It’s the dream shared by every petrolhead at some point in life: the déjà vu flashes of that scene in Days of Thunder when the car builder walks around the half-built race car and talks to it, telling it exactly how it will be built.
Secretly, we all want to build our own car – something completely unique to us that others will admire. There is a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in building your own car and then driving it down the road.
To be clear, I don’t mean a bolt-to-body kit for your 19-voetsek Toyota Tazz or, worse, an oversized wing on a Honda S2000 accompanied by #StanceLife hashtags on Instagram. I’m talking about building a car from the ground up, or at the very least from a kit.
In South Africa, we’ve always punched above our weight in motoring engineering. Many of our local specials are world famous, like the Perana cars or the BMW and Alfa homologated specials. It’s therefore no surprise that we have always had a fantastic home-built underworld and a highly established and internationally respected kit car industry.
We have industry giants like Backdraft, CAV and Superformance. We have up-and-coming superstars like Harper Sports Cars and E-Rods, building race cars for the road and brand-new modern chassis for your classic muscle cars.
Sadly, I may need to adjust “have” to say “had” unless these companies can survive entirely off building racecars and cars for export. You see, in a dark room of some government building that we will never have access to, some people sat around a table and decided to forge ahead with new legislation that could ultimately completely stop this industry in its tracks.
In August of 2019, the NRCS released their new standards and regulations that must be met for any vehicle to be registered for use on the road. Whether intentional or not, these regulations have now rendered it completely impossible to register a home-built car on NATIS. This makes it impossible to register a home-built car for use on the road.
From a safety point of view, I can certainly understand why there may be concern around the idea of allowing anyone with a welding machine to piece together a few bits of metal and let the result loose on public roads. However, lumping that level of build into the same blanket ban as classic replicas built by some of the most respected manufacturers in the world, is more than a little unfair.
It’s also another economically tone-deaf move from government. These are legitimate, tax-paying businesses that create jobs and support families. What is the point of suddenly making their lives miserable?
As is usually the case, getting information from the authorities has also proved incredibly difficult. When I first heard about this new legislation, I tried to contact the NRCS for clarification on exactly how far-reaching this new standard will be. I was simply sent a ‘cut and paste reply’ reading something along the lines of: “The standard is very clear and will answer all your questions.”
Of course, the standard is also available for purchase, but not free download, so there is no way to get a clear answer from the authorities without spending some money first. This is South Africa, after all.
Next, I contacted a number of companies that must surely be affected by this type of legislative over-reach. Perhaps understandably, they were ALL reluctant to comment at this time, save for saying that they are apparently fighting to have the regulations changed, allowing them to once again register their vehicles on the road.
The logical solution would be to introduce a ban on home-built cars that do not comply to certain standards. Accompanied by a proper process to implement this law, it would deal with unsafe cars while allowing reputable builders to continue to earn a living.
But nope, that would be all too much to ask.
We have grown accustomed (and perhaps even a little numb) to the fact that the authorities in this country seem to be obsessed forcing legislation into effect, despite all indications to the contrary. On my own site, where I shout a little more than the fine editors of Carbs and Coffee will allow here, I have written at length over the idiotic implementation of the AARTO act despite the pilot project’s catastrophic failures, for example.
This is a situation that simply cannot be accepted by the industry or by consumers. Imagine you have been working relentlessly for the past 3 years on a project in your garage. You have plunged more money into this build than you had originally planned, as is par for the course, perhaps even more money than you could realistically afford – simply so you can build your dream car. Just when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, NRCS suddenly caves in the tunnel all around you and you are stuck with a car that you can no longer register for use on the road.
All of your time and money invested, wasted. Gone. At best, you can salvage the project into a racecar, provided it was a kit that lends itself to such a project.
Worse still, imagine your company has been building some of the most prestigious and sought-after replica cars in the world for years. You have built an impressive reputation for quality workmanship and building incredible cars. You employ several people, all of whom look to you for a salary to feed their families; craftsmen who simply could not be replaced without compromising on the outstanding quality of your product. You pay tax.
Your business now depends on exports for survival. You are forced to sell your cars in other markets, many of whom are generally stricter than ours on road safety.
The situation is nonsensical, but what else should we expect from this government? We can only hope that industry manages to lobby their way out of this mess. If not, every kit-car in South Africa that is already on the system just got a lot more valuable.