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Classics line up for south africa’s first Cape 1000 rally

WORDS & Photography: hannes oosthuizen

Participation in so-called ‘tributes’ to historic races such as the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, Carrera Panamericana and Peking to Paris rank high on the bucket list of most petrolheads. For South Africans, however, the vast distance from these event locations means that particular dream box will likely remain unticked.

Thankfully, a gentleman named Ross Crichton came up with the idea of a South African equivalent, and so it came to be that around 70 local classic and exotic car enthusiasts had the opportunity to live out their fantasies with the running of the first-ever Cape 1000, which took place in March 2022 on the scenic roads around Cape Town.

Designed to pay tribute to the world’s greatest classic car rallies, The Cape 1000 is run in four classes: Tribute (1927-1957), Classic (Pre-1977), Modern Classic (1977-1996) and Sports Car (1997-2022). As the event’s name suggests, the route stretches 1000 miles (1600km) over the course of four days. Sixty percent of the distance consists of ‘grand touring’ and the remaining 40 percent comprises regularity stages, during which navigators and drivers have to work closely together and follow the stage’s timing and speed instructions to achieve success and, hopefully, score some points. So, while not a race, it is still a competition – one that is won through consistency, reliability and accuracy.

As a novice to the regularity rally scene, I was certainly dumped into the deep end when, by virtue of being in the employ of, a sponsor of the event, I was handed a Tribute class 1957 Austin-Healey 100/6 to compete in as navigator. My driver Greg Marucchi, a well known petrolhead through his involvement in Concours South Africa, is used to relatively modern Ferraris, not old-school British roadsters, and so we set off with the odds firmly stacked against us. Nevertheless, we looked forward to the multi-day adventure.

And what a sight it was when the nearly 40 classic and exotic cars descended on Cape Town’s popular V&A Waterfront for the start. After all, a priceless Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster mixing it with a stunning Porsche 550 Spyder recreation and a modern-day McLaren 720S certainly made for pretty pictures for the hundreds of smartphone-toting onlookers.

The Tribute class cars left first, and as our start approached I realised that we were hopelessly ill-equipped to compete in this event… The Healey’s speedo was working (in mph) but the odo couldn’t be reset, and the fuel gauge was faulty! The major problem, however, was that the routebook was marked in kilometres. So, I quickly downloaded a useful app to replace the British icon’s useless-to-us instruments in the hope of achieving some degree of competitiveness.

The route started from the Waterfront and wound its way around the Peninsula, taking in the spectacular Chapman’s Peak Drive, before heading for Gordon’s Bay and the stunning Clarence Drive along the coast. Next to the ocean, where the air was cool, it was sheer driving bliss, the Healey impressing us with its torquey power delivery and handling.

A temporary café was set up on Clarence Drive to give participants the chance to stretch their legs and let engines cool down, because temperatures were rising.

At this point Greg and I realised we faced another rather significant problem. We would have to complete the event without a roof and with no side windows. And although March is at the tail end of our summer, the predicted maximum temperature for the duration of the event was between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius.

As we headed inland and started climbing hills, the higher ambient temperatures, coupled with the heat from the Healey’s engine, made driver and navigator alike sweat… a lot. Twice it looked like the Healey would overheat, but in both instances Greg managed to get the temperatures back under control.

The lunch stop at the Elgin Railway Market included a short gymkhana challenge, before the convoy moved back towards Theewaterskloof Dam for more stunning scenery. The last rest stop of Day 1 was at the beautiful Benguela Cove Lagoon in Hermanus.

On the second day we headed inland from Hermanus to small towns such as Riviersonderend and Caledon, before we swung east towards Swellendam and the spectacular Tradouw Pass. The sound of the screaming V8, V10 and V12 engines from various Ferraris and Lamborghinis bouncing off the cliff faces was pure music for the participants making use of the rest stop halfway up the pass.

On the other side of the pass the welcome cloud cover evaporated and the temperatures quickly rose. The Healey started coughing and we simply could not maintain the required average speeds in the timed regularity stage. Near Stettyn Wine Farm, the Healey finally gave up, and ground to a halt, signalling an end to our challenge in the competition… or so we thought.

Help soon arrived, and we were towed to Kelkiewyn, where the Healey’s owner replaced the car’s battery and soon sent us on our way again. Still, the temperatures kept rising, and when we reached the iconic Franschhoek Pass our dream of a fun drive was soon spoiled by the stark reality that our Healey was still suffering. We barely made the summit, the British sportster sputtering and smoking, but we crested and then managed to coast our way down into town and to the Franschhoek Motor Museum to end the day, sunburnt and exhausted.

The next morning I woke up to the news that the Healey had broken down again when it was taken for a test drive by its owner the previous evening, and had since been sent to Cape Town for repairs. While the rest of the participants cruised to the Killarney racing circuit in their steeds, I travelled to the track by luxury minibus, thinking our race was over.

But no… Upon arrival at Killarney, the little red devil was already in the queue to go onto the track – the problem turned out to be a faulty distributor. The track session was not a competitive one, but rather an opportunity for owners to experience their cars on the racing circuit – for some of them it was a first.

It was also somewhat bizarre to see a ’67 Citroën DS gliding down the main straight, driver Ciro de Siena’s elbow casually resting on the window frame, in hot pursuit of a 1969 Porsche 911S driven by Michelle Hambly-Grobler.

We also ventured out, but the Healey’s overheating issue returned after two laps and so we decided to play it safe and return to the pits. After all, day three’s total distance was nearly 500km.

After the racing circuit, we headed to the smaller towns in the Swartland district, and spotted ominous-looking clouds in the distance. When the rain arrived, it came down hard and relentlessly. Without a roof or side windows, and with wipers that intermittently cut out, the Healey’s cabin started resembling a slowly filling bathtub. Greg and I were soaked. Then, about 300km into our journey we ground to a spluttering halt on a hill, in pouring rain – out of fuel (that faulty gauge!). Thankfully, The Cape 1000’s trusty mechanic Wayne was nearby, and he soon got us going again. A similar fate befell one of the other Tribute-class cars, a beautiful red MGA. We also noticed a green Triumph TR3 stuck next to the road, its driver fiddling under the hood…

Closer to our final destination of the day, St Helena Bay, the clouds lifted and we got some sunshine, allowing our clothes to dry out a little before arrival at the overnight stop at Shelley Point.

After a good night’s rest, the Cape 1000 participants were eager to get going. It was the last opportunity to score valuable points and (hopefully) emerge at the top of the points tables. I didn’t think we had much of a chance. Our Healey was limping. It had developed the trait of overheating at constant speeds above 100kph, and would no longer start without a push. Nevertheless, we set off determined to do better.

The final day’s route would cover a distance of 323km, taking us inland to the Swartland towns of Moorreesburg and then Wellington, before heading back towards Cape Town and the Waterfront for the finish. Nearing the end, some of the cars started showing signs of fatigue. The gorgeous 300SL Roadster’s clutch packed up. The stunning Jaguar XK150 suffered a steering failure, and one of the Lamborghini Huracans had a punctured radiator.

As we headed in convoy into the city, it was a joy to see the excitement and happiness that these cars brought to other travellers. And when we arrived at the Silo Hotel the reception was fantastic, with a huge crowd descending on the cars for photo opportunities. Participants were sunburnt and fatigued, but also almost delirious with joy and the built-up adrenaline from the past few days.

Soon it was time for the prize giving, and boy were there some surprises – none more so than when myself and Greg were announced as overall winners of the Tribute class with our Austin-Healey, after clocking a fourth overall on the day.

More good news for team followed when Ciro de Siena and Duwyne Aspeling scooped Classic class honours in my own Citroën DS19. The Goddess ran faultlessly, beating such cars as a Ferrari Daytona, Porsche 911S, Ford Mustang and Mercedes-Benz ‘Pagoda’ SL.

The Modern Classic category was won by Stuart Kidgell and Dawie de Villiers in their race-ready Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0 (a legendary South African racing special). Kidgell and De Villiers also took the overall honours, while Yanni ‘Hollywood’ took the class honours in the Sports Car category driving a Lamborghini Murcielago.

Cape 1000 founder Crichton is justifiably pleased with how the event was run. “It still needs to sink in,” he says. “I’ve done many motoring events before, but I have never experienced such a positive response, from the participants and public alike, as I did with The Cape 1000.”

Given the sheer beauty of the imagery captured during the course of the event, The Cape 1000 is poised to become a highlight of South Africa’s annual automotive calendar, and interest has already been expressed by international petrolheads. Roll on Cape 1000 2023 – this time with a roof!

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