With all the negative sentiment about the motor trade and used car dealers, reader “John from Cape Town” thought he would share his positive experience with a happy ending.
It all started a few years ago, when I developed a hankering for a pukka old 4×4.
My market research was somewhat unconventional. Having no technical brain to speak of, I adopted a more hands-on approach. This consisted of keeping my eyes peeled while driving, and when spotting something that looked good, pursuing it and observing to garner information, including a good look at the owner, on the basis that a good car will have a happy owner.
This period involved many happy pursuits, and I am sure there are still a few Pajero and Terracan owners in Cape Town’s southern suburbs looking over their shoulders to see if they are still being stalked.
My first big break came one afternoon while filling up at the Silwood shops in Rondebosch. Suddenly a real beast came roaring onto the forecourt with huge spotlights and apparatus latched on all over the place. The owner was a sprightly young man with a big smile and a knowing wink, apparently used to adoration on the forecourt. I managed to pick up the word Defender, and that was enough to go on.
My second big break came while I was chugging up Wynberg Hill in my old Volvo. Suddenly there was a loud roaring noise, and a huge grey juggernaut swept past as the driver slalomed between the slower vehicles. I just had a quick glimpse, but somehow I knew that this was a good thing. I engaged pursuit mode, but the Volvo was truly clapped and he disappeared into the distance. But Lady Luck was on my side in the form of the traffic lights at the bottom of Edinburgh Drive, where I caught up.
I immediately began my investigations, noting that the rear door was split vertically, with the right door bigger than the left, and there was a black tag with the letters 4WD.
Using my powers of deduction, I concluded that this stood for Four Wheel Drive and this boosted my confidence immensely. With some further manoeuvring, I managed to glimpse the magic words, “Land Cruiser”. This immediately brought back memories of boarding school, when a friend’s father from the Karoo arrived to collect his son in a huge evil looking vehicle with a narrow set of round headlights that seemed to penetrate right into you.
I did not see the owner, but judging by the heavy metal rock music pumping out of the cabin, life was good.
Having completed The Research Stage, I now entered The Procurement Stage. This is where things started to get interesting.
I perused the internet until finally I came upon a picture of a vehicle very similar to that first one on the forecourt in Rondebosch. Lo and behold, the owner lived in the fine suburb of Tamboerskloof.
I set up an appointment to view the vehicle, and before I even got near it, the owner called me into the house. He was obviously an ex-mariner, tanned with a neat white beard and piercing blue eyes. He went by the name of Mike. I will refer to him as Mike 1. Mike 1 threw open the front door, and inside there was every kind of camping paraphernalia and 4×4 apparatus imaginable.
After about half-an-hour of intensive explanation, Mike 1 gave me the nod of approval and we proceeded to the vehicle inspection. This reminded me of the Army. There were terse one-liners followed by laser like stares.
I got into the driver’s seat and Mike 1 opened the passenger door and casually flipped back the entire seat, exposing a large black blob underneath it. “Marine battery!” was the explanation, followed by an arched eyebrow backing up the lasers. The stare then switched towards another blob on the dashboard — “Australian Black Box”. Not having a clue what he was talking about, I nodded sagely and cocked my own eyebrows, using a technique that has got me out of trouble many times.
However, the cherry on the top was when Mike 1, while wistfully gazing out over Table Bay, suddenly banged a large metal clip and the entire side of the vehicle opened up full of gleaming utensils — “Stainless Steel Gourmet Kitchen”. Well that did it for me, this was definitely The Vehicle, and I was just about to close the deal when tragedy struck. Mike 1 opened the rear of the vehicle, which was full of even more paraphernalia. This immediately canned the whole deal, as my family were coming out from the UK later in the year and I needed a minimum of five seats.
I was way too chicken to raise this minor problem with Mike 1, and escaped by mumbling further salutations and indicating I would speak to my bank manager. I drove off and looked in the rear view mirror to see Mike 1 standing in the middle of the road with the lasers locked on the back of my neck. He knew I was bull-shitting.
This let-down took the wind out of my sails, but during a moment of boredom on a business trip I took to perusing my favourite Australian eucalyptus site, and managed to find a rather poor picture of the second vehicle I’d spotted on Wyberg Hill.
Very little of the vehicle was visible and it stood in the middle of a pile of old Mercs, which I took to be a used car lot. This turned me off as I was definitely looking to buy from a besotted owner like Mike1. I forgot about it, but a week later the vehicle was still there. I decided to call the Johannesburg number, just to see, and that’s when everything started happening pretty quickly.
A lady answered the phone and when I asked to speak to a salesman, she told me, “We don’t have any salesmen but I’ll get Mike. He’s under a car in the workshop.”
Some time later, a clipped German voice came on the line with the words, “Zis is Mike”. I will refer to him as Mike 2
Having made the call in bad faith, I stammered out, “So you have an old Land Cruiser for sale, then?” From here on it became fairly apparent that Mike2’s vocabulary largely consisted of the word, “Ja”.
After asking a few more idiotic questions, I made the mistake of saying, “So you sell old Mercs, do you?” Suddenly Mike 2 went from being deathly silent to highly indignant and expressive. He said that “the Mercedes-Benz 230e is ze finest piece of German engineering ever made and will easily do one million kilometres if looked after. And I’m busy preparing one for racing tomorrow.” This indicated to me that Mike 2 was a petrolhead of note, and not your average used-car salesman.
By this time I was feeling hot and flushed as I knew that, for me, the moment had arrived. I took the plunge and told him, “Look, I’ve been searching for one of these things for ages and I can never find one. I’m going overseas next week and I’ve got no time to come to Joburg, so honestly, man-to-man, how is this thing?”
Mike 2 didn’t seem to find this approach particularly strange and he countered with the words, “Zis 96 cruiser is the cleanest second-hand vehicle I have seen in my life. It has been meticulously maintained and is in perfect condition.”
After that there was deadly silence, and I knew Mike 2 well enough by now to know that nothing more would be forthcoming.
It was crunch time for me, and feeling slightly dizzy, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, “Well, I guess I’ll take her then.” Mike 2 seemed singularly unimpressed and said, “Fine, I send you the papers.”
Buyers remorse set in almost immediately, and I convinced myself I had made a terrible mistake. Eventually I phoned Mike 2 again a few days later, and this time found him in a much better mood, and after a good chat I felt much better.
Sensing I was on a roll, I suddenly decided to go the whole hog, and a plan appeared in my head whereby I would get all the modifications done while I was overseas, and come back to a completed vehicle.
I knew this was pretty crazy, having not even seen the vehicle, but somehow my appetite for risk-taking had been upped by the whole experience. So I contacted a company that had a good reputation with these things, in Randburg, and spoke to Alan.
My opening line was that I had bought an old 4×4 without even seeing it. I could hear Alan gasp in surprise, but tactfully he said nothing. I felt that I should pre-empt him to the effect that I knew that I was a complete idiot looking for a hiding, but… such is life.
Alan had a good laugh at that and undertook to go and have a look and see if the Cruiser was worth modifying. He to came back to me with the good news that this was the best example of a second-hand Land Cruiser of this model and year that he had seen, and that if I decided I didn’t want it, he would buy it from me there and then.
That made my overseas trip a whole lot more enjoyable, and the day I flew to Joburg and went to collect my brand-new, old 4×4, fully modified and ready to go, without ever having seen the thing, will be one of those special little memories that live forever.
I won’t wax lyrical about this vehicle; save to say that I’ve owned a good few in my time, including those coming out of Stuttgart, and for its purpose, this tank is in a class of its own. What makes it special is that it has character by the bucket load.
But what also makes it special to me is that, as a typically cynical businessman, I had for once put my faith and money in complete strangers, and won. I can only take my hat off to these gentlemen for being utter professionals who delivered the goods, regardless of the situation.
Anyway, I’ve got my own stalkers now, and that’s a fact!