In praise of the automobile

In praise of the automobile

A car is something that we take for granted today, and many people think that Henry Ford invented the first car. The Germans claim that Benz, Daimler and Maybach must take credit for the honour. Henry Ford had built a quadricycle  The first successful gas-powered car with a 4-horsepower, two-stroke motor was built by the Duryea brothers at their American car manufacturing company.

 There have been many amazing cars, and two icons, in my opinion, both started as being used by the military, the Jeep and the Gelandewagen. They have changed a lot but remain iconic vehicles.

In the South African market, 4x4s were mainly used for commercial and military applications and a few intrepid folk took off across borders in 110 Defender Land Rovers and the recreational boom started. People wanted to travel and see things especially wildlife both locally and across borders. It was no longer simply about your annual seaside jaunt but it was taking your family to different places, camping and living in the bush.

The demand for four-seater double-cabs and station wagons grew and manufacturers were quick to import production prototypes and begin the process of homologation for South African conditions while they started tooling for manufacturing at the plants. The company I worked for established a relationship with a KZN-based manufacturing facility that built double cabs and station wagons from single cab vehicles bonding a fibreglass rear to the front of the vehicle after having removed the load box and rear body. We had a very popular vehicle while we went through the whole process.

Trim was rudimentary my first vehicle had vinyl flooring, research showed that customers wanted a greater degree of luxury and manufacturers developed lineups to cater to demand and budget. Remember affordability is key as is the lifetime value of the vehicle. The race was on between the marques and one could see some dominance which periodically shifted in the double-cab sector. 

This brought about a burgeoning tyre and accessory market with all the tyre manufacturers starting to bring in dedicated off-road tyres. Many chains of accessory fitment centres sprung up.

This was all designed to assist the concept of travel. Training schools started and tour operators began overlanding. Some folks tried to implement a process of regulation but eventually, the Department of the Environment opted for self-regulation as most of the “sensitive areas” were covered by bodies such as SANparks.

Travel and 4×4 magazines sprung up offering good information, tips and reviews of destinations. Travellers could plan and book trips via many of these magazines as well as look through the sections dedicated to trails around the country. This spurned a whole new style of travel as many folk were primarily interested in the short trails ( weekend ) and day trails, this was due to work pressures.

The game has changed somewhat and fitment centres are feeling the pinch, big fitment manufacturers are dealing directly with OEMs to get product approval. Much of the product is imported from Australia where it has been tested and approved.

However what was interesting to me was the discussions I had with two of my favourite tour operators, there is no longer a desire to tackle the tough obstacles known as “man or mouse”, they noted a desire just to be in the bush and experience the outdoors. That is not to say that they don’t have to get through deep sand, cross stretches of water and negotiate the odd ascent, descent or donga. But it’s all in a highly controlled fashion. And they get to see the wonders of Africa at the same time. This creates an experience for many of them in their evenings around the campfire.

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