The Garden Route’s many fine attributes have been luring the country’s classic car lovers to the region for some time, ensuring its established reputation as South Africa’s premier old car business hub and classic events destination.

 WORDS Yolande Stander PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz, Mariette Landman, Tamara Claire

Old cars have become big business on the Garden Route with the establishment of several niche businesses and the arrival of some of the world’s leading vehicle restorers to the region. Associated club events, car shows, rallies and races provide extended sources of income that play an important part in the region’s economy.

The surge in classic car popularity is largely due to the Garden Route’s natural beauty. Quiet, undulating back roads and country lanes make it ideal for touring at just about the speed for vehicles dating back to the earlier part of the 20th Century. Furthermore, the region is recognised as the ultimate playground for wealthy retirees able to enjoy the mild climate that allows for open-top travelling most days of the year.

Southern Cape Old Car Club chairman Karen van der Merwe believes the region’s beauty and relaxed nature are instrumental in luring so many vintage car enthusiasts. “The slow pace of life, relatively good condition of roads and the fact that there are far less vehicles on the road than many other destinations make the area safe and convenient for driving classic cars.

“Local authorities provide good co-operation and we find that other road users enjoy seeing classic cars on the road, even when it slows down their pace of travel. Enthusiasts from all over the country, and the world, attend our events and sometimes even relocate here soon after a visit.”

Karen says many collectors have relocated in the past few years. “As a result the area probably has the biggest concentration of classic, vintage and veteran cars in the country.”

Tony Lyons-Lewis, secretary of the MG Car Club South Cape, agrees the Garden Route has become a Mecca for classic car enthusiasts and the classic car restoration industry has grown particularly over the last few years. “In 2008 there were only a few suppliers; now we have companies offering full rebuilds and engineering services, including engine machining and assembly, upholstery and spray painting. The industry offers employment to many locals, and businesses such as parts suppliers benefit from the demand generated by rebuilders. While many members repair and maintain their own cars, local garages also benefit from servicing requirements from less-active members.”

Classic car popularity has given rise to several marquee retail outlets on the Garden Route. In fact, some have become so well known they are now considered tourist attractions in their own right.

Sedgefield Classic Cars, now a decade in business, is regarded as a “must-see” stop by most travellers on the N2 between Knysna and George. When owner Sheridan Renfield first opened, he had only three vehicles on the lot – a 1934 Chevrolet, a 1937 Plymouth Coupe and a 1955 Pontiac. Popularity grew far beyond expectation and today an average of 60 to 70 old cars, dated between the 1920s and 1980s, are on the floor at any given time. The business not only attracts many spectators from around the world, but also buyers from as far afield as Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

As classic cars are rare, the price tags are admittedly steep for the most part. However, there is still scope to come away with a bargain. “Prices vary from a 1958 Morris Minor for R25 000 and a Ford Escort MK2 for R50 000 to an exotic 1940 Buick Convertible for R650 000 or the all-time classic 1954 Jaguar XK120 for R800 000. One of the most expensive vehicles we have sold was a 1964 Aston Martin DB6 for R1.3 million, which is probably worth about R2 million today. In recent years, as the global economic downturn sent investors looking for alternatives to traditional investment portfolios these cars –like art – have proved to be an excellent investment with massive capital growth,” says Sheridan.

Since opening in November 2012, House of Classic and Sports Cars in Knysna has also become a popular stop. In addition to a variety of pristine classic cars, the business provides project cars for restoration.

For some, like Tino Laranjeira of Classic Car Restorations near Sedgefield, restoring old vehicles to their former glory is just as satisfying as taking them for a spin on the open road. Considered a master restorer, his specialist skills are in high demand in South Africa and abroad. He has even been flown out to recreate original classics in Canada and take charge of vehicles shipped in from overseas.

“I do most of the work myself, but outsource specialised work like upholstery and woodwork to other experts in the region. The Garden Route is home to the some of the best craftsmen in the country,” Tino says.

Coastal Customs in Mossel Bay specialises in building show cars, street rods and hot rods to a wide range of clients. “About 30% of our work is for Garden Route car owners, 50% from other provinces and 20% from abroad,” says owner Walter Fivaz, adding that restorations range from R120 000 to R500 000.

Clubs and events
Tony says club membership numbers best reflect the growth of the classic car culture on the Garden Route. “When we were established in 2007 as the seventh MG chapter in the country there were 26 founding members. We now have 101 members and a very active social calendar.”

Members are drawn from all walks of life, and old car clubs are no longer considered an activity for retirees only. “Some own an MG because it evokes a bit of nostalgia, having owned one as a youngster, and the car is a link to the past. There are also some serious collectors with a number of MGs and, with the way classic car values have escalated, they have a sound investment in their collection.”

Established in George by nine old car enthusiasts in 1988, the South Cape Old Car Club now has a membership of more than 300 families.

“The club encourages members to collect, restore, preserve and showcase old vehicles, tractors, motorcycles, stationary engines and any form of motoring memorabilia for future generations. The club also assists and advises new members when acquiring such vehicles,” says Karen.

The efforts of clubs and classic car businesses, which frequently work in tandem with one another, has resulted in several annual showpiece events that draw enthusiasts from around the country. These include the George Old Car Show, the annual Erfenis Toer (Heritage Tour), Classic Car Friday (part of the Jaguar Simola Hill Climb) and a variety of classic car rallies.

“Our annual car show attracts thousands of visitors from South Africa and abroad, which has a positive knock-on effect for a number of businesses. Most hotels and guesthouses are fully booked for the weekend and the show makes use of multiple service providers for the supply of tents, chairs, tables, fencing and other equipment. It is difficult to put a value to the benefit, but it is often underestimated.” The show also hosts a classic car auction and provides a platform for vehicle manufacturers to showcase the latest new car models on the market.

The MG Car Club South Cape hosted the 2014 South African MG Clubs’ national gathering in Knysna, attended by 320 people in more than 150 MGs. “There were some participants who had never been to Knysna, as well as a number of international entrants. The event enabled us to sell Knysna as a destination of choice and a number of people indicated they would be back for a holiday,” says Tony.

Classic, vintage or veteran?
Classic cars are either veteran or vintage vehicles, says Southern Cape Old Car Club chairman Karen van der Merwe. “However, depending on a car’s date of manufacture, they fall into separate, clearly defined categories.”

These include:
Ancestor prior to December 31, 1904
Veteran January 1905 – December 31, 1918.
Vintage January 1919 – December 31, 1930
Post Vintage January 1931 – December 31, 1945
Post War January 1946 – December 31, 1960
Post 60 January 1961 – December 31, 1970
Post 70 January 1971 – December 31, 1974