Around the World in Forty Three Days
Driving round the world in 43 days - an adventure
The date was September 4th, 1963. It was Labor Day in the United States when two Englishmen - and their strange car - arrived by air to New York.
They were about test-drive a new car that hadn't as yet been released to the public. But this was no ordinary test-drive; they were going to drive the car around the world in a record-breaking forty three days.
These men, Ken Chambers and Eric Jackson (my dad) had, earlier that year, broken the record for driving from London to Cape Town. That had taken a mere thirteen days.
This time, I wouldn't see my dad for a couple of months.The African trip had certainly had its perils. What would this one bring?
At what was then called London Airport (now Heathrow) my mum, and Ken's wife Margaret, had kissed their husbands goodbye no doubt wondering what was going to happen this time. 'But Eric' I remember my mum saying 'when you were in Africa you both were nearly killed on several occasions...' 'Oh don't worry' was his reply 'this trip will be far more civilized. A piece of cake, in fact'. Hmm.
An easy start - America
Here you see the start of the trip in New York. You can tell from the other cars that the Fort Corsair they were driving was really something very advanced for its time. And it was completely untested.
How would it fare for the next seven weeks? They would be subjecting it to some hard driving in tough terrain and had no idea how the car would cope.But for now, they made good time driving the easy roads from New York to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,Chicago, Salt Lake City and on to San Francisco where the plan was to take a ship to Honolulu. You know those best laid plans, don't you?
They were met in San Francisco by some Ford Motor Company people who wined and dined them, the sternly told them to be at the dock to board the ship to Honolulu in good time, as the ship left at eight o'clock...
When we arrived at the dock,all we could see was a frantic group of people running around in circles. Oh, and this big white ship out in the ocean ... already on its way! I know it's hard to believe, but they'd made a mistake. We couldn't believe it ourselves. The ship had been scheduled to leave at eight o'clock in the morning, not nine. And they have a habit of leaving on time. Big panic! Big pandemonium! What could we do now?
Australia - at last
As you can see, they made it to Australia via Honolulu and Fiji. (Yes, they found another way of getting to Honolulu but I don't want to give the game away. Suffice it to say that my dad says that it was 'bloody terrifying').
The whole trip was still a bit of a junket and they posed for publicity shots. One of the PR people had the bright idea of photographing them with baby kangaroos. What's more, he wanted a baby kangaroo to sit on my dad's knee and seemingly 'driving' the car.
My dad didn't much fancy the idea - 'You what? I'm not having that bloody thing on my knee' - but he was outvoted.All went well until the flashbulbs started...
And then, this bloody thing, it leaped out of the car, and had to get a bit of purchase to jump out, and guess where? He put his little claws right on my trinkets as he took off into the air. Dear Kenneth found this highly amusing. I had scratches all over, and it was a good job that it would be several weeks before we got home as I would have had a hard time explaining them to the missus.
Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Iran
The kangaroos in Australia paled into insignificance later during the guys' later drive across that continent, but the sharks in the waters of Perth are a story for another day. Their next drive was across Ceylon, then India where they accidentally pulled up beside the Taj Mahal in the middle of the night, followed by Pakistan and Iran.
There were several adventures, as you can imagine, but there was one incident in India that nearly destroyed the trip. It involved a charging water buffalo...
Ken was driving at the time and I only realized there was a problem when there was a tremendous crash.Ken couldn't get out of the way of this massive beast and the first thing I knew about it was when Ken muttered 'Oh s***',then there was a big bang and a bloody great hoof came through the TripleX windscreen dangling about six inches from my face. We'd hit the beast with the front of the car and it crashed onto the hood. After what seemed like ages, it slid off the hood...
After the altercation with the water buffalo, the windshield had to be taped together (see the London pic below), the car had become even more battered and the wiper was gone but it could have been a lot worse. They continued and had to deal with inconveniences such as mechanical breakdowns and packs of marauding wolves.
A pair of local trucks ran them off a mountain-side road and only a tree prevented the car from plummeting below - it took them many hours to get it back on the road. But more was to come. Shortly after the photograph above was taken, and in the pitch dark, bandits had stretched a sturdy chain across the track and lay in ambush.
When we'd encountered Somalian bandits on our previous trip, we'd thought we are going to die. Was history repeating itself? Ken wasn't prepared to put up with any nonsense. He simply kept his foot firmly on the gas. I didn't know how we were going to get out of this one. I'd only had a second to glance at the chain and the Corsair was a tough little car but it had no chance. We heard shots and then there was a helluva din - the sound of tearing metal coming from the roof of the car...
Back through Europe home to London
Ford Motor Company published a book about the epic drive and got plenty of details completely wrong. As my dad says 'they got it wrong again when they said that we went through Turkey into Greece. We went through Turkey alright but never touched Greece. We headed home via Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and France...' Although this last leg wasn't uneventful, it was less perilous than the prior parts of the trip. They crossed into Dover from Calais after forty three days traveling.
We did a couple of laps around Piccadilly Circus for the press. Ford took us, in all our muck and with the press in tow, to the Cafe Royal in Regent Street. We must have been the only people ever to go into the Cafe Royal in that condition - filthy, dirty, smelly - and checking in two extremely dirty anoraks, two revolvers and two shoulder holsters to the very startled lady who was taking the coats.
The Ford book
When my dad started writing this autobiography, and I was 'volunteered' (ha) as editor, I received regular packages with photographs, newspaper cuttings and notes. One was the Ford book. Throughout, my dad penciled notes on it and added sticky notes with his comments. As you can see, they were often pithy. You can see in the photograph where he has written 'total bulls**t'. If you're interested in buying a copy of my old man's book now that you've had a small flavor of it, you can buy it online here.
It's a good thing that Walter Hayes had the idea for this trip
This video shows what Ford Motor Company was planning to use to launch the Corsair. So it's good job that Walter Hayes had a bit more imagination. The video is a real period piece though and gives a flavour of 1963 - clothes by Mary Quant, red phone boxes, cocktail cigarettes and ... no seatbelts in the car.Note the registration number too. At that time, all Ford works cars had OO registrations and look how similar it is to the number of the car my dad and Ken drove around the world.