This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports.
Pic by Tony Bruton
One of a series of articles written to promote Weekend Witness/VSCC Cars in the Park, 2012
Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday May 9, 2012
They don’t make them like that anymore. For every person who says so, there will be a dozen replying: “Thank heavens for that.” Popular logic believes that old cars are thirsty, unreliable and unsafe, and parts are impossible to find. They can also be as the late John Thaw, who played the title role in the TV series “Morse,” proclaimed of his mechanical co-star, “a beggar to drive.”
All the above is often true. On the other hand, for every hundred commuters wallowing in the daily grind and mindless conformity of modern wonder-cars, there will be one smiling inwardly with a special kind of one-upmanship.
Right: Tony Bruton and MGB GT at the George Motor Show – ‘out, out, damned spot'
That will be the person who enjoys being involved with the minute-by-minute experiences of driving. The sounds of whirring mechanisms, the special way their old car finds a surge of power as the second choke of the carburettor comes into play, and its joyful transformation as the engine “comes onto the cam,” all make living with an older car special. Laughing all the way to the bank is such fun, too.
Apart from the fact that “the world’s best car is the one that’s paid for,” there is the insurance angle to consider. A friend pays R47 per month to insure his Series 1 Jaguar XJ6. And it’s tax-deductible because he drives it to work and back and about his daily rounds as a financial adviser. Some folk pay out huge amounts in monthly payments and all it gets them is a car, a thing, a possession. Scary.
There are practicalities to consider, though. Your recycled daily driver needs to be usable, so a four-door saloon, a station wagon or even a pickup would probably be a better bet than an impractical sporty two-seater. Was the car reliable when it was new? A piece of junk then, will simply be an old piece of junk today. Out-of-contract dealer servicing and repair work is a fast track to the poorhouse, so can you or a friend deal with the little tasks that crop up from time to time? For bigger jobs, is there a mechanic in your area who knows what he is doing and is knowledgeable about your prospective car?
Can you get the parts you will be most likely to need? Body parts can be scarce, but popular restoration project cars are usually well supported, often by a local enthusiast importer. Mechanical items like alternators and fuel pumps can usually be replaced with modern equivalents and many others can be rebuilt or repaired. Join a local club specialising in your chosen brand and ask all the hard questions. It could be worthwhile, because Alfa fan Mark Pistorius found to his cost recently that it’s impossible to find a windscreen, new or used, for his 1980 Giulietta. The question had never arisen.
Free advice: Don’t set your heart immovably on a particular make or model, because it might not be doable. Be practical. While on the subject, there is nothing wrong with upgrading your elderly chariot to help it survive the daily grind. We’re not talking priceless classics, to be kept original at all costs. We’re discussing 20, 30 or 40-year old streetcars with character. There is a difference, so fit a heavy-duty radiator and an electric fan if cooling is a problem, or modern shock absorbers, or decent brakes from a later version. Powered windows are always nice to have, as is central locking. Both are undetectable from outside and electric locks often cost less than replacing the originals.
Advice from Tony Bruton, organiser of Weekend Witness/VSCC Cars in the Park, is to buy something in reasonable condition and easily repairable, that enjoyed a good reputation when it was new, that suits your needs and lifestyle. In his case, that means two cars – a Mark 2 Jumbo Golf for the daily grind and a 1971 MGB GT for relaxation. The MG’s 1800 cc motor develops only 95 horsepower (71 kW), but with its light weight, it’s huge fun to drive on winding roads – all without necessarily going beyond 80 km/h. He drove it to George and back for the Motor Show in February this year, proving that it’s both reliable and able to maintain freeway speeds.
At Weekend Witness/VSCC Cars in the Park on May 20th, Tony will be putting together a small display describing the highs and lows of classic car ownership from one owner's perspective using his own MG as an example. Look out for this display in the vicinity of the VSCC Special Display tent.
Among the lows were two parking lot mishaps caused by drivers too inattentive to see where they were going. In order to compare old with new in similar circumstances, Tony sourced prices of imported body parts for his MGB and I gleaned information on equivalents for a brand new MG6 Fastback (called a GT in England). They make interesting reading:
1971 MGB GT
Front bumper R2161.67
Rear bumper R2448.75
Front fender Rn/a
Road wheel Rn/a
Rear hatch R6707.76
2012 MG6 Fastback
Front bumper R3513.00
Rear bumper R3074.00
Front fender R2196.00
Road wheel (alloy) R3074.00
Rear hatch R4440.00
Getting back to the opening paragraph: Are old cars unsafe? Crumple zones have been around for a while, so your choice probably has them too. Bear in mind that EuroNCAP only tests up to 50 km/h and collisions at very high speeds aren’t a good idea for any car. So drive safely and defensively, just as you always should. Unreliable? Not necessarily. Maintain them as you would any modern car. Parts unobtainable? Again, not necessarily. Thirsty? Their lighter weight, compared with modern cars, offsets a lot of the thirst caused by old technology, so the answer is, yet again, not necessarily. A further advantage is that they are generally less attractive to thieves.
The final word belongs to our Jaguar-owning friend: “Fuel usage is easily outweighed by the massive depreciation and endless repairs I suffered driving my various (expensive German cars).”
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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