The day I stood outside the army barracks having bought myself out of my contract with the Defence Force, I wondered where my adventure would take me to next. I got into my Fiat Bambino and drove to my uncle’s place where I spent a couple of days relaxing around the pool. The weekend came up and uncle and I got stuck into the booze. My guitar came out and by late Sunday night my uncle wanted to send me to a recording studio to have a voice test. I was not so sure, knowing that the booze made everyone sound wonderful, except for those who were sober.
I ended up getting a job at the Kempton Park City Council as the Town Clerk had once worked in my hometown of Victoria West. I was to be employed in the accounts department. This was even more boring than the army! But a job was a job and I needed the money. I managed to get shared accommodation with a couple of other blokes in a second story warehouse on the main thoroughfare. It was cheap and spartan but we had some wild parties there. One bloke was an artist and in a mad moment he encouraged me to do a mural in the hallway. Can’t quire remember what the drawing and artwork was but many commented that it was quite impressive. I did weekly excursions to Johannesburg to visit my friends and we got in to lots of adventures in the Hillbrow nightlife. At one stage Hillbrow was the most heavily populated city block in the world. We desperately tried to increase the population by chatting up chicks and buying them drinks on the sidewalks. Bloody Mary’s were the flavour of the year in 1966 I recall. More often than not we were lucky and ended up screwing a chick in an elevator or the back seat of a car or even in a park. How I never contracted a sexually transmitted disease is beyond me. We were reckless.
I had car troubles with the Bambino. The starter motor was at the top of the engine and fixed on to a cast alloy mould. This mould snapped off and there was no one around who could weld aluminium in those days. So I removed the starter and pushed the car in third gear with the ignition on and with the hood down until it fired and then I would hastily climb over the back and over the seats and start driving. It was a risky way to do things, and even more hazardous in the rain. But the Fiat fired every time and I was mobile.
In the early hours of a Sunday morning I was winding my way home after another drunken party. It was summer and a warm night. I had the roof down on the Bambino and coming around the bend at Modderfontein I lost control and rolled the car. Just a slow motion roll as I was not driving too fast. As the car rolled over I fell out on to the tarmac with a thud. The car did another roll and landed on its side. A half empty bottle of Scotch rolled out with me, unbroken. I had cut my arm and it was bleeding. So I took some of the Scotch and poured it on the wound. It stung like hell but probably saved me from infection. Then I took a swig and at that moment a vehicle approached and slowed down. It was the Police. Seeing me having a drink they could not arrest me for being under the influence. They helped me right the car and told me to drive home. I said that I had just had a drink but they said that it was OK and that they would drive behind me until I got to my destination. They even push-started the Bambino for me. They were good to their word and saw me home. How lucky can you be!
The following day I surveyed the mess. A mate of a mate of a mate came to the rescue. He offered me his old Fiat 1500 which was standing behind his house in the back yard in exchange for the Bambino and some Rands . He was going to repair and restore the Bambino. I agreed and not long after I had the Fiat 1500 Left Hand Drive cabriolet running and on the road. I took the registration stickers and papers from the Bambino and put them on the 1500. Who would know? They were both Fiats, weren’t they? I only had one number plate which I fitted to the rear bumper. As luck would have it this was to save my bacon soon.
This was a chick pulling car, or so I thought at the time. The paint was a tad faded and there were obvious rust spots but it was a convertible, after all. I was hooning around the streets of Johannesburg with my mates having a good time. I moved into a penthouse apartment with some friends in Johannesburg for short while and enjoyed the life in the fast lane. Doing this on a meagre salary took some working out. But I was always doing favours for friends and they reciprocated by helping out.
Late one Saturday afternoon I had dropped a friend off at her place and was heading back to mine pad in the penthouse. I stopped at a traffic light and a MG pulled up next to me. He started revving his engine and I responded and it looked like a drag was on. The lights changed and we floored it. Somehow and for no known explanation to this day, I had selected reverse gear.
The old 1500 lifted its rear end and slammed hard in to a brand new Cortina driven by a young chick. The cars were locked in tight and the girl was hysterical. The Ambulance arrived, the Police arrived and the Tow trucks arrived all seemingly out of nowhere. I gave my name and address and showed them my licence. I was told that I would hear more from the Public Prosecutor. In the confusion and the worry about a possible fire as the old 1500’s fuel tank had sprung a leak, I managed to salvage the licence disc off the windscreen. The rear number plate had remained wedged in the grille of the Cortina as it was towed away and from that moment on for all intent and purposes, my car was unregistered and untraceable, or at least it would take a fair amount of time for the Police to sort it out. The car was towed away to the wrecking yard. I caught a taxi home, packed my gear and moved out leaving a note. I found my way to my mate, Tony’s place in Hillbrow and asked for a night’s asylum, which I got. I was a bit cagey about my movements but Tony’s parents were such gentle and polite people they did not push for answers.
I stayed with Tony for a week before finding digs again closer to work. Commuting by bus and train wasn’t fun and as soon as I got my pay at the end of the month I was off looking for a car. This time a found a Vauxhall VX490 with triple carburettors. Live and learn. Being only vaguely mechanically minded at that stage in life the Vauxhall proved a handful but I did get the triple carbs tuned properly and the car ran well. The only drawback was that now I had bought the car on Hire Purchase and had to make monthly payments. Then I bumped in to a friend who was acquainted with my friends who lived in the penthouse and she said that the Police had been round asking questions. It was time to move.
Having to give a month’s notice to resign from my job, I sweated it out. Nothing happened and the day I received my severance pay I filled the fuel tank of the Vauxhall, said goodbye to my friends, and drove away with no destination in mind.