Stepping into a white Toyota Etios isn’t exactly how I imagined my South African auto adventure to start, but desperate times call for desperate measures. My contact on the ground - from local car culture outfit SA Torque - has been in touch, and the news isn’t good: the ‘Park-Off’ I want to swing by at Sea Point, an affluent, hotel-festooned suburb of Cape Town, has caught the attention of the local authorities. And they really aren’t happy about the dozens of car enthusiasts that have just descended upon the seafront.
I haven’t been able to sort out any other form of transport, so if I’m to get there before the whole thing is shut down, it’s got to be an Uber. Just as I jump in, a curious convoy including a BMW M6, VW Golf GTI, a heavily-modified E30 BMW 3-series and an FN2 Honda Civic Type R rolls by my hotel. Are they on their way to Sea Point, perhaps?
My Uber driver Isgak is amused by the display, commenting that they’re probably going to head along the sea front to show off their rides. After telling him why I’m heading to Sea Point, he pledges to beat them via a short-cut. He’s pretty attached to his plucky Toyota, occasionally dipping the clutch and revving out the little petrol engine. “Not bad for a 1.5!” He says gleefully.
When I arrive, the problem becomes clear: I see three owners getting a telling off from the police, and another having just received a ticket. They’re getting written up for anything from illegal parking to modifications the cops have taken umbrage to. One E30 BMW driver has - I’m told - been slapped with a fine running into thousands of Rand. The people I speak to aren’t happy with their relationship with the police, and the word “hassled” comes up more than once.
Despite the law enforcement intervention, the meet is still in full swing. And the variety of cars is incredible - there are modified Honda S2000s, a smattering of Subaru Imprezas and many, many VW Golfs.
Mk5 and 6 versions seem popular, but it’s the older models that dominate. Some are ‘original’ Golfs, while others are of the ‘Citi Golf’ variety - a South African-manufactured version of the Mk1 that was built right up until 2009. Both here and city-wide, they’re everywhere. If only it were feasible to bring one home…
My favourite part? That’d be the humbler stuff. How can you not find something like a slammed Nissan Micra or a Hyundai i10 with aftermarket wheels and stretched tyres endearing? I’ve also never seen a meet where so many owners have brought their kids along - most are sure to be petrolheads of the future.
The meet starts to wind down as owners depart in little groups in search of a Sunday evening bite to eat. Since it’s a clear, still and exceptionally warm evening, ending the day part-way up the imposing Table Mountain and enjoying the jaw-dropping views over Cape Town simply has to happen. And that means another Uber.
Walking part-way up Table Mountain is quickly scrapped though, as upon exiting nondescript white Toyota number two, I spot a gorgeous, tastefully-modified Datsun 510 pickup. I follow it on foot, soon discovering I’d inadvertently chosen a drop-off point right at another car meet.
This time, it’s a gathering of the All About Datsun group. And good God, what a tantalising display of JDM loveliness is laid before me. The main theme here is Bluebirds - 510s, 810s, a particularly delicious 610 SSS (Super Sports Sedan); they’re all here.
While I lucked out with the location, my timing is less than ideal - the event is already wrapping up. Then again, this does give me the chance to witness some memorable exits - the 510 pickup that led us here does an outrageous one-tyre fire burnout out of the car park, while the owner of a newer U11-generation Bluebird happily lights up his front tyres all the way up the hill. Soon after, a sizeable Datsun-themed traffic jam forms up on the road leading away from table mountain. It’s quite a sight.
Even away from these car meets, there’s a palpable sense that Cape Town is a city full of petrolheads - you can’t walk around the place for more than a few minutes without spotting someone you just know is a car guy or car girl.
The only trouble is, that makes me realise I’ve barely scratched the surface…