Tuthill Porsche has just won for the East African Safari Classic Rally for the fourth time and the the man behind it all, Richard Tuthill, is greeting his bruised and battered 911’s with a wry smile as they return to Oxfordshire in a convoy of trucks.
The name Tuthill is well known to fans of classic Porsche competitions, especially rally fans. In the late 1970s, Tuthill worked privately with the 356 and 911, before Prodrive hired this small but highly skilled group of professionals to prepare the bodies of the Porsche 911 SC RS. Over time the company grew, and today in Tuthill there are air-cooled 911 specialists who like to lead the way.
The 12-meter containers have been in transit since before Christmas, and as the doors open, the scope of this feat begins to become clear. Spare parts, rims and tires are piled up, mixing with the dirt accumulated after nine days of rallying through the relentless African roads. And apart are the cars, covered in Kenyan red dust, mud, flies and duct tape.
The Safari was part of the World Rally Championship for 30 years. Today, it is an independent event with thousands of kilometres of wilderness through Kenya and Tanzania, attended by only private teams with cars manufactured before 1986. The great distances travelled, in extreme conditions of heat and humidity, along with the enormous remoteness, make it a unique challenge for both drivers and teams. A physical and logistical nightmare, from which Richard Tuthill, however, cannot and will not walk away.
“We have one container per car that carries everything except for wheels and tires: from hydraulic jacks to drums, through gearboxes. In short, about 100,000 euros per car ”
The cars Tuthill brings to Kenya are the 911 G-series, so they are half a century old. They are equipped with a 915 gearbox and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder atmospheric boxer. They are authentic classics, cars that the rest of us would love to have for weekend outings.
In addition, 10 cars involve 30 technicians, three per car, along with management support staff, doctors, engineers, and physios. Between 40 and 50 people in total, all en route for 10 days in a row, including a single day of rest in the middle. The organization of this number of people is impressive, but the logistics of 10 classic racing cars at an off-road rally on another continent is truly amazing.
Richard Tuthill goes on to say:
“I see it as 10 individual teams, centrally coordinated and managed. We have one container per car with everything: jacks, stub axles, drums, gearboxes, whatever except rims and tires. Probably around 100,000 euros of spare parts per car.” And then there is the so-called mothership, the container with the brand logo that we saw earlier. “People from the team go there every afternoon to pick up parts, like three sets of brake pads and a right front shock absorber. The damaged shock absorber is repaired by a mechanic at night, like other parts, just in case it was needed.”
“This year we have had a lot of demand for suspension arms. On the fourth day, we had used 60% of our supply of links on the right front side because everyone was hitting the same thing. So you call home and prepare people to fly with any parts. One year we ran out of gearboxes and on the rest day we had to rebuild the ones we had discarded. You have to be on the lookout.”
Most of these cars don’t even have a rebuilt engine before this adventure. Further proof of Tuthill’s readiness and original Porsche design. However, it is amazing the work that is done to get them to the finish, and that some do it first, especially considering that all the maintenance in Kenya is done in the afternoon, in total darkness.
He pauses for a moment as we inspect the cars, wounded but not expired, and the engineers begin to lead them to the workshops.
“But it is good that the rally is every two years because if I ask them today if they want to return to Kenya, it would be difficult to answer. You need at least six months to a year before you think it is a good idea to return.”
Photographs: Lee Brimble, McKlein Photography