It was the launch issue of Leisure Wheels magazine. It was make or break. The articles had to be top notch, the vehicles, photography and editorial world class. The cutesy Toyota RAV4 had recently hit SA’s adventure market. It was a winning recipe – the new RAV4, two sexy models and a weekend photo shoot in Mozambique. What could possibly go wrong?
The spring of 1997 was to be the dawn of a new era in the motoring industry. The first issue of Leisure Wheels was about to hit the shelves – the first off-roading and leisure magazine at the time.
Colleague Beyers Herbst (not related) and I had a killer idea of featuring the RAV4 on the beach in Mozambique. We had no budget, but needed two models to complete the picture.
We called a few modelling agencies in Johannesburg and told them the story of our new magazine, a trip to Moz, the models we needed and our non-existent budget. We needed two striking young models for a three-day shoot – at no cost to us. In exchange, the girls would gain experience, enjoy a great weekend and be wined and dined, and the photographs of the shoot would be available to the agency for use in their portfolios.
Game on! We were very excited to meet our models at the agency. But our excitement was short lived. One of the models was okay’ish, but the other was far too old to match the type of people we imagined RAV4 drivers to be. I could see that Beyers’ mind was also working overtime during the “interview”.
“We’ll get back to you,” was the safest option out.
Back at the office, we phoned the agency to say the trip had been called off due to unforeseen circumstances. With only two weeks to go before our trip, we contacted an agency in Pretoria – in fear that the Johannesburg agencies may be in cahoots with each other and we would be caught out.
We were more apprehensive with the next “model casting”. “Bliksem!” was all that Beyers could muster. These were two hotties – perfect for our shoot!
The Rav was collected and we had arranged a Mazda double cab bakkie as back-up, since the Rav was too “compact” for four passengers plus luggage and equipment.
We left early on the planned Saturday morning to pick up our models in Pretoria – one from her boyfriend’s house, nogal. He eyeballed us with disdain and his crushing handshake seemed like a departing gesture of warning.
Luckily the two models knew each other, so the mood was very relaxed, and the chirping and chatter over the two-way radios kicked off.
The brunette travelled with Beyers in the Mazda while I had the blonde as a passenger in the RAV4.
At our first stop, it was already evident that we were going to attract lots of attention on our trip. People stopped and stared. What were these two long-legged, porcelain-skinned beauties doing with these two skollies? We felt really macho…
We took our time to reach the border at 12:00. Beyers and I got out to do the formalities. “Where are the papers for the cars?” the border police asked. I felt the blood draining from my face. “What papers?”
It had been donkey’s years since I last went to Mozambique and papers were never needed before. On our regular trips to Swaziland, we never needed papers, either.
We tried to explain the reason for our trip, about the new magazine… about the models in the vehicles whom we dare not disappoint… and the risk of looking like poepholle. But to no avail. They insisted that someone fax us the required documentation, but it was a Saturday and we couldn’t get hold of anybody.
Quietly I was hoping that I could talk the cops into allowing us through with at least the Toyota, but I realised that would take time and I did not want to leave the girls waiting in the cars.
We walked back to the models, keeping our cool. “There is a little problem,” we said, as if in passing. We took them to a nearby hotel, gave them money for lunch and drinks and went off to sort out our “little problem”.
We drove back to the border police and begged them to help us. We simply couldn’t risk losing face. This was 1997 and policing was still very much like it was three years before. A bribe did not even enter our heads. Turning back home without this main article for our magazine with two very disappointed (and probably very offended) females was just not thinkable.
We could see that the two policemen were feeling sorry for us and understood our predicament but there was no way they could help us.
On the wall behind the desk I saw an Avis advert on a calendar. Brain wave! What if we could rent a RAV4 with documentation and leave our RAV4 with the rental company as security? The SAP guys were kind enough to let us use their phone. I immediately called the company in Malelane, which was 45km behind us.
“Sorry, that business closed down and we inherited the number. This is Malelane Toyota,” said the voice on the other side. What? really? My brain was spinning. “Are you open now?” I asked the man. “No, I just came in to do some paperwork and was just leaving when the phone rang.”
The man has got to help us, I thought. I pleaded with him to wait for us as we were in big trouble and he could possibly help us. I must have sounded very convincing because he agreed to wait for us. We were with him within 20 minutes.
The man was Johan Horn and he was the dealer principal at the Toyota dealership in Malelane. I told him our whole story but could not help thinking our plea would be in vain. After all, we were complete strangers talking about a new 4×4 magazine that had yet to see the light of day…
Johan seemed to want to help, but getting papers for the RAV4 was not going to be possible. Beyers and I were getting desperate and decided that the article would have to be done at a later stage. The most important thing now was to get those girls into Mozambique so that they could enjoy the weekend they were expecting.
Johan suggested we leave the RAV4 with him and use one of his trade-ins to do the trip. We walked over to the used car section. There were only a few skedonks. We had no choice… a skedonk with papers was better than a RAV4 with no papers.
Johan must have seen the look on our faces and when we sat down at his desk to complete the paperwork, he looked me straight in the eye and said: “My wife drives a RAV4, you know?”
I looked at him, puzzled, and replied: “What are you trying to say to me, Johan?”
“I have no idea why, but I really want to help you guys”.
He picked up the phone and called his wife. He asked her to come to the dealership. She arrived with their weekend groceries filling the RAV4 to the brim.
Johan explained to his wife that she was to drive our RAV for a few days and we would be using hers for our magazine article. He quickly drew up the documents we needed while we unloaded and uploaded the two vehicles. In less than an hour, we were off to pick up the girls.
As we drove off, Beyers and I burst out laughing. We couldn’t believe what had just happened. What were the chances? This was a miracle… and we were ready for our adventure!
The models were a bit surprised by the colour change of the car, so we decided to come clean and told the whole story. They couldn’t believe our luck, either.
Back at the border, the police guys also could not believe what had happened and they were clearly pleased that this calamity had turned good. We left a lot of our goodies in the Mazda, which we left at the SAP office, and made our way to the luxurious Polana Hotel – another deal we’d had to barter because of our non-existent budget.
Each of us had our own suite – with a fruit and wine bouquet to welcome us.
That afternoon we had a fabulous shoot on the beach. The weather was glorious and our spirits were high. The stares continued. “Our” models undoubtedly turned heads wherever we went. And boy, were they dressed the part!
The following day we visited the local markets where we took more fabulous photos. Since the other RAV4 had a sunroof, and the one from Malalane did not, I had to take pictures of curios that could be “photo-shopped” into the car to show off the sunroof – once we were back at the office.
Our three nights at the Polana were unforgettable – prawns, Portuguese wine and great company. Our article would exceed even our highest expectations.
On the Tuesday, we returned Johan’s wife’s RAV4. We couldn’t thank them enough. A special thank you to “Malelane’s Good Samaritan” was included in our first edition – an edition that would set the stage – and standard – for the Leisure Wheels of today.
In the 17 years that have followed, our staff have always proved that, come hell or high water, if we have set our minds on a trip and photo shoot, we will do it… no matter what.
Lady Luck has irrefutably been very generous towards us from the very beginning.