By Stuart Grant
I have a thing for second-hand and charity shops. You never know what you will find lurking in a dusty corner. And yes, I too am guilty of searching for the trendy man cave signage and petrol-related memorabilia that is all the rage now. Luckily for my bank balance my tight-fisted Scottish genes kick in and I don’t pay the Discovery Channel pickers-inspired prices for these motoring items, but rather settle for oddities that nobody else wants. As a result, I have acquired a never-used ‘70s gaudy orange slow cooker complete with ‘Made in Rhodesia’ instruction manual, a matching orange filter coffee machine and a pair of orange plastic-bottomed Pyrex coffee mugs.
Over the years I have added various other weird and wonderful acquisitions to the list: a Kiwi K20 helmet, a Parmalat BMW F1 Jacket, a push-button Tedelex TV that still works (I find watching the History Channel so much more authentic in black and white) and a set of Golf LS snow skis that sport stickers from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics to fit to my 1980s Thule roof racks (now I just need that Mk1 Volkswagen Golf to go with them).
There are a lot more trinkets lurking in my cupboard, under the bed, in the ceiling and even the odd one that serves as a household ornament. I’m not old enough to have a personal connection with the vast majority of my purchases and the only reason I have them is the hankering to preserve any bygone era, where items were designed to last and not become disposable. But recently I found one relic that tugged at my heartstrings. No, it wasn’t a pair of unused Polly Shorts or even a Variflex skateboard (though I am still on the hunt for those). The item that jumped out at me off the pile of ‘rubbish’ was one manky-looking white Lafé motorcycle helmet with red trim.
It immediately took me back to the early 1990s, Zwartkops kart track and my first go-kart: a PCR chassis with 100cc PCR two-stroke motor. Years of doing the newspaper delivery rounds on my Le Turbo bicycle came together, along with a large cash injection from my dad, to see the purchase of said kart and a second-hand Lafé in white with red lettering.
There were not enough people in the neighbourhood wanting newspapers to allow us the budget to race the rocket but every other month we’d bum some tyres and my dad, brother, uncle and mates would head to Zwartkops for the day. We’d share an old single-layer overall and the Lafé and burn the mix of two-stroke and petrol all day. I will never forget my first spin or the exhilarating feeling that blew my mind as I put my foot down for the first time and the powerband kicked in. To this day I don’t know if the coughing I did all the way up the straight was from the vibrations of the engine or adrenaline flooding my lungs. Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to tell my folks in case they rushed me off to hospital and put an end to the karting fun.
Eventually the Lafé was traded in for a hand-me-down Kiwi K20 helmet because it was designed by Bertone and was therefore way cooler (in my opinion). And the kart was eventually sold along with the Kiwi to put down a deposit on my first car. Who knows where either helmet ended up? But what I do know is that my scouring of second-hand shops has resulted in copies of both my early helmets now sitting in my garage.
Both are in need of restoration but recently I heard that Lafé, started in South Africa in 1977, still exists and is possibly able to supply new linings and visors. Who knows, maybe a mantelpiece-worthy bit of South African helmet history could soon become a reality…
Complete the form below to subscribe to the Classic Car Africa mailing list.