Tom Medley drew the East African Safari cartoon - featuring a cheetah racing a rally car - back in 1964. Hot Rod magazine were reporting on the Mercury Comet team’s decision to enter the East African Safari rally and Medley was asked to contribute some cartoons to commemorate the event. Mercury (a division of Ford) loved the design so much that they decided to make it the team’s official logo for the challenging race.
Originally called the Coronation Rally, the first East Africa Safari rally was held in 1953, to honour the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Aimed at production cars, the rally covered a gruelling four-day 3,188.5 mile course passing through Uganda, Kenya and what was (in 1964) the Republic of Tanganyika (Now Tanzania). Up until 1964 no American team had entered the rally and Ford sought to address this by entering 6 brand new Mercury Comet Calientes into the race that year.
Of the 94 cars that set off in Kenya for the 1964 rally, just 21 finished the race - including 2 of the 6 Comets. But it wasn’t all bad news for Ford as another of their cars took the top prize for the first time. The Comet’s distant cousin - a British Ford Cortina GT – took first place, driven by Kenyans Peter Hughes and Billy Young. As a Cortina owner I have to admit this makes me proud – although mine is a 1975 model and British ‘mini muscle car’ which is more similar in body shape to the Comet or the Ford Taunus that won the rally in 1969. There’s some great footage of the 1964 rally on YouTube featuring another British classic, the Hillman Minx rolling down to the starting line. Worn Free owner Steve once owned one of these and it drove like a boat so it’s so pretty impressive to see one taking on some of those dusty African trails!
The East African Safari Rally is still in operation today - with a classic version also running every other year since 2003. It really is quite incredible to see those old cars tackling the inhospitable terrain with no air con or cup holders! It’s also quite hard in our digital age to understand how important Tom Medley and his characters were to the world of hot rods back in the day. When he first started out at Hot Rod magazine in the 1940s, hot-rodders were perceived by the public as subversive and dangerous. Medley’s sense of humour, knowledge and dedication to the field, along with characters like Stroker McGurk brought hot-rodding to the mainstream and softened it’s image as a bad boy sport. Check out our latest additions to the Tom Medley range in the Worn Free store to see for yourself why his characters are so enduring and well-loved to this day.