Farewell, Piet Prok

prok 1Notes by Julienne du Toit

Photographs by Chris Marais

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e first met Piet ‘Prok’ Coetzee in June 2004, when we came to Cradock on an assignment for SA Country Life magazine. Julie’s journal notes:

“He lives in quite a big house on Bree Street, as befits an attorney. There is a driveway leading down to a yard with the longest garage I’ve ever seen, with about eight doors or more. He has 40 cars or so, split between this long building and another of clinker brick. We find him in the long garage, a compressor going, tinkering with one of the vehicles – the Model T Ford, I think.

prok 2Piet says he’s almost always at one of four places: at home, in his garage, at the office or at the Cradock Club (apparently this was once a male-only club, females only allowed in in 1998).

He says he’s always been into machines, ever since he was a young student. Always had a motorbike or something he was rebuilding. He is a member of the South African Veteran and Vintage Association (SAVVA) and often takes part in vintage rallies (like the Milligan, from PE).

Veteran refers to any vehicle built before 31 December 1918, and Vintage means anything between 1918 and 31 December 1930. Post vintage is anything between 1930 and 1945. After 1945, if a vehicle is at least 25 years old, it’s called a post-war classic.

prok 6From left to right in the first garage: 1934 Studebaker Dictator, 1934 Chrysler Airstream, 1936 Chevy, 1936 Buick Roadster (the yellowish one), a 1972 350 SL Mercedes Benz, a truck only made in SA called the Opel Olympia 1959, a 1969 Mercedes Benz 250 Coupe, a 1929 Buick Roadster, a 1926 Model T Ford and a Datsun 1979 280 ZX. This last is the only Japanese car that is a post-war classic.

The Opel Olympia LDV inspires great envy among collectors from other countries, he says, because it was only made in South Africa. Quite a collector’s item. He’s particularly proud of the 1934 Studebaker which he found in a scrapyard in Cradock. It took him two years to rebuild it.

The 1929 Buick is a Jubilee Model, a 25 year celebration of Buicks. It has a 7-litre engine and weighs two and a half tons.  He’s represented South Africa in rallies with this vehicle.

prok 3How do you find these vehicles, I ask him. “I don’t find them, they find me,” he retorts, grinning wolfishly.

He’s also a collector of old engines – he has an old 1918 John Deere Tractor engine, which has no carburettor, just an intake jet. It idles until the revs drop, when it fires again. He sets it going and it clatters away, firing periodically and sending clouds of blue smoke into the air, probably polluting the biltong and droewors he has suspended from hooks on the ceiling.

The garage is full of spanners, pipes, screws, hubcaps, pliers etc. I can imagine my dad or Oupa in here, in paradise!”

prok 4