The Free State town of Bothaville is home to a remarkable Datsun and Nissan collection. We convinced its owner to pull off the covers…
The red-brick building looks like any one of a thousand such constructions dotted around rural South Africa, but a peek through one of its windows affords a shadowed glimpse of the unique treasures it houses.
The building’s owner, Freek de Kock, greets us as we step inside from the bright Free State sunshine and, as our eyes adjust to the light, the largest Nissan and Datsun collection in South Africa is revealed. Freek’s collection spans decades and ranges from production sedans, hatchbacks and coupés to more recent 350Z and 370Z sportscars, as well as an R33 and R35 GT-R.
That’s not all, though; a nearby building houses a number of bakkies, including a Datsun with delivery mileage, while round the corner a stripped-to-bare-metal Datsun 240Z awaits full restoration.
“When I was a kid, I had a Datsun model car and I told myself that one day I would own such a car,” says Freek, squinting into the sun. “You know how it is; when you are young you don’t have money, but want to do everything. When you are older, you might have some money, but then you can’t do everything.”
Freek’s Datsun/Nissan ownership had humble beginnings and, for a number of years, he drove only Datsun 1400 bakkies. It’s clear from the way he talks about these little cars that he has a strong affinity with the Japanese manufacturer’s workhorse, which was initially imported into South Africa. The first new car he bought was the 350Z, followed by the 370Z and GT-R.
The collection initially consisted of a few older Datsuns, but soon grew when he managed to track down several other models throughout South Africa. Apart from a number of 240Zs (one of which reportedly belonged to a Mozambican head of state), there are two 300ZXs, one being a rare cabriolet.
Naturally, Freek also owns a few SSS models, plus a retro-style Figaro, and two rare little roadsters – both 1600 models – of which one even sports a hard-top. Further down the row stands a 140Z Coupé as well as a 160Y GX Coupé. The 280ZXs, meanwhile, are not only differentiated by their colour, but some also feature the targa roof, more commonly referred to as the T-top.
Like most collections, there is a star, and here it is indisputably the 1971 GT-R, also known by its Japanese name, “Hakosuka”. This rare sportscar is the forefather of the legendary Godzilla. Clearly the prize in Freek’s collection, he carefully opens the bonnet to reveal that famous straight-six 2,0-litre engine. The inside of the bonnet sports writing in Japanese courtesy of its previous owner, who housed the vehicle in his living room in Japan before Freek bought the GT-R and shipped it here.
This vehicle is the only two-door of its kind in the country and, with those muscular rear wheelarches and distinctive mirrors on the front fenders, there’s no mistaking the Hakosuka’s presence. There is even an original emergency flare in the cabin which was installed for drivers to get the attention of safety services if they ever needed help along Japan’s mountainous roads … correctly surmising that this is where Hakosuka owners would be enjoying their cars’ nimble handling.
After spending the best part of an afternoon poring over Freek’s cars, sitting in several of their cabins, listening to his stories and marvelling at his extensive knowledge of and passion for his cars, I wonder – if money was no object – which cars he would like to add to his collection.
“Probably the R32 and R34 GT-R. My GT-R collection would then be complete. And definitely one of Nissan’s R390 GT1 racers that came third, fifth, sixth and tenth at the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Freek de Kock (54) has had a love affair with cars since childhood. These days, besides maintaining his collection, he also restores cars from scratch and overcomes many of the problems such projects unearth by manufacturing certain parts (Nissan is yet to establish a dedicated heritage or classic department). Indeed, he admits that his biggest challenge is keeping all the cars in the collection in pristine condition. Freek’s aim is to not only have the best Datsun/Nissan collection in South Africa, but outside of Nissan itself.