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