A classic love story that ends in Triumph
an item, and then got married.
And always in the background was the little Spitfire.
They went on honeymoon in it. They went from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back three times (once via the Garden Route).
When you look at the size of the boot and the space inside the tight, tiny cockpit of the car you have to wonder about the energy of youth and love, which notices not the things which would discomfort us now.
“We just took a few clothes and we had our tape recorder with us,” Henry points to where it would have been propped against the back bulkhead behind the seats, in a space no bigger than a small cereal box, “so we had music”.
There was no air con back in 1968, although the Spitfire did have a heater (“which still works”, says Henry proudly).
To avoid the heat on the long trek to Cape Town, Henry drove at night.
“We would leave at 6 in the evening and we would arrive in Cape Town at 6 in the morning.” Really? Just 12 hours? “Yes,” says Henry. “There wasn’t much traffic and the Spitfire would cruise comfortably at about 75mph (125km/h) and we only had to fill up twice.”
That sounds amazing – getting a frugal 6 litres per 100km (or 40 miles per gallon in the old currency) way back then.
The Spitfire needed three full tanks and it had only a 30-litre tank to do the 1 400km journey.
Even today, you would struggle to get those figures, average speed and fuel economy, out of most modern cars.
Speed has always been part of Henry’s life and Paula has been accepting of it: she later became the custodian of the Spitfire and drove it often. Henry used to race go-karts and bikes and is a well-known name in motorcycling circles.
He has a collection of amazing two-wheel machines, each one of which he takes out every now and then. He points out, I hadn’t noticed, that he has a slight limp. It’s a souvenir from his wild and woolly days. He was dared to jump a BMW motorbike over a ramp, copying what Steve McQueen did in the movie The Great Escape.
It worked brilliantly but the onlookers ragged him about his “beginner’s luck”.
So he did it again and that’s when it all went pear-shaped.
“The jump was over an open road and of course it had to happen that when I jumped the second time, a car was coming. It hit me in mid-air.”
Later on, Paula, who was originally a teacher but later went into finance, got her private pilot’s licence.
“She really is an excellent pilot,” remarks Henry, but he adds, a bit ruefully, that when he got his licence, “she refused to go with me when I was flying”.
Perhaps because Paula knows what Henry can get up to when speed is on the menu.
Which brings him to point out a dent on one of the original hubcaps on the Spitfire.
He’s grinning as he starts to explain how it happened.
“We were on our way up to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1971 and we had just gone through Pretoria…”
It was at night and Henry obviously was letting the 1 500 twincarb Spitfire engine have its head in the cool evening air.
“Suddenly, a traffic cop jumped out in front of us waving his torch to flag us down. I didn’t stop.”
The angry copy attempted to stop the fleeing couple by throwing his torch at the Spitfire.
“We heard an almighty bang at the back and we pulled over later in Warmbaths (now known as BelaBela) to check. I looked everywhere but the only thing I could see was this dent.”
It’s still there. Henry hasn’t got it fixed. Sometimes you need to keep some memories.
Otherwise, he has maintained the Spitfire in tip-top condition doing all the work (except the painting) himself and ensuring that the car is as close as possible to the way it left the factory.
It is probably one of the finest Mk3 Spitfires in existence anywhere and probably worth half a million rand.
There’s a big grin on Henry’s face as he fires up the engine. A pull of the choke cable, a prod of the accelerator and the Spitfire roars into life. As he does a spin for the camera, I can’t help but wonder at the size of the thing (it really is tiny and low) and by its clean, elegant, simple lines which are still attractive to this day.
And I can’t help but feel Henry has been transported back to 1968.