Form follows function in the animal world, too—and inspires the observer. Car designers are also familiar with this symbiosis. It is precisely what they work toward, after all. The Mini Cooper S on the shoulder is a product of this philosophy. Aesthetically pleasing and powerful. Like the ostrich.
Welcome to South Africa, a country where many are fascinated by vehicles. The automobile industry is an important employer. Around 36,000 people work in production. 600 German companies have taken up residence in the country, among them nearly all the major car manufacturers and suppliers—from Volkswagen to Mercedes to BMW. South Africa is considered a mecca for disguised car prototypes.
During Europe’s winter, many relocate their series testing to here. That speeds up development. The time zone corresponds to central European daylight savings time. All conceivable basic conditions, including the most diverse road surfaces and temperatures, can be found out in the open here.
The first impression is decisive
An important factor of what are known as drive-by tests in market research is not measurable, however: subjective feelings, the emotional aspect of the car design. The first impression is decisive, like this moment at the shoulder of the M65 just before the turn-off to the nature reserve area of the Cape Peninsula. The street vendors’ delight can’t be planned.
When they see the Mini Cooper in Pepper White, which is also made by Wörwag, they flip out. One of the vendors is Washington Guuama. He is from Zimbabwe, lives just 6.2 miles (10 km) away in Redhill and makes a living selling all kinds of lovely and not-so-lovely souvenirs. “A lot of cars drive past here. Few of them catch your eye and stick in your memory,” he reports.
The Mini Cooper definitely stands out above the crowd. The paint on the rear spoiler, bumpers, and other mounted parts are from Wörwag. Guuama likes the color, and the car, too. “It has a fabulous quality, it’s simply an unusual vehicle,” he gushes and pulls out his smartphone. He and his friends ask people to come around for a photo shoot. Only then does he admit with a grin: “My favorite color is actually red. Ferrari Red. But Ferraris are rare here.” Color is emotion and therefore tends to be subjective. Just a matter of taste.
“It has a fabulous quality, it’s simply an unusual vehicle,” Guuama gushes and pulls out his smartphone.
The dynamics are a different story. They are assigned numbers. Output, engine displacement, acceleration are hard, physical facts.
But it is the application, the driving itself that turns horsepower into driving pleasure. The approximately 25-mile (40-km) coastline of the nature park on the peninsula promises a true orgy of the senses. It forms the natural habitat of the mid-engine sportscar. Bend binger. Here roadsters become “roadstars.” It’s not for nothing that this stretch of asphalt is considered one of the most beautiful coast roads in the world.
Those who do the complete Cape Tour in a clockwise direction can marvel at the rocky cliffs of Chapman’s Peak, especially in the late afternoon as the sun slowly sets. An open convertible provides the best views of the route. But caution: wild baboons are also waiting for just such moments. There’s a reason for the numerous roadside signs warning of animal assaults. Intelligent use of power makes a lot possible.
Raw power at the Cape of Storms
Nature flexes its muscles at this corner of the Earth. Its unbridled energy can even be felt wrapped in a weatherproof jacket here at the Cape of Good Hope. The wind blows relentlessly during the winter months. Tour guide Gavin Clayton points out that the spot is also called “Cape of Storms.” The coast road on the way to Africa’s southwestern tip is almost at sea level.
The waves often lash many feet high against the cliffs. Surefootedness is an absolute requirement. Not every two-legged creature is as steady on its feet as the ostrich. It’s hard to imagine what those forces of nature must be like 185 miles (300 kilometers) farther out on the open sea. That’s where the Flying Dutchman is thought to have sunk. And not only that ship. The rocky reefs and storms where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet have been dreaded by seafarers from the year dot.
Power is only one aspect when marketing a car. Last but not least, it always depends on how well you convey a certain attitude to life.
Passion is an integral part of every cabriolet. Fun, panache, cult—it’s all familiar to Melody Hey from her daily work. She runs a school for future surfers, the Surf Emporium, in Muizenberg. The town is well known for its colorful beach houses. In the seventies the government had economical housing built here on the outskirts of town. Today they are sinfully expensive. Idyllic beaches, picturesque cliffs, and a perfect ambience for water sports.
The surfing school was opened 13 years ago. Meanwhile, what began with a sun umbrella at the beach has become a very successful business. At first the school offered courses only to girls. Today, boys come here as well to learn how to get on the board and—ideally—stay on it.
“The conditions at Muizenberg Beach are optimal. The waves roll in uniformly, there are no dangerous currents,” says General Manager Hey and points to the fifteen teenagers who are taking part in a three-day trial course. They are already standing on their boards after a few hours.
Alfonso Peters is a good teacher for them. He is considered one of the most talented long-board surfers in South Africa, and he has the sport to thank that he found his way out of Cape Town’s troubled Manenberg district. Hey likes to see convertibles in the car park in front of the school: “I like these cars, even if there are surely more practical vehicles for transporting surfboards. But Minis and Beetles, too, for example, are so nice and iconic.”
A side trip to the Cape of Good Hope is perhaps less “culty” but more of a tourist attraction.
Everything there ultimately revolves around a wooden sign. Everyone has themselves photographed behind it. It is the moment when a car becomes secondary. Even if it’s parked only a few meters away. The visitors join the others patiently waiting in line and check the memory chips in their cameras. The eyes are fixed on the motif. No one pays attention to the car. No one?
A 14-year-old Japanese boy has broken out of the line to touch the leather interior. “Cool. I like it,” he beams. A short time later his father calls to him: “It’s our turn. Come here now! We have to take the picture.”
Many start on their way back directly to Cape Town once the obligatory photo has been shot. A change of scene. It is just after 6 p.m. The day is drawing to a close in Cape Town’s “V&A Waterfront” by the harbor. The artificial light from the Ferris wheel, restaurants, bars, and ships outshine even the car’s sparkle. Center stage now belongs to the nightlife enthusiasts. The car is swallowed by the darkness bit by bit—and becomes a silent watcher enjoying the sights.
Text: Michael Thiem
Photos: Laurent Burst