OUT OF AFRICA

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Terry Wright

POSTSCRIPT

1028-49_Colson Photos

 

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