An African Odyssey

Pietermaritzburg, situated about 620kms from Johannesburg and 80kms from Durban in South Africa, hosted the 30th annual Cars in the Park gathering on the 20th May 2007. The display attracts many motor clubs, hundreds of cars and even steam tractors and engines for enthusiasts of the latter type of power.

As my MM was recently completed, I thought of motoring her down to the event and as Ian Allbon has been busily compiling a register of South African cars, I thought it would be a good idea to try and attract a few MMs to the event, as apart from Ian who displayed his car two years ago and Gordon Guthrie (not an MMOC member) last year, the MM has never had a concerted presence at this show, even in the heyday of them being manufactured in SA. Good idea, thought Ian, and we both started making a few calls that resulted in about six possibles. Ian then set about getting a stand site organised for us and making up a suitable display board that gave the history of the MM.

Blockhousefilling station Although I had spent some time trying to anticipate and sort out any teething problems that might arise before attempting such a long trip with my recently completed car, I decided it was perhaps prudent to join up with a motor club that was planning a trip down in convoy. So it was that I met up with the guys from the Historic Transport Assoc on Sat 19th at the Blockhouse freeway filling station complex about 50km outside Johannesburg. The filling station is so called due to the presence of an original blockhouse situated on a rise behind the complex, one of several hundred erected across the country by Lord Kitchener during the Boer War in about 1900. (Sorry bad pic as it was very early and the sun was behind the blockhouse).

My MM was a little lonely amongst the predominantly Sunbeam owner participants at the breakfast start but I ended up on my own (so much for mutual support!) after the lunch stop after spending some time trying to assist a VW Beetle owner who lost his brakes.

Fortunately my MM was going well and I pressed on in solitary isolation thereafter - although Denise (the other half) was a little nervous at the prospect.

roadsideThe route to Pietermaritzburg chosen by the organisers of the run, avoided the national N3 toll route and meandered down via secondary roads that briefly passed through the Free State Province, with it's rather barren looking hills and odd isolated peaks, (pausing for a "photo opportunity"!) before descending rapidly down the escarpment - 1100m in 15kms - from the "highveld" down to the green hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal Province. We skirted the town of Escourt, close to the scene of the capture of Winston Churchill by the Boers over a hundred years ago, and also the birthplace of all MM's built in South Africa in 1967.

The afternoon proved a little difficult when my MM developed a high-speed misfire and several sudden stops that seemed to indicate a high-tension ignition failure somewhere. Nevertheless we finally made Maritzburg and the comfort of Ian's home where he and his wife Stella kindly offered to put us up for the weekend.

Alexander ParkSunday morning arrived with my MM having to be put on a trailer to get to Alexander Park, the site of the gathering, where we were allocated our stand on the oval of the historic cricket ground, overlooked by a Victorian Pavilion close to the main display area, in the company of three other MMs - Fritz Koch, the 3rd MMOC member in SA with his semi complete car that is being prepared for the local historic racing season, that he trailed down from Joburg. Gordon Guthrie is from Maritzburg with his ex Ian Allbon UK built Mk3 that was sent to SA as a "sample" car in 1967 prior to local production starting, and Alan Fick who brought his Mk3 up from Durban. Ian's car is in pieces at present and he confined himself to organising the whole day for us.

With grateful assistance from Alan and the lads, the cause of my problem was whittled down to a faulty ignition coil and one was rapidly obtained from one of the Mini Club guys who opened his spares shop in the town in order to get a new one for me.

Brian RaubenheimerA great surprise and a welcome visitor to our stand was Brian Raubenheimer, the “father” of the Mini Marcos in South Africa, who is now retired on his ocean going yacht presently moored in Durban harbour. Brian was quite doe-eyed as he viewed the small collection of MMs on display as it was the first time ever in South Africa that more than one vehicle was on display at any one time.

Monday dawned windy and rainy when we packed the MM for the long 620km trek home, having decided on the quicker, and more expensive, option of the national toll road route. The rain gave way to a clear but cold sunny day shortly after leaving Pietermaritzburg but the strong wind persisted and I was surprised at how little effect it had on the MM travelling at 110km/hr. I was very pleased that I had fitted a heater in the car though!

DrakensburgsStopping for fuel at the halfway mark, we saw the distant Drakensberg mountains covered in their first layer of snow of the winter. The icy wind coming from that direction prompted a rapid retreat back into the warmth of the heated car and we completed the journey home in about five and a half hours driving time, with the car behaving sweetly after the repairs done on show day. I am very proud of the achievement of my MM with her baptism of fire - or should that be misfire!!

Tertius van Zyl - Johannesburg.

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Last updated 8th September, 2012