The history of an ambitious project to provide developing nationswith a truly Go-Anywhere off-road vehicle that was cheap to build and easy to maintain. BUT it all ended with the director of the company - Tony Howarth - behind bars found guilty of Fraud.
A handfull of the spin-off BEDOUIN vehicles still exist
Based on the same CITROEN running gear as the AFRICAR
The Africar was the idea of Tony Howarth, an English journalist and photographer who spent much of the 1970s in Africa taking pictures.
He disliked the developed world's policy of selling vehicles which were unsuitable for the conditions and the fact that the cars disintegrated long before the bills were paid.
The Africar was designed to handle unmetalled roads, to be constructed from local materials with low-skill labour and a minimum of imported content.
Howarth constructed 3 cars: a break, a pickup and a 6-wheeler. They were built in England and driven to the Arctic Circle from where they headed south and reached the equator 4 months later. A British Channel 4 TV programme, produced by Howarth was broadcast in May 1987, which helped raise awareness in the project..
Howarth formed Africar International Limited (AIL) in April 1986. In the early '80's Howarth had built three Africars which were used on an expedition from the Arctic to the Equator.
The chassis and bodywork of the Africars were made of wood but Howarth used Citroën 2CV engines and gearboxes and components from other manufacturers.
From September 1986, AIL operated from a factory in Lancaster.
Deposits were taken for vehicles. The customers, many of whom had seen the Channel 4 programmes, were led to believe that the cars would be delivered to them.
At a Christmas party at the factory premises in 1987, to which some investors were invited, an Africar was unveiled. This was in fact a dummy vehicle sans engine or gearbox. Its doors were glued shut and the paint on it was still wet. The car was roped off so that customers could see but not touch.
The delivery dates for customers' Africars were put back and back. By the time AIL ceased operations in the summer of 1988 the only customer who had an Africar was one who had visited the premises and had driven a car away without asking.
In February 1988 Howarth intended to raise about £5 million by converting Africar UK Limited into a public limited company and offering shares to the public. The flotation did not proceed because the company's accountants refused to certify in the prospectus that the licence to manufacture Africars, which was the only asset the plc owned, was worth GBP8 million.
Despite the failure of the flotation and the company's consequent financial difficulties, it continued to trade by making use of goods and funds received from trade creditors, customers and investors.
By July 1988 new investments had all but dried up. AIL could not pay its staff their wages. On 18 July officers from the Lancashire Constabulary Commerce Branch seized the company's documents and the landlord recovered possession of the factory. Howarth at the time was in the USA trying to raise further investment. He remained outside the UKs jurisdiction until he was arrested and charged on his return in October 1994.
There were promises made about global sales, 3rd world manufacturing rights, and so on but the company foundered after spending their funds on an engine and gearbox. The bankruptcy court sold off all the assets and put Tony Howarth in jail for a short time.
The Africars themselves have disappeared.
After the collapse of Africar International Ltd., the Africar briefly resurfaced. Another UK company, Special Vehicle Conversion, produced a small run of Africar-based vehicles called Bedouin.
Sadly, some time later, production of these vehicles also ceased. A few of these cars are still known to exist.
It is surprising that plans based on this innovative design are not available.
The Idea behind the development
The name AFRICAR and the AFRICAR SYSTEM concept were first defined, in outline, while travelling during the rains on a destroyed muddy main road in Northern Zambia in 1964. Between 1964 and 1979 the idea grew gradually and the basic specification of the vehicle was influenced by experiences in some 112 countries on six continents.
In 1979/80 intensive research was undertaken into the develop-ment history of the light motor vehicle. And a study was under-taken of the relevance of the motor vehicle to the World rather than just a few paved over industrialised countries. Further a possible future for the motor vehicle as a genuine World form of transport was investigated.
From all this research conclusions were drawn as to the type of vehicle and the production methods required to make motor vehicles available at competitive prices, regardless of currency restrictions, on a World-wide basis. Detailed specifications were drawn up that could be relevant, in the future, to the three-threequarters of the World that currently does not use, or is badly served by, the motor vehicle.
A first prototype was built in 1982 followed, quickly by a second road going version. In 1983 four third generation prototypes were built. One to run in Indias Himalayan Rally before going on to Australia and three to undertake an Arctic to Equator 30,000 kilometre test run. This dramatic journey was filmed for a 4 hour Channel 4 television series which was aired in Spring1987.
The Himalayan car lasted a thousand kilometres in its first rally before falling out with fuel pump and fuel supply problems. But it proved capable of running in 7th place ahead of a turbo Range Rover, 3 litre Volvo, Subarus, Escorts and others. With only 65hp it managed 5th fastest time on some competitive sections. The Arctic to Equator run was successfully completed with all three vehicles, including a 6-wheeler, despite no independent back-up.