Built up over 55 years, Les Boshoff’s curious collection includes supercars, classics and derelicts – and often lends some of its magic to the silver screen.
You can’t miss it. Head out of Cape Town along the N1, which eventually leads to Johannesburg, and after 35 km you’ll see a huge car graveyard immediately to the left of the national highway, complete with an aircraft mounted in the air. This is the home of the Wijnland Auto Museum.
These rusted carcasses might look like things of little value, except maybe as a backdrop for a photoshoot. But there’s more to it than that. Les Boshoff has been living here since the Sixties. But it was when the international film industry woke up to the wonderful sights and sounds that South Africa’s Cape region offers that he got more involved with cars.
The landscape of rusted cars, buses and other machines – even a military tank – forms part of the vast collection of vehicles and props Boshoff rents out to film companies. Step inside his barn and you see a multitude of boxes, some of them stacked nearly a storey high, and they’re full of parts. These aren’t so much used for restoring cars, but more for when a car needs to be converted from right- to left-hand drive for a movie set – sometimes with a only a week’s turnaround. You might think, given that there are a multitude of movie car ‘rentals’ standing around, that Boshoff is simply a businessman. But don’t be mistaken – his passion for cars is absolute and inextinguishable.
Even at ripe old age of 87 he shows no sign of slowing down — he’s recently gone as far as to buy a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. “Over the years my hobby – now passion – started to take up more of my daily time, but it developed into a profitable side business which makes it really interesting,” he says. “I found and chased these cars from all over South Africa over several decades. There are some gems in the graveyard that I want to restore, including a DeSoto Airflow.”
California and Gallardo – The young Italians
Boshoff’s 2012 Ferrari California is parked at the entrance of his collection, which suggests that it’s the car he has driven most recently. “I can use it almost daily but, when you exploit its performance, it’s nothing less than entry-level super-GT. And let’s be honest, at my age, driving a car like this gives one a slight ego boost too,” he remarks with a hearty chuckle. “Finally, I like the exterior design of the car. In the end, I rarely buy a car that’s not appealing for me to look at.”
Another relatively recent purchase is his 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo e-gear. It was Boshoff’s first “serious” sports car purchase, and its acquisition pre-dates the California by two years. “Every single element surprised me when I first drove it,” he remembers. “I can’t put into words the sheer joy I get from driving this car. However, owning the car presents a slight problem – I cannot drive it slowly.” It’s the Gallardo he usually takes on his 250 km trips to the coastal town of Hermanus, but Boshoff admits says he could take any of his cars on the daily newspaper run.
Jaguar XK120 – The eldest member of the collection
Moving more than half-a-century back in time, Boshoff gets as excited about his 1953 Jaguar XK120 as any of these contemporary supercars. It has a special place in Boshoff’s collection as the first car he ever bought. “Remember, I come from an era when people drove Austin-Healeys, Volkswagen Beetles and Morris 1000s. In its day the XK120 was a serious sports car. I bought it in around 1962 and I’m the third owner. I’d almost put this Jaguar in the same league as the Ferrari and Lambo – all three of them are significant sports cars of their respective eras.”
Mercedes 450 SL – Shown the door
If you appreciate convertibles, the iconic R107 SL is certainly highly collectable, and in this instance it’s a 1982 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL, parked to the right of the California. “The most outstanding attribute of this SL is its solidity. It has all the performance you’ll find in an American car – maybe even more – and it feels so well-built from behind the wheel.
“Open and shut one of its doors and you’ll understand what I’m talking about,” he offers.
“Compare that to performing the same exercise with a Ford Mustang’s doors. It really is a quality car. The Benz’s road manners are very resolved too, even by modern standards.” Boshoff hasn’t done too many trips with it, but uses it often for club outings. He also has the car’s original hardtop.
Buick Special Eight – the smell of originality
“This is one of the most original cars I own,” says Boshoff, as we approach his 1940 Buick Special Eight. Boshoff bought the car more than a decade ago, but is remarkably only the car’s second owner – before him, it had been in the same family since new.
The previous owner’s children had bought a new VW Golf and said that they didn’t want to leave it outside. Because the owner and his family couldn’t bear the thought of the Buick being left to negotiate the elements, they asked Boshoff if he would be interested in taking over the car. He happily agreed.
He asks if I smoke before making a suggestion, my negative reply telling him I’m equipped for the task. “Get in and smell the interior, that old new-car smell. It’s only done 125 000 km. It’s a surprisingly easy car to drive. You can be travelling at an indicated 50 km/h in top gear, put your foot down, and it will pick up speed impressively. After all, it does have a straight-eight engine,” at which point Boshoff opens the bonnet. “Isn’t it a beautiful machine?”
Rolls Silver Cloud – Cape Town crusader
As we make our way to the back of the building a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II catches my eye. “One evening in 1972 I was on my way to a convention in Cape Town when I saw this car at the Rolls-Royce dealership,” says Boshoff.
“I think my nose and hand marks are still on those showroom windows. That evening I decided to buy the car. It cost me R27 500 in 1972 – a lot of money at the time, as I’d bought a Mercedes 280 SE for R10 800 only a few weeks earlier.” On the day of collection Boshoff took his wife, son and daughter along with him, but he remembers that his children were crying because they couldn’t believe that he was trading in the Mercedes.
“When we climbed in the car and made our way from Cape Town back home, the moment fellow road users started waving at them the tears quickly disappeared and the frowns were replaced by smiles. It’s a phenomenal car in many ways, and it was the family car for several years.”
Buick Riviera – chopped beef turned cash cow
The next car’s story might cause a few enthusiasts to cringe. It’s a 1966 Buick Riviera. Boshoff and the original owner initially couldn’t agree on a price. However, a year later the owner arrived at Boshoff’s yard and asked if he was still interested in buying the Buick. Boshoff remarked that it was not the same car.
“The owner admitted he had chopped off the roof. So it was no longer original, but it has been one of my most successful commercial projects to date. A few years ago I spent a week on Route 62 with the car for an advertisement.”
Since Buick only started manufacturing the Riviera convertible more than a decade after this model, the appeal of this car is understandable… and under its vast bonnet lurks a 7.0-litre V8.
Alfa Romeo Spider – guilty as charged
As we leave the workshop, there are several wrecks standing outside, although the 1998 Alfa Romeo Spider is not one of them. Boshoff bought it at an auction 11 years ago.
“There are elements of the design that I appreciate,” he says, “but there are also a few that I don’t like. However, in terms of how it drives and performs, I enjoy it thoroughly. It is also lighter on fuel than I expected. All in all, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. Until now it has been a real no-nonsense car, and it hasn’t given me any trouble. This is rather at odds with what is usually said about Alfa Romeo ownership experiences. The only element of the car that I really hate is the trouble you need to go through to install or remove the battery. What a mission.”
At the back of the room, two cars stand out among all these classics. The replica land-speed record car was manufactured with the help of several contractors, and is fitted with a 327ci (5.36-litre) Chevrolet Camaro V8 engine. It was used in the 2000s in an advertisement for mobile service provider Orange, and even looks convincing close-up. This advert was shot on Verneukpan, a dry lake in the Northern Cape.
This pan is actually known for its local land-speed records – Sir Malcolm Campbell unsuccessfully tried to break a record there in 1929. A lot smaller, but just as striking is the black single-seater also constructed specially for an advertisement. It’s fitted with a four-cylinder Kawasaki engine, and was one of a trio of single seaters built for the same purpose 10 years ago.
The shopping list
Boshoff’s days are spent between running his business and tending to his automotive hobby. Fortunately, because of the overlap he does have time to enjoy his vehicles and there are a number of cars that he would still like to add to his collection one day. “A car that I actively search for is as a Bentley Turbo R. And then, I would also like a Porsche 911, if possible a Turbo.”
Four-wheeled calling cards
“You know, these cars can also be used for other reasons,” Boshoff says with a smile. “When I go to auctions, I usually take one of the more unusual cars. Perhaps you won’t get the car or property you were after, but people remember you by the car you drove – and you never know, perhaps you’ll be the first person to get a phone call when a certain car or property becomes available again.”
I finally ask Boshoff what he enjoys most about his cars, and the answer might be surprising: “The people, without a doubt – the interesting individuals that walk or drive through these gates that I have the pleasure to meet. From car enthusiasts, movie personalities to engineers, it’s really fascinating and you learn so much through them,” he concludes.
You can visit the museum's website here