Cof­fee with an Al­fa­holic - - CONTENTS - Vinni Dlamini for

At we love cars and con­ver­sa­tions over cof­fee. In this is­sue we in­ter­view an “Al­fa­holic” on his pas­sion for Alfa’s.

On a cold and chilly day in Hil­ton, I sit across from Jethro Bron­ner as we both work through our cof­fee at a lo­cal spe­cialty cof­fee spot, a V60 for me and a doppio for him. As an ar­dent car philis­tine, I do my best to nav­i­gate my way around the more tech­ni­cal as­pects of our con­ver­sa­tion. Bron­ner is my in­trepid guide through this oily maze, as­tute enough to give me just enough in­for­ma­tion to process, in keep­ing with my tech­ni­cal ap­ti­tude or lack thereof. In an ef­fort to gar­ner some sense of ease of con­ver­sa­tion over the in­ter­view I lean more on the es­o­teric parts and as­pects of our in­ter­ac­tion. The task is very su­per­flu­ous be­cause it is clear that Bron­ner re­ally thinks about cars. Bron­ner’s per­for­ma­tive prac­tice of the not so sub­tle art of ve­hic­u­lar ap­pre­ci­a­tion is a mix­ture of ob­vi­ous tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence and in­tense philo­soph­i­cal re­flec­tion.

There is a cer­tain zen-like dis­ci­pline to his ap­proach to cars. Para­dox­i­cally though, there is an ob­vi­ous sense that Bron­ner doesn’t take him­self too se­ri­ously. The sophistry here is my own, Bron­ner dis­perses this prac­tice with ease and hu­mil­ity. Feel­ing more con­fi­dent, I be­gin to quiz him about what con­sti­tutes a typ­i­cal car guy? A nomen­cla­ture we estab­lish as short­hand for the ar­che­typal car en­thu­si­ast. From my philis­tine eye, it is in­creas­ingly ob­vi­ous from our in­ter­ac­tion that Bron­ner ful­fills “my” ba­sic cri­te­ria for a typ­i­cal “car guy”. In fact, this en­tire in­ter­view is pred­i­cated on this as­sump­tion. Mind you, my cri­te­ria does not con­sti­tute much be­yond some­one who un­der­stands cars more than I do. Bron­ner quickly dis­abuses me of this no­tion.

“I don’t think that I’m a typ­i­cal car guy”,

“Why do you say that?” I ask. Bron­ner ex­plains to me that most “guys” just sort of fall into cars as a de­fault hobby, en­tirely with­out thought or ef­fort. This is driven by the well-con­sid­ered phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of en­gi­neer­ing in­ge­nu­ity also rep­re­sents free­dom in a more ro­man­tic sense. Ac­cord­ing to Bron­ner, it is free­dom in mo­tion. “A car is like this metal space­ship that I can take any­where I want to, any­time. I mean the sole rea­son for the car’s ex­is­tence is to get you to a place.”

Like most, Jethro’s con­nec­tion to cars be­gan with a car he liked, yet there’s noth­ing typ­i­cal about his love for cars. A fated de­ci­sion at 18 years en­sured this. “I had a sim­ple choice be­fore me; buy a work­ing third hand VW golf or a bro­ken Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia of du­bi­ous per­for­mance sit­ting in some guys gar­den un­der a tarp,” Bron­ner ex­plains. He went with the lat­ter.

Af­ter a cou­ple of break­downs that left him stranded on the side of the road, Bron­ner de­cided it would be pru­dent to ac­tu­ally learn how to tin­ker with the en­gine in his car so as to pre­vent any fu­ture mishaps, thus be­gan his long fas­ci­na­tion with Alfa Romeo en­gines. “The Alfa is a per­fect fit for me, it’s the kind of car I imag­ine I would have ended up with af­ter a life­time of search­ing. It’s rea­son­ably af­ford­able to put to­gether and the parts are of­ten read­ily avail­able.” Jethro con­sid­ers this serendip­i­tous for­tune as most car en­thu­si­asts can spend three to four decades search­ing this bal­ance. “There are not that many cars that fall into this cat­e­gory, es­pe­cially in the car col­lect­ing com­mu­nity,” Bron­ner adds.

His con­tin­ued fas­ci­na­tion with his Alfa even­tu­ally led him to pur­chase 1964 Gi­u­lia sprint GT which was as he says in a mil­lion pieces.

“I de­cided to buy a sec­ond and more sen­si­ble car to take the pres­sure of my first Alfa but I ended buy­ing a car in ten thou­sand parts!” It was the process of restor­ing this car that Bron­ner set his mind on driv­ing it to Europe. In­ci­den­tally, this would be his first ever road trip across the con­ti­nent

of Africa as well.

21 years old, crip­plingly shy, Jethro de­cided to throw him­self into an en­vi­ron­ment that forced him to en­gage, test­ing in a way the lim­i­ta­tions of both him­self and his car. It was a very for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for Bron­ner. We spend a bit of time con­vers­ing about some of his re­flec­tions re­gard­ing that trip, the de­tails of which are per­sonal.

Moving be­yond the es­o­teric, born James Jethro Bron­ner in the green mid­lands of KwaZulu Na­tal, Bron­ner stud­ied jour­nal­ism at UKZN. Mi­nor de­tails in the un­fold­ing of his story. Some­how the con­ver­sa­tion steers back to the es­o­teric.

“If you had to ex­plain what ex­actly is it that you love about cars, what would your re­sponse be?” I ask him.

“I ab­so­lutely love tech­nol­ogy, I am by no means techno­pho­bic - the idea that this piece of tech ex­ists as a sym­phony of re­ally well thought out parts, trav­el­ling at speeds con­sid­ered mag­i­cal in na­ture is in­cred­i­ble! You can sense the me­chan­ics of the car as you are driv­ing along, es­pe­cially a car you have had the op­por­tu­nity to work on,” Bron­ner elab­o­rates.

Bron­ner also ex­pounds on how this piece of tech is very much at­tached to the no­tion of free­dom, free­dom of move­ment which in turn is tied to per­sonal free­dom. “Long road trips with no des­ti­na­tion are my favourites. The idea that you can travel vast dis­tances within any given twelve hours of the day con­tained in this ma­chin­ery,” Bron­ner adds.

In keep­ing with the es­o­teric tone of our con­ver­sa­tion I con­cluded that of­ten we tell sto­ries to un­der­stand our world, we tell sto­ries about our­selves to our­selves and sto­ries about our­selves to oth­ers. These sto­ries help us make sense of our world and our sur­round­ings. For real petrol­heads their sto­ries of­ten pivot around their cars. Alfa Romeo is a cen­tral part of Bron­ner’s story!

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