The South African automotive industry has been amazingly resilient and innovative over its history of more than a century. Recently, the industry has had to cope with the hugely damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Years ago, though, the challenge was making cars fit for use under local road and weather conditions, followed by a very stringent local content programme in the face of political economic sanctions. But great challenges often bring about great innovations…
The industry was given a big shake-up in 1961 when an increasingly demanding local content programme was introduced. Initially the programme was limited to 11 listed components: tyres and tubes, batteries, trim, exhaust system, paint, glass, seat frames, road springs, carpets and mats. However, the programme took a big jump in 1964 when the local content requirement for cars changed to 45% by weight, jumping up to 55% in 1968. The final step was a demand to move to 66% by 1977. The last phase also required 66% local content for commercial vehicles by 1981. Heavy punitive duties were levied on imported built-up cars during this period, going as high as 115% of value in certain categories!
This resulted in an amazing period for the industry as the seven local manufacturers worked together to share many components, including engines and transmissions, as well as boosting support for a growing number of local parts makers. The high cost of developing local content resulted in many manufacturers extending product life far beyond that of the parent company, while many special models were designed and built to fill gaps in the market.
One of the identified gaps was for performance cars. Here both the factories and local tuning companies and franchised dealers took up the challenge and built a host of amazing cars that were made and sold only in South Africa. Some of these creations were so-called ‘homologation specials’ for use in motorsport where the authorities required a minimum production run. These ‘motorsport specials’ included cars such as the Ford Capri Perana, Ford XR6 Interceptor, Chev Can-Am, various BMWs, Alfa Romeos, and Toyota TRDs, as well as a Fiat 131 Racing and a limited-production Mazda Capella Rotary.
Ford is the brand which generated by far the most of these SA-only builds, with the factory, dealers and tuning outfits all getting in on the act. It is therefore no surprise that one of the last of these SA-only ‘super cars’ was the Ford Sierra XR8, which was probably the last new model to come out of the Struandale plant before Ford’s merger with the former Sigma Motor Corporation to form Samcor, based at Silverton in Pretoria. The opening of the SA economy, which followed a few years later, meant that it was no longer necessary for motor companies in SA to build special cars as they could then import what they needed when import duties came down.