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, like the Baby Brousse, 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 of 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 GS engines and 2CV gearboxes and components from other manufacturers including British Leyland's Hydrolastic suspension system.
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 UK’s 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.
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.
|© 1999 Julian Marsh||My thanks to Ian Marshall and Michael Roeder without whose help this page would never have seen the light of day - check out the Old Woodies website and KTUD Automotive Web site for more information on the Africar.|