My trusty, but thirsty, Mitsubishi Pajero, Phyllis, needed its valves changing. All 24 of them. So I drove her to Flatdogs Camp, where I exchanged her for a courtesy car – an ancient Toyota Landcruiser, which was converted into a game drive vehicle many years ago. I have christened her “Mustang Sally”, after a vehicle of that name in the Kruger National Park.
I needed a quick lesson in how to turn her on and off. Not as easy as it sounds. To start, you have to turn the key in the ignition and wait until the glow plug indicator light goes off before turning over the engine. To stop, there is a small button hidden away under the steering column which you have to press to cut out the engine.
Mustang Sally is a venerable old beast. She is basically a truck, with two rows of seats fixed behind the cockpit. It might be better to describe her by listing the things she doesn’t have:
Lockable storage for medical equipment and drugs
Rear view mirrors
Current road tax certificate
Brakes (hand and foot)
Well, the brakes do work if you pump them vigorously and in an emergency, you can crash down through the gears.
Nevertheless, she has a lot of character, and she really looks the business. Painted in safari khaki, with added rust spots, she blends into the dust of the National Park roads in the dry season. No fancy “go faster” zebra stripes on her chassis. She glides over the bumpy roads like a tank and there is plenty of grunt power. She can even pull away in third gear. Well, I thought I was in first actually.
She is rather battered, with multiple dings. But she sailed through her MOT test and has the certifying disc attached below where the windscreen would have been.
The view from the driver’s seat is excellent when looking forward or to the side. If I want to see what is behind me, I have to lean out through the non-existent door, hanging onto the steering wheel. I thought of standing on the driver’s seat and turning round to see backwards, but the two added rows of seats still block the view. When it comes to seeing birds and animals, the lack of superstructure is a definite advantage. No more peering through a dusty, smeared windscreen or side windows with plastic wind deflectors.
She gets respect from other drivers. Everyone who passes me gives me a wave and a quizzical stare which asks, “Who the hell is that?” I respond in a restrained manner, with an index finger raised from the steering wheel. I cannot afford to let go of the steering wheel as there is no power steering and she does tend to wallow a bit when turning. I have only been driving her four days and already my biceps are bulging. Three point turns bring me out in a sweat.
On BBC TV’s Top Gear, she would definitely be pinned to the “cool wall”. She is icy cool. Especially when driving in the late evening, with no windscreen. To keep up with the image, I wear gold-framed aviator sunglasses. But mainly they help to keep dust and bugs out of my eyes. My clothes are battered and khaki, too. I brought old shirts and trousers which were all stained and well-worn, intending to leave them behind at the end of my tour of duty. However, the muscular laundry ladies at the lodge have taken on the challenge, and many of the stains have given up the ghost. And the shirts are even more well-worn. But in my eyes, I look the part. Safari guide slash bush doctor.
The image slips a bit when I can’t stop as quickly as I had planned. If it weren’t for the row of half bricks edging the lodge car park, I would have demolished the grass fence easier than the elephant.
I have to return her to Flatdogs on Saturday, when the work on Phyllis’ valves has finished. What a shame.