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CLASSICS

TOPCAR CLASSICS

Leather
and muscle
A marvel of its time, the BMW 745i was so far out of reach of the
common man that it was almost ridiculous. This was the ultimate
four-door supercar, with levels of technology and luxury to match
the price tag. Adrian Burford drove it

Photography Rob Till

136 JANUARY 2008 TOPCAR


I
THE BOSS’S WIFE
This example used to
belong to then BMW SA’s
technical director who
subsequently became N 1983, THE BMW 745i WAS THE ULTIMATE EXECUTIVE
the worldwide head of express. Nothing was faster, more luxurious, more high-tech, more
Volkswagen
exclusive, or more expensive. It was also uniquely South African
despite the fact that a car with the identical nomenclature existed in
Germany at the time.
The local 745i differed from Euro spec in that it was equipped with
the 24-valve M88 motor as used in the mid-engined M1 sports car and the M635CSi
coupé. That it was engineered for the coupé made slotting it into an E23 7 Series
pretty straightforward. The story goes that Europe’s turbocharged, left-hooker
745i (one of which came to SA for evaluation purposes) couldn’t be converted
to right-hand drive for technical reasons, but the truth is that the then technical
director of BMW SA, Bernd Pischetsrieder, insisted that the local car have the
four-valve engine. Today, there would be little chance of building a uniquely
South African model.
Former BMW SA test engineer and works racing driver Geoff Goddard
remembers the project well and while it was relatively straightforward from a
mechanical point of view, the engineering and development programme was
very thorough, going so far as monitoring boot floor temperatures above the
new exhaust system.
‘Controlling temperatures with the correct positioning of heat shields was
critical because the car had a performance tubular exhaust system front to back,’
recalls Goddard. ‘We did a lot of high temperature work in Upington. We also
worked closely with the local Bilstein suspension agent to get the slightly lower
and stiffer suspension sorted.’
A German engineer was tasked specifically with optimising the engine manage-
ment for our conditions and by the time he was finished the engine was rated at
213kW at 6 550r/min and 340Nm at 4 500r/min. The numbers show the motor
likes to be revved, and the car really starts to pick up its skirts when the needle
sweeps past 4 000.
The car shown here became Pischetsrieder’s personal car for a time, and is one
of only 14 fitted with a Getrag five-speed manual (some sources say 17 but 14
were actually sold). It is also the car used for the brochure photography – the
original Transvaal number plates are still in the boot as proof!
The mid-eighties were the biggies for the 745i, in more ways than one: in 1986
the car’s price eventually rose to R125 410 in hyper-inflationary SA, compared
to the end-83 launch price of R65 000.
By 1986 BMW South Africa had cemented its position as purveyors of the
ultimate driving machines, thanks to the introduction of the first M3 in that

TOPCAR JANUARY 2008 137


TOPCAR CLASSICS

I DRIVE
No dodgy knobs, just
BMW rows of buttons to
745i activate functions.
Leather clad dash and
Price today: R100000+ centre console was
Years produced: something to behold
1983-1987
year, and the hot 333i a year earlier. It was also a Engine: 3.5 litre DOHC
time when state president PW Botha was waving straight six,
213kW @ 6 550r/min,
his finger in the world’s face and telling us about the 340Nm @ 4 500r/min
‘TotalOnslaught’ – maybe a term more aptly describing Transmission: Five-
the era’s BMW model line-up. speed manual, limited-
slip diff with 3.45:1 ratio
We were privileged enough to drive this 1983- Performance (claimed):
registered 745i at length, something we usually avoid 6.9sec 0-100km/h,
out of respect for the cars and their owners. But the 241 km/h
Owner:
owner of this one was more than happy for us to put
Marek Letowt
pedal to metal. Today it seems odd that a luxury (car aficionado and
express such as this would have a manual box with general manager of Rolls-
a dogleg first, geared at little more 33km/h per 1 000 Royce in South Africa)
revs in top. Still, the car whispers down the freeway,
and a new set of boot rubbers would probably sort out any intruding
wind noise, too. ently it did not appear on later cars. Ditto the engine: only early cars
The steering is pretty vague by today’s standards and there’s nowhere carried the coveted ‘M Power’ logo on the valve cover.
for the driver’s left foot, but the car still stops with alacrity thanks to Those with good memories will recall that the motorsport ‘M’ took
anti-lock brakes –a huge novelty in 1983. Give it a boot and the M88 on greater significance soon after launch when Tony Viana used a 745i
powerhouse has no problem hauling the 1700kg bulk past 230km/h, to win the overall Group One title in 1985. An exciting recent develop-
accompanied by a meaty burble which sounds old-tech by today’s ment in the 745i saga is the meticulous restoration of the Viana car,
standards but is no less enjoyable for it. which is now campaigned in historic racing by Paolo Cavalieri, a
Possibly the most fascinating thing about the car is its cabin, uphol- teammate of Viana’s in the early 1980s.
stered – literally – in wall to wall leather. Everything except the Representation has been made to the organisers of the Goodwood
rooflining is soft, smooth leather and while the cabin of this car isn’t Festival of Speed for an entry to this year’s event. If successful, it would
pristine (how could it be after 24 years and 120 000 km?) it still has a be a fitting tribute to the man – and the car. tc
sumptuous look and feel.
■ IT IS ALMOST INCONCEIVABLE THAT A SMALL SUBSIDIARY OF A GIANT
The front seats are electrically adjusted via a bank of buttons on the CAR COMPANY LIKE BMW COULD ENGINEER A UNIQUELY SOUTH AFRICAN
high centre console, while a battery of small buttons on the hang-down PERFORMANCE DERIVATIVE OF A SERIES PRODUCTION CAR. IT’S A
NOSTALGIC REMINDER OF AN ERA WHEN BEING POLITICALLY CORRECT
console each supply an item of information: scrolling through a menu WASN’T AN ISSUE. IF YOU OWN A UNIQUELY SOUTH AFRICAN ROAD CAR
was unheard of in the early ’80s and all those buttons made it look (WE’RE LOOKING FOR AN ORIGINAL 333i, SIERRA XR8 AND MAZDA CAPELLA
ROTARY RS), DROP US A LINE ON EDITOR@TOPCAR.CO.ZA. IF YOU OWN A
and feel like the cockpit of an airplane. GENUINE 745i, SEND YOUR DETAILS AND WE WILL PASS THEM ON TO MAREK
Both the speedo and tachometer carry the ‘M’ logo, though appar- LETOWT WHO IS KEEN TO TRACE AND CATALOGUE THE REMAINING CARS

138 JANUARY 2008 TOPCAR


TOPCAR CLASSICS

Blue
Bullet
Something old, something new, something
borrowed, something blue: the XR8 was all that,
combining the Sierra’s futuristic shape with
an old-school V8, bits from the Granada and
Europe’s XR4i, and that tri-blue Ford Motorsport
striping. In the mid-’80s, you could not get more
for you moola, says Adrian Burford

Photography Colin Mileman


LITRE BEATER
Rear wing from the XR4i
added downforce to the
slippery Sierra shape.
Sombre, stripped interior

‘T
kept weight close to XR6
levels, aiding 7.0 sec
sprint to 100km/h and
HE WORLD’S FASTEST SIERRA.’ 230km/h top speed – all
redevelopment of the front end, including a
That was the bold headline on Ford’s for just R25 000 new crossmember and extensive changes to
press kit announcing their new road the suspension.
and track weapon. While the com- The front wheelarches wear fibreglass
pany’s circuit rivals were fitting in- ‘eyebrows’ and there are subtle Ford Motorsport stripes along the
creasingly sophisticated powerplants waistline. A single stick-on ‘Sierra XR8’ decal on the tailgate denoted
under their bonnets, Ford decided the brand’s performance flagship.
on the ‘no substitute-for-cubic-inches The original cars were shod with 195/60 rubber on six-inch wide
route’ and shoehorned a five litre imported Ronal 15 inch alloys, a rather modest combination by today’s
V8 into the Sierra, creating the XR8. standards. At least the rubber was V-rated.
The rationale was entirely about success in local motorsport, and Look through the spokes of a front wheel and you can see four-piston
Ford appears to have been a lot more ethical than some rivals. AP callipers with vented and slotted large diameter discs. The rear is
Homologation rules at the time required that manufacturers sell the fitted with vented discs too, so the world’s fastest Sierra had the
required run of 200 over a 24-month period, but Ford decided to build stoppers to match its performance.
all of them before actually going racing. Which is why the car went Apparently the car boasted 96 completely new components and
on sale in the middle of 1984 but only hit the racetracks at the end of 150 modified ones. Spring rates were dramatically increased and the
August, with Serge Damseaux and Tony Martin piloting the new rear anti-roll bar removed to balance the handling. The most sig-
beasts. While the 200 may not actually have been sold by then, there nificant item on the inventory was that small-block eight, which Ford
were firm orders in place and 250 were eventually built. boasted was a ‘de-emissioned’ version of that used in the Mustang
You don’t make a much less auspicious debut than Ford Motorsport Stateside, fed by a specially developed Holley four-barrel carburettor.
did at that Spring Trophy meeting at Kyalami: both cars were elimi- Imagine boasting about a dirtier engine in the politically correct
nated in a first-lap tangle involving a number of Alfa Romeos. Martin Noughties!
did go on to secure a win for the Blue Oval at Goldfields in the Free Despite losing the emission controls and power-sapping add-ons,
State later that year, though. However, while Damseaux and John the big-bore, short stroke (101.6mm x 76.2mm) motor only made
Gibb (who brought Presto Parcels money to the party) won some 150kW according to the SABS rating, or 161kW on the ISO scale.
races in 1985, which turned out to be the last year of Group One, the That’s less than the 2.5 litre five-pot in today’s turbocharged Focus
racing was dominated by Tony Viana in the BMW 745i. Group N was ST, but as the Sierra is 150kg or so lighter, their power to weight ratios
introduced in 1986, and one of the big Fords found its way into Willie are remarkably similar.
Hepburn’s hands and became The Animal, a modified racer. Either way, the XR8 would probably still get the nod for driver
One of the first things you notice about the roadgoing XR8 is that enjoyment. As US-based motoring journalist Barry Winfield – then
huge, double-decker rear wing, lifted from the XR4i. This was Europe’s with fortnightly tabloid Drive! – recalls: ‘It was a fantastic car, with
three-door, 2.8 litre CologneV6-engined Sierra, at that point the fastest power oversteer available anytime: rotation on order of the right foot
production Sierra. The sharp of eye will also notice the nosecone with – a real hooligan’s car!’
its slatted plastic grille, required by the voracious cooling needs of He got to drive it mid-1984, just before the press launch, and did
the bent eight. some extra laps at Aldo Scribante once the PR and marketing types
A substantial, four-core radiator was also fitted, along with twin had left the track. The engineers were happy for him to put some
electric fans essential for cooling 12 litres of water in stop/start condi- distance on what was still a development car fitted with various
tions. The extra length and weight of the Cleveland motor necessitated measurement sensors.

TOPCAR FEBRUARY 2008 139


TOPCAR CLASSICS

DONUT ZONE
Cleveland 302 borrowed
from Mustang Stateside
needed exrtra cooling
and suspension
mods, but helped cut
development to 18
months. Modest 195/60
rubber on Ronal alloys
were a great aid to tail-
happy oversteer. At least
the large, ventilated
discs were up to the
stopping task

The car used for our photoshoot was sourced


FORD thanks to a tip-off from an eagle-eyed topCar
XR8 reader: it came straight off the lot of GA Motors
Price today: R60000- in Alberton, and proprietor Graham Anderson
R100000
Years produced:
rearranging his life around our needs during
1984-1985 Gauteng’s rain lashed December. It’s a fairly
Engine: 5.0 litre OHV V8, clean example both inside and out, though like
150kW (SABS) @ many cars of that era the dashboard hasn’t stood
4800r/min, 330Nm
(SABS) @ 3500r/min up to time spent in the sun. Graham bought the
Transmission: car sans its drivetrain and turned it back into an
Five-speed manual, original XR8, saving it from a lifetime of misery
3.5:1 ratio final drive
Performance
being pounded up and downGauteng’s dragstrips.
(estimated): Fortunately 5.0 litre eights and T5 gearboxes are
7.0sec 0-100km/h, both fairly easy to come by. A second XR8 is also
230km/h
on his lot, and while he is a dyed-in-the-wool
Owner: Graham Anderson
(hardcore Ford fan, Ford fan, that car has a Chevy V8 under the
former drag racer, car bonnet – parts are cheaper and easier to come
dealer, collector of old by, he says.
motorcycles)
The Sierra’s cabin is pretty basic, with the
notable exception of electrically adjusted mirrors.
There is little to set it apart from normal Sierras, though it does get a
240km/h speedo, a rather plasticky two-spoke steering wheel and what
the press info described as ‘body-hugging rally seats’.
The XR8 was in the limelight for a relatively short time yet it seems
to have left a lasting impression. Surely the hallmark of a classic. tc

■ THE XR8 IS A NOSTALGIC REMINDER OF A BYGONE ERA, WHEN BEING


POLITICALLY CORRECT ABOUT CARS WAS UNHEARD OF. IF YOU OWN A
UNIQUELY SOUTH AFRICAN ROAD CAR (WE’RE LOOKING FOR AN ORIGINAL
333I, MAZDA CAPELLA ROTARY RS, ALFA ROMEO GTV 3.0 AND CORTINA XR6
INTERCEPTOR), DROP US A LINE ON EDITOR@TOPCAR.CO.ZA

140 FEBRUARY 2008 TOPCAR


The
screamer
Which SA motorsport great did not race a rotary-engined Mazda
at some stage? The production car was a track success from the
late 1960s almost to the mid-eighties, and the RS version marked a
high point in Mazda’s love affair with the pistonless engine. Adrian
Burford pays homage to the last great Capella

146 MARCH 2008 TOPCAR


TOPCAR CLASSICS
RIDE ON SALLY
Yes, she’s hot, this ‘77
Capella Rotary. Maybe
not the pukka RS which is
45mm lower, but bearing
the same ‘Rotary Engined’
badge which struck
fear in rivals of the era.
Elegant curve over the
rear wheels add spice
to bland overall looks.
Original RS shod with
modest 165s on 5.5J 13s,
this one uses 175/70s

T
HE CARYOU SEE HERE SHOULD IDEALLY
have been a Capella RS, the uniquely South
African homologation special version of the
rotary-engined Mazda coupé. In addition to the
howling7 000r/mintwinrotorenginethatformed
the core of this track-proven package, the RS
added lowered suspension, redesigned seats
with cloth inserts and distinctive striping along
the bottom of the door sills.
Firm RS facts are hard to uncover, and figures differ on how many
were built from its September 1976 introduction until the Capella was
discontinued towards the end of 1978. What is known is that the RS
kept the Capella competitive in Group One racing for a little longer,
despite its by then rudimentary suspension and weak brakes. Power
was never the problem, with nearly 97kW from the 12A rotary (nominal
displacement just under 1 200cc). In a car weighing 957kg or about
100kw/tonne, it had a power toweight ratio to match most decent modern
hot hatches.
The remarkable thing about the RS was that, while its shorter and
stiffer coils dropped the car by a significant 45mm, it also introduced
narrower tyres: the 175 section 13 inch rubber was replaced by 165s. The
steel Rostyle wheels remained unchanged at 5.5J, but experience on the
racetrack had shown that the car was actually a bit quicker on the nar-
rower rubber.
Upholstery changes set the cabin apart, but other than that the RS
was identical to a ‘cooking’ Capella, as introduced in July 1975. Mazda
anoraks will tell you the rotary-engined RX-2 (the performance version
of the humble 616) was superseded in November 1974 by the Capella
RX-2, and that for eight months or so there was an interim car which
had the updated rear with large tail lamp clusters, along with the RX-2’s
stubby bonnet and flat, upright grille. It also had a power bulge, and to
many this is the most desirable rotary-engined Mazda, not least of all
because they are so rare.
But this car is a standard 1977 Capella Rotary, remarkable for the fact
that it has covered less than 140 000km since Rezek’s Garage in Mayfair
sold it to WTR Badenhorst of Hurst Hill on March 25 that year. Even
more remarkable is the fact that it’s a two-owner car, the incumbent
being Anton Brits, whose company Rotary Racing has become syn-
onymous with fast Mazdas. He’s raced rotary-engined cars for the last
Photography Colin Mileman two decades or more, including Capellas, RX-7s and a self-built triple-rotor
Mazda MX-6.

TOPCAR MARCH 2008 147


TOPCAR CLASSICS

BEST IN THE RED


Capella rewarded the heavy of foot, with peak power of 97kW
developed right on the 7 000r/min redline. This was radical for a
production car in the mid-70s, and with a live rear axle, a solid recipe
for power oversteer. Rotary engine’s Achilles heel was the modest
155Nm of torque developed at 4 000r/min. Under the big pancake filter
lurks a four-barrel carb which literally poured fuel into the engine.
Driven hard, a Capella siphoned up to 15 litres every 100km, but could
reach 100km/h in 10 seconds and only ran out of steam at 180

MAZDA
CAPELLA RS
Prices today:
R10000-R60000
Years produced:
1974-1978
Engine: Twin-rotor
Wankel rotary, 97kW
(SAE) @ 7000r/min,
155Nm @ 4000r/min
Transmission:
Four-speed manual right, the exhaust of a rotary would turn a rusty red colour
with 3.9:1 ratio
Performance after a fast blast, distinct from the off-white pallor which
(estimated): was the norm for a piston engine running on leaded petrol.
9.0sec 0-100km/h, The rotary Mazdas were never emissions friendly.
180km/h
Owner: Anton Brits
The RS’s drivetrain was unchanged, but as any two-stroke
(owner of Rotary Racing tuner will tell you, extra power comes from the shape and
and hardcore Mazda size of the inlet and exhaust ports. These were highly
rotary racer) polished in race trim and could also be, er, optimised for
He had been servicing this car for many years, and when better airflow. Ignition was important too and the outsize
the opportunity came to buy it some six years ago, he jumped distributor contained two sets of points, with good tuners using this
at the chance. It has since been resprayed in a shade of unflattering to optimise the firing interval between the sets of twin plugs sparking
beige very similar to the original, and while the inside is ropey in places, each rotor.
there’s little that a proper valet won’t fix. A new leatherette boot for Apart from its under-bonnet wizardry, the Capella was no tech feast.
the gearlever and handbrake would help too. Front suspension was rudimentary, with the anti-roll bar also playing
Through the three-spoke wheel the Mazda’s defining feature still an important part in locating the wheel. Firmer bushes did wonders
blazes like a beacon: a rev counter where the orange paint starts at for the handling and creative racers always found ways of improving
6 500, turning red at 7 000. A warning buzzer sounds as the needle on the standard set up. The back was a more impressive live axle located
enters the orange zone to remind you that the engine is starting to by trailing arms and a Panhard rod, suspended on coil springs. This
spin really fast . . . when rivals from Ford, Datsun and Toyota were still using leaf springs.
Crank it up (a process that always takes a second or two longer than Braking (non-vented discs and drums) and steering by recirculating
in a ‘normal’ car) and it sounds exactly like a Mazda rotary of old: a ball was basic too. In all, the Capella RS was a pretty ordinary piece
slight ‘chuff-chuff’ at idle with a low drone thrown in for good measure. of equipment, and looked it from most angles, saved perhaps by that
Wring it out with the loud pedal and that sound rises to an offbeat compound curve over the rear wheel arch made more purposeful by
warble, and if the carburation and ignition is right, on to a high-pitched the lower ride height.
scream as the trochoidal rotors whizz past the exhaust ports, pumping But what the rotary-engined Mazda coupé’s did do (and there were
wedges of burnt gas into the exhaust and down to the twin tailpipes. also four-door versions) was make sparkling performance affordable.
Rorty sums it up perfectly. In 1976 a standard Capella Rotary cost R4 233, an RS not a lot more.
At the other end of the combustion process the Nikki four-barrel This was way under the R6 135 Alfa Romeo wanted for the comparatively
would be working overtime by now, all the while feeding small amounts exotic 2000 GTV. It also taught a generation – this driver included – all
of engine oil into the carburettor via a small pump positioned at the about power oversteer, but that’s another story. tc
front of the sump.
Yep, the rotary is ultimately a two-stroke motor, relying on oil in ■ IF YOU OWN A UNIQUELY SOUTH AFRICAN ROAD CAR LIKE A CAPELLA RS,
DROP US A LINE ON EDITOR@TOPCAR.CO.ZA. AND PLEASE, NO FAKES – WE
the fuel to lubricate a complex set of spring-loaded seals which sepa- WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE REAL CARS WHICH TYPIFY OUR AUTOMOTIVE
rate the chambers and maintain engine compression. With the mix HERITAGE.

148 MARCH 2008 TOPCAR

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