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"Stovebolted Out of Africa"

By Piers Fitz Gerald

       In July 2005, Piers "The Celt" Fitz Gerald sent us a great story "Africa Calling" complete with some unbelievable pictures and stories from his adventures in Africa, including his "Chevrolet Safari." Although many of the classic vehicle he used were not Stovebolts, the pictures were so incredible -- of the vehicles as well as the settings -- we used as many as we could! It was like working with John Wayne on the set of Hatari! So, we think you should read that story first. This one takes a different path. A terrible incident that flipped The Celt's world around a bit. But, we have a feeling, it's just spun him into another direction. We don't think this man will stay idle, nor leave his camera down for long. And it seems he is always guided toward the beauty of old iron. "While I was driving along one of those country roads, I spotted a '52 Chev, stopped and took a lovely picture of my wife sitting on the hood! ... " Read on. ~~ Editor

Stovebolted Out of Africa

      We are sad to report that Ingrid and I have left Africa after nine exciting years (as you may have discovered from the first feature story). This photo here shows our old neighborhood in Bó-Kaap.

       My Chevrolet safari days have come to a sad and sudden end. It certainly wasn't exactly how I planned it.

Arrival in Cape Town       It all began in my Cape Town garage when I was preparing my '48 pickup for a film shoot. After lying outside in the African bush for two years, it needed a complete brake overhaul, a good tune up and a badly needed chrome polish. I wasn’t worried about the faded green paintwork because I knew a “weathered” looking vehicle was exactly what the photographers and film directors wanted.

       While I was under it, repairing two worn rear axle mountings, a friendly, curious African bus cleaner strolled in, smoking a cigarette. “Man, is it all right if I look around at these ol' cars?” he asked. "Sure" I replied and carried on working. Ten minutes later, my African visitor returned saying. "Man, I've never seen such a ol' cars."

       After a few minutes chat, he left and I continued working.

The Mount Nelson Hotel       Suddenly, I heard a “whoosh.” My shirtsleeves were on fire. I rolled out from under the pickup ripping off my shirt and ran outside to a water tap to cool the badly burnt skin on my hands and arms. Nearby, a group of startled African bus cleaners looked up but didn't move. Frantically, I looked around for something to fight the fire and saw a fire box hanging up by the garage door. I grabbed a fire extinguisher but discovered it didn't work. I found another, but this too was useless. I ran into the garage but watched helplessly as flames engulfed the front of my pickup. The only thing I could do was to try and rescue a few cars.

       Fortunately, an hour earlier, I had reversed my '67 Chevelle into the middle of the garage. I jumped into the driver’s seat and shot out of the garage. Smoke and flames were now reaching the garage roof. I knew I couldn't get my '67 Impala SS Coupe out in time because the battery was disconnected -- ironically to prevent such a very thing happening.

       By this stage, I was certain my other cars -- a '55 Jaguar XK 150, another '52 Chev pickup, a '62 Bentley S convertible and a London taxi -- were going to be torched. I shouted over to a few African cleaners to bring water hoses but they simply stared in disbelief.

       I grabbed a nearby hose but discovered it wouldn't fit onto the tap nozzle. Another hose worked but the water pressure was useless. "Ring the Fire Department!" I shouted.

       Suddenly, a bus mechanic ran over and shouted to them “Get those hoses connected to the hydrants and turn on the water.”

       I dashed into the burning building but the smoke and flames were too much. I looked down at my arms and hands and was surprised to see huge blisters and charred skin. Strangely enough, I didn't feel any pain.

       The fire continued to rage and I realized there was nothing to do except watch. Finally, the Fire Department arrived and immediately took control. Within minutes the fire crew attached thick hoses onto the hydrants and quickly the fire was brought under control. A kind medical officer wrapped both my arms in bandages and ten minutes later, I was on route to the hospital with first and second degree burns.

The aftermath

       A few days later, I returned to the garage to check the damage. Unable to use both hands, all I could do was to walk around and look in disbelief.

       The garage looked like a bomb had exploded. Twelve fire extinguishers lay scattered on the floor. I bent down to inspect them and found seven were still full but didn't work. The inspection certificate had expired two years previously.

       In the corner lay the charred remains of my expensive Sony editing machine together with all my furniture. I looked up and saw a few of the wooden beam supports were badly burnt.

       A lot of the roof tiles had disappeared leaving a gaping hole in the roof. Broken roof tiles and charred metal lay strewn all over the garage.

       I inspected my pickup. The entire front section was burnt out. The seat and roof material had melted leaving just a rusty frame and springs. All the windows had shattered. The steering wheel and gear lever plastic had completely melted. The dashboard chrome instruments were beyond recognition. Both doors and hood were bent out of shape. The beautiful polished chrome grille, bumper and hub caps were now a twisted mess of brown metal.

       I struggled to lift the warped hood and found all the electrical wiring, distributor cap, leads and fan belt had melted. I checked around to the rear section and strangely enough, the oak wood bed and one rear tyre were still intact.

       I looked over at my recently painted Impala and both front fenders and hood were badly scorched. A piece of a roof tile had cracked the windshield.

       On the other side of the garage, the heavy plastic dust cover over my '55 Jaguar XK150 had melted. Lifting up the cover, I expected the worst. It was incredible, though. The only damage appeared to be paint bubbling on the front left fender and door. All the other cars were covered in a film of black dust but otherwise in tact.

       The Fire Officer arrived to make a report and told me “The fire started because someone threw a cigarette butt on your furniture.” I returned home and checked my insurance to discover I was only covered for vehicle use and not fire.

       The next day, I called my landlord, a state owned - property company who said “I’m afraid you’ll have to pay for our building damage.” I replied ” Look, the fire could have easily been controlled if your fire extinguishers and taps had been in good working order." He denied his company was at fault. The only thing for me to do now was to consult an attorney who advised me the case was weak because my lease stated the onus was on me to provide fire insurance to my own property.

       I told my landlord he was being unreasonable and if we couldn’t come to some amicable solution. To cut a long story short, they agreed to pay for their damage but I’d have to pay mine. To avoid a long drawn out saga, I agreed.

       So sadly Stovebolters, the only thing was to look on the bright side and concentrate on getting better. Having plenty of time on my hands (excuse the pun!), I realized my African Chevrolet safaris days were over for a while. The time had come to cut my losses and leave Cape Town. A few days after the fire, a few kind Africans helped me to clean up the mess and sadly, I parted with all my classics. People were very kind and my wife, Ingrid was an "angel" changing my bandages and driving me places.

       Four days before I left Cape Town, I was delivering my taxi to a new owner when a crazy local smacked into me. Fortunately, we were both OK but needless to say, I lost the taxi deal! Something was telling me to change direction.

Recovery for the mind,body and soul

       So, one month after the fire, we headed to the Caribbean island of Martinique to recover. Being at the beach reminded me of happier days. Unfortunately, I neglected to follow my doctor’s advice “Make sure you keep your injuries out of the sun.”

       Two weeks later, I left Martinique for France visiting medieval castles and following the trail of Richard the Lionheart.

       By July we were back in Sweden. However, after sunny South Africa, the prospect of spending a long, cold, dark, rainy, windy Swedish winter is not what the Celt had in mind!

       I'm happy to report that apart from a few scars, physically I have almost completely recovered. But we have some decisions to make. “Where to go and what to do?” All we know is that Sweden is not for us. It's very safe, a well organized country but to us, there seems to be no "soul" here. It's quite lonely and we long for warm summers. Nine months is too much to sit around waiting for something to happen!

       The idea of returning to Africa and buying that old ’60 'Burb out in the bush (mentioned in the first Feature article, “Africa Calling") is indeed tempting. What could be more fun than to get an old Chev running after 30 years and heading off on another exciting “Chev safari” -- perhaps up the Namibian Skeleton Coast looking for diamonds or deep into Angola collecting souvenirs from old Cuban tanks or even, following the footsteps of Livingston up to the Zambian /Zimbabwe border to gaze down at majestic Victoria Falls. What an adventure movie or even a book! Could be an excellent way to earn some badly needed funds.

       Or, a warm climate like Florida or California seem like the ideal place to be creative and constructive. Perhaps some kind Stovebolter has an unused guest house for rent or know a producer looking for material for an exciting script! If so, I’m waiting hear from you – my bag is already packed!

       In the meantime here in Sweden, I'm biking everywhere on the many bike lanes. It's quite refreshing passing by hundreds of Swedes in silence. I'm also spending a lot of time on the net researching animation studios in the main library. They've computers everywhere and a newspaper room with most of the international magazines and newspapers.

Always a keen eye for beauty

       Not to leave everyone totally down about all this, I thought Stovebolters would like to see more colourful pictures!

       Here is a beautiful September "Jacaranda" tree (only blossoms for about two weeks). Couldn't resist my own shoot!

       Someone stole the hood / boot lid and four chrome hub caps from this very rare 1960 S2 Bentley convertible. Apparently, he knocked on the door and told the maid that he was from a film production office and needed the parts for a movie shoot! The owner was abroad at the time. I rescued it just in time!

       And then, while out for a walk, I found this beautiful, unused 1951 MK 6 Bentley. Perfect for a Guinness ad! And this one would be perfect for A N Y cosmetic ad.

       I would like to thank the Stovebolt team for allowing me to share my sad story with you. May I wish you all a very Healthy and Happy 2007. And remember, Stovebolters, 50% of happiness is controlled by our genetic make up, 10% is through life’s circumstances and a whopping 40% is up to all of us to search for. I’m working on mine!

PS. I just heard through the African grapevine, that that old ‘60 'Burb is still sitting out under the harsh African sun waiting for one of you adventurers to buy it! Don’t forget that windshield! (I told you he was always thinking TRUCK ~~ Editor)

Piers Fitz Gerald
The Celt
Roaming ...

       If you started with this page, we need to encourage you to read about our first contact with The Celt. Such a wonderful adventure, such a great story-teller and photographer. The feature includes information about this artist himself. We are certain his adventure days are not over and we all wish him good fortune. We anxiously await his next tale. ~~ Editor

v January 2007

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