There was no tougher annual test for car manufacturers in the 1960s than the iconic East African Safari Rally, which makes the Peugeot 404’s dominance during that era a testament to its build quality and endurance which attracted a loyal following around the world - including Australia.
The 404’s revered status is justified when you realise how close rally cars were to the showroom products in those days. And the hellishly tough conditions the annual East African Safari threw at them, from roaming wildlife to rock-throwing locals, from baking hot sun and blinding dust to torrential rains, flash floods and thick mud.
Parallels between African driving conditions and those faced by car owners in Australian regional areas were numerous which was why the 404 was so well suited to local conditions, even if it didn’t enjoy the same level of rallying success as its African-based equivalents. We’ll get to that a little later.
Prior to the 1962 event, the gruelling 5,000 km Safari (which was based in Niarobi, Kenya with long loops into neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania) had been dominated by German marques. The ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle won four Safaris (including the first event in ‘53) while the works Mercedes Benz Ponton and Finny sedans claimed a hat-trick of wins between 1959 and 1961.
As the Safari’s global reputation grew in the 1960s, so did the variety of makes and models taking part. This included the mighty 404, which finished second overall and won its class in 1962, took its first outright win in 1963 followed by three consecutive victories in 1966-67-68. The intervening years produced another class win in 1964 and second outright and a team’s prize in 1965.