Taking in the incredible car culture in Cape Town


Cape Town is a car mad city. We hadn't been outside the hotel more than a few minutes before the first chorus of exhausts rolled by. A bizarre collection of motors, ranging from a new BMW M6 to a subtly modified Volvo C30, were driving past in convoy.

Our Uber pushed through the crowd and we jumped in the back of his Toyota Etios – a Yaris-sized saloon we don't get in the UK. We'd heard about a weekly car meet that took place in a car park in the Sea Point region at the base of the imposing Signal Hill.

Taking in the incredible car culture in Cape Town

Taking in the incredible car culture in Cape Town

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Overhearing our conversation, our driver said: "Are you guys going to the same place as all these modified cars? I bet I can beat them!"

He proceeded to dart around traffic jams and take us down side roads, gleefully revving his 1.5-litre engine out at every opportunity. Everyone's a petrolhead here, it seems.

At our destination, we jumped out into a throng of car fans – and police officers. The local force had set-up shop beside the meet-up and were ticketing the most modified vehicles to occasional heckling from passers-by.

A local man wearing a red bandanna, wraparound sunglasses and sporting a row of gold-plated teeth explained that this was a regular occurrence in South Africa as many vehicle modifications are illegal there – most enthusiasts take the fines as part and parcel of the culture here.

As we stroll around the car park, the sheer variety of vehicles on display is impressive. There's a new Subaru WRX STI parked beside a classic Volkswagen Golf. An AC Cobra bumbles past a Nissan Micra that's so low to the floor the door sills must scrape. An original Ford Escort with rally-spec spotlights sits opposite a collection of Honda S2000s.

What's perhaps most intriguing for a UK petrolhead is the number of old, ordinary cars on the road. Because of scrappage incentives and metal-corroding salt on our winter roads, classic cars struggle to survive. But with typically lower incomes and no cold climate worries, drivers keep their classics alive out here.

Old-school Toyota Corollas, Volkswagen Golfs and various BMWs are a regular sight. And that's particularly evident later in the day as we stumble upon a classic Datsun gathering.

With only an afternoon to kill on the Western Cape, we decided to call it a day at the original meet and call an Uber again for a brief stroll on Table Mountain. As we jumped out of our ride near the peak, a fantastic old Datsun 510 pick-up truck rolled past.

The 510's shape has always been a favourite of mine, so I followed it on foot only to find a large gathering of Datsuns hidden away in another car park. A local group of enthusiasts called All About Datsuns was just leaving, but it was brilliant to see these respectfully maintained classics all in one place.

As we sat on a park bench high above Cape Town watching the classic Japanese motors pootling back towards civilisation, the mood was bittersweet. It was a brilliant way to spend an afternoon, with like-minded people and a wide variety of machinery, but it rammed home just how much of a dying breed car enthusiasts are in the UK.

With the high cost of fuel and car insurance, and talk of vehicles being banned from city centres and getting the blame for ruining air quality, it's no surprise most people find the hobby more hassle than it's worth. But it's great to know that out there in the wider world, people are keeping the enthusiasm alive.