We check out two South African restoration projects worth following...

1. Ferrari Dino

In August 2016, Top Gear scriptwriter and Sniff Petrol proprietor Richard Porter wrote an article titled "All barns now empty". This came after what seemed like weekly news of yet another expensive, collectable car uncovered in some European or American barn. All very entertaining, but how long could these discoveries last until all the vehicles were unearthed? Turns out, Richard was wrong.

This 1978 Azzurro Metallizzato Ferrari Dino 208 GT4, designed by Marcello Gandini (also known for penning the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo) at Bertone is quite unlike the shiny Ferraris we often see at concours events across the globe. There is an appealing quality to a grubby classic with a story to tell; even more so when you know it will look at home among show cars somewhere down the line.

The current owner’s Italian father, Giampiero Lulli, had three wishes: to have a daughter; to pilot a helicopter; and to one day own a Ferrari. The first wish materialised. However, because of imperfect eyesight, Giampiero would never be able to fly helicopters. To salve his wounds, he chose to buy this 208 from a second-hand car dealer in Germiston for just over R30 000 the same day he heard the bad news about his flying career. This was 1981 and, when he passed away years later, the car returned to Italy where it stood unused for more than a decade.

Lulli’s daughter was always meant to inherit the car once she had finished her studies and, when she graduated as a medical doctor in 2013, the car became hers. Fast-forward to 2019, just days after the GT4 was unloaded from its container, and we paid it a visit.

Parked in Viglietti Motors’ workshop, I could sense Carlo Viglietti’s hands were itching to start the project. He is a master technician and restorer, and will manage the restoration process with the assistance of fellow specialists. He remarked: “There is no cutting corners when it comes to the work this car needs, which is a full restoration. Thankfully, it’s not in a bad condition but it must be stripped and the engine removed and opened up.”

Some enthusiasts are not fans of Ferrari’s wedge-shaped Dino but there is no denying this is one of the most accessible 1970s Ferraris. This is not important to the family, though. Rather, it’s a beloved piece of Lulli history.

Fitted with a 2,0-litre V8 (cars surpassing two litres were taxed higher in Italy), it develops 125 kW at 7 700 r/min and 186 N.m at 4 900 r/min. Production lasted from 1975 to ‘80 and 840 units were built, with chassis numbers 08830 up to 15596; this one is number 12522.

2. Toyota 2000GT

Just 1 500 km north, in Midrand, Johannesburg, we opened the door to a different kind of workshop. This is Toyota South Africa Motors’ facility where press cars are prepared and where many special cars from the company’s history are stored.

I was immediately drawn to a 2000GT – arguably one of the prettiest Japanese sportscars – and also the most valuable Nipponese vehicle ever sold at auction. Compared to modern sportscars, it looks petite but is elegant and understated. The beautiful hidden headlamps simply add to the sleek lines.

This car is in surprisingly good condition, with almost no visible rust thanks in part to it being fastidiously stored for more than three decades. The last person to drive the car regularly in the early 1980s (it seems to have always belonged to TSAM) was Ms Wessels, wife of Bert Wessels, the family responsible for bringing Toyota to South Africa. Originally painted white, she wanted the exterior colour changed to red and asked that an air-conditioning system be fitted. This is now part of the car’s history and the large item positioned between the seats and the luggage area is a rather cumbersome but period-correct addition.

Under the bonnet rests a 2,0-litre inline-six engine producing 110 kW at 6 600 r/min and 175 N.m at 5 000 r/min. The unit came from a Toyota Crown sedan but was given to Yamaha, which developed it to suit Toyota’s sportscar.

The staff at Toyota in charge of this refurbishment over the coming months explain the drivetrain and several other parts of the car will be removed and inspected. However, the interior will remain largely untouched and, overall, it shouldn’t take too much work to be able to drive this classic again.

Stuart Grant, motoring writer and classic-car researcher, pointed me in the direction of the book Never say goodbye: the story of Toyota South Africa by Harvey Thomas. It mentions the company imported four 2000GTs. According to the writer, at the time of the book’s release in 1993, only this one belonging to the Wessels family (or Toyota, the company) remained in SA.  

We will follow both these restorations over the next year and have already launched a charm offensive to persuade the Lulli family and TSAM to let us drive them...