#ThrowbackThursday: Five homegrown SA cars to celebrate Heritage Day
#ThrowbackThursday. Join us as we look back at some of our motoring highlights from days past. This week, in commemoration of Heritage Day, the calendar is scrolled back to September 25, 2020, when Denis Droppa took a nostalgic look at five famous unique-to-SA cars:
SA’s motor industry has produced its fair share of cars that are unique to this country, some of which have gone on to achieve iconic status, motor racing glory, or both.
Some of these bespoke vehicles have become sought-after classics revered around the globe, and in celebration of Heritage Month we take a nostalgic look at five of these homegrown heroes:
Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0
Back in the day, “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday” was more than just a marketing line, and motor companies invested heavily in producing race-winning cars.
In 1983 the GTV6 3.0 was spawned as Alfa Romeo’s weapon for Group 1 racing. Built at Alfa’s plant in Brits, the GTV 2.5 was a sleek-bodied two-door fastback coupé penned by Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro, but the car was no match for the dominant BMW 535i on track. So they replaced the 2.5 V6 engine with a more powerful 3.0 V6, which upped the top speed to 224km/h and the car achieved instant racing success, winning on its debut outing.
Racing homologation rules required Alfa to build at least 200 road-legal units, and these Italian beauties all featured a custom lightweight bonnet with a V-shaped air duct and distinctive Compomotive alloy wheels.
The cousin of the equally famous 325iS, the 333i was SA’s homegrown answer to the first-generation M3 which never made it to our shores.
In 1985, in collaboration with Alpina in Germany, BMW shoehorned the 3.2l straight six engine from the 7-Series into the tight engine bay of the E30 3-Series (the car known in township lingo as the Gusheshe), and a legend was born.
The 146kW output was fairly spirited for the time and the 333i had sports suspension to handle the extra power, a dog-leg close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox, and a limited-slip differential. The official performance claims were 0-100km/h in 7.4 seconds and a top speed of 228km/h.
Only 200 units were built at BMW SA’s Rosslyn plant, and an interesting fact is that the 333i could be ordered with either power steering or aircon, because there wasn’t space enough for both under the bonnet.
Ford Sierra XR8
Of all the cars that Ford has sold in its 96 years in the country, the one that probably makes most true-blue fans go weakest at the knees is the Sierra XR8.
One of the most collectable vehicles to wear the blue oval badge, this homebred muscle car was limited to just 250 units in the mid-1980s. In place of the V6 3.0l engine used in the more readily available Sierra XR6, the XR8 was fired along by a Mustang-derived 5.0l V8 imported from the US.
With outputs of 161kW and 374Nm, this motorsport-inspired Ford achieved a top speed of 231km/h and sprinted from 0-100km/h in 6.95 seconds — impressive figures for the time that helped it achieve racing success in the 1985 Group 1 championship in the hands of John Gibb and Serge Damseaux.
It looked the part too with its huge double rear spoiler, unique 15-inch Ronal alloy wheels machined to fit over larger brake calipers, and white paint job with motorsport blue pin stripes.
Ford’s head office was impressed; it bought an SA-built Sierra XR8 for display at its world headquarters in Dearborn, US.
Opel Kadett Superboss
The Kadett GSI 16V S (Superboss) was another local legend with motorsport origins, and was raced with success in Group N by Mike Briggs and Grant McCleery in the early 1990s.
The four-cylinder car was built to take on the mighty six-cylinder BMW 325iS, and with 125kW this Opel was 10kW up on the regular GSI 2.0 16V (Big Boss) and also produced an impressive 228Nm of torque — at the time a world record for normally-aspirated engines of 114Nm per litre.
Another trick up the car’s sleeve was a limited-slip diff to enhance the handling, and it helped Briggs scoop the 1991 and 1992 titles.
To be homologated for Group N racing, 500 road-legal examples were built. It looked fairly low key but was recognisable by its distinctive 15-inch black Alluette alloy wheels.
VW Citi Golf
While the other homegrown heroes are on this list courtesy of their high-performance credentials, the CitiGolf gets the nod for being the highest achiever in terms of sales — and by quite a margin. With 377,484 units built during its 25-year lifespan, it is SA’s most successful hatchback to date.
It came about when the mkII “Jumbo” Golf was introduced in 1984 and the first-generation car was kept behind in SA as a more budget-orientated offering renamed the CitiGolf. With its keen pricing and excellent marketing (remember those Red, Yellow, Blue versions?) the car continued to live on and notch up great sales as successions of newer-generation Golfs were introduced.
The budget hatchback was kept fresh with interior revamps, cosmetic tweaks and special editions over the years, but the iconic Giugiaro-designed body never strayed from its boxy origins.
It became the longest running car in SA history and eventually bowed out in 2010, 31 years after its birth as the mk1 Golf.