By: Dave Abrahams
Cape Town – In a sense, the Killarney Motor Show could only have happened in the Mother City, not least because it was held outdoors, in the car parks and pits, and along the two long straights of the Cape’s iconic circuit, but also because of its delightful, slightly parochial air of informality.
Make no mistake, the show was run with commendable professionalism, the organisation at the gates was slick and efficient, and the entertainment was world class. But there were no giant, floodlit halls with new models gleaming behind velvet ropes on multilevel displays.
The new cars were lined up along the main straight, banners bravely flying in the light south-easter that kept the day from being uncomfortably warm, salesmen bravely smiling as sticky-fingered kids climbed in and out of their shiny demo models and their fathers asked the usual inane questions.
Most of the major manufacturers were there, offering test drives around the one-kilometre section of the circuit known as the ‘Half Main’, albeit at very sedate speeds.
But that didn’t deter the punters, who lined up to take their turn at the wheel of a selection of Audis, the full range of Jaguars, including the F-Pace SUV, which looks a lot bigger in the metal than it does in the pictures, the strikingly pretty fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 (2016 World Car of the Year) and a very popular line-up of Fords (the Ford guys actually had to go and fetch another Mustang, such was the demand!) among a host of other new models.
Everywhere else there were more cars, from the brand new Aston Martin DB11 and McLaren 650S to a 1902 Wolseley and a 1901 Benz, both in perfect running condition. Pit lane was awash with American muscle, including a large proportion of customised 1950s and ‘60s pickups - an increasingly popular genre as the values of Mustangs, Camaros, Fairlanes and Camaros continue to soar.
The Jaguar Club boma housed a superb display of big cats, including an original 1936 SS100 – the first car to bear the Jaguar name – a selection of 1960s sedans and, of course, a couple of E-Types, once described by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful car in the world.
There were more Borgwards than you would believe were still running in South Africa, Mercedes-Benzes covering almost 80 years - from 1937 to 2016 - a pantry-full of Jelly Moulds (the affectionate nickname for the blobby but beloved Morris Minor, predecessor to the Mini) a handful of superb Triumphs from the TR4 to the TR7, and a magnificent line-up of Alfa Romeos from the Giulia and Spider of the 1960s to the almost insectile 2016 4C.
The pits and their paddock were given over to the two-wheelers, with new models on show from Triumph, Kawasaki, Indian (reborn in 2011 as part of the Polaris group) and Royal Enfield, as well as wildly different customs from Wrench Monkey and Cave Kustoms, among others.
Fearsome Kawasaki Stroker
But the biggest single display was that of the Two-Stroke Smokers - mostly Yamahas, with a single Aprilia RS250 race bike, a few vintage Suzukis, and Casey Wolters’ fearsome Kawasaki 500cc three-cylinder racer, freshly restored to impressive standards.
Right on the end of a row of RD350s, RZ350 and two RZ500’s, however, was a late-model Yamaha TZ750 racer – essentially two TZ350 Grand Prix twins on a common crankcase. Magnificently restored, it was a superb example of the machine that dominated motorcycle racing in the United States for 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s because Yamaha US had sold so many of them to privateer racers that it qualified as a production bike!
Headlining the entertainment was the amazing motorcycle stunting of the Le Riche brothers, Brent and Bruce. With a total of 14 South African trials titles between them, their balance and control on the bikes was astonishing as they jumped over ramps and each other, pulled seemingly endless wheelies and stoppies, stood still for what seemed like minutes at a time with out falling over, climbed steep ramps to a platform three stories high and finally, leapt the bike straight up a 3.5-metre vertical wall!
A rather special car
But perhaps the machine that best summed up the friendly, relaxed spirit of the Killarney Motor Show was a rather special car. Midway through the morning a casually dressed thirtysomething couple arrived in an early 1970s Bentley T1 sedan, which was generally in very good condition for its age but had clearly been left standing in the rain and then driven to Killarney without being cleaned.
As they strolled away to enjoy the show I couldn’t help thinking that they had the right idea – classic cars (and motorcycles) are meant to be driven, to be enjoyed, rather than kept behind closed garage doors, and the Killarney Motor Show – quirky, a little dusty, a garden party for petrolheads and a celebration of motoring in all its forms, expressed exactly that attitude. Dirty as it was, the Bentley fitted right in.