The Cars Of Our Youth

Warning: if you are not a car junkie this article is not for you – move on to something else. If you are a car junkie, enjoy!

The postwar years – and especially the 50s and early 60s – were probably the most exciting years ever for car lovers. American manufacturers slipped into the practice, for about 15 years, of bringing out new models every year, and the excitement that these new car releases generated (at least for car junkies) was amazing. And little old Dundee did not miss out on this excitement, because all the major American brands were available to purchase through dealers in Dundee.

Unlike today, in the 50s and early 60s the vehicles available to Dundonians were overwhelmingly American and British. In the late 50’s some German and other European cars made an appearance, and in the late 60s the early Japanese vehicles made an appearance too. As usual the recollections which follow are obscured by the mists of time, so my apologies for any faulty recollections (corrections and additions are also welcomed as usual).

Looking first at the American cars, Chevrolet was a very popular brand. The local dealership was Dundee Motors at 52 Gladstone Street – opposite the Dundee Club and next to the Mosque. The oldest Chevrolet car that I can remember is Cliff Horner’s Chevrolet coupe – complete with “dicky seat” that one climbed up little steps on the back fender to reach– which was about a 1937 model. Bert Clarke had a two-tone (yellow and black, I think) 1948 Chevrolet, and Arthur Wallace had a 1950 or 1951 model. Dawid Britz had a gunmetal grey 1954 Chevrolet as his NPA Traffic Police car. 1955 was a banner year for Chevrolet – Harry Page, manager of Dundee Motors must have made a good bonus that year. Among his customers for the revolutionary 1955 model were George Clark (who bought a two-tone – dark green roof and light green below – four door “Two Twenty” model for £1,080), Doug Smith and Ken Simpson (who bought two door “One Ten” models with “bakkies” in place of the regular boots), and Doug Wright, who bought a four door One-Ten model, but with a regular boot. Dave Fowler had a 1956 model – also a two tone, white and light blue, I think. Cliff Lauf bought one of the now classic 1957 Chevrolets – also two-tone light green below with a dark green roof. (Thus Dundee had one each of the trio of 1955 to 1957 models that are widely regarded as the most famous Chevy’s ever!) Danie Brink had a Chevy II from around the 1962 model year. And in 1965 Dan Goosen bought a Chevrolet Caprice. There were also a number of Chevrolet truck owners: Johnston and Keith had the 1948 three tonner that Posselt Lauwrens restored (see photo in the Photo Gallery) and one of the “smiley face” grille Chev trucks from the early 1950s. There were a number of Chevrolet half-ton pickup trucks too – John Sparks (or his father) had an early 1950s “smiley face” grille version on his farm on the Wasbank road, and Johnston and Keith had one of those too – how can one who knows it ever forget that dashboard, with its two circular dials for speedometer and all the other gauges respectively, and the washboard style chrome stripped centre section of the dashboard!. And Johnston & Keith also owned some later models such as the 1965 half ton pickup that transported many of Dundee’s swimmers to galas all around Northern Natal. At one time Johnston & Keith also had a circa 1958 Fargo pick up truck: Fargo was a Canadian version of the regular American Dodge pick up.

Ford cars and trucks were popular and abundant too – both the American and British Ford models. The local dealer was B. J. Motors, at 64A Gladstone Street across the road from the Methodist Church. The oldest Fords that I can recall were black Ford V8 sedans owned by Doug Smith’s mother and also Mrs. Effie (?) Smith of Craigie Burn, which were probably about 1946 and 1948 model years. Dennis Smith was a loyal Ford man – not surprisingly, since he was a part-owner of B.J. Motors. He had a dark green 1950 Ford V8 in which he could get to Durban in the in those days unimaginable time of less than four hours – quite a feat given that all of the road was then single lane, through all the small towns en route, and in places was very winding and narrow (e.g. the part that now forms part of the Midlands Meander, and the Old Main Road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban). Denis had a succession of Fords after that – I seem to recall a British Ford Zephyr in the early 50’s, then he took over his father Hamish’s light green 1957 Ford V8, and in about 1960 he acquired one of the early Ford Galaxy models. This was later followed by a 1965 Ford Galaxy. Donald McHardy also had a white Ford Galaxy – a 1965 model with a 6.4 litre engine and awe-inspiring acceleration. Roelf Verster had one of those models too. Jimmy Keith and Dr. Len Batchelor both had 1955 Ford V8s. And Dundee High School headmaster Mr. Burgher had a 1958 Ford V8 – as did Town Clerk Jimmy Adams (see photo in Photo Gallery). Bert Walters had a succession of Ford F150 pick ups – including a memorable 1954 model which was frequently used for delivering new bikes on Christmas eve!

Pontiac had some loyal supporters too. Len Batchelor had a white Pontiac from about 1949. And Mr. “Fatty” Alborough – the municipal swimming pool manager – had a brown Pontiac of about the same vintage. George Cook was one of the spate of Dundee buyers of the revolutionary 1955 American cars, which had the first “wrap around” windscreens – he bought a two-tone 1955 Pontiac – I seem to recall that it was cream with a dark red roof. He also bought a 1956 Pontiac the following year, but that did not herald a succession of annual Pontiac purchases! Reg Low was another Pontiac owner – he may have had a succession of them too, but the one I remember best is his 1957 Pontiac – it may have been a Bonneville.

Other American cars were seen on Dundee’s streets too. Donald McHardy had a 1954 Mercury. Vernon Whysall had a circa 1952 Studebaker. There was also a mid-50s black Packard and a black Chrysler 300 of about the same vintage owned by Messrs. Goudge and Ramsay – but I cannot now recall who owned what. Miss Reid, Principal of the Junior School, owned a circa 1948 Nash Ambassador. And Ken Simpson owned a Nash Rambler station wagon of about the 1954 model year. Mrs. Curtis of the Victoria Tea Room drove a Nash Metropolitan convertible of about 1954 vintage (this car was built in England using an Austin engine, so was not technically an American car). Sol Levinsohn had a circa 1962 Plymouth Valiant. Eric Bonsall had a 1959 Plymouth or DeSoto with huge tail fins, built in the peak of the tail fin era. There were also a few early 50s Hudson Hornets around, and even a Kaiser J Willys of the same vintage - Mr. Paijmans had the circa 1953 Willys Aero that appears in the photo gallery. There were also a few Willy’s jeeps – the classic World War 2 military versions. And in the 60s the South African Police drove mid 60s Studebaker Lark sedans as patrol cars. Also very prominent in the 50s were the large black Chrysler eight seater limousines (long wheel base vehicles with two folding seats in the huge space between the front and rear seats). Most were circa 1948 models used as taxis by an Indian taxi operator located on the right hand side of the Vryheid, road just past Talana Hill.

British Fords were popular too. Maureen Smith had a light blue Ford Cortina vintage about 1959, and Laurens Roos’ first car was a light blue circa 1965 Cortina GT – which he promptly lowered the suspension of and equipped with extra-wide tyres, in the style of the ultra cool young man’s cars of the day. Another “hot” Ford was the circa 1963 Anglia owned by one of the mechanics at B.J. Motors – that too had a lowered suspension, fat tyres, a throaty exhaust, and a “souped up” engine. In stark contrast, Vicar Tomes had a light blue Ford Consul of about 1954 vintage. Eric Haines had a Zephyr of about 1955 vintage for a while, and George Clark had a light grey 1967 Zephyr Zodiac.

British Rootes Group and British Motor Corporation (“BMC”) vehicles were also fairly common. Jack McAlister had two or three long-nosed black Humber Super Snipes in succession, of a 1954 through about 1958 vintage. “Nommy” Nomico had a 1956 model (NDE 969), and Albert Roffey also had a “Snipe” which he purchased from Ewalt Hohls. John Davies had one or more black Humber Hawks of about the same model years. And Chris Morgan – father of Ruth and Anne – had an early 60s model large Humber saloon – one of the last before the company went out of business (a Humber Imperial?). George Clark had a British Racing Green 1959 Wolseley 6/90, and Ian Hay of Nqutu had the identical car, which was often seen on the streets of Dundee. “Doss” Coughlin had a Wolseley 4/40, also about a 1959 vintage, and Betty Ritson (as best as I can recall) had the MG or Riley version of that same car, in light green (or maybe that was her husband Cyril’s car). And I seem to recall that Hilda Gehren had one too. Betty Ritson also had a light green Riley or Wolseley 1500 a few years later. Hylton Smith had a black Wolseley 4/50 of about 1952 vintage (see photo of Johnston & Keith in Photo Gallery – it is parked outside). Daphne Clark had a 1966 white Wolseley 1100, which she owned until around 1988. Dr. Mervyn Lloyd had a late 50s Riley Pathfinder – as well as a Morris Minor, which I recall from his house calls in my youth. Pam Hindle also had a Morris Minor from around 1951, and Decima Greer (now Jones) acquired a Morris Minor as her first car around 1960. And Una Friis had one of the early Morris or Austin Minis – probably about a 1962 model (which may be the car in the background to Bernie Dinkelman’s Volvo in the Photo Gallery). Marge Whitfield had one of those Farina-bodied Austin Cambridge or Morris Oxford saloons from about 1959. One of the most distinctive cars of the era was the circa 1953 Austin A 30 of Ms. Joan Evans – the high school English teacher and Courier contributor – which she drove for over 30 years (see photo of the car, and Miss Evans, in the Photo Gallery). And Johnston & Keith had a circa 1954 Austin A 40 pick up truck which was a very cute little vehicle!

British cars other than Rootes and BMC products were seen on the roads too. Lovat Coughlan had at least one Rover 90, of about 1962 vintage. George Clark had a light grey 1966 also Rover 3000. Gwen Gregerson had a blue Jaguar 2.4 from the early 60s. And Cecil Durham had a Jaguar of about the same vintage. Hylton Smith had a circa 1967 white Jaguar 3.8, and Bunny Elliott also had a red one of about the same model year. Someone – it may have been Mrs. Curtis – had a Triumph Herald of about 1960 vintage. Michael Norton’s first car was a beige Vauxhall Velox of 1954 vintage. (see Photo Gallery) And I seem to recall that Hector “Father” Baxter had a Vauxhall Wyvern which must have been about a 1956 model. George Clark had a dark blue 1965 Vauxhall Cresta, so the brand was quite well represented. And there were a few Standard Vanguards around too.

German cars were also quite plentiful. Opels sold by Dundee Motors probably predominated – the earliest of which I can recall was the circa 1952 green two door Opel (was it a “Kadett?) of Mr. Holman that used to park outside Johnston & Keith every day. Then the Opel Kapitan came out in about 1955 and caused quite a stir when first put on display at Dundee Motors – I remember my Dad taking a special trip with me one evening after dinner to have a look at the new model in the showroom. Mr. Stein bought one of these cars. George Clark had a 1962 Opel Karavan, and Brian Fourie’s first car was an Opel Kadett of about 1965 vintage. Volkswagen “Beetles” were also frequently seen – Olive Lauf had a circa 1955 model. And Murray Clark’s first car was a Beetle of about 1960 vintage. Mercedes Benz vehicles were few and far between in the 50s, however. Dr. Heinz Stormans was one of the first to have a Mercedes in town – probably about a 1953 model. He also owned a succession of other Mercedes vehicles. And his brother in law Cliff Lauf had a circa 1959 model blue Mercedes E Class – the first model onto which Mercedes put very modest fins!. Other German cars on the streets included the DKW two stroke coupe, and the occasional Borgward of model years 1953 through to about 1960. The German Ford Taunus was quite popular too, for a while – Mr. Botha (father of Hans) had one. There were also a few Volvos around – mainly of the late 50’s PV 444 models with the “Hump” back: Keith Gordon, a Glencoe magistrate and Dundee Moth had one of those of about a 1958 vintage. And in around 1968 Laurens Roos owned a circa 1958 Volvo P122 coupe (which replaced the Cortina GT that he wrote off in an accident outside Addington Hospital in Durban, taking out about three parked ambulances in the process!).

French and Italian cars were quite plentiful too. Mary McAlister had a succession of Fiats – from Fiat Cubs from the early 50s to a couple of 1100 “Millecento” models from about 1955 and 1967. And Naas Ferreira’s first car was an Alfa Romeo saloon, circa 1963. Frank Pretorius had a classic black Citroen of about 1952 vintage. “Dodo” Shirley had a blue and white Renault Dauphine of about 1963 vintage. And Peugeot 403 and 404 vehicles were frequently seen too – Johnston & Keith had a 403 station wagon from around 1958 that was used as a general purpose vehicle for its executives for a number of years.

The first Japanese cars arrived on the scene in the mid 60s. The earliest that I specifically remember was the 1966/7 Toyopet (which is what Toyotas were called at first) Tiara pick up truck owned by Mr. Feeney and used by him in his electrical motor business of Birchson Electrical. After being repaired following a spectacular accident in which Mr. Feeney apparently managed to cause to truck to travel down the road on its side for some distance, I purchased that truck from his son Chuck in late 1967, R100!. It went on running until 1972, and retired after it served as the “getaway” car after our wedding reception. The truck is featured in the Photo Gallery. There were also a few Datsun Bluebird cars in the town of late 60s vintage, and a growing number of small Toyota/Toyopet and Datsun small pick up trucks. These small pick ups became very popular, especially after Ford and Chevrolet and Dodge stopped making the big American style pick ups in the late 60s.

“Sports cars,” i.e. convertibles and other two-seaters were not very common in South Africa in those days, and Dundee was no exception. But there were a few. Jack McAlister had an MG TC of about 1948 vintage. And in the 60s Louis Steenkamp had a couple of red TCs that he was restoring – one or other of which would be seen on the streets from time to time. Then there was a farmer who would show up at Harvey & Retallack on Gladstone Street in a TC – with a disgusting yellow two-tone paint added to the original red – and load a few bags of grain in the passenger seat before heading off in this much abused vehicle (heartbreaking to see!). Jimmy Marshall’s brother, Cecil, had a beautiful Jaguar XK 150 from the late 50s (see photo in the Photo Gallery). Someone – it may also have been him – had an Austin Healey of mid 50s vintage, which I seem to remember was written off in an accident, returning to life with an old fashioned MG or Morgan styled body in place of the Austin Healey body work. In the mid 60s John Dodd owned a circa 1952 model Triumph TR2.

Big trucks reflected a diverse group of manufacturers too. Mention has already been made of the Fords and Chevrolets. Other vehicles acquired by Johnston & Keith included a circa 1955 Leyland “Comet” 5 ton short bed tip truck, a circa 1963 British Ford Thames 5 ton short bed tip truck (which I took my driver’s test in in 1965!), a circa 1962 Bedford long bed three tonner, and a variety of GMC and Chevrolet pick ups (including a 1954 cream GMC pickup). And George Lavers owned the 1965 GMC pickup that is seen in the background of the photo in the Photo Gallery of the Teenagers hockey team. The South African railways used huge Diamond T trucks for their goods transportation on roads, and “Pullman” buses for road passenger transportation.

There were a few motorcycles and mopeds around too. The earliest that I can recall was the classic old World War 2 Harley Davidson military bike with sidecar, which was used by the detective branch of the South African Police in the early 50s. Cliff Horner had one or two classic English bikes - I seem to recall an AJS and a Matchless that he was working on, but I don’t recall him ever riding a bike! In the late 50s the "buzz bike" - a 50cc moped in the style of a proper motorcycle - made its appearance. The first buzz bike that I can recall was David “Moose” Marais’ bike that he started riding to the high school in about 1959. I believe that it was an Italian made “Mosquito” model – definitely something cool to own. Jonathan “Jasco” Dinkleman acquired a similar bike soon afterwards, as did Graham “Boogameena” Thomas and Peter Smith. Then around 1963 Rod Riseborough got one of the hot buzz bikes of the era – the 50cc Honda. Naas Ferreira had one too. (See Photo Gallery) This bike took the market by storm, and simply blew the Italian bikes away. Others had mopeds too. I recall that Graham “Boogameena” Thomas had a buzz bike, but I don’t recall the type. And Lin “Waddie” Gass had one of those more Vespa-like mopeds. There were a few big bikes too, but the only one that I recall was Jasco’s. I think it was a 500cc or 650cc BSA. Jasco and his bikes were notorious in the town. One night a bunch of us were outside the Martin’s home near the convent when we heard the “buzz” of a Mosquito buzz bike screaming up Victoria Street towards the aerodrome. Suddenly there was a thud, and no sound – as if the mosquito had been swatted! Jasco had hit a tree alongside Victoria Street! On another occasion – this time on a big bike – Jasco took out the light on the newly built traffic island outside Boswells on his way back from the Royal: as one of the town electricians he had erected that light that very day!

The town was so small that a good proportion of the car owners could be identified by their license plate numbers. Ken Simpson was NDE 1 until he gave up that number to Denis Smith when he left for Durban in the early 60s. Maureen Smith had NDE 3. And her father in law Hamish Smith had NDE 6 – a number that Denis Smith took over temporarily until he got NDE 1. I seem to recall that one of the Johnston & Keith trucks, and perhaps Jock Catterrall and Bert Walters, also had numbers in the first ten. Jimmy Douglas had NDE 13. George Clark had NDE 177 on a succession of vehicles. And for some reason I remember that Mrs. Whitfield’s car was NDE 117!

Finally, there was one person in Dundee who had still not converted to gasoline power. Old Louis Dekker Sr. was a common sight in his horse and two-wheeled cart, holding up traffic on the Victoria Street bridge, and adding a charming traditional touch to the main street by hitching his horse on one of the few hitching posts that still remained in the 50s. Steve Nomico recounts how Mr. Dekker – en route home from the Royal Hotel next door – used to stop at Bert Walters’ filling station and insist that his horse be given a drink of water while the types of the cart were being inflated!