When I actually wake up, after about three cups of coffee, there are few things I relish more than the daily comedy that is the South African morning rush hour. As I am presently residing in one of the least accessible suburbs in the world I get to experience this phenomenon rather more than suits me. But in an attempt to temper my rampant road rage, I have taken to car watching (pointless, when none of the cars are moving), laughing at Gareth Cliff’s sheer irreverence, and counting the people in taxis that pass. You just wouldn’t believe me if I told you my highest headcount: I think the driver had at least two assistants and four navigators.

And all of this got me thinking. We always rage on about how dangerously minibuses drive; how they cut you off in traffic, carve three-lane swathes through the madness and seem to all possess horns hardwired to go off over even the slightest road imperfection. But, few of us marvel at the reality of the skills possessed by these rebels of the road. Think about this for a second… most of us would call a minibus a big vehicle (pipe down, you F250 owners in the corner), and a minibus taxi’s handling envelope is, shall we say, not exactly racecar-like. Throw in the BF Goodridge tires (as in Bald, Frayed) of the smallest size able to fit, a motor more accurately described as a noise converter (as in it converts petrol to noise), and a load that would make five elephants cower, and it’s a wonder the things even move. Yet, here they are, displaying race craft that would flummox Lewis Hamilton.

Blocking techniques to be marveled at, speed into corners that would make a seasoned F1 pro go slightly green, and all the while blaring Kwaito and waving an arm out of the window to greet a mate on the corner. It’s no wonder there’s always someone hanging out of the side window whistling and shouting; he’s scared witless and just wants to get out. Then there’s the dedication of the fellows. Business owners: if your sales staff had the passion, the drive, the sheer donkey-willed dedication to their jobs that our taxi guys do, there quite possibly wouldn’t have been that

economic downturn recently that forced us all to start buying single-ply again. These guys it all on the line. They’ll break laws for you; they’ll even risk their life for you, a stranger. This is why they feel you should understand why they risk yours too, if they themselves are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice day-in, day-out, just to make sure that you good folk out there don’t get to work late. These men are swivel-necked heroes in my books. And they understand their car preparation too. Taking a leaf from the Lotus book on car design, they throw out anything that isn’t strictlyn ecessary to save weight. Like the steering wheel. Far more handy to have a vise grip – down the line you can tweak the carbs for
more flow and eke out those few last revs, just like they do in karting. The original gas tank isn’t much use either – far better to use a jerry can wedged between the front seat passengers. Much lighter, and doubles as a seat. Oh, and thefloor. Who needs one of those? Just let it rust out,that’ll save a few kilos.

These guys really do take it as far as it’ll go, even the door hinges are optional. And no welding in braces or roll cages here, not after all that effort to lighten it. They even train the passengers to keep the windows shut, all 300 ata time, to increase aerodynamic efficiency, and subsequently their fuel range. Eco-racers, they are. All professional racing drivers are pansies compared to these blokes! And the best bit is that the spectators get to be in the heart of the action, sweating bullets and finding religion. So, I think we should give these budding Adrian Zauggs an arena to perform where they can squeeze into gaps and cut each other off to their heart’s content. What I propose is the inaugural South African Taxi GP. Qualifying could take place, as usual, every morning of the year, and at year-end the top 40 drivers could compete on the hallowed grounds of Cape Town’s Eastern Boulevard for the coveted SATGP crown.

The rules will be fairly accommodating: Helmets are strictly optional; sound systems are encouraged. Load carrying will be strictly capped at two people per seat. Passengers may not be substituted for additional jerry cans, only one person is allowed to hang out of the vehicle at any given time, and stopping in the middle of the road is fair race craft. Only one of the tires is allowed to have the legal amount of tread. This revolution will be televised so that there are no spectators to run over. Could you imagine the spectacle? What a scene… the engines, tortured but inaudible in the cacophany of music, whistling and shouting; horns blaring constantly due to the race-bred suspension settings and gunning drivers, urging their steeds on like thoroughbreds while looking everywhere but the road. (My guess is that the TV cameras will be popular targets.) And let’s not forget the mortified wails of the auntie who “just wanted to go to the shoppie for an ice-cream lolly!”.

Just think, we could track the path charted by Sheik Maktoum and Tony Teixeira and create a feeder series for the touring car series, taking this brilliance to the world. British drivers could use black cabs, and Mexican cabbies could use old Beetles, quite possibly with a family member alongside to navigate for them. The Russian taxi drivers would have to use a Volga. The Yanks can come with their Crown Vics. Indian cabbies using tuk-tuks might be required to fit doors first. A handicap system could even be used to balance out the odds a bit, due to the varying loads. It could truly go global. Which machine should I use to impress that beautiful woman? Just remember, you read it here first…

by Tim Houghton

Published in Playboy South Africa July 2013