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The call of the Burb ...
By Piers "The Celt" FitzGerald
Greetings Stovebolters! I’m happy to report that I’ve fully recovered from my accident [ see Out of Africa feature story ] and I’m keen to return to the wilds of Africa. However, I’m not going back to live in Cape Town. Granted, I get to meet some great movie crews, relax at some incredible locations [ Stovebolt on the mountain ], look at beautiful models posing alongside one of my weather beaten classics [ this one's more weather beaten ! ] but haven’t I already done that for nine years?
What I want to do is to get out of the city and journey deeper into Africa, tracking down old classics.
The “Burb in the bush”
Sitting here in the rural English countryside, I’ve been thinking about rescuing that early 1960’s “Burb in the bush,” an ideal, rugged vehicle to negotiate the countless African pot-holed, unpaved tracks virtually impossible in my 1967 Impala. By complete accident, I found the Burb while up country on another Chev safari (in the ’49 Chev pick up).
At a gas stop, a friendly bus driver strolled over to have a look at my “scout” vehicle, 1967 Impala SS coupé, telling me he’d heard of a farm full of rusty old classics near the Cullinan mine, where the famous diamond, the Star of Africa, was found. Well hey, wasn’t I looking for my own diamond in the bush?
Intrigued, I decided to do some detective work and eventually tracked down the Burb’s location on a remote “bush” farm. The owner, Monty, an 80-year old wiry, sun-baked Afrikaner farmer took me over to where the Chev was, surrounded by other rusting American classics [ pix ] .
The tyres were destroyed but surprisingly, after decades sitting out under the scorching African sun, the body had suffered only minor rust. All the windows were closed and on opening the driver’s door, a blast of hot air hit me full in the face.
I rolled down the windows and noticed the interior was pretty well intact. I popped the hood and grabbed hold of the fan belt, amazed to discover the engine turned over. Naturally, not being used for such a long time, the brake / steering / cooling / clutch / exhaust systems needed a total overhaul, along with five new tyres and tubes.
The Burb could easily transport five people plus heavy equipment all over Southern Africa. The only thing that worried me was the badly sun damaged yellow and black windshield, impossible to see through. There were only two alternatives: find another one, or whip it out and get myself a pair of goggles! I told Monty that I was interested but I’d have to see about getting another windshield.
Back in Cape Town, I got in touch with a few auto glass makers who said they couldn’t make one up because of the curves. I searched high and low all over South Africa but these early Burbs were never imported or assembled in the Port Elizabeth plant. I couldn’t even find an early pickup truck which had the same windshield.
Finally, I went to a Cape Town US auto importer who said they could get one in the US but the cost + shipping + insurance would be around $750. Before I could make a decision, I had that bad fire in my garage [ see Out of Africa feature story ] and the following week, some crazy African ran into me badly damaging my London taxi. I realized that I had to return to Sweden to recover, not knowing when or if I’d ever go back to South Africa.
Before my departure, I was forced to part with my collection to a fast talking, shifty looking, and heartless Cape Town auctioneer!
Back in Sweden, a few weeks later, more bad luck followed when a bus crashed into me badly damaging another old classic -- a ’70 Mercedes cabriolet. (Pic) But hey Stovebolters, was I happy to be alive!
Two years on, that old “Burb in the bush” is still on my mind. Surely, it deserved a better fate than rusting away on a remote farm.
I called a Cape Town movie prop colleague suggesting he buy / rent the Burb out as a movie prop but sadly, he wasn’t into the idea, due to the windshield. I figured other South African classic car enthusiasts might like to know about this rugged, rare seven-seat Chevrolet and one of them might give it a good home. But before I placed a few ads, I thought I’d better call the owner, Monty, to see if he still wanted to part with it.
Sadly, it wasn’t Monty who answered the phone but his daughter telling me her father had passed away a year ago, and the farm and all his old American cars now belonged to the new owner. I asked her if she could find out about the Burb and email me when she had some news. I’m still waiting!
Recently, I happened to see an ad for a ’57 Land Rover here in Gloucestershire, and I drove over to check it out. The owner was a real character. Over a few cups of tea, he asked me all about my life in Africa. On the drive home, an idea flashed into my head and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before! It was simple. If he enjoyed my stories, maybe others would as well!
I knew what I must do: make a documentary (or even a TV series) about searching for African classics, interviewing owners about their vehicle’s history and of their lives in Africa. Everything was in place. I had the time, passion, energy, experience and movie contacts.
When I got home, I called a good friend in Cape Town, a well-known director, suggesting the idea. He loved it and agreed to come on board but it was up to me to write a script and to get the finance. My wife, a/k/a the Viking, a lady of many hidden talents, is keen to produce it.
I contacted the enthusiastic Stovebolt team who suggested I write this article, with two objectives in mind. Many folks had responded to the first two Africa features and loved them. So, it appeared I had a bit of a following. The other thought was perhaps a Stovebolter or two might be interested in more than just a good story to read ( and neat pictures to look at, I might add ~ Ed. ) So, the story is here! And if anyone IS interested in investing in a documentary about searching for African Chevrolets and other classics, please let me hear from you. Every cent donated would go directly towards this “doccie.” Just think, the next time you’re asked, “Hey Bob, what’s up?” You could reply: “Well, Hank, I’m financing an African adventure documentary!”
If the contribution is from a business, needless to say, the company would get a credit.
Assuming the funding is in place, I expect to have a script and return to Africa by September this year. Hopefully, filming plus editing will take a further 6 -9 months. If the Burb is for sale, I’ll have it transported to Cape Town (1800 km), where I’ll restore it. If not, or the windshield proves a problem, then I’ll have to settle for a Land Rover, which Stovebolters, isn’t exactly what the Celt had in mind !
Working Title: “Chev Safari Raid.” The documentary (or TV series) will begin in Cape Town showing some of the city’s breathtaking scenery [ pic ] on route to interview classic car owners, restorers and dropping into a few movie prop companies to check out their vehicles. After that, the plan is to set off on a “Chev safari raid” up to the Free State farm lands [ pic ] , following up on tips about abandoned, forgotten vehicles on remote farms, and then into Botswana through game reserves [ pic ] .
Depending on tips from my “scouts,” I may even venture up through the Namibian desert out to the diamond area on the Skeleton coast [ pic ], so named because of all the shipwrecks. Who knows, maybe I’ll come across a few sparklers in the sand!
After Namibia I’m keen to travel up to Victoria Falls / Livingstone loading up with supplies and, if the border is open, head into Zimbabwe following the Zambezi River. I may even bump into Bob (Mugabe) hitching a ride out of Zim!
Finally, again depending on what my “scouts” tell me, I might head into Mozambique but not too far because many of the rutted roads haven’t yet been cleared of land mines laid during the long civil war.
If the documentary is well received by TV networks, I may even ship the Burb over to South America / Central America searching for more abandoned Chevrolets! Who knows, maybe the Burb and myself will end up at Stovebolt headquarters where some lucky Stovebolter could bid online for this amazing vehicle (can’t promise I’ll part with it though).
Now that’s what I call an adventure and a happy ending for the “Burb in the bush!”
Slan, The Celt!
“Life’s a long, winding trail; ride a good horse.” (1868)