Over the years, South Africa has had many cars that are unique to the South African market. For this article, we aren't going to discuss well know cars such as the 333i, Perana, XR8, and GTV6 3.0L. Instead, we are going to look at 10 cars that you might not have known to be only sold in South Africa.
1) Honda Ballade AMG
An AMG tuned Honda? Yes, that's correct. The world got the Civic, we got the Ballade. Yes, they are the same car but the thinking was that the Ballade nameplate was perceived to be more luxurious. Mercedes-Benz South Africa built this car for Honda in SA and released this special AMG version. This makes the humble Ballade something special. Unfortunately, the AMG treatment didn't improve the power output. The only difference was it had AMG badges, 15" Aluine Remotec or 16" AMG Remotec rims, Eibabach 40mm lowered suspension, and a slightly bigger spoiler. These Ballades are very rare and mostly forgotten but we the only place in the world which got an AMG Honda.
2) Daihatsu Materia Turbo
Daihatsu name isn't associated with performance in SA, but this didn't stop them from trying. This car uses a 1.5L engine boosted to 0.4 bar. This means 110kW and 190nm which isnt bad for such a small car. 0-100km/h took 8,9 seconds with a limited top speed of 200km/h. Other changes include a 30mm lower ride height thanks to Eibach lowering springs and the option of having a limited-slip diff. Aesthetically, this car has a rear spoiler, tinted windows, 17" rims with the best feature being a hood scoop. So if you can get past the let's say unusual looks, this is one serious little hatch.
3) VW Golf mk4 GTI-R
South Africans love Golfs. However, we never got the Golf MK4 R32 in South Africa. To fill this void, VW South Africa made a GTI-R. Only 150 of these cars were made which makes them very rare with many fake ones as well. This car is based on the normal GTI, it uses the same 1.8T engine and has 132kW. 0-100 kph is done in 7.9 seconds and top speed is 228 kph. To set this car apart from a normal GTI, it has a special body kit along with special 17-inch rims as well as a sportier muffler to sound better. This is almost a baby R32. Seeing one on the road is very rare and most people have forgotten about this car.
4) Land Rover Defender 2.8i
Yes, this is a Land Rover Defender with a BMW engine, more specifically, it’s the M52 straight-six engine from the BMW E36 328i. This unusual car was created back in 1996 and sold from 1997 to 2001. This car was made because the V8 Defender was discontinued, and a petrol variant was in high demand. After 500 000+ km tests were performed on more than 6 prototypes, the BMW powered Defender outperformed the V8 Defender in almost every test. This just goes to show that BMW makes the best straight-six engines as well as making them reliable, what you think of that Supra haters? The new engine, with 142kW and 280NM, almost made this model the fastest Defender ever made with a 0-100kph time of 9.3 seconds. This strange partnership is often overlooked and there are not many people who remember this off-roader. It’s weird to think that Land Rover and BMW would work on a project like this together. We like to think that this helped lay the groundwork for BMW to supply Toyota with engines in the new Supra. So, if you see a defender with a BMW engine, it hasn’t had an engine swap, it came like that from the factory.
5) GSM Dart and Flamingo
Glass Door Motors (GSM) is one out of a handful of South African motor manufacturers to ever exist. Based in Cape Town, they produced cars from 1958 to 1964. The name Glass Door Motors comes from the fact that they used fiberglass for the bodies of their cars. Back then, fiberglass was a relatively new technology. GSM produced two cars, the Dart and Flamingo. The Dart was the first car GSM made. It was an open-top 2 seater sports car. The second car GSM made was the Flamingo in 1962. The Flamingo is a hardtop sports coupe. There were only 116 Darts and 128 Flamingos ever made. Legendary car designer Gordon Murray owns a Flamingo. GSM narrowly missed being South Africas first sports car maker, beaten by the next car on the list.
6) G.R.P Engineering Protea
The Protea is the first South African produced car. Production started in 1957, beating GSM by one year, and ended in 1958. This two-seater sports car was manufactured by G.R.P Engineering in Johannesburg. Sources vary but either 14 or 26 cars were ever made. These cars are loosely based on the Swallow Doretti from Britain and had a Triumph TR powerplant. Unfortunately, these cars were just too expensive costing more than the Doretti which was its downfall. There are only a handful of known examples still in existence. This is the car that started it all, pity it's mostly forgotten.
7) Fiat 131 2000 Racing
Homologation specials were huge in SA but this car probably has the most interesting story and is one of the rarest South African built cars. It all started back in 1978 when Fiat wanted to enter Standard Production Car (Group one) racing in South Africa. Gigi Fincati was put in charge of the project and headed to Italy to source some parts from Abarth. He came back to South Africa with enough parts to make 16 cars. This was a good start as 100 cars needed to be produced in order to race in Group one. Gigi placed an order for the rest of the parts to make the remaining 100 cars. Unfortunately, the ship carrying all the parts sank off the coast of Kenya meaning that only 16 cars were ever made. This meant that by the end of 1978, Fiat was banned from racing but before they were ban, Fiat did race the car and the car won almost all the races it entered. Pity no more were made or raced as this was such a great performing car.
8) BMW E23 745i
This list wouldn't be complete without a BMW. What makes this car special is the engine. Whereas other markets used turbocharged M102/M106 engines. The turbo was located on the right-hand side, therefore a right-hand drive version wasn't possible as the turbo couldn't be relocated. Only 209 examples were made, 192 automatics and 17 manuals in total. So now the engine, this car was fitted with the legendary M88 engine. That is the same engine used in the gorgeous M1, M635CSi, and E28 M5, talking about the M5...
9) BMW E28 M5
The original M5 is a special car that collectors go crazy for. In South Africa, we also got the E28 M5 but our M5s are very unique compared to the M5s elsewhere. South Africa was the only country other than Germany to produce the M5. They were assembled in Rosslyn using German supplied Complete Knock Down (CKD) kits. Mechanically, SA M5s are the same as the German-produced cars. Cosmetically, they were different. South African cars had M-Technic body panels, shadowline trim and16" cross-spoke rims. Only 96 examples were made making it a rare and unique M car.
10) Ford Sapphire Cosworth
The Ford Sapphire Cosworth was created by South African legend Basil Green and Geoff Mortimer. The car is based on a Ford Sapphire with a turbocharged 2.0 Litre Cosworth engine, not to be confused with the V8 Saphhire. This engine makes 255 HP and was specially imported for the car. 0-60mph takes just 5,7 seconds which is still impressive considering its a 2.0 litre. This car was sold through Basil Green Ford only. Only 12 of these incredible cars were ever made. South African racing legend, Sarel van der Merwe owned 1 of the 12 made.