Among great memories of watching Disney movies, spending summer afternoons in the swimming pool and chasing my dogs around, I also have incredibly fond childhood memories of being that kid who knew everything about new cars.
I even annoyed my parents by having my “car list” with me all the time – literally a spotters guide to cool stuff on the road.
My criteria at the time were simple: the car needed to cost at least R300,000 and no people-carriers were allowed. As we drove around, I would put a little tick next to each car on the list when I spotted one. To give you a reference point, I distinctly remember that an M Coupe cost R330,000 at the time.
Yes, the petrolhead sickness took hold of my body at an early stage. But the world was different then.
The highlight of my month as a kid was stealing the new Car magazine from my dad before he could read it. I would read every word on every page, making sure I was prepared for the day when my ship would come in and some piece of automotive exotica would be next to us on the road. I would be very surprised if there are any kids these days that still do that. It’s hard enough just finding a magazine!
In today’s world of women identifying as men and some men identifying as cauliflowers, you practically get attacked by an angry mob of climate change activists if you so much as rev over 5,000rpm.
I’m terrified that these people find out that my S2000 makes it all the way to 9,000rpm…but then my Honda has been on the road for 14 years already, which in my opinion makes it a lot more environmentally-friendly than some electric toy car that will be recycled every 5 years.
I’m by no means a climate change denialist and I care deeply about the environment, but I do think that cars have simply become a politically convenient target for European governments in particular. The net result of this is that proper petrol cars are facing extinction, even though the contribution of sportscars to global warming must be so tiny that even Greta would feel less angry.
Save the manual? Save the car!
Back to happier times, then…
My head nearly exploded with excitement as a young boy when I saw my first Lamborghini in the wild. It was a gorgeous Diablo, parked outside a café in Bedfordview. Ferraris were rare on South African roads in those days, but spotting a Lamborghini was simply unheard of.
Fast forward to 2019 and you can’t drive around Sandton or the right parts of Cape Town for more than 10 minutes without seeing a gleaming supercar. This should sound like pure bliss, but the reality is that Ferrari is manufacturing cars that look like Corvettes and McLaren is building the designs that Ferrari should be paying attention to.
A Lamborghini is an Audi in a pretty frock, unless you are prepared to spend truly eye-watering amounts of money on the V12. You can buy essentially the same car in the form of an Audi R8, wearing a frock that is quite honestly just as pretty and for a fraction of the price.
Ferraris were once sold out of a small showroom near Kyalami. Lamborghinis were found in an entirely nondescript place called House of Sports Cars, which I believe was run by the man who now keeps classic Alfas on the road in Cape Town (I stand to be corrected). This was a far cry from the multimillion Rand showrooms that sell exotics in Johannesburg today.
Sadly, so much of the simplicity and charm has been lost.
The prices of supercars are stratospheric, but worryingly the prices of proper sports cars aren’t far behind. You cannot buy a decent new sportscar for anything under R500,000 – and no, your boosted Fiesta ST isn’t actually a sportscar. Don’t confuse the term “hot hatch” with sportscar, even if the lines have become blurred these days.
The 0-100km/h time isn’t the only measure of petrolhead pleasure, I promise. You’ll see. One day. If petrol cars still exist.
The purchase price for a second-hand example might look manageable, but the costs of maintaining these computers-on-wheels outside of motor plan are insane. A Focus RS looks absolutely delicious, but the thought of owning anything that has “drift mode” electronics without a motor plan is terrifying.
You aren’t much better off buying with motor plan either, because the depreciation drop-off when it expires is just as bad as the cash cost of maintenance. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It’s no wonder that the petrolhead kids are now the odd ones out at school. They hang out together to take advantage of strength in numbers, like a herd of frightened wildebeest during a migration. Gone are the days of fights breaking out over Ford vs. VW or MG. Those who even know what an MG is must put aside their differences and stick together.
The situation is probably even worse in private schools. I can imagine a tragic reality where your knowledge of organic carrots and the health benefits of kale is now far more appealing to the opposite sex than your knowledge of racetracks.
This is all terribly depressing, but there is a silver lining.
If you dedicate yourself to the cause and make it your mission to become knowledgeable on classics and modern classics, you can pick up terrific cars for less than the price of a new Golf. You’ll be recognized on the road as a connoisseur, rather than as someone who probably has too much debt.
My current garage includes my daily Alfa 145 QV and my Honda S2000 for top-down bliss around Cape Town. On the classic side, my absolute pride and joy is a 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior 1300 – the much-loved “stepnose” shape.
The Alfa 145 literally costs less to buy than the VAT you would be paying on a new Polo. The Honda is a modern classic icon of note, but is affordable to run because it is really just a simple sportscar with an engine recognized as an engineering masterpiece.
The GT Junior is an important reminder that it is possible to enjoy your intelligent financial decisions on mountain passes, rather than having them simply reflect on an investment account statement in your inbox.
Three excellent cars with oodles of street cred, all for a true total cost of ownership that would embarrass any GTI owner.
It’s becoming tougher and tougher to be a petrolhead in the modern world, but if we stay true to ourselves and keep the important cars going, then all will be ok.
Like with all things in life, the current obsession with battery powered cars is probably not reflective of the extent to which they will take over. They have a place, but so do properly efficient petrol cars. Let’s just hope that manufacturers don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater while Greta makes them panic.
In the meantime, someone needs to tell that young Swede that trucks are a far greater problem for the environment than sportscars. Focus on the commercial stuff and let the frightened group of wildebeest continue to have fun. Really, we aren’t hurting anyone.