Saturday, 18 January 2014

Ford Corsair races the Windsor Castle to Southampton, England

This was brought back to my memory by the customer I am restoring the 1971 Hillman Imp for.

Ford Corsair – that’s calling back the past. They never seemed to catch-on here for some reason.
I remember well a publicity stunt organised bewteen Ford and the Union-Castle Line. Departing either Southampton or Cape Town (I forget which it was) at the same time, bound for the other port, the mailship and the Corsair were pitted against each other in a race. I have an idea that it was from Cape Town to Southampton and the ship was the “Windsor Castle”. I remember seeing newspaper photos of the car parked on the quayside (“A”-berth it then would have been) in Cape Town with the ship also in the picture. I can’t remember how it ended, but the marketing people of both companies I’m sure would have engineered a simultaneous arrival of both ship and car so as not to lose face! The car made it anyway.
Do you recall anything of this? It would have been circa. 1960-63 I think.


Both the Ford Corsair and the mailship were proud products of Merseyside, what happened, they build ships like this on the Mersey no more and Ford moved out too?

Note, the cars number plate dates it to 1967 by the way.


Another photo pulled from the Ford media photo collection, this one a nice color shot of Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers posing with their Ford Corsair in front of the Windsor Castle following their race with the luxury liner from Cape Town to Southampton. The caption for the photo on the Ford media site claims that Jackson and Chambers beat the liner in the race, but the website for the London-Algiers-Cape Town Rally notes that the results of the race weren’t so cut-n-dry:

Ford were pleased with Eric’s effort in the Cortina (Jackson and Chambers had set the London-Cape Town record in 1963), so a couple of years later in 1965 they planned a publicity stunt to race the liner RMS Windsor Castle from Cape Town to Southampton. This ship, the last passenger liner built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead and last of the Union-Castle mailships that sailed between Southampton and South Africa, would average 24 mph and Captain Hart thought it a no brainer – he would win. Jackson set off in the Corsair but lost time with a string of punctures. He used Firestone cross-plies, and found the inner tubes were rubbing badly by the ribbing inside the tyres. Cross-plies, he argued, are available all along the route and have stronger side-walls – but it proved to be a duff choice, and the car’s progress suffered. At one point, Eric was changing tubes, fixing a puncture, on the move!
Cameroon refused the car so it had to be flown in an air-lift – and at a stroke was no longer keeping the wheels on the ground. They then drove non-stop to England, reaching a hotel at Gatwick the night before the day the ship was due to dock, the crew took a hotel room for a few hours rest and then drove to Southampton. Ford publicity chief Walter Hayes had agreed with Captain Hart that due to the air-lift, they would call it a draw, and the Corsair made it to the dockside as the ship entered the harbour.
The Ocean Liner Virtual Museum has a more elaborate version of the story that places the race in 1967:
In May 1967 the RMS Windsor Castle was involved in a dramatic race from Cape Town to Southampton against a motor car. It began after Union-Castle Line claimed sea travel was the fastest means of travel from South Africa after air. The Ford Motor Company disputed this and threw down the gauntlet for the ship to race one of their cars from Cape Town back to England. So the RMS Windsor Castle took up the challenge and in May 1967 raced home against a Halewood built Ford Corsair 2000E in a dramatic and nail biting race between these two Merseyside built machines. Sadly despite the high profile nature of this race sadly press coverage was muted. The ship and the car (with rally drivers Ken Chambers and Eric Chapman), left simultaneously from Cape Town dockside to a great send off bound for Southampton. The liner’s 7,000 mile sea voyage was pitched against the 9,700 road journey. Chambers and Chapman had many adventures along the way. Including a moment when the Corsair fell into a 6ft, water filled pothole and had to be rescued by 30 locals and 200ft of rope. Other challenges included petrol shortages (nuns once gave them beer as a substitute!), armed Congolese soldiers forcing frequent stops (their support team and plane were locked up for several days), plus 24 tyre changes and 37 puncture repairs. Even, just before reaching Southampton, they were pulled over by West Sussex Police and cautioned for having a dirty number plate! Accounting for the driver’s air travel, the race was declared a draw, although the Corsair arrived the evening before the ship sailed in.
The RMS Windsor Castle was broken apart for scrap five years ago. Anybody know the ultimate fate of the Corsair that raced her? And anybody know the exact year the race took place?

Posted in boats,Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car,motorsports,road trips and cruising

13 Responses to “Racing the Windsor Castle in a Ford”

  1. johnfromstaffs says:
    The oddities of the British registration system come to light in this. The plate on the car appears to be “UVW 999E”. If this is so the car will have been registered in Essex between 1st January 1967 and 31st July 1967. The year suffix changed to “F” on 1st August that year because the motor industry said that changing both the year letter and the year on 1st Jan was causing bunching of car sales. The effect of the change was to bunch new car sales on August 1st!
    One assumes that the car was new when the “race” started, as the Essex registration suggests that Ford supplied it, so the year 1967 looks like a good call.
    • Thanks for the confirmation of the date, John. I constantly forget how useful British registration numbers can be when researching old cars. A gallon of blinker fluid for you!

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