Francois Perold / email@example.com / South Africa
Historical Perspective on Ponton bakkies in South Africa
Mercedes-Benz Ponton Pick-up
This story began more than twenty years ago. I met my wife during the 1980s while I was a student at Stellenbosch. There always used to be an old Mercedes-Benz Ponton near her apartment, and I mentioned to her that I would like to have one of my own to restore to its former glory.
I was sent to the Navy for military service and during that time in 1986, we were staying with her mother in Riversdal, when I was on leave. As fate would have it, I saw a bright maroon Ponton parked further down the street. I introduced myself to the owner and told him about my passion for having a Ponton of my own. After he told me the whole history of his car, he said that I should come along because he wanted to show me something. Just outside of Riversdal in a quarry were two broken down Ponton Pick-ups. My enthusiasm knew no end as he told me that the owner of the quarry told him he could have them if he restored them to their former glory. He wasn't up to it - one of the Pick-ups had a Guinea Fowl nest in its engine bay (photo 1) and the other's roof was damaged with rust.
Hired a Tow Truck for a Bottle of Brandy
I'm handy, but my dad is the one who always gets things going. We hired a two-ton truck for a bottle of brandy and we set out from the town of Paarl to Riversdal in the early hours of a Saturday morning. While we were on our way, he asked me about the condition of the Pick-ups. I explained that the one with the nest in only needed an engine, wheels and a bonnet; while the other one needed much more work. He also inquired how we were going to load the Pick-ups onto the truck. I told him we would need help from the local guys hanging around the office.
My dad was not impressed with the condition of the Ponton Pick-ups when he saw them. He said that he had fixed a lot of scrap before, but the Guinea Fowl nest was a different story. I was disappointed, because I knew I would not succeed without his help. We left without the Pick-ups. On the way back, we hardly spoke at all and I wondered what to do next. I never could quite forget about the Pick-ups, but my dad and I kept ourselves busy with another project of building two Jeep replicas, which took about 18 months.
To the Free State
Meanwhile, I got married and finished my studies in 1989. I met Joe Lotz who also wanted to have a Ponton bakkie. He grew up in the Free State before he moved to the Western Cape. He told me that while he was still a little boy, he used to watch the train transporting semi-finished Ponton Pick-ups to Johannesburg. He mentioned that the unfinished Ponton Pick-up was actually a car with the roof cut off behind the front seat. It was never more than ten Pick-ups at a time. The colours were black, ivory, light blue and grey. He heard of two Ponton Pick-ups in 1989 in the Free State and he made an offer on them sight unseen. I offered to go and fetch his two Pick-ups for him. Luckily his driver on the farm volunteered to accompany me on the trip. Part of the agreement was that we would load up my two Pick-ups at Riversdal once we returned from the Free State.
In October 1989 we drove to the Free State and brought his bakkies back. The following week we went to load up mine. I was glad that the bakkies were finally home, but the more putty and paint I removed, the more rust appeared. The cab was painted red; just imagine: tractor wheels loaded on the back of the bakkie, the load bin was completely gone and the tailgate was bent badly. Mercifully the wooden planks on the inside were still there. Once the load bin was removed from the chassis, it was clear that the supporting structure of the load bin was only good to serve as a template for making a new one. The floor of the load bin was measured precisely and a new corrugated floor was made.
Meanwhile, I wrote a letter to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart to find information about the South African Ponton bakkie. They informed me that the bakkie was meant as a 'chassis cab' for the South African market during 1956 to 1960. I was very excited about the micro fiche information on spare parts which accompanied the letter, but the most extraordinary thing was the photocopy of the delivery note to Stanley Porter of Cape Town, (the then Mercedes-Benz dealership) dating 30 October 1956. Little did I know how important that document would be 16 years later, when I took the bakkie for its roadworthy test.
Meanwhile I met Dolf Gouws of Bloemfontein and we traced 27 of the original 400 bakkies, in various stages of decay. Dolf was a star and I thank him for all the spares that he gave me, especially the tail light lenses which were scarce, and the two fender blinker lenses came from him. As I mentioned, the bakkie with the nest ("Massey-Fergusson" red, service bakkie that we named "Vaaltyn" - yes, it was painted a "Guinea Fowl Grey") was without an engine.
In Riversdal I found a Type W110 190c petrol (gasoline) Fintail (Heckflosse) in working condition. It was more than just an engine. It was still in a 1961 ambulance that transported patients to hospital! According to the owner, the engine had done 600,000 miles. We towed the ambulance back to Paarl for its engine. We took it apart; the engine was still original, except for the head which was skimmed and put back into service with two head gaskets!
All the original South African Ponton bakkies were imported with OM 636.930 (Type 180D) diesel engines. I could not find such an engine and after I drove with Gideon Langeveldt's bakkie, I realized how weak the engine really was. I made the choice to search for a petrol engine. The ambulance roof was higher than that of a station wagon and didn't look very pretty. I knew that the ambulance would be worth something to the right people, but to me, it was unnecessary clutter. After many advertisements, I couldn't find anyone who wanted it, so off it went for scrap.
I was a bachelor when I came across the Mercedes-Benz bakkie and luckily I had a parking space for it. I got married in December 1988 and entered the business world after that. Our two daughters had meanwhile enriched our lives and I even started to build our own house (photo 2). It was a time consuming process but we moved in at the end of 1997. The bakkie was neglected and gathered loads of dust. During 1998 I had time to myself and my dad and I decided to start the long restoration process. The load bin was removed and the rusty chassis was exposed - it was just good enough to be used as a template, so a replacement was manufactured. (photo 3).
The load bin floor was also replaced with a new one. It was quite difficult to get the right size for it because the original was badly distorted. The edge of the floor didn't touch the side panels of the rear wings and the space was rounded off with a piece of rubber. The side panels of the rear wings on the inside are protected with 4 pieces of timber, which was preserved remarkably well (photo 4).
Beginning of the End
At the beginning of 2004, I started to convert the barn next to our house into a coffee shop, which my dad helped me with for more than a year. The coffee shop opened in May 2005, and I finally had some time to restore the bakkie. The Mercedes-Benz Ponton was already primed and the roof lining was handmade by my father (photo 5).
After we inserted the roof lining, it stayed that way because it looked really good. The door panels were recovered with the same shade of blue vinyl that the seats were covered with. The windscreen rubber came from Germany while all of the other rubber parts were found locally. The bakkie's original colour was grey, which we found under the "Massey-Fergusson" red. A local paint supplier mixed the colours and we spray painted the bakkie. It was really rewarding to put the bumpers, lights and grille back - suddenly it wasn't just a Guinea Fowl nest anymore, but just as beautiful as I had pictured in my mind (photo 6).
As mentioned before, I made a copy of the original delivery note, which was crucial for registration and roadworthy purposes. After Graham Van Heerden inspected the bakkie for authenticity, it took only a little while to get the special license for vintage cars from the authorities.
On cloudy days, I park the bakkie in front of the coffee shop and it attracts a lot of attention. (photo 7 & 8). In September 2007, I transported my niece to her homecoming and that was probably the closest that I will ever get to "celebrity status", but the amount of attention we received was incredible. The heater boxes must still be replaced and I need to find carpets for the interior. I have many spares left after this project and if there is any interest.
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