Kilimanjaro expedition: Five Zastavas and a 11,000 km road trip to Africa
A memory of an amazing adventure by Zastava
Almost 46 years ago, on February 14th 1975, five bright red Zastavas 101 were all set - Lampredi engines were purring, the crew was ready to start an amazing 11,000 km road trip from Kragujevac in Yugoslavia (Zastava headquarters) to Kilimanjaro, highest peak in Africa. It was no easy task, as far more serious manufacturers couldn't boast of such a venture in their theretofore history.
Zastava was probably at the peak of making good cars - the 101, a hero of the story, was a Yugoslavian hatchback version of the FIAT 128 - which was a pretty advanced car in the mid 70's - and so was its Yugoslavian cousin - some dare to say even better, because of the 5th door which was just starting to be a huge trend in that market segment.
The convoy consisted of four Zastava 101s, without the back seats and with all the sponsorship labels while the 5th 101 was a completely stock car, called 'Salonac' (The Showroom One'). The support came from the domestic companies - the oil was 'Optima' (Modriča, today's Bosnia) and the tires were specially prepared by 'Tigar' (today's Serbia).
After setting off in Yugoslavia, the expedition used the route, that consisted of countries that were part of The Non Aligned Movement, where Yugoslavia played a major role and the crew could pass by with relative ease. The route went through: Greece, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, before reaching the Gillman's Point, on the Kilimanjaro mountain, where the Zastava HQ flag was stabbed down into the African soil.
The route put the 101 through its paces - it was definitely no easy ride, as they went through Nubian desert, the swamps, savannas, areas of no road whatsoever and a roads so rocky that the tires barely handled it.
The 101 proved to be a very reliable car - though the cars were taken from the French market assembly line (read: properly built) and had few modifications on the fans and air filters (considering the heat in Africa), the rest of the car was as stock as it can get.
Through the desert, car were kept above 120-130 km/h, as they would dig into the dunes otherwise, yet neither car reported overheating, the little Lampredi kept on going. On the other hand, the temperatures went above 50 degrees Celsius which proved fatal to the stock radio units made by 'Elektronika Niš' - they literally melted away.
The breakdown toll was actually pretty low - the reported were several engine mounts and an oil sump that failed to survive the unexpected jumps over the sand dunes - at speeds over 120 km/h, it was hard to anticipate a dune before jumping over it. Also, some leaf spring didn't survive that kind of torture. One of the cars (KG 508-56) rolled on its side after a serious jump but managed to be fixed to continue the expedition. In Kenya, they came across a road that rocky that over 60 tires had to be replaced in a matter of 20 kilometers - that cost them a whole next day repairing them.
After conquering the peak of Kilimanjaro, the cars were boarded on a freight ship in Tanzania, that delivered them to Athens, Greece, while the crew had been flown to Yugoslavia directly. The expedition proved to be a major marketing success for Zastava - the 101 was brilliant all the way, proved its quality (at the time to be honest, the quality kept declining over the next decade) - and even FIAT 128 profited from this. In Egypt, the local NASR company assembled the 128 (by Zastava's licence, not FIAT's) all the way up to the 2009 - the car is particularly popular in Egypt even today.
Also, the expedition was done in times when the political climate and relations with Africa were very peaceful and the whole project was one big 'team building' of the nation. A lot of media was done on this in the late 15-20 years, I only managed to snap a tiny bit of this to give you an insight.