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#MandelaDay: From release to retirement - the cars of Madiba's life

2019-07-18 13:47

Lance Branquinho


Image: Lance Branquinho

This article has been updated to reflect Nelson Mandela used various 7 Series limousines in his life. 

While celebrating and participating in Madiba Day, we are reminded of many facets and sacrifices that chronicled the very full life of Nelson Mandela. 

What many not know is that you loved cars and vehicles were present, symbolically, at some of the most crucial moments in his great life. 

The capture car

Security operatives used an Austin Westminster to capture Nelson Mandela back in 1962.

If you could not afford a Jaguar, these Austin Westminsters were your British executive sedan alternative. The bonnet scoop wasn’t merely a styling feature either.


                                                  Image: kzncogta

These 1962 Austin Westminsters were powered by a 2.9-litre in-line six-cylinder engine, which made them quite quick for the time. And as such, a car favoured by security services. 

The release car (part one)

When Madiba was released from prison on 11 February 1990 it was such a momentous occasion that nobody had planned how he would be transported. Security services did not have a vehicle available and neither did any of Madiba's colleagues. 

The car that finally transported him on that significant day in world history, was fittingly something reliable but not aristocratic: A humble Toyota Cressida.

Mourners cheer as the coffin containing the body o

                                                     Image: Twitter

Allegedly sourced from a generous dealer at the last possible moment, this Cressida has vanished into history – it remains one of the most valuable and historically relevant cars not to be housed in a collection. 

The release car (part two)

Mercedes-Benz's S-Class has been the default choice for national leaders since the 1960s.

These are peerless limousine of redoubtable quality and reliability. As Nelson Mandela was being released in 1990s, South Africa was also one of the few global production hubs for the S-Class.

With huge commitment, some of Mercedes-Benz South Africa's best assembly labourers and technicians built a bright red W126 S-Class, specifically for the president in waiting. 


                                                    Image: daimler


                                                     Image: daimler

The 500SE they assembled is rumoured to be the best of its type ever built at Mercedes-Benz's East London factory. This car was handed over to Madiba on 22 July 1990. 

The retirement car

Although Mercedes-Benz were first to associated product with Madiba upon his release, BMW was not going to let the opportunity pass them by completely. He enjoyed various 7 Series models, the last of which was a purposed built armoured version.

From 2004 - 2009, Madiba had use of an e38 7 Series – ordered to purpose, by BMW South Africa.

This car was a 760i security edition, which meant it had 57mm thick armoured glass and weighed a lot, close to 3 000kg. 

bmw 7 series

                                                   Image: gerocarnews / BMW South Africa

After his use of the 760i, it was returned to BMW, and the car has since rotated between charity work and static display in one of South Africa's foremost automotive collections. 

Read more on:    toyota  |  mercedes  |  nelson mandela

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