Words by Andrew Middleton. Pictures by various
These days cars have become so refined, so clean, so sterile that they often fail to stir the soul. We forget that beneath their svelte exteriors, beats a hot, steel heart which roars with percussive fury. Manufacturers have become too good at distancing us from this controlled chaos, cocooning us in air-conditioned solitude; as the world whooshes by, we remain unaware of the mechanical symphony playing out inches away.
But this was not the case in decades past. Then, vehicles came alive when you turned the key, revealing complex characters and faults, seductive in their imperfection. Take a look in Grahame Burchell’s garage, for example. Beneath flickering neon lights stand vehicles which are almost members of his family, each with its own story and intimate memories. Unlike modern machines, these motor vehicles have developed real character, which comes to life only with age, experience, sweat and blood.
But even amongst this line-up of six Land Cruisers, one stands out: Smurf, a 1983 BJ40. She’s Grahame’s weekend love. “She’s too rough and hard for my wife,” Graham says with a grin. “Smurf is for weekend escapes with the boys.” This old girl is no show queen; you can tell that she’s used hard. There are dings in the paint and dents on the diffs, proud scars of a lifetime of hard work.
Smurf has been a solid workhorse since the early 80s, when she was first imported into Lesotho by the UN to transport vital supplies to impoverished and remote mountain regions. Working as a mechanical pack donkey, she made sure that thousands of people received regular healthy meals. After years of this telling work, the old girl was very rough around the edges and in serious need of some TLC. It was Stuart Baillie of Baillie’s Off-Road who happened upon the baby-blue Cruiser rusting gently in the hills, and decided to rescue it. He did, restoring and keeping it for his personal use until 2008, when Grahame Burchell got his hands on her.
It was a whirlwind romance and a quick marriage. Grahame heard of an old BJ40 on sale while he was at a Land Cruiser Club meet. He made a shotgun decision – flying to Johannesburg the very next morning to have a peek. The old Cruiser ran well and looked fairly decent, and that was enough for Grahame. He bought it on the spot and set off on the three day trek to his home in Cape Town. Of course, it would have been rude to make this first trip on the tar, so Graham and his dear wife explored the road less travelled, passing through Kimberly and running alongside the N1 for much of the way.