By: Jay Dalton
The Land Rover is full of beer, food, music and a drone. Headed out of town, en route to a custom made compound in a private game reserve. But, our friend Keith has one more thing to show us in the West Rand. We have driven up and down this street three times and can’t find the house. Northwest suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa. Well-cared-for houses and a pleasant looking, wide street. Pride without pretension. Low key. We feel right at home.
My only advanced briefing is we are dropping in on a private auto collection, inside a private house. And, within 10 seconds I’m being sized up by a man who is carefully picking his words. Steve has screened his guests before, and if you come to his house with a bad attitude or the wrong intentions, he turns you around in his driveway. Steve is the gate-keeper.
In through the side door, through the kitchen, we get a seat at a long wooden bar with racing photos, helmets, trophies and memorabilia everywhere.
Desire Wilson is the first women to ever drive and win a Grand Prix in Formula One competition. Desire’ was on the Saleen Mustang Endurance Racing team with Rick Titus, and myself, for a couple of seasons. Her husband Alan Wilson has designed more than 20 racing circuits around the world including Miller Motorsports, Barber, and the Gingerman Raceway in Michigan.
Yes! I know these faces.
Steve asks more test questions and then slowly leads us to more rooms in the house. No one lives in this house. Every room has been turned into a museum to embrace the 100 years of South African motorsport. Pictures, posters, flags, trophies, uniforms, shoes, helmets, and bits of race cars. WOW. The entire house is full, perfectly displayed, illuminated, labeled, and arranged in order.
We are shocked by the care and attention to detail. Steve is happy. Smiling. So he opens another door leading into the back yard–where there are about six more buildings, including the neighbor’s house. Large buildings with 20-foot high free-span construction. Packed to the roofline with perfectly displayed collections, posters, signs, complete cars, motorcycles, and racing literature.
An entire building is just model cars. Labeled, categorized by make and model and year.
“Let’s find a 1965 Lotus Cortina…the one raced by Jimmy Clark against those big Galaxies.” Yep.
“How about a 6-wheeled Tyrell F1 car?” Make it harder.
“Steve McQueen’s Ferrari?” That’s the brown one over here. 10,000 models maybe. If I am wrong, it will be 10,000 model cars very soon.
Steve likes to collect things and put on a show. He has his own, very exclusive car club with his best friends as members. Don’t care what car you have. Doesn’t matter. VW bug, Alfa, Ferrari, Corvette or Hillman Imp. If you have a passion for cars and add life to the party…what would you like to drink?
This effort is all about the preservation of racing history, at the bottom of the African continent. Road racing in Angola? Right over here. Malcolm Smith (from California) running the Roof of Africa Rally in the 1980’s…which year? Steve will not let this history go unnoticed. But for him it’s really more about the people. A party at Steve’s is one of the highlights of the racing year in Africa.
A humble, sincere and generous man who has found success in South Africa and a pile of friends with a shared passion. Laughter and fun and stories. Steve is not happy until you are happy, and we could have stayed all day and night. You got the feeling a party could start spontaneously with the slightest spark. And without question, you would soon be joined by the all-time greats, right at the bar, either in person or in lavishly told stories.
This is a national racing museum, without a sign, without an imposing entrance, without a gift shop. Donations unnecessary…just speak to Steve.
One day, I hope to be invited back. The real joy would be adding something of importance to his collection. Come to think of it, we made a little history ourselves, some time back.
Maybe some photos from the Saleen crew. Here is Rick Titus next to his father’s championship winning 1967 Trans Am Shelby Mustang and the championship winning 1987 Saleen Mustang. Desire’ Wilson from South Africa co-drove on the team.
Or I might send some pictures of the three American Jet dragsters we ran at Tarlton Raceway, Krugersdorp, South Africa in November 1986.
Maybe Steve has a spot for those pictures on his walls. I would be honored.
If we can ever find that house again.