SA’s Independent Automotive Manufacturers
We check out some small car companies right here on SA soil.
South Africa has always been a hotbed for automotive manufacturing, with Henry Ford setting up a plant on our shores as far back as 1923!
With such a long history of local manufacturing, people wonder why we have no local mainstream car brands? Well, that is a story for another time and has a lot to do with economics. What we do have, are several independent car manufacturers who are doing exciting things, and funny enough; the general public knows little or nothing about them!
That said, we decided to check out a few local independent manufacturers who are building jaw-dropping road-going vehicles!
Backdraft Racing/ TR-Tec (Pty-Ltd)
Backdraft Racing was founded in 2002, and their production facility is based in Prospecton in Durban, where they manufacture a high-end Cobra replica known as the RT4.
Now I know that you must be thinking that isn’t very unique, but the Backdraft’s cars have been developed for a modern audience. The original Cobra body was altered ever so slightly to improve driver comfort and the entire chassis was redesigned using an independent suspension setup based on the BMW 3-Series. Yes, no leaf springs or live axles here.
The Backdraft RT4 has also been designed to accept a host of engines with some customers even opting for the 5.0 Ford Coyote V8 which you can find under the bonnet of the new Mustang GT.
You can’t put a price on a Backdraft RT4 because each model is handbuilt according to the owner’s specifications. Getting one locally is also not as easy as you'd think because most of Backdraft’s cars are allocated for export, with their US-based agent taking delivery of up to 6 cars a week!
The locally built Backdraft RT4 has taken the global market by storm, and many enthusiasts consider it the best Cobra replica available, with some going as far as saying it is better than the original.
Bailey Sports Racing Cars
Bailey Sports Racing Cars are based in Boksburg, Johannesburg and since its inception in 2003, the company has garnered a worldwide reputation for producing high-quality cars which can surpass the performance of the original models.
Bailey Sports Racing Cars currently produce five models based on famous Le Mans winners from the ‘60s and ‘70s; the Bailey 40 (Ford GT40 replica), Bailey 917 (Porsche 917 replica), Bailey P4 (Ferrari P4 replica), Bailey T70 (Lola T70 replica) and the Bailey GT1, a modernised version of their GT40 designed to compete in local GT racing against the likes of the Porsche GT3.
Bailey Sports Racing Cars’ models are designed for track use but the company can adapt them to road use if requested. One client requested a road-legal version of their 917, which was outfitted with a modern Lamborghini Gallardo V10 and air-conditioning.
Image for reference only
Brandt BRV (Brandt Radical Vehicles) is a Bloemfontein based manufacturing business established 18 years ago by Antonie Brandt. The company originally manufactured trailers and a small off-road vehicle named the DTV Roadrunner.
In 2013, the company began the development of a bespoke, robust and extremely aggressive bakkie. Since 2013, their bakkie has undergone consistent research and development, and each one is built to the customer’s request.
Brandt’s latest line-up is labelled the M-Model, and their top of the range vehicle is christened the S89-M3 Sport. Each of their bakkies is available in either single-cab or extended configuration and uses a custom-designed chassis with leading arms in front and a solid rear axle. Power is provided by a Cummins 2.8 turbo diesel motor turning 35-inch tyres, and the body is constructed using 1.2mm and 1.6mm steel panels.
Brandt BRV builds a fantastic, good looking and robust vehicle, and it is a pity that more South Africans don’t know about them.
CAV - Cape Advanced Vehicles
CAV or Cape Advanced Vehicles was founded in 1999, and their factory is located in Muizenberg, Cape Town.
CAV produces a replica of the iconic Ford GT40, but similarly to Backdraft, they have made extensive changes to their car, making it far more user friendly than the original. As part of the CAV redesign, they produce their own stainless steel chassis with modern suspension and brakes, and their interiors are appointed in leather. As part of the modern update, CAV also includes air-conditioning, essential in a car that doesn’t have opening windows.
CAV produces three models, the GT which is the closest you can get to the original with the added mod-cons, the GT+ which includes the most number of modern updates while still staying true to the original, and lastly the Gulf which pays homage to the iconic Gulf Oil livery which covered the GT40 that won the 1969 24 hours of Le Mans.
Each CAV GT takes around 6 months to produce as they are built according to the customer’s specification, and if you live outside of South Africa, there’s no need to worry, CAV has agents in the USA, Canada, England, The European Union and Australia!
Image for reference only
Hi-Tech Automotive is probably one of the best known independent automotive manufacturers in SA.
Based on a farm outside of Gqeberha (formally Port Elizabeth), Hi-Tech Automotive was founded by Jimmy Price back in the late 1980s and was initially set up to manufacture full-assembled replica cars like the MGTD.
This however evolved, and in the early 1990s, the company began importing Ford Explorer SUVs in CKD (Complete Knock Down) form and assembled them locally for the SA market.
Hi-Tech’s real claim to fame however was the development of their replica Cobra, Ford GT40, Shelby Daytona Coupe and Corvette Grand Sport. These models are licenced by their original manufacturers and sold through the Superformance brand in the USA. Hi-Tech Automotive also manufactures all of Shelby America’s continuation cars. These are models based on Carroll Shelby’s original cars and carry with them authentic Shelby VINs.
In 2000 Hi-Tech worked with British car designer Richard Noble to begin manufacturing the Noble M12 at their facility for export across the world. Hi-Tech built over 700 Noble’s locally starting with the M12 before moving onto the M400.
In 2007, Hi-Tech Automotive together with the Perana Performance Group (named after the legendary Perana Fords built by Basil Green) developed the Zagato designed Z-One. Production of the Z-One was extremely limited and the rights to the car were eventually sold to Ace.
Hi-Tech Automotive is a local success story, and it has earned the reputation of being the largest privately owned automotive manufacturing facility in the world!
Universal Products is based in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, and their car business grew from the production of composite engineering products. Essentially the business side of the business, giving birth to the passion side of the business!
Universal Products produce a range of replicas based on 1950’s Porsches and Lola race cars from the late 1960s. The current line-up includes replicas of the Porsche 356 Speedster, 356 Coupe, Porsche 550 Spyder, and the Lola inspired DAW T70 Mk3B and Mk2 Spyder.
Universal Products’ Porsche 356 replicas are based on VW Beetle chassis and running gear much like the originals and have found favour with enthusiasts who wish to customise them because original cars are so valuable.
Their Lola inspired models have found favour with historic racers across the world, and are powered by Chevrolet V8 crate engines.
Aside from the local market, Universal Products caters for a wide-export market while offering the general public an opportunity to enjoy rare classics without the sky-high price tag.
South Africa’s love affair with the automobile is long and well-documented, and these companies are just a few of many independent firms who are doing amazing things, and I can assure you that they won’t be the last.