Perhap the biggest complement paid to the classic car shop known as ‘What Swaai Jy’, in Menlyn, is when people call to ask “what time is the museum is open.” They’ve seen this dazzling array of classics on line, and now they want to drink them all in at close quarters. What they are about to discover is that these cars are not dusty old exhibits, but real entities that you can actually touch, drive and buy, if you have the necessary finance!
Once you make the trip to the shop and discover how to get inside – it’s not that visible, or easily accessible from the main road running through Menlyn – there is immediately a sense of being part of something special. Like you’ve discovered a secret clubhouse, a warren of man caves. This feeling of membership to an informal “club” is taken further by the fact that you can order a coffee from the barista, pull up a chair or a rough-hewn bench, and strike up conversations with staff members, other visitors and clients, the topic invariably being about classic cars and bikes.
‘Wat Swaai Jy’ is all but hidden away beneath a Penta Suzuki and Jeep dealership located off Garsfontein Road, a little way beyond the Menlyn shopping centre. The reason it’s all but located underground is that the owners, husband and wife team Corber and Nadia Viljoen, didn’t want to pay huge overheads for a traditional showroom frontage at street level. More importantly, Corber felt, was securing enough space to display upwards of 50 cars and to provide workshop facilities for the cars.
On entering the premises, the most impressive aspect is the diversity of these cars. Here you will find a late 1970s Porsche 911 sharing floor space with a first-generation Chevrolet Corvette. Just down the aisle you’ll see a perfectly-restored Mercedes-Benz190 SL from the 1950s, a split-window Kombi, a couple of beat-up looking American pick-ups, and some well-preserved Mercedes-Benz W123s.
Further in you’ll come across the workshop hoists, as well as fenced-off storage areas that are rented out to clients who regularly visit their cars, work on them, or take them for weekend runs.
There’s a funky bar area, as well as a special area for detailing, known as Grit, and run by Richard Gilson. The workshop facility is owned 50-50 by Corber and Leon Potgieter, and services all manner of classics. Leon’s particular speciality is with Volkswagens and Porsches, but being trained in an aircraft background, he’s big on systems and procedures. While we were there shooting pics for this feature, they were discussing a brake upgrade on a 1965 Mustang perched up on the hoist.
Viljoen says that currently about 40% of the cars on display are on consignment, with 60% being owned by ‘What Swaai Jy’. (I initially thought the Afrikaans term meant “what moves you?”, but apparently it refers to what either customers or the shop have to” flog”, in order to make a deal. If you are still confused, umm, it’s a Pretoria “thing”).
So what’s hot right now?
Well now, Mustangs with resto mods such as brake, wheel, suspension and engine upgrades are hot, whereas standard original 1960s Mustangs are not fetching great money at the moment. Mercedes-Benz W123s went through a purple patch recently, with an absolutely mint, low mileage example of a 230 E fetching upwards of R200 000! Porsche 911s from the 1970s and 1980s are always hot, but recently there has been a falling off of the silly money fetched for split window Kombis of a few years ago..‘Wat Swaai Jy’ doesn’t concentrate on the seriously exotic end of the market, such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, although Viljoen reckons a number of his clients own some of these marques as part of their greater classic portfolios. There are a few Rolls-Royces in stock, but these are of the 1960s Silver Cloud and 1970s Silver Shadow variety. It is interesting that Rolls-Royces of this era don’t fetch big money, considering they were hugely expensive cars in their day.
Another really cool and interesting example in stock is a 1955 Opel Olympia station wagon, which was a barn find near the Botswana border. The vehicle was laid up in 1966, and didn’t turn a wheel until its exhumation in 2019. Corber is still debating on whether to undertake a full restoration or leave much of its 65-year-old patina in place. But for now, it runs and stops, so that’s progress!
For 2021 Viljoen is looking to build up stock of American classics from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, because he feels this side of the market still has plenty of growth potential.
“The lockdown period has actually been quite kind to us,” he says. “I reckon because other forms of entertainment were curtailed, people with money to spend began attending to their classic car collections, and this has worked well for us.”
To supplement the “clubby” nature of the enterprise, ‘Wat Swaai Jy’ regularly organises casual runs to venues within striking distance of Pretoria and Jo’burg, and to date some of the runs have attracted upwards of 90 cars.
If you are a car or a classic motorcycle person, you could do a lot worse. than spend a Saturday hanging out at ‘Wat Swaai Jy’, sipping coffee and shooting the breeze about petrol-fuelled pursuits.
By Stuart Johnston
Pics by Jay Groat