In 1902, Frank Connock bought a two cylinder Gladiator from Albert Atkey, learned to drive within hours and set off for Mafeking. He completed the 320 trip in a single day – an unprecedented in those days because few were willing to risk their expensive cars on South Africa’s appalling roads. In 1907, Frank shot into the record books by completing the first coast to coast car trip ever undertaken in South Africa with world traveler Robert L Jefferson. They drove from Durban to Cape Town via Johannesburg. This trip took 16 days and, at that time, was the longest car trip yet made.
Other motoring pioneers also made heroic efforts. The previous year, Frank Dumat and Frank Whittaker drove from Johannesburg to Durban in a much bigger car, but refused to return because the roads were so bad. During the same year, Count de Rivetera had attempted a trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town trip, in a 6 hp De Dion Bouton. He got no further than the Karoo. There he became stuck in dreadful sand drifts and had to complete the journey by rail. Aware of the terrors of the Karoo, Frank armed himself with picks, shovels and stakes, as well as block and tackle and huge cans of petrol.
The drive through the Karoo, claimed Frank Connock, was the most exciting adventure he had ever experienced. “At times, we slithered and slipped down embankments, at others we had to engage first gear to plough through seemingly unending ‘seas’ of fine sand. We were reduced to our last gallon of petrol by the time we at last reached Beaufort West.” From there on we were sure that things were going to improve. We ‘jogged’ steadily along at the record-breaking speed of 16 km an hour despite the fact that it was necessary to change gears every 50 yards or so because of the deep “sluits [riverines] and wash-outs across the road,” he told Margaret Kavanagh who wrote Wheels, The Frank Connock Story. “On a smooth piece of road just south of Beaufort West, I decided to ‘open up’ for a little ‘flutter’ of speed’ and this almost proved my undoing. The car suddenly hurtled off the road and into a wash-a-way breaking four blades of a back spring. We had to limp to Laingsburg at 5km an hour and find a friendly blacksmith to assist us.”
The worst thing about the trip, said Frank, was gates. “We seemed to have opened and closed thousands on this trip!” Just outside Cape Town Frank and Robert heard a horrifying screech coming from the gear box. “We dared not stop. We shot out, dosed it with oil and grease and sped on.” All went well, we arrived safely, but never discovered what caused the noise. Frank became one of the country’s major motor dealers and he campaigned for better roads through the country
© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 64, January 2009
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