Philipstown’s Wire Car Grand Prix

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The Wire Car Racers of Philipstown in the main road.

By Julienne du Toit

Photographs by Chris Marais

Something’s afoot in Philipstown. There’s a buzz in the air of this little Northern Cape village. It’s not just another Friday at the off-sales. It’s the day before the Wire Car Grand Prix, the event of the year.

Wire cars, or draadkarretjies, are a country thing. The kids here don’t have the big bucks for all the digital stuff. They scrimp and save up fifty rands over a longish period of time and place their orders with the wire car craftsmen of the village.

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Kiewiet Plaatjies, one of the wire crafters of Philipstown.

One of them is Kiewiet Plaatjies, who also manages a successful little garden plot behind his house. He will take one hard look at your vehicle and if you come back tomorrow, he’ll have a wire version of it ready and waiting for you, if you want.

Here comes Kiewiet’s neighbour and childhood friend, Nikolaas Seekoei.

Kiewiet and Nikolaas and their friend Amos Riet used to hang out as kids, each with his draadkarretjie of the day. Their favourite game was cops and robbers (spietkoppe en rowers). They would make little emergency lights for the cars using red or blue glass, yelling “wee-wah, wee-wah” as they went.

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In a mad dash, the wire car racers take to the streets of Philipstown.

The wire car culture of Philipstown persists to this day. This is not a place of Gameboys, iPads or Angry Birds. Philipstown is poor.

But once a year in October or November, the local crafters and the top runners get to strut their stuff in the annual Philipstown Wire Car Grand Prix. It’s designed as a community-building exercise, where the racers run three kilometres with their wire vehicles, from the township on the outskirts and right into Philipstown, ending up at Merino Motors in the main street.

Category winners get soccer balls, sometimes cash, vetkoek and mince and a frozen ice lolly. A local duo tunes up and dishes out a healthy dose of country music.

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The icons of the Philipstown wire car racers on the roof of a local filling station.

Next time you drive through Philipstown and pass the petrol station, look up at the roof and you’ll see wire and cement statues of the kids running their cars, made by artist Kay Fourie of Rooipoort Farm. Home-made dreams come true.

  • The Draadkarretjie Festivals are generally held in October.  For more information, contact Kay Fourie on 083 277 4142.

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One Response to Philipstown’s Wire Car Grand Prix

  1. Philip Myburgh September 23, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    I often thought why not approach Hamley’s in the UK to try and sell “draadkarretjies” to the UK public/kids to the benefit of the makers (and of course the exporter).
    Now that Hamley’s has migrated to the RSA as well, perhaps some enterprising person will take up the cudgels.

    Keep up the good work with KSpace!

    Philip

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