The Paris-Dakar celebrated its fifth edition in 1982. That year it took the great leap of popularity, when Margaret Thatcher's son was lost for several days, the woman of iron.
It began on January 1, in Paris. The 2 arrived in Sète. There he embarked on 3 all his army of 233 cars and 129 motorcycles, and the stage of day 4 was already developed by Algeria. It was a question of going from top to bottom and then turning right at right angles, crossing Mali and then Senegal, until it reached its capital, Dakar. Ten thousand kilometers.
There was no GPS or anything like that. Not so much organizational control. Routes vaguely prefixed and navigation instinct, trusting the sun and the stars, like the old caravans, to look for shortcuts.
The first day of rest came on the 10th, in Gao, and in Mali. By then a motorcyclist and an informant had died. There, a serious count is made for the first time and it is detected that an illustrious person is missing: Mark Thatcher.
Mark Thatcher, 28, who gave his famous mother not a few dislikes, boasted good food, better female companies, Rolex collection and Chinese silk clothing. Advised an erotic magazine and a brand of condoms. His passion was the engine. He trained at the Brands Hatch pilot school. In 1979 he was rescued from his burning car at the Mallory Park circuit in Leicestershire. In 1980 it crashed with a crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He also achieved some minor achievement, such as being second in the 24 Hours of Suetterton.
He signed up for this Dakar with a Peugeot 504, along with Anne Charlotte Verney as co-pilot, and Claude Garney, mechanic.
In the day of rest and regrouping in Gao they are missing. A motorbike participant, Michel Bosi, gives the last reference of them: he had seen them two days before, between Timeaouine and Tite, about 50 kilometers from the reference route, with problems in the rear axle that they were trying to repair.
Mark Thatcher, who had the engine as a passion, was found days later in perfect condition
On the 11th, while the rally resumes towards Mopti, the news spreads and a cascade of rumors and denials is unleashed. It is said that he has located a helicopter, but Thierry Sabine, the creator and organizer, denies it. He does not have any, he only has one plane. But reassures: "They have water and food for several days," he says. Algeria offers its air force, but it is rejected, which offends its prime minister, Ahmed Abdelgani. Mitterand sends a Breguet and a Nord 2501. Since the organization is French, it understands that it is the obligation of your country to seek it. He keeps another Breguet on alert in Libreville, and one more in Brittany.
In a few hours it circulates that they have been assaulted by a caravan of Tuaregs. Then, that the Polisario Front has kidnapped them, to attract worldwide attention. The Polisario Front denies it and accuses Morocco of a slanderous invention. There is someone who insinuates that everything is a tongo, a propaganda effect hatched by Sabine himself. Newspapers, radios and news bulletins from around the world deal intensely with the case.
That same day 11, Margaret Thatcher cries in a meeting with financiers and then suspends an interview with the Hungarian Foreign Minister. Her husband, Denis Thatcher, flies to Tamanraset, in Algeria, the airport closest to the last place where they were seen. On the 13th the support of the Algerian air force is finally accepted. There are up to ten devices sweeping the area through which their track was lost.
Finally, on the 15th, a c-130 Hercules from the Algerian army locates them. They are encamped, next to the car, which had gone bad again when they had taken the road to the Hoggar massif. Soon Algerian forces arrive to rescue them who will comment that young Thatcher was proud, without expressing recognition but annoyance for the delay. All three were in perfect condition, as after several days of camping. They had a radio set by which they listened to everything, they knew about the deployment and they never got into real trouble.
The British tabloids shake: "Millions of pounds to rescue a play boy ". His figure is compared to those of Coe and Ovett, named for those days Members of the British Empire.
On the 20th, the race yields a trip in Dakar, with only 94 cars and 33 motorcycles. By then, young Thatcher is auctioning his story. Nothing confirmed that it had been something manufactured to launch the rally, but it served to greatly increase the popularity of it. So much so that in 1985 those who tried their luck were Carolina de Monaco and her husband, Stefano Casiraghi, who gave less to talk about: in the second stage he overturned his truck and they left.