Larry wrote to me – old-fashioned ink and paper, lick the stamp, seal the envelope and drop it into a postbox – on 4 Nov 1970, his 19th birthday.
He was getting brochures for Dad for a van – Ford, Chev and Dodge. ‘I’m glad your father is really getting interested in the scheme of getting a van. If he is serious about importing me too (to come with the van), I could be ready to leave in June. It seems a bit too good to be true, so I am not counting on it at all.’ It didn’t happen. The van did.
The old man needed a delivery van for the bottle store. Twelve years of Joseph faithfully delivering booze to the needy on his bicycle clearly wasn’t hacking it anymore.
People needed their dop on the double; their brannewyn and beer briefly; their cane kona manje; their Paarl Perle pronto; This called for a V8! A five litre V8 – 302 cubic inches of inefficiency was ordered from across the Atlantic. Two pedals, one to GO one to STOP; it was automatic . . . hydromatic, greased lightning!
It was a delivery van, so no windows were needed. These were only cut in the week it arrived. Then it needed to be fitted out to take crates of beer: Two beds, a fridge and a stove were fitted above the new green carpets.
A test run was called for: I drove it to Joburg, loaded it up with fellow students and headed for Hillbrow. At the lights on the uphill section of Quartz or Twist street some unsuspecting sucker pulled up alongside.
I gave him a withering look and revved the V8, which didn’t really growl, the ole man refusing to tweak the exhaust like it could have been tweaked. It sounded OK, but not “like God clearing his throat.”
I changed feet, stomping down hard on the brake with my left and pressing down on the accelerator with my right. A fraction before the light turned green I let go the brake and the bus squealed and roared and bucked as we gunned off up the hill. Dunno if the other bloke even noticed but we were hosing ourselves – we had fun.
The van cost the ole man R1500 and then shipping it across the Atlantic another R1500.
Me and Stephen Charles Reed, First Son of Clarens Vrystaat, were talking V8’s back in 2012 when he delivered that spot-on description of the sound they make as they roar off, windgat, into the distance.
I replied: Oh, I DO like that description! That’s GOOD! When you hear that grumble at a traffic light you delay your take-off to hear that grumble-rumble-roar-aaargh! . .
Remember the ole man’s V8 bus? Did you drive with me in Hillbrow? Floored it at a few robos. More like a Doories hobo clearing his Old Brown sherry-phlegm throat, but still impressive . . and neat for penniless students to windgat in. We blew a few okes’ doors off in the sprint to the next lights. That was ca.1975. I didn’t own a car yet, even though I was an expert driver, of course.
Steve: I had forgotten but it comes back to me. Imported van, was it not? Is it still around? I can quite imagine you driving it around Doories and quietly being a bit of a windgat. Aah, those halcyon days! Now it’s all about boring things like reliability, economy and resale value. Where has all the fun gone? Back to the van. Did your folks do a bit of touring in it? Or a lot? I am sure half the fun with them is kitting it out.
Me: Ja, a 1972-ish Ford Econoline with 302cubic inch V8. White. Automatic 3-speed. Imported direct from Detroit. They toured a bit, but the vehicle itself was the ole man’s interest. We had old faded-denim blue VW kombis before it and a big Toyota 22-seater after it. All with the seats removed and carpets, beds, stove and fridge fitted.
Now he has an ancient Jurgen camper VW kombi with the tortoise-on-the-back look. And tortoise-on-the-back speed.
When he was about eighty he took the ole lady off to Oranjemund on the Atlantic Ocean on the border with Namibia; then followed the coast southwards down to Cape Town; up the Garden route, into the old Transkei, into Natal up to Kosi Bay on the Indian Ocean on the border of Mocambique = the whole blerrie South African coastline. Mom found out on the way that that had been his goal all along! They broke down at night in the Transkei between the coast and Umtata. Luckily Sheila had a friend in Umtata, and luckily he is a real mensch, and luckily he roared off in the night to tow them in to his home. Pete Rowan. Now at 89 the ole goat wants to buy another one. In an understatement he says, ‘This one is too rusty, but the 1800 Jetta engine is still FINE.’ He has his eye on a newer one, only 400 000 kms on the clock; Planning vaguely to head off into the wild blue yonder again. Heaven help the ole lady. She gets panic attacks at the thought, but soldiers on, providing the calm, rational common sense to the union as she always has. (They had been married about 52 years when they toured the coastline).
If only he was reasonable, like his son. Aitch and I hired a later-model Ford Econoline camper in San Francisco, California on honeymoon in 1988. We went to Yosemite, Big Sur, Golden Gate bridge and a bit north of that to some redwood trees. Fun way to go. Ideal for Oz, I’d think
Stephen: Wow – fantastic that he has that passion at 89. Of course I imagined your folks much younger. My ole man would have been turning 100 in September 2012!He would have loved all that. My guess is that they kept up too much of a social lifestyle to have money left over for exciting things like camper vans. To be buggering around tinkering with cars and vans at 89 your dad must be blerrie fit. Well done to him. Takes me two days to build up the momentum to clean my car!
Sorry to hear about
That trip round California including the big sur (now Keith Ballin country) sounds amazing. A lot of old-timers (i.e about my age) over here go and ‘do the lap’ round Australia. Would smaak to do it some day but in the meantime need to keep the nose to the grindstone. Which I know is the wrong attitude. Do it now!
Me: You are absolutely right: Go now. Work again later. One thing okes agonise over is what vehicle to choose, and I think the actual answer is always ‘The One You Have.’ Just get into it and start driving. As for ‘What to take?’ – very little. Weight is the enemy. There’s very little you might pack that you can’t find along the way. Take less luggage and more money than you think.
A thought for both of us: Contact every little dorp optometrist en route and ask them if they need a locum. Tell them you’ll work a day or a week for them and house-sit while they have a holiday. Also always seek out the local birding fundi and ask him or her to take you to the local spots. Save time and see more.
The story started earlier when I told a tragic tale:
On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, pete swanepoel wrote: My fine VW kombi T5 bus went clunk after I dropped Jess off at school this morning, and suddenly no clutch, no gears, fokol. Absolutely no problem, sir, said Alpine Motors when the AA tow truck dropped me off there, just give us twenty four grand and we’ll have it as good as old. I picked up a lil Suzuki to keep me going meantime. R200 a day while I ponder whether to fix or sell.
Later: The ole kombi lay down with its wheels in the air, and the quote to fix it went up to forty four grand, so I got me a Fraud Ranger last week. 2007 model, a mere 89 000km on the clock. So far I’ve only dinged it the one time. Smashed the rear lights against a pillar in a parking garage.
Steve reed wrote:A three liettah turbot diesel! Now you can pull out tree stumps. Anyway, he said (I paraphrase), dirty VW no longer deserves your patronage, the lying thieves.
Me: Exactly. Just don’t tell anyone the Ford’s front wheels just trundle along for the ride . . . it’s a high-rider, so it masquerades as a Four Four Four as Jessie used to call them.
Steve: It’s when the BACK wheels freewheel that it’s more shameful. Like my corolla. At the local Toyota dealer they had a genuine Glen Barker Toyota circa 1975-ish, mint condition; belonged to a little old dear living locally. Now that was a back wheel driver, I am almost sure. They had it in the showroom as an object of curiosity.
Anyway that noo car: You gonna be pulling something with that – other than chicks? Or putting some sort of enclosure on the back? Forgot what they call it.
Me: Canopy. Maybe I’ll install a double bed mattress and dark curtains. You never know . . . it does exhibit strong chick-pulling tendencies.
Yeah, Glen’s Toyota! Green, it was. A Corona, I think. Definitely rear wheel drive. NX 106. His Dad still has NX 21 from when it was first nailed to their oxwagon when they arrived fresh in Natal to steal it from the Zooloos in the name of the Lawd.
postscript: Steve did buy a bus! And he did convert it into a camper van! Proud of ya! He and Evil Voomin did a really neat job:
That car? A 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. 455 cubic-inch V8. That’s 7.5-liters in today’s money.
windgat – impressive; or show-off
robos – ‘robots;’ traffic lights
Doories – Doornfontein; Johannesburg’s premier sought-after salubrious suburb; a wee bit past its prime maybe; but the first ‘Randlords’ did build their mansions here