The Sunpacer Car

A proposed BEE job creation project

The Sunpacer car was designed by Pierre Joubert in the late 1980's to become a BEE job creation project. The concept was influenced to a large degree by General Motors South Africa's popular late managing director of the 1970's, Bob Price, who had a vision of the Chev Nomad becoming a Black Empowered Project

Bob Price and Apartheid

Bob Price is well remembered as one who took up the challenges of Apartheid in the workplace. With his Affirmative Action Program he wanted to stay ahead of the government, and the rising trade unions, who were fairly toothless at the time, by giving whatever benefits he could, up to the edges of the Apartheid laws. For his initiatives in housing Bob Price Street in Hillside was named after him.

When GM disinvested in 1986 and Delta Motor Corportion was formed, Bob gave up a more senior job in the GM Corporation, and came back to join Delta. His mission was "what can I do to help", meaning help break down apartheid, where his weapon would be subtle pressures from the corporate world.

Sadly Bob died before the New South Africa became fact, he never saw his dream come to reality

Job creation, hand operations

The Sunpacer car was designed to be built by hand operations on low cost tooling.The main structure is a monocoque steel shell clad on the outside with fibreglass panels

The monocoque shell was made from brake press formed parts using inexpensive tooling and hand operations. To achieve this the complex shapes of the parent design were resolved into straight lines suitble for hand bending and brake press fabrication, all medium level skills

About half the body panels of the 50 Sunpacer cars that were built were made by this lady, Ms Patricia Mboniswa, mother of 5. Fibreglass laminating is medium level skill highly suited for female workers, and widely practiced.

The Sunpacer car project can provide training and many job opportunities in the medium skill categories of steel fabrication and fibreglass laminating

It is an ideal opportunity for creating a Black Empowered Enterprise without a ceiling

A unique vehicle

It had some unique properties, a non rusting body using a hot dip galvanized steel monocoque shell and fibreglass outer panels.

It was designed around Volkswagen City Golf mechanical components and 55 units were built as kit cars. The project was moth balled because the formal community considered it high risk and did not support it. See nice letter from VW's Peter Searle which like others did not lead to anything. Nearly twenty years later these cars are still on the road, having demonstrated exceptional long term durability. The tooling is still available and if the community really wants to create jobs, here is an opportunity to start something to stir the economy and the imagination

The pick-up version of the Sunpacer car was a tough non rusting utility vehicle (click on pic for larger view). Perfect replacement for the Golf Caddy bakkie

And it was great for recreation (click on pic for larger view)

It could go a lot of places including some 4x4 tracks. In this case near Graaff Reinett it showed the Hummer where to go

It gave the Hummer a run for it's money, note body lean, left front off the ground and pressure bulge on right front, on a bend as Jenny and Duane were in hot pursuit of the Sunpacer, while action photos were being taken by Kirsten Nel (17) (click on pic for larger view)

The monocoque steel shell (click on pic for larger view) was made from brake press formed templates. Mounting points were provided so that City Golf parts like engine, suspension, steering, brakes, controls, etc, could bolt straight in. Mounting points were so accurate that even wheel alignment did not have to be reset if it was within specs on the donor vehicle

Fibreglass body panels were added after a running chassis had been completed with all mechanical parts assembled. (click on pic for larger view) Here is the pick-up version of the Sunpacer car

Here is the dream version, based on the Sunpacer monocoque with Golf mechanicals. The pattern was partly designed by Theo (see below) and built by Theo's son Freddy. It was moth balled under economic pressures with the rest of the Sunpacer tooling, but available for resuscitation (click on pic for larger view)

(any takers for an entrepreneurial challenge ??)

Contact - send an email to pierre@sunpacer.co.za
Contact Pierre Joubert on 074 104 7547


Pierre Joubert's First Car

Pierre Joubert built his first car at the age of 19 (click on box camera pic) while an apprentice at General Motors, using an Austin 7 chassis and MG T series styling. That's how sports cars looked those days. Note strap over bonnet, external handbrake lever, array of lamps, jump over sides and fold down windshield. Under the bonnet lurked a two main bearing four cylinder flat head mill with two side valves per cylinder and domestic cam, that could push the rig to around 100 km/h (60 MPH) on a downhill with favourable winds. Spare wheel was offset to the left, a feature copied later by various expensive SUV's. The narrow front track was widened by welding a 4 inch extension piece into the center of the beam axle and an MG grille was not available so one from only a Morris 8 had to be used

Today one wonders how Jeremy Clarkson, who could wax lyrical about things like variation in understeer caused by tyre temperature (what's understeer) would have seen the Austin 7, otherwise known as the most successful car ever to have been designed on a pool table with score marker chalk

Unique mechanical braking system

The Austin 7 had a unique mechanical braking system which allowed braking on about one wheel at a time, or less, depending on how it was set. Strange things would happen, like rear brakes applying themselves over bumps and front brakes applying themselves when turning. For these things not to happen, settings had to be kept slack, which meant the brakes never quite worked during normal pedal application. By flicking the steering rapidly from left to right during braking, the front brakes would apply briefly while the steering was in turn mode. With a bit of practice one could stop in a reasonably straight line, but what the heck, there wasn't much traffic around, and anyway, the mission of motoring was not to stop but to go


Tribute to Buddy Theo

There was a small clique of guys around Pierre who built their own cars, Jimmy Golding, Wally Hills, and best of all Pierre's boarding school buddy Theo Oosthuizen, who as a declared non academic had an incredible insight into things mechanical and otherwise. Theo and Pierre would argue and live out their love for cars and reckless behaviour into the early hours.

Theo after not taking, but having had things like maths and english "thrown at him", became an early day protester against formal learning. But instead of trashing classrooms, he would simply just not do homework. Instead he would draw dreamy cars during prep.

He could draw a beautiful free hand parabola while refusing to understand the underlying mathematics, a dilemma for perplexed maths master, old Mr Gie of Oudtshoorn Boys High. He showed Theo's parabola to the class, "kyk, so moet 'n parabool lyk !!" but he did'nt realise the parabool did not match the coordinates. He could'nt understand why anyone would aim to get "diep in die tien persent" for maths and then with some form of pride lay it on his buddies

While we guys did our own thing in later life, Theo did a lot of car building things on his sheep farm in Prince Albert, like restorations etc including his wedding charriot a 1924 Wyllis Knight with sleeve valves (Annatjie was photographed in her wedding dress checking the oil), a Citroen Light 15, a 1948 Hudson, and a TR3 in which his brother Neil was killed on Gunners Circle during the False Bay 100 in 1958.

Theo said of Neil, I never travel with Neil, he has an accident every two weeks and two weeks are just about up. You gotta visualize the scence. Their family farms were at the back of the Swartberg near Meirings Poort, which was passage on most trips, as were all the other dirt roads of the then Karoo. These roads were like permanent "special stages" in a car rally and at all times had to be traveresed in as few minute as possible. Skidding and sliding throught the Poort, we were all mini Sarel van der Merwes, and had remarkably few wipe-outs. Not many cars those days, little fear of oncoming traffic, except if Theo should spot an old Ford he would give it wide berth, saying "they dont have brakes" referring to Old Henry's perseverance with mechanical brakes in the 1940's when the rest of the world had gone hydraulic

Brushing with GM history

Theo was published in Car in July 1967, but first a bit of GM history. Pierre and Theo each had a 1966 Opel Rekord, real dogs GM was then building under rising apartheid's local content programme, with primitive 2.1 litre 4 cyl Chev engines. The Chevy four was a chopped down version from the very successful Chevy sixes of the time, but suffered from excessive second harmonic vibration, a characteristic that is otherwise cancelled out in a six cylinder version of the same engine, or reduced by longer con rods. This engine not only had poor performance for it's size, but self destructed hang on parts like air cleaners and alternator brackets, all of which were later suitably beefed up. Many four cylinder engines have balance shafts to counteract this condition, but GM did'nt know about that at the time. or if they did, just accepted that a bit of vibration in a low revving tractor engine did'nt really matter

The Chevy could push the Rekord to around 140km/h, and with a compression ratio of 7.1 those Chevy's could probably have run on paraffin. This was part of a disasterous engine swop program GM had hurriedly embarked on when they threw millions at an otherwise very sophisticated engine plant. The low compression ratio was because in their mixing and matching of parts, a cylinder head with combustion chambers suiting the 230 six cylinder engine was accidentally placed on a block with bore sizes from the 194 six. They also made a gross error in downrating the diff ratio from 3.55 off the older Rekord with a smaller 1.7 litre German engine, to 3.67, when a far more suitable 3.08 ratio was available. This kind of thing happens when product engineering takes place in the front office between accountants and parts bin managers

The previous P3 Opel Rekords with their German engines had been in number 3 slot in sales, but with the Chevy engines Opel and GM's market share went into free fall. Theo and Pierre were both Opel lovers. Theo from a loyal GM supporting farming family, and Pierre an engineer in the said new engine plant, were distressed at that. So they set out to prove the cars could do better and started tinkering and tweaking, first raising the compression ratio by skimming a massive 3.5mm off the head, which made an immediate improvement, and then doing all the other things. They ran a sort of competition between themselves, both cars ultimately breaking the "ton" (160km/h). Impressive at the time, before the hot hatches

Theo's Rekord was tested by Car (July 1967) click on pic to see report. Car was highly complimentary of Theo's Opel

GM eventually made a number of improvements to the Chevy engine through their own lumbering procedures but they never really recovered their position. They followed our example by raising the compression to 8.4:1 and later fitted an eight port head with Weber carbs. They also ran an incentive campaign to retrofit existing cars with Webers. They increased capacity to 2.5 litres by adopting the 230 bore size, and still later, down to 2.3 by shortening the stroke. The shortened stroke was a good move and reduced that second harmonic (which derives from the angularity of the conrod as the gurus would say). It became an OK engine for the time, but GM had damaged their reputation, and other things had happened in the market, like the growing Japanese presence and the growth of Mercedes and BMW. The Chevy four none the less continued in the GM family for a long time, in the US a Pontiac version later was known as the Iron Duke. There was controversy over the Pontiac version's relationship with the original Chevy version

The sad ending for South Africa is that during the time of disinvestment in the 1980s, the fickle GM management decided to can the South African engine plant. It was first mothballed and later all that wonderful machinery was sold for scrap on an auction that lasted two days. At the other end of town GM's long time rival, Ford, also had an engine plant, but they bit the bullet, retooled their plant and to this day it is in production serving the local and export markets

From Wheels to Wings

Theo later took to the air in a microlite of his own gut feel design without any aeronautical maths. He called it the Stock Master, suitable for finding lost animals in the veld

Theo had previously bought a micro lite kit and being disgusted with the poor standard of design and workmanship, he extensively rebuilt it. With that experience behind him he was attracted to a Shell competion for a light aircraft design. He never formally entered the competition as he did not consider himself to have the draughting and presentation skills. Instead he decided to just build a prototype, which he did, and here are some pics. (click on pics for enlarged views and note Swartberg in vicinity of Meiring's Poort in the background)

Theo considered the open side by side seating arrangement of microlites at that time to be primitive, so his version had fore/aft seating with a rudimentary fibreglass fuselage. Theo's skilled workmanship and attention to detail could be seen everywhere on this microlite with a difference

He used the rebuilt wing from aforesaid microlite kit and a pusher prop powered by a Rotax 503 engine. He had to polish up on his fibreglass skills to build the fuselage and he had to get an airframe constuction welder's ticket to have his plane airworthied by CAA

Theo flew the Stockmaster from his farm in Prince Albert to Margate, no mean feat for a microlite over that distance with violent weather patterns, and won the constructors award from the 1990 Margate airshow. Click on icon for press report

Theo later retired to George, where he received recognition from the local chapter of WW2 air force veterans. Click on icon for press report

with a press report and certificate of merit to show for it. Click on icon

Not bad for a farmer and academic protestor !!

Too bad all things were changed by politics, will never be the same :(

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