A few words from a Founder Member of our Club
I used to build plastic models which grew dusty and were then dusted by the home crew, and so un-built themselves to end in the dustbin. I then decided to rather build something like a beach buggy that would cope with dust and washing! I paged through car magazine and came across a Kit Car Centre ad for a Cobra kit. Having been track side when Olthoff drove the Willment cars with Jack Sears , Paul Hawkins and others, I nearly drowned in my drink and phoned KCC. The first thing I asked Mick Oosthuizen, who answered the phone, was whether this thing was VW powered to which Mick growled through his beard : “No Sir, it’s the real thing”. Well that was me, a decision taken with excitement that changed the rest of my life. I was 35 years old and it is now 35 years later and I assure my wife, it is just about complete.
I took delivery of the kit, in stages, starting Jan ‘84 and it finally went through the road-worthy July 85. Mine KCC chassis number 4. No 1 was the demonstrator, later stripped and scrapped, 2 and 3 were sold to overseas buyers. So unless there is a Cobra from another source about, then Grote is the oldest in SA. Things I am proud of is that the first kits were precisely dimensioned to the original spec at 90inch wheelbase and the correct track (all the new cars are 92 inches). The build also had rack and pinion steering, no power assist, unassisted brakes with the Jag suspension which very closely replicated the original. Real Cobras used a diff from the same factory as Jaguar so in many ways the old kits came close. About the only differences were rectangular and square tubing, instead of round, and fibre glass instead of aluminium.
Even properly set up it was and is a squirrelly car. Interesting that we get more horses from the engines today than original but our cars weigh about 200kg more than a race 427 from early 60’s. Through the club we organised many track days (among the other events) and I found I liked it and did quite well. So the slow and expensive process of converting to a track car began. First ex-Chairman Greg Erasmus cleaned up my lesser work, then Bob Olthoff became interested and made it a whole lot quicker. Bob also did Hill Climbs and sprints under the Sports Car Club. Bob in my car was quicker than a younger Bob in the Willment car, (the now late) Dave Miller took over the mechanical stuff when Bob emigrated to the States. Later still I ended up with Willy Hepburn who became a friend whom really made it fly.
Major things done along the way was squaring the chassis, spring and shock absorber rates, roll bar front and rear, a proper seat and belts (VIP for lap times), fuel pipe rigging, pressure control, brakes (Power Brake (Pretoria)) – wow compares with the best in the world. Oil and diff coolers and a kill switch for when the belt breaks which happened before the switch and never since). Then the horsepower. The latest is a racing 427 block, rods and crank from the US of A, with all and everything to make it go and last (Hepburn special!!) Power is about 700hp and it revs to 7500 although 6500 is enough. I have had a variety of gearboxes from Jag to Toyota Celica and in the end right back to a Ford top loader. Stripped the gears on the others.
I have counted 86 trophies at home, some Bob, some rally and some race. I beat Dave Piper in the P2 Ferrari to pole position and have won some races, class in others, index of performance, 1st SA Car twice in the Zwartkops Piper Day. Mark, my son, and I made 2nd overall and first in class after a puncture at the far end of the track at a Phakisa 2 hour.
Years ago, at Kyalami, I had a big shunt when the rear suspension broke. The car caught fire and was badly damaged. Money holds me from racing Grote now, but it is in the garage at home, ready to go and dressed as Ken Mile’s number 98 (the only works 427 to race before the GT 40 programme took over at Shelby). 427’s continued in the hands of privateers until about 1973 and still pretty much cleaned up.
It is still a thrill to me to have beaten GT40’s, Ferraris, Porches, Daytonas and many others in the car I built from the kit I bought from Rudy in 1984, with a little help from my friends! Still a kick to spin the wheels in 1st, 2nd and 3rd in my street.
One of the club founders, previous chairman and part time racing driver.