Between the covers: East African Safari Rally

This month’s book review features an unusual tome that artistically covers the golden years of the charismatic East African Safari Rally…

For many years, the East African Safari Rally (later simply Safari Rally) was considered one of the world’s most gruelling motor rallies and was almost as well known as the iconic Monte Carlo Rally. Although its global status and popularity faded towards the end of the last century, its history is filled with tales of derring-do, and Artist Round The Bend covers the first 20 years of the event. What makes this 230×170 mm book a little different, though, is that it is illustrated not with photos but with paintings by the book’s author, Mike Norris.

Norris was born in Mombasa, Kenya and as a child watched the rallies taking place, later helping out at control points. He then combined his love of the sport with a talent for art and set about producing oil paintings representing each of the rallies. Each event is covered in double-page spread that features a full-page image of one of the competitors opposite a brief story of what took place. Some of the event’s influential individuals are also covered. From Goss and Gales’ Ford Consul Mk.1 to Hillyar and Birley’s Ford Escort 1600RS, the cars are depicted in action and convey the spirit of an event that was as much an adventure as a competitive rally. “A wonderfully unique, concise and very readable history of that period of the Safari Rally,” says 1969 winner Robin Hillyar.

The 1972 rally was won by Mikkola/Palm, the first internationals to do so, and such was its standing that the Safarii became part of the WRC and, consequently, far more commercial. But it was the earlier events that set the stage and this book is a reminder of those brave crews who faced everything from deep sand to flash floods in what were basically strengthened road cars.

Widely regarded as one of the most popular African rallies, it was set to make a return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2020 after an 18-year hiatus, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will instead return in the 2021 WRC and this book provides a fascinating insight into how it all began.

NB: Artist Round The Bend is available from the Franschhoek Motor Museum for R300 excluding any packing and postage. Enquiries and orders can also be e-mailed to the author at