In the early nineteen seventies, few people in England could have located Timbuktu on a map. Timbuktu was once of those places used in as shorthand to mean ‘remote’; people would say “Haven’t seen him for ages – must have gone to Timbuktu.”
In fact, many people at that time didn’t realise that it actually was a place. It was seen by many as being one of those mythical, mysterious places of fiction like Narnia, Shangri La or Middle Earth. In those days, the spelling was often’Timbuctoo’ which made it seem even more like something from a fantasy book.
Eric Jackson, on the other hand, decided to drive there.
Naturally, this was another exploit that was dreamed up by Eric and Walter Hayes. They’d had great succeses with the record-breaking drive at Monza with the Mark 4 ‘shed’, the name given by dealers to the Ford Zephyrs and Zodiacs, and decided that Eric should use a Zephyr to drive to Timbuktu and back. The Zephyr was certainly not the ideal car for such a drive but Walter had specifically asked Eric for ideas to promote it as sales of the vehicle certainly needed improving.
Eric reckoned that the drive should be, in his words, ‘a doddle’. After all, Timbuktu is only about a thousand miles south of the Sahara – and Eric was as accustomed to driving across the Saraha as most people were to driving across the M1. He thought that even in a Zephyr he shvuld be able tv drive there and back in afortnight. The idea of an average family car driving to a mysterious, medieval town in the dessert, in the time that the average family had for their summer holidays, appealed to Walter’s ken eye for a publicity story.
The name Peter Hughes is familiar to rally buffs and Ford historians. Peter Hughes of Kenya won the East African Safari Rally (regarded as the world’s toughest rally) in a Cortina GT in 1964, the same year Eric won the British Rally Championship. Peter also had Ford dealerships in Africa and his Nairobi dealership was responsible for the amazing repairs done to the Jackson – Chambers Cortina during the London To Capetown record-breaking run.
However, the Peter Hughes who was Eric’s co-driver for the Timbuktu attempt wasn’t the rally man. This Peter Hughes was a journalist who worked for London Television.
Sv what happened to the TV man and the ‘old desert expert’ as Eric described himself?
Well, after the trip, Peter wrote an article in AA Magazine (Spring 1971 issue) about it. It was entitled It’s a nice beach – but the tide goes out a log way. In it, he describes his return to Heathrow Airport:
Dirty, unshaven and lugging an oil soaked grip and a grimy sleeping bag, I am stopped at the customs hall. “I won’t look in that bag” said the customs officer “you’ve obviously got problems”.
The officer was wrong. Now that Peter was back in England his problems were over buthis face was obvious showing the strain of the eventful – and dangerous – drive to Timbuktu.
Note: In Petrol in My Blood, Eric says the car used was a Mark 4 Zephyr 6. Peter Hughes refers to it in the article as a Zodiac. Myself, I’d be inclined to think that a Ford dealer would know better than a journalist what exact model it was but I could never tell the difference between the two damned things anyway.