Our Automotive Designer

Harrismith had a very successful sportscar designer! Sheila reminded me on her facebook. He was a big mate of Polly du Plessis. They called each other Sissel Pud (du Plessis backwards) and something? Maybe that was someone else? JP? Help ‘n bietjie!

Here’s the story – or the parts I could fish out:

Two Stellenbosch university pals wanted to make a great sportscar. They were Bob van Niekerk and Willie Meissner. In 1958 Meissner went to England and saw a new technology called fibreglass. He wrote a letter to Bob van Niekerk asking him to come to England to study fibreglass crafting. Bob hopped onto a Union Castle ship and joined his mate. In those days that was called ‘instant response’: The letter took a week; the response took a week; the ship took a month; Bang! Two months later there his mate was, ready to help.

Bob recalls: ‘We had full confidence in our ability to produce the mechanicals and a good chassis, but needed someone to put a ‘face’ on it – a good looking design. As luck would have it, Willie knew a lady Joan (nee Peters) who was married to a stylist working at Rootes who would hopefully stop us from producing a mediocre, unattractive body.’

His name was Verster de Wit, an ex-Harrismith boykie and friend of our Polly du Plessis. He very soon had them building quarter-scale models with plasticene during the week while he was off working in Coventry on the Sunbeam Alpine. Fridays, Verster would come down to London to inspect the work they had done in their one-roomed flat in Earls Court. When they got to scale model number 13, it suddenly all came together, and ‘a unanimous decision was made to progress to full-scale.’

Bob racing a Dart
A 1962 GSM Dart

‘We rented a garage in Gleneldin Mews in Streatham and built the mock-up using wooden formers and plaster of paris. The first body came out of the mould in April 1957 and was sold for 75 pounds, which helped to pay for my trip back to Cape Town where Willie had started the Glassport Motor Company (GSM).’

They considered what to name their cars: Cheetah, Mamba, Simba, Zebra, Kudu, Lynx or Tyger? Eventually they called the open top the GSM Dart and the hardtop the GSM Flamingo. On returning to South Africa, they built four prototypes in 1957, and the first production car rolled off the line in early 1958. In total, 116 GSM Darts and 128 GSM Flamingos were produced from 1958 to 1964. Actually, the GSM club tracked down many of them and reckoned there were a few more than that.

The GSM cars were astonishingly quick and agile and won a lot of races. In their first nine hour in JHB, a Dart beat Sarel vd Merwe in his Porsche into second place; they were followed by an MG, another Porsche a Volvo and an Alfa Romeo!

But perhaps the best story was after they had sold 41 cars by 1959, for racing and road use in Cape Town. They decided they could also be sold in England and Bob set sail with a complete body and chassis kit on the Union Castle liner. In England Bob was introduced to Mr John P Scott at Windsor Garage, West Malling in Kent. Scott agreed to give him a place to build a car and fund all the parts on condition that Bob built the car in 10 days! AND that he entered it in a race at Brands Hatch and won the race! What a tall – almost impossible – order!

Bob accepted the challenge and worked day and night to complete the Dart by the Friday before the race. On the Saturday, April 18, 1960 Bob found himself in the middle of the grid on an unfamiliar circuit in a brand new and untested car. He steadily worked his way up into first place and won the race! He actually did it! Setting a Brands Hatch lap record that stood for seven years! A delighted Mr Scott then established a GSM production facility in a 5000 square foot factory behind the Windsor Garage to produce the first batch of cars. They couldn’t call them Dart in England, so they used ‘Delta’. Records are vague – it seems somewhere between 35 and 76 GSM Deltas were made in Kent.

The little cars developed a legendary winning reputation in the UK, Europe and SA. To show they weren’t only about racing, the Flamingo was marketed as the road-going version:

In 1964 they ran out of money.

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Aftermath with Verster de Wit: 1976

A GSM club was formed in JHB and they tracked down Verster at his home in Kosmos on the Hartebeespoort Dam. He and his wife Eva hauled out a suitcase full of his photos and sketches of his design days in England and in SA. They regaled the club members with tales of the hours of dedication and hard work Verster had put into his automotive design career. Two well-known designs he had also been involved with were the Sunbeam Alpine and the Humber Super Snipe.

In the 1980s Jeff Levy got Verster to help him make a series of accurate replicas known as Levy Darts.

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archive.org

wikipedia

wheels24

motorsportmagazine.com

carmag.co.za

cartorque.co.za

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Koos Kombi

Today Mother Mary took a break from playing the piano. She suddenly remembered a time Mona du Plessis came to her after a ‘do’ at the town hall. These memories come and go so she must tell them as she thinks of them.

Mona said to me – says Mary – “While we were at the town hall Kosie took the kombi, loaded up the de Villiers kids and drove to Joan and Jannie’s where our kids were. Then they all got in – Mignon, Jean-Prieur, Sheila, everybody and they drove up and down Hector Street!”

Of course I remember doing stuff like this – I loved “borrowing” the kombi – but I don’t really recall any specific accomplices! I spose it looked a bit like this:

Koos Kombi full_2

Doories Daze

On 2018/12/18 Stephen Reed wrote:

Had a late afternoon chat with Stanrey Kraarke this afternoon . .

( that would be a phone call across the Tasman Sea )

Pete replied:

Ah, good to hear the ancient old bullet is still alive!!

Hoezit Kev!!? ( I have cc’d him here)

I can’t think of Doories without thinking of you, the green TAV Datsun from the metropolis of Grootfontein, the chocolate Alfa and old Krazalski, Wartski, What-ski – those are wrong – what ‘ski was he, your boss?

Doories cars – and Ponte; Our salubrious quarters

I can still see the meticulous care with which you changed the crunchy, notchety gears in the Alfa.

Often when driving I remember your sage advice: WATCH OUT for an old toppie wearing a hat!

Mostly nowadays I see the old toppie wearing a hat in my own rear-view mirror! Gives me a bit of a start every time: Who’s that fuckin old fart? Oh, OK – only me . . . . As for Forever Young! I think we still are! Well, I think we should keep imagining that!

Oh, and we musn’t forget the outbreak of Dobie’s Itch in the Doories Res!!

Kev rushed back to work and got going amongst the pots and stills and fires and wooden ladles and other witchcraft paraphenalia he and Wartski used to keep in their secret factory and came back with a double-strength potion stronger than anything Dumbledore could have made, and CURED the dreaded ballache!! He was our hero!!

Stephen Reed wrote:

By gosh, we had a few laughs.

Another one: Sunday morning, Kevin having a sleep in – eyes closed …

Are you sleeping Kevin?

Kevin: one eye slightly opens

No No No … Just coasting

Pete wrote:

Ha HA!! I’d forgotten these! Exactly right!!!

P.S. We were so lucky Stanley-Clarke decided to stay in Res that extra year while he re-wrote ?pharmacology?

I mean, he could have stayed with any one of a dozen beautiful chicks. They all wanted his moustache! And we would never have met him.

It turned in to a magic, unforgettable year, and he was no small part of that!

Stephen Reed wrote:

Bullshit.

He was lucky to have had US there.

Bloody boring time he would have had otherwise . . .

Pete wrote:

Ja!! Too True My Bru!

And now here’s the man himself:

Kia Ora both of you ,

What a wonderful surprise hearing from the DOORIE BRO’s in particular the very Articulate Rhodes student Mr Koos Swanepoel himself, from Harrismith; and the attention-to-detail Mr Stevie Reed the boat builder raconteur himself from a little town in the free state that eludes me at this time!

This really made my day – thank you both for all the very happy memories and to think I could have missed that wonderful year if I had passed Pharmacology first go – and to think it was 45 years ago which has basically passed in a flash.

My boss in the very clandestine factory in Doories was Mr Pogeralski – so Pete, the grey matter is still intact;

As for that ointment which I prepared it was Whitefields ointment aka “Ung acid benz co.” Had I given that to you today I would be in serious trouble with “Health and safety”, “Quality and risk”, “Public safety”, you name it! But it certainly works.

Yes, and how can we forget the times we all went to the Jeppe post office to use their services “pro bono” utilizing your unbelievable skills ‘the long tickey” to gain access to their phone lines – Hello World.

Also will never forget the test at Ellis Park “pro bono” an absolute blast – thank you both for the wonderful memories that always bring a smile to my face .

And Stevie: Can you remember the movie we went to on a Saturday morning at the Cinerama we saw “Papillon” ??

I could go on forever – The Dev ? The Bend ? and many more. May leave that for another day.

Take care both of you and please keep in touch

Kakite Ano

Dee Student aka ‘Giscard . . . d’Estaing’


Notes:

Ellis Park “pro bono” – Less than fully legal entry to the rugby stadium for a test match; ahem . .

Jeppe Street post office “pro bono” ‘long tickey” – Less than entirely legal as well, say no more; ahem . . There were consequences! I got a phone call from the GPO: Are Your Name Swanepoel? I meekly coughed up for sundry long-distance international ‘trunk calls’ to Oklahoma!

Martha and My Man Friday

This beautiful 1938 Buick Coupe was a regular sight on the streets of Harrismith back in the Sixties.

Martha McDonald and her friend Carrie Friday used to cruise the streets going nowhere. Mom Mary called them Martha and My Man Friday after Robinson Crusoe. She says Roy Cartwright coined the nickname. Roy ran the Tattersalls horse racing gambling joint in town and was full of wit.

Years later Sheila found out that Pietermaritzburg car enthusiast and restorer Ty Terblanche had found it, bought it and restored it to its former glory. Well done Ty! What a beaut!

1938 Buick coupe2

Here’s the actual Buick we frew wif a stone decades ago! Martha and My Man Friday cruising around the metropolis of Harrismith ca. 1960’s

With childish logic and mischief we’d occasionally throw it wif a stone (as we’d mockingly say). Always missed, mind you.

The redoubtable Martha McDonald, asked one day if she had any children replied in the negative, adding loftily “My husband was too much of a gentleman.”

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Here’s a better angle to showcase those beautiful lines:

Buick 1938

From the front it’s much like other cars of its era, but from the side and half-back you can see why it gets so many oohs and aahs!

Buick sports coupe 66s 1938

edit March 2019: I read in Leon Strachan’s first book about Harrismith ‘Blafboom’ that Martha had actually bought this gorgeous 1938 Buick Century Sports Coupe 66S from Nic Wessels; and that she lived in Murray Street.

for some images, my thanks to conceptcarz.com and powerful-cars.com

The Marvelous Brauer/Stromberg

Very few people realise just how good the Stromberg is. One of those few is Brauer. He knows, as he invested a large portion of his student fortune in one at The Rand Easter Show one year (or was it the Pretoria Skou?).

We watched a demonstration in fascination. I mean EVERY time the good honest man hooked in the Stromberg the engine ran sweetly and WHENEVER he unhooked the Stromberg it spluttered and farted. Brauer was SOLD. He just KNEW this was the answer to his faded-white Austin with faded-black linoleum roof’s problems. Instead of taking it for a long overdue service and changing the oil, water, filter and spark plugs, he would sommer just fit a Stromberg. What could possibly go wrong go wrong, and who could doubt this:

Stromberg

Here’s an email thread discussing the amazing Stromberg phenomenon:

On 2015/08/30 22:29, steve reed wrote:

Subject: Re: Fat takkies

Further proof that nothing stays the same.

From our youthful past, it was always a “given” that the back takkies would be fatter than the front …Specially if you have the windgat  version.

Now the Audi RS3 has em 2cm fatter  in the front than the back if you have the windgat version.

Really…I am getting too old for all this.  Do they have to mess with everything?


From: pete swanepoel home

Subject: Re: Fat takkies

Yep. Because they can . . .

I remember the mindset change I had to undergo when diesels started getting status. Ditto when auto boxes started making more sense than manual? Had to quietly swallow a few ‘definite’ and ‘absolute’ statements made in ignorance!

One of my fascinations has been looking up when the first ____ (whatever) was ever fitted or used in a car.

First diesel engined production car — 1935 Citroen Rosalie

First patent for seat belts – 1885. But still not compulsory when we grew up and STILL not compulsory throughout the USA today. Politicians in many states wouldn’t dare vote for such a law!

First 8-speed manual – 1931 Maybach DS8

First automatic transmission – 1939 Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic, also the first 4-speed automatic.

First petrol-electric hybrid – 1899 Lohner-Porsche Mixte

First modern hybrid car – 1904 Auto-Mixte (Belgium)

First four-wheel drive car – 1910 Caldwell Vale

First trip computer – 1958 Saab GT750

and so on – almost always WAY before I would have guessed !


On 2015/08/31 00:18, Peter Brauer wrote:

A glaring omission has been noted from your ”when was it first fitted” list:

THE FAMOUS STROMBERG

Do you recall how I had Alan Saks (the great car fundi) going  on this one…


From: pete swanepoel home:

I do. Didn’t we see it some show or other? A great demonstration. If it had been a religion I’d have converted. I would be a Strombergie now.

Who would think Pretoria would have a skou!? What is there to show?

So Alan was not an all-knowing deskundige after all?! Even HE could learn a thing or two?

—————————————————————

On 2015/09/01 01:55, Peter Brauer wrote:

The one and only Pretoria Skou. Installed in my Cortina that Alan had driven in a few days prior and was subjected to the stop/start lurching and had many remedies and suggestions. I obviously thanked him for his advice BUT ALSO ENLIGHTENED HIM re: THE NEWLY PURCHASED SOLVER-OF-ALL-CAR-PROBLEMS . . . THE STROMBERG. Remembering the  “God-ordained” visit to the Skou and Stromberg stand where we witnessed the justifiably impressive presentation of a product that should have outstripped Microsoft in sales.

To which he chuckled and shook his head in disbelief. I hauled it off the floor behind the driver’s seat to show him. I remember a few choice expletives….”complete f…ing piece of sh-t” etc etc.

So that weekend I started installing said Stromberg, which involved a rare opening of the bonnet (a procedure I normally advise against to any motoring enthusiast). For starters (no pun intended), after glancing at the oil coated sparks, I thought that while the bonnet was open I might just clean the sparks and set the gaps. Before removing the Stromberg off it’s familiar position of lying on the floor behind the driver’s seat I thought I’d take the Cortina for a spin to see if it still could go after my risky DIY service.

old cortina.jpg

Shit a brick….it flew! (“why the hell didn’t I do that long ago!?” rolling through my thoughts as the apparently turbocharged Cortina used our sedate suburban streets as its new-found race track).

After getting back home I parked the car and almost forget what I’d started….THE STROMBERG.

I quickly installed it on-line on the main spark lead and couldn’t wait for Alan’s visit that arvie. Chucked him my keys and said he should take the Cortina for a spin to see if he could tell if the Stromberg had made any diffs………………. The rest is folklore history……….he was stunned into silence, well for at least 3 minutes – but a Saks record nevertheless.


From: pete swanepoel home

You forgot to put in the most important feature of the Cortina: The colour. What colour was it?

(I read about a popular radio talk show in the States: Two brothers had a “Car Experts” show. People would phone in and ask about the problems they were having with their cars. Long technical details of what the clutch and carburetor and shit were doing and where the smoke was coming out of etc etc – and the one brother would ask “Tell me: This Corvette of yours: What color is it?”).

.

It was light blue.

Power Brakes and Brauer Breaks

While staying at 4 Hillside Road Parktown we prepared for the holidays. I was taking the delightful Cheryl Forsdick down to Port Shepstone in Natal where I think she was meeting her folks, the redoubtable Ginger, fierce platinum miner or renown, and Mrs F. It was the grey and grey Opel Concorde OHS 5678’s longest trip and at the last minute I started to worry about the brakes. They weren’t the best. So I toddled off to the spare parts place and bought what they said would fix them.

21st birthday present!! An Opel Concorde DeLuxe 1700 in sophisticated tones of grey and grey. Note my reflection in the gleaming bonnet!

21st birthday present!! A 1965 Opel Concorde DeLuxe straight four 1700cc in sophisticated tones of grey and grey. Note my reflection in the gleaming bonnet!

The day before we were to leave I stripped the drums and put in the new shoes. Does that sound right? It was a fiddly job and took ages to get right, the springs kept springing. Testing them entailed many trips up and down Hillside Road under the closed arch of the big old London Plane trees. Luckily it’s a cul-de-sac. Jamming on brakes I would go screeching into the left gutter, then I’d go home and adjust the whatevers and then go slewing into the right gutter. Then beertime came and it had to be good enough.

A raucous year-end party ensued and unfortunately Brauer had invited himself. So even more beer than normal was swallowed and cleverer and cleverer. In the wee hours he spotted the grey and grey Opel Concorde sitting sleekly in the driveway, poised for its long journey to that last outpost of the British Empire. His drink-addled brain (brain?) had recently been thinking (thinking?) about the Mercedes “pagoda roof” sports car classic and he decided my car needed a conversion, so he danced on the roof in his old blue suede shoes (think I’m kidding? I’ll show you a photo). And the more us sensible people told him to stop the more he danced. You know how he is.

He thought he was doing this – and in fact had the cheek to suggest I should pay him for enhancing the Opel:

merc-pagoda

But in fact he did this:

opel-roof-brauer

I had to lie on my back on the seat and push up the roof with my feet the next morning so we could sit in the thing for our southward safari. I was careful to use the brakes as little as possible all the way through the Vrystaat vlaktes, down van Reenen’s Pass and on to the sparkling Indian Ocean where the sharks (but not yet the Sharks) were awaiting their annual dose of Vaalie flesh.

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Are we getting a pattern here?

Casa Blanca Roadhouse, Joburg

As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz Simpson’s lime-green VW Beetle or Steve Reed’s beige Apache or Bobby Friderich’s white Mini Cooper S or Glen Barker’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”

I don’t have a pic, but here’s the Doll House in Highlands North so long:

 

Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray Elvis had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.

Deja Vu

Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us twenty six years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!

I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?

“Thirty six years” he said “but I’m just filling in now”.

Charged me 70c. Plus twenty six years-worth of inflation.