Home Articles Tales of Zambia My First and Last Fiat
My First and Last Fiat
Written by David Alwyn Lougher   
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 19:16

I am not a car enthusiast. Unlike Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear, I don’t rave about particular makes or models. To me a car is a convenient means of getting from A to B without getting wet. When it comes to buying cars I am a Ford man, simply because they are relatively cheap to buy, insure, and maintain. My first car was a white, second-hand Ford Anglia (the police car in Heartbeat) which cost me £200.

Throughout my first teaching contract in Kalabo, Western Province, in the late 70’s, I remained carless. The sandy roads were not suitable for cars and it was difficult to drive across the Zambezi flood plain to get to Mongu. Zambia Airways had two flights a week to Lusaka via Mongu and there were frequent banana boat trips as well, so it was easy to get in and out during the school holidays.

When I moved to Chadiza in 1979 a car became a necessity in order to get to Chipata to do the monthly shopping and banking. I bought my first Zambian car – a light brown (to match the dust!) second-hand Fiat 128 with the innovative front-wheel-drive. Some of the breakdowns I had (there were several of them) were caused by sand getting in through the sleeves of the drive shaft joints and wearing out the bearings. The Renault 4’s had similar problems. A couple of times I called in Mr Thorneycroft, a local farmer cum mechanic. He was very good despite having a withered arm. After watching him a couple of times I managed to do the job myself the next time.

My car’s breakdowns nearly always took place at crucial times or in awkward places! Driving back from our honeymoon in Livingstone, with a passenger, the car broke down about 40 km from Lusaka. I had to call my best man, Bill Rettie, to come and collect us. The spring on the clutch plate had failed leaving the car stuck in gear. On another occasion the rear suspension plate cracked shortly after leaving the house on my way to Petauke for my driving test. During one school holiday we drove to Lusaka. Not far from the city an unhealthy grinding noise started coming from the gear box. After reaching the capitol I called in a mechanic who discovered a loose roller bearing in the gear box!

One of the joys of owning a car in Zambia is “you’ll never drive alone”. There is always somebody looking for a lift to somewhere, usually with company and a lot of katundu. I was driving some people from a wedding in Kasama to the rail station when I was stopped by the police. He wanted to know how many were in the car. I innocently looked around and counted seven! The most unusual passenger I picked up was a python on the Chipata - Chadiza Road but he was confined in the boot! The saddest journey I ever made in my Fiat was taking my sick house worker to St Francis Hospital in Katete. He died within half an hour of reaching there. His uncle asked me to take him to his village to get some food supplies for the funeral. I agreed without knowing where it was or the condition of the road. It was a dirt track which became more and more rocky. Eventually I had to stop and go back – mission unaccomplished!

When driving in Zambia you need, like the Scouts, to be prepared. On long journeys I always carried a jerry can full of petrol, a plastic can full of water in case of overheating, and maningi kwacha for emergencies. Flooding was sometimes a problem. We were driving to a chief’s house (a relative of my wife) near Chipata when we reached a small bridge which had been damaged by flood water. We had to leave the car and zam-foot it to his village.

Despite its mechanical problems our Fiat 128 covered a high mileage reaching as far as Mpulungu in the North, Livingstone in the South, and South Luangwa National park near Chipata. Eventually I left the car in Ndola for my sister to sell. It was my first and last Fiat. Our next car was a brand new Datsun, imported from Japan.