By Stuart Grant with images from Henrie Snyman
Thanks to some serious performance and pedigree the Shelby Mustang GT500 of 1967 made it on to, and still remains high up on, many motorists’ wish lists. With the remaking of the 1974 Gone in Sixty Seconds feature movie in 2000, the hype around this model reached an all-time high as a new generation started dreaming of the elusive hot ‘stang, known as Eleanor. Because both the original and remake film Eleanors were custom built, owning one is impossible and the only option is to build your own recreation. Companies that will clone the film legend abound but this guy built his own more unique version – from wire.
Yes, that is correct… Conty Fonane built a full-size replica of the 2000 movie car using around 500kg of stainless steel wire. With the Kiwi shoe polish tins not available in the correct size he opted for a set of proper alloy wheels and tyres, while the skeleton that supports the artwork is made from aluminium channel sections. It is more than just a silhouette though, with doors, boot and bonnet that open and even the engine internals, like separate pistons, were made from wire. A propshaft links the engine to the rear end and the interior features seats, dash, gauges, lever, pedals and steering wheel made from wire. It is a study in attention to detail, with handmade operational door latches, scale and period correct radio dials, flip top fuel cap and ‘Mustang’ wording or insignias on the seat backrests, dashboard and body panels. Parked next to a fully operational road going Eleanor recreation, the skill Conty has in accurately shaping the wire is evident. It is more than just a wire car ready to be displayed in a man cave – it is a work of art and would not look out of place in any gallery of fine art.
Conty’s story begins in Lesotho where as a young kid he spent his time playing and building rudimentary wire push cars. Like the rest of his mates he used bits and bobs to make his own, but quickly differentiated himself from the rest in the quality and accuracy department. This came from a fascination with cars, more than likely spurred on by his father, then a policeman in Lesotho, driving a Toyota Corona and recounting details of fancy cars like Porsche that he’d seen while living in Johannesburg. Between school studies Conty honed his drawing and wire car making skills and even designed a number of concepts he hoped would help land him a job with a motor manufacturer. He made his first wire car sale aged 21 when a passing motorist spotted a toy he wanted and offered R600, saying “nobody makes cars like you”.
Having finished up Grade 12 he headed for the big smoke of Johannesburg but found it difficult to secure a full time job so he turned to what he knew – wire car building. But this time he stepped it up a level, and instead of the simple toys he started building scale replicas of chosen cars with interiors and engines and opening apertures. He would walk the city flat carrying heavy models on his head and knocking on doors of dealerships and manufacturers, selling his wares and taking commissions. With prices ranging from R2 500 to R8 000, depending on level on intricacy, he started forging a name for himself and his wire artworks started filtering into the dealer network. Cars like Jaguar S-Types, Mercedes SL Pagodas and Citroën DS can be found as displays in classic showrooms, while Toyota ordered a scale version of its Hilux Bakkie and RunX for its museum. BMW and Mercedes-Benz head offices also commissioned some of their models to be created by the artist.
When commissioned to build 34 small scale models Conty was able to purchase his first real car, an Opel Astra. No longer did he have to carry his art on his head or squeeze it into a taxi. He formed a relationship with the Daytona Group (distributors of McLaren and Aston Martin) and managed to convince the powers that be there that, if he could get the finances, he could build a full sized McLaren P1. Weeks of sweat, aching fingers and head scratching paid off as the McLaren turned out better than expected and sold for over R300 000. His time at Daytona, doubling as a driver and helping hand in the workshop, not only exposed him to what it felt like to drive these exotics but also gave him a better understanding as to the technical and mechanical aspects of a car. Knowledge gained, he was keen to push the wire building envelope even further, which necessitated giving up a salary, going back on his own and selling door-to-door.
Having seen the 2000 remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds he hankered after building an Eleanor model and knocked on the door of American car specialists Creative Rides. With a replica on their floor it was a no brainer to base his work at their showroom, and having heard of the full size McLaren, the idea of a full size wire version was born. Working from the premises for eight or nine hours a day it took seven months to complete the masterpiece and the profits of the sale will be shared between the business and Conty.
He’s not sitting back though and has already started planning his next full-size machine, a 1:1 Ferrari LaFerrari.