We recently drove the new 128ti on its debut in Mzanzi towards the end of February, read about its road test here: https://themotorist.co.za/is-the-new-bmw-128ti-the-right-1/. Since BMW recently launched their new 1 series (F40 generation) hatchback in 2019 there has been speculation of a variant that would rival the likes of the local hot-hatch king: the Golf 8 GTI (which was locally delayed to the third quarter of 2021 because of a global shortage of semiconductor chips). The new Front Wheel Drive 128ti is what they brought to the party, but how does it stack up against the formidable GTI?
The highly anticipated M135i was seemingly a bit of a let down to the automotive press (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Rkco-o600g), leaving much to be desired from its predecessor. However the 2-litre 4 pot 128ti could be the right variation for Bavarian die hards wanting a fun, affordable hatchback. While it rejects the norms of BMW’s typical hatch lineage, none of its forerunners have ever embraced the true recipe for a funky hot hatch, until now. That being said, any brand that spends time and budget developing an FWD hot hatch will stack it up directly against the GTI in the hopes of being a worthy adversary, so how does the BMW do:
2.0T 4cyl turbo, 195kW and 400Nm
0-100 6.3 seconds (claimed), 250km/h (limited)
FWD, 8 speed automatic
VW Golf 8 GTI DSG
2.0T 4cyl turbo, 180kW and 370Nm
0-100 6.4 seconds (claimed), 250km/h (limited)
FWD, 7 speed dual clutch automatic
Pricing is TBC
While the numbers marginally favour the Bavarian hot hatch (on paper at least), the GTI will continue to enjoy its cult status in our local market. While we are yet to test the new Golf 8 which is expected to arrive very soon, our opinion is that the BMW may just be a more engaging and complete package to drive for enthusiasts. It is lighter, slightly more powerful and makes use of an engaging mechanical diff. Both are well specced with standard equipment already included at their base price points and both have top speeds limited at 250km/h. VW’s desirable cult following of this segment are where BMW would have fallen short, but shrewdly instilled a form of heritage by reinvigorating the Turismo Internazionale (TI) nameplate that was so prominent with the brands success in the late 1960’s.
BMW has taken a stride into a new direction with the 128ti, and by doing so they have leapfrogged some of the competition in the front-wheel drive hot hatch market. Until we can make direct comparisons between the two, we believe the GTI may have met its German match.
VW Polo R Line: The perfect premium city hatchback?
Volkswagen’s latest Polo, the Polo R line edition could be described as the perfect premium city hatchback. Here are 9 reasons to back this statement up:
3 Cylinder Engine
The 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine featured in the Polo R produces 81 kW and 160 N.m. This small engine provides zippy performance and is very quiet in the lower rev range. Its perfect for the city hussle and bussle.
The DSG gearbox in the Polo R line takes the annoyance away of gear changing, something which gets emphasized in city traffic. Its delicately smooth and has a sports option if you’re feeling a little cheeky.
With 4.4 l/100km combined in the fuel economy department, the Polo R Line will cut back your fuel bills and help the environment thanks to only having 3-cylinders. Give this little car some right foot though and you might find that number start to rise – these little engines tend to drink fuel when pushed.
The Polo R line is graced with its very own R line bodykit which gives a much bolder and sportier look over a standard Polo. It also comes standard with 17” Serron alloys. This Polo definitely looks the part for the modern city, especially in our test colour of Flash Red. Most off all, it still looks smart, neat and professional.
Our Polo R line featured the Composition Media Package which provides 6 good quality speakers, a large display, a mobile phone interface and a USB and auxiliary input. It is a fantastic premium system with lots of onboard vehicle related tech such as the blue economy driving system.Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Taking the media interface one step further is the integrated mobile systems. For example, plug in your iPhone and an Apple’s CarPlay interface is displayed on screen which allows access to music, maps, messages and more through an interface you understand and enjoy.
Being a Polo, it’s small and nimble which makes it a breeze to park and fit into small spaces. Aiding the driver further with this is front and rear parking sensors, along with a reverse camera.
The Polo R line features other premium options such as LED headlights, the light & vision package which features auto dimming rear view mirror, a rain sensor and automatic headlights. This car also features an electric sunroof with set modes for different levels of opening all controlled by a nifty roof mounted nozzle.
Our test Volkswagen Polo R Line is priced at R290 000 which we think is great considering the premium options. For that price, you get a very nice city car with some very cool options for the young person, which adds style and makes your life easier.
After spending a week in the new Volkswagen Polo R line, we think it is a great car for the city, it stands out and gives you some nice premium features. It is definitely a really good option for the young and trendy South African wanting to look professional while making their way up in the world.
With all the cars that come through The Motorist’s garage, sometimes it’s a good thing to be reminded of what real cars are and have a palate cleanser. You see, the life of a motor journalist is full of crème de la crème cars and we often forget about entry level vehicles and it’s those cars that you see more than your rear engined sports car.
We spent the week in VW’s new and revised Up! and yes, it reminded me of my post high school days. The car, the “move Up!”, is fun to drive and in the mindset of a girl/guy in the late teens early twenties, it’s the perfect run around. It has all the modern necessities like USB that connects to your mobile that your mate can control on the way to the joll. Its 1.0-liter three cylinder, 55 kW motor takes some little time to get used to but as mentioned, we are 20 years old today, remember? Being a three cylinder, and having seen this on most three-cylinder vehicles, they want you to explore the rev range and once you do so, the 55 kW aided by 95 N.m of torque isn’t too bad too live with and for a car that’s running from home, tertiary and to the next party, it’s got more than enough power.
Being a city car makes the Up! really pleasant to live with as well. It’s easy to park, something I made particular note of having just climbed out of a VW Passat which, as lovely as it was, was like driving an 18-wheeler when compared to the Up!. Standard items on the specific Move up! is ESP, with hill hold control, ABS, ASR, EBD, 123 and even ABC. They have thrown the whole alphabet at this little car. Electric exterior mirrors, daytime running lights and radio with aux, Bluetooth and SD card also make a welcomed appearance. Clearly, I was born in the wrong decade. Our “starter pack” cars weren’t this cool. One thing I thought is that this is a car for a varsity student with parents with a fat credit card or deep pockets as the vehicle that we drove has a starting price of R180 400. The base Up! isn’t much cheaper either at R166 800. Yikes.
People have been polarized by the looks of the Up! but I think it’s a good looking small vehicle. Does it look like the BMW i3? Yes, but that is beside the point. For a week, I was 20 again, had my cap on backwards and had house and hip hop tunes blasting out the car like I had no bills and debit orders. It was a good week in the VW Up!
It would seem that Ford’s baby hot-hatch is quite a lot hotter than we had originally anticipated, with the recall that affected 4 556 Ford Kuga’s making use of the 1.6-litre GTDi EcoBoost motor now trickling down to the Fiesta ST which makes use of that very same motor. This comes mere moments after Ford issued a press release noting that 63% of the affected Kuga’s have been tended to.
The expansion of the recall affects some 1 078 Fiesta ST models, produced between September 2012 and December 2014. This makes one wonder, then, what change was implemented to models produced from December 2014 onwards and, more importantly, for what reason these changes were put in place…
In their statement, Ford SA said: “a lack of coolant circulation could cause an engine to overheat, resulting in a crack in the cylinder head. A cracked cylinder head can result in a pressurized oil leak. Oil that comes into contact with a hot engine surface increases the risk of a fire in the engine compartment.”
To resolve this, affected vehicles will receive hardware and software upgrades, consisting of the fitment of a coolant level sensor with supporting hardware and software changes, free of charge to customers. These parts will, however, only be available by the fourth quarter of 2017 which could mean a toasty winter for many a ST charna. Boets will all be informed as soon as they are able to book their cabbies in for repairs.
Ford say that these vehicles are safe to drive, however, at the first signs of overheating, be it warning lights or rising coolant temperatures, the vehicle should be pulled to the side of the road, debussed and the engine compartment left closed.
Owners are also urged to conduct regular inspections of the cooling system and should endeavour to maintain a 50:50 coolant-water ratio as an added precaution.
In the event of an emergency, emergency services should be contacted immediately, followed by Ford’s Roadside Assistance (0861 150 250) a service which is available 24/7.
Polo 1.0 TSI R-Line vs Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Powershift in South Africa
The newly launched Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI R Line is a nifty little thing. The exterior look of this car is one that will pique the interest of many buyers. It’s marketed as a “performance” Polo despite it only having a 1.0 litre engine with 3 cylinders, but after driving it we can confirm that its nippy. The question then for you as a buyer is what’s the better buy, this new Polo TSI or perhaps the also-very-good Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost PowerShift Titanium?
The Ford has been around for a while as consumers have loved the 3 cylinder 1.0 litre EcBoost engine it offers. With 74kW and 170Nm, the little Ford produces good numbers for both city and open road driving thanks to turbocharging. Equipped with the 6 speed PowerShift gearbox, it makes being stuck in traffic bearable since your left foot can rest. The Volkswagen Polo 1.0 litre TSI R Line has similar figures in terms of displacement and forced induction. It too has 3 cylinders but produces more power with 81kW and 200Nm. The difference is not huge but will be felt by keen motorists who love to drive in a hurry. Since both these cars have tiny engines, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that they would be frugal on fuel. The Fiesta has a great claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 4.9 litres/100km, but the Polo edges ahead with a claimed figure of 4.4 litres/100km, again very closely matched.
In this segment, aesthetics play a huge role as cars like these are aimed at youthful individuals and let’s face it, the youth “like things”. In that case then choosing between the Ford and the Volkswagen may be a challenge as they both look great. The Fiesta has ST bits on it, making it look nice and sporty. The Volkswagen on the other hand comes equipped with the R-Line package, giving it too a racier look. On the inside is where the Polo has the slight upper hand as the cabin layout is simpler whereas the Fiesta is a bit too busy. Both cars offer connectivity such as Bluetooth and USB as well as auxiliary input. The new infotainment screen on the Polo is the nicer of the two but Fords SYNC system is quite good to use as well. In terms of overall appeal, the cars are again closely matched but the Volkswagen has a disadvantage. The fact that there are so many on the road may make the car seem more “common” but the R-Line kit can set it apart. Both cars are also four doors so they’re on par when it comes to space and access into the rear.
The spikey nature of the Fiesta has always been something we’ve enjoyed about the car, it’s an engine with character. As mentioned having an automatic gearbox makes the car easy to live with day to day, so it will be a dream in the city. The Polo however is more of an angry little car. The DSG gearbox in the car has changed the character of the vehicle, giving it an immediacy that’s quite surprising. The way the VW handles too is something you don’t expect from a little 1.0 litre car. The Fiesta will be the one you want if you’re of a more relaxed disposition, whereas the Polo wants to have more fun.
Both these cars are great vehicles indeed. At the end of the day it all comes down to preference and of course price. At R290 000, the Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI R-Line is not exactly cheap, the Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost PowerShift Titanium comes in cheaper at R274 900. That price tag comes with a 4 year/60 000km service plan which is a good deal. The Polo only comes with a 3 year/45 000km service plan. So what will you buy? These cars are marketed differently but offer very similar specs. If you’re more of a thrill seeker, we recommend the Polo, but if you want to save some bucks and still have a banging little cool car, the Fiesta is a very good choice too.
2018 will see the arrival of the all-new Ford Fiesta ST aka the Ultra Mobile and if you listen carefully, you can already hear all the boets fist-pumping in anticipation of this auspicious occasion!
Big news is that this new model is the first ever Ford Performance vehicle to make use of a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder motor and, while sharing a platform with the model it replaces, is the first Fiesta to feature selectable drive modes, enabling steering, engine and stability controls to be configured to Normal, Sport and Track modes. Yoh boet!
Unfortunately, along with the drive modes, we’ll have to put up with Ford’s nauseating and quite frankly miserable Electronic Sound Enhancement Technology which, in short, makes a dreary and depressing come through the vehicle’s speaker system in order to artificially enhance the sound of the engine. We have already been unfortunate enough to endure this in both the 2.3 Ecoboost and 5.0 V8 Mustangs and there’s not much to say really other than no. Just no.
Outputs of 149 kW and 290 N.m. are hugely impressive from a 3-cylinder motor and if you are able to block out Martin Garrix and the shocking sound enhancement, you might even be able to hear a fruity and characterful 3-pot thrum coming from within the engine bay on your sprint from 0-100 km/h which will take 6.7 seconds. A clever little motor, it is also able to shut off one of its cylinders during low-load conditions in order to save fuel, an industry first in a 3-cylinder motor, and thus resulting in emissions as low as 114 g/km.
The current generation Fiesta ST met much praise when launched in 2013 and was even crowned as Top Gear’s Car of the Year 2013. Unsurprisingly then, it still sells in droves to this day thanks to its loyal following of tank top owners and rave-goers. It also has one of the best front-wheel-drive chassis’ money can buy so it’s a good thing then that this will be carried over to the new model.
There is no word on pricing yet but we can expect to see the first units in South Africa during the first half of 2018.
Audi recently facelifted the A3 and while the changes are only design based, I was still interested to get behind Audi’s entry level A3 with its 1.0-litre Turbo engine.
The updates to the A3 consist of updated designs for the headlights and taillights, with some slight bumper design adjustments which completes the changes to the exterior elements.
The overall improvements provide a sportier and more dynamic look, this can be improved further with the optional S-line kit, which I must say looked fantastic on the test vehicle I was driving.
In my opinion, the interior on the A3 has always been fairly simple. The dashboard provides a streamlined and clean design with the motorised digital screen as a central element. The controls for the Audi MMI system are all featured on the centre console between the front driver and passenger seats. The buttons and scroll dial which are situated here are very easy to access and also have a simple, non complicated layout.
Interior designs on some vehicles can seem very cluttered with buttons everywhere, and with technology inside cars increasing at a fast rate, it’s good to see that Audi have this all under control.
The cabin is finished with metal, leather and alcantara. It has a very premium and well-built feel, which is a very important factor in a premium hatchback. The sport seats, which are an optional extra, are a great addition in terms of the visual appeal. They are wide and support the body well with good bolstering, but I feel that the only need for them on a 1.0 vehicle is purely for the visual element. I can’t see these cars being thrashed around the racetrack anytime soon.
Earlier, I touched on the fact that technology has become a big part of the automotive industry, and Audi has its fair share. Some buyers may choose one brand over the other, depending on what latest technology is available.
The Audi A3 features the full media system with 7”screen including MMI navigation. Audi’s system works well with many features of the A3 being controlled from the system interface, such as lighting and other vehicle settings.
Carplay/ AndroidAuto also features in this vehicle – simply connecting a phone will enable it automatically, with the mobile styled display popping up on the screen and giving the driver easy access to contacts, maps, music and more. With CarPlay, hitting the voice control button on the steering wheel will activate your best friend, Siri, and as always, you can ask her anything you like. If you are unsure on how Carplay works or what it does, you can read our article on it here:
Audi Pilot Assist has to be my favorite feature.The classic dash and dials are replaced with a full digital display. Speed, rpm, fuel, economy figures, media, navigation and so forth are all displayed in digital format.The driver can change what they see and how they see it.
I enjoyed the map view, with the speed and rpm displays retracting into smaller dials in the corner. The maps/navigation then fills the rest of the display which looks very futuristic, although you can lose track of speed, it happened to me once or twice. Zooming in and out and changing views and menus are all accessed of the steering wheel controls, which becomes natural once you have used it for a short while.
Behind the Wheel
I was surprised by the 1.0l turbocharged motor, the 85kw it produced was used well and at times the car had a nippy kind of feel. The power is delivered through a six-speed manual gearbox and as you can expect from an audi vehicle, it was smooth and focused.
What stood out to me with this setup was the A3’s ability to pick up nicely and gain speed when cruising on the highway in 6th gear. The small engine did not come across as if it was straining and it made overtaking easy, without changing down to 5th.
There are, however, a few drawbacks with this engine.When pulling off, the A3 needs revs to get going, and if you short change from 1st to 2nd at low rpm or on a slight incline, the car struggles for a few seconds, before picking up again. I had this issue mainly below 1800 rpm before the boost really kicks in. This was really the only issue I had, and overall the 1.0l TFSI performed well from a driving perspective.
From an economic perspective, though, there is another side to the story. You may have read that some manufacturers are now looking at going back in the direction of higher cc engines. It has come to light that these small turbocharged motors do give really good fuel economy figures, but only in perfect, controlled environments. In day to day life, in environments that are beyond the manufacturer’s control, they are not that great. During my time with the A3, the figures I produced were around 8.0-9.0 l/100km. I was mainly driving in an urban environment and was at times heavy on the throttle. With perfect economical driving the figure would definitely be lower, but how much lower is the question? Driving on South African roads brings its own challenges which doesn’t often lend to being more economical.
My biggest issue with the Audi A3 is the price. The starting price for this model is R390,000. For this, one gets a lot of car, a well built, reliable German machine. The list price on the test vehicle I was driving was R520,000.
Thats a big difference, the reason being is this specific vehicle had a range of optional extras fitted. Now, not all of those optional extras are actually needed. Items such as the sport seats and S-Line suspension are not of paramount importance, especially on a 85 kW car. Some of the other optional extras, though, you might actually want.
Options such as the Premium Audi Sound System, Navigation and CarPlay, Panoramic Sunroof, the S-line exterior kit which gives the car another dimension in terms of styling. Let’s also not forget the 20” alloy wheels and Audi Pilot Assist. This means that a buyer will be paying around R500k for a 1.0L vehicle. Yes, its turbocharged and has a power output similar to that of a 1400 or 1600 cc Naturally aspirated engine, but it is still a 1.0L engine.
This is definitely a brand orientated car, and that is exactly what you will be paying for, the badge.Saying that, the Audi A3 is a great car and vehicles across the board are becoming more expensive. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, it was lovely to drive and overall a really good experience. If you are happy to spend this kind of money, you will have a great car. Personally, though, it’s just too much for me. Enquire about a new or used Audi vehicle at Audi Centurion here!
I have spoken about cult cars before and how they somehow manage to attract both car-nuts and car-nots. There is one car, though, that I feel manages to attract more car-nots than car-nuts – the Fiat 500. In 2007, Fiat decided to go the same route as BMW with the MINI brand and Volkswagen with the New Beetle. They reinvented a vehicle which was incredibly popular back in the day, but with modern engineering and, don’t vomit, “retro” styling. I hate that term, but that’s exactly what it is.
As you can imagine, the 500 was an instant hit and while it may have taken South Africans a moment to warm to the little newcomer, the rest of the world went bananas for it. Barring the Americans, of course. While it never really appealed to those of us who enjoy driving briskly, the trendy and fashion conscious set loved how adept the 500 was at karting their quinoa salad take-away home from Tashas.
The 500 recently underwent a not too insignificant revision and goodness has it transformed the 500. I was never the biggest fan of the pre-facelift’s asthmatic motors and while the 1.4 litre NA motor’s 74 kW might sound okay, the 131 N.m offered was not. I adored the concept of the 500 but always felt that there were a few shortcomings.
Enter the refreshed Fiat 500, now available with 2-cylinder sewing machine engine (not really) and a little turbocharger. The Pop Star model we had on test offers 63 kW and 145 N.m which is in fact less power than the previous 1.4 litre naturally aspirated motor and only 14Nm more torque, but said torque is now available from just 1 900 rpm as opposed the previous motor’s lofty delivery close to the 6 000 rpm redline. The higher-spec Lounge model has the same motor, albeit in a higher state of tune with 78 kW. This punchy motor, displacing a mere 900c, makes easy work of running around town and if you’re not too heavy footed, Fiat claim a combined average fuel consumption of just 3.8 l/100km which is impressive. Of course we didn’t achieve anything close to that figure which we put down to the fact that you still have to boot it a little to get moving, hence our average of 7.0 l/100km. A 1.3 litre turbo diesel motor is also expected to join the line-up at some stage.
Aside from the brilliantly characterful motor, the minor styling upgrades have done a world of good for the Cinquecento – it’s adorable. LED daytime running lights have now been incorporated into the smaller set of headlights which are actually the high beams and minor tweaks to the rear as well as an array of new colours and wheel options come together to create a rather endearing little thing.
Inside, the air vents have been redesigned and things have been moved around a little to incorporate FCA group’s all too familiar Uconnect infotainment system. It works just as well as the one found in Ferraris and Jeeps and should you go for the Lounge model with its 7” TFT instrument cluster, you’ll have quite the techy looking 500. Sound deadening materials have also been increased to minimise cabin noise and here too, different trim options can be had to best suit the trendy human who would buy this sort of car.
Prices start at a not too heady R179 900 for the Pop model and work their way up incrementally to R280 900 for the 500C 0.9 TwinAir Lounge Auto. I reckon the 500 TwinAir Pop Star is the sweet spot in the range with nice to haves such as xenon headlights and PDC should you be unable to confidently manoeuvre your 3cm long vehicle. All models come with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and service plan.
The Abarth 500’s have always been rapid cars. Mainly due to the very little weight and peaky 1.4 turbo motors. A while back, a good friend of mine owned one of these, complete with a tuning box to add a little more spice. We have no trouble sticking to the rear end of the Audi A6 – 3.0 Quattro. That little car was immense, it flew in 2nd and 3rd, sadly the tuning box had to be removed as it very nearly destroyed the turbo.
The new Abarth 595 is here, and with power produced by the Competizione, it really won’t need any sort of tuning box to upset the bigger boys. Everything you need to know about the new 595 is below.
The new Abarth will feature three engine specifications. All Engines will remain 1400cc T-Jet and have the option of a manual or sequential transmission.
Abarth 595 : 106Kw (142bhp) – 206Nm
Abarth 595 Turismo: 121kW (162bhp) – 230Nm
Abarth 595 Competizione: 132Kw (176bhp) – 250Nm
The latter in the range has the optional Performance Pack available, which features a mechanical limited-slip differential, 17” Supersport wheels, carbon fibre shell seats with a leather/Alcantara trimming and an aluminium carved 595 badge on the roof. That’s a strange one.
The new Abarth 595 will be available in 15 exterior colours, with the option of bi-colour schemes, mirror covers and decal sets. Further to this, you have the option to choose from eleven alloy wheel choices, in either 16” or 17”.
The Abarth 595 also features new front and rear light clusters and LED running lights.
A black fabric interior is standard on all models. with the option of seven trim levels, including leather and Alcantara options. Also as standard is Air- Conditioning, electric windows, 7” Display with advanced sport mode, Bluetooth integration and steering wheel controls.
Also, an optional extra on the 595 Turismo and Competizione is the BeatsAudio system, which first featured on the VW Polo Beats. This system has a total output of 440 watts and will surely be an impressive system in the small 595.
Rock up at a bar and tell a potential taker-home that you have a yellow Lamborghini in the parking lot and the first image to pop into their mind will probably be a small banana. Because it’s yellow, of course. Tell them that you have a Fiat 500, however and you needn’t try any harder, unless you have one of the newer ones. Then you shouldn’t be out in public, especially if it’s finished in hearing-aid brown. The original Fiat 500 just has an appeal unmatched by anything. Older Mini’s come close, but who’s likely to be more romantic, Archibald or Giuseppe?
Time for a history lesson:
Launched in 1957, the Fiat 500 was an immediate success and the answer to economical post-war mobility. You could also get a positively capacious station wagon one called the ‘Gardiniera’ which had a generous 10cm longer wheelbase than the ‘coupe’. Between 1957 and 1975, nearly 4 million units were produced. Clearly a popular car then, but this comes as no surprise. Thanks to its clever packaging, it was both puny and practical. Three motors were available during the 18 years of the Cinquecento’s production – all air-cooled, rear mounted and varying in displacement from 479cc to 594cc. Ranging between 9.7kW and 17kW, these motors weren’t exactly powerful, but then again they only had to cart around 500kg’s. 500cc’s, 500kg and 500 seconds to 100km/h (not really).
The original 1957 model was called the Nuova 500 with the 500 D, 500 F, 500 L and 500 R being introduced throughout the vehicle’s lifespan. Changes included the addition of a sunroof, ashtrays, washer fluid pump and a few exterior trim and panel changes. In certain years, the engines also saw slight changes but the most significant changes were the omission of the suicide doors for the 1965 ‘F’ model in favour of safer and more conventional front-hinged doors and the addition of a synchromesh gearbox in 1972 for the ‘R’ model.
Now, before you curse the fact that you’ve paid for a history lesson or turn over to our exciting review of Volkswagen’s new Tiguan, this is where the good stuff starts!
Fuel Customs: In the heart of Sandton’s industrial hub, Wynberg, is a remarkable operation by the name of FUEL Customs. Here, a fellow with an impressive moustache, Trevor Woolfson, along with Louw Du Toit and Devon Randall give ‘romantics’ a new lease on life and gosh they are good at what they do, restoring Fiat 500’s to ‘better than new’ condition, usually to a customer’s spec. Leather seats, disk brakes and significantly more reliable engines, albeit original, are a few of the magical goodies they bestow upon these charming vehicles. Trevor and Louw manage the bodywork and interiors and Devon the engines.
After an expertly brewed cappuccino amongst their ‘ready for delivery’ vehicles, Trevor gave me a full tour of their small but efficient operation.
“This is our scrapyard” he remarks while gesturing at the pile of Lotus 7, Alfa Romeo Spider, Fiat 500, Abarth 600 and BMW E9 or ‘Batmobile’. Quite the scrapyard if you ask me. Talking me through the acquisition process, he explains that if they see a 500, they buy it. They’re rare as hen’s teeth these days so they’re snapped up at every opportunity and even in scrap condition, they’re still worth a pretty penny at around R50 000 a pop but you can’t really put a price on a legacy like the 500’s.
Using two different projects as a comparison, one in seemingly ‘good’ condition and the other so rusty it looks like a turd, he explains that the turd is in fact in better condition, despite its ‘cancerous rust’. A saddening occurrence that they encounter far too often are vehicles which are half-heartedly restored or patched up with more polyfiller than a celeb’s face, often badly too. This makes for tricky restoration work and hides many gremlins, especially the aforementioned rust. In this case, body panels are just replaced as it works out far more cost and time effective to just import and replace.
We then move on to a Fiat 600 (they do a few of these too) where he explains that again, rather than trying to patch up someone else’s shoddy electrical job, it’s better to just replace the lot. “The whole idea of these cars is that they’re meant to be used so there’s no point in compromising on quality, a mistake which will most certainly come back to haunt in the future.” explains Trevor.
Speaking of quality, the attention to detail which is paid right through the entire restoration process is truly phenomenal. Nearly all of the parts are either imported from Italy or fabricated in-house so as to achieve an almost 100% original product.
We then take a quick jaunt out the back of the workshop where in-amongst a row of pending projects sits a newly re-welded shell of a 500, on its roof. Nearly all of the body panels on this particular model have been replaced and it is plain to see that this car has probably seen more licks of paint than the podium of a stripper-pole – another previously-rushed job.
Back in the workshop, we make our way along the end of their production line. One of the vehicles is perched up on a jack with its wheels off, allowing me to catch a glimpse at the meticulous installation of the disc brakes. Also imported from Italy, the setup is designed specifically for the 500 and allows for a safer and more modern system to be installed, without detracting from the overall experience. Once the wheels are back on the vehicle, there is no visible difference to an original with its flaccid drum-brakes.
All in all, these vehicles can take up to 4 months to complete with prices for a fully-specced (no lane-keep here, sorry) Fiat 500 nearing the R400 000 mark. Pricey, yes, but worth every penny and far cheaper than a banana mobile or an Air-Max and gold-chain magnet (that other famous Italian brand).
Trevor explains that customer colour preference is rather interesting and usually comes in waves. “A client will walk in and see a finished red car, and he’ll want a red car. Another client will then spec a green one, only for the client after him to see that green one and then want a green one.” People want what they can see and this I can understand because wow would I love to own one of these. FUEL are to the 500 what Singer are to the 911 – true artists.
As well as the Fiats, FUEL also work on slightly smaller restoration products which take between 3 and 4 weeks to complete. Also in the workshop during my visit were 2 Alfa Romeo Spiders, one a Duetto, an Imperial Maroon Jaguar Mark 2, a Mercedes-Benz W123 which looked factory fresh, a Sunbeem Alpine and an Alfa Romeo 156 with its ‘Busso’ V6 on full display! As if these weren’t eye candy enough, a clutch of Vespa’s could also be found next to all of this, fitting as that’s where both Trevor and Louw’s routes lie. They’ve now been running FUEL for the past 2 years and share their premises with Devon who operates under the name ‘Performance Racing Developments’.
Other interesting finds in the workshop were an incredibly valuable Fiat 600 Multipla (not as eye-searingly ugly as the repugnant, modern-day interpretation) and a tastefully restored 1969 ‘Bullnose’ Mini, complete with racing seats and a 2.0-litre 16-Valve Toyota motor, scary stuff!
The costs involved in running an operation such as this are eye-watering, complete with body shop, spray booth, scrapyard and delivery bay, but with die-hard petrolheads Trevor, Louw and Devon at the helm, FUEL Customs represents the pinnacle of restoration through passion. Go and check them out on Andries Street in Wynberg, just a stone’s throw from Sandton. Their coffee is good, too!