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The Saga of Rallye Algiers - Cape Town (1951 - 1961)

One of the longest rally in history, around 15,000km on African lands from North to South, a month and a half journey, so is the Rally Algiers - Le Cap, some of which call it "Raid Méditerranée - Le Cap de Bonne Esperance ", has become legendary even if it is less popular than the Rally" Le Dakar ", but this is due to its time when the means of communication and dissemination were less numerous. This, this Rally which has known 5 editions: 1951, 1953, 1956, 1959 and 1961, is one of the toughest and most enduring in history. It should also be noted that this rally is the result of French propaganda and sports betting. In fact, since 1930 and the centenary of the French presence in Algeria, rallies have been organized by the French army under the cover of the "Friends of the Sahara and Eurafrica" ​​committee, of which Brigadier General Octave Meynier was the President. These rallies are carried out with the assistance of African Automobile Clubs and under the control of the International Automobile Federation, the major oil companies carefully prepared refueling at all stages. All African countries, for their part, strive to supplement accommodation in the most remote places.

But that does not in any way take away the exploits accomplished by the participants to face the climatic difficulties as well as the technical constraints of their vehicles. In short, a big hat to them.

Extracts from the article published in n ° 99 of the review "Le Saharien", 1986

"As early as 1938, the Association of Friends of the Sahara, on the initiative of General Meynier, had undertaken the preparation of an international automobile rally between the Mediterranean and the Cape of Good Hope, which would have been the normal continuation of the Mediterranean rally - Niger from 1930 and would have shown the new progress made on a route which, this time, went from 6,000 to 15,000 kilometers.
The very near Second World War did not allow it.
The project could not be resumed until 1950 with the assistance of the African Automobile Clubs and under the control of the International Automobile Federation. The big oil companies carefully prepared the supplies at all stages. All African countries, for their part, strive to supplement accommodation in the most remote places. This 1st rally was a great success and the 32 cars which left the edge of the Mediterranean, arrived on the appointed day and at the appointed time on the main square of Capetown at the foot of Table Mountain, with the exception of only one competitor whose car was damaged during the last stage on the very shores of the Indian Ocean.

"The route taken promises to be reasonable although not free from difficulties because not everyone will have the experience of our pilot in the sandy passages for the competitors who will leave from Algiers. "

Such was the conclusion of the organizers on this first part of the course having as a major obstacle the crossing of the Sahara by the track of Hoggar, It must be said that the large North-South Saharan track was completely redone on the occasion of this first announced rally.

Which does not mean that the rally becomes a walk. Whoever cannot move to third at the right time will risk slipping in the bends before Ghardaïa or silting up in the reg near In-Salah, the pebbles of Tademaït will make the tires suffer and the many bends in the Moudir Mountains and du Hoggar will put the competitors to the test.

With this appreciation, the start from Algiers could be given for this first edition.

1st Edition 1951

The race took place over 15,000 kilometers in 11 stages from December 30, 1950 to January 23, 1951, including just 700 on paved roads, with 32 starting vehicles (75 team members and 7 nations) for 31 arrivals. A French military team on a Delahaye pick-up, belonging to the First category, that of all-terrain, won the event on one of the six vehicles of this type entered by the brand, divided into two groups. Captain Monnier and Colonel Henri Debrus were part of the victorious crew. For cars, in class> 2L. Veglia won over Willys-Jeep, in class 1.1 to 2L. Lapalu on Land Rover was the winner, and in less than 1.1L. Mme D'Ieteren became the winner, on Volkswagen1. During the same period, André Mercier and Charles de Cortanze (class winner at Liège-Rome-Liège in 1950 out of 203) covered -independently- a reverse route to that of the event in less than 17 days only, on a Peugeot 203 between December 26, 1950 and January 11, 1951 (15,020 kilometers).


Some fights were to be deplored between competitors in 1951:

  • a man even being abandoned in the desert by his own teammate because he was considered undesirable.

  • Edouard Buchmann plans to return by road to Algiers, in order to beat the record established a few weeks earlier by the Mercier / De Cortanze crew on Peugeot 203 on the occasion of their return to Algiers after their reconnaissance on the sub-Saharan route of the 1st rally.

  • But other competitors with the same plan, he prefers to sell the car on the spot and return by plane with the money of the sale in a junker of the ex-German army which carried freight.

The route chosen was that of the Hoggar:

• Algiers - Laghouat: 342 km, track road

• Laghouat - Arak: 1243 km, sand track

• Akak - Tamannrasset: 400 km, crumbly rock cliffs, Hoggar passes

• Tamannrasset - Agadès: 911 km, sand tracks, sandstorm, breakdown and repair, corrugated iron, bush tracks cut by ravines.

• Agadès - Zinder: 473 km, hard track, short and sparse bush

• Zinder - Kano: 235 km, dirt track, dusty, heat

• Kano - Fort Lamy: 809 km, dirt track, tall grass, rivers fording or ferry crossings

• Fort Lamy - Bengassou: 1467 km, dirt track, forests, wild animals

• Bengassou - Elizabethville: 4724 km, uneven track in virgin forest or savannah

• Elizabethville - Broken hill: 455 km, medium track in tropical climate

• Broken hill - Johannesburg: 1738 km, medium road

• Johannesburg - Cape Town: 1532 km, good road for a large part

2nd Edition 1953

The results obtained aroused so much interest that the Organizing Committee agreed to repeat the rally every two years, and so in 1952/53, the 2nd Algiers - Cape Town rally followed the same route and won the same success, this new event brought to light the improvements of all kinds made on the great African ridge.

Faced with the success of the rally from the outset, the same route was then taken by the competitors for nearly 16,000 kilometers in February, for 25 days. The winner was a specially prepared Fiat 1900 type Kontiki3, driven by the Turin factory crew Bruno Martignoni4, Gilo Rabezzana and Franco Mazzuccheli5. It was triumphantly displayed on the Fiat stand at the 1953 Turin Motor Show.

(On March 12, 1953, Captain Jean Heurtaux and Colonel Marceau Crespin were commissioned by the French army to bring back a Delahaye type 235 Coach 6 cylinders 3.6L. Of 152CV, by taking the road to Hoggar. This car had just finished tenth of the rally with Commander Pottier, Captain de Courcel and Staff Sergeant Houard. Cape Town and Algiers, established over 14,300 kilometers. Still independently of the event, from December 19, 1953 to January 25, 1954, Michel Bernier and Jacques Duvey made a little earlier the journey from Cape Town to Algiers over 17,500 kilometers alone aboard the boat. 'a 2CV, before going to classify their vehicle for the Monte-Carlo Rally after a fork through Oslo).

3rd Edition 1956

It took place from January 11 to February 25, on the Le Cap-Alger reverse route, in 44 days with six cars7 over a distance of 13,500 kilometers. Tied first for the Italian-Swiss crews, Bruno Martignoni-Schwartz on Fiat 1100 TV and Doctor Haldeman, grandfather of Elon Musk on Ford "RanchWagon" 5.4L (on the second Stanleyville-Algiers section of 6,812 km Marinai and Martine won over Peugeot 203 (first section Martignoni-Schwartz from Cape Town to Stanleyville, over 6,730 km).

4th Edition 1959

The 4th rally, Algiers - Cape Town, for which the competitors could enter:

either for an Algiers - Stanleyville section, either for the Stanleyville - Cape Town section, or finally for the entire Algiers - Cape Town route, leaves Algiers from January 7, 1959 to arrive in Stanleyville from January 26.

The second section left Stanleyville on January 29 to arrive in Cape Town on February 20, 1959.

After 44 days of racing from January 7 to February 20, the German Karl Kling associated with the co-driver Rainer Günzler a Mercedes with the crew Karl Kling / Rainer Günzler will once again demonstrate that the diesel engine can offer good sporting performance by winning the 14,045 km Rally: Algiers - Cape Town aboard a 190D. The average speed will be 80.6 km / h. Former Grand Prix driver Kling will say it was the slowest racing car he had to drive in his career. The OM 636 (OM = Oilmotor) which fitted the 190D is a legendary engine which was not only used on Pontons, but also on the Unimog 319, minibuses as well as on boats. It will remain in production until 1969, eight years after the end of production of the Ponton.

5th Edition 1961: transformed into Algiers-Bangui-Algiers

Algiers - Cape Town was, from January 1961, ready to set off on the same route, but things had changed appreciably in the world of the trans-African event, and, first of all, the mood of the organizers and participants. As improvements were made to the condition of the roads and tracks, to their equipment, to communications facilities, vehicle manufacturers, pilots, and the press turned complacently to performance, it was that is to say, speed, rather than what had been the rule of the first rallies: safety and comfort. But there was more serious, and it soon turned out, for reasons of political uncertainties, this 5th rally could not cross the ex-Belgian Congo, now Zaire. It was no longer a tourism issue, but a safety issue. So we tried to go elsewhere than Zaire, a bypass route was found, but there was not enough time to equip these new tracks as the previous ones had been.

The decision was made to make the 5th rally an Algiers - Bangui and back.


  • a tourist rally in 34 days called "the African route"

  • an international rally Algiers - Bangui and back, i.e. 11,500 kilometers with four speed tests on the difficult stages of the Sahara, all in 18 days.

The 5th rally, although cut off by half of its route, still had the same success for me as its predecessors.


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