Six SA specials worth celebrating this Heritage Day

Thomas Falkiner takes a look at six cars as unique to Mzansi as biltong, Chappies and koeksisters

23 September 2019 - 14:19
The legendary BMW 333i.
The legendary BMW 333i.
Image: Supplied

BMW 333i:

The original BMW M3 was nothing short of the dog’s bollocks when it was unveiled in 1985. Even today it’s celebrated as one of the finest performance cars ever made. Unfortunately, BMW didn’t launch it in many markets, SA being one of them.

No matter. With some help from Alpina Germany, BMW SA built us a pretty good substitute with the 333i. Equipped with a 145kW 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine, it could nail 100km/h in 7.2 seconds and run up to 231km/h. Impressive numbers for the era. ABS brakes were optional, as was air conditioning.

And if you chose the latter, then the power steering would have to fall away due to space constraints under the bonnet. With only 204 being sold to the public, the 333i remains a rare and sought-after beast.

Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0:

The brainchild of SA motorsport commentator (and then Alfa PR manager) Roger McCleerey and ‘80s tuner extraordinaire Sampie Bosman, the GTV6 3.0 was created to keep the Milanese marque competitive in local circuit racing.

Beneath its bespoke fibreglass bonnet lurked a special three-litre V6 engine built from parts sourced both locally, as well as from Alfa’s now defunct competition division, Autodelta. Eventually tuned to deliver 145kW, it proved more than a match for its BMW rivals and soon racked up the wins at tracks like Kyalami in Johannesburg and Killarney in Cape Town.

Apparently, about 220 were built, so, like the 333i, it is about as common as an uncorrupt government official.

The Opel Kadett 200ts was fast enough to find favour with the SAPS.
The Opel Kadett 200ts was fast enough to find favour with the SAPS.

Opel Kadett 200ts:

During my teen years, the 200ts was a thing of legend: a seldom-seen unicorn with the power to crush any Golf GTI fool enough to challenge it to a drag race. Hell, up here in Johannesburg it could even beat a BMW M3 into kerbside submission.

Which is probably why the highway patrol unit then favoured them as their whip of choice. Though pretty much identical in appearance to its lesser 200is sibling, the sleeper-status 200ts rocked a turbocharged motor that churned out an impressive-for-the-day 151kW.

Other mods included a limited-slip differential and a six-speed Getrag transmission. They speculate that 500 were made, but thanks to its unruly handling characteristics and foolhardy owners I’d guess half this amount survive to this day.

Ford Sierra XR8:

Looking at it today, the XR8 was one part zef, one part American muscle car. A homologation special fashioned solely for the use in local Group One racing during the mid-1980s, this limited-run (just 250 were built) Ford came bolted to a five-litre V8 engine sourced from the third-generation Mustang.

So what it lacked in top-end power it more than made up for in lowdown torque — a mighty 330Nm ensured this was the fastest Sierra ever produced. A beefier brake package was added to the mix, plus a host of chassis and suspension tweaks for sharper handling.

Those into racing back then will remember drivers Serge Damseaux and John Gibb threading them sideways through Barbeque Bend at the old Kyalami.

The CTi was a 1.8-litre fuel-injected performance version of the original Citi Golf.
The CTi was a 1.8-litre fuel-injected performance version of the original Citi Golf.
Image: Supplied

Volkswagen Citi CTi:

Reincarnation happened in 1990 when Volkswagen SA launched a saucier version of their popular Citi Golf. Basically a slightly more modern remake of the original Mk1 GTI that single-handedly invented the hot-hatch segment in 1976, the CTi had an 82kW 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine that provided sprightly performance.

In fact, there was little between it and the significantly more expensive Golf Mk2 GTi that was on sale at the same time. Unfortunately this — and their sporty bodykit — made the CTi tasty bait for crash-prone Boy Racers and car thieves alike. Finding a clean one these days is tough and if you do, they are jealously guarded by their loving owners.

A 2009 Daihatsu Materia Turbo.
A 2009 Daihatsu Materia Turbo.
Image: Supplied

Daihatsu Materia Turbo:

One of last cars infused with a uniquely SA flavour was this box-shaped Daihatsu hatch. In standard form the Materia was always a practical city schlepper that could carry kids, pets and groceries in equally generous measure.

However, its retro-modernist hot rod architecture soon tickled the imaginations of those in charge. So in 2009, out of an unlikely collaboration between Daihatsu SA and Steve’s Auto Clinic, the short-lived Materia Turbo was born to the rainbow nation with an under-bonnet blow-off valve that whooshed with all the fervour of a WRC car.

While the intercooler was fed a supply of cold air via a subtle bonnet scoop, low-profile 17-inch tyres were bolted to a body lowered 30mm by Eibach springs. With 110kW on tap and a 0-100km/h time of 8.9 seconds, this was a proper Q-car that could stick with a Golf V GTI through the first three gears. Just 50 were built, one of which resides in my garage — a testament to how fun this wacky creation is to drive.