Datsun in the East African Safari Rally MEGA POST…

Over the past few weeks I have been collecting various photographs of any of the Datsuns that were campaigned in this rally and had to identify the drivers in question as most sources did not know who was who, so it has been another interesting topic for me to expand my knowledge on.

I have found photos from 1963 through to 1982, and I thought it would be better to do one HUGE post of them all together for the sake of proper ordering and to minimise confusion.First, lets start with some background information regarding the East African Safari Rally.

The rally was born in 1953 as the East African Coronation Safari, it being named in honour of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The original route would have the drivers start from three different locations, and have them finish in Nairobi, much like the layout of the early Monte Carlo rallies. This was soon scrapped in favour of a single route for all competitors.

This rally was deemed to be the world’s toughest and most gruelling automotive race, and was used primarily as a test bed of the reliability of the production cars of the time. Over the years, up to 90 percent of the vehicles that entered the rally did not make it to the finish line. That should give you a good idea of just how tough this rally really was!

The distances involved were immense, varying between 4900km and 6400km of competitive driving! The original rally routed through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. After 1974 it was kept within Kenya’s borders due to political unrest in the neighbouring countries. Not only were the competitive distances a huge challenge, the terrain and weather conditions that were encountered as well were unbelievably difficult. With lots of fine dust, plenty of thick mud, huge rocks and river crossings, steep mountain climbs and very long, flat-out sections, the rally was not for the faint of heart. With the rally being held during the Easter weekend, rain was a huge problem the competitors and organisers had to deal with. Some years the rain was so bad in places that whole stages to be rerouted or even cancelled altogether!

In 1960, the rally was renamed to the East African Safari Rally, and kept that name until 1973. From 1974 until 1980 it was then known as the Safari Rally. In 1981 Marlboro sponsored the rally and the event then became known as the Marlboro Safari Rally until 1985.

1963: 11th East African Safari Rally

As far as I can find, Datsun first tried their hand at this rally in 1963, when they fielded a pair of 310 Bluebird sedans. One was co-driven by Wakabayashi and Jack Esnouf. That year only 7 out 84 cars managed to finish the rally due to torrential downpours. Sadly, both Datsuns did not finish.

1964:12th East African Safari Rally

In 1964, Datsun came back to compete in the rally, despite the atrocious conditions of the year before. A Cedric driven by John Jeeves and G Alexander finished in 21st overall, second to last of all the finishing cars. Not a great result, but in those days merely finishing the event was just as good as winning it!

1965: 13th East African Safari Rally

Datsun would try again in 1965, but would not finish for the second time in three years.

1966: 14th East African Safari Rally

In 1966, Datsun fielded a pair of P411 Bluebirds driven by the teams of J.L Greenly / J.H.P Dunk and Jock Aird / Robin Hillyar finished the event in 5th and 6th overall, despite having to battle atrocious conditions due to rainfall yet again. The two teams came in 1st and 2nd in their class, allowing Datsun to win the B class for cars 1001cc – 1300cc! What stands out is the fact that both cars had completed the rally in an event that, of 88 cars that started, only 9 finished!

Here is a shot of the battered and bruised 1300SS of Greenly / Dunk as it races through the open plains of Kenya:

Here is a shot of the battered and bruised 1300SS of Greenly / Dunk as it stands in the Nissan Museum:

1967: 15th East African Safari Rally

For the 1967 event, Datsun filed a team of Cedric 2000’s. Naturally, the bigger cars were not as agile as the Bluebird sedans used previously, but most of them nevertheless managed to finish the rally. In his first ever rally in a Datsun, Edgar Herrmann and his navigator Gerd Elvers retired after less than one stage with severe mechanical gremlins. Jock Aird / Robin Hillyar finished 17th overall, followed by Mockridge / Esnouf in 20th overall and the husband and wife team of Jack Cardwell / Lucille Cardwell in 21st overall. These are pretty good results, especially if you take into account that of the original 91 cars that started started the event, over 45 eventually finished that year!

Here is a nice photo of #14 car of Aird / Hillyar:

1968: 16th East African Safari Rally

In 1968, Datsun again used the Cedrics of the previous year, with the team of Joginder Singh / Bev Smith finishing 5th overall, with the all lady team of Lucy Cardwell / Gerry Davies finishing in 7th overall and winning the Coupe des Dames. Both good results considering only 7 out of 93 starters finished that years rally. Singh was actually leading the rally at one stage, but got badly stuck in the mud, allowing all the cars following him to find a route around him and carry on, leaving him to play catch up till the end.

1969: 17th East African Safari Rally

The 1969 event marked a new era for the Datsun team with the use of the P510. Jamil Din / Maksood Minhas finished the event 3rd overall and 1st in class, ahead of a group of 1600SSS’s that took 6 of the 13 top positions overall! Although he came second in class to Din, and was beaten by former Datsun drivers Singh and Hillyar, Edgar Herrmann was the real story of that years rally.

Herrmann was originally supposed to race for Porsche that year, but just before the rally was to start, the Porsche team withdrew from the event. Herrmann and co-driver Hans Schüller were left to fend for themselves. Fortunately for Herrmann he was still in good favor with the Datsun team. Thinking that Herrmann might keep his Porsche starting position of 3rd, the Datsun team agreed to let Herrmann and Schuller have one of their battered practice cars, a 1600SSS. The race officials declared Herrmann and his Datsun as a completely new entry and put him at the back of the pack in 90th place.

Knowing that they would have a lot of work to do during the rally, Herrmann and Schüller took extremely detailed pace notes. They ripped through the competition, all the while driving basically blind in the dust, improving their position to 52nd by the 6th control point, 32nd place by the 13th control point, and an astounding 14th place by the halfway mark.

Din / Minhas and Herrmann / Schüller took the top two spots in Class D (1301-1600cc), the teams arriving at the finish 3rd and 4th on the road, and 5th and 6th overall on points. The Manufacturers team prize went to Nissans second team of Randall / Parkinson, Greenly / Collinge, and Saunders / Peating after Nissans first team’s third man, Jack Simonian, wrecked his P510 just 10 minutes into the first stage to Kampala, “A bank came out and hit me!” he joked.

Below are Jamil Din / Maksood Minhas in the #25 1600 SSS:

Herrmann remarked that the P510-practice car had been unbelievably reliable: “We didn’t have to lift a screwdriver”. His performance guaranteed him a drive with Datsun in the following years rally.

Here is a photo of a Cedric that was entered by Ewart Walker / Anton Leviton that retired with mechanical gremlins:

1970: 18th East African Safari Rally (the 1st of many wins…)

General information:

Datsun Entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1970 event crossed Uganda and Kenya, at altitudes between sea level and 10 000 feet, across 5310km. The rally started in Kampala and it was raining from the get go.For Shekhar Mehta it was a dismal rally as the used Datsun P510 he had purchased from local dealer, Jack Simonian, blew on the first day. His driving did however attract the attention of the Datsun team, and would garner him a drive for the following year, after Joginder Singh left the works team for Ford and their Escort Mk1.

On the other hand, Herrmann and Schüller’s run across Western Kenya was pretty uneventful, but things took a turn for the worse as the cars climbed the 4000ft Chesoi escarpment. Their P510 lost traction in the mud on the steep, slippery slopes, and had to crawl up the hills as other cars went past them. By the time they made it to the first rest stop, they were way out of the top 10, and the duo figured they had probably blown the rally completely. They are pictured below.

Even unluckier though, was Jack Simonian. After holding 2nd overall for a good while, he hit a patch of very slick mud at 100mph and slammed his P510 into a bridge parapet, and then proceeded to plunge 20 feet into a gully. Luckily, he managed to get the car out and repair it a bit, and continue, although much slower than before. The rally looped back into Kampala, before continuing for the second half of the rally. The Datsun team wisely fitted their cars with tire chains for the next leg, which would turn out to be a very wise decision. During this leg, Simonians motor finally let go due to a severe loss of oil, forcing him to retire.

By the end of that stage Herrmann and Schuller were back up to second place, with only the Porsche of Polish driver Sobieslav Zasada ahead of them. While pulling away from the Datsun, the Porsche developed a serious oil leak and had to retire from the lead, leaving Herrmann and Schüller in the lead. As the rally progressed, more and more cars fell out of the rally behind the leading duo. They eventually ended up winning overall by 51 minutes over Singh / Ranyard, while also walking away with a class victory and the manufacturers victory. Of the 19 cars that finished out of the original 91 starters, 4 of the top 7 cars were P510’s, with 6 Bluebirds finishing in total.

1971: 19th East African Safari Rally:

General information:

Datsun Entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1971 event was a predominantly 240Z affair at the front, with the 3 works cars charging hard from the beginning. Herrmann / Schüller started in 11th position, with Rauno Aaltonen / Paul Easter right behind them. In total, 38 Datsuns were entered that year, most being private P510’s.

Aaltonen charged hard from the beginning, passing Herrmann on the first stage to Mombasa (see photo above). Jack Simonian had to hold on for dear life as a tire came apart at 130mph on his 240Z, effectively putting him out for the second time in as many years. With the rally now entering Tanzania for the first time in a few years, Herrmann had worked his way back up to 4th by Dar-Es-Salaam, while Aaltonen had broken a piece of his cars suspension and allowed a Porsche driven by Bjorn Waldegaard to take the lead. Then, to make matters worse for Aaltonen, the Datsun team forgot to put the gas cap back onto Aaltonens car, and he lost all his fuel.

On the next section, Herrmann drove the 240Z at a steady 130mph and managed to pass Stig Blomqvist for the 3rd position overall. On the way to Kampala, Bjorn Waldegaard got a taste of the infamous “Safari Luck”. Herrmann was almost penalised by an error made by one of the marshals, but luckily for him Idi Amin was watching the rally at that very checkpoint and sorted out the situation and flagged Herrmann back onto the road without penalty.

Waldegaard wrecked his Porsche when he tried to pass his own team mate, Polish driver Sobieslav Zasada, who was in front of Waldegaard on the road but behind on time. He ended up taking them both out of the rally, handing the lead to Herrmann, along with a healthy 31 minute lead over second placed Shekhar Mehta, also in the 240Z, who was actually ahead of Herrmann on the road at this stage.

Aaltonen had fallen back, but had not given up. He charged forward again, passing Herrmann on the road near Kabale. Things then got worse for Herrmann and Schüller. Herrmann crashed the car after Mehta passed them, breaking a halfshaft on their car. Fortunately Schüller was able to remove it, and thanks to the miracle of limited slip differentials, was able to continue on to the next service point. Aaltonen in the other Z, also broke a halfshaft, and fell even further back.

Absolutely love the photo above of the crew servicing the winning car!

Hermann and Schüller still led time wise, but now by only 16 minutes. Now it was Mehta’s turn to shine. Driving in his home country of Uganda, Mehta raced ahead to take Herrmann’s lead down to just one minute overall. Then Mehta took a very small lead after Herrmann crashed heavily, sending his 240Z well off the road. It looked if Mehta would go on to win.

(Note the damage to the front right of Herrmann’s 240Z after his crash. The car is preserved exactly like this today in Nissan’s museum…)

Then disaster struck in only a way that the Safari could manage. Mehta got his 240Z stuck in a mud hole near Mount Kenya. Twenty minutes later, a police Landrover happened along to pull them out. Just as the Landrover unhooked Mehta’s car, Herrmann ran into the same hole and got stuck.

The Landrover still had the rope hooked up and pulled Herrmann through with almost no lost time. Mehta was furious. As the 240Z’s finally came to a rest in Nairobi, Mehta and Doughty had lost to Herrmann and Schüller by just 3 minutes on the road, more than 6 times the amount of time they lost in the Landrover incident.After 6400km of rallying, 3 minutes is absolutely nothing!

Quite a dramatic end to the event, but Mehta’s time was still to come… Datsun once again took Overall, Class and Manufacturers titles.

1972: 20th East African Safari Rally:

General Information:

Datsun Entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1972 event was an especially tough event for Datsun, with no overall victories and only 1 class victory, though not for lack of trying, as 40 out of the 86 starting vehicles were Datsuns!

Disaster struck Herrmann / Schüller this year as their 240Z broke 2 halfshafts during the rally, allowing them to only finish 5th overall. They were followed by Aaltonen / Fall in 6th overall, with Mehta / Doughty rounding out the top 10 in 10th overall.

The race started in the Tanzanian capital of Dar Es Salaam this year, then headed inland towards Nairobi. Herrmann lead the race early as the cars approached Mount Kilimanjaro, then lead all the way into Nairobi, followed by Mikkola, Preston Junior, Zasada, and Mehta in 5th. Aaltonen was still in the hunt in 6th.

On the next stage to Kampala, Herrmann’s lead slipped as Mikkola, Zasada, and Preston Junior passed him on time. He fell into 4th , with Mehta in 5th and Aaltonen 7th . The dust was unbearable, and downright dangerous; passing anybody was a huge risk. All the team Datsuns began having fuel problems somewhere in central Kenya, and began to fall further back. Mehta’s Z broke a steering arm and fell way back on the way into Nairobi for the second time.

On the way out of Nairobi, Herrmann managed to get up to 3rd after passing Preston Junior on route to Mombasa before breaking his rear suspension. Aaltonen missed a checkpoint and had to go back, losing a half hour in the process.

Mike Kirkland was far back but still going strong in 13th overall when he swerved to avoid a car parked on the road and rolled the 510, crushing one of Coniglios’ fingers in the process.

Rookie Driver Anderson and navigator Davenport had finished against all the odds. They’d had endless flat tires, had broken the suspension, run out of gas twice, had electrical failure, and had finally blown a head gasket. The limped home in 12th overall, not a bad result at all .

Another notable finish was that of Ann Taith and Sylvia King, driving a Candy Datsun sponsored P510. They finished 18th overall, but were the first ladies team to complete the race since Cardwell and Davies did it in 1968 in a Cedric!

1973: 21st East African Safari Rally (Mehta’s time in the sun):

General information:

Datsun Entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1973 event was a special one for Shekhar Mehta and his navigator Lofty Drews. The events route was once again changed to not go through Uganda, as the previous year saw Idi Amin order the expulsion of Mehta’s family from the country.

This year the Works team consisted of 3 240Z’s driven by Mehta / Drews; Aaltonen / Easter and Herrmann / Schüller, with 2 P610 1800 SSS’s driven by Källström / Billstam and Fall / Wood. Interestingly, there was even a rotary powered Mazda racing that year.

The race started at 4pm local time in Nairobi, with dry skies for the moment. Everyone headed off in the direction of the Usambara Mountains and Mombasa. Herrmann and Schüller went out early with mechanical problems. This was to be Herrmann’s last rally for Nissan.

Mehta didn’t have it so easy in the opening stages of the event. He and Lofty ran out of gas, then hit a flock of birds that took out most of their night driving lights. At the halfway stop in Nairobi the standings were Clark, Mikkola, Zasada, Källström and Billstam in the 610 SSS, then Mehta and Aaltonen tied for fifth.

During the second half of the rally the Ford’s and Porsche’s fell out due to accidents and mechanical failures, but that did not mean the Datsun’s had an easy time of things! On the contrary, Aaltonen hit disaster as he came over the Meru Embu section of the stage. He hit a muddy, off camber corner and rolled his 240Z over and embankment. Mehta came along and hit the same bank and tore off his left front fender, but was lucky enough to be able to carry on. He then passed Mikkola, who was leading at that stage, who had broken his steering.

It was now down to Mehta and Källström, with Källström now in the lead overall. Mehta managed to catch Källström and by the end had managed to take a 1 minute lead. It was the closest Safari finish in the history of the event. Mehta ended up with 405 minutes lost and Källström with 406 minutes, but Mehta was penalised 1 minute for having a missing headlight, causing a dead heat tie!

Ties are broken by a system known as “farthest-cleanest”, sort of the rallying equivalent of a hockey shoot out. The officials look at each teams race results from the starting line of the rally until they find a point were one team was penalized more than the other. Mehta was 2 minutes faster than Källström on the first stage, and was awarded the Safari win as a result.

1974: 22nd Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

For the 1974 event Datsun did not field an official works team, as they felt they had proven their point to the competition. This however, did not stop the privateers from entering in their Datsuns!

Rauno Aaltonen took on a new partner in German Wolgang Stiller and entered a P610 1800 SSS as a private entry for 1974. Harry Källström and navigator Claes Billstam did the same, but in a 260Z. Both cars had more power than the P510, and similar suspension set ups. Another finishing team included the Tanzanian team of Zully Remtulla and Nizar Jivani, also in a 260Z. Rosemary Smith and Pauline Gullick entered in another P610 1800 SSS, and would go on to win the Coupe des Dames (the ladies championship) in the 16th and final spot. It would be the second, and last, Dames title handed out in the 70’s.

The rally started as a very punishing race up a slippery slope. This was the first year the rally was run entirely inside Kenya, the norm from then on. On the first leg up to Mount Kenya, 70 cars left the race, knocked out due to unrelenting mud and the unmerciful East African rain. Things improved weather wise as the race went on, but after the first stage the cars and drivers were in pretty rough shape. Källström and Billstam would go onto place 4th overall in their 260Z, with Remtulla and Jivani in 5th. Aaltonen and Stiller managed to work their up into 6th in their P610 1800 SSS. Rosemary Smith and Pauline Gullick were the only other Datsun finishers.

1975: 23rd Safari Rally:

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1975 event would prove to be another difficult year for Datsun, as the works team was now without Mehta and Aaltonen. It proved to be a tough event for almost everyone involved, with only 14 teams making it to the finish out of the original 75 that started!

Datsun’s highest finish that year came courtesy of Remtulla / Jivani in the new 710 Violet the team placing 6th overall, with the rest of the teams in 7th, 9th and 14th respectively. Definitely a tough year…

1976: 24th Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1976 event was equally as dismal for Datsun, with Harry Källström finishing in 7th and Remtulla finishing in 8th, both driving 710 Violets. Two other Datsun pairs were among the 17 finishers, one being the first team with a Japanese driver to finish the event in a Datsun, Yoshio Iwashita / Roger Barnard. Shekhar Mehta partnered with Mike Doughty and was doing well, but hit a Land Rover and dropped out with related damage. Former Nissan driver Joginder Singh lead a team of Mitsubishi Lancers that swept the podium.

1977: 25th Safari Rally:

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

The 1977 event saw a turn of fortune for the Datsun team, with Aaltonen and Drews finishing in 2nd overall and 2nd in class in a Datsun 710 Violet.

Remtulla and Jivani finished in 8th, Rob Collinge and Anton Levitan in 9th, and second time Japanese entrants Yoshio Iwashita and Yoshimasa Nakahara in 11th, with a P510 finishing 12th overall.

Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty continued their unlucky streak, this time retiring due to an engine failure.

1978: 26th Safari Rally:

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

The Nissan works teams switched to the new PA10 Violet (HL510 in the US) for the 1978 event. Mehta and Doughty made it three retirements in as many years by going out about three quarters of the way through the course with a blown engine in his 710 Violet. He wasn’t the only driver to have bad luck.

Rain became a huge factor early on, with deep slick muddy sections, then vast flooded stages, some of which would require the rally to be rerouted.
Early in the race a young Kenyan drivers car lost control in the mud just outside of Nairobi, killing 4 spectators.

Bjorn Waldegaard and his Porsche were in the lead, with Vic Preston Jr. following in a second team Porsche. Then Preston hit a submerged rock and severely damaged his suspension, letting the Datsun Violets of Aaltonen, Kallstrom and Mehta get passed him.

The next day a Mercedes would sink in another flooded section, it to take in water and seize its engine, Joginder Singh would go into the water for the second time and blow his engine as well.

By Saturday morning only 42 cars were remaining in the race as it left towards Mombasa. The order was Waldegaard, Aaltonen, Kallsrom, then Makinen in a Peugeot. On the road through the Taita Hills, several major teams went out with suspension damage due to the rough terrain, including Waldegaard who was in the lead.

Aaltonen and Kallstrom were now first and second, with Vic Preston in his Porsche in 3rd . Things turned bad quickly for the Datsun teams as Aaltonen lost time in the mud, and Mehta’s Datsun blew its engine putting him out of the Safari for the 4th time in a row. Källström would go out the next morning with a broken axle near Embu, Makinen and his Peugeot also left the race with a broken drive shaft.

Jean-Pierre Nicolas was now in the lead the final stages in his Peugeot, with the mud delayed Aaltonen hot on his heels. A little too hot it would seem as Aaltonen rolled his Violet down an embankment, allowing Vic Preston to move into second spot. This is how the cars would finish, with Aaltonen patching his car up with borrowed parts in a desperate rush to 3rd .

Africa had once again thrown everything possible at the drivers, cutting the 73 car field down to a mere 13 at the finish line. Datsun teams also managed to finish in 7th and 9th , quite respectable considering no Manufacturers prize could be awarded due to the heavy loss of vehicles.

1979: 27th Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

In past rallies, the Datsun tactic had been to have the local drivers take it easy on their cars for the first half of the race, let the foreign drivers beat their cars into the ground and then attack towards the end. The rally was a race of durability as much as a race of driving skill. Shekhar Mehta wanted to change this for the 1979 rally. He demanded that the Nissan team let him go all out from the start.

He and Mike Doughty put the pedal to the metal right from the get-go. They had stripped the car of most of its spare parts and tools, praying that the car would be dependable, and that they wouldn’t get it stuck anywhere. It paid off big time.

By the second leg, Mehta and Doughty were in a pack at the front with just Makinen, Waldegaard, and Munari. He and Waldegaard dueled it out for a while before Waldegaard pulled ahead in the more powerful Mercedes. Mehta’s car suffered some suspension damage and dropped back even further.

The third leg saw the traditional Safari mud slowing down leaders Mikkola and Waldegaard, both in Mercedes. Mehta and Doughty kept within range. Then both Mercedes fell back with mechanical difficulties, Waldegaard with a blown rear axle and Mikkola with a hole in his radiator, allowing Mehta and Doughty to win by 48 minutes.

Shekhar had his second Safari rally victory and at the same time had proven that the Datsun Violet could run as a hard as the big boys and still be dependable. He had also saved face with Nissan.

Nissan won the Manufacturers team prize in 1979, with Rauno Aaltonen and Lofty Drews finishing 5th, Mike Kirkland and Dave Haworth in 7th in an older Works 710 (Mike was driving officially for Nissan for the first time), and Harry Källström and Claes Billstam placing 9th. Hellier and Shah brought an older 710 in in 13th spot, while Japanese stars Iwashita and Nakahara slid in 2 spots back in 15th in their PA10 Violet. Six finishers in the top 15 was a good sign of things to come for Nissan, and for all the drivers mentioned.

1980: 28th Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

Nissan was on top with their performance during the 1979 event, but were by no means resting on their laurels. Nissan had decided to up the ante by racing their new twin cam 16 valve engine in class 2, instead of the stock L20b that the older Violets had. At the last minute Rally officials told them the new engine wasn’t legal yet, so they had to switch back to the old engines, dropping them back to class 4. Leading the pack for Nissan was Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty, then Rauno Aaltonen and Lofty Drews, and Mike Kirkland and Dave Haworth.

The 1980 rally was the hottest driest event on record, presumably giving the advantage to Mercedes. Dust would be a factor in this event, giving the advantage to the lead teams that didn’t have to spend as much time driving in it. The Mercedes struggled in the mud in past races with their higher horsepower engines, but could fly in the dry conditions. The Datsun Violets were better in the mud, and had proven to be more reliable, but in the dry conditions wear and tear shouldn’t have been such a factor. Or so it seemed.

The first 28 hour section ran from Nairobi to Kisumu, then on overnight to Eldoret for the mandatory breakfast stop, then down through Nakuro and back into Nairobi for the rest period. Mercedes, as predicted, were ahead on the first stage with driver Andrew Cowan, but only just as Shekhar drove his Violet like a madman and challenged the bigger Mercedes all the way. Mehta then lead for a while as the Mercedes and Opels fell behind with flat tires. Harry Källström took advantage of the situation by driving in faster dust free conditions and taking the lead on and off.

At Eldoret the standings were stacked like a sandwich with Nissan then Mercedes taking alternating placings: Mehta-Datsun, Waldegaard-Mercedes, Kallstrom-Datsun, Cowan- Mercedes, Aaltonen-Datsun, and Preston-Mercedes.

Mehta lead on the way back into Nairobi, but stopped to change a bent wheel and let Waldegaard and Källström go ahead of him on the road, if not yet on time. Mehta got a turn at eating dust now all the way back to Nairobi.

Waldegaard’s Mercedes arrived at the midpoint in Nairobi a minute ahead of Mehta on points. Waldegaard went out front on the second leg, increasing his lead over second place Mehta.

But Mercedes reliability started to falter, as did their luck. Hannu Mikkola went down with axle failure and, while doing the repairs, Mikkolas’ co-driver was hit by another car, sending him to the hospital. Then later in the stage Waldegaard crashed and let Mehta take the lead again. Waldegaard’s Mercedes started overheating and soon fell further back. Opel was pretty much out of contention by this point, with constant punctures and various mechanical failures. Jean-Pierre Nicholas made a valiant run to keep up with the pack.

With Mercedes starting to fall back, it looked as if Mehta would have a nice dust free drive to his second straight Safari title, with Kallstrom in second. But the Safari threw its next set of curve balls at Nissan. First Mehtas car suffered a pair of punctures, allowing Andrew Cowan to take his Mercedes into the lead. Then Harry Källström’s Violet snapped a valve, ending his rally.

The end of stage 2 saw Cowan leading by a minute, with Mehta second, Aaltonen back over 20 minutes in 3rd, Waldegaard a minute behind him in 4th and Preston and Kirkland in 5th and 6th respectively.

It looked as though Mercedes and Nissan would duel it out to the end. No so. First Waldegaard’s Mercedes went out with the same axle failure as Mikkola had suffered earlier, then Cowan in the lead suffered the same fate. Vic Preston was all Mercedes had left, and he was far back. Preston made a dash towards the front, but couldn’t catch the two leading Datsuns.

As the race came to an end and Mehta drove on problem free to victory, Aaltonen damaged his steering and limped into Nairobi 30 minutes back in second. Preston saved a little face for Mercedes coming in third. Mike Kirkland and Dave Haworth had their best finish to date bring in their Violet in 4th. Nissan had two more top ten finishers, with Yoshio Iwashita and Yoshimasa Nakahara of Japan bringing their privately entered Silvia S110 in 7th and Johnny Hellier and co-Driver Chris Bates finishing in 9th, just ahead of Waldegaard.

Nissan and its drivers had proven that not only were the Violets reliable, but they could run as fast as almost anybody could; the horsepower advantage of Mercedes had effectively been nullified. Nissan had won the team prize again, and had had 11 of the 24 finishes in the race including the newer Silvia, the PA10 violets, the older 710’s, and even a 120y coupe.

1981: 29th Marlboro Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

So how could Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty top two consecutive Safari wins? By trying for the Hat Trick. It would turn out to be the longest victory in the history of the rally, taking months after the race to resolve, with much bad blood between old friends.

Nissan had finally got its twin cam engine on the books as a legal entry, calling the car the Violet GT to distinguish it from the standard 160J/PA10. Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty were once again the lead team with Nissan, then Rauno Aaltonen and Lofty Drews also in a Violet GT, and Mike Kirkland and Haworth in the standard 160J. Timo Salonen was also driving for Nissan, but in a different car, the 200SX or Silvia. Nissan also entered a turbocharged Bluebird, but the car went out on the stage to Mombasa.

The dust was gone, but the rain was back and it was doing its best to make up for the previous year’s absence. The first section from Nairobi over the Mau escarpment was rerouted due to flooding, and the cars cruised on pavement almost all the way to Kisumu near Lake Victoria. With all the time allowed for the stage saved by driving the direct route, some drivers, including Aaltonen, had time to stop for a nice lunch at the Rift Valley Country Club. Of course even on the pavement the hazards of rallying couldn’t be avoided as 30 car received speeding tickets from Kenyan police officers, a new wrinkle in the sport.

The next morning the drivers were faced with a safari challenge that seemed almost insurmountable. In the span of just 24 hours, the equivalent of ten years worth of rain had fallen in the Cherangani Hills section of the course.

All this mud and rain went in Nissan’s favor. By the end of the first leg, Datsun sat with Timo Salonen in second in the 200SX Silvia, Mehta and Doughty in 3rd, and Aaltonen and Drews in 4th. Anders Kullang kept his lead going in the Opel. Every team suffered from a plague of punctures due to the boulders that were being chewed up in the mud.

Mehta was third as the cars arrived back in Nairobi for the middle rest period. The next morning saw no let up to the rain and another 50 mile section was cancelled on the route to Mombasa due to heavy flooding. The conditions didn’t help the Peugeot teams of Makinen and Frequelin, as both teams had to retire after burning out their clutches. Datsun and Opel teams fought it out on the way to Mombasa and down the coast. The next morning the teams were greeted with a bit of a reprieve as conditions grew drier and sunny. Timo Salonen charged ahead of Kullang’s Opel, only to crash his Silvia into a Land Rover. The Datsuns tough dependable nature began to fall into question as Mehta burnt a starter and Aaltonen’s car began to come apart at the seams. By the time the cars left Mombasa on Easter Saturday afternoon, only 39 remained, with 1500 miles to go. Kullang was still in the lead with his Opel with Mehta neck and neck behind him.

Then “Safari Luck” struck another blow as Kullang, the leader for most of the race, toasted a cow with his Opel. He still lead, but not for long as he put his Opel in a ditch a short time later. The Peugeot teams weren’t having much luck either with clutch failures impending on Ambrosino’s and Lefebvre’s cars. The Datsuns were all that was really left of the leaders, and were now running 1 through 4 on time and on the road into Nairobi for the end of stage 2 .

The final leg saw Mehta lead Salonen and Aaltonen out of Nairobi in a rally that was now down to just 28 cars. Salonen wanted to win and Aaltonen wanted it even more, so they and Mehta ignored Nissan team orders to take it easy through the night and conserve the cars. Around midnight all of the teams ran into a new delay. A section of the road had become submerged under 5 feet of water due to the unstoppable rain. The cars were hauled through with big trucks, but one of the Peugeots got stuck and was nearly swept away.

Flood damage to Mehta’s car allowed Aaltonen to take the lead near Baringo despite team orders not to do so, but Mehta soon caught up and the two went at it no holds barred. Aaltonen was tired of being second and he wanted to win. Mehta was so mad that Aaltonen had ignored team orders that he actually rammed Aaltonen’s car. Aaltonen returned the favor, putting a large dent in Mehta’s Violet. Mehta lead by seconds at the final check point at Nyeri when Nissan team manager “Waka” told them to stop the nonsense. He told Aaltonen that Mehta was in the lead and that things were going to stay that way to the finish line. Aaltonen, a fierce competitor, was understandably furious, but followed orders anyway.

Mehta crossed the finish line in Nairobi 5 minutes ahead Aaltonen to take his 3rd straight Safari victory. Or did he?

Aaltonen protested the win, citing time he had lost earlier in the race due to a wrongly located time check, and on other stages. Initially, race officials ruled in his favor, moving Mehta into second place 9 hours after the finish but that decision was overturned later on appeal. Apparently Aaltonen had no right to file the first appeal so, after much debate and much time, Mehta was awarded the win and Aaltonen was forced back into second. Mehta and Aaltonen had been good friends up to this point, but now became bitter enemies. Aaltonen never raced for Nissan again.

Nissan had their best performance ever in the rally, with Mike Kirkland coming in 3rd behind Aaltonen to sweep the podium for the team. Timo Salonen brought the Silvia in 4th, with Iwashita and Nakahara in 7th, and Shah and Rahim in 8th. Datsuns took 12 of the 21 finishing positions with teams driving everything from 180b’s to Silvia’s to older 710’s to every version of the Violet. Nissan won the team prize of course, capping a nearly perfect race with the exception of the Aaltonen – Mehta controversy.

1982: 30th Marlboro Safari Rally

General information:

Datsun entries (in order of finishing overall):

Everybody was watching Mehta and Aaltonen for this rally. Mehta was driving a 2 liter Violet GT again, while Aaltonen had taken a ride with Opel and their Ascona. Datsuns dominance of the event was starting to show, as fewer and fewer international entrants were willing to risk being defeated by the Japanese upstarts. Subaru and Mitsubishi were there in force, as were Opel, but other that a couple Porsches and some private entries the field was very limited.

Nissan entered both the PA10 Violet GT of Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty, and the VioletGTs/200sx. Another turbocharged Datsun Bluebird was in the field, but it failed to finish for the second straight year.

The first half of the race was relatively uneventful. The course was dry and dusty, with the exception of a few well placed mud holes that managed to swallow the occasional car and driver. One of the victims of this was Brit, Tony Pond, who was driving for Nissan. Mehta also blew a differential as well.

45 of the 73 original cars made it back to Nairobi in fairly good shape, with Aaltonen in first, Mehta 16 minutes behind, and Rohrl in the second Opel behind Mehta.

The second leg started out dry like the first. Noticeably absent on this leg was Munari and his Porsche who hadn’t even bothered trying to finish due to his transmission problems. Timo Salonen’s Datsun was out too, with a long list of complaints. Then the little things started to go wrong as usual. First Rohrl’s Opel blew its belts. Then local Rob Collinge’s Range Rover had its hood come loose causing him to crash blindly, breaking his front axle. And then Rauno Aaltonen had the toughest break of all. For some reason cars had been eating up rear differentials like popcorn on this rally. Nissan had gone through six on the first stage, and others had had similar experiences. Aaltonen wasn’t unlucky to lose an axle he was just unlucky enough to do it in the middle of nowhere. By the time a chase car reached him and axles could be swapped, he’d lost 113 minutes. Aaltonen was effectively out of reach of the lead, dashing his hopes of defeating his rival.

Back in Nairobi at the end of stage 2, it was Mehta in the lead, followed by the Opel of Rohrl, then Aaltonen back in third, followed by Mike Kirkland in his Violet GTS, then Tony Pond in another GTS.

The cars headed out for the last leg around Mount Kenya. Tony ponds caught and passed Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty on the road then cleared a path for them through the wildlife and other mobile road hazards. The road was dry and life was pretty mundane for the drivers, except for “the unlucky Finn”; Rauno Aaltonen threw a rod in an engine that had never thrown a rod in competition before, ending his 19th attempt to win the Safari.

Mehta cruised on to victory for the fourth and last time, while Tony Pond broke a suspension component, letting Mike Kirkland pass into 3rd. Second place was held by Rohrl and co-driver Geistorfer’s Opel.

The crowds cheered as local hero Mehta took the ramp back in Nairobi, setting a Safari Rally win total that has yet to be broken, and probably never will be. Mike Kirkland arrived third for his second podium finish in as many years. Tony Pond made a fabulous debut bring in his GTS in fourth, with local stars Jayant Shah and Aslam Khan making it 4 out of the top five for Nissan. Nissan had 7 of the 21 finishers in the race, another outstanding finish.

It was Mehta’s, and Nissans, last Safari win. 1983 saw a whole new Class system that basically eliminated the cars that had dominated before. Another arrival on the scene had an equal impact, the Audi Quattro, a car that would change the world of rallying forever. The dawn of the All Wheel Drive – Four Wheel drive had started. Subaru was in the game, as was Toyota, but Nissan never joined the party.

Thanks go to Merlin at for most of the stories regarding the happening on the rallies.


32 thoughts on “Datsun in the East African Safari Rally MEGA POST…

  1. Yvonne Mehta says:

    Absolutely brilliant; many thanks. The only thing is that the photo of the man riding on the boot of the car in the mud is not Mike Doughty; I’d know his bottom anywhere and it isn’t his !!!!!

    • Jared van Bergen says:

      Hi Yvonne, wow it is absolutely wonderful to have you comment on this post!

      4 days of hard work later and I believe I came up with something that is not too bad?

      If that is not Mike, who might it be?

      Best regards
      Jared van Bergen

      • Yvonne Mehta says:

        I don’t know but it’s not an african and it’s not Mike because he never wore a hat like that, he always wore shorts and it’s not his shape at all. It looks very much like an Indian’s bottom!! Maybe the answer is to look closely at the number plate and try to align that with the entry list. Best wishes Yvonne

      • Yvonne Mehta says:

        I’ve sent the photo to various people to see if we can identify the bouncer on the boot !! It may even be that he is a spectator because in those days you could be assisted out of trouble; unlike today. I will keep in touch and also try to find out who entered the car with number plate 5164. Yvonne

      • Jared van Bergen says:

        Hi Yvonne,

        That’s a great idea! Thank you very much for the effort you are putting in to help me identify the guy, it is much appreciated!

        Hope all is well!


      • Yvonne Mehta says:

        (1977 photo of man bouncing on boot). Ok – have worked it out. It is car No. 26 driven by Japan’s Iwashita and the man on the boot is his navigator, Nakahawa.

  2. rudi van wyk says:

    Very Good JARED weldone this might have taken a while to get together but lekker to look at datsun nissan rally at its best thanx RUDI

    • Jared van Bergen says:

      Thank you Rudi, I am glad you enjoyed it! This is by far the largest post on the blog, over 7500 words and about 110 photos (including the information and entries tables… Which I compiled in excel one by one!)


  3. Manuel Romão de Sousa says:

    Wonderful , Jared . Should be sent to Nissan present french (not only) Directors in order to enable them to see what the brand did in the past !!!!!!

  4. Yvonne Mehta says:

    Oh good; I thought I’d lost your site; now found it.
    I have enlarged that 1977 photo of the chap on the boot. I’m sure it’s an Indian now. The Japanese registration number plate was not Shekhar’s, and the Safari Rally number plate is twenty something; it is obscured by the bouncer’s leg. Shek was Number 5 that year I think. It could be Jivaid Alam’s navigator, or Jayanti Shah’s. If I could find an Entry List for that year’s event, I might have a fighting chance of recognising the chap’s bottom, but I can’t find a List anywhere. All my rally books are in sotrage at the moment as I am moving house. Will continue to do some research though. Best wishes, Yvonne

    • Jared van Bergen says:

      Hi there Yvonne, have a look at the 1977 section of the post, I compiled a list of the Datsun entrants as accurately as I could with the information I had at my disposal. Was this not the Japanese crew (as judged by the Japanese number plates?)

      Thank you for all the effort once again…


  5. datsunrally says:

    Hi Jared, I’m enjoying your East African Safari Rally “Mega Post” very much. Did you know in the 1982 section you included a picture of Shekha Mehta / Mike Doughty in the 1980 Rally Cote d’Ivoire (Bandama)? It’s the black and white shot of the PA10 with #3 on the door. Also, the engine shot in the 1982 section is of an early LZ-head, not the type used in the Violet GT / GTS. Keep up the good work though, I’m off to explore more of your site. Jeff

  6. Stephen Cox says:

    Great work having had the pleasure of rallying a HA10 group 2 and more relevant to this post been privileged to have owned Shekhar’s 1977 Southern Cross PB210 which has recently resurfaced after being lost for some 20 years and is now being restored in NSW Australia, I believe it may be the only works PB210 left in existence.
    Even Nissan do not have one in the Museum , I greatly enjoyed the glory days of Nissan when all the works drivers came out to Australia, Many of the photo’s on here are unique and a tribute to great people and good times when Rallying was more than just dirt racing as it is today.

    Good to know Yvonne is still with us and that the Rallying Fraternity has not forgotten either Shekhar or Yvonne, May the memories be good Yvonne.

  7. Tom Lepski says:

    Shekar’s bio would make very interesting reading for rally fans everywhere especially East Africa where he was and still is a rallying icon. Joginder Singh’s book,”The flying Sikh” makes interesting reading and Shekar’s would be quite a story well told.

    Tom Lepski Ochola

  8. Dennis frederick Galinoma says:

    EAST AFRICAN SAFARI, those were the years in rally history, i was a teenager by then, grew up in Dar es salaam, witnessing Datsuns/nissans challlenging other models.I can remember the engine noise of a 240z rally car owned by Zully Remtulah navigated by Nizar Jivan, he used to worm the engine in the night through upanga west were we resided (mindu street)
    Indeed, Shekar was a real rally driver, fastest driver, could do things you do not expect. those were the rally cars that we will never ever seen them again in our lives.

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