THE ULTIMATE CLASSIC

THE ULTIMATE CLASSIC

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You can enter any car, so long as it doesn’t have factory-fitted cupholders. And aircon, although not strictly illegal, is frowned upon. These are the only rules that apply to the Targa Ramponi, a two-day dash through Mpumalanga – home to arguably the best roads in SA for classic motoring. (Not sure where the name Ramponi comes from? Click here to find out.)

One early Saturday morning in November, twenty-odd tasty cars including a BMW 2002, MG Bs, Minis, Porsche 911s, Alfa Giulia and Spider, Volkswagen Variant and Mazda MX-5 lined up at the Benoni start point before heading for checkpoint one in Dullstroom. It was here, while sipping coffee, that the first debate for the event kicked off: What is the ultimate Targa Ramponi car?

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While leaving Dullstroom, the automatic Variant valiantly attempted to rule itself out of the competition as it dumped all its gearbox oil on the tar and coasted to a stop with no drive. A quick look under the oil-covered car revealed that the missing gearbox governor retaining cover was to blame. Sadly, the hunt for the lost part in the area where the oil slick started came to nought. The wagon was loaded onto a trailer and the driver hopped into the BMW 2002 to navigate over Long Tom Pass and on to checkpoint two at Sabie.

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Long Tom tops out at 2 150 metres above sea level, which means a serious climb up from Mashishing (previously known as Lydenburg). Here the MG B V8 and Porsches excelled, although the Alfa and slightly warmed-up MG B four-pot were not far behind. What goes up must come down, and Long Tom is no different, dropping in dramatic style with some brilliant corners and switchbacks down 1 150 metres to Sabie. This, of course, is where the Minis shot into the lead, and Issigonis’s diminutive design stayed at the front of the pack through the famed ‘22’ stretch from Sabie to Hazyview.

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But as the mercury rose and the road towards Grasskop opened up, the Mini dominance began to diminish, and a few stops were needed to check the coolant levels. Maybe we should have fiddled with timing and mixture following the drop down from the Highveld altitude? There was some good news though: the owner of the trailer queen VW got a call to say a replacement part was available at a smallholding on the way to Barberton – perfect as the final checkpoint for day one happened to be in this town famous for mining, Jock of the Bushveld and Gerbera jamesonii (known to you and me as the Barberton daisy).

The cars and occupants first had to survive the 140km stretch back to Sabie, pass by White River, and through Mbombela. This sounds easy but the ambient temperature was by now a sweltering 42 degrees Celsius and the best classic to have was one with quarter-vent windows, such as the Minis, Alfas and the BMW 2002. The crew in the MX-5 had been a bit smug up to then, pointing out that although the modern classic didn’t sport cup holders, it did have a 1990s aftermarket aircon fitted. But the quarter-vent crew had the last laugh when the Mazda’s cabin cooler proved fairly asthmatic in the intense heat.

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The real winner was the Volkswagen Variant, though. It was back on the road after the needed part had been collected and fitted. Being an automatic-only part, the cover is not as common as you’d think, but even more amazing was the story of how this particular one was saved, along with a pile of other VW spares, from an abandoned mine in the area. That’s a story for another time though…

Day two saw the exploration of the road around Barberton and the awesome road that winds its way up from an altitude of 800 metres to 1 550 when reaching Machadodorp. From there it was a 2½-hour cruise home on the relatively straight and flat national highway, where the winner was a classic with a five-speed or overdrive gearbox and some sort of sound absorption. MG B, Alfa and Porsche have the box options right, but with the roof not fitted to the MG B and the Porsche aces having chosen to strip out all comfort for weight reduction, they lost out in the acoustic comfort department.

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So there you have it, 1½ days to complete 1 200km of classic driving. At the final checkpoint, the debate continued, with pros and cons for each car on the run tabled. (Some other machines not on the run were also tossed into the equation including a Lotus Seven replica, Matador Marauder, Lotus Exige, Mercedes-Benz 190E and Jaguar XJS.) With the ‘science’ completed there was one clear winner... The classic you are driving!

#ClassicallyDriven

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