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Senna portrait made from old jeans

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Broederbond Borgwards and SA

2013-02-12 14:11

DAVE FALL

One of the more active one-make car clubs in South Africa has to be the Borgward Club which turned up in force at the 2013 George Car Show, an event rated as one of the country's top car shows.

The event, held over two days, always seems to strike the right chord for classic-car enthusiasts. It's for those who enjoy strolling around what always seems to me to be the perfect setting that even offers a modicum of shade from the hot, dry summer we’ve experienced thus far.

GERMAN CLASSICS IN SA

The vehicles are always well spaced and not “roped off”, just as it should be to facilitate chatting with erudite owners who are never far away from their prize possessions.

Ever-present are the Borgward contingency found at shows of this calibre, a marque that arguably has its roots well and truly ensconced in SA history.

Like all good stories, it's best to start at the beginning of this generally little-known car company – unless you happen to own one, of course! Borgward was a German automaker with humble beginnings not unlike those of Audi, and by that I mean also an amalgam of companies whittled down from Hansa (not the beer, as far as I know!), Goliath and Lloyd.

Carl F W Borgward was the man at the helm for the duration of Borgward’s whirlwind rise and fall between 1929 and when it hit Skid Row in 1961. Times were hard, trying to compete with mainstream car companies of the day such as VW, Opel and Mercedes-Benz but levelled out somewhat with the arrival of the rather good Borgward Isabella in 1954.

Under the bonnet was a lively, 16-valve motor that was much sought-after by Formula Two racers of the day. It has air suspension and auto transmission and the company surged ahead but came up short on economies of scale. The large finances needed to carry on and compete against the “big boys” ultimately taxed Borgward to the giddy limit.

An export drive* proved the way to go and in the South African context it was the likes of Cape Town car-dealer Gerald Wolman in Strand Street who took a liking to Borgward trucks and in 1955 decided to open a Borgward car showroom exclusively for the Isabella. The sticker price of £730 (R10 220 in today's prices) ensured many satisfied local owners.

DOWNFALL OF BORGWARD

By way of comparison, Robb Motors further up the road in the Mother City wanted the same price for their rather bland Austin A50 Cambridge. The Isabella was home and dry and selling well to the Afrikaner community who could no longer afford Chevrolets and Buicks. Buyer preferred the sturdier and more robust Borgwards than British Austin, Morris or Hillman cars of the day.

Not surprising, then, that with influential Afrikaners of the day driving Borgwards a well-known radio comedian called it the Broederbond car!

Alas, by 1961, Borgward succumbed to receivership. An interesting fact that emerged some time later was the fact the company was able to pay everyone its creditors in full. As it turned out it seems the German government of the day – well, that and some of the aforesaid car companies in jealous mood – had conspired to the downfall of Borgward.

So the next time you spot a Borgward at a car show or in the street, stop by and take a close look at these beautiful cars that have definitely stood the test of time. When did you last see an Austin Cambridge in such pristine condition?

*Borgward facts and figures gleaned from Fred Schnetler’s superb book ‘A Century of Cars'.

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