“He lives in a big house on Bree Street, a driveway leading down to a yard with the longest garage I’ve ever seen, with about eight doors or more. It contains 40 cars or so, split between this long building and another of clinker brick. We find him in the long garage, a compressor going, tinkering with one of the vehicles – the Model T Ford.
Piet says he’s almost always at one of four places: at home, in his garage, at the office or at the Cradock Club (this was once a male-only club, females only allowed in in 1998).
He says he’s always been into machines, ever since he was a young student. He’s always been rebuilding something, usually a motorbike, and is a member of the South African Veteran and Vintage Association (SAVVA), often batting off to take part in vintage rallies (like the Milligan, from PE).
Veteran refers to any vehicle built before 31 December 1918, and Vintage means anything between 1918 and 31 December 1930. Post-vintage is anything between 1930 and 1945. After 1945, if a vehicle is at least 25 years old, it’s called a post-war classic.
From left to right in the first garage: 1934 Studebaker Dictator, 1934 Chrysler Airstream, 1936 Chevy, 1936 Buick Roadster (the yellowish one), a 1972 350 SL Mercedes Benz, a truck only made in SA called the Opel Olympia 1959, a 1969 Mercedes Benz 250 Coupe, a 1929 Buick Roadster, a 1926 Model T Ford and a Datsun 1979 280 ZX. This last is the only Japanese car that is a post-war classic.
The Opel Olympia LDV inspires great envy among collectors from other countries, he says, because it was only made in South Africa. Quite a collector’s item. He’s particularly proud of the 1934 Studebaker which he found in a scrapyard in Cradock. It took him two years to rebuild it.
The 1929 Buick is a Jubilee Model, a 25 year celebration of Buicks. It has a 7-litre engine and weighs two and a half tons. He’s represented South Africa in rallies with this vehicle.
How do you find these vehicles, I ask him. “I don’t find them, they find me,” he retorts, grinning wolfishly.
Piet is also a collector of old engines – he has an old 1918 John Deere Tractor engine, which has no carburettor, just an intake jet. It idles until the revs drop, when it fires again.
He gets it going and it clatters away, firing periodically and sending clouds of blue smoke into the air, probably polluting the biltong and droewors he has suspended from hooks on the ceiling.”
- Piet ‘Prok’ Coetzee died in November 2013, a beloved member of Cradock’s community.