KNYSNA, South Africa — First held in 2009, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb has grown into one of South Africa’s premiere automotive events, with Jaguar joining starting in 2014. Over 17,000 people attended the 2018 edition, bringing much-needed revenue to the town of Knysna, which was badly battered by wildfires last June, mere weeks after the 2017 Hillclimb.
Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is geography, South Africa’s classic car scene is a motley mix. Among the entries were plenty of Brits bearing the MG, Mini, and Lotus marque plus a grab-bag of Germans and Italians, homologation specials, and even bits of classic American muscle.
In all, 64 cars participated in the Classic Car Friday completion, from pre-war racers to air-cooled 911s and even an E34, divided up between eight classes. Many gathered in town for a show the day before the start of the event. Here are eight that stood out among the rest:
1959 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible
At first glance, this red convertible looks like any other well-kept ’59 Corvette. Give it a second look, however, and its rollbar and racing seat will send your eyebrows rising. While that could mean anything with the hood down and the engine off, the owner left the hood open during the pre-event classic car show, betraying his car’s secret: a 5.7-liter LT-1 V-8. Classic American muscle is rare in South Africa, let alone 50s Corvettes with modern engines, so this car could very well be the only one of its kind in the country. The car finished sixth in the H8 class with a time of 54.788 seconds.
1984 Ford Sierra XR8
This South African native was one of two cars that bore the standard for the 1980s, the other being a 1988 BMW 325i. A South Africa-only homologation special created for competition in Group A racing, the Sierra XR8 is powered by a 5.0-liter V-8 from the Mustang mated to a Borg Warner T5 transmission. Only 250 were made. It finished tenth in the H7 class with a time of 56.230 seconds.
1963 Ferrari 250 GTE
No proper classic car gathering would be complete without a vintage Ferrari, and here that role was filled by this 1963 250 GTE. Though the car looks good enough to sit on the lawn at Pebble Beach, Hannes Pickard instead preferred to drive it in anger up the 1.2-mile course, posting a time of 56.230 seconds, finishing fourth in its H2 class.
1979 Porsche 911 Targa RS
Along with the mandatory Ferrari were several just-as-mandatory air-cooled Porsche 911s. While the ducktailed blue-and-white 1973 911 RS Rally made a strong case for inclusion here, as did a pair of 911 RSRs (a ’69 and a ’75), my personal preference for 911 Targas meant I had no choice but to go with this 1979 911 Targa RS. It finished ninth in the H7 class with a time of 55.836 seconds.
1968 Pontiac GTO
A late-60s Goat is just as unlikely of a find in South Africa as a 50s Corvette, and yet, here was this 1968 GTO. Though the factory engine was a 400 cubic inch V-8, this one was billed as having a 6.5-liter (397-ci) one. Packing the second-largest displacement of any vehicle competing in the 2018 Simola Hillclimb, the black-and-orange Pontiac posted a time of 1:00.412, taking first place in the H3 class. It also served well as a prop for a photo-op with South African comedian Mpho Popps, who made my stomach hurt from laughter for much of the weekend.
1972 Jaguar E-Type
Just like a choice had to be made between several Porsches, a similar decision had to be made between the two Jaguar E-Types on hand—the blue ’66 and the maroon ’72. While the earlier E-Type is easier on the eyes, the edge goes to the man brave enough to race a twelve-cylinder vintage Jag—the ‘72 boasts a 5.3-liter V-12, while the ‘66 features the 4.2-liter I-6. It placed second in the H3 class with a time of 1:06.338 seconds.
1978 Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint
The Sprint was the coupe version of the Giugiaro-styled Alfa Romeo Alfasud front-wheel drive subcompact. The car got its name from the south Italy factory in which it was built and the joint venture between Alfa Romeo and Finmecanica that built it. This ’78 Alfasud Sprint was powered by the 84-hp 1.5-liter flat-four. While that’s not much go, there’s not much for it to pull, either, as a stock sprint weighs about 2,000 pounds. The car finished third in the H6 class with a time of 1:03.856 seconds.
1972 BMW 3.0 CSL
The name BMW 3.0 CSL is one that needs no introduction to those familiar with touring car racing. Unveiled in 1972, the 3.0 CSL was a lightened version of the E9 3.0 CS made as an homologation special for the European Touring Car Championship. In all, 1,265 were made. This AC Shnitzer-worked example, was billed as having a 3.4-liter I-6 instead of the original 3.0-liter, however, which certainly helped when it came to running up the hill. He took top honors in the H7 class with a time of 48.159 seconds and fifth overall with a Classic Conqueror time of 48.062 seconds.