By Graeme Hurst
Ask the average 20-year-old student what they’d like for their first car and it’s safe to say the response will probably involve something out of the back pages of CAR magazine: an entry-level hatch or maybe a Golf GTi (if their old man is loaded). The more adventurous might ask for a 4WD of some description. And the really adventurous – like civil engineering student Frans Grotepass from Stellenbosch – will ask for an old Land Rover. Not just any old Land Rover but a Series I 88in; one that can do 800km across the Southern Cape while barely touching tarmac.
The Land Rover is a curious phenomenon in our hobby. First launched in 1948, it coined the whole concept of the four-by-four and the idea of getting thrills driving off the road and not on it, spawning a whole new automotive sector in the process. And, although the concept’s been copied (and seriously bettered) by the competition over seven decades, the original Landy continues to enjoy life-long loyalty from its fans. People who know and accept the model’s faults but who appreciate that it’s a car like no other. And often those enthusiasts have a passion that goes back to childhood.
That’s the case with Frans Grotepass and his best mate David Griesel. They were both born into families with Land Rover connections. 22-year-old Frans’s family have had a Series IIa on their Mpumalanga farm since before he was born. And 25-year-old David, a landscape architecture student from Cape Town, grew up with a 1995 300Tdi his family bought when it was a year old and fresh back from a Cape to Cairo trip. It’s a car David became so enamoured with during his upbringing that his family handed it over as soon as he got his licence. He’s put both Landy and licence to good use since, covering more than 220 000km around Southern Africa over the last six years. Those miles have made David a huge fan of the iconic four-wheel drive: “There’s something about them… they have a soul. At first you don’t get it and then, after a few months, it’s like falling in love with someone. They are far from flawless but there’s no other car with such a sense of adventure.”
Landy ownership for Frans came a little more recently, after years of dreaming about a Series I. “My dad saw one on the road and followed the lady farmer owner until she stopped. He asked if she’d sell only she wasn’t interested, but did agree to exchange numbers.” Fast-forward a few years and the lady changed her mind. “She called the day before my 20th birthday and my dad bought it for me!” A rare 1958 Series I (you can spot that by its hasp-and-staple hinges), it has an interesting history. “It was discovered in Angola by a fighter pilot during the border war and he brought it back to SA,” explains Frans.
The lady Frans’s dad acquired it from was clearly an enthusiast too – she agreed to part with it on one condition: that his son used it for what it was intended for! Well, she’d be happy to know her Landy found the right home after he and David took Winston (the Landy’s been named in honour of Winston Churchill, who also had one) from Cape Town to Frans’s family home near George. It’s a distance of over 400km along the popular Garden Route but it can be double that if you decide to take in some scenery en route.
The two best mates, who met just two years back on an outdoor adventure, decided to go on the trip when Frans needed to get the Series 1 back home for winter. The route for their four-night trip was determined by a list of scenic places they wanted to see on the way and the gravel roads they could find to take them there. “We had a few ideas of cool towns we wanted to visit and then we connected the dots with gravel roads on Google Maps,” recalls David.
Preparations came down to throwing some sleeping bags and provisions in the back before heading out on the only significant tar stretch, the R45 over Franschhoek Pass, so they could get to Villiersdorp and the start of the gravel. The first day’s route of 162km took them via the Brandvlei Dam near Worcester, where the pair spotted an early Range Rover at the boat club. This is another bucket-list item for the two of them and they left a note on it asking the owner to get in touch if he wanted to part with it. That same day they were also flagged down along the way by an elderly chap who’d had a Series I for years and wanted to share experiences.
After overnighting under the stars on a farm outside McGregor, the pair steered the Landy towards Montagu and the San Bona Wildlife Reserve, where they used the Landy for game viewing in a bid to spot the Big 5. “We didn’t get lucky but we did see buffalo and some rhino tracks,” says Frans. “And plenty of giraffe!” The day included a rather different highlight much later on when they briefly re-joined the tar to visit one of Route 62’s landmarks – Ronnie’s Sex Shop. “It’s actually just a regular shop which the owner added the word ‘sex’ to in a bid to get people to stop,” explains David, who appears to have been amused. “Some visitors have left their bras and panties hanging from the ceiling.”
From there the lads headed to Grootvadersbosch, sleeping in an old quarry on the way. It would be Winston’s longest daily haul: 202km! For the third day they then steered the Series I north via Ladismith to take in the scenic Seweweekspoort and then the Red Stone Hills area – a route that added another 173km to the Landy’s odometer. The next day was much shorter (just 85km) but it was the highlight of the trip with a route through Kobus se Gat and on to Gamkaskloof, also known as Die Hel. This narrow valley (less than 200m wide) in the Swartberg is around 30km long, with a spectacular winding pass to access it.
After overnighting at the foot of the Swartberg, the Landy enthusiasts started the final leg of their journey. They retraced their steps back to Kobus se Gat and headed to Oudtshoorn, taking in the Montagu Pass through the Outeniqua Mountains which brought them out to the Wilderness… 809km later!
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