerrish who wrote that he bought a Cooper Mk5 from Victor Preston in 1960.


A popular event was a hillclimb at Brackenhurst (above), about 10 miles from Nairobi, where there was a hotel with two access roads; one was a dirt service road which was closed for hillclimbs and the hotel was a perfect spot for washing down the days dust, of whichthere was plenty and an evening dinner and prize-giving. Bob ran the car with both 4-stud and 5-stud JAPs (the 5 stud being better on dirt, he says) for 10 years, competing in Mombasa (600 miles round trip on lousy roads), Kampala (800 miles), Nyeri, Nakura and Arusha. He won the East African Hill Climb Championship three times.

The car was sold when Bob retired from Kenya and I do not know where it now is but probably it is back in the UK. The photos published here, with thanks to Duncan Rabagliati, are a fine record of times gone.

Bob Gerrish at Mwega hillclimb, Mombasa; Photos by Charles Trotter, Nairobi from the Duncan Rabagliati collection


Terry Wright


1028-49_Colson Photos


15 thoughts on “OUT OF AFRICA”

  1. I helped Bob prep the cooper in Nairobi in 68/9. I was a schoolboy and not yet in my teens but Bob was my heroe. My help was probably of limited value but he was very tolerant! My dad spoke to him shortly after I got a driving licence in 1975 and I’ve not heard of him since. I’ve been competing in Motorsport since 1977 and have long wondered where that 500 went. Bob pedalled it really well and I remember him trying someone else’s 750 twin and declaring the steering so bad that you aimed it rather than steered it. Can’t remember the venue but I do remember dishing with him at Naivasha and flying out of Wilson Airport. No wonder he was my heroe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a boy I helped Bob Gerrish with his Cooper. I was probably more of a hindrance but 50 years later I’m still racing. I’d love to find that car although the last set of pictures suggest it mAy be rather unwell. So many memories of Kenyan motorsport in the late sixties.


  3. Terry,
    So sad to hear that Ivan recently passed away – he was a great friend of mine along with his Brother Bruce.
    I went to school with Bruce and Ivan – Christian Brothers School in Bulawayo. Bruce is about 5 years older than me, and Ivan around 3 years older. He must have been in his late 60s when he passed.
    In the late 70s I immigrated to South Africa, and I was one of the people deeply involved in helping Ivan get his vintage motorcycles out of Zim.
    We would take the bikes to pieces, spray them with an oil mist, put them in my trailer, then find a dirt road to drive them up and down and get them good and dirty ! I did a couple of trips to Johannesburg with trailer loads, and I still remember the panic inside of me as I went through customs and gave them a BS story about buying old MC parts.
    Once we got them to Jhb, we re-assembled the bikes and tested them, and at a later point Ivan exported them to Australia.
    I remember with some mirth the one night we got Ivan’s Norton Manx 350 together, and decided to give it test ride up and down the parking area of my Apartment complex – funny as hell watching all the lights come on as the racket continued !
    He did a lot of interesting things to get the various cars owned by him and his Dad out of the country, specifically his Dad’s 2 AC Ace Bristols, a 30’s AC, and the AC Greyhound. If I remember the Greyhound and one Ace ended up going to Australia, and the others stayed with the “Buyer” in South Africa.
    Ivan was also helping his Father in law, a wealthy Italian who owned a Liquor manufacturing / distributorship, to export currency to SA. He got caught red handed, and that resulted in him loosing his beautiful house in Bulawayo.
    It was desperate time for us all …..
    My condolences to Ivan’s family on their loss – he was a real character, a great friend, and we will all miss him.
    Peter Pentz, Saint Charles, Illinois, USA


  4. Hi Terry !
    I was wondering if you perhaps have any photos of the Alta Jaguar racing at the brackenhurst hill climb. It was owned by Frank Brown, Peter Sheppard, Peter Seargentson and others during the 60’s in Kenya.


  5. Hi Terry, I have some photographs of the Peter Seargent’s Alta Jag racing at Nakuru if you are interested?


  6. Thanks, Ian,our interests are really air-cooled only, but please do try and find a way of putting them on line – Facebook probably has a Kenya or Jag group.


  7. The Cooper Jap 750 V twin belonged to Ray Carling..Bob Gerrish is right..I clearly remember his comments after his first run up the hill in it at Mathatani Hillclimb… !!


  8. My father worked with Bob in Kenya. Unfortunately my father was killed in a plane accident in Marsabit. Bob came over to our house and took me for a ‘spin’ in his Cortina GT through the streets of Nairobi. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks Bob.


  9. Sad to hear that Bob has gone. He was my childhood hero and neighbour and probably the reason why I was out racing last weekend. His Cooper was the first racing car I ever touched.


  10. My stepfather Don Ward was very active in his Cooper in the 1950s
    He won the Alfred Vincent trophy for the Brackenhurst Hill Climb in 1953
    I still need have his silver trophy and some great images


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