The AFRICAR was a genuine attempt to build a reasonably priced , very easy to repair vehicle that could tackle the roughest roads, rough tracks or trackless areas without falling to pieces. It was the work of Englishman Tony Howarth, a journalsit and photographer who spent a great deal of the 1970's in Africa. He was apalled at the way standard production off-road vehicles, supposedly designed for rough use, disintegrated so quickly and decided that his experiences would help him to produce a vehicle that would do the job far better. His idea was to use local materials for the main body construction, mainly wood, that could be repaired and maintained by virtually unskilled labour. The thought behind the design was brilliantly innovative and had so much potential that the thought of failure with the project was not even an option. The simple flat panels used for both body and chassis were epoxy saturated plywood of the type used by several yacht builders. This did away with the expense of the normal metal equivalents and their high tooling costs.
Several AFRICAR's could be built at the same time, whether four, six or eight wheeled and the length could be easily adjusted to suit. Simple metal strengtheners laminated to the body and chassis panels would give all the strength necessary to create a sturdy assembly. The number of driven wheels could be catered for to suit customer requirements. Body styles could range from an open vehicle to a station wagon, a pick-up truck to a panel van and the permutations were infinite.
AFRICAR's would eventually have their own engine and transmission, but until this was developed, the initial power units would be from imported existing engines. For the prototypes, a Citroen GS engine coupled to a Citroen 2CV gearbox was chosen. Suspension was by the British Leyland 'Hyrolastic' system.
Howarth built three AFRICAR's in England in the early 1980's; a four wheeled station wagon, a four wheeled pick-up and a six wheeled vehicle. To establish their ability to tackle all conditions, they were first driven to the Arctic Circle in Norway and then over the space of four months, South to the Equator. Howarth filmed a documentary of the construction and preliminary testing of these vehicles that detailed his future plans while proving how versatile and strong they really were. In April 1986, he founded 'Africar International Limited' (AIL) in Lancaster, England and his impressive documentary was shown on English Channel 4 TV in May 1987. There were many interested viewers and several deposits were taken from customers who were under the impression that their AFRICAR's would be delivered fairly quickly.
An AFRICAR was on show at the AIL Christmas party at the factory in 1987 and several investors were invited. But the area that the car stood on was roped off in such a way that it was out of reach of visitors, who were unaware that they were looking at an empty shell, without an engine and various other major components. The doors had been glued shut and the distinctive orange paint used on the AFRICAR's was still wet!
Had Howarth replicated the original AFRICAR and used Citroen engines, the outstanding customer orders could have been completed, giving funds to spare for future development. But instead, he decided to use the deposits to develop his own engine, a project that left him with serious financial difficulties.
Delivery dates were put back several times and the only AFRICAR to leave the factory was one that a frustrated customer had driven away without permission. In February 1988, Howarth tried to raise money by offering shares to the public in an effort to turn his ailing company into a public limited company, but the accountants dealing with this proposal refused to acknowledge in the relevant documents that the licence to manufacture AFRICAR's was worth £8 million. Customers that had already paid deposits were told that their AFRICAR would be ready for delivery in approximately two months if the outstanding balance was paid up-front.
AIL ceased operations in July 1988 when the factory's documents were seized by the Commerce Branch of the Lancashire Constabulary and the premises were repossessed by the owner. Howarth, who was in the USA trying to raise more investments at that time, remained there until October 1994. On his return to England, he was arrested and charged with fraudulent trading.
For this he received a fifteen months jail sentence.
A vehicle called the 'Bedouin', based on the AFRICAR and powered by a Citroen engine, was produced in England in limited numbers by Special Vehicle Conversion. Although the AFRICAR has now gone without trace and the Bedouin is no longer made, a few Bedouin's still exist.
Source: Reg J. Prosser