Cape Town – The annual Killarney Motor Show is more than a showcase for new cars and motorcycles, although it fulfills that function superbly by bringing together almost all the locally available brands for the ultimate in comparative shopping, including test drives on a section of the circuit.
There will also be non-stop entertainment at the 2017 edition, from 10am until 5pm on Sunday 15 October, ranging from monster trucks crushing cars (show me a little boy aged anywhere from seven to 70 who can resist that!) to world-class stunt riding by the Le Riche brothers and radio-controlled miniature jet fighters.
But for many enthusiasts the stars of the show are the classics, bringing to life a motoring heritage of more than a century (the oldest running vehicle in South Africa in a 1901 Ideal Benz, and it’ll be there) and offering a fascinating glimpse of how our grandparents - and their grandparents! – got from A to B before Uber.
The classics display at Killarney isn’t just for anoraks and petrolheads; it’s easier for today’s youngsters to understand why cars are the way they are if you can show then - in real life, rather than on a tablet - just how small an Austin 7 was, or how big a ’57 Chevy.
There are two kinds of classics. Some – a very special few – have been cherished since the day they were built, driven with care (not necessarily slowly!) and painstakingly maintained. Their paint may not be as shiny as that of a restored wreck, the leather of their seats not as sleek, but it is the original, sprayed and stitched by the maker. The older the vehicle, the more valuable that is.
It’s worth noting that such cars are always in regular use. No matter how carefully stored, conserved or displayed, a vehicle that isn’t run on a regular basis will eventually deteriorate to the point where it is not repairable, and will become the subject of a restoration.
Most of the classic vehicles that will be on display at Killarney have been restored to a greater or lesser extent. Some, bought or inherited from a previous owner in running condition, have needed no more than a respray, rust removal and meticulous servicing to put them back on the road, as good as new. Others, however, rescued from scrapyards or farmyards, have been rebuilt from the ground up.
Such restorations are enormously time-consuming, requiring vast amounts of physical effort, perseverance and ingenuity, especially when restoring vehicles for which parts are no longer available. In the case of rare or unusual models – or those with a special meaning for the owner - it’s worth it, however, although to pay a professional to do it would be prohibitively expensive, so usually the owner winds up doing it himself.
A case in point is the 1981 Laverda Jota motorcycle belonging to IOL Motoring reporter Dave Abrahams; he bought this Italian exotic in as-new condition in 1984, on the strength of its reputation for performance and durability, and used it as daily transport until July 1997, when he crashed it in the rain on the way to work, destroying the ignition system, timing cover, clutch cover and clutch master cylinder and doing a lot of cosmetic damage.
At the time it was beyond his means to repair it so he parked it under a blanket in his garage, for almost a decade. The rebuild finally began in January 2006 with a total strip-down; the frame was resprayed and the engine rebuilt, as and when funds allowed, by Stretch Henrick of Eurobike, using a spare clutch casing which had been intended for an aborted race-bike project. The cylinder head was modified to run on unleaded petrol, the ignition system replaced with an aftermarket upgrade and a new timing cover machined on a lathe from a piece of scrap aluminium.
The clutch master cylinder was built up with aluminium welding and reshaped to its original dimensions by hand with files, abrasive strip and even an oilstone, before being polished and refinished with black ceramic coating, while a new gear linkage was fashioned from a piece of scrap burglar-bar material using a drill, a hammer, files, sandpaper and a lot of sweat and swearing.
The body parts were repaired and resprayed by a professional (expensive but worth it), a new screen sourced from the leftover stock of a former Laverda dealer and a reproduction seat cover made specifically for this machine by an expert in Australia.
All the once-shiny aluminium engine and carburettor covers were gently flatted with abrasive strip to remove nearly four decades of weathering, and polished by hand to a soft glow, as were the stainless-steel exhaust system and mudguards - which were lot more work because stainless steel is much harder than aluminium.
Finally, during an intense final effort of little more than a week, the Laverda was assembled just in time to make its first public appearance at Killarney this weekend. The restoration has taken 11 years of evenings and weekends and saving for essential parts; you can see for yourself whether the result is worth it at the Killarney motor show on Sunday.