We are proud to present you with one installment of Great Cars of Foreign Countries. This period: The Kenya Edition. This will tend to be a U.S.-centered blog so when I get the chance to venture beyond the boundaries of this great auto-nation of ours, I like to observe the sorts of automobiles our friends elsewhere tool around in. We have our quite unique car culture here and it’s always nice to Lionsget some perspective from elsewhere.
Within my work together with the UW Department of Global Health I had cause to venture to the great country of Kenya for the training and conference of the data staff on the Coptic Hope Center for Infectious Diseases. I only managed to hang around in Nairobi thus i didn’t quite get to start to see the depth and breadth of the Kenyan automotive world but I’m guessing what you’ll see here is a fairly good cross-area of what’s available.
Kenya car culture essentially: Toyota. Really. I would hazard to giess that probably 60% if not more of the automobiles I saw were Toyotas. Second most was probably Nissan. I did see a GM dealership at one point, though a very small smattering of anything US-made. But otherwise it was Toyota after Toyota after Toyota, predominantly Corolas and Camrys with about a thousand different nameplates. But there were several other oddities as well.
As a bit of background, sub-Saharan Africa has always been something of a special place for me. Back in college when I was studying computer science I caught the prehistory bug after taking a course or two in anthropology/archaeology as part of the usual breadth requirements. My initial interest is at paleoanthropology — study regarding early human origins — especially after reading Don Johanson’s book Lucy on his discovery of Australopithecus afarensis. While that discovery happened in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya — containing part of the Great Rift Valley system — is also a hotbed of early hominid remains including Homo habilis and Homo erectus. I susbsequently switched majors to the a lot more lucrative field of archaeology (yeah, sarcasm) and dedicated to another component of Africa, Egypt. Still and all, sub-Saharan Africa always rather fascinated me.
Errr, okay, I’l also cop to owning a certain fondness for a certain song and video from that period.
At any rate, when one thinks of Great Cars of Africa generally the image that leaps to mind might be more Toyota Land Cruiser and less Toyota Corola. As well as in truth I did see a good number of new and old Land Cruisers and other big 4×4′s, nearly all of which I suspect catered to tourists occurring various safari tours. These were mostly the J55 and J40 sorts, big boxy things complete with jerry cans in the back and snorkels at the start: just the type of things you’d expect to see trekking through the bush in search of lost treasure or big game. They’re probably needed in much of the country and, judging by the state of several of the roads, wouldn’t be too out of sorts in Nairobi either. But the bulk of vehicles in the city were your typical small sedans and wagons with a good number of hatchbacks thrown in. I managed to require a few snapshots while going about my business and I’ll just present them here with a few comments thrown in.
First, up, a Toyota ist:
Yeah, that’s it, just ‘ist’. We in the States know this as the Scion xD and xA. According to Wikipedia, the name really does derive from the suffix, -ist.
Here we certainly have your basic Corolla:
I saw lots of others that seemed to be just rebadged Corollas, nondescript little things that you simply wouldn’t give you a second look to. I’m starting to suspect that the wide variety of nameplates may have reflected something of the cultural phenomenon, whereby you personalize your car or truck by replacing the original tag with a different name, or simply used car dealers replaced the name tags with their own logo.
A Mark II, Grande:
The Grande was in accordance with the Corona and Cressida series and is closest to our Camry in size and appointments. This particular one is probably a 1996-2000 X100 series.
Notice anything funny about this Lexus RX?
Yup, it’s got a Toyota badge. Not sure why this is however i saw quite a few like that. They seem to be free with all the tags which is why I suspect there’s a lot of tag-swapping occurring. I thought perhaps it might be something of an anti-theft device, perhaps throwing potential miscreants off with a Toyota badge as opposed to the more upscale Lexus.
There’s another oddity on that RX which is also seen on this Prado:
The Prado, equivalent to the Lexus GX, also was very common though not usually together with the fancy schmancy snorkel option. The odd thing may be the extra sideview mirror way up right in front. It’s in the passenger side — Kenya, becoming a former British colony and for that reason is backwards in the feeling of driving on the lefthand side of the road — and apparently assists with parking; and believe me, the direction they pack ‘em in it’s probably a handy little feature.
Also common was the venerable HiLux:
We know it as the Tacoma. Admittedly, this one’s a little bit more tricked out than most.
Interestingly, every one of the tow trucks I saw were made from old Land Cruisers:
If these were privately run or municipal however they were all painted exactly the same color and tended to assemble in certain places waiting to get dispatched, unsure. Never saw any actually in operation, I’m afraid.
There were other makes. . .
but they were a distinct minority.
I caught a passing peek at a Volvo:
which seems rare enough to capture the attention of the locals.
And don’t forget the Tuk-Tuk!
People said they’re more common around the outskirts of Nairobi and elsewhere, although i really didn’t see too many of these.
Finally, I have to discuss this gorgeous example of a vintage 1973 Peugeot 504:
The owner was there therefore i got to speak to him about his car. He claims everything is original although it just seems too nice and shiny to get been driven around Kenya for 40-some years. It’s in fabulous condition regardless.