The date was 14th February 1975, the starting point was the town of Kragujevac in (the former) Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe, the end point was Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the vehicles in question were communist-era, 5-door passenger cars made by the (now defunct) Yugoslav auto-giant Zastava.
The aim of this expedition was to showcase the car’s ability as a family transporter over even the harshest terrain (the expedition drove through Greece, crossed over to Egypt, drove through Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and finally reached the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Eleven people (journalists, a film director, photographer, a couple of mechanics, a doctor, expedition leader, organizers and a Zastava rep.) made the 11,000km journey in five Zastava 101 passenger vehicles. These vehicles were like the VW Beetle of Yugoslavia – simple, easy to drive, relatively cheap, durable and had no 4x4 ability whatsoever. Stock standard vehicles were used, right off the factory floor albeit with fitted oil filters to replace the air filters, protective plates fitted on the underside of the cars and well, that’s about it really.
They packed a whole assortment of spare parts in the boot (along with food and their personal belongings), and the roof racks were packed with spare tyres and jerry cans and off they went on a journey of a lifetime, which would last 45 days and lead them and their “101’s” through some of the harshest terrain on the planet.
The journey was filled with dangerous army-infested roads, arduous desert crossings (where one car was separated from the convoy and got lost), wrongful imprisonment of some of the expedition members, numerous instances of punctured (and subsequent repairing of) tyres from the harsh desert terrain, bribery of officials to get desert-permit crossings (a bottle of Yugoslav rum, aka “Rakiya” also helped), sickness etc. But the expedition also had its up sides, including the crossing of the Giza Plateau by car and driving right past the pyramids (something which is not possible today), driving alongside the wild animals through numerous safari parks (a self-drive through the Amboseli national park in a 5-door passenger car…again, something not quite imaginable today), and the satisfaction of completing the journey at the base of the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Even though dust was everywhere and got into every nook and cranny of the Zastava vehicles, the air-cooling systems of the cars persevered even in the 50+ degree temperatures of the Nubian Desert, where only Land Rovers and large trucks could normally pass through. The terrain then changed from soft desert sands to harsh gravel roads, combining sandy and rocky terrain. The following leg of the journey from Khartoum all the way to the south of Sudan was a tricky one because the expedition had to cross 1,600km without a single petrol station along the way. And that, for vehicles without long-range fuel tanks was problematic. The travelers, with the help of the Yugoslav Embassy in Khartoum managed to rent out a small truck filled with about 10 barrels of fuel to come with them over the next leg of the journey. From Juba in South Sudan, the expedition then had to cross the Mogila Mountain range which, they were told, was such a hard and taxing route that no one had crossed it in the past fifteen years…yet the convoy put the pedal to the metal and pressed on.
The harshness of this terrain took its toll on the vehicles, or rather on their tyres and according to the notes of the expedition’s writer, on one day they had a total of 60 tyre punctures and in 12 hours crossed about 30km. The solution they came up with was to repair all the tyres, pile them up on one car and a couple of drivers pressed on to the nearest village, leaving punctured tyres along the way (to help them get back to the rest of the convoy). As luck would have it, the solo car did in fact come across a small village with missionaries present, who were extremely surprised to see a vehicle coming from the North. The missionaries loaned them a small truck and a machine to make tyre repairs quicker and easier and back they went to get the rest of the expedition!
The next leg of their journey took them across the equator and into Kenya and this was a film-worthy moment as it was the first time a Yugoslav vehicle had made it this far south along the globe and then on to tarmac in Nairobi, through the Amboseli National Park and on to Tanzania and the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Upon their arrival at the mountain, some of the expedition members even made the trek up to the top of the mountain while the rest decided to relax on the beach by Mombasa below and take marketing photos of the Zastava with local Tanzanian model Winnie Kibuye, one of which was used as the cover for the book recounting the expedition, entitled “Jambo Africa”. The expedition members were later flown back to Yugoslavia, while the cars were ferried back up to Greece and then driven back home to Kragujevac.
This expedition was something that adventurers in Land Rovers did often and gladly, especially in those days, but for five, stock-standard, cheap, basic, 5-door passenger cars to take-on such a trip was a feat worth noting. Shortly after the expedition returned home, Zastava’s administration was changed and the new management didn’t want to recognize any of the achievements of its predecessor and so the “K-K” (Kragujevac to Kilimanjaro) expedition and what those eleven people and five cars accomplished was quickly swept under the rug.
In today’s age of 4x4 technology, ground-clearance-this and diff-lock-that, it’s hard to imagine what this convoy managed to accomplish and this story is not only a testament to the build and mechanical quality of the cars back then, but is also a testament to our desire, as humans, to push ourselves and our machines to the limit for the sake of adventure and travel – something which is as true today as it was back then…albeit with slightly better cars and more creature comforts!
View the rest of the photos, taken by the expedition's photographer, Mioljub Jelesijević, below:
"We are a young, married, Botswana-based couple with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"