Coffee with an Alfaholic
At DRIV3R.world 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!