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Jimmy Price

Port Elizabeth has always been known as a South African motor industry hub, going back to 1924 when the first vehicles rolled off Ford’s local assembly line. PE’s automotive fortunes have ebbed and flowed since then, but one vehicle manufacturing facility born in the mid-eighties has survived all the economic tides that have flowed through the city – Hi-Tech Automotive.

Jimmy Price is the man behind Hi-Tech Automotive. Jimmy is definitely not your average petrol head car enthusiast – in fact, he grew up in a family with no links to the automotive industry and he and his father were passionate about water sport. Jimmy competed in powerboating, water-skiing and raced hydroplanes, which he describes as “3.5 metre plywood coffins, running on alcohol!” Hydroplane racing was similar to the early years of Formula 1 racing: exciting and dangerous. With boats reaching speeds of 160kph, serious accidents were routine and often fatal.

Jimmy stopped boat racing when his father passed away, and after school, he went into the civil engineering and construction industry. He built up his own business interests in this field and at that stage, his experience of motor manufacturing was limited to rebuilding the scrapped Ford Topolino his Dad had given him while he was still at school.

In 1986, Jimmy’s friend Richard de Beer was building MGTD kit cars, and he received an order from the US for a number of kits. This was in the era of sanctions, and in the end, the order never came to fruition due to all the complications involved in the export process. However, Jimmy started thinking about the possibility of exporting a complete car, as opposed to a kit. He convinced Richard to join him and in the early nineties set up a basic facility on a farm just outside PE. Although Richard did not remain in the business, Jimmy slowly began the process of recreating classic cars for export and exploring ideas that could make his fledgling company profitable.

In the early nineties, there was really no such thing as an SUV. The Ford Explorer pioneered the concept and became hugely popular in the US, although the closest thing to an SUV in South Africa at the time was the locally produced Nissan Sani. Importing fully built up cars was not an option, with import duty set at 110%, but Jimmy saw a gap in the market to bring Explorers into the country as kits. With support from CMH and Barlows, Hi-Tech Automotive was soon importing body shells and rebuilding complete new cars at his premises in PE. Between 1992 and 1996, a total of 800 cars  were produced in this way, mostly Ford Explorers but also other cars from manufacturers such as Land Rover, Toyota and Rolls Royce. Even a Ford Louisville truck hit local roads via this channel!

During this period, Jimmy had been developing a locally built Cobra “replicar.” Jimmy dislikes referring to his cars as kit cars, preferring to call them replicars – close recreations of the original cars, requiring no assembly other than dropping in an engine and gearbox. This was a difficult concept to market in the nineties, with no access to the internet or social media, and potential American customers struggled to grasp the fact that they did not have to actually assemble the cars themselves.

To overcome this challenge, Jimmy took a rolling chassis to the legendary Run & Gun event in the US – a race for kit cars. Observed by Kit Car magazine, Jimmy, Bob Bondurant and Bobby Olthoff “built” the car overnight and duly raced the car the next day. This out of the box inspiration helped establish the brand in the US, and also led to Bob Bondurant becoming one of Jimmy’s first US dealers. Hi-Tech was soon selling 20 to 30 Cobras per month to the US market, mainly to wealthy owners who loved the iconic Cobra cars but who were not keen to go through the build process themselves.

In 2000, Jimmy had a call from “Speedy Bill Smith”, from Lincoln, Nebraska. Bill started the legendary Speedway Motors back in 1952, and he had seen one of Jimmy’s Cobra replicars on show at SEMA. He had the idea of building a turnkey street rod along the lines of Jimmy’s “8 hour kit”: a perfect rolling chassis, with only the customer’s choice of engine and gearbox needed to complete the car. Bill wanted a ’32 Ford roadster, but not in fibreglass – in steel. A year and a half later, the first Signature Series roadster was delivered to Nebraska: perfectly finished in Posy Red with brown upholstery, every nut and bolt in place. Fifty of these beauties were built and sent to the US, and Jimmy and Bill developed a life-long friendship from this joint venture.

Around that time, Jimmy was also approached by Lee Noble, designer of the Noble supercars, who was impressed with the quality of production coming out of the Hi-Tech plant. The Noble M400 was a high performance, mid-engine, rear wheel drive sports car, which enjoyed great success in both the US and the UK. Over 700 of these cars were built right here, by Hi-Tech in PE. Sadly, the Noble brand declined when production of the M400 ended and although still in existence, the cars are no longer built in South Africa.

One of the things that makes Hi-Tech Automotive unique is that most of their cars are built under licence to the original designers and manufacturers. This is the case with their Shelby and AC Cobras, as well as the beautiful Shelby Daytona Coupes. Only six of the original cars were ever built, and designer Peter Brock came to South Africa to assist and ensure that the Hi-Tech replicars were absolutely true to the originals. I have seen one of the Daytona Coupes competing locally, and it is a stunning recreation.

The Hi-Tech Automotive Ford GT40 replicar is also an exact recreation of the legendary original. Built according to the original blueprints, the car is a faithful reproduction of Ford’s triumphant Le Mans winner. The only concession to modernity is the installation of an air conditioning system. 

Although Jimmy did not race himself, he was very involved in his son Justin’s successful karting career and is a great supporter of local motorsport. He assisted with importing Sarel van der Merwe’s Ford Mustang from the US and built Deon Joubert’s Pennzoil car, both to compete in the WesBank Modified class. Hi-Tech went on to build and run WesBank cars for Sarel, George Fouche and Johan Fourie. 

When Peter Lindenberg approached him to build a race-car for an oval series at the new Phakisa raceway, Jimmy built the well-known SASCARs. An imported NASCAR was used as the template to build 24 similar cars for local oval racing, and when the Phakisa series fell through Jimmy became one of the original investors in WesBank Raceway. The SASCARs were fast, reliable and popular with spectators, and a number of the cars are still in existence today. Hi-Tech also builds homologated FIA versions of many of their cars, a few of which may be seen racing locally. Jimmy’s focus, however, remains on building cars for road use – probably a wise business decision! 

Up until 2002, the company was growing at a rate of 50% per annum – a true-home grown success story. With a staff of 660 people producing up to 450 cars per year, the sudden depreciation of the dollar against the Rand in the early 2000s was a bolt from the blue. Soon afterwards, the global economy fell into a downward spiral that saw sales drop from 400 vehicles in 2007 to less than 100 in 2010.

Jimmy was forced to downsize and sell off many of his business interests and properties in order to survive. The beautiful Zagato designed and locally produced Perana Z-One concept car also became a victim of the global downturn. A concept created by Jimmy and a number of local partners, in 2009 the car became the first ever South African car to be exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show, where it attracted great acclaim and a host of pre-orders. By 2010, however, the market had virtually collapsed and in the end only a handful of Z-Ones were built.

Probably due to Jimmy being more of a businessman than a petrol head, he was able to diversify and adapt in order to survive the hard times, and nowadays Hi-Tech Automotive is able to produce items such as mobile concrete plants as opposed to just cars. Both Jim’s sons, Justin and Nicholas, have always worked in the company and have helped Hi-Tech to keep pace with change, particularly in terms of social media – just as well, as Jimmy says they call him BC, as in “Before Computers”!

Hi-Tech is still building cars on 29 different platforms, including all the variants of the Cobra, the GT40 and a magnificent recreation of the Corvette Grand Sport. Hi-Tech Automotive is also still the largest privately owned, low volume vehicle manufacturer in the world, with a facility covering 20,000m/2. They produce 10 to 12 cars per month, with a staff of 240 people in separate facilities for everything from paintwork, CNC work, and chassis work to trim, wiring harnesses and electrical work. Everything is done in house. 

Bearing in mind that Hi-Tech built the first of the locally developed Joule electric cars, I asked Jimmy what he foresees happening in his industry as we look towards an electric future. “The technology is moving too fast for us to be involved in development,” says Jim. “The investment in technology is huge, particularly in the area of self-driving cars, for example. More stringent emissions control legislation is coming and we will definitely have to be poised to adapt whichever cars we are building at the time to comply. The market is always changing, too: for example, millennials want to drive cool retro cars but they don’t want the driving experience of a car with old technology. We are always looking at ways to meet the expectations of our customers, and if they want electric drivetrains then that’s where we will have to be in the future.”

Finally, I asked Jimmy for a word of advice for our readers, especially those involved in building their own cars: “Do it for your passion and pleasure,” says Jimmy. “Don’t try to build something mass produced. Build something unique and individual – hot-rodders are born, not made, and those long nights spent in the workshop should give you the same joy you had as a kid, playing with your Dinky cars.”

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1968 Dodge Charger RTR

A history/background on your interest in cars/customizing cars? 

Johan has since childhood been fascinated by everything with an engine and began customize both bikes, mopeds and later cars at an early age. Johan won, among others Elmia Styling Price already back in 1994 with a, for that time heavily modified Mercedes 300 coupe -88, and in the early millennium he was also breaking new ground by slamming a brand new Volvo XC70 gen 2 to the ground when it just had left the fabrication floor.

While growing up in the country side in county Värmland, Sweden with it´s deep forests, the burning desire for the American muscle car culture, primarily Mopar with their big engines and heavy attribute compressors and headers was born inside him.

Through the years, Johan has built several priced builds in different categories, but it is the heavy customized and tuned Dodges he has built over the last 10 years he is most recognized of.

Johan is a visionary who is constantly looking for new challenges and continuing thinking about new projects that sometimes is realized and sometimes stops at the thought.

How did this particular build come about? Are you only interested in classics or do you also customize newer rides?
This car has bin built and rebuilt in Johans and the fellowships heads for over 10 years before the first actual cut was made in the body.

The idea of the RTR was to mix the original Mopar spirit with a bit of “Hot Wheels appearance” but still keep the soul of what the American muscle ikon Dodge Charger -68 stands for, but transform it to a super modern sports car with extreme performance.

What went into customizing it?
 Johan with friends also has another highlighted build on their bucket list. A black Dodge Charger -68 also customized and tuned but in a more ruff mode wit supercharger, big hi fi system and a aggressive look mixed with innovative details and design features. To take the same car and year model as both his customized the -68 Chargers is and don’t slip into recreate the same thing over again demands a solid vision and be able to see the big picture. If the black Charger was a big project, the following RTR was enormous. Again Johan reminds himself that to build the RTR after his mind has bin a dream since he was a kid and held a small Hot Wheel car in his hand on his boy room.

What was the condition of the Charger when you first got it? What as your vision for it?
Back in 2007, Johan bought a ’68 Mopar from his good friend who specializes in selling old-school American classics and muscle cars as a platform for the future and his dream of the RTR build. At this time he was also in full swing of building his black Charger and fine tuning the last pieces of his price winning Dodge Viper GTS -96. The project car he now bought was more a rolling chassi and body since both engine and transmission was missing and the body had its bit of rust on it´s places. But there was changes in the horizont to that!

Did you create a plan or did you just work on different parts as they came up?
This question is answered in the upper parts already.

Who helped you work on the Charger?
THE RTR IS BUILT UPON FELLOWSHIP

– This is not a one man show!

In order to get Johan´s ideas to reality takes both skills, time, blood sweat and tears from all involved. Johan is the master mind behind the design and construction of all his builds, and is also most involved in every part of manufacturing during all the process and has the last call in everything. But without a team around him, it would be impossible to create what they do. And here is where the strength of a true camaraderie comes in. For A build like the RTR involves so much people to make it a reality. All from sponsors, sub-contractors of parts not possible to solve in house, to friends who marshal with anything from transporting a piece from A to B in the middle of the night in order to get the car ready. But there is a core that has more hours in the garage then in their home the last years that needs to get full credit as well in order to make the RTR project to what it is. All of this has been done mostly with great help of his two best friends mr Jörgen and mr Otto as a core team, and they all goes under the name “the fellowship”. But ofcource there is also a great bunch of more friends (and their wifes) to let them free on weekends and nights to help us out.

The RTR wouldn´t exist without the support of Turtle Wax Sweden!
For a group of friends working on this level of project on their spare time it would nit bin possible to take the RTR to what it is now without great long term support. And that we have got by Turtle Wax Sweden. They have helped us out in different ways to give the project air under the wings and to that they have our deepest thanks.

What are your top mods and why?
to rank a specific part or detail on the RTR to stand out is for us impossible. The whole idea of the RTR was to never take a short cut in customization and that is what we are most proud of that we have done. For us it´s just the mix with the big insertions as bodywork, engine, milled details and hi fi installation to the small, almost invisible changes and details we have done the key factor.

Did you face any challenges during the build? How did you overcome them?
Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Yes, of course we have had our great share of set backs.
But to us it has bin the red line from vision to what we wanted the RTR to stand for that has kept us on track. A build that last in operative status for almost 5 years and over 15 000 hours of work meets it´s dips and bumps. But the fact that we have built this car in our heads on detail level for so long time before we actually started truly helped us to see the light in the tunnel.

How long did it take to finish?

Answered already above

Did you build it here in the States or back home?
The whole build was taken place back in Sweden in Johan and his friends different garages. That is one thing that strikes other pro builders we met on our U.S tour here that there is no professional shop involved beside the interior stitching, milling of the one off rims and some engine tuning that we needed help with. Instead we have trailered the car back and forth and transported different parts between us depending on what stage in the process the project was at the time. To give you an idea of the transport time we have spent on this the fellowship members all live about 150 kilometers between each other surrounded with deep forests.

Why did you bring it to the States if was built back in Sweden?
Back in 2011 we won Sweden´s best custom car with our black Charger -68 and won the possibility to show it on SEMA show in Las Vegas in Car Crazy´s booth representing Sweden at the Meguiar´s Challenge. The response of the build was extreme and it got chosen to be “The car of the show” and stood at the outside podium alone on the Friday of SEMA 2011.

If the crowd and organization at SEMA enjoyed the black Charger build, this RTR is in a totally other level of craftsmanship and extent, far more advanced and extreme in every inch and detail, both inside and outside. So of course both we and our partner Turtle Wax Sweden wanted to show our work for the audience in U.S where the American muscle cars once came from. With great help of the swedish company CTEK battery Chargers we got the possibility to show the car at SEMA Show 2017. And from that everything just snowballed for us with appereances at Jay Leno´s Garage, shootings for magazines, Youtubers, TV shows and a few car shows as Cars for charity in Kansas, Garnd national roadster show in Pomona L.A, Alberquekre New Mexico as a feutare car and Darryl Starbird car show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  we can not see this in other way ten a success and that they liked what we have done on our Turtle Wax Dodge Charger RTR.

Where has it been while on tour here? Biggest highlight from the tour?
Answered above

How did you end up meeting Jay Leno? What was that like?
The Jay Leno experience was a mind blowing and almost surreal adventure it self for all of us in the fellowship. We got invited to his show at SEMA Show and with great help of CTEK we managed to solve all practical things around that. To sit in the passenger seat of our own RTR that almost has not bin test driven yet while Jay Leno gives throttle and smiles on L.A streets was nothing less than mind blowing. It didn´t get less overwhelming that suddenly a chain of black cars stops at the  shooting site and U.S ex vice president Joe Biden steps out and heads directly for the RTR. And to experience all the regulations around a production like jay Leno´s Garage and what comes with officials like Joe Biden was also a experience for life. The episode is sent and online it is one of the most clicked episodes of 2017 with several hundred thousand views.

What’s next in terms of your next customization?
For the sake of my family and mine and the rest of fellowships health we will enjoy this for a while at first. We have got a few requests of building cars to others but still nothing is decided. But that would of course be a natural and cool step to take for all of us.

What will you do with the Charger?
Nothing is decided yet. First of all we are going to display it along with our partner Turtle Wax under 2018. We have got several offers from buyers but also in tat parts nothing is decided. Since I have all my other cars still, there is not sure that with all work we have put in to the RTR we are able to let it go. The future will tell I guess.


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Gawin Wilkins

Our local SA motorsport Legends are not only created from the long circuit.. we have our share of Legends in every category of motorsport. One of our best- known drag racing Legends has to be Gavin Wilkins, famous for his 7 second Mustang! Something that has struck me while writing this series about racing Leg- ends is how modest and humble they are about their achievements. Gavin is no exception. I have known him since my time in the V8 Supercar series, where he was briefly the TC – a thank- less job at the best of times, as the TC is the one who has to tackle perceived technical deviations from the rules. I never heard him blowing his own trumpet, despite his knowledge and experience with V8 motors, and he got the job done with a minimum of fuss and attitude.

Gavin was born in Brakpan in 1965. His Dad was a very good mechanic who did his time with GM, Ford and Leyland. Clearly, Ford’s blue genes run in the family! Gavin was only four or five when he inherited his late cousin’s 50cc motor cycle, and despite many tumbles and falls, he soon taught himself to ride. Once he got the basics sorted, he justwanted to go faster and faster…As soon as Gavin had his licence, he was on the road with his Honda MB50, looking for races around every corner. “Of course, my Honda was not stock– it could do 155kph,” recalls Gavin. “My nickname at school was Turbo, not knowing how that name would tran- spire in years to come!”

In 1981, Gavin took his bike to Rain- bow Drag Strip for the first time, where he did 21 seconds on a quarter mile, and that’s where the real Legend start- ed. Gavin’s dream at that stage was to work on motorcycles, and he started his career with Honda in 1982.

His first car was a lime green Mini, which he used during his National Ser- vice. “Yes, of course it was modified,”, laughs Gavin. “But it was still pretty light on fuel!” Gavin soon made the move to racing on four wheels, and it didn’t take too long before he was making a real name for himself in drag racing.“My favourite car was my V6 Capri,” says Gavin. One of the highlights of his career was winning Drag Racer of the Year with the Capri in 1992, and again in 1993, along with the title of SANDRA Champion. He also set a World Recordwith this car: the fastest Normally Aspi- rated V6 in the World.

There is always bitter along with the sweet, however, and one of the
low points of Gavin’s career occurred when his competitors started to bring
in serious overseas cars to challenge the Capri. Despite their best efforts, the Capri remained the fastest car in its class, and subsequent allegations as to the legality of Gavin’s car led to various protests. “My car was never illegal,” says Gavin, “and this was proven through MSA processes. This caused me to walk away from the sport I really loved for a good few years.”

During this time, Gavin started his own workshop, GWR Racing. By the early 2000s, though, Gavin was back on the drag strip. Sticking with the Blue Oval, he built two very rapid Ford Sierra XR8s. The one Sierra still holds the record for a NOS assisted V8 on a standing kilometre at 298kph. The sec- ond Sierra was a 10-second car called “Scrappy” that eventually developed into the famous Blue Mustang that Gavin now races.

From 2005 to 2008, Gavin won four Regional Championships, finished second in the Nationals three times, and third once. He had to wait until 2012 before finally winning both Senior Eliminator Championships in the same year. He repeated this feat in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The Blue Mustang seems almost invincible. The car that started life as a Sierra has gone through many transfor- mations over the years. In 2007, Gavin brought in a newer Mustang body from the US for the car. “Lo and behold,
the new body did not fit!”, remembers Gavin. “My mates from M&P Fab and I had to change the entire steel structure to accommodate the new body.”

A couple of years later, the motor was changed to a monster 10 litre Big Block 1500hp Nitrous engine, and once again Gavin had to modify the front of the car’s chassis to accommodate the beast. “That set up still holds the Na- tional record in its class, at 7,6 seconds at 300kph, and helped me win multiple National and Regional Champion- ships,” says Gavin.

The latest incarnation of the Mustang is ominously known as “Booststein.” It has a 3500hp twin turbo engine and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. This is mated to a Ford 9” rear with 35 spline axles and a four-link rear suspension. The car uses 34.5/17/16 Mickey Thompson slicks for traction. “At the moment we are only at around the 2100hp mark, as we are finding new ways of trying to put all thepower down,” remarks Gavin. “This is currently the quickest and fastest Twin Turbo door car in Africa – 7.03 seconds at 332kph. This car is like sitting on a rocket – it never stops accelerating!”

Gavin has also raced overseas, in Australia. “A good mate of mine, ex South African Pieter Dewit, put a drive together for me in a Chev Holden Ute. Yes, a Ford guy driving a Chev, I did get grilled over that,” laughs Gavin. He managed to get to the quarterfinals before the Chev developed a misfire. “It was an amazing experience and I got my National colours for this, being the only car drag racer to receive a Green Blazer.”

I asked Gavin what the critical secrets are to successful drag racing. “Reaction time and consistency”, he says with conviction. And is he a fan of Street Outlaws? “Above all, Street Outlaws is a good SHOW,” laughs Gavin. “It’s well edited, and of course, people don’t realise they only run over an eighth of a mile, not a quarter mile.”

In between setting records and further developing his Mustang, Gavin focuses on his business. GWR Racing is a specialist engine builder and has many global customers, in addition
to his very loyal local customer base. GWR has built engines for the Auby brothers, Franco di Matteo and Des Gutzeit, amongst others, and their engines have won numerous Champi- onships for their customers.

Gavin does not only build engines for his racing clientele, but has also built many motors for classic cars and hot rods. GWR recently rebuilt a 603 Hemi engine for the best Hemi Cuda in SA, and builds motors for a Boks- burg client’s 1965 Mustang and 1969 Charger, amongst others.

Gavin’s best advice to our SA Ho- trods readers, when choosing a project car, is to try and look for a car that still has parts available. Cars like Mustangs and Corvettes are a good choice. “There are too many dreams that turn into nightmares due to parts not being around,” comments Gavin. “You end up spending a ton of money and time on a project you cannot complete.”

I asked Gavin about his future plans, bearing in mind that there are, in fact, no National Drag Racing Champion- ships at the moment. “Unfortunately, if you race in dollars and earn in rands, it affects the number of competitors and we had to cancel the Nationals. I still enjoy racing – I have always been a Drag racer – but it is no longer a priority of my life. I have pretty muchbeen there and done it, and have allthe badges to show.”

I’m sure you will agree that we would all like to see Booststein in action with all 3500 horses hooked up. Let’s hope that Gavin finds some serious motiva- tion to keep pushing the envelope and breaking new records on the strip.

BREAKING NEWS!!

As we went to press, Gavin just broke the 7 second barrier at Tarlton – 6.993 seconds at 332kph! I guess Gavin won’t be hanging up his racing boots just yet.