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2018-09-21 09:00

Lance Branquinho

GRANDADDY OF THEM ALL: GSM Flamingos, South African through and through. Fibreglass-bodied, Ford powered and cheap to run, this SA brand was king – if only for a day. Pic: Dave Fall

Proudly South African and worth remembering. Our automotive heritage day icons. Lance Branquinho takes a look at some of the most iconic examples in SA.

Heritage month is all about the stories and places that define us as South Africans. One area that has great potential to help strengthen a shared heritage for all petrolheads are iconic local cars.

We take a look at five iconic examples:

1 GSM Dart and Flamingo

Before the automotive industry mastered the use of carbon-fibre and aluminium for bodyshells, the only way to produce a lightweight sportscar was using glass-fibre.

And South Africans were particularly skilled at working this construction technology in its infancy. Glass Sport Motors (GSM) was a Cape Town manufacturer who built world-class compact sports cars in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

READ: An SA car story: This awesome vintage Ford Capri is a heart-warming video tribute to one special father

The Dart was a competition machine with its offset tailfin and exposed cabin, silhouetting appearance of a miniaturised Jaguar Type-D.

                                                                        Image: Wheels24/Dave Fall

GSM also built the Flamingo hardtop coupe, which was more of a grand tourer and appealed to South Africa’s burgeoning motor enthusiasts, possessed of disposal income during the 1960s gold price boom.

2 Chevrolet Nomad

If ever there was an off-roader which subscribed perfectly to the design philosophy of using only a ruler to style it, instead of bothering with the French curves set, it must be Chevrolet’s Nomad.

A South African project by Chevrolet, the Nomad was intended as a rear-wheel drive Land Rover Series 3 rival of sorts, rugged and adaptable as a farming support vehicle or adventure mobile.

"Rear-wheel drive?" Yes. It wasn’t four-wheel drive but with appropriate tyres, low mass and short gearing, the rugged Nomad could fulfil most of the utilitarian tasks it was intended for.

Most retired to a life as coastal vacation home runabouts, where their low speeds weren’t much of an issue. Think of it as an Americanised Jimny, built by South Africans.

3 Perana Z-One

If your blood is blue, you’ll be familiar with the Perana nameplate – which in times past was a byword for exotic Ford performance cars in South Africa. Originally established by Basil van Rooyen as a marketing name for his go-faster Capris, the Z-One is an altogether different proposition.

After its success as a contact manufacturer for Noble supercars, Hi-Tech Automotive decided to use the Perana name for a stunning joint-venture with Italian design house Zagato.

First revealed at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, those gorgeous looks hide a 6.2-litre V8, which means 328kW and 0-100km/h in a shade over four seconds. 

Total production peaked at only ten units, making Z-One one of the most exclusive V8-powered performance cars of the last decade.

And to think, all that ingenuity started with a bunch of South Africans from Port Elizabeth. The only oddity was running General Motors LS3 V8 power in a car where the Perana name originally sources to everything related to fast Fords…

4 Joule

South Africa’s very ambitious electric car project which looked great but didn’t quite have the same cachet or charismatic leadership as Tesla. Joule was first shown at the Paris Auto Show in 2008, where it looked good and featured a promising specification.

Joule

                                                                        Image: Wheels24

The stylish lines and tidy proportions were hardly surprising, as South African born Keith Helfet styled the car – and his portfolio of work includes the XJ220, in a tenure as chief designer for Jaguar.

Unfortunately, the Joule never reached production as Optimal Energy filed for bankruptcy in 2012. It showed great promise but despite the 150km range capability – entirely competitive for an EV in the late 2000s – Optimal Energy could never find a suitably scaled production plan to satisfy government investment incentives.

5 AAD Shaka Nynya

The one nobody recalls. Built by Advanced Automotive Design in Pretoria, the Shaka was a low-weight sportscar with hugely impressive performance.

It debuted back in 1997 and fused the semi-open wheeled concept of a classic Lotus 7, with the retro styling of Plymouth’s Prowler. The performance was phenomenal, thanks to the happy combination of a 6-litre naturally-aspirated V8, good for 300kW, and a kerb weight of only 870kg.

Capable of 0-100km/h in under 4 seconds and 1.1g of lateral grip during cornering, this was a car for keen drivers. Production started in 2000 with exports to the US being Shaka Nynya's destination market. 

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