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