Seven Years with Samantha by Clive Ball
Seven Years with Samantha by Clive Ball
This is an intriguing title as the cover shows an old vintage car in the desert. Samantha is Clive’s 1929 Austin Seven which he had rebuilt. It had a 750cc engine and did 40mph. He set off from Dover in 1965 and ended up doing one of the longest journeys ever undertaken in such an old car, extending to a total of 48,000 miles. I’m sure this record has been surpassed many times since but in 1965 this was some achievement.
In some ways this was the perfect vehicle to travel in as it was so simple to fix - he did it himself many times on the roadside as well as mechanics of all persuasions around the world. It suffered broken springs to overturning but it defeated the European Alps, the roads of Yugoslavia, the Iraqi desert, the Khyber Pass, The Andes, and the long return haul to England from Argentina. I think it is the same Triggers’ broom – he’s had it for 20 years, with 17 new heads and 14 new handles!
Clive also did his journey at a very slow speed. This was definitely not a splash and dash expedition. I think his way is the best way. He may not have seen a lot of the world during this mega journey, but he would often stop for weeks at a time with friends enjoying the local culture and scenery. He didn’t do much advance planning, as he says, ‘what was the point, carefully arranging an itinerary by which you then felt morally bound, regardless of the unexpected’. Australia was the initial objective, via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and a ship from Ceylon. In fact, he deviated four times even from this vague route, taking three months to get to Israel.
Clive met many people along the way and, in most places, people offered him a place to stay or invited him to have a meal. Maybe this is because not many people were travelling the world in the ‘60’s but Samantha was also the attraction. Nearly everywhere he went or stopped, a crowd would gather round the car. He met a few people who also had Austin Seven’s, especially in Europe, so they would invite him to dinner to discuss their respective vehicles.
In a dim carpeted hut on the Afghanistan border a robed figure attended to Clive’s documents. The Border Guard pointed dubiously at the car’s date of manufacture. Clive wrote ‘1929’ in Arabic characters which made him look even more dubious. Beckoning him outside, the Border Guard stopped short when he saw Samantha, his jaw dropped, then he broke into a broad grin and slapped him on the back. Tea was fetched and Clive sat down to drink it before going on his way. He also met other travelers, who he sometimes spent time with, but also bumping into them as they travelled their separate ways around the world.
The first leg of the journey went by without too many problems, but the next leg was through Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Clive was hoping to go to India, but the border was closed. After spending three weeks in Lahore with no change in the border situation, he headed south to Karachi to ship the car to Bombay.
He travelled through South India and onto Malaysia, a distance on land of 8,100 miles. He stopped in Perth where he planned to stay for six months but stayed for the next three and a half years, getting a job, buying a house and meeting his future wife, Sheila. It was love at first sight and they were married in October 1968. Sheila had been planning to travel so on April 12th, 1970, they set off together across Australia and New Zealand shipping the car to Canada via Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii. This leg was 12,800 miles and was much enjoyed by them both.
The couple spent nine months working in Vancouver before starting out again to South America. They sold the VW they had been using and got Samantha out of the shed for the next trip down the west coast of the USA, through Mexico and Central America to Panama.
Once they reached South America, there were many mountain passes to climb, quite often in reverse due to the steep gradients! One such was the Quindio Pass in Columbia. ‘Samantha struggled valiantly on in bottom gear, passing a number of cars, trucks and buses broken down at various points with radiator or axle troubles; she almost stalled once or twice on sharp hairpin bends but just made it each time. Finally clouds enveloped us as we reached the 12 000-foot summit.’ The roads varied from tarmac to rubble strewn muddy tracks with many switchbacks and steep drops to the valleys below.
The highest point reached was 15,889 feet in Peru, one of the highest road passes in the world.
There was also ongoing maintenance of Samantha due to the rough and steep terrain, not just here but throughout the whole journey. Amazingly there were very few major incidents. They got stuck in mud once and lost a wheel in Iraq but there was only one incident in which the car ended up on its side as Clive approached a bumpy ford for flood waters too quickly and over corrected. Astonishingly, she was undamaged under a thick plastering of mud.
From Buenos Aires they sailed to Barcelona and then drove back through Spain and France to arrive back in Dover to be met by a contingent of Austin Seven owners, the press, and newsreels.
The book moves quickly to recount everything that happened to the car, driver, and those they encountered on this truly marathon undertaking. It seems that many others were engaged in similar feats of driving, as Clive and Sheila meet up with similar long-distance tourists in old and newer vehicles, sometimes multiple times around the world. Clive and Sheila later moved to Darlington, Western Australia, where they had a family which curtailed any further travelling, but Clive started rebuilding another Austin Seven for Sheila….
Contributed by Bernice
(Published 9th May 2023)