Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal’s capital city, is home to many attractions, not least of which is the colourful Alexandra Park, considered for many decades to be the city’s main social activity centre. Established in 1860, the park boasts a dazzling array of flower and plant species while the Cricket Oval with its fascinating Victorian Pavilion (a national monument) regularly hosts cultural city events.
The park itself is well known for showcasing annual events like ‘Art in the Park’ – the largest outdoor exhibition in South Africa; ‘Cars in the Park’ – all wheels vintage and future; and ‘Maritzburg Fantasia’ – a Christmas night market with a difference. For those who don’t like crowds, there’s always the option of a weekend braai with the family while swimming, cycling and soccer facilities are available to keep the more energetic members of the family out of mischief.
It’s the type of venue that has something for everyone and although I hadn’t visited the park in quite some time, ‘Cars in the Park 2011’ was an event I just could not miss. I have attended numerous editions of this popular event over the years but never have I known it to be this well supported. An almost unbelievable crowd of 12,000 was on hand to view the more than 650 vintage cars on display, some of them dating back to the early 20th century.
This year’s theme was ‘Restoration – Work in Progress’ where cars in various stages of restoration were showcased in a large tent, drawing both old and young admirers alike. To say that I was impressed with the work that had gone into these cars was an under statement, they simply had to be seen to be appreciated. Only dedicated enthusiasts are prepared to invest the vast quantities of time and money necessary to restore these vehicles to their former glory and judging by some of the finished products on display, it was time and money well spent. One of these restorations was a cute 1929 Austin Chummy that was dwarfed by all the other vehicles surrounding it.
No less than 290,000 of these adorable little cars were produced by the Austin Motor Company between 1922 and 1939. Powered by a tiny 747cc, four-stroke engine, the Chummy was a runaway success, putting many British competitors out of business in the early 1920s. Even though production ceased in 1939, many Chummys were rebuilt as “specials” after the Second World War, including the first Lotus, the Lotus Mk 1.
The Mercedes Benz Club had a display of rusted and dented cars next to their fully done up counterparts and judging by the appearance of the finished products it was clear that they, too, had done an excellent job. In fact, it was hard to believe that some of these vehicles were around 90-years-old, they looked that good.
One of my favourite cars of all time, the iconic Jaguar E-Type, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and there were a number of these beautiful classics on display with one in particular catching my eye – a Ferrari red stunner that was the envy of many onlookers. With its sleek lines and immensely powerful 5,3 litre, V12 engine, the E-Type is the epitome of power, performance and style and although I have never had the privilege of driving one, I could well imagine that the experience must be both exhilarating and terrifying.
A little further on from the E-Type I noticed a large crowd gathering. Keen to see what all the fuss was about, I went and had a look and was blown away by a silver beauty that shimmered in the golden rays of the afternoon sunshine. Billed as a 1933 Ford Roadster Clone, this ultra cool hot rod was without a doubt the best looking car on display at the show.
I instantly fell in love with its sleek lines and beautiful paint job and the massive V8 engine that protruded from the bonnet signified that this was a car that had the ‘go’ to match the ‘show’. What one would pay for the privilege of owning such a machine I wouldn’t know, but if I was a wealthy man this is one car that would definitely be in my collection. It’s simply an awesome machine.
Although the Roadster Clone was undoubtedly the star of the show there were a number of other cars that stood out ranging from a tiny BMW Isetta 300 to a gigantic 1970s era Buick that had to be the longest car I’ve ever seen. Of particular interest to me was an ultra cool 1973 Corvette Stingray Coupe whose sloping lines and aggressive stance epitomised what American muscle cars of the era were all about.
If Batman was real the Stingray would without a doubt be his car of choice, although the candy apple red example in question would more than likely make way for a jet black version – after all, it matches the costume. With the sun beginning to set it was time to head off home, but not before I inspected a neat looking 1960s era Volvo 122S sedan parked nearby.
Introduced at the New York International Auto Show in April 1959, the 122S was the first make of car to feature front seat belts as standard equipment on all models. My late father owned a 1964 122S sedan that is now undergoing restoration in Johannesburg, so I was rather impressed by the excellent condition of this particular model, which did not appear to contain a speck of rust.
Seeing a 122S in such good condition brought back fond childhood memories of the many family trips we undertook in what was, in my opinion at least, the coolest car on the road at the time. My brother, Darren, now has the car in his care and I can only hope that he is able to restore it from the rather sad looking rust bucket it has become, to the beautiful machine it once was.
After bidding the Volvo farewell I headed for the exit, but not before reflecting on what had been a very enjoyable day out in the bright winter sunshine. With over 650 vintage cars on display I had been spoilt for choice and the many food stalls on site had been the perfect anti-dote to the ever present growls of my stomach. What more could a car enthusiast ask for? Hmmm, I’ll let you be the judge of that.
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Contact details for Cars in the Park:
Tel: +27 (0)33 345 1348 or +27 (0)33 142 2970
Address: Park Avenue, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal