CRAZY, BUT COOL? Check out the engine bay of the world's first Daewoo Matiz hybrid. It uses a forklift motor, motorcycle sprockets, an old Corolla rear axle, bits of a Geladenwagon's exhaust, and four made-in-SA batteries from Battery Centre.
HAKSPEENPAN, Northern Cape - Delaying things way too long in the best tradition of race crews around the world, Viljoen and top KZN mechanic Jens Denk hoped to build the world's first hybrid Daewoo Matiz 4x4 to race with at the Kalahari Speedweek on Hakskeenpan.
All to show Wheels24 readers they don't have to bend over a barrel of crude so that every passing sheik and his friend Uncle Sam can shaft them with high fuel prices.
We pick up the action at midnight as the pair prepare to wire up the motor for the first time: "... so the diff ratio is basically 1 to 1, which gives us a theoretical top speed of 230km/h, not calculating the rolling circumference of the tyres of course..."
This was Denk, his baby blues red-rimmed after three nights of cobbling together the world's first hybrid Daewoo Matiz 4x4, using a forklift motor, motorcycle sprockets, an old Corolla rear axle, bits of a Geladenwagon's exhaust, and four made-in-SA batteries from Battery Centre.
The batteries were connected in parallel, the forklift motor was whining away and the enormous sprocket was a blur of teeth. If we were not so tired and dirty, this would have been the high five moment. Instead, wide smiles appeared in our oily faces.
Mine snapped shut suddenly.
"Did you just say TWO hundred and thirty!?
"Well, that's the theory, in practice it would be a lot slower," Denk conceded.
Under the oil, my face was pallid. No way was I going to drive my Matiz faster than even 100 km/h over the flat surface of Hakskeenpan. One wind-blown sand riffle hitting those tiny front wheels askew and the first thing to flash through my mind would be the little car's tail lights.
It turns out I need not have feared, but that knowledge came only a day later on the first test run.
Technical challenges to surmount had already made us a day late for the annual Kalahari Speed Week, which waited at the end of a 17-hour road-trip past the sun set.
Meanwhile there were the last rush jobs, sealing the lid over the rear motor against the dust, refitting the back seats and adding the activation lever with its little "nuclear button" red cap.
The first test run was a disaster -- the bolts on the sprocket touched a side, making a noise between the rolling echo of an explosion and one about to happen. "IT JUST NEEDS A LITTLE ADJUSTMENT!" shouted Denk over the racket.
TESTING, TESTING 1 2 3
The "little adjustment" was first tried with a 300m-long tyre lever, which was discarded as too short. At the end, a two-metre long nyala did the job.
The second test run was a beaut - right up to the point were the bridging wire on the forklift motor started to melt, filling the car with acrid smoke.
"Still too thin," muttered Denk.
The third test run showed there lurks a genius a Denk's Motors. The old forklift motor spinning at top revs, the little Daewoo moved along nicely, a smaller sprocket making less ambitious speed but giving the batteries a range of at least 40 km.
This would be more than enough for our record-attempt at the Speed Week and good for anyone driving less than 40km a day in the city commute.
The hybrid Matiz was eager on tar roads, but laden to the roof line with camping gear and tools, its three-cylinder engine was never going to cover the 1700km to Hakskeenpan in time for the racing.
'SHE AIN'T GONNA GO'
My suggestion to hook up the Matiz on an A-frame was dismissed. "What's the point of building a car that you have to tow?," scoffed Denk.
A pile of "not really necessary stuff" formed on the floor, comprising of the weekend's food, cooking gear, clothes, guitar and tent, but still the little car hunkered too low when three men added their weight to that of the four, deep-cycle batteries.
"She ain't gonna, ain't gonna make it from Maritzburra to Mier, to Mee-hirr," sang Armand van Aswegen, the guitar/camera man roped in to film this historic moment in transport history.
The troubadour was right. Our attempt to set a speed record on the pan near the distant Mier had failed.
But it had failed heroically and in the process, proved that it is possible for a good mechanic working on a journalist's budget to add an electric drive-train to any car, so as to avoid using fuel during the week's commute; and still have a long-range engine for visits over weekends.
Apart from taking the running costs of a typical car down from about R1.50p/km to less than 40c/km just in fuel, electric drive trains have fewer moving parts, allowing its owners to amortise the initial outlay of about R20 000 with service costs saved.
Next up, the chain drive will be more refined as the Matiz prepares to follow the tracks made by the first car journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in 1904.
* For more detail on installing a hybrid engine in a car, e-mail your questions to denksmotors@gmail. com.