When ‘cows’ graze on camel grass
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 8 |
January 15 th 2024 - 10:46 [GMT + 3]
With Carlos Sousa in the car race, as well as Ruben Faria and Helder Rodrigues in the bike category, Portugal’s elite competitors have left their mark on the Dakar. Lisbon also hosted the starts in 2006 and 2007 and would have had a hat-trick before the 2008 edition was cancelled... However, Portugal’s history on the Dakar dates back to the race’s beginnings, in 1982 with the enrolment of three UMM, bovine-shaped vehicles made in Portugal with French origins, and in 1983, a ‘white cow’ and a ‘black cow’ returned to the Dakar… This year, four Portuguese competitors have brought them back for the Dakar Classic!
In the 1970s, a constructor making utility and military 4x4 vehicles was founded in Portugal under the moniker UMM. União Metalo-Mecânica was created after the takeover of the former Cournil 4x4s, fitted with Peugeot 504 engines, a French brand from the Massif Central, founded a decade earlier in Aurillac, in the Cantal area. The headlights of the French model were integrated into the front radiator on the Alter 4x4 model, which went into production in 1977. João Costa, driver of number 715, is a veritable mine of information on this subject, capable of interjections in French such as “Merci Cornil” when paying tribute to the designer of this machine whose forms were carved out in the hilly Auvergne region. With respect and an almost ‘British’ sense of humour, João Costa, Luis Galvao, Paulo Oliveira and Arcelio Couto describe the vehicle's special features: “The first thing typical of this vehicle is that it is always leaking oil. A UMM that doesn't lose oil is a UMM that doesn't work. The other thing is its rustic design, particularly its front grille, which Luis swears was copied by Lamborghini. Then there are its very robust front and rear leaf spring suspensions and finally its sliding windows”. Paulo Oliveira, driver of white number 724 in the colours of his native Mozambique, also underlines “the noise inside the cockpit as well”. “But we like it like that, it’s a national symbol and almost a religion. People who like off-road driving will one day own an UMM,” believes João.
Fans of this strange animal are referred to as ‘UMMists’. Jose Megre, the founding father of off-roading in Portugal, soon became one of them. It was under his impetus that a series was produced in the early 1980s to take part in national competitions. The idea was soon hatched of fielding three UMMs to fly the company colours in the 1982 Paris-Dakar Rally. Under the slogan ‘3 cars at the start, 3 cars at the finish’, with MADE IN PORTUGAL in capitals on the sides, all of them reached the Lac Rose before catching the eye of Thierry Sabine himself, who asked the factory for one in 1983 to set off on the reconnaissance of the 1984 route: “On the 1983 Dakar, two vehicles were entered. A black one for the mechanic who was driving behind the white one driven by Jose Megre, himself returning to attempt a better result. Tosha, the mechanic who was very famous in Portugal and remains so today as he still works exclusively on UMMs, had christened the cars the 'white cow' and the 'black cow', and they both made it to the finish!”
In the Dakar Classic paddock, the Portuguese vehicles have adopted very different behaviour according to João, their shepherd who is envisaging cross-breeding the two species: “The black one has an engine that has a tendency to overheat since the prologue. We've worked hard to find a solution to cool it down. We've considered using ice cubes, but that is unlikely work. The engine ended up dying three days ago, but the UMM community helped us, and we received parts from Portugal. The white one suffered a broken arm pivot, a broken rear suspension and a broken gearbox! The white one’s engine is fantastic and on the black one, everything is great except the engine. If the problems continue, we’ve planned on making a mix of both cars so that one of them can finish the Dakar. However, we’re positive about it and we think that both can finish. We have to improvise every day and find solutions. We all have busy lives at home, but we're here to enjoy an adventure, to push back our physical and mental limits, and the cars are definitely causing us to do this”. The stable in Yanbu is still a long way away, but the 100% Portuguese enthusiasm of these crews is already the talk of the town in all the herds of dromedaries in Saudi Arabia, amazed to see fellow animals without humps passing through their fields of dunes for the first time. “Holy cow!”.