Established in 1860, Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg boasts an impressive array of flower and other plant species, while the cricket Oval, with its fascinating Victorian Pavilion (a national monument), regularly hosts many of the KwaZulu-Natal capital’s cultural events. Considered for many decades to be the city’s main social activity centre, Alexandra Park is well known for showcasing annual events like Art in the Park – the largest outdoor art exhibition in South Africa; Cars in the Park – an annual motoring event featuring vehicles past and present; and Maritzburg Fantasia – a Christmas night market with a character all of its own.
The park is also a popular venue for family braais and get-together’s, while men and women of all ages can make use of a comprehensive array of sporting facilities that include a cycle track, swimming pool, soccer field and, of course, the cricket Oval, which hosted a few World Cup cricket matches back in 2003.
This year’s Cars in the Park, the 36th edition of the event, proved to be the most successful ever, attracting a record crowd of over 14 000.
Photographs — Left: 1957 Ford F100 Pickup / Middle: Dart / Right: AC Cobra
Continuing on last year’s theme of restoration, motor clubs were encouraged to exhibit not only restored showpieces, but before-and-during projects as well. But perhaps the biggest attraction was a special exhibit that focussed on the early days of motor racing in Pietermaritzburg, in particular events that occurred at Alexandra Park itself and the Roy Hesketh circuit.
A few of the cars and motorcycles that raced at both of these circuits were on display, and even some of their riders and drivers were in attendance to chat and swap stories with enthusiasts. A number of photos, press cuttings, general memorabilia and multiscreen video clips of these racing events of yesteryear were also featured.
My late father, Robert (Bob) Mortimer, was pictured in his Renault R8, which he raced extensively at the Roy Hesketh circuit, achieving a considerable amount of success. Many other drivers were pictured too, men such as John Truter, Pat Duckham, Mike Grant (who raced both cars and motorcycles) and Dennis Botha, who all competed against one another in some intriguing battles, many of which will forever be etched in their memories and those of their family, friends and fans.
Although the motor racing exhibit was the main focus of this year’s event there were many other attractions which captured the attention of the crowds. There were over 1 200 vehicles on display, with over 100 motor clubs participating, all of which were competing for a floating trophy for the best club display. Almost every make of vehicle, ranging from a 1904 Cadillac to the very latest, was represented, and although many of the cars were familiar there were quite a few that I hadn’t seen before.
A pin neat, mid-1980s-era Porsche 911 with a Durban registration was the first vehicle to catch my eye. These compact and powerful sports cars were equipped with a rear-mounted, 3,2-litre flat 6-cylinder engine that produced enough power to propel them to a top speed of 240 km/h. Considering this version of the 911 series first came out nearly 30 years ago, those are pretty impressive figures and it must have been quite something to get behind the wheel of one of these dream machines back in the day.
Photographs — Left: Lotus Espirit / Middle: Lotus Super Seven’s / Right: Ford GT 40s
Another car that caught my attention was a bright red, early 1980s edition Lotus Espirit Turbo that was parked a little further on from the Porsche. The Esprit was one of the most iconic vehicles of its time and was featured in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. It certainly is a beautiful car, with its sleek lines and attractive styling, and as is customary with any sports car worth its salt, it had the go to match the show.
Parked a mere stone’s throw from the Espirit was a sporty-looking kit car, which I later identified as a Dart. Featuring aggressive Porsche-like styling, a powerful engine and a lightweight fibreglass body, the Dart is every boy racer’s dream and I’d have to say that if I could afford to run a second vehicle, I would probably buy one. Looking every inch like a mini Batmobile, it was possibly the cheekiest car at the show and quite unlike anything else I saw on the day.
Two other vehicles that stood out were a pair of intimidating-looking Ford Mustangs, a type of American muscle car that has become famous the world over for combining aggressive looks with raw V8 power. First introduced to the world in April 1964, the Mustang has since gone on to become one of the most recognisable vehicles of all time, with its long bonnet and short rear deck giving it an unmistakable appearance. Now in its fifth generation the Mustang continues to sell reasonably well in America and even abroad, although ever increasing global fuel prices could well threaten its future.
With so many wonderful cars on display it was almost impossible to pick an individual winner, but if I were a judge the award would go to an absolutely gorgeous 1994 Lamborghini Diablo that was parked midway between the park and the adjacent Oval. All decked out in fiery red, this exotic beauty was simply a stunner in every sense of the word and would not have looked out of place on the French Rivieria, or on the streets of Monaco for that matter.
Photographs — Left: MG Roadster and Chev Sunbeam / Middle: Ford Plymouth Hot Rods / Right: Ford Mustangs
Equipped with a massive 5,7-litre V12 engine the Diablo is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds and reaching a top speed of 330 km/h. Now those are some pretty impressive stats in anyone’s books, but unfortunately somewhat impractical in a country like South Africa where the maximum speed limit is 120 km/h.
At the end of it all the floating trophy for the best club display went to the Cobra/GT 40 club, with the Alfa Romeo and Rover clubs in second and third places respectively. There were a number of beautifully turned out AC Cobras and Ford GT 40s on display and it was not hard to see why the judges gave the Cobra club the thumbs up, although the East Coast Cruisers club, which had a number of awesome-looking hot rods on display, must have felt a little aggrieved at being overlooked for the award.
Another club, which was very well presented, was the MG club whose members were celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Despite a strong presence they were, however, unfortunately unable to scoop up any silverware.
As far as I am concerned this year’s Cars In the Park was one of the best ever, featuring more vehicles than ever before, some of which I had never seen or even heard of. The food stands were excellent too and kept me well fuelled (no pun intended) throughout the day.
All in all it was a great day’s entertainment and it was easy to see why this event has consistently been rated as one of the top three car shows in the country.
Contact details for Alexandra Park
Telephone: +27 (0)33 345 1348 or +27 (0)33 142 2970
Address: Park Avenue, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa