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A70 Loading

Sleigh and Jopling loading up the A70 outside their hotel at Dover just before the start.

At 4 P.M. G.M.T. on Wednesday, 14th December, 1949, two British motorists, Ralph Sleigh and Peter Jopling, drew up before Shell House in Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, after an epic dash across the Sahara and down through Nigeria, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Kenya, Tanganyika, the Rhodesias, Transvaal, the Orange Free State and so to Cape Town.

The route

The route - note the wide detour from West to East Africa which was made necessary by lack of roads.

They had completed the journey from England in 24 days 2 hours 50 minutes, smashing the previous best time on record by no less than 7 days 19 hours 10 minutes and had also broken the Algiers to Cape Town "record" by 3 days 20 hours 55 minutes.

A70 at dock

Sleigh and Jopling waiting on the Quayside to board the "Dinard".

Sleigh and Jopling drove an Austin A70 Hampshire Saloon with only two modifications - special auxilary tanks mounted on the roof and seats designed to let down as beds. But the extra equipment caried on the car weighed slightly more than half a ton - a further testimony, were any needed, to the sturiness of the A70.

The distance overland from Algiers to the Cape is 10,300 miles - four thousand miles further than the sea route because no road exists down the West Coast of Africa and indeed the "roads" in the interior are so bad that Sleigh and Jopling had to strike over to the East as far as Nairobi and Mpwapwa.

The previous England to Cape "record" was 31 days 22 hours, set up by the late H. E. Symons and B. Browning in January, 1939. Sleigh and Jopling themselves had motored from Algiers to the Cape faster than any other team in the world when, in January, 1948, with two companions, John Brown and John Clowes, they made their arduous jorney in 24 days 20 hours.

Ralph Sleigh, 39-year-old ex-Squadron Leader, R.A.F., is married, lives at Hitcham, near Ipswich, and is Eastern Counties Representative of a firm of paint manufacturers. Peter Jopling, 29-year-old ex-Major in the King's African Rifles, is also married; lives at Merston, near Chichester, and is a Company Director. They first met through an advertisement Sleigh inserted in a daily newspaper when he was seeking companions for his 1948 trip.

During the whole journey the drivers only had three nights' rest. The only mechanical hitch was when the Austin's speedometer packed up in the early stages of the Sahara crossing, after the cable had been carried away by a projecting outcrop of rock. Later, having holed the sump on another rock, the intrepid drivers had to replace it in a raging sand-storm, shielding the engine with blankets.

Advance arrangements had been made for petrol, oil and tyre supplies to be picked up en route at predetermined points, and everything went exactly according to plan.

They were given a great reception in Cape Town where, to everyone's amazement, they appeared to be quite fresh despite their long and strenuous trip during which their schedule had exceeded 450 miles each day through the barren wastes of the Sahara desert and, later, the rain-soaked, rutted tracks of East Africa.

Note:  The above story is taken from "Austin Records And Other Post-war Achievements (Publication No. 729B)

Austin launched the A70 Hampshire in 1948, its first all new, large post-war saloon car. Power came from a four cylinder, overhead valve, 2199cc engine which produced reasonable performance and proved to be a strong, reliable engine.

The A70 Hampshire's body looked very similar to the A40 Devon, being mounted on a similar separate chassis as the Devon. Although most Hampshires were four door Saloons a few Estate Cars and Pick-ups were also built. 35,261 Hampshires had been built by the time it was replaced in 1950 by the A70 Hereford.

The A70 Hampshire was not imported to the United States (rumored that General Motors blocked the sales) - they were sold in Canada.

AUSTIN WORKS designed by Rob Stuart