In essence, it’s nothing more than an appliance. Like the stove in my kitchen and the heater in my living room, it’s a machine that makes my life easier in some way.
So why do we have newspaper supplements and magazines dedicated entirely to cars? Why aren’t there titles like Top Stove or Heater Monthly out there?
As I said, I’ve thought about this many times before and the only conclusion I can come up with, is that we humans form a strong bond with our cars. Our vehicles tend to transform themselves from mere machines to family members.
My question is: why? What does it take for a human to build up a strong emotional bond with a particular car? It might possibly have something to do with nostalgia. You love your Corolla, because your father had one and you have a brain full of fond memories of that car. Or you and your car could have faced a particular hardship or life-changing experience together.
At the beginning of last week, I thought of the Volkswagen Amarok as just another bakkie that does the job, but that’s not as good as the Ford Ranger. This week though, I’m infatuated with it. Not the Amarok in general, but the specific unit we used for the Spirit of Africa event.
Simply called Number Eight, this Amarok single cab worked its way deep into my heart. It’s weird, because other than a set of proper off-road tyres, it looked exactly the same as every other single-cab Amarok out there.
This one, however, was different, because it was part of a two-man team that faced the ultimate South African off-road expedition.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t too sure about the ‘toughest’ claim before we set off on the journey. I’ve done some ridiculous off-roading on the job before, so how dangerous can the Spirit of Africa really be?
As it turns out, it really is the ultimate challenge man and machine can face together. Boil it down to basics and it’s nothing more than 18 obstacles you have to overcome in an Amarok, but once you’ve set off, you realise that a simple sentence like that can’t do it justice.
We started the day with the technical stuff. It was my turn behind the wheel first, which turned out to be a very bad idea as I drove into the very first penalty pole a mere second after the start of the event. It wasn’t all bad, as the only way our team could go from there was up.
The first part turned out to be the most challenging off-roading I’ve done in my life. You have to drive the bulky Amarok between penalty poles that are spaced wide enough so the car can barely fit. Points are also subtracted for reversing, while flamboyant driving (something my driving partner and I are particularly good at) will get you disqualified. As if that isn’t enough, every obstacle is timed and you are penalised for being both early and late. It’s quite easy to lose every one of the 100 points you start with within 30 seconds.
At lunch we were quite surprised to learn that we were doing okay. For motoring journalists, that is. After scoring minus 30 on stage three, we were under the impression that we were a gigantic stain on the noble art of off-roading. The revelation that we weren’t as sucky as we thought, gave us the courage for round two - rallying.
The aim for the last eight obstacles was to match a time (plus 7%) set by racing legend Sarel van der Merwe. No technical driving here, just nailing the loud pedal to the floor and hoping you get somewhere near the time limit.
It was during these stages that I realised why I love cars. For the second time that week (the first being the Ferrari event on week 24’s front page) I was in motoring nirvana. The sun was shining and the surrounding nature was beautiful. The car performed admirably and my co-pilot offered the kind of company that makes any long journey a joy. Mostly though, it was the banter between the teams that made it such a special occasion.
Every time one of us completed an obstacle, the other competitors would run up to hear what the time was. Some squabbling would ensue, followed by a healthy dose of smack talking to psychologically damage the opposing team before the next obstacle.
I suppose it was nothing more than a few okes driving in the bushes, stopping every 100 metres or so to insult the manner in which the previous 100 metres were driven. What I experienced, however, was a bunch of guys heading into the bushes to showcase their driving prowess and failing abysmally to do so. As a result, we had an utterly magnificent time.
None of it would have been possible without Number Eight. It was nothing more than four wheels and a body, but at that moment in time it was the third member of our team.
People often feel the need to tell me that being a petrolhead is senseless. To them a car is nothing more than a tool they use as a means to an end. I understand the sentiment, but if you feel that way, do yourself a favour and partake in something like the Spirit of Africa.
I’m quite sure you’ll come out on the other side loving cars as much as I do.