This portion of the blog has to do with very different thinking and the absolute necessity to bring an alternative view of the 60’s and 70’s gearhead view to readers. Call it a different Compass. We will look at the ‘realities’ as opposed to the folk lore and ask many what-if’s.  There will undoubtedly be serious debate and disagreement on many issues but we need that….

You are listening to Bob Seger and California stars….. why?…. because it has the feel of the times……

History as written or remembered is not necessarily factual, it is often a recollection of popular belief. Facts are used to record the writers best view of what is supposed to have happened. Mostly I guess historians get it right…but… in the car game I’m not so sure…. passions are involved. At the start let’s exclude the moneyed folk who get involved in classics as investments or jewellery and focus on those of us that are passionate about these works of art. Petrolheads, gearheads, car nuts, tinkerers…we all have our prised preferences…go to any classic car club, gathering or show and you will see us in all our bias, gooey-eyed about our Isetta, Borgward, Escort or heaven help us, Mini.

Ever thought about how this happens? Well right now car nostalgia is booming as never before simply because we baby boomers are getting to that point in our lives where the classic cars and happenings surrounding the motor car representing our history are quite the most fantastic in recorded time. Think about it, if you were born in the late forties or fifties you have lived in the time of ‘three on the tree’, proper V8 muscle cars, drive ins, road houses, , the arrival of highways and most important of all to us during this time, the transformation of moms taxis into tyre shredding monsters/screamers.

Real enthusiasts in our Eurocentric petrolhead world would have had a Volvo, Cortina, Anglia, Renault, Mini or some oddball in a suitably modified state. If you’re an American….what can I say….GTO. In those days it was not about bolting on a turbo or chipping, it was about hard graft and our own secrets in getting the job done and enjoying the times. Let’s face it, it was fun. With all this comes our personal nostalgia, personal preference, circumstance or just plain enthusiasm. The car(s) of choice came naturally, each of us have our own stories to tell.


From the first time I could remember, saloon cars have been a passion. Playing spot-the-car on a road trip was a piece of cake. By the age of six, to nail the ID of a passing car in the street just by listening to the mechanicals, dumbfounded the family. In later years came the need to get to know every car spec possible…with a particular penchant for engines. There were exceptions… I drew the line with sports cars…these machines did not make sense to me because this was 1964, and as an impressionable schoolboy the really quick saloon cars emerging from the woodwork were faster than most equivalent sportsters…..what was the point??

My first ever run in a sports car happened at the time… a bright red MGA. It was harsh as blazes and the ‘orange’ line was at 5500, the engine just sounded lazy, the exhaust note flat. Gearshifts were typically stodgy and the experience left me feeling that this was just a quicker, sleeker version of an open top Morris Minor. Wind in my hair did not wind my clock.

That view of the MGA came about largely as a result of two incidents some time earlier….firstly, a Lotus Cortina ‘moment’ and shortly after that a run in a wildly modified Cortina GT.

The Cortina incidents simply knocked the socks off the MG. Exhaust notes sounded crisp, the sidedraughts equated to motorised Mozart, rpm was up near 7 grand and gearshifts were slick ….. That was enough, this was life, there seemed to be something special about a rapid saloon car, especially if it kicked the butt of a sportster. I mean, get the mindset folks, sports cars in the early 60’s were the definition of ‘fast’… saloon cars were mom’s taxis.

Intriguingly, in the MGA experience I had  felt something about the car that only many years later was able to buttonhole as an engineer, the famed ‘open top’ scuttle shake.  You may rightly ask what does a 16 year old know about scuttle shake ?… I agree, nothing… but I can recall that the car just felt rattly and loose, the doors seems to have life of their own. Many years later, driving Corvette and later Nissan open top sportsters, I felt the same rattly/bendy feel, with a similar level of dislike.  My passion for convertible versions of saloon cars was also dimmed somewhat, I prefer things with lids in place. They just feel better.

Two cars happened in the 60’s at around the same time…..this comparison struck a similar chord. Firstly, another MG, the 1800 MGB, a nice enough sports car and a massive improvement on the ‘A’. The second, the 1108 Renault R8 Gordini, a dinky, very ordinary looking saloon car. This is around 1964. What more compelling  reason could one have to favour quick saloons in preference to sports cars? The Renault  with its tiny engine  was as quick…could buzz to 7500 rpm… and it had disc brakes on all four corners….magic. To me, a mechanical marvel. There was no more need for stodgy sports cars. It was in those early days that comment from well-meaning friends let me know that my upstairs wiring was a little well … different. They were right about one thing…..there was going to be much head-banging along the way. I did not seem to see the world of cars quite the same way as most.

There was no more need for stodgy sports cars. It was in those early days that comment from well-meaning friends let me know that my upstairs wiring was a little well … different. They were right about one thing…..there was going to be much head-banging along the way. I did not seem to see the world of cars quite the same way as most.


Following that theme in these pages there will be many comparisons in which plain common sense and a good dose of insider bias hopefully beats the crap out of traditional thinking and ‘this is the way it was’. So, given that quick saloon cars are the focus and that first contact with these creations were of the Ford kind, I am nevertheless a GM man for the reasons described earlier. There is a family history going back yonks with Chevs, Buicks, Vauxhalls, Opels and the odd Oldsmobile so I guess it is hereditary and therefore  cast in stone…. but be warned….. The title of these scribblings speaks for itself, the views expressed are in many cases not exactly along the lines of popular belief, in fact, some against the grain completely.

Let’s take a snapshot of quick saloons of the 60’s and particularly an event close to the heart of any SA petrolhead, the RDM 9 hour at Kyalami. In it’s time this was the SA Equivalent of Australia’s Bathurst. Having experienced both, the feel of the racing, crowd, aura and spectacle, the 9 hour was right up there. We lost it because the brilliance and commitment of the organising stalwarts of the day was lost and replaced with greed. We should never have lost the old Kyalami, ever, we could still be doing this stuff today….. but that’s another story.

We will, I am sure, agree that the 9 hour was a test of the best in saloon car tuning and driving of the time. This was one of the few races in the world where the top prototypes and sports racing cars mixed it with common or garden saloons. Saloon cars began a roller coaster on race tracks the likes of which we have never seen since… and are not likely to see again. Fords, Volvos, Renaults and pesky Minis shook off the Moms Taxi image and often mixed it with those proper racing sportsters. In the years from 1963 to 1973 the saloon car lap record was obliterated…. by 30 seconds…. 1 min 59.8 in 1963 to a 1min 29.3 in 1973. We were there watching arguably the best years of saloon car racing, not because they were fastest, most sophisticated but because there was a sense of wonder and anticipation that seems lost today.

So here we are so many years later with the picture of what we think is the history and here comes the first curved ball in these scribblings.

What saloon car has the best start/finish record of any car entered in 60’s 9 hour racing.…. the answer is not a Volvo, Renault, Mini or Ford. Seven starts, six classified finishes and one mechanical DNF, one clutch. Better still, at 993cc the cars finished 9th and 10th overall in both the ’63 and ’64 encounters in starting numbers of around 38 for each event. Even more amazing, the cars had only been launched in SA in 1963 and had no racing pedigree at all anywhere in the world. Engines, gearboxes and all other mechanicals were brand spanking new, untried and tested for any real length of time in the sport. These gems were up against the fact that GM also had a world-wide racing ban in place which finally took hold post 1965 in South Africa , the cars were never to be seen again simply because GM could not find the same homologation pen that put together FIA homologation sheet for the 997 Anglia in 1966.

Opel Kadette_PDM_Clark
Kadett Kyalami 1964

Botswana 2008 and the little yellow Opel Kadett ‘A’ showed us the true character of this amazing motor car. Notoriety has escaped the cars all these years, I have yet to see an article in a top classic car publications. We need to put that right….correction, since this was written, one article in Classic Car Africa.

Opel Kadette_PDM_Clark

Given the chance…. Maybe both Tougher…and… Faster than the rest?

At this point how about Bob Seger and California stars….. why…. because it has the feel of the times……

On the subject of Opels & in order to warm these pages up a little it is worth touching on a comparison that has intrigued me as a GM guy for years. As an engineer  I do have the ability to evaluate a car on its merits and not just the badge….the bias comes later…. If required to harass the opposition.

I have had many opportunities to drive competing products virtually back to back but the one that illustrates our different views pretty well was a 1600 Ford Capri vs a 1600 Opel Manta A. Remember this is happening in 1970 at the height of Fordomination in the world of quick cars. GM Europe were tipping toes in the ‘quick’ water but had no streetcred at all. The possibility of repeating this evaluation today is practically zero but for those that may have had this opportunity, lets face it, the original Manta is one hell of a car. Poised, refined, beautiful, quick and if you are honest made the competent Ford feel a little agricultural by comparison.     My Point…..the Capri is the icon

This goes to prove that the average petrolhead sees what he wants to see. Issues such as engineering fact and common sense hold absolutely no sway in the minds of passionate car cognoscenti. That’s the beauty of this business, people have opinions and passion…. even better, it leaves the door wide open to bring a different view of things into the mix…..and allows admission to embarrassment  by going from one of the most beautifully penned cars of the era to the bloody ugly Manta B. GM certainly knew how to shoot themselves in the foot. Ford continued with the pleasing styling of Capri Mark 2& 3 and created a lineage and image tied to the Mustang. Opel produced the thing you see in the pics…… but (at long last) started to get involved on motor sport, a subject that will undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers as we go along.

So being a Saloon car person first and foremost,  my comments on MG’s and Fords are not a hate campaign, I have great respect for any and all engineering achievement, for the simple reason that it takes balls to create stuff…. and something less than that to be purely critical. I have also done my time on the creative side, whether my modest achievements are of any note at all is for the folk on the receiving end to decide. This does, however, give me an understanding of just how difficult it is to get things “right” in the car world and, even when you think you have, one has to feel the heat  if your ‘market’ is less than enthusiastic about your creations. Truth is, we’ve rattled a few cages in our time, so let’s rattle a few more…. come along and enjoy the ride.