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When the Marreau brothers crossed Africa in 8 days aboard a Renault 12

There are records that arouse admiration. That of the Marreau brothers who embarked in 1971 on crossing the African continent is one of those. On board a Renault 12 Gordini reinforced and lightened to the maximum, the “Foxes of the desert” link Cape Town to Algiers in less than 9 days, over more than 15,000 kilometers of rugged tracks.

The Marreau brotherslegendary duo of experienced mechanics, pilots and explorers. From the depths of their Nanterre garage, the two brothers will have brought to motor racing and rallying the taste for risk and challenge. Who would have been crazy enough to have a Renault 4 compete in Paris-Dakar 1980 ? Who would have clinched victory of this same Paris-Dakar two years later driving a Renault 20? However, long before these epics, Bernard and Claude Marreau were accustomed to long journeys. And also great challenges. This is howin 1971they engage in a speed contest. Crossing Africa, from South to Northwith the sole objective of break the world record…

A difficult first attempt…

At a time when Renault wants to set foot in Africathe proposal of the two brothers is blessed bread. Provide us with the car, we take care of the record. An agreement is reached with the manufacturer, and the Renault 12 is chosen for this perilous exercise. The objective is to connect Cape Town (South Africa) to Algiers (Morocco) in less than 9 days. The previous record dated back to 1958, with Henri Debrus’ crew, in 9 days, 1 hour and 18 minutes. It was aboard a Renault Frigate. Unfortunately, this first attempt by the Marreau brothers will be a failure. The fault of a rear crosspiece which lets go halfway. The brothers repeat the experience a few months later. But this time aboard a Renault 12 Gordinireinforced and lightened to the maximum.

… and finally the consecration

The (new) start is given on November 30, 1971. The R12 rushes on the tracks and rugged paths of the African continent. In support of Claude and Bernard, their friend Yvon Garin “the third Marreau brother” accompanies them. If he’s not driving, he takes care of the stewardship, the notes, making them coffee or waking them up. Because this exercise knows no break. A few supplies and river crossings at most. It’s flat out, at 170 km/h all the time, that the three men continue their advance. To change drivers or to sleep, everything is done while driving, at high speed, and bumped into the pavement.

It is with such routine and such high standards that finally, on December 8, 1971, the first lights of Algiers appear. When Claude, Bernard and Yvon enter the city, it’s a journey of 8 days, 22 hours and 18 minutes which ends, in great pomp, and full of emotion. 50 years later, the record of the “Desert Foxes” is still relevant, never equaled, and never beaten.

In 2011 the Marreau Brothers were gathered around their freshly restored R12, they recount their trip and their anecdotes:

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