The 35th anniversary of the Concours d’Elegance of the BMW Car Club Gauteng (South Africa) was celebrated at the iconic Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, on the 4th September.
The Concours, the most prestigious event on the Club calendar also formed a major part of the centenary celebrations of the BMW marque. Nelson Mandela Square is found within the ‘Richest Square Mile in Africa’ - it is at the epicentre of Sandton - heart of South African commerce and playground of the African jet-set. Towering over the square a bronze effigy of Nelson Mandela, and down below within the shadow of the icon the best modern classic BMWs South Africa has to offer.
I think he would be rather pleased, as this gathering attracted South Africans from all walks of life, to celebrate an automotive marque that has achieved cult status in South Africa. Mandela himself was a BMW fan, having been introduced to the blue and white roundel after his release in 1990 by South African business tycoon Richard Maponya (proprietor of the first Black-owned BMW dealership in SA). He enjoyed various 7 Series Limousines, the last of which is the E38 760Li long-wheelbase, Security Edition until he largely retired from public life in 2009. There was an attempt made to have it exhibited at the foot of the statue but it never came to fruition.
South Africa is a rather young BMW market, the first BMW imported, an Isetta in 1958 by Club Motors. Interestingly the oldest car on the square was a 1957 Isetta (imported by Club Motors in 1958), and the newest a 2006 E60 M5 so an almost 60 year spread. The Rosslyn BMW plant in South Africa is however the first outside of Germany, opened in 1968. Well represented on the day therefore were the models uniquely made for the South African market.
The light green 1974 2004 SA, is one such model, derived from a Glas 1700 Saloon body and fitted with a BMW M10 2.0-litre engine, with taillights from the early E12 5 Series, fitted upside down and front indicators from the E9 3.0 CS coupe. BMW took over Glas in 1966, Glas 1700 bodies were also shipped to then Rhodesia and fitted with the M10 2.0-litre engines, named the Cheetah. A white example was positioned nose to nose with the 2004 SA. There were also two homologation specials unique to the South African market present. The E12 530 MLE in Ice white with the M tricolours adorning the front spoiler and shoulder-line. It was the first BMW to wear the Motorsport moniker, 100 were needed to homologate, but demand was such that just over 200 were produced. The other homologation special is the E30 325iS, partly developed by Alpina and equipped with E30 M3 suspension; several sterling examples were present on the day. The E30 333i is also unique to these most southern shores, South Africa’s answer to the E30 M3, using the M30 3.3-litre engine as found in the E23 733i; only 210 were made. The Arctic blue metallic E23 745i is another example of the Rosslyn’s plant ingenuity, not being able to produce the E23 7 Series Turbo because of the left-only steering due tothe turbo being housed on the right. The M88 engine for BMWs first Supercar, the M1, was slotted into the 7 Series, making it a Super Limousine, there were even 14 manuals on offer, a total of 249 were produced.
There was also a splendid display of locally-built race cars, the Winfield E30 325i Shadowline campaigned by legendary Tony Viana, in which he won Class A of the Group N production car championship in 1986 and 1987. Standing side-by-side were two impressive 635CSi racers, the BMW Teile based on the 1986 Roberto Ravaglia, Group A Schnitzer and a Jägermeister based on the 1984 Hans Stuck DPM (Deutsche Produktionswagen Meisterschaft). Other highlights included a pristine E28 M5 in a Henna red hue (unique to SA). Rosslyn was the only plant other than Garching to assemble both the E28 and E34 M5. This particular M5 was part of BMW SA’s classic fleet, it has only registered 43 500 miles (70 000 km) on the odometer and is now in private ownership. The 1960 700 Hans Stuck replica is another standout of the show, powered by an air-cooled boxer engine from the BMW R67 motorcycle, placed at the rear.
The 2016 Concours d’Elegance was definitely the year of the E30 3 Series, four of the five classes were won by four different iterations of the model. The first generation E21 3 Series was imported to South Africa in very limited numbers, the E30 being the first 3 Series produced at the Rosslyn plant. It truly does have a special place in the hearts of South African BMW enthusiasts. Also pleasing to see the 2002 Turbo win two of the special trophies, Best 2002 and Best Classic. Originally owned by Nicky Oppenheimer who insisted it be Golf yellow in colour, in 1974 it was the only Turbo sporting this unusual colour - Chamonix white and Polaris silver was standard fair.
It was a busy day at the Concours, but in a really good way, Shiraz Bawa, founder of SA Beemer, a social network showcasing the BMW passion, culture and lifestyle across South Africa, launched the SA Beemer magazine, a bi-monthly publication. This will be the first independent BMW publication to be offered on the African continent. And before the day was out, tuner Rob Green Motorsport unveiled the quickest F13 M6 in South Africa from a standing start to 1 km.
It was truly a privilege for me to be part of the organising team, as well as a judge at this historic Concours that was a big part of the BMW centenary celebrations. Being fortunate enough to display my 1984 Opal green metallic E24 635CSi among the greatest BMWs made in the last 60 years, is definitely my highlight of the 100 year celebration.