5 Iconic Cars Built Exclusively in South Africa
From skilled designers to respected engineers and line managers, together with world-class assembly lines and a reputation for a broadly excellent work ethic, South Africa has for many years remained a significant player on the global automotive scene. A market that also hosts a huge fanbase of car enthusiasts, Mzanzi has also produced some of the most sought-after limited-edition cars in modern motoring.
1. BMW 325iS
The “Gusheshe” as it’s fondly referred to in South Africa is a car introduced locally in 1989 for the purpose of making it eligible for racing by meeting certain standards, known as homologation. In the absence of the E30-generation M3 derivative that was only available in left-hand drive for overseas markets, BMW South Africa designed and built the 325iS as a worthy alternative.
Featuring a bespoke body kit compared with the standard 325i of the time, the first 325iS introduced a close-ratio gearbox and delivered 130 kW from its booming 2.5-litre straight-6 engine. By 1990, with power increased to 140 kW, a so-called EVO I model introduced the same aluminium body panels, brakes and suspension upgrades as the pinnacle M3 derivative.
A 325iS Evo II would later offer 155 kW.
2. Opel Kadett GSI 16V “Superboss”
As dominant as BMW was at the time on local racetracks around South Africa, Opel was determined to take the fight to them. Built in limited numbers in order to meet its own Group N homologation requirements, the Kadett GSI 16V “Superboss” represented a relatively significant upgrade over the broadly available GSI “Big Boss” derivative.
This mighty hot hatch introduced several engine and suspension upgrades over the standard GSI, including a locally developed limited-slip differential. With a view to weight saving, the cabin was stripped of comforts like air-conditioning, electric windows and sound deadening materials.
In the hands of local racing drivers, the likes of Mike Briggs, the Superboss would soon achieve legend status in South Africa.
3. Volkswagen CitiGolf
An exercise in marketing that has long-since been added to the curriculum at universities around the world, by the time the second-generation Golf hatchback was ready to be introduced globally, Volkswagen South Africa realised its budget-conscious audience might not be ready to make the move away from the hugely successful original Golf formula. Complemented by a catchy tagline and extensive advertising campaign, in 1984 the Uitenhage-built Citi Golf was introduced in three colours: red, yellow or blue.
By the time production of this re-engineered first-generation Golf finally ended in 2009, through numerous upgrades, modifications and special editions, this quirky car had found a place in the memories and, indeed, hearts of thousands of South Africans.
4. Ford Sierra XR8
The limited-edition Ford Sierra XR8 was a special version of the popular Ford Sierra hatchback that came with a powerful V8 engine from the Mustang. Built between 1984 and 1988 for racing homologation purposes, some 250 of these high-performance cars eventually left the brand’s production line.
Upgrades to the V6-powered XR6 donor car included modified bodywork, stronger brakes, a reworked suspension and a massive new dual-tier wing.
Dubbed a South African muscle car, the XR8 could sprint from 0-100 km/h in under 7-seconds and boasted a top speed of 225 km/h.
5. Alfa Romeo GTV6
Another car developed to homologate its maker’s local racing ambitions, in 1987 Alfa Romeo South Africa was given permission by its Italian head office to introduce the brand’s all-new 3.0-litre V6 engine to the popular GT model of the time. This upgrade over the 2.5-litre offered in the standard production model handed the limited edition, SA-only GTV6 a fearsome performance advantage over its rivals of the time.
Complete with a lowered suspension and bespoke wheels compared with the derivative on which it was based, the GTV6 was also instantly distinguishable via a unique air scoop sited in the middle of its fibreglass bonnet.
212 cars would be built, one pristine example of which sold at auction in 2021 for more than R1million.