Africa, Maverick Life

Horse(y)power: When a Peugeot 504 bakkie ruled Africa

Horse(y)power: When a Peugeot 504 bakkie ruled Africa

David Horsey, 61, got into rallying in Kenya as a navigator for his brother. He soon shifted to the driver’s seat, finishing runner-up in the Kenya championship in 1983 in a Datsun 1300 bakkie, and winner of the African championship the following year in a Peugeot 504 bakkie. The top of the Anwar in his Mombasa dining-room is piled today full of Safari trophies. GREG MILLS found out more.

The Group B rally era was fast, furious and probably the most dangerous of all. Notice was given of the end of these cars with the death of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto in a Lancia Delta S4 on the 1986 Tour de Corse rally in Corsica. Both died instantly when the Lancia plunged down a ravine and exploded, a blackened spaceframe being all that remained. Within hours of the accident the FIA had banned Group B cars from competing the following season, so ending the era of the rally supercar.

I stood in a damp Welsh forest stage during the 1985 RAC Rally to witness the debut of the Metro 6R4 driven by Tony Pond, a name keenly familiar to South African rallying. As we stamped our feet to keep the cold at bay, we first heard the chattering of the wastegate of the turbo monsters before we saw them, burping flame, sideways at seemingly impossible speeds in the hands of some of the finest drivers ever seen: Walter Rohrl, Timo Salonen, Markku Alén, Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankunnen, Bjorn Waldegaard and the winner that year, Toivonen.

If ever rally-cars had chest hair, these were them. The Audi Quattro Sport E2 and later S1, Lancia Delta and 037 Monte Carlo variants, transverse mid-engine Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2, Opel Manta 400, Renault 5 turbo, the V6 Metro engineered by Williams, and, later, the Ford RS200 were among them. The rear-wheel drive Opel Manta and Nissan 240RS made around 300bhp, the turbo Toyota Celica some 370bhp, the 205 GTI and Delta around 500bhp, and the Quattro S1 a phenomenal fire-spitting 590bhp.

In amongst this pantheon of lightning-fast greats was, the words of its driver, “something of a joke”, Africa’s very own homologated Group B evolution rally car: the Peugeot 504 bakkie.

David Horsey, 61, got into rallying in Kenya as a navigator for his brother Horace. He soon shifted to the driver’s seat, finishing runner-up in the Kenya championship in 1983 in a Datsun 1300 bakkie (though his navigator Dave Williamson won his side of the competition), and winner of the African championship the following year. In 1985 he was the third works driver for Toyota in the Safari rally alongside Waldegaard and the eventual winner Kankunnen, though his event was stymied by a blown engine. The top of the Anwar in his Mombasa dining-room is piled today full of Safari trophies.


Photo: David Horsey finished runner-up in the Kenya championship in 1983 in a Datsun 1300 bakkie

We had developed the Datsun bakkie into a phenomenally quick rally car, fundamentally by rethinking the suspension. We took away the heavy duty springs and instead put into a set of massive bump stops from a Volvo truck, which was very progressive. Rubber, of course, has built-in hysteresis – it does not quickly rebound. This enabled the car, which we lightened extensively, to go particularly well on very rough stages, which are common in Kenya. We were beating 200bhp works Escorts with our 130bhp bakkie – it was ‘Better than Boreham’ [in reference to the UK Ford rally HQ]. Or at least we claimed so,” he smiles.

AVA were then brave enough to go into rallying with the Peugeot 504 bakkie, which was [CEO] Peter Hughes’ idea. We started with a bag of bits in the factory. I was obsessive about reducing weight, even known for chopping off spanner ends in the tool roll in the rally car, and making the roll from a shirt to save weight.”

Hughes had already enjoyed a remarkable Safari record, winning the 12th edition of the event in 1964 in a Ford Cortina GT, and finishing in every spot between 2nd and 8th at various times.

We chopped the back off the Datsun, for example, when everyone else was adding weight to keep the back on. With the Peugeot we made the floor and the rear-sides with a press-brake in 0.5mm metal instead of the usual 1.2mm. We then tried to manufacture the front wings but failed. So we took 50 percent of the weight off the wings, roof and bonnet by giving a labourer a sanding disc and telling him to grind away until he could dent it with his hands. If you jumped on the floor, it dented. We cut a big hole in the floor to mount the fuel-tank and spare-wheel, as this was free in the regulations.


Photo: The Team of Builders

All this removed somewhere between 150-200kg, though we never weighed the car, sadly. It was all a very Kenyan style of doing things; casual but well thought out. We made up a roll-cage. We used a 504 injection cylinder head, four-into-one exhaust and special inlet manifold to take two DCOEs. We used a straight cut works box from the 1970s, and moved the gear-change inside the car given that we had some problems with the rear torque-tube knocking the car out of gear on heavy jumps. There were also a few problems with the front seal, which employed an Archimedean screw system, which served only to deposit water in the engine. That was soon replaced by a normal seal, and we were set to go.

When it was time for the inspection of the requisite 20 cars, we lined them up with 20 cylinder heads, and the FIA came out from Paris. It was really a complete laugh. The FIA did not care. We were now ready to take on the world with our 140bhp 504 bakkie.” (At the time Kenya was assembling CKD cars in three plants for General Motors, Datsun, Toyota, Land Rover and Mitsubishi.)

Horsey and Williamson were knocked out of the 1984 Safari “when rocks were put across the road near Mombasa over a flat-out brow, sending us catapulting down the road”. But overall victories in Zimbabwe and Rwanda and a fifth on the WRC Ivory Coast rally in the Peugeot (an event won by Stig Blomqvist) secured David the Africa title. With typical modesty he plays down the strength of the opposition. Even so, he was, after all, in a Peugeot bakkie, Group B status notwithstanding!


Photo: The unlikely winners of the Africa Rally Championship, celebrating at the WRC Ivory Coast rally.

David Horsey’s best finish in the Safari was 14th in 1999 in a Subaru, a year won by the legendary Colin McRae. He’s still at it in historic rallies, finishing sixth in the last Safari Classic with his son Alex in a Tuthill Porsche. Out of the car he is self-effacingly charming. In the car he was known for incredible aggression on some of the world’s toughest events, in perhaps the most unlikely rally car of all. DM

Main Photo: Start of the Zimbabwe Africa Rally, 1984


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