In a Porsche 944 to South Africa

A tour from Great Britain to South Africa in a car is tough. Normally you would use a well-equipped off-road vehicle for this. Ben Coombs had other ideas. In 2002, he purchased a Porsche 944 with a mileage of around 135,000 miles at that time. However, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and the five-speed manual transmission were still in good condition. So the sports car served him as an everyday vehicle as well as for vacations in Great Britain and Europe. By 2007, the mileage had climbed to 198.900 miles.

Only minor modifications to the 944

Ben Coombs’ desire for a more suitable everyday vehicle grew on the one hand. At the same time he didn’t want to sell the Porsche 944 to just anyone. So the plan matured for a uniquely beautiful farewell tour, which should lead to Cape Town in South Africa. A total of more than 21,000 kilometers of road. He won his good friend Laura Reddin as co-driver. Since both had only a small budget, the modifications to the 944 were kept within limits. The chassis was raised by around 50 millimeters to provide more ground clearance. Coombs also installed a specially designed roof rack with additional headlights in the front and a specially built plywood construction for a folding roof tent.

However, sometimes things happen that can’t be planned. This is also the case here. Only 17 days before the planned departure the oil pump broke down and caused engine damage. Fortunately Ben Coombs had bought another 944 for parts and had already removed some spare parts like drive shafts and shock absorbers for the tour. Now the four-cylinder engine also moved into the prepared car. This work lasted until the day of departure, so that they couldn’t do a first short test drive until around 10:00 am. During this test drive the engine proved to run unevenly. Due to the visas and pre-booked ferries, however, the departure couldn’t be postponed any further. “I didn’t really expect to get as far as Dover,” reports Ben Coombs.

Complicated entry into Egypt

Somehow they made it to France and decided to continue the journey there. Ben Coombs had studied mechanical engineering and could thus build on a basic understanding of technology. So he soon found a small air leak through which the engine was drawing auxiliary air. After he had sealed it, the engine running improved noticeably. In the following week they passed through various European countries on their way to Turkey. From there they continued by land to Syria (that is where our picture gallery begins) and Jordan, where the two inmates spent the night in their roof tent directly at the Dead Sea. The entry into Egypt, where they had crossed over by ferry, took particularly long. For hours they filled out complicated forms and even had to apply for new Egyptian license plates before they finally went on to the pyramids. Although this stage was already worth seeing, they still had about 9,950 miles to go.

This was followed by another 311 miles through the Nubian Desert in Sudan. The tracks were unpaved and uneven, which isn’t necessarily the typical range of use for a Porsche 944. In addition, the temperatures were over 40 degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, the car put everything away and only lost the exhaust pipe on the way, which Coombs and Reddin placed on the roof rack. When Sudan was finally behind the team, they continued on to Kenya in a comparatively green part of Ethiopia. There, the road from Moyale to Marsabit presented the biggest challenge. This route leads through the border area between Kenya and Somalia, where various tribes and human smugglers are engaged in violent clashes.

944 as off-road vehicle

“It’s 500 km of really bad roads where it is understood you just do not stop. Let alone break down. We were formed into a convoy with the Kenyan army as an escort, but it had rained for the first time in two years and the roads had turned to soup. We couldn’t keep up with the trucks in these massive ruts and were eventually abandoned in the middle of this bandit-ridden tribal war zone,” Ben explains. Despite various marks on the underbody and a defective fuel pump, the Porsche 944 finally made it to its interim destination Marsabit. After successful repairs, it continued on to Nanyuki on the equator.

From the equator to the finish line in Cape Town, there were around 8,000 kilometers left, on which the team crossed Uganda and Tanzania. On the way, they were robbed, and Laura Reddin’s passport was also lost. In addition, the 944 carried some traces of a rear-end collision. Trips through Malawi and Zambia followed, where the car and its crew were greeted with the same amazement and enthusiasm as in Botswana and Namibia. The last big adventure was the crossing of the Namib Desert. There, however, a ball joint of the rear axle broke at a speed of about 40 mph. They had no spare part on board for this, so they tried to fix the components with cable ties and tension belts. Several attempts were made in the middle of the dark night before a really load-bearing construction was found.

Defect in the Namib Desert

In the same night a heavy thunderstorm came up from the South Atlantic. So they crept into the car and experienced a restless night. After sunrise they needed another eight attempts before the ball joint was sufficiently fixed and a further drive with just under 20 mph became possible. It took them about eight hours to finally reach a tarmac road again. Even there, the car couldn’t reach more than around 40 mph anymore. This meant that the journey to Cape Town, about 684 miles away, took another two days. In total, Laura Reddin and Ben Coombs were on the road for 62 days, crossing 26 countries and five large deserts.

Images: Porsche AG, Laura Reddin, Ben Coombs