Rust in peace
A ‘scrapyard’ of old cars on the N1 near Cape Town is actually a museum
I’d driven past this landmark often, usually heading north on the N1. I’d always just assumed, like many do, that it was a scrapyard.
That impression was created by the large number of old cars slowly succumbing to “tin worm”. It wasn’t until an aircraft appeared, poised in a landing pose, that I wanted to find out more. So I went to investigate the Wijnland Auto Museum.
Zig-zagging through the back of smallholdings and farms in the Brackenfell area, I am not convinced that I am in the correct area. Then I see it … a pair of 1960s Americana planted nose first into the ground herald my arrival at the right place.
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I note a wide variety of machinery from all eras and corners of the world, many of which are rusting away in a slow death, from 1960s Mercedes-Benz coupés and VW buses to American muscle cars and bakkies.
At the reception area I’m greeted by owner Les Boshoff. He comes across as professional and friendly and he has a definite sparkle in his eye. A bit later I am surprised to learn that Oom Les is 84 years old, a fact that his spritely demeanour and sharp memory belie.
As I am ushered in through an undercover storage area I spot much newer machinery, including a Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari California. Interesting.
I sink into an old office chair in Les’s dark office to learn more about the collection he’s assembled.
“First and foremost I am a car enthusiast. As you can see, I love all kinds of cars and pick-ups. It probably started with my dad. He used to own a full-service garage in our home town of Albertinia in the 1940s. That’s where my love of the motor car was formed.”
An affinity towards cars is a prerequisite for owning and running a place such as this.
“I retired from the real estate business when I was 55. I then decided I wanted to indulge my hobby by restoring old cars.”
As a rookie to the game, Les learnt some lessons the hard way: not every car is worth restoring and not every old car is considered valuable.
Of course there are cars that are definitely worth the effort, such as Les’s Jaguar XK120. His eyes light up when asked about it. “I am only the car’s third owner,” he says proudly. It used to belong to a business associate of Les’s father.
“My father’s colleague was quite sentimental about it and wouldn’t part with the car but when he died there was a clause in his will which gave me the first option to buy the XK from his estate. I have been the owner for 50 years.”
Close to his heart is another British icon: the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II.
“I fell in love with it the moment I saw it on the showroom floor and knew I had to have it, that was in 1963. I have owned it since then.”
The Rolls is a fully documented car, which includes the original forms when it left the factory.
The first car that Oom Les ever bought to actually restore was a 1930s Hudson Terraplane. Thirty years later it still sits untouched, but he is adamant that one day he’ll get to rebuilding it.
A rough estimate puts the total number of vehicles on the property at 350, with fewer than 75 in usable form.
I later learn that Les buys vehicles and parts, but he never sells them. He says that much of what he has in stock is quite valuable and once you sell it, it’s gone and to replace it will cost a lot of money.
Cape Town is well known as a destination for shooting movies and adverts, and with such a large and diverse collection it wasn’t long before people were calling up the museum to rent vehicles. Nowadays that is what keeps the museum’s staff members and Les busy, preparing vehicles for the movie and advertising industries.
“We prepare cars on demand these days. If someone sees a car they like here we can have it ready for shooting in a few weeks, if that is what they want. Most times these companies want the cars as you see them. Many of our cars have been in feature films and television adverts, in fact many fashion houses come just to shoot in our yard.”
Considering his immense collection, vast knowledge and diverse tastes, when quizzed about his favourites Les’s answer comes as a surprise.
“I really enjoying driving these new cars parked here outside the door. The Lamborghini [Gallardo] is exhilarating to drive. It feels like a supercar when you are behind the wheel. You know you are driving an icon when you drive the Ferrari [California]. That little Porsche [Boxster] is the perfect little sports car. And my Mercedes SL is the nicest convertible car to drive, better than any American drop-top.”
I see all manner of interesting models, most in some form of decay. But one of the newest is the aforementioned Convair 580 aircraft, which he bought from a Nigerian company. It was flown to Cape Town International Airport where it was disassembled. All the parts were freighted to the premises by truck and reassembled. Les would like the aircraft to serve as an attraction for young kids to take up careers in the aerospace industry.
Oom Les seems to have lots of plans for his collection at the museum and I can’t wait to visit in a few years to see how it all develops.