By Graeme Hurst
With the 9 Hour, Castrol 1000, WesBank Modifieds – not to mention 20 Kyalami SA Grand Prix – and off-road events like the Roof of Africa, South Africa has a brilliant and enviable motorsport history. But while it’s revered, there aren’t many places where it’s commemorated. Except for the Vlokken Grott Collection, that is. A Knysna-based set up run by a racing enthusiast who has set out to preserve and celebrate the country’s rich motorsport legacy.
There’s a frustration that many of today’s racing enthusiasts share about our racing history or, more specifically, about the people who made it: namely that a lot of what happened hasn’t been passed on. Of course, it wasn’t intentional; many of our drivers were simply living in the moment, flat-out building and racing cars – usually on a shoestring. But that’s what sparked a passion for celebrating our racing history in Anton Vlok who, as a youngster, yearned to know more about his dad Willie’s racing career.
“He was a club racer in the late 1950s and 1960s, racing a Ford 100E Prefect and then later a 1000cc Anglia. He also rallied an Alfa Giulia and took part in the ’72 9 Hour with Jan Hettema in a BDA Escort (they came 7th and 1st on Index – Ed) but never really shared his memories with me,” says Anton from his dedicated private collection of racing heritage. “I became aware that information gets lost and felt it was important to preserve the past by collecting anything racing-related I could find… and it snowballed from there!”
Snowballed indeed: enter the 80m2 unit he uses in Knysna’s industrial area to display the items and your senses are swamped with the sheer density and variety of it all. Dozens of 1:18 models, signs and racing overalls vie for your attention against everything from old pistons, bits of bodywork and racing flags to race programmes, trophies and autographed prints. It’s a staggering and wonderfully intimate Aladdin’s cave of motoring ephemera that could only be the product of a deeply passionate racing aficionado. One that started out with a love of models.
“I’ve always been into models – I think they’re absolutely beautiful – but for me what’s special is to have a model of a car that you saw race… that gives it way more meaning than just a model of a Bugatti Veyron or whatever,” explains Anton, who amassed a huge collection of 1:18-scale models of racing cars, many of which he’s bought to order, having been specially finished to reflect the correct livery of a particular race car. A model of the Ford Escort BDA – complete with iconic STP stickers – that his dad Willie raced in the 9 Hour is one such model, built by Homemade Models. Another favourite on display is the ex-Willment Racing 427 Galaxie that Bobby Olthoff drove.
Anton had a much larger collection but sold many – including a rare 1:10 of a GT40 to Franco Scribante – to fund the build of a Ford Anglia racer. “It’s a tribute car to reflect the one my dad raced.” Parting with models is sad but it paid off. “I sold a 1:18 of a Rotary Mazda 787B that won Le Mans to buy a seat for the Anglia.” To make up for the loss, Anton set about collecting racing material – anything people were willing to part with. But he didn’t do it from a distance. “I got the stuff by going to racetracks and meeting the drivers and getting to know them. Once they saw my passion they would offer me things they had back at home and put me in touch with other drivers and mechanics,” explains Anton. “And then suddenly everyone was involved.”
And Anton soon started getting a lot of ‘stuff’! Old expired race overalls were some of the first to come his way. Many are free of scars, but some tell a story; like the one Franco Scribante had to be cut out of when he had an epic accident at turn three at Zwartkops.
To incentivise drivers to part with the items, Anton often offers them an original art work of their car by Johan Rabe and has the driver sign prints that are sold to raise funds for the collection.
There are also overalls (and more) from marshals. “Blackie Swart was the Deputy Chief Marshal at Kyalami and I got his overalls from the Panasonic and Yellow Pages GPs plus all his trophies.” Kyalami features heavily in the collection, with a complete set of marshals’ flags pinned to the roof. “They came in a bag and were used in the F1 days,” explains Anton, who’s also got a section of the track’s tarmac on display. Another Kyalami-related item is a headlight cover (still smeared with dirt and bugs from the track) from one of the circuit’s most famous cars: the mighty Rothmans Porsche 956 which Jochen Mass and Jacky Ickx campaigned in the 1982 9 Hour.
Anton’s keen on helmets too, with several originals on display including the pair that Sarel van der Merwe and Franz Boshoff wore in their 1978 RAC Rally Escort. Complete with scratches and headset brackets, it takes pride of place alongside ‘tribute’ examples; ones he has finished in the livery of a famous driver’s best-known car and then had autographed. He also has prints of paintings of famous cars – like Willie Hepburn’s ex-WesBank Modifieds Opel Rekord – on show as well as parts such as bent conrods and blown pistons from some of those cars.
The stash of parts extends to a crankshaft from a BDA engine – donated by ‘Mr BDA’ and Ford Motorsport workshop head, the late Andrew Cave – and a tappet cover from a Basil Green crossflow Ford. There are also a few random items on the shelves, like a brand-new (still with its factory protective wax) cylinder head from a 1948 flathead Ford. “I bought it off an elderly mechanic in Heidelberg when he closed his garage,” explains Anton.
Other highlights include various trophies; there’s one from the ’63 9 Hour for (amusingly) the first car home in the R2 350-R2 500 group, and a vast set from the more recent Passion of Speed series at Zwartkops. Happily, the Vlokken Grott Collection now also boasts a vast collection of racing models, many of them in 1:43 as “they’re cheaper to buy and take up less space”. They’re not all out of a box, though: well-known photographer David Pearson recently gifted his entire (lifetime’s) collection of hand-built plastic models when he was downsizing and Anton was delighted to see that the line-up includes a full set of 9 Hour legend David Piper’s Ferraris!
It’s that sort of generosity that’s helped Anton assemble this astonishing collection and further his aim of preserving our rich motorsport past. If you have (or know of someone who has) a racing-related item that needs a home, then contact Anton via Whatsapp (only please) on: 071 328 6217.