JOHANNESBURG - South Africa has produced some iconic special edition cars over the years, and names like Superboss, 333i and GTV6 3.0 need no introduction to those versed in this country’s rich automotive history.
And if these special creations were to gather behind one lens, you could surely call it car porn of the best kind. Cars.co.za recently had the opportunity to bring eight of these cars together for a photoshoot, including the aforementioned trio, as well as pristine examples of the BMW 325i S Evo 1 and Evo 2, 530 MLE, 745i and Ford Sierra XR8. This is likely the first time in the modern era that this collection of South Africa icons has been photographed together.
Through its SentiMETAL project, Cars.co.za has recently restored some of these vehicles, including an Opel Kadett GSi Superboss, Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0 and BMW 325is. The team is also working on a Ford Capri Perana V8.
“Interest in uniquely South African cars is growing rapidly in the greater international classic car community,” said Cars.co.za consumer experience manager Hannes Oosthuizen. “Of course, this means that values are also rocketing on most of these vehicles.
“But there’s a lot of education that still needs to be done, and the stories need to be retold to new car fanatics to make sure that this automotive heritage is protected. That’s why we, as Cars.co.za, started the SentiMETAL project initially, to make sure we play our part in preserving this history.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of these historic icons:
Opel Kadett Superboss: Following on from the “Boss” and “Big Boss” versions of the Kadett, as the 2.0 GSI eight-valve and 16V models were nicknamed, Opel created a legendary performance hatch called the Superboss. Opel’s local manufacturer Delta Motor Corporation had wanted a homologation special for Group N racing.
The Superboss packed an impressive punch for the time, with Opel’s 2.0-litre 16V engine upgraded to produce 125kW and 228Nm. This was made possible by a Cosworth cylinder head, among other mods, and the iconic hatch was also treated to lowered suspension and a limited slip differential.
The Superboss was a true South African special that also dominated on the race track, with Mike Briggs at the wheel. Only 500 examples were ever made.
Alfa Romeo GTV6: Like Opel’s Superboss, the Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0 was a homologation special built by the local division to win at the race track on Sunday, but to do that they also had to build some to sell on Monday.
As a result, just over 200 of the iconic Alfas were assembled at the Brits facility from 1983 onwards. Producing 128kW and 222Nm, the GTV6 3.0 was the most powerful Alfa Romeo production car at the time. A bigger engine had been deemed necessary for Alfa to beat BMW’s 535i on the Group One circuit, and the Italian did so in its first race.
BMW 333i: They say necessity is the mother of invention, and the BMW 333i is certainly an iconic invention on the part of BMW South Africa.
South Africa missed out on the first-generation E30 M3 due to it being available in left-hand drive format only, but that didn’t stop the local division from concocting its own alternative. They teamed up with Alpina in Germany to create the 333i, of which only 200 were produced.
Although the car was based on the 325i of the time, BMW SA didn’t just tinker under the bonnet, instead it squeezed in a much larger 3.2-litre straight six motor from the BMW 733i. It was a tight fit, and the engineers had to do a lot of mechanical MacGyvering but, in the end, it all came together. One downside, though, was that customers would have to choose between air conditioning and power steering – there wasn’t room for both!
With 146kW on tap, the 333i was more powerful than the initial versions of the M3 – and yes, that really was a lot of power back in the day.
More homologation specials: Of course, BMW’s local engineering heritage stretches much further than the aforementioned “makeshift” M3. There were also plenty of homologation specials, including the BMW 325iS Evo 1 and Evo 2, which did battle with the aforementioned Opel Superboss in the Group N racing series.
Sadly the arrival of the Super Touring Car championship in 1993 spelled the end of Group N, as well as the local specials.
Further back in the ’80s, the WesBank Modifieds series also produced some exciting homologation specials, such as the BMW 745i and Ford Sierra XR8, the latter sporting a Mustang-sourced V8 petrol engine.
And a BMW motorsport heritage conversation would not be complete without a mention of the 530 MLE.
This South African icon was built in limited quantities in 1976 in order to homologate the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition race car that was soon to become the most successful racing 5 Series ever.
“The success of the 530 MLE was a pure example of ‘What wins on Saturday sells on Monday’, and it paved the way for BMW South Africa as a sporty brand and a serious motorsport contender in the country,” BMW South Africa chief executive Tim Abott said back in 2019, when the company presented a fully restored 530 MLE.