Cars in Southern Africa,a look back(Part 1)
During the early years of post colonial Southern Rhodesia(Zimbabwe), the influence of British Leyland was not just evident, it was inordinate,hordes of Land Rovers(my uncle had a Defender 90 ,government issue),the occasional Chicane, Mini, Morris Minor,Jaguar,Rover and a few Anglias etc .One could not be blamed for thinking that they where in a low income British town even the architecture complimented the setting. My recollection is at the tail end of this era but l do remember chasing after a Rover SD1 as it drove by, the resemblance to the Pontiac Trans Am in the original Knight Rider was uncanny to a 10 year old me.
The Ford Tribute on The Grand Tour brought back memories of the Cortina and the Sierra which are still frequenting the roads today ,the Ford V6 engine was especially popular.l had the chance to get behind the wheel of an mk4 Cortina recently, the V6 bellow enough to illicit disapproving glances from passersby wondering why l looked like a DC Universe villain with a psychotic grin on my face.
It seems laughable now that whoever was in charge of the Public Transport Regulatory Authority permitted the use of 1970 & 80s Peugeot 404 Station Wagons(known for their robustness) as commuter omnibuses though when you consider that this was a time when polygamy was fashionable its not unfathomable. Commuters had to sit parallel to each other in the rear quarter,like bags of maize one next to the other.It was a blatant invasion of personal space sacrificing comfort for profitability,sadly though such is still the plight of the commuter to this day in Southern Africa`s metropolises .
The reputation garnered by these vehicles earned them legendary status which translated into well deserved goodwill for Peugeot until they shot themselves in the foot as illustrated by the Top gear sketch of the executives meeting.When you consider what the manufacturer offered the market subsequent to those aforementioned models ,that episode has never been more pertinent,they really lost the plot.
The Citroen DS was also one to marvel at with its futuristic ,aerodynamic aesthetic and the then unheard of Hydro-pneumatic suspension .It looked like a hearse for the virtuous. l vaguely recall of a family in my neighborhood that owned two examples of the DS .It seems incomprehensible now how they maintained them both when you consider how arduous it is even today to source parts for exotics in Africa not to mention the cost. The same applies for the Renault 4. These where so commonplace that most were used as taxi cabs. Renault models from the 1960s to the 90s did represent a significant portion of vehicles on the road as well in that era, from the 4 to the 9 I dare say this could be attributed to the DIY nature of cars of that period,simple mechanical components ,no ECUs ,no OBD ports to plug into,if one understood the mechanics chances are they could diagnose and repair the vehicle.
It would be inexcusable not to acknowledge the Japanese influence on Southern African car culture. The Datsun 120i epitomized Japanese engineering, the legendary reliability, simple yet well thought out ergonomics. I remember though the old car smell wafting from the cloth seats, worn out to reveal the wires reminiscent of the mattresses of the period. The Mitsubishi Tredia had a high tech digital cluster that is hard to forget with its fancy colored arrows showing how the air moved around the cabin. As l grew older l became more acutely aware of Japanese grey imports filtering into the country. The fact that the Japs drove on the right and used cars were cheaper created a demand that still exists to this day.Also Southern African Governments with the exception of South Africa benefit from the Import tariffs levied on these vehicles hence no incentive to encourage local production.The favorable pricing somehow doesn't extend to marque brands .
A mate of my brother's had a 1984 Toyota Cressida 2.4GLE automatic which came with a digital speedo, it was a beast of a car that we loved dearly but he hardly used it, it wasn't exactly frugal. The Nissan Sunny HB11 was also a feature of the time, not as good as the Datsun but famed for its use in burglaries so much so that the locals referred to it as the House Breaking 11,with hindsight though it could have been the same vehicle used in multiple robberies .
Finally it would be inexcusable of me not to mention the Mazda 323 as well as the 626, cars with no appeal at all but still littered across the streets of Harare thanks to the local Willowvale plant that assembled kits shipped in from Japan. A whole host of other models came from the same plant, the B2200 pick up, T3500 truck just to name a few.
Part two focuses on the German influence as well as the continued presence of the Japanese as well as a few cameos.
Thanks for the read.