South Africa’s classic car community was in shock this week after the sudden passing of classic car enthusiast and journalist André Loubser while attending a Crankhandle Club meeting in Cape Town last Sunday. André, who was 80 years old, contributed much to the classic car and racing community throughout his varied motoring career and will forever be remembered locally for documenting the colourful history of our much-loved Kyalami circuit.
BY: Graeme Hurst
Do you recall your first love on the four-wheeled front? Life-long car nut, André Loubser certainly could: a silver Porsche 356 coupé which belonged to Dr Jack de Villiers – one of Cape Town’s eminent ENT specialists – back in the 1950s. André used to see the good doctor commuting in CA 877 most mornings in the traffic while in his final year at Bishops.
That daily sighting of the 356 (one of just two in the city at the time) instilled a love of the Porsche marque in the young André, who was already well on his way to being full-blooded petrolhead ever since (like so many of us!) he’d first taken his father’s car (a Morris 10) for ‘a drive’ before he could reach the pedals properly.
In the years that followed that stint behind the wheel, André’s passion for automobiles exploded as his obsession with Dinky cars morphed into collecting car brochures once he was old enough to cycle around Cape Town’s various dealerships. Later in life he would joke that his school satchel was “20% school books and 80% car brochures.”
His school books were actually quite useful, mind, as the young car enthusiast had a flair for automotive styling and used the blank pages for doodling his ideas for ‘improving’ the lines of production sports cars of the time, such as Mercedes-Benz’s 300SL (no easy car to improve on!) and detailing his idea of a turbine-powered Grand Prix car (something that wasn’t as radical as people thought, given that he would later witness the Rover-BRM turbine car in action at the ’63 Le Mans).
Sketching was a skill he would put to good use for the rest of his life as he was never far from his drawing board and the latest render of a car or car-related accessory. Indeed, in recent years he took much pleasure in teasing prospective guests by inviting them for “lunch in the drawing room” which (especially to those from aboard) sounded awfully posh…until they arrived at Andre’s study and saw the board and a plate of sandwiches!
But back to André’s formative years. Upon leaving school in 1957 he joined an oil company before taking up a sales and PA position at Stanmar Motors in George two years on. The dealership was run by school friend Alan Porter, who was part of the Stanley Porter motor family.
And while George must’ve seemed like a backwater on the car scene back in those days, the location would change and shape André’s life after he was asked to host Porsche works boss Baron Huschke von Hanstein and driver Jo Bonnier, who were visiting the area en route to the 1960 East London Grand Prix. André would later joke that it felt like “all his Christmases came at once!” (understandable given that request was akin to being asked to host Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton today…)
André attended the GP where he got to see his boyhood hero Stirling Moss, who drove for Porsche, take the chequered flag with Bonnier behind him – the pair driving 718 Grand Prix cars.
That week put the young Porsche nut on such a high that he decided to pursue his dream of working for the great Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen outfit and put pen to paper to express as much to Von Hanstein a few months later. He replied indicating that there was a vague possibility of such an opportunity but that he couldn’t recall André being able to speak German… cue one private tutor in said language, followed by a one-way air ticket to Europe!
Evidently André elected to surprise the Baron by turning up at the German Grand Prix and greeting him in fluent German before going on to refresh the great man’s memory about the offer he’d alluded too. It did the trick and André was soon installed in Porsche’s Export and VIP sales department.
That was in ’62, an exciting year for Porsche which was on the cusp of launching the iconic 911 and the 904 GTS. It was the latter that would further shape André’s career after he took an order for one of the sports racers from none other than Stirling Moss, who after recovering from his near-fatal accident in ’61, had launched the S.M.A.R.T racing outfit.
André became friendly with Moss’ mechanics, South Africans Ed and Bud Rossler, and the association led to a job offer from Moss to assist with the national rollout of one of his other commercial activities in the UK: the Paint-a-Car franchise which offered a rapid, on-demand respray service.
A few years in London followed, during which André became involved in the design of car-accessories and the Enfield electric car project. He was quite involved in the racing scene, too and became friendly with motorcycle racer Mike Hailwood, who spent a lot of time over here competing on SA circuits. When André and his English wife Gillian (whom he married in late 1966) elected to return to SA some years later, he went into business with Mike, launching Autospray, a local version of Moss’ Paint-a-Car venture.
Involvement in various car design projects, including the CAV GT40, followed over the ensuing years while André turned his hand to writing professionally, publishing numerous articles for local and overseas motoring titles.
He developed a deep fascination and knowledge on SA’s pre-war racing history which, coupled with the contacts he had made during his time abroad, led to him writing and publishing Kyalami – a singularly spectacular and arguably unrivalled (for any race track) 400+ page work that enjoys the backing of many famous racing names.
Kyalami is now a fabulous legacy to one the of the country’s most knowledgeable and passionate motoring and racing enthusiasts. One who enjoyed a colourful career thanks to his role at Porsche all those years ago. A role which, rather amusingly, came full circle from André’s formative years when – back in 1963 at Stuttgart – he answered a request from the gate to give a fellow countryman a tour of the factory. To André’s amazement the Saffa visitor was Doctor Jack de Villiers of 356-in-the-traffic fame all those years ago back in Cape Town.
- Buy Andre's spectacular book, Kyalami, right here.
Wanting to enjoy the serendipitous moment, André couldn’t’ resist playing the fool, as he recalled at a Porsche-themed night at Crossley & Webb some years back: “I walked up to him, bowed, clicked my heels and in my best German accent introduced myself as Heinz Schmidt.”
Evidently the conversation went like this: 'You vish to see ze factory?” asked André. “Yes, please,” replied the doctor with an eager look, as if he had arrived in Mecca. “Und, Herr Doktor, how is CA 877 getting on in Cape Town?” enquired André benignly as they set off into the plant. Never had André seen a man so gobsmacked and bewildered!
“How…how do you know I’m a doctor?” stammered Dr de Villiers. “How…how do know I’m from Cape Town and how do you know my car’s registration number?” “Ve have vays und means,” was André’s deadpan response as they proceeded on, the doctor looking at ‘Heinz’ in utter disbelief. Then, just before they entered the factory, he let the cat out of the bag: “Don’t worry Doc. It's only André from Cape Town and I remember your car and its number plate from my school days in Rondebosch.” The doctor’s reaction? “Jou klein bliksem!” followed by a good-natured klap right there in the heart of Porsche’s assembly plant.
RIP André. The team at SentiMETAL would like to express our condolences to your wife Gill.