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#Mandela100: What happened to the Toyota Cressida Madiba was driving in when he was released from prison?

2018-07-18 10:22

Lance Branquinho

Freedom fighter. Unifier. Leader. Boxer. Lawyer. Nelson Mandela lived an extraordinarily sacrificial life and as we celebrate the value of it, on Madiba day, it's worth reflecting on an aspect often ignored: He was a real car guy too.

Although Madiba spent much of his adult life being pursued or incarcerated, three sedans would always be associated with him after his release and into his retirement.

Madiba the car guy

He might not have had the opportunity to do much driving after his release from prison, but his sense of automotive occasion never diminished.

READ: Madiba's BMW to be auctioned

The car which would transport Madiba from the Victor Verster prison upon his release in 1990 was always going to become famous and by mere coincidence, instead of any intended product placement, it was a thoroughly South African sedan.

Government protocol dictated that an official fleet of Mercedes-Benz sedans would be used, yet Madiba's assistants wished to illustrate their independence and so the legendary Toyota Cressida moment came to be.

Madiba's Cressida was sourced from the Protea Toyota dealership in Bellville, a demo off the showroom floor, and later returned and was sold on - without its momentous role in history being documented.

What happened to the Cressida?

The bizarre consequence of all this is that the most famous Cressida in history has effectively "disappeared", whereas it should have been stored for future display purposes.

The next iconic automotive association with Madiba was a 500SE Mercedes-Benz. The car was given to him in July 1990 and what made this W126 unique, beyond having his name engraved into it, is how it was built.

                                                                                 Image: Twitter

Workers at the Mercedes-Benz factory in East London decided they would build Madiba an S-Class, assembling it after hours. Their only request from management was for a selection of parts and after many hours of overtime, the Madiba 500SE was ready.

It is believed to be the most meticulously built W126 in history, which is quite a claim as these third-generation S-Class limousines are regarded as some of the most impeccably engineered cars ever made. The red 500SE in question is today on display at the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.

After his retirement from active politics, Madiba kept an exhausting schedule of public appointments and appearances, supporting a collection of worthy causes and charities.

None of those was quite as crucial as his HIV/Aids campaigning in the period 2004 - 2009. During this time, Madiba used a security edition E76 760i from BMW.

                                                                       Image: Motorpress

Featuring bullet proof windows and sheet metal, it was much heavier than a regular 760i, yet performance was sufficient, considering it had a 327kW 6-litre V12 engine.

In the case of any emergency, Madiba's 7-Series had an on-board fire-extinguishing system, a comprehensive SatNav and emergency communications package (with push-button police network signalling), and blue strobe lights hidden behind the signature BMW kidney grille. 

After 50 000km of dutiful service, the Madiba 760i was returned to BMW South African and finally found a home at the Franschhoek Motor Museum.

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