London to Cape Town record
In 1962, Eric Jackson was at a local motor auction and got talking to a chap called George Hinchcliffe. George, knowing about Eric’s rallying adventures, suggested that Eric attempt to break the record he had set ten years previously when he and two other men had driven from London to Cape Town in just a few hours short of fourteen days.
Eric couldn’t resist.
In Petrol in My Blood he relates how he and Ken Chambers prepared for the marathon trip and in January 1963, they set off from London which was gripped by the Big Freeze, one of the coldest winter Britain had known. Ken and Eric had never driven together before and yet they were destined to be together twenty four hours a day for the next fortnight facing incredible dangers in their ordinary family saloon – a Ford Cortina. As Eric said at the time “I didn’t even know a woman who could put up with me nonstop for more than a few days!”
But the partnership was to develop in the future as Eric and Ken undertook more hair-raising trips.
They had their first setback in Spain, where they found out that the African country they were aiming for was actually at war. Eric records that he didn’t fancy being chucked into jail at best or shot by rebels at worst, so they hastily revised their route.
This wasn’t the last time their route was to change. They had to improvise the route along the way as floods, closed roads and political problems took their toll. Driving an ordinary saloon car on murderous terrain meant that mechanical and tyre problems were rife. They were often lost, often had no idea where the next petrol or drinking water was coming from and found themselves on the wrong side of shotguns and rifles on more than one occasion.
In Ethiopia they survived an attack by Somalian bandits, only to find that the bandits’ bullets had punctured their spare gas cans and, more importantly, their water can. At this point, they believed that they would never see home again.
Almost miraculously they managed to survive, only to encounter more problems but eventually realised that by throwing out an extra weight from the car, and driving like hell, there was still a slim chance that they could break the record.
For the final leg of the trip, the duo didn’t eat or sleep, they just drove flat out. Eric says that he doesn’t even recall them drinking – their entire focus was on the elusive record which seemed to be slipping away. As they entered Cape Town, it was approaching midnight and they expected to be met by a welcoming party from Ford Motor Company who would lead them to the finishing post. No welcoming party. In fact, there was no-one around at all. Because Eric and Ken had been assured that they’d be met, they had no idea where the finishing post was, they had no map of Cape Town and they knew that they had only minutes until the time allowed to beat the record would elapse.
Eric realised that as the had set off from the RAC headquarters in London, it was logical that their finishing point would also be the RAC.
“Finally we saw a taxi, “Lead us to the RAC headquarters quick.” He was quick alright, but we had a problem – keeping up with him – but he got us there in quick sticks. We paid him and he drove away.
It didn’t look good; the building was in darkness. We went to the door. He had brought us to the AA headquarters, and not the RAC headquarters. Terrific. What the hell do we do now?”
Today, with cellphones, it would have been easy but it transpired that Ford Motor Company had heard about the duo throwing out their excess weight and assumed that they had given up. Ford man Edgy Fabris had come to Cape Town anyway, just in case…
It was typical of such an exciting adventure that the ending was so dramatic! But Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers broke the record by just a few minutes and their carnet was signed just shortly after midnight by the appointed RAC official.
Eric held the record for forty seven years. It was eventually broken in 2010 by Max Adventure, who attempted the record to raise money and awareness for Help for Heroes. Eric was amongst the first to congratulate the team.
“I know how difficult the trip is and I have great admiration for Mac and the team and whilst I’d like to have kept the record for a lot longer I am delighted for Mac, Steve and Chris.”