The Art of the Passes and the tie that binds
Since the restoration and reopening of the Karoo Art Hotel, Barrydale, in March 2020 we’ve
been blessed with a magnificent procession of car and bike club visits.
While the hotel itself can take some credit for this – it’s a cool and quirky place to be – let’s be honest, it’s the
twists and turns of the roads and the passes that surround us that drives this audience.
It was while meeting a group of 25 Lamborghinis assembled by sports car rally supremo Ross Creighton on the Tradouw Pass one morning last autumn that I first began to reflect on how the character of the cars was mirrored in the persona of their drivers; Lamborghini drivers, Ferrari drivers, Porsche drivers; MG, Triumph, Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Model T owners. And then the bikers, BMW, Harley, KTM, Triumph, Royal Enfield; It’s like dogs, they’re all part of the same species but different from each other in every other way.
This even extends to mountain bikes. Specialised riders are different from Trek or Scott ones. The visit by Ross’s Cape 1000 group wasn’t like because this was the entire pack of the ultra expensive, rare and fast category.
They cut across all the brands from Ferrari to Bugatti. While I got the feeling from them that while it was a case of hands on the steering wheel and the wallet, it was hands off the engine. One could hardly imagine any of them ducking under their bonnets with a set of spanners.
The recent Art of the Passes was different in this respect. When it came to what lay under the bonnet they were very much hands on afficianados. True spotscar enthusiasts you could say. When I first visited the convenor and inspiration behind the idea of Art of the Passes, Craig Harper, I knew we were in for a rare treat when it came to an owners group.
One of my most favorite long format ads is ‘The Wager’ by Johnny Walker featuring Jude Law and Giancarlo Gannini involving a wager involving the overnight restoration of a priceless racing car and subsequent race to Monaco against an impossible deadline ; the prize being Gannini’s villa. A visit to Craigs atmospheric workshop in the grounds of the Wyneburg military base had a lot of the spirit of the Wager in it for me.
And so did the build up to the Art of the Passes with Craig, himself a retro cool tweed-in-the-workshop-wearing version of Jude Law, in a race to get a Cobra, that was just a heap of body panels and car parts when I saw it, finished in time for the weekend.
If there was a defining characteristic of all the participants of Art of the passes it wasn’t brand aligned; They ranged from a Lotus Exige to a couple of Harper Sport Cars and some Lotus ‘kit cars’ to the Mercedes SL 55 supercharged V8 that was created to take on and outperform the Porsche Turbo known as the ‘widow maker’.
If there was a defining characteristic to the eclectic pack of speedsters that made up the Art of the Passes group, it was this; love. A love of a no holds barred response from the accelerator peddle - no matter what the look or shape or condition of the chassis it was housed on.
To the untrained eye a Harper Sports may as well be a road adapted Formula 1 car. To get out of them the driver has to unclip the steering wheel (it’s a hell of a way to walk into a bar – nonchalantly carrying your steering wheel). On account of no windscreen to speak of the driver and the passenger in a Harper drive with full face motorbike helmets on.
To see them pulling out of a layby on the Tradouw pass and onto the tar after the Saturday morning coffee stop on the pass had a feeling of the thrill of being up close and personal in the pits at the last of the Kyalami Grand Prix’s.
I had to laugh when I thought of the possible reaction of a Barrydale local meandering along the pass in a cloud of burning engine oil on the way to the Saturday morning Swellendam market. And then meeting what appeared to be a Formula 1 car that had lost it’s way on one of the bends.
A memorable moment for me was the arrival of Mark and Tanya Eliashof in their Lotus 7 replica. From the sound it could well have been a high performance road bike that was blazing its way down Van Riebeek Street.
On account of Marks engine being too big fo
r the original chassis design, the top of the motor sits proud of the bonnet. There’s a distinct Battle of Britton Spitfire pilot look to the two of them on the road – complete with aviator Goggles, bomber jackets and scarves.
But this isn’t about some or other romantic nod to retro fashion. This is all very practical. There’s no windscreen to speak of on a Lotus 7. If that engine springs an oil leak you’re definitely going to get in the face The drivers seat had very much the look of an article of white plastic stadium seating to me - but for all I know it may well have a been a super expensive piece of racing Kevlar.
There could be no confusion as to what Tanya was seated on. This was definitely a converted dog bed, period. Charlie has a very similar looking on – just not with the racing stripes.
I asked about it and Mark said Tanya found his style of seat too narrow. And she confirmed that the ‘dog mattress’ was super comfortable even with the sub three hour high speed dash from Cape Town. Apparently the cold is not that much of an issue due to the heat from the engine.
The Art of the Passes group navigated the Karoo Art’s To Do list very deftly. Inspite of our enthusiasm for a program that involved a trip to Warm Waterberg and the local bookstore all they did was steer around it.
The only item on the program that made the cut was the trip to Ronnies Sex Shop. Always an anticlimax but unmissable all the same. Beyond the driving it was mainly about chilling and talking about that one common thing that bonded them; a love the original concept of the sports car.
That weekend also saw the introduction of a technical upgrade to the ballroom – large scale projection on the walls left right and center. Plus 2 mirror balls! Plus the renaming of the ball room bar to the ‘Six Wives’ in memory of Barrydale Artist Nigel Hewett’s extraordinary marital record; Six times married; All of them Ballarina’s; Most of them now on the walls of the bar; Beautiful as nudes.
When thinking fondly back on all the women that he had the privilege of being married to Nigel once said a wonderful thing to me; “and I still love them all”.
If there’s a theme song to Nigel and his wives it’s surely Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson’s
And If there’s a theme song for Art of the Passes it’s probable Queens I’m in love with my
Nigel Hewett and the men and women of Art of the Passes, different but the same, bonded
by a singular unifying emotion. That thing called love – of somebody or something.
Photos by Jacques Ehlers @Jacques_RPM