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Thanks to Pieter Oosthuysen for the text and photos, and to Morgan S. Wright for transcription
One of the longest bus rides in history was taken by 43 South Africans, who traveled from South Africa to London and back. The first leg of the trip — to London — covered 13,500 miles; they left Johannesburg on 6 January 1956, and arrived in London on 27 March 1956.
The South Africans traveled in two British-built, diesel-engined Karrier Gamecock buses (Karrier was part of Rootes Group, which became a part of Chrysler). They were equipped for the journey by South African Rootes Group dealers. The expedition was organized in conjunction with the South African Government; they chose bus travel as the cheapest way of giving their young members an intimate picture of many countries.
The trip went through the length of Africa and then through Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, and France. Their buses, driven through rivers, mud, sand and snow, averaged 180 miles a day, without once needing water to be added to the radiator.
The trip was paid for by the travelers, as a “holiday – educational tour,” and a honeymoon for the party leader, Mr. Retief Oosthuysen, and his 20-year old wife. The couple were married just before the start of the journey.
Mr. Oosthuysen said, “A trip like this had never been attempted and before we set out we were warned that we should have to cross some of the toughest terrain in the world and drive thousands of miles away from the nearest garage. But we were amazed at the performance of these British buses throughout this very severe test.”
“On our way North through Rhodesia, the Congo, French Equatorial Africa, Nigeria and across the Sahara Desert to Morocco and Algeria, we traveled through all sorts of conditions – heat, cold, rain and dust. We were reported as missing on the Sahara crossing but there was really no difficulty at all.
“In the desert we just slept out on the sand. On occasions the sand was so deep that we became bogged down but we had sand mats with us and we all helped with the pushing – including the 23 women.
“For three days in the Sahara, we drove in second gear, for it was impossible to travel for more than five yards in top. Despite the intense heat, the temperature of the diesel engines never once went above normal and we never had to put a teaspoon measure of water in since we left Johannesburg.
“We had no real trouble at all, although each bus towed a 2-ton trailer.”
Each bus was equipped with a 30 gallon fuel tank, a 30 gallon water tank, and 10-ply tyres with special treads.
After only a few days in Britain, the party set out on the long return journey, taking a more direct route home.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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