THE BIG BAKKIE RID­DLE

Bakkies are be­com­ing big­ger, but space on our roads smaller. Why, then, are they so pop­u­lar among city folk?

Car (South Africa) - - COLUMN -

T was the mid-‘90s and Isuzu’s new KB280 dou­ble cab had re­cently been launched. My dad was the man­ager of an iron-ore mine at the time and the com­pany de­cided he should drive a KB. Dur­ing the week, he used it to duck un­der the rail­road that took the pre­cious metal to Sal­danha and dive into the belly of the mine from our house on the dorp side of the tracks. The Isuzu would emerge cov­ered in ne red dust loos­ened up by blast­ing, the type of grime that pen­e­trates ev­ery­thing and changes the char­ac­ter of a town.

Usu­ally once a week the KB would be valeted, its white paint­work and black rub­ber slowly ap­pear­ing as the sticky red dust washed off. It was then ready for more fam­ily-friendly leisure du­ties. It took us kids to sport meets in neigh­bour­ing towns and fer­ried my par­ents to the next post­code for gro­cery shop­ping. But, it was never more com­fort­able than when it ex­plored the neigh­bour­ing na­ture re­serve; and never more im­por­tant to a spotty pre­teen who had de­voured his rst CAR mag­a­zine at the age of eight and had loved any­thing on four wheels since. Once in­side the re­serve, my dad would slide out of the driver’s seat and pro­ceed with a short lec­ture on clutch con­trol be­fore hand­ing me the key that started the rumbly diesel.

The rst few pull-aways were aborted at­tempts as clutch and throt­tle feet weren’t in ca­hoots. The KB shud­dered, and then died, my face ush with an­noy­ance. I soon got the hang of it, though, and tested the farm’s speed

Ilim­its on nar­row roads across ne Kala­hari sand that would, in an in­stant, whip an un­loaded rear-end side­ways. It was glo­ri­ous. At night, we’d go buck-spot­ting by mil­lion-can­dle light, with the ooms squeezed tight into the Isuzu’s rear quar­ters. Filled with not quite enough Dutch courage to get on the back of the KB in freez­ing-cold win­ter, they would re­quire a liq­uid pit stop halfway through the drive in the mid­dle of the veld. I had the best seat of them all: in front, weav­ing the Isuzu past mas­sive anthills and through deep ditches.

I loved that un­pre­ten­tious Isuzu; its com­pact size and torquey en­gine saw it bound­ing hap­pily up the steep, rocky, con­stricted track that lead to the re­serve’s camp­ing spot over­look­ing an arid val­ley. But, most of all, I loved its sense of be­long­ing in that harsh en­vi­ron­ment. My ad­mi­ra­tion for the hum­ble bakkie was com­plete.

Twenty-two years later, now a city-dweller and stuck in stop-start traf c pi­lot­ing the Ford Ranger that took part in the bakkie shootout on page 48, a vin­tage KB hap­pened to be in the ad­ja­cent lane. The dif­fer­ence in di­men­sions between the per­fectly pro­por­tioned Isuzu and Ford’s su­per­sized in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the con­cept was stark, es­pe­cially in the ur­ban lo­cale.

Later in the day, as I took mul­ti­ple stabs at squeez­ing the Ranger into an in­ner-city park­ing-garage bay be­fore aban­don­ing the task and set­tling for a roomier spot at the fur­thest end of the lot, I again re ected on how the once hum­ble leisure bakkie has bal­looned and, seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory to that evo­lu­tion, how pop­u­lar they’ve be­come among the sub­ur­ban set. But, mostly, how alien they look and feel in a city.

Naamsa’s monthly sales gures in­di­cate the Ranger and Hilux of­ten out­sell SA’S most pop­u­lar pas­sen­ger car, VW’S Polo Vivo. Dis­count­ing the bakkies bought to ac­tu­ally work hard, how many of those Rangers and Hiluxes will ever be freed from in­ner-city con­straints and taken on the kinds of gravel roads the mod­est KB rel­ished? The kinds of tracks they’re en­gi­neered to mas­ter, given enough space? Many will be con­signed to fer­ry­ing their own­ers from their tight garage at home to the tight garage at work, chug­ging along in peak-hour traf c and try­ing to squeeze into toos­mall park­ing bays at shop­ping malls, as I had done.

I nd that per­plex­ing. Sure, we’re not the only na­tion suf­fer­ing this un ltered love for the big dou­ble cab, but con ning such a ve­hi­cle to an ur­ban set­ting more suited to Yarises and Fi­es­tas is akin to us­ing a Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron to pop to the cor­ner shop and back.

A week later, I pi­loted a Tiguan 2,0 TDI 130 kw 4Mo­tion. At R558 000, it’s R30 000 cheaper than the Amarok fea­tured in the com­par­a­tive, yet is quicker, qui­eter, more com­fort­able, safer in a crash and bet­ter equipped ... and casts a shadow barely any big­ger than a Golf’s. Find its boot not ca­pa­cious enough ver­sus the Amarok’s load bay? Take the R30 000 change, t a tow­bar and buy a Ven­ter.

Why don’t com­pact SUVS and their ilk fea­ture high­est on many ur­ban users’ shop­ping lists? But more point­edly, why do South Africans love their big bakkies as much as they do? These aren’t rhetor­i­cal ques­tions; I’d sin­cerely like to know. A sen­si­ble ar­gu­ment might rekin­dle my ro­mance 22 years after it rst started. Your an­swers in a tweet or email, please.

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