Africar 1983

The Africar saga is a sorry and twisted tale of high ideals, financial chaos, and technical incompetence. But it’s also the story of a fascinating project that promised cars tailor-made for Third World drivers.

Africar 1983
Africar 1983

Africar 1983

  • YEAR REVEALED  1983
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN  Lancaster, Lancashire, UK
  • HISTORICAL STATUS  prototype
  • ENGINE  flat-two-cylinder, 37ci (602cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER  29bhp
  • LAYOUT  front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
  • BODYWORK  two-door, three-seater utility; four-door, six-seater station wagon; others proposed
  • TOP SPEED  70mph (113kph)
  • NUMBER BUILT  five

Anthony Howarth was an Oscarnominated documentary filmmaker whose assignments took him to poverty-stricken outposts. He’d noticed that mainstream vehicles built in developed countries often couldn’t handle primitive roads, and in 1981, he resolved to create one that could.

To achieve this, his Africar had an abnormally wide track so it could surmount rutted dirt-tracks, aided by 12in (30cm) high ground clearance and soft Hydragasdamped suspension for a huge vertical wheel movement range. The bodywork was of plywood soaked in epoxy resin with fiberglass reinforcements, building toward Howarth’s vision of franchized local manufacture with minimal capital investment.

Power came from front-wheel drive Citroën 2CV mechanicals. Three such prototypes completed an 18,000-mile (28,968-km) excursion from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. Howarth filmed the adventure for a memorable UK TV series, and orders consequently poured in.

This basic concept worked but, with the 2CV and its engine soon to be axed, Howarth tried to design his own. This engineering was way beyond him (and his budget), yet he still accepted deposits for cars-talking grandly of production plants from Bangladesh to Botswana. By 1988, Africar was bankrupt.

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