By Stuart Grant with photos by Mike Schmucker
Before becoming a commercial photographer, Mike Schmucker packed his bags for a two-year photography lab technician apprenticeship in Germany. After spending hours in the dark and another six months working to afford a new camera (the world had swapped to digital by now), he headed home to Pretoria and completed another three-year photography qualification. With the tools of the trade now under his belt, he focused on his three passions: cars, architecture and skateboarding. But there was another thing he had discovered while in Germany – station wagons are the vehicles to own.
South Africa is not a massive wagon market, but Mike knew that in order to carry the heap of lighting equipment he’d be using, he needed one. And one where the rear seats fold completely flat to enable some of those uber-cool, low-angle, car-to-car motion shots motoring publications love. With an empty wallet it was never going to be a new model though, so he scanned the print classifieds for the estate versions of the 1970s and ʼ80s Datsuns, Opels (or SA’s badge-engineered Ranger), Valiants and Mercedes-Benzes.
After sampling some of these offerings, it quickly became apparent that only one of them met the smooth-ride requirement for sharp photography. Of course it was a Merc W123 wagon, complete with that pretty chrome roof-rack railing. Problem is that when new, these imports cost Porsche 911 money, so not many landed down at the tip of Africa. And the lucky few who had them hung onto them like cherished kids. But Mike continued buying the AutoTrader every Thursday, living in hope…