The highlight of the year in the life of the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club (EPVCC) is the annual Milligan Vintage Trial – sponsored once again this year by Continental and running from 5 to 9 June from George.
I am led to believe that owning a vintage car results in the owner having heaps of time on his hands – a bit like sailors who spend 80% of their time on maintenance (more like pottering about and shining bits and bobs) and 20% of their time sailing. That time spent shining vehicles and tyres and cleaning engines with a toothbrush and dental floss is very good for the fellow with a literary bent – witness the heaps of Letters to the Editor written by Mike Jones in the past century!
The following profiles of EPVCC characters have been adapted from articles, written by Mike Jones and Dennis Hibberd, that were published in a recent Eastern Province Veteran Car Club Newsletter. What is the bet that Mike and Dennis’ vehicles will feature highly in the concours d’elegance?
Read on to be entertained and for the mentions of Port Elizabeth’s motor-sport greats from bygone years:
Errol Michell: Errol will be driving a Ford Deluxe 1938 in this year’s Milligan, starting on Monday. His navigator is Bill Odendaall.
Errol was born in 1939 but had nothing to do with the start of the Second World War. Errol was an only child and grew up surrounded by motorcars and worskhops. At the age of five the family moved to Umtata where Bernie, Errol’s father, was the foreman at the Ford dealership there.
Eroll started his schooling at the convent in Umtata and went on to Umtata High School. He returned to East London in 1955 and attended the Technical College where he trained as a motor mechanic. He travelled home to Umtata on weekends and holidays and from an early age he was allowed to drive all sorts of cars that were in the workshop for repairs. He got his driver’s licence at 15 because the local cops had seen him driving around illegally for a long time and saw that he could drive. He started his apprenticeship after Tech at Grosvenor Motors in EL.
The Michell’s love of cars was not confined to fixing them, they also enjoyed abusing them. In 1958 Errol bought a 1938 Ford V8 for ten pounds and used it to participate in stock car racing in EL.
In 1960 Errol met Leanne on a blind date. Things must have worked out pretty well because they were married in 1963 and produced two sons –Christopher and Shawn. Shawn went on to present them with two grandchildren who spend a lot of time with their devoted grandparents.
Errol and his dad were very into stock car racing in the early years, which gives us cause to celebrate that he went on to apply his talents to the restoration of classic cars. Most notably the 1940 Mercury and the 1964 Renault Dauphine.
Errol joined the Eastern Province Vintage Car Club (EPVCC) in 1972 and served as secretary for two years. He is best known in club circles for his contribution to the Continental Milligan Vintage Trial. His first Milligan was the fourth one, where he was the accommodation officer. He later went on to compete in 16 Milligans.
With all his experience in Milligans it was inevitable that he be roped in as the route organiser on the 22nd Milligan and for four events thereafter. After that he held the title of Clerk of the Course for twelve Milligans. The prestige of this event in Vintage and Veteran car circles is testament to Errol and his inspiring leadership. The EPVCC recently awarded him and Honorary Life Membership for his services to the Club.
Piet Coetzee: Piet will be driving a Mercedes Benz 250C 1969 next week and his wife Poppie is his navigator.
Piet has been closely associated with the Continental Milligan Vintage Trial since it began in 1969. He is the only EPVCC member to take part in all 41 Milligans to-date. “Piet de Prokureir” from Cradock epitomises the spirit of the Milligan and never seems to tire of its allure. Piet has been in legal practice in this historical Karoo town since 1953 when he joined his father’s practice after having graduated in law at UCT.
During his matric year, the British Royal Family visits South Africa and at the age of 16 Piet was chosen to chaperone Princess Margaret to a garden party arrange for the Royal Family. That is as much as he is prepared to divulge of the event.
Piet’s love of all things mechanical began during his student years at UCT where he acquired his first motor bike, a 350 Velocette. This was also his means of transport for his visits back home. Eventually he needed more serious transport and his first car was a 1932 Ford V8 Victoria. Over the years many other cars followed, the most interesting of which was a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost with Cadillac body which he bought in Joburg. Although rather dilapidated, he was able to drive his hybrid classic all the way from Cradock to a rally around the-then Rhodesia.
Following his graduation he moved to Grahamstown where his did his articles in a law practice in town and attended Rhodes University to complete his attorney’s admission degree. It was there that he developed a passion for flying and took flying lessons. He flew a Tiger Moth and passed his Pupil Pilot’s licence.
While studying at Rhodes he met a young Scottish lass who was teaching art at DSG in town. Piet and Logie were married in 1957 and produced two sons and adopted a third. Sadly Logie past away ten years ago.
Some men are not meant for the bachelor life and later, Piet met and subsequently married Poppie who keeps him on the straight and narrow, especially during the Milligans.
Piet reportedly has 35 old vehicles on his property in various garages and sheds, many of them are vintage tractors. Piet loves nothing more than rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty fixing up his classic cars on his Victorian homestead in Cradock.
As an honorary life member of the EPVCC, Piet’s thoughts on the Milligan are really worthy of attention. He feels the event has become too competitive and a more relaxed tour might be better. Nevertheless we can expect to see Piet and Poppie on the Milligan for many years to come.
Tubby Bennett: Tubby will be driving a Borgward Isabella 1959 around the Garden Route next week. His navigator is Dr Thorsden Reece.
Tubby’s greatest pleasure in life is to help and support anyone who has an interest in old cars, and motorsport in particular. But there are many sides to Tubby Bennett who has been involved in motor sport in the country as a competitor and organiser for many years. Tubby attended primary school at Marist Brothers in PE and went to the Old Technical College in PE to complete a technical matric. He completed his apprenticeship at General Motors in Kempston Road. Once he qualified as a motor mechanic he moved across to the Ford plant in Struandale. It was here that he became friends with motoring legends such as Jimmy Price, the late Gordon Briggs, Louis Marchant and Tiny Marriner and he shared many adventures and wild parties with them.
Tubby’s motorsport career began in 1957 as spanner boy to the late Bernie Marrinner whose racing exploits on a 500CC Norton were legendary. This was a turning point in Tubby’s life, the bug had bitten and high performance machines became an important part of his life. In 1962 he started racing scramblers on grass tracks, firstly on a 500CC Matchless and later on a 250 CC Greeves Hankstone. In 1965 our man turned his attention to four wheels and started racing a Ford Corsair for Team Formace (a second string team of Ford Motor co employees who had a passion for motor sport ) at the old St Albans Track.
By this stage in his life, Tubby had become an adrenalin junkie and in 1968 he turned his attention to power boat racing. He acquired a 750 CC Hydroplane, which he piloted with great success to become the national Class D champion in 1970. He graduated to the 850 CC class and won his class in the Rand Daily Mail Championships in 1973.
In August (Friday 13th) 1971 Tubby married Gwen and their enduring marriage has produced a daughter Suzan who has three children, and a son Nigel who has two boys and has followed in his father’s footsteps into engineering in the motor trade.
Tubby has been closely associated with the Sports Car Club of SA for a number of years and is highly regarded both as a competitor and organiser. In 1997 he was part of the formation of the Algoa Motor Sport Historic Division and served on its committee for several years. In 2003 he resuscitated the Algoa Branch of the SCC and has been chairman to date. For the past seven years he has represented this region on the national Historic Racing Commission and has been regional representative of Motorsport SA for the past four years.
In recent times, Tubby’s motoring passion has turned to more sedate machines and he is regular competitor in EPVCC rallies and fun runs, in particular the Continental Milligan Vintage Trial in which he is a keen participant. But Tubby’s love of cars has by no means diminished and his stable includes his two Volvos, a Peugeot 403 and an Alfa GT.
In recent days, Tubby has been part of the organising ream o the Knysna Hill-Climb which has become one of the country’s prestige events on the motoring calendar and is gaining in support every year.
The EPVCC is fortunate to have a man of Tubby Bennett’s calibre among its members. He is a likable character with a twinkle in his eye and an icon in the motoring world.