50 years ago the Matador Motors Marauder hit the South African streets and race tracks. It was no Lotus wannabe, but rather a bullish ‘maak n plan’ solution to the need for an affordable performance option intent on promoting motorsport in South Africa. To celebrate, we recount the Maruader story with words from the late Peter Meffan, the designer and builder of this local machine.
My earliest memory of things mechanical was constructing a double-decker bus from a Meccano set. It had proper steering and rudimentary Ackermann geometry, and sparked an interest in suspension. That said, I’m not sure whether I was naturally interested in engineering or whether the Meccano set started it. What is for sure is that this started a car fascination at the age of eight and my soap-box cars featured advancements like padded seats, super wheel bearings, bank money trolley wheels and bodywork (made from flattened paraffin tins and much-prized flat pieces of aluminium) – no welding but lots of nuts scrounged from Dad’s garage and the neighbours’ fences.
In 1953 I saw my first motor race at Gunners Circle in Cape Town and remember clearly the wonderful cars, sights and the smell of smoking tyres and burnt Castrol R. Only later did I learn that nearly all the cars – except for an ERA and the likes of a few Rileys, MGs and Jaguars – were home-built specials. Well-known racing names such as Bill Jennings, Stanley Reed, Roy Humphreys, Ray Rheeder, Vic Proctor, Ray Locke, Jimmy de Villiers, Sam Tingle, Jimmy Shields, Ivan Brasler, Tony Kotze, John Love, Pat Brown, Helmut Menzler, Doug Serrurier, Tony Maggs and Edgar Hoal became my heroes.
At the age of 17 I started work on my first real car: a pre-war Austin 7 purchased as a rolling chassis. The engine was a genuine four-cylinder with no oil pump but little scoops that dipped into the sump and picked up oil for lubrication – the so-called ‘spit and hope’ system. This car was completed but never raced or registered as ‘greater’ ideas took hold of the imagination. It was 1960 and I pictured the Ferraris and Maseratis made famous at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio. On the local scene I lusted after the Maserati 200S raced by the Appel brothers of Johannesburg. I planned the next project – the goal being the most beautiful car in the world. Starting point was a Lancia Aprilia donor car. This offered up the independent suspension rear end, while the front was my own double A-arm design. Power came from a Ford four-cylinder unit and thanks to the abundance of holes drilled in the twin-tube chassis for the purposes of weight saving, it soon earned the nickname ‘Piccolo’ – a flute-like musical instrument.