Words and images by Roger Gaisford
Charles Leach of Louis Trichardt has a most interesting four-wheel-drive machine. Not a Jeep or a Land Rover, it is a Steyr-Puch Haflinger, a vehicle produced in Austria. With a wheelbase of only 1.5 metres, and running on 12-inch wheels, it seems at first glance to be little more than a mechanism one might find on a golfcourse. However, it is a most efficient four-wheel drive that, in really bad going, can easily leave all but the most capable modern 4x4s scratching stones. It is named after a horse bred for hard work in the mountains, and 16 647 were produced between 1959 and 1975. Charles has had not just one Haflinger, but two.
The first he bought for R10 000 from The Baobab Resort at Tshipise near Messina in Limpopo. This vehicle – one of two at the resort – had been modified, having been fitted with a 1300cc Volkswagen engine and larger 13-inch wheels, among other things. This vehicle had many shortcomings, according to the dyed-in-the-wool Haflinger fraternity, principally because it had been modified − and they would have nothing to do with it. In despair, Charles initiated discussions with the original owner of the Haflinger, who was sympathetic enough to Charles’ plight to offer him the second Haflinger at the resort.
This vehicle had come from Springbok in the Northern Cape, and had no engine, but, for R25 000, Charles got the vehicle, a custom-built trailer to transport it, a garage full of spares – including three engines – and a recently completely overhauled engine to be collected from a workshop in Johannesburg. He was overjoyed, even more so when he got rid of his first VW-powered machine. He had the newly-overhauled engine fitted into his Haflinger, which he happily uses on excursions into the Soutpansberg (and places roundabout), and as a wedding car.
As with many other vehicles, the Haflinger had an interesting beginning. It was after the chaos and disaster of the Second World War that the Austrian Army was reconstituted and, now known as the Osterreichische Bundesheer, was equipped with United States Army equipment left surplus at the end of the war. As the US equipment wore out, it was replaced with locally-produced equipment. And so it was that, when the time came to replace the ex-WW2 Jeeps, the Bundesheer approached their local motor manufacturer, Steyr-Daimler- Puch, which had last produced military vehicles for the German Army. The Bundesheer wanted a light, air-portable vehicle with excellent cross-country capabilities, able to carry its crew and equipment along narrow mountain tracks.