This week the CAR team took a trip down memory lane and compared stories and adventures from when each was handed the keys to their very first car…
Ian McLaren – 1982 Mazda 323
What an awesome little car! My folks helped me buy it when I was 19 years old and one of the first things I did was remove the horrid sheep skin seat covers. According to the owners manual my 1,3-litre 323 had an “off-white” paint finish and that’s the story I’m sticking to. It was not cream!
With a memory like a sieve a waitering job was always going to be a challenge for me so I instead became a pizza delivery boy and it was whilst on those many helter skelter deliveries that my little Mazda truly shone. If you consider that on a working evening consisting of around ten deliveries, a delivery boy has to start his car at least 20 times, and is probably driving pretty badly in order to get back for his next delivery (and tip), the fact that I never had any mechanical problems (other than the odd CV joint) in my 323 during at least 4 years worth of deliveries, is somewhat amazing.
I’m still convinced that the guys who stole my car from outside of the CAR magazine offices (2 weeks after I began working here) went looking for the nearest pizza take away joint after the theft as the permanent smell of pizza in the car was enough to get any stomach craving.
Peter Palm – Morris Minor 1000
I bought the battleship grey “classic” in 1973, the year I matriculated. Then already 14 years old, the Morrie had red upholstery and was the sporty coupé, i.e two door model. Well, not actually sporty at all, but your first car is always special. This one was REALLY special. The crank was so shot that the oil pressure light would only extinguish above 50 km/h. I dosed it with STP muti to thicken the oil and got a quote for a new crankshaft – R80. Now that sounds cheap but that was also what I paid for the whole car! So I just replaced the big end bearing shells and dawdled on. The brakes were useless and the gear lever would work loose and fall off.
I fitted a valve radio from a 1954 Mercury and this tended to drain the battery pretty quickly if I was parked. No matter, as it also had a crank handle and a quick pull was all that was needed to get going again, much to the amusement of onlookers. Having seen the first BMW saloons with their “aircraft-style” red instrumentation back- lighting, I removed the only globe from the only instrument (the speedometer) and painted it red with some leftover Humbrol model enamel paint. It worked, too! Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as an engineering student friend of mine who decided one afternoon to paint his Morris Minor (side valve model) blue. De did so – with a paint brush!
Juliet McGuire – 1995 Volkswagen Citi Golf
My first car was a white 1995 Golf 1 1,6. I will never forget the day I got it, I was so excited and waited on the road for it to arrive. I got in and as I started it the fan came on and it stayed on for about 5 hours. Needless to say my excitement dwindled as I had to drive it back to the dealership and leave it there to be fixed. That was one of the many issues I had with that car. I eventually sold it 2 years later and got a 1998 Golf 3 GSX.
Hannes Oosthuizen – 1977 Mazda 323
My first car was a 1977 Mazda 323 1,3, the early rear-wheel drive model and it was green. And I mean VERY green. I inherited it form my grandmother’s sister and as such some of the “optional extras” that stayed in the car when I collected it were a pink umbrella and a colourful knitted blanket to protect the rear parcel shelf. Both these items were removed rather quickly to protect me from too much abuse on campus.
It was a lovely car – very economical, which was good because I had no money to fill it up with. In fact, it moved from a relatively sheltered life to one of “poverty”. During my time at Stellenbosch University you could spot it parked under random trees. This had nothing to do with choice on my part, I simply drove it every month until the petrol ran out, then pushed it under the nearest tree. And only came to fetch it once I had money for petrol again. After me, it was inherited by my brother, and then our cousin – two more students… To make matters worse, as a retirement it then moved back to my parents where it became my dad’s “fishing car”. It rusted away to next to nothing. I feel guilty about the “Green Monster’s” destiny now.
Kyle Kock – Volkswagen Scirocco GTI
My first car is one I still own. After years lusting after MkII Ford Escorts and Beetles, I laid eyes on ”Olga” a few months after starting my intership at car and I was instantly sold. We’ve had many adventures together, which includes cruising down the Rooi Els road from Gordon’s Bay with Hannes Oosthuizen in his Opel GT, former editor John Bentley in his Citroen 2CV, and road test engineer Peter Palm in his Fiat 128. Unfortunately she’s been neglected of late due to the high number of new test vehicles passing through our hands, so if anyone’s interested – shout.
Terence Steenkamp – Volkswagen Citi Golf
Mine was a Volkswagen Citi Golf 1,4i Citi.com, a special edition that was offered in 2001. It was dark blue, featured 14-inch alloys, a golf-ball-shaped gearknob, heavily bolstered seats and a small, three-spoke steering wheel. My dad was kind enough to add a frontloader and upgraded speakers, and an aftermarket air-con. I was in grade 12 at the time and remember my excitement when, after being bussed back to school post-rugby match, my dad surprised me with the car. The excitement lasted all of a week or so… It was noisy, crashy, the air-con was temperamental, then suicidal, the gearbox gave problems, two of the doors had to be realigned twice and the brakes were shoddy. I traded it in two years later on a Renault Megane 2. Even bigger mistake. I do, however, fondly remember the Citi.com’s adeptness at performing graceful handbrake turns…
Nicol Louw – 1994 Vauxhall Corsa 1,4 LS (UK model)
While in South Africa I owned many motorcycles and never saw the need to own a car. When push came to shove I would borrow one of my parent’s cars but was proud of the fact to use only a bike as main transport. When I left for the UK to start my European adventure it soon became clear that I would have to buy a car (weather was the main reason!). I picked up the Corsa for a mere £800 with only 60 000 miles on the odo. The car was treasured and received a weekly wash and polish! The only problem I had with the vehicle was a leaking water pump which I replaced in a parking lot. The car showed me the whole of the UK as far north as Inverness in Scotland. I even went on a first date with the girl that became my wife using the car as transport! Oh, there also two incidences with the police for “reckless” driving around traffic circles (roundabouts in England)… Looking at the picture, mostly fond memories come flooding back…
Kelly Lodewyks – Ford Laser
My first car was (and still is) a late-90s Ford Laser/Tracer. Shared between my sister and I (and occasionally my mom, too), we have affectionately dubbed her Tracy. She’s no hot performer by any means, but yet I still love the way she drives. She’s old(ish), but there’s something about the simplicity of old cars that makes me appreciate it more. There aren’t any complicated mechanical gizmos, no warning beeps from anywhere (which has resulted in many a flat battery), no electrics. Just plain and simple. If I could change anything, I’d wouldn’t say no to power steering. It feels like a work-out every time I have to turn the car around or park. Cheap to service and maintain, I’ve grown quite attached to this car. Having access to work cars, I’ve neglected her a lot lately. Now I feel bad…
Gareth Dean – 1992 Renault 5 Campus
It was with a mixture of joy and slight disappointment that my entreaties for a second-hand ’72 Buick Riviera had fallen on deaf ears that I took delivery of my sister’s well-used Renault 5 Campus at the age of 17. Having started life as transport for a district nurse, as evidenced by some suspicious blood-splat-like stains on the roof lining, the car then underwent a veritable hammering at the hands of my somewhat ham-fisted sister as her university transport for three years.
I actually felt sorry for the poor car, partly because on the occasions when my sister had come home for holidays/feeding/funding and I had offered one of my then-famous £5 wash and valet deals (quite the bargain), I had uncovered such horrors as discarded underwear (of both genders) and a family of woodlice who’d made the spare wheel well their home before being mercilessly Hoovered away. This was besides the fact that the once-pristine white bodywork now sported so many dents that the family dubbed it “the golf ball”. Apart from its tape deck’s voracious appetite for my lovingly rendered mix tapes, the car was a hoot – light and nimble with a slick gearshift, quirky Gallic looks and a manageable thirst for fuel. It even started on cold winter mornings…well, it did let me down in a big way when it refused to start on a rainy day at school while trying to impress a girl I fancied with a lift home. Needless to say, she didn’t speak to me during the lift my Mom gave us instead. Still, I held no grudges against this reliable little runabout and loved the freedom it afforded me. In fact, I almost wanted to keep it when I saw how it looked after being ironed out and fixed up for sale…but then I remembered the family of woodlice and that notorious lift incident and thought better of it…
Mike Fourie – 1983 Mercedes-Benz 200
For the record, my father bought me a 1987 Opel Kadett 1,3 GLS (the five-speed model, not the Cub) from a platteland dealer early in 1996 and I absent-mindedly drove it out of an intersection five days later and the little car was clobbered into the ranks of the write-offs by a maroon Mercedes-Benz. I borrowed a rusted plaas bakkie that billowed white and/or black diesel smoke for a few months and then by the third term of my second year of varsity, my gran parted with her 1983 Mercedes-Benz 200 (W123-series). I had my first real car.
Powered by a carb-fed four-cylinder motor that put out a paltry 80 kW and was mated with an agricultural four-speed manual ‘box, the 200 was a big chunk of metal that offered relaxed cruising ability, but it wasn’t really keen on overtaking other vehicles. In the summer, I requested the ineffectual three-speed fan to cool down the blue Artico-trimmed (read: faux leather) interior, but all it did was gust heated volumes of atmosphere in my face. Needless to say the window winders worked their ratchets off, and because the Benz had a bad habit of trapping water in its doors, the window channels would rust away, causing windows to drop into the doors. Whenever a front passenger was complaining about the heat, I’d scream at him or her to just please leave the winder alone, otherwise the door would gobble up at least half of the window and the darn thing would be stuck in the half-open, half-closed position just as long as it took for the weather to change and the heavens to drop their entire contents inside my car’s interior!
Mechanically, the car never let me down, apart from that one winter’s morning when I drove to work and noticed a hotspot forming on the bonnet, which caused the previous night’s dew to steam off the metal. As soon as I got the car to a mechanic, it was apparent that the car’s exhaust manifold had pulled away from the engine block, but fortunately nothing critical had melted from the rogue exhaust gases that had escaped into the engine bay. I owned “Gertruida” from 1997 until 2005, but by the middle of the last decade, the ‘Benz’s non-metallic paintwork had faded to a pathetically pale hue of powder blue and the rust had set in on all the doors. In the end, I sold her to the supervisor of the complex where I was living at the time… He paid me in a few handfuls of cash and paid off the rest by plastering my bathroom. In was an inauspicious end to a grand old lady.