Sa­lut­ing SA’s lo­co­mo­tion rev­o­lu­tion

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

SA’S NA­TIONAL and of­fi­cial SA Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor­ing will also cel­e­brate the 120th an­niver­sary of the ar­rival of the first car in South Africa.

This year marks the 120th an­niver­sary of the ar­rival of the first car in South Africa and this epoch-mak­ing event will be cel­e­brated as one of the high points at the South African Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor­ing, which takes place at Kyalami from Au­gust 31 to Septem­ber 4.

Al­though the first car, a Benz Velo “horse­less car­riage” that had been im­ported by a lo­cal busi­ness­man, John Percy Hess, ar­rived in South Africa at the end of 1896, it did not run un­der its own power un­til Jan­uary 4 of the fol­low­ing year. This was due to the fact that there was a de­lay of a month in the ar­rival of the ben­zene fuel for the en­gine.

The first pub­lic demon­stra­tion of the Benz Velo took place at the Berea Park sports ground in Pre­to­ria in front of Paul Kruger, the pres­i­dent of the Transvaal Repub­lic.

The pub­lic­ity blurb urg­ing Pre­to­ri­ans to at­tend this “red let­ter day” event pro­claimed that “the mo­tor car, like the bi­cy­cle, has come to stay and will be the craze of the cen­tury”.

Hess went on to be­come the sole agent for the Benz brand in South Africa. The car was sub­se­quently driven in Jo­han­nes­burg as part of his ini­tia­tive to pro­mote “a rev­o­lu­tion in lo­co­mo­tion”.

It is hard to imag­ine the world be­fore the ar­rival of the mo­tor car with all the ben­e­fits it of­fers to in­di­vid­ual and group mo­bil­ity. The pace of de­vel­op­ment was amaz­ing once it had been ac­cepted by the pub­lic and it was no longer com­pul­sory for cars to be pre­ceded by a man with a red flag as was the case in the pi­o­neer­ing days.

Through­out two World Wars de­vel­op­ment of mo­torised trans­port con­tin­ued apace and now we are look­ing to­wards a fu­ture when these cars and trucks will drive them­selves in the real world, not in the fan­tasy world of sci­ence fic­tion.

South Africa was fairly quickly out of the start­ing blocks into the world of mo­torised trans­port once the ini­tial foun­da­tions had been laid by Hess.

The first Ford to ar­rive in SA, a 1903 Model A, was, in fact the first Ford to be sold out­side North Amer­ica. Cars be­came more read­ily avail­able in SA with the ar­rival of the mass-pro­duced Ford Model T and about 1 000 cars a year were go­ing on to lo­cal roads by 1910. The next step was lo­cal as­sem­bly and this be­gan in 1924 when Ford opened a plant in a dis­used wool shed in Port El­iz­a­beth.

This early start-up was soon fol­lowed by the erec­tion of a fa­cil­ity to as­sem­ble Gen­eral Mo­tors prod­ucts and since then a host of as­sem­bly plants have come and gone over the years. Even now there are sev­eral in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies eval­u­at­ing pro­pos­als to set up man­u­fac­tur­ing plants in this coun­try.

The coun­try’s love af­fair with the mo­tor car has led to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of brands and mod­els that is way out of kil­ter with the size of the pop­u­la­tion and the lack of real po­ten­tial for huge growth in sales.

There are cur­rently more than 2 600 model de­riv­a­tives in the pas­sen­ger car and light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle sec­tors, which means South Africans are among those peo­ple in the world most spoilt for choice when look­ing to buy a new ve­hi­cle. — Sup­plied.

PHOTO: QUICKPIC

The first car in South Africa was a Benz Velo “horse­less car­riage”, shown at Berea Park in Pre­to­ria 120 years ago.

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