Basil Green gets highest honour
The man who created the fast Ford era with the legendary Perana V8 has been inducted into the SA hall of fame
The SA Hall of Fame serves to tell the stories of extraordinary achievers, recognising their outstanding service and overall contribution to SA.
Golfing icon Gary Player and the country's first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela, have been drafted into the hall. In motorsport circles, Sarel van der Merwe, Ian Scheckter and multiple Formula 1 championship-winning designer Rory Byrne have also been honoured. The latter trio of fast greats has a new name alongside them: 82-year-old Basil Green, the man behind the range of Perana-branded fast Fords which dominated local motorsport and performance road cars in the 1960s and 1970s.
He was formally elected and inducted at an event which took place at Johannesburg's Steyn City Parkland Residence on Friday August 30 in conjunction with the fourth annual Concours South Africa event.
Speaking about his induction into the SA Hall of Fame, Green says: "It is a great honour to receive such an accolade. It's difficult to put into words what this means to me, particularly when one considers previous recipients such as former President Nelson Mandela. I am truly humbled and grateful to everyone who made this possible, and also to the many people that played a role in our success over the years."
Green's exploits in both motorsport and vehicle modifications brought out truly exceptional products that came to define the period, his multiple championship-winning Capri Perana V8 being the most memorable. Such was the dominance of the car that its famous Group 5-specification car, with its distinctive orange Gunston livery and driven by Bobby Olthoff, won 13 of the 14 races in the 1970 season.
It was capable of more than 270km/h on the old Kyalami circuit's long main straight, and topped the saloon car lap records at every one of SA’s circuits, using a highly tuned V8 with a high performance Weber carburettor for each cylinder.
The Perana brand was formally introduced with the Ford Cortina Perana in 1967. The name was actually chosen by Basil's wife and derived from the ferocious South American piranha fish species.
Other noteworthy models were the 1969 Escort Mk1 Perana fitted with a 2.0l OHC engine, the 1993 front-wheel drive 1.6l Escort XR3 and the company also offered tuned 3.0 and 3.4l versions of the Ford Sapphire in the early 1990s.
"One day Lee Iacocca phoned me and said that he wanted one of the Granada V8s we were building, so one was sent over, only for him to call me back and say the steering wheel is on the wrong side," Green reminisces. "So it was arranged for a left-hand drive Granada to be sent to us from Germany. We managed to do the modifications in about a week, and it was then flown to America.
However it all came crashing down when the international fuel crisis hit in 1973-74, bringing an abrupt end to what was a booming business. "Motorsport was banned and we weren't allowed to sell high performance cars," Green muses. "We finished off the remaining cars we had in stock, but we didn’t have a business after that.
"Lee Iacocca contacted the chairman of Ford SA and told him to make me a Ford dealer, and we were given the Edenvale and Bedfordview sales areas," Green adds. "We opened the first dealership in our workshop, put a new car on one of the ramps and added a shop window so we could drive the car out the front. I think we won Dealer of the Year from Ford the following year.
"I then built a beautiful Ford dealership in the main street of Edenvale, called Basil Green Ford, and that is where my long and proud relationship with Ford began."
Neale Hill, MD of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, says: "Basil Green created the era-defining fast Fords that were unbeatable on the track and unmatched on the road, combined with such engineering excellence and dedication to detail that various evolutions of the Perana Cortina, Capri, Escort and Granada were not only approved by Ford, but were officially sold through the countrywide dealer network". "Many of his modifications to standard cars were world-firsts, and Ford even incorporated some of his developments in the production model local line-up.”