A true enthusiast with petrol seeped into his DNA, some of Laurie’s earliest memories involve cars: “Ever since I was a small boy, I had an interest in them. I grew up in George and I fondly remember sitting on the corner of the street watching businesspeople drive home during their lunch breaks. I would wave at them and they would sound their horns.”
This morphed into an interest in motorsport and, as a young adult, Laurie even did some racing. As his passion for cars grew and his hard work began to pay dividends, Laurie decided to buy cars that he found interesting and had a nostalgic connection to.
The list includes a 1958 Borgward Isabella purchased 20 years ago in Johannesburg: “I’m the second owner and the only work I’ve done on this car is to have it resprayed. It has the original interior and a true 40 000 miles on the odo.
“In 2011, the Borgward Club of South Africa celebrated its 50th anniversary – incidentally, the oldest Borgward club in the world – and a number of German enthusiasts flew over for these celebrations. At this event, the car won first prize.”
In the same room, there are a number of early Buicks, a rare 1934 DeSoto Airflow and even a Mercedes-Benz bus. The next room is also filled with a variety of cars ranging from large American two- and four-door classics to a Volkswagen Beetle, that holds great sentimental value. “I restored this 1100 Beetle to the same specification of my first car, a Beetle that my father helped me buy in December of 1958. That includes the colour of the car, the cushions and even the accessories. That suitcase in the rear is the same one I used nearly 60 years ago.”
Along the walls are a few pictures from Laurie’s rally days in his 1964 Volvo 122S, along with a variety of wheel hubs, motoring books and magazines (including CAR).
“Some of these American cars are more luxurious than a Boeing,” Laurie says as we sit in the spacious 1960s and ‘70s sedans and coupés.
Climbing the stairs to the first floor, we reach the heart of his collection. Here resides the bulk of his cars, as well as parts he has collected over the years. There’s a rare Honda S800 parked in the corner ready to be restored, plus an equally scarce Citroën DS Safari, while a 1938 Buick is getting a once-over before undertaking a 700 km trip to George.
In front of us is a post-war Mercury. Laurie explains: “Four years ago, I found this 1947 Mercury V8. It is close to my heart because, back in 1953, I did my driver’s licence in a car like this that was owned by my father. It is not the same colour but it is close enough.”
It’s the type of place where you want to grab a tool and get your hands dirty. That’s no coincidence; with the help of an assistant, Laurie restores, maintains and services the collection.
And his favourite? He won’t admit to having one, stating that he loves them all, whether they were made in France, America, Sweden, Germany or Japan.
Following short stints in a magistrate’s office and banks, Laurie Claassen (82) qualified as a teacher in the 1950s before heading to Namibia to teach. There he met his wife. After a number of years teaching, he realised this was not his true vocation and he bought a share in his father-in-law’s Renault dealership. One thing led to another and today the Claassen family owns a number of successful dealerships.