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Road-tripping: Knysna’s classic and vintage car economy

Tuesday, 16 August 2016 06:34 Written by  Martin Hatchual
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Road-tripping: Knysna’s classic and vintage car economy Clem Onojeghuo via unsplash.com

 I was driving out one day

In my swift de Dion Bouton.

Collided with some trippers,

Squashed them out as flat as kippers,

Left them ‘aussi mort que mouton.’

What a nuisance trippers are,

I must now repaint my car.

(Anonymous) From an early 20th Century edition of Punch magazine. ‘Aussi mort que mouton’ = as dead as mutton.

Life didn’t always used to be so frenetic. In the days before the invention of the highway and the autobahn - in the days before the invention of electronic everything! - life was somehow more of a breeze (especially if the roof was down), and driving out in your swift de Dion Bouton was an official adventure.

Not so now, though. At least, not in most parts of the world - except in Knysna. Because with wonderful roads and even more wonderful scenery, Knysna is still the driving heaven it’s always been - especially for people who love their classic and vintage de Dions. And their Jaguars, of course. And almost any classic or vintage model car that you can dream of.

He’s far too modest to let you say this, but there’s no doubt that Norman Frost (of Frost Brothers Classic & Vintage Cars) set the trend in Knysna about twenty years ago when he began selling “just a few vintage models on consignment” out of his second-hand dealership in Main Road.

“I found that interest was growing, and eventually I began to specialise - but I wasn’t the only one; the Garden Route Motor Club was already well established by the time I got started, and people like Sheridan Renfield of Sedgefield Classic Cars also came along and helped to establish the area’s reputation as a resource for classic and vintage cars,” he said.

After he was forced to vacate his premises in Main Street, though, Frost Brothers did become the first classic car business in Knysna’s Uil Street - which would later become known as Gasoline Alley when Ron Hollis opened Bodge Engineering across the road from him, and Brian Bruce took over two of the factories in the cul-de-sac for his Parnell Bruce Collection (a private museum of cars and memorabilia).

LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE

Somehow, Norman found, large numbers of like-minded people were being attracted to the town, and an entire economy began to grow around classic and vintage cars.

“Engineers like Ron, who specialises in service and restoration mainly of English sports cars of the 60s, and people like Pat Clough, who’s restored many of my own cars, and who represents a dying breed of real artisans,” said Norman.

And they’re joined by many, many others: in fact, a quick desktop survey conducted early in April revealed a list of more than thirty different businesses and enthusiasts who work almost exclusively on old model cars - or who stock parts for them. These include business you might not normally associate with the oldies - like Stander Hydraulics, which stocks Imperial-size nuts, bolts, and hydraulic fittings, and Silverton Radiators, which stocks radiator cores for many of the MGs and other classics that you see so often these days on Knysna’s roads.

People like Ricky Cooper of Classic Car Storage who specialises in garaging old cars. Like Ray Mackey of Classic Dash Automotive Woodwork, who builds ash framing, dashboards, and door caps, and who repairs veneers and re-finishes existing woodwork. Keith Burton who knows everything about spark plugs and carburetors. Gavin Venter of Venter Engineering who specialises in restoring old motor bikes. Adrian Contē, who recreates plastic mouldings and engine mountings out of his workshop at Silverton Radiators.

But it wasn’t only Norman who’d noticed the changes. As Greg Vogt, CEO of the town’s destination management and marketing organisation, Knysna & Partners, said, “We’ve identified the classic car economy as a significant contributor to the entire economy of Knysna and Sedgefield.

“It’s clear that it brings both direct and indirect benefits - with indirect benefits coming through tourism, for example, with more and more enthusiasts visiting individually or as members of special interest groups, and buyers or potential buyers also purchasing real estate in Knysna.”

DRIVING TOGETHER

Three cheers for the Midget!

It’s pressed out of tin,

With a hole at the top

For the oil to go in.

And cracks underneath

For the oil to fall out.

Three cheers for the Midget,

Three cheers and a shout!

 

If Gryf Ketcherside’s ode to his MG Midget pretty much sums up the joy of keeping old cars on the road (and it is a joy, right?), then the sheer numbers of people who love getting together at events like the Knysna Old Car Show, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, and the regular meetings of Knysna’s MG Club are testament to Knysna’s position as *the* classic and vintage vehicle destination.

“It’s almost incredible that our MG Club, for instance, has more than 100 members and more than 160 old MGs; that people have started visiting us just to see the collections and the workshops; and that it’s often possible to finish a complete restoration without once needing to get any of the work done in any of the big cities,” said Norman.

But is it?

In a town filled with men like him - and women like his wife, Jennie (who knows everything you need to know about importing and exporting classic and vintage vehicles) - and where driving is more than just a daily grind, it was almost inevitable.

Header image: Clem Onojeghuo via unsplash.com

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