We all have our fantasy garages, and often the cars inside will be from a specific era. This is indeed the case for the collector featured in this article. This collection is focused primarily on pre-Second World War cars. I spent a couple of hours with him as he walked me through his remarkable collection.
Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
“My dad had workshop and fuel station in Cape Town many decades ago," the collector starts to explain. "I used to visit this garage as a kid. I was also given a Meccano set when I was about six years old.
“Then I learned to drive, at the age of around 12, with my dad’s 1928 Chevrolet which was converted into a bakkie. I started fixing things on the farm and bought my first set of spanners at age 14. My dad didn’t like working on cars though – he was handy, but thought oily stuff was dirty.”
Needless to say, his love for all things automotive flourished from an early stage. Already in 1958 he and another two boys from school joined the Crankhandle Club (still active today) as junior members. With the help of some fellow enthusiasts, he started restoring the 1928 Chevrolet.
He explains that once he's bought a car, he tends to hang on to it: “In 1966 I bought this Graham Paige for R300. We’ve done a lot of rallies in this car, probably over 40 000 km!”
His wife shares more thoughts on this car: “That is where I learned to double de-clutch. I used to drive and he used to be the navigator.”
Then more pre-war cars joined the collection and I wondered why his love for pre-war cars never abated: “At that stage, in the 1960s, cars from the 1930s were simply not old enough to be classic or viewed as special. People were taking part in rallies with cars from the 1920s!”
Another favourite, which has been part of the collection for decades, is the American 1912 EMF. This car has also been used extensively throughout the years.
I’m always amazed by how collectors manage to keep these cars running, considering all the unique parts. Through the years the enthusiastic couple has built up a vast network of helpful overseas contacts. That has opened doors for them over the decades, and today it is obviously easier with all the internet resources. In some cases enthusiasts will even send booklets, be it owners' manuals or similar literature, for free, as they know how much an owner will benefit from these documents.
“You write letters to people all over the place, you get some info and find some stuff, and jy maak ‘n plan (you make a plan). When there's no other way, you machine parts. You need to snuffel (sniff) these things out through friends and connections. You need to be inventive at times. But you also have to be careful. If at all possible, you have to make sure the part is authentic or make it as close to authentic as possible."
Even something as complex as a replacement for a cracked crankshaft from a 1938 Fraser Nash BMW 328 could be sourced from Germany. There he discovered a specialist who machines these custom crankshafts to the exact size from a billet of steel. More parts were included in this transaction and the car will shortly be back on the road. “You can also have a new block for a 328, but it costs an absolute fortune. On the other hand, should your gearbox give problems, which is a weak link in the drivetrain, you could buy a newly manufactured one from BMW Classic, made by ZF."
I wondered what the most enjoyable aspect of these cars are for him, seeing as there is clearly a lot of work involved in maintaining them.
“You first have to decide on the car you want, then when you find it, you need to do a whole lot of research. Then you need to research the history of that specific car. Then you need to figure out how 'correct' the car is, although for some people that is not too important. Then, should it be restored, or partly restored and what do you do with it afterwards? For me, I do like the restoration part. It is these various stages that I enjoy of each car, while the history of a car is very interesting and important to me.”
Walking through the garages, I notice that they are not like the tiled, squeaky clean display areas you tend to find with big collectors. These are working garages where cars are restored, engines taken out and then put back together. Even the buildings date back from the middle of the previous century, only adding to the immense aura of the cars and the surroundings.
The sheer variety of cars in the collection is incredible, from an American 1946 Model 404 Diamond T truck that is undergoing a full restoration, to a 1958 Chevrolet Corvette C1 and two very special Bentleys, the older one a 1922 3-litre as well as a 1930 Speed Six.
“The last car I bought was almost three years ago, it is 1998 Bentley Continental T. It has done less than 16 000 km since new.”
He stops at every car and can share anecdotes about trips that have been done with that specific vehicle or details of the restoration, or where he found a certain part. As interesting as the cars are, so is his wealth of information.