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Martin Williamson

A potted history...

What I really wanted when I was at varsity was this, a Nissan 1400 Bakkie:

My father had one of the first 'Bakkies' fitted with a 5spd gearbox, and these were popular student wheels (both the earlier 1200cc and later 1400cc versions) as were these, the Datsun 1200 below.

But this is what I learnt to drive in, a Datsun 140Y 4-dr very similar to this:

Of course, what these had in common was the fact their engines were derived from the A series, but, were very reliable rear wheel drive vehicles, simple to maintain, and frugal on fuel.  My father had been an early convert to Japanese in the 70s following a succession of Austins, Standard Vanguard, and Hillmans in the 50s and 60s.  More to the point, in 60/70s Rhodesia where I was born and schooled, sanctions meant little choice other than a few French (Renault 4/6/12, Citroen Club), Italian (AlfaSud) or Japanese (Datsun 120/140Y), so it was I grew up around aged British cars and newer Continental and Japanese models.

By the time we emigrated to South Africa in the early 80s, Leyland had lost its market share, and so consequently of the 8 manufacturers in South Africa, one's choice was limited to either Japanese or German.  Of course, with the political situation and high inflation, it meant that many cars were kept serviceable despite new model sales, so, I had lusted after Japanese metal as a spotty teenager and student at Cape Town University.

But, stepping back in time to when I was all of 8 years old..

The year was 1973, and Ozzie rolled off the assembly line at Blackheath, Cape Town, initially registered to an employee as CA22227. During this six-month period it was used for publicity, and suffered a slight dent to the rear offside door. At the end of this point, in early 1974, it was registered to the employee’s foster mother, a Mrs Roll, of Pinelands, Cape Town, where, during subsequent years until 1985, it covered a total of 70 000 km (approx 44k miles) on mainly local short trips. 

The car had been enthusiastically polished much of its life, so sported some fetching primer patches. At this stage, Mrs Roll’s son decided to replace it for her, and as he lived in Umtata, in the Transkei where my parents lived, he asked me, being a student looking for a cheap ride home from Cape Town University, to drive it up to him.

That 1500 km trip (900 mile) trip proved to be interesting, experiencing a generator failure, but otherwise a wonderfully comfortable car despite taking a day and a half! As my 21st was nearing, my father made an offer and bought me the car! In preparation for my third year, my father decided to have the car re-sprayed and spent endless hours preparing the bodywork. It was remarkably rust-free despite its sojourn in Cape Town at the coast. However, the first few trips around Umtata revealed a slightly smoky engine, so the valve stem seals were replaced, but then the mainshaft bearing failed on the clutch housing. So back to 3rd year in my mother’s Colt Gallant…… And Ozzie was re-registered as XA17-079, the first of four changes through its life to date.

Above, my parents and my new 21st Birthday present!

1986 proved an eventful year. Not least my father spent the first 3 months re-building the engine and gearbox. Despite being a busy General Manager for an engineering concern, he remarkably found time for this, whilst I found my future wife!

1987 at Durnacol Colliery, Natal.

 The subsequent years up to 1989 saw an additional 30 000 km added to the clock as a result of commuting home and to work placements in Natal and the Northern Cape as an engineering student. Some of these trips were reliable, some not so, dealing with over-heating. Then, on one of my work placements, a pick-up truck reversed into the front of Ozzie! 

1988 - Somewhere in the Eastern Cape and minus front bumper.

This proved beneficial, as the front s/steel strip was hiding rust, so a replacement solid bonnet was fitted. The engine bay still bears the slightly crumpled scars on the inner wing. Luckily the handbrake was not perfect and the car not in gear, so it rolled away from the offender with less damage than otherwise might have been sustained. Again, my father to the rescue with a re-sprayed bonnet!

Taken in Natal in 1987

 Then during 1989, the gearbox played up again, this time the double roller bearing in the diff had collapsed. This time, I tackled it myself in my father-in-law-to-be’s garage. A time of stress in our future relationship, having just got engaged six months earlier, and still being a poor failing student! The whole ensemble was removed without engine hoist, and a new bearing sourced at some expense! At some point, I recall, the front brake hose failed, and lost fluid all over the future in-laws drive! Brake fluid and tarmac!

Once again, Ozzie was re-registered CX 24585 as my parents had moved to Knysna in the Cape.

 As a result of the gearbox failure, and the fact that I was starting my first engineering job on the mines in the Northern Cape, I decided to spend some cash to have the engine re-built as the collapsed bearing debris had done some serious damage to the engine surfaces. At this point most folks would have given up and bought a newer Japanese car! Not I! I had become infected by the ‘Classic Car’ scene and regularly devoured copies of ‘Your Classics’, and ‘Practical Classics’. The relationship (car ownership and fiancée) was put to serious test in June 1990. I had stupidly (?) acquired a 1965 MGB Roadster! The MGB is another story in itself, but suffice to say the Apache was in use for a trip to the Southern Cape (a round trip of some 3000 km or more) visiting family and a family wedding. The car started misfiring and it seemed likely to be a fuel blockage of some sort rather than electrical. By this time, one stop too many, a wee dent appeared in the back panel, but we will say no more! 

Attempting to sort out a fuel starvation problem - July 1990 on the N2.

The car was left in Cape Town with the workshop that had rebuilt the engine, and a very patient Fiancee spent several weeks testing the rectifications. It was a filter in the fuel pick-up pipe inside the tank that was being blocked with dirt and rust after 30 minutes of driving on a long run! By the time of our wedding later in 1990, the resulting problem had lead to a burnt-out valve, one of several that had afflicted the car over time! So our Honeymoon and return trip to the Northern Cape were done at a pace that suited a 3-cylinder ‘A’ series, in summer temperatures of 35°C with a side-mounted radiator! I had acquired a scrap Apache at this stage, so the head was replaced. At this point, the car was then put into semi-retirement, being used mainly for local trips whilst my new wife’s Datsun 180 SSS was used for the longer trips. At one stage, I thought the steering rack had failed, but the spare steering column from the scrapper saved the day - worn splines on the original. In the meantime, the MGB took a lot of my time whilst I restored it. And then we visited the UK on holiday in 1992……

 Being British by virtue of my parents, we decided, ok... I decided, amongst other issues, that to pursue the classic car hobby we would need to live in the UK! So the momentous decision was taken to emigrate. To that end we took the decision to re-build Ozzie in preparation for the Grand Trek! It was stripped to a bare shell and re-sprayed, whilst the rear door was replaced, as was the boot-lid from the scrap cars I had. This effectively eliminated any traces of the Cape Town rust. The sub-frames were stripped and re-sprayed, the engine had a new cylinder head fitted, and the car looked just about factory fresh, if not quite "concours". (See Rebuild)

In the meantime, arrangements were made to ship Ozzie to the UK after much research via the appropriate agencies in the UK. I drove the car down to Cape Town (not without mishap given the high temperatures!). On inspection in Cape Town I was required to have the engine number stamped on the block and the chassis number was replaced by a VIN number.

Three months later we were re-united, albeit with a flat battery, and the car was pressed into daily service. Needless to say the first 6 months were not without incident, with a faulty coil, and then a collapsed offside kingpin in Winchester.

1994, registered as XJB735L, was a year for car shows in the South, possibly some 18 – 20 in total, and a plaque board full of badges culminating in the Best in Class win at the 1100 National Rally! Following that, I took a full-time job in Portsmouth with a company car (a Rover, needless to say) and Ozzie entered a period of idleness, merely parked in the garage, essentially awaiting the 25 Year rolling tax exemption! 1973, and what happened in 1997?

 During 1998, between jobs for a week, I MOT’d Ozzie but found the lay-up had not been kind to the bearings and wheel cylinders. On moving from Portsmouth to Chester, the car again went back into storage owing to the demands of the job and our first child, a daughter.

2002 – Having recently bought an MG ZT, I wanted an MGB again. Decision time. The Boss said either do something with Ozzie, or sell it. Several past attempts to offer the car free to Gaydon (in hindsight, phew!) or to Practical Classics had drawn blanks. So I took a monumental decision to sell Ozzie.

 Ozzie was purchased in November 2002 by Jason Heaton, the current owner. Watching Ozzie being driven away was a heart-breaking moment; this was a car I had worked on and owned for nigh on 16 years, had courted, honeymooned, moved homes and continents with, but I felt that it was time for me to move on, and for someone else to have the opportunity to appreciate and show the world what a fine car an Austin Apache is.

And so, handing over to a new keeper (on the left), with the promise I have first refusal if he ever sells...

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