I recently recall conversations I had with purveyors of fine automotive flamboyance, beginning with the Daytona Group’s Clifford Joffe. Aston Martin’s closest iteration of a supercar, the DBS, is an amazing piece of work—all curves, lines, folds and sheer presence. It arrests the senses in all sorts of ways. Clearly the designer was not using a slide rule here. This was sheer madness. Works for me. Much has been said of Aston Martin being a small company without the patronage of a larger parent company but they still stay competitive against rivals in their segment with superlative brand cachet. It barks its presence with sheer authority. Prod the pedal and feel the haunches bristle with expectation. ‘Best of British’ sums up its credentials.
This is a scale above mere utilitarian spec commonly found in ordinary tackle, where one can actually see the millions it costs.
Africans in South Africa make up the majority of buyers of these cars but I never see many on the road or in Soweto for that matter, save for the odd Bentley.
Further up the scale in opulence is the Rolls-Royce. Many, the quantifier many being relative in this instance, have found homes across Southern Africa, from Angola to Zambia.
McLaren’s newly-launched MP4-12C is a mouthful really so we’ll just call it the Mac, or Macca, as the English like to say. But it is a technical tour de force, crowned with plaudit upon plaudit by the world’s hacks lucky enough to drive it. At this level, manufacturers do not skimp on emphasizing their heritage or the emotional equivalent. Invariably, you will learn lots about the race car inspired development program, the car’s previous incarnations, exotic materials for some componentry, cutting-edge telemetry, and so on. And to think all two years of its South African supply has been spoken for!
It would be an injustice to leave out the Teutons when it comes to the power stakes for those running the sweepstakes. The Big Three’s power wars of the last decade have not been in vain. What they could not do in sheer design would be made up for with huge dollops of power. It is no surprise that they snuck up on the exotics and unleashed autobahn-shrinking vanishing acts, leaving lengthy skid marks somewhere in their wake. In the process, they even went one up on the Lambo door-act, bringing home yet more of their racing heritage reaching back to the 50s Silver Arrows and Auto Unions.
Of course, their Latinate brethren further south in Europe could never be undone. They occupy an unassailable place in the heart and minds of any petrol-head worth their, er, gas. They are truly beyond comparison, borne of intense need for speed and a desire to compete. See one pass, and watch jaws drop with sheer wonderment. The more common ones you might run into tend to be either red or speed yellow, and pass with a ferocious whine, leaving you gasping for an answer to a question nobody asked. WTF? Must be a Ferrari.
Now, I know the sun rises from the east, but then I would be eaten alive if I dared detail the similarities between Lamborghini’s first engine and Honda’s Formula 1 V12 engine of the 60s. And yes, Honda’s dithering over the NSX’s successor, developed by the world’s best Formula 1 driver of our time, Ayrton Senna, is tearing apart the hearts of enthusiasts who know it inspired McLaren’s F1—the world’s best sports car ever to some.
Nissan’s GTR35 (pronounced as Godzilla to the non-Japanese amongst us) will eat supercars for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Lexus’s ode to Mount Fuji will more than hold its own against many a westerner. Cult cars come from the East. But then, Western aesthetic defines how we define sports cars.
For Porsche, looks are for those who like to look. While it may lack the others’ pulchritudinous qualities, it is by and large considered the most practical sports car ever made. The newly launched 911—all 48 years of its shape—will not see any real revision before 2025! It is first and foremost a designer’s car, singularly committed to the realization of one truth and the quintessential sports car. Derision greeted some of the company’s recent offerings—the ungainly proportions of a utilitarian crossover in the Cayenne and the bloated midriff of the Panamera. There will be more gnashing of teeth from self-appointed custodian enthusiasts when the brand launches hybrid versions of its newer line up. But they will once again go on to make Porsche the world’s most profitable sport car manufacturer.
Come to think of it; Ferdinand Porsche was a designer. He displayed in Paris the world’s first hub-centric hybrid system—electric motors to drive the front wheels. In 1901. This is technology that is only about to be adopted by virtually every car maker today. As early as 1904, he was supplying and building four-wheel drive technology for cars. He went on to design the world’s first mid-engine race cars. Then he sought to defy the laws of physics by placing a car’s engine way past the rear axle—just because he wanted to create a more practical sports car. To accommodate rear seats in his first sports coupe, he turned the engine around so it hung over the rear axle. Although no longer called widow-makers and tail happy (the pendulum effect) as a result of much development, 911s still inspire awe in many an enthusiast. And so perhaps there is indeed truth in the conclusion that Porsches are more about development than design. That appears to pervade the Porsche mystic at the company’s Zuffenhausen headquarters. Thank God for Peter Schultz who defied the sceptics in the mid-80s when they wanted to drop the 911 from the line-up. And so Porsche South Africa managing director, Toby Venter will have you believe—all roads lead to Porsche.
In these days of austerity and layoffs, some of these cars will make for more compelling buys. And for factory bosses and bankers everywhere, they are what Clifford Joffe calls permission buys. Workers will not go on strike, and governments will not be reconsidering tax laws upon seeing some of them. These cars are beginning to grace the roads across Africa, opening up new vistas of discovery for car enthusiasts, collectors and poseurs alike.