For many people, cars only get you from A to B. Certainly, I can count on many hands the amount of times I’ve heard that – and annoyingly so. These people disregard the journey between A and B; without doubt the soul can capture much between the two points and as this is so I feel compelled to dedicate this blog to the vehicle itself, to the drive, to the cars and the soothing idles of my Johannesburg youth.
You see, my schooling was funded by how cylinders stroke, by how turbos whistle, by how diesels idle, by how farmers in the Northern Cape continuously buy Isuzu bakkies despite the fact that them breaking is the only reason these words flow like they do, the only reason why my father was able to afford the schools that I attended. You see, my father is a mechanic – or an ‘engineer’ – vat die fokken ‘engin’ en sit hom ‘neer’. That’s how I was raised.
In 1995, Saturday mornings were loud mornings. As dad started and prepped naked engines in a black cloud of diesel smoke, it was my bedroom that was choked first; the noise was so deafening that it ripped me from my dreams with whiplash. Certainly, engines without exhaust systems can scream anyone into consciousness, perhaps even the dead. Trust me. I know.
In 1998, my father built his very own 4X4 by scrapping together the pieces of a Rambler Hornet, a Mercedes Benz and Mini Bus Taxi; inserting a V8; then fitting monster wheels and a BMW sunroof for his youngest son to peep through. Me.
As a small boy, I did not understand why my mother and sister refused to be seen in it; the machine was awesomely cheesy and what my father achieved in that 4X4, Land Rovers can only dream about. As it was, many off road competitions were won with it and as the son of a man who won them, how could I not fall in love with the daze of diesel smoke that it left behind?
I will forever miss the Surf Breaker. RIP.
Dan Swartz is an oval, stock-car race track that is planted deep in the heart of east rand and as a boy I watched many men scream around it, including my father in his Ford Sierra (much to my mother’s terror). It was that Sierra that I first steered – solo – and my week was not a week until I was allowed to “drive” it into the garage as a five year old on my father’s lap.
The first time I actually drove solo was when I was 12 – and I did so in circles and circles in dad’s Nissan 1400. My clutch control impressed my older brother; certainly as clutch control goes there are few men who enjoy the quick release of spinning wheels and burning rubber as much as he does.
Rainbow Race Track in Joburg’s South East pitted nitro-powered vehicles against each other in a quarter mile brawl and I remember feeling disappointed that my brother never once raced himself despite, from what I can remember, owning a relatively punchy Golf 2, a bright red dolphin shape and a Green Jetta on 17s. Ah, to be friends with the Portuguese.
In the years to come he would actually go as fast as his younger self thought he did. His Subaru was a family conspiracy; apparently it was an STi in a body without the STi wing. Whatever it was – liewe fok – it was the fastest thing that side of Germiston Lake. Well, that was until his AMG stepped it up, of course.
You see, in his early thirties, a penis crisis convinced him that the more cylinders there are, the better. And perhaps he was right. Poor sod still doesn’t know that I took that AMG to 220km/h in no time at all on a pot-holed Eastern Cape road that was certainly not designed for those sorts of speeds. Wow, what a machine.
In 2005, my dad built a Subaru engine into a convertible white Volksie – and then a bigger motor into the same Volksie because the former wasn’t fast enough. Needless to say, I enjoyed many Pick n’ Pay runs nestled in its bucket seats and one time – much to my terror – raced it home in a Highveld thunder storm; my dad never did install the brakes that such motors deserve. As a convertible, yes, it felt faster than it was – but as any car enthusiast will tell you it’s not how it goes in specs, it’s how it makes you feel when you drive it. I loved that car.
For many people, cars only get you from A to B. But for others – for me certainly – it’s so much more than that. Life between A and B is as important as life beyond those points and, as I value that driving life, it’s important it remains as epic as it can be. No doubt, my brother and I will tell you that if it doesn’t have character, it is not a car worth buying. In all instances, the cheesier, the bigger, the faster, the better. And my heart is often broken by my teeny amount of sensibility as it stops me from buying what I truly want.
For now, I am condemned to a boring old diesel golf and I will try my best to value it. Because even it, on the long roads between A and B, can make me smile. Even so, every day, literally every day, I think of when I will finally replace it. And what I replace it with I fear no one ever will ever truly understand – except for me and Dev and Pops and her – the mistress of our Epic African Road Trip.
Dev’s DTV Roadrunner. This was his every day car and he loved it until he realised it did everything except keep you dry in the rain.