In the (very) small town of Klaarstroom in the Klein Karoo, we met up with Greg Berghoff who maintains, restores and builds cars
By: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Photos: Dominic Barnardt
Greg’s knowledge of all things "mechanic" goes back many, many years. He worked as a technician in Cape Town for several years, but even before then, he was involved in the automotive industry.
“My dad and grandfather were both "weekend mechanics". I was taught how to work with metal by my late grandfather, the correct way, with lead – and not with body filler. During the period when I was still employed at the airport, I built six cars and a spare engine.
“I eventually resigned from my position at the airport and moved to Mossel Bay to open a workshop. I ran that business for six years. It was during that time that I built a Buick for my friend Frans Steenkamp. Then he offered me the opportunity to move to Klaarstroom where he had built a workshop so I could continue my work and my hobby. That was around three years ago. Since then I’ve restored cars for Frans and I will also do work for other enthusiasts.
“Sometimes Frans buys a bargain and then asks me to repair it, with the idea of selling it again. However, once I’m done with the car, he often finds it difficult to sell it because the result of the restoration is so pretty!"
One of the cleanest vintage bakkies (pick-ups) I’ve seen is the Chrysler featured in this article. It may be far from standard, but the craftsmanship is very impressive. Greg explains: “It was originally a Chrysler sedan that I converted into a bakkie. Someone cut the rear end off to use it as a donor car for another project. I was then asked if I could repair it, and I responded that I could indeed, and suggested building a bakkie. I modified the entire chassis, built the loading bay and the cabin – and there we have a bakkie. The project took me about eight months."
The most beautiful car in the workshop, in my opinion, is a custom 1932 Jaguar SS “Special”. However, it has been fettled to make it possibly even more elegant. “The chassis and the period-correct engine are original, as well as the headlights and the grille shell. This engine is a 2.4-litre, straight six-cylinder engine from that period. However, when I started the project, we only had the chassis, front and rear suspension, lights and the grille. The rest I had to manufacture by hand here in the workshop. I made the panels and every rivet I put in with my own hands."
A scale model car of a 1930s Bugatti was used as a template. The aim was to build the car to have the Jaguar front and the rear of this Bugatti. Whatever your opinion may be of the idea, I can’t help but agree with Greg that the result is indeed a beautiful car.
“I do all aspects of the car, the engine, the wiring, the roof lining, the carpets, the paintwork and all the mechanical work."
The sheet metal Greg orders and collects in George or Mossel Bay. “I order special aluminium that I can roll and which doesn’t have a memory. As with the Chrysler, I had to make the mudguards by hand.
“This is really a passion for me. I’m also a painter. I’m sure people think I’m a little crazy as most of the time I'm on my own and I enjoy being by myself… but in the end I do get stuff done.
“I have owned a classic car of my own, it was a 1932 Ford Roadster, but I had to sell it. I had to invest that money into the business. My tools are extensions of my hands, so it is important to buy the correct tools.
Greg is highly regarded in the industry, and panels are often sent to him from wide and far to be rectified, moulded and worked on.
“When you are done with a car, it is part of you.”
Cars in the workshop during our visit:
1948 Fiat Topolino
1932 Chrysler bakkie (built up from a sedan)
1932 Jaguar SS “Special” (built up with a unique body)
1958 DKW Auto Union
1984 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL
1974 MG B GT