Words and pictures by Richard van Ryneveld.
2012 Saamtrek: Land Cruiser Club – Southern Africa Theo Marx in Olive, his BJ 42 LX. This
I’ve just got back from the Land Cruiser Club’s 10th anniversary and Saamtrek at Moolmanshoek in the Free State – what a jol! Moolmanshoek Private Nature Reserve lies in the Witteberg Mountains, some forty kilometres from Ficksburg. The reserve consists of some 3 300 hectares lying in the horseshoeshaped Moolmanshoek valley, and a more beautiful spot to hold a gathering of the Cruiser clan would be hard to find. It is home to springbok, blesbuck, black wildebeest, eland, gemsbok, zebra – and now a mixed, multi-coloured herd of Cruisers of every shape, hue and description.
My introduction to the Cruiser family began at the entrance gate. While signing in, I heard the deep throaty growl of a V8 adding a bass note to the soprano chorus of three kort gat (Short Wheel Base) vehicles. Vehicles my age; but, unlike me, they’d been restored to their youthful glory. Don’t worry – their story comes a little later in the tale. In the Land Cruiser Club, the ladies are known by the acronym SWAMBO – She Who Always Must Be Obeyed, derived from one of Rider Haggard’s classics. And the fairer sex is particularly strong in this group. I have to mention people like Elsa Boardman, Jane Zietsman, Kay Collett, Karen Wehmeyer and Susanne Kotze, who helped to keep this gathering of 300 people and over 100 vehicles running like a well-oiled machine.
Something I learnt about these vehicles is that when it comes to the esoteric world of Land Cruisers, you have to be pretty good with numbers. At the end of the weekend, attaching names to numbers..! By then I knew that the group of five immaculately-restored Cruisers at the gate were 40s – Shaun Cullen from Durban, Grahame Burchell from Cape Town, Theo Marx from Brackenfell, Pierre Bester from Wellington and Adolf Hüster from Joburg. I also knew that a BJ40 was a diesel machine, whereas an FJ40 was petrol. So Theo Marx’s Cruiser, which he sourced in Australia, was born as a BJ42 LX; but after he had fitted a Lexus V8 petrol engine it became an FJ42 LX!.
I stayed at camp, chatting to Guy Boardman about the origins of the Club. ‘Where did it all start?’ I asked the big, genial, bearded man who describes himself as a bit of a mechanical fiddler. Guy is also the Judge, Juror and Executioner at the camp court, so you get to recognize his deep gravelly voice. “The club was started ten years ago by Andy Watts and Nick Good,” he said.
“Eventually they handed over the Club to the people and… a constitution was drawn up. Custodians were appointed… there are six of them and they serve a two year term; they are the decision makers in the club.” I met custodians Peter Zietsman, Hennie Kotze, Jos Hartog, Adolf Hüster, Christo Gilomee and CM Kotze over the weekend. They were the guys (and their wives) who quietly went about making this 10th year celebration the success it was. In the words of my late father, “Bloody good upstanding citizens.’
The other good fellows, as Guy explains, are, “The forum administrator, André Bosch, who lives in Australia, assisted by Cobus Pelser here in South Africa. The Mods do the sorting out of the post and the cleaning up of the email thread. As we chat, I begin to understand how the Club started – basically as a small Internet forum. It has grown from those small beginnings to a club with 600 paid-up members. When you see the size of this Saamtrek and the work that goes into it, it’s hard to believe that everything is done on a voluntary basis.
Guy is in charge of membership management “That’s how I know how to spell everybody’s name!” he explains with a laugh. He has also run a couple of the group buys. This scheme was created over time: “If we pick up on the forum that members are looking for a certain product, I look into getting a bulk buy.” It’s hard to believe, but he arranged R450 000 worth of Fenix torches on the group-buy scheme.
However, it’s in the field of good works that this club excels. One of the Club’s main focus areas is the Desert Lion Project. It all began when some of the Cape members, on a trip in northern Namibia, saw the most battered old Toyota they had ever seen. It belonged to Dr Phillip Stander, the zoologist who has dedicated his life to preserving the lions in the Kaokoveld. Flip, as he is best known, started the project in ’98.
The Land Cruiser Club members stepped in, and, with another sponsor, managed to get him a really good Land Cruiser.
This project has remained very close to the heart of all the members. At the loud and cheerful DLP (Desert Lion Project) auction run by Hennie Jackson, I believe around R30 000 was raised for the project. This Club, I discovered, is also about stewardship and paying back. Hence, the blanket runs into Lesotho every year. This was Peter Zietsman’s baby. As he explained to me, “The guys got fired up about it and we jumped in.”
He went on to explain that they had supplied approximately 400 blankets last year, and that this year they had pushed the number up to 1 100. One need only go onto the website of the Land Cruiser Club, Southern Africa, (www.landcruiserclub.co.za), join as a non-paying member, and look at the pictures of this year’s blanket run into Lesotho, to get an idea of what the Club is doing.
Another thing that surprised me during the weekend was the number of Cruisers fitted with 2-way radios. The Club has its own dedicated radio officer who oversees the licensing of LCCSA radios for the members. The Club has a shared frequency, not its own frequency; but it is a national frequency, so Club members can tune in and use their radios anywhere in the country. This has also meant that the Club can help in events where radio communications are essential.
I didn’t know any of this when I arrived. In fact I was a bit like Groucho Marx, who once famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” Assumptions have a really nasty habit of biting you in the bum, and every preconceived notion I had about clubs was rudely turned on its head at this weekend saamtrek. They’re really just a great bunch of men and women who share a common passion: their love for Land Cruisers. During the weekend I met computer boffs, doctors, surgeons, ’varsity students, lawyers, magistrates, vets, housewives, photographers, and more. I shared drives, braais, breakfasts and beers with so many people that I would have to make this story ten pages longer if I were to mention them all. So, forgive me for featuring a small selection of the people who make up the club.
I don’t know why, but I have a love of older things – perhaps because grizzled old hacks like me could never afford a big Number Cruiser. Hence my being drawn to those Magnificent Men in their 40s. There were four of them who had just driven the eight passes of the Eastern Cape before arriving at Moolmanshoek for the Saamtrek. I managed, between the rounds of braais, beers and bull dust, to chat to a few of them.
I loved Theo Marx’s immaculately restored – ‘very scarce,’ as he described it – 42 LX. Theo, known as ‘The Judge,’ is actually a magistrate in the Cape. He personally sourced his machine in Adelaide, Australia. It took him six months to source, and another eight months to import it to South Africa; and then he stripped it, every nut, bolt and screw, down to base. Spending an average of four hours every day, and more at weekends, he finally achieved what I was privileged to see. Theo replaced the original 3.4 BJ diesel 3D motor with a 4.0-litre Lexus V8. Interestingly enough, an Aussie bloke bought the old diesel motor, so it went back home to Australia!
I was lucky to arrive at the entrance gate as the four vehicles arrived. There was Shaun Cullen, in his BJ40 from Durban, Grahame Burchell in his blue BJ42, Pierre Bester from Wellington in his ’82 BJ 42 and ‘The Judge’ Theo Marx in his green 42LX. I loved Grahame’s blue beauty, known to all Cruiser aficionados as SMURF. I also couldn’t believe Shaun Cullen’s saying to me, “If you want to drive my van on any of the trails tomorrow, just come and get her… the keys are in the ignition”. I didn’t, but that was the generosity of spirit and camaraderie that I experienced all weekend long. I am now a born-again Club man: to hell with Groucho Marx. Sorry, Theo; no reflection on your ancestors!
I loved meeting Hermie Koen, another great Land Cruiser Character in the spirit of the great comedian. Hermie bought his first Cruiser in 2000, and now owns five: a ’74 FJ45, a ’96 80 Series GX 4.2 diesel, a ’97 80 Series VX diesel, a ’99 100 Series VX diesel and an EFI that was rolled and that he is busy building up.
It’s when you peek into the cabin of Hermie’s Cruiser that you get an idea of his quirky sense of humour – it looks like a mobile hardware store! Need directions? There are five GPSs to choose from. When speaking to Hermie back in Kaapstad, I realised that he’s one of the most knowledgeable Toyota guys you can find. He also has a heart as big as his toy collection.
Another couple that I have to add into the magic circle was Ian Steyn and his wife Heidie. Firstly, anybody who offers the best coffee outside of Vienna has to be treated with respect, whether they own a Land Cruiser or not. And the Steyns own two: Heidie has an immaculate white 60, and Ian a ’79 Troopie. Although Ian is a doctor, it was his partner, Heidie, who saved my life. She must have seen it in my eyes… “You look like you need a cup of freshly brewed Douwe Egberts?” Heidie sells the coffee, imported from Holland, and the Bialletti coffee machines from Italy. I became a regular visitor at their little coffee shop in the veld with its side table of ‘Tools for Boys’, stocking things with labels like Leatherman, Victorinox, Warn, Hi Lift, Vision X, Fenix Coast, Kershaw, Casio, Gedore, Led Lenser, Rudy Projects and Hi Lift Jacks.
You will understand why Ian won the prize for his FJ62 GX. It’s hard to believe, but Ian was still a medical student when he bought it; albeit one with kids! “I bought this wreck from an Israeli couple. They had been through Africa with it – and it showed, all right.” Apparently they had drilled holes in the bodywork to hang curtains! Ian laughs at the memory of it. “I nearly plugged my exams!’ Ian stripped that vehicle down to the bone, replacing every nut, bolt and screw. Wife Heidie shakes her head as she adds, “You know, he even took off the dashboard and cleaned every inch with a toothbrush.” All I can hope is that one day Ian and Heidie will want to sell their White ’60, and that I will be first in line!
The next vehicle that I would stand all night in the queue for is James and Kay Collett’s ’79 bakkie. The Collett’s won the prize for the best practical overlanding vehicle at the Saamtrek. Not surprisingly, the couple included the Moolmanshoek leg as the wrap-up of a two-month trip they’d just taken through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. James ‘fiddles around a bit,’ as he says! After removing the bin, James “built a frame from the chassis up to cab height to replace it.” He then built swing doors that open up from the side. Everything on this vehicle was designed by him for easy camping. The Collett’s have two Engel Fridges, one acting as a freezer. The top of their tent has an aluminium panel with two 60 W solar panels. A short stroll around the Langesnek Leadership Centre at Moolmanshoek had me yearning for a Lotto win. The camping hardware on display was enough to keep one dreaming for years.
I had plenty of time to cogitate as I headed back to Joburg and the flight home. In my mind’s eye I kept seeing the picture on Grahame Burchell’s mobile phone. It was the picture of a white diesel Land Cruiser circa 1972. Grahame had found it parked in a garage in Paarl. The Cruiser still smelled of fresh leather – yes, it has leather seats – and had FOUR THOUSAND KILOMETRES on the clock. It’s true – the farmer who bought it used it only for Sunday church runs! By now I am an expert on everything Land Cruiser. So I’m dreaming of another garage, another church and the Ultimate Cruiser – a BJ ’73 or ’74 with P.T.O winch and cable lockers front and back, nothing less. Or so the manne say as we sit around Gerald de la Porte’s little beer stand drinking Bitburger draught, or in my case Weizenberg Gold, the best bloomin beer in the world. It helps one cogitate, says Gerhard. I believe him!