Cape Town - Hennie Bosman is not exactly the kind of guy on whose back you should jump in a dark parking lot. For one thing, you’d have to be a pretty good jumper because he is rather tall and, for another, it would be a short cut to letting your family get their grubby little paws on your death benefits.
It is not that Bosman is trying to be a tough guy. The muscled giant with the gnarly fists and intense, hawkish eyes has merely spent a lifetime being as professional as he could be in a lifelong passion - the knockdown, full contact sport of Kyokushin Karate.
And that’s what Bosman’s name will always be associated with. Together with another Kyokushin legend, Kenny Uytenbogaardt, Bosman has been instrumental in putting this hard fighting style on the map in South Africa.
On the way, he has also become a successful businessman, ensuring the survival of his Welgemoed dojo through some of this country’s most turbulent economic times.
But few people realise that the soft-spoken seventh dan black belt has another passion, one where he exchanges the traditional white karate suit for a fire-resistant overall and gloves, flat-soled boots and crash helmet.
Hennie Bosman loves to race.
As testimony to this unexpected diversion, there is a 1991 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 in a state of total modification in the Harp Motorsport wokshop at Killarney race track, where expert race-car builder Steve Humble has taken on the project.
SECOND TIME AROUND
It is a car with which Bosman has had a long association. He bought it in 1997 and drove it as a road car until 2007, when he sold it to a Gauteng businessman. Three years later, his son saw it advertised and Bosman decided to buy it back - this time to use it as a race car.
In 2012, he raced it in the Fine Cars category for well-preserved older model cars. But the Corvette proved too fast for the category and did lap times that were quicker than the 1m30s cut-off.
The next year he lightened the car sufficiently to get it down to 1m25s and entered the Sports and GT formula - only to get blown away by the dominant Porsches.
“But I wanted to race a Corvette,” Bosman insisted. “I love Corvettes. I’ve had five over the years, it is my car.
“If you have the power, the handling and the low weight, you can win a race and that’s what I aim to do. It should be possible for the Corvette to beat the Porsches if you prepare it right.”
Racing, however, is by no means a new gig for the Bosman family.
“In the early 1980s, I first raced a Ford Capri V6 in Clubmans and then another in Modifieds,” he said. “In the 1990s, I raced a Chevrolet Kommando and a Porsche RSK. This is in my blood.”
Bosman bought his first Corvette in the 1980s. The one he thought the prettiest was a 1971 convertible.
“But the convertible was slow. You couldn’t drive it fast, so I sold it, because I wanted to drive fast,” he reminisced.
Bosman especially liked the 280kW ZR1 because of its sleek and muscular design. It was the fastest Corvette built before 2000 and a very special car of which few were produced.
5.9-LITRE NASCAR POWER
Now, it’s about to become a race car with a monstrous 5.9-litre Chevrolet V8 crate engine, specially built to produce near 600kW. The engine, although a Chevy unit, was built by Ford specialist Roush Performance in the United States for use in Nascar racing. It is a 2010 engine, which means it comes with a carburettor rather than electronic fuel injection.
The engine is matched to a four-speed Jericho competition gearbox, rather than the original six-speed transmission that would have been superfluous. The car’s brakes have also been seriously updated to ensure it can cope with late braking in corners.
Humble has already solved quite a few problems for Bosman on the car. For one thing, the engine has been lowered and shifted back in the chassis to improve the weight distribution between front and rear axles. The Roush engine is a thin-block design and could not be mounted on conventional engine mounts, so mounting plates have been made.
Numerous body parts and interior fittings were removed to lighten the car and a new glass-fibre bonnet has been made to further reduce weight. The unnecessary parts have been sold to a ZR1 owner in Gauteng who had two cars and wanted spare parts.
“For me, it is worthwhile doing this as a project. I think this car will be fast, but, of course, horsepower is no guarantee, so we will have to build it properly and test it on the track.
“To buy a new car built for racing is very expensive and you cannot spread the costs over four years, as I have. I am really looking forward to getting this car on the track.”