The Society of Automotive Historians

South Africa’s Auto Industry

Evolving from Assembly to Manufacture

This is a study of the South African automotive industry starting from when local assembly began, followed by domestic manufacture to comply with local content regulations.  Details of these regulations will be provided showing the escalating phases necessary to meet the local content requirements established by the government.  While it may lead to some duplication, a brief evolution of the foreign owned and independent assemblers will be followed with listings of what cars were built and concluded by a review and summary of the history of each major corporate brand.  This review commences shortly before WW II and concludes in the late 1980s when the manufacturing requirements were altered substantially.

Its mineral wealth in the form of gold and diamonds ensured that South Africa was an early market for automobiles in the Southern Hemisphere.  Like Australia and New Zealand, South Africa was part of the British Commonwealth, but the rural nature of the country was better served by American cars.

A Benz Velo ordered by John Percy Hess was the first car to reach South Africa in 1896.  In addition a 1903 Ford Model A which arrived in South Africa in January 1904 is claimed to be the first foreign order outside of Canada for a Ford. This car is currently displayed in a museum in Heidelberg, South Africa. 

With the exception of Ford and General Motors, all early assembly plants were domestically owned, totally independent of the foreign manufacturers whose cars they assembled.  These assemblers were initiated by the distribution agents who had secured the franchise for a given region.  These dealer groups were the prime investors in the independent assemblers.  Between 1955 and 1968 three other foreign owned plants were added.    

                Many manufacturers changed assemblers several times.  Renault and Peugeot used five different plants and both these makes later returned to a plant previously used involving setting up assembly jigs six times.  Only Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Toyota have remained at one plant.  General Motors relocated after only three years and therefore has been in the same location the longest.  In the case of Chrysler, BMC, Peugeot and Fiat two unaffiliated plants assembled their cars at the same time. 

Additionally one assembler handled most of the major Japanese auto brands for a short while.  The practice of separate regional franchises reflected the pre-WW II era whereas the much later arrival of the Japanese brands involved a single franchise for the entire country.  In due course, most independent assemblers were either acquired by a foreign manufacturer or became exclusively aligned to a manufacturer or two.  In cases like Chrysler and BMC/Leyland overseas parents created their own plants but that was after the products of these two parents had been built in independent assembly operations.

Motivation to Assemble and Local Content Requirements

Prior to WWII the main incentive to assemble from CKD kits (Completely Knocked Down) was a combination of cost savings but also recognition that domestic demand favored local business wherever possible.  In many countries trade barriers were set up to protect the local industry but that was not the case in South Africa until the late 1960s.

After WWII there were contrasting forces.  Demand in North America was intense whereas in Europe and particularly the UK, it was a case of “export or die”.  South Africa had a buoyant economy during this period but that did not prevent a heavy demand for foreign currency and balance of payment issues.  Auto manufacturers needed import permits which were effectively foreign currency access permits.  They were faced with the possibility of restricted access to these permits, so the reduced cost of CKD packs became most appealing.  In the case of Volkswagen an extension of their exchange permit was only allowed once wine exports to Germany were agreed upon.  But not everyone was a GM or Ford and able to justify their own assembly plant.  This prompted the emergence of independent assembly operations which catered to multiple automotive clients.

In September 1949 the British Pound, to which the South African currency was linked, devalued by over 30% in relation to the US$.  Up until this date the large, powerful American car was hardly much more expensive than the small British cars.  This promptly reduced the demand for the American cars whose price jumped considerably while the comparatively cheaper British sourced cars gained market share accordingly.  By 1954 British market share for cars was 47.7%, with British commercial vehicles at 42.5%.

There was a period in the late 1950s where importation permits were relaxed but the increased demand quickly prompted the government in mid-1958 to halt imports of fully assembled cars over £800 and to formulate a local content program as a way of limiting foreign currency outflows.  Tax incentives, in the form of excise rebates, served as the motivators.  Local content was effectively defined and determined by the total weight of the vehicle less the weight of the imported components, expressed as a percentage. 

There was a two-tier local content requirement, the primary MANUFACTURED category and a supplementary ASSEMBLED category that allowed importation of limited numbers of specialized automobiles, the latter subject to greater customs duty and import permits which were not guaranteed. 

  • The first four phases applied solely to passenger vehicles.  Light commercial vehicles only required local content from Phase V onwards.
  • Within the timeframe of each phase a manufacturer was expected to escalate the local content of each vehicle platform from the beginning percentage to the concluding percentage of each period.
  • Escalating rates of excise rebates motivated manufacturers to exceed the various local content phase category requirements.


                                Timeframe                                  Local Content %

                         From                 To                        From                 To

Phase I         01.01.1961      06.30.1964               15%                 40%

Phase II        07.01.1964      12.31.1969               45%                 55%
                                                                                               50% NET * See below

Phase III       01.01.1970      12.31.1970               50% NET         52% NET * See below
                     01.01.1971      12.31.1976               52% NET         66% NET
* Up until December 31, 1971, tires, wheels and some other components had not been included in the local content, but when this was allowed, an amended computation method resulted in a new net value.  This prompted a retroactive net computation for Phase II. [ 1]

Phase IV      01.01.1977      12.31.1978                66% NET       66% NET  Original timeframe
                    01.01.1979       12.31.1979                66% NET       66% NET  Extended timeframe
This was a two year (later three year) “standstill” timeframe because of the impact of the oil crisis and the resultant poor financial health of the industry

Phase V      01.01.1980       03.01.1989                66% NET        66% NET for passenger cars
                                                                               50% NET        66% NET for light commercial
  vehicles & minibuses

Phase VI    03.01.1989       12.31.1995                 55%               75% * See below
* Local content no longer based on weight, instead based on value that allowed credits for exports and covered the manufacturer as a whole rather than individual model lines.

                      01.01.1964                                                           25%
                      01.01.1967                                                           30%
                      01.01.1968                                                           35%
                      01.01.1980                                                           Assembled category withdrawn

An example of assembled cars in early 1972 included Jaguar, Rover, Ford Fairlane and Fairmont, BMW 2800, Lancia, Citroën DS, Mazda 1300, Opel Manta and the Chevrolet Constantia V8.  Although the assembly category was officially withdrawn after 1980 certain manufactures were able to gain approval for assembly of a few models such as the Jaguar XJ6, some senior Mercedes-Benz models, the top Alfa Romeo and at least two Fiat models.

Foreign Factory Owned Assemblers and Manufacturers (at their inception)

This list covering plants built under the guidance of foreign manufacturers is sorted by date of commencement.  Further details can be found below in the brand histories

Ford Motor Company of South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
Production started in 1924 in Port Elizabeth, with the first of several plants in the Port Elizabeth area.

General Motors South African (Pty) Ltd
Assembly started in 1926 at Darling Street, Port Elizabeth, followed by a move to Kempston Road, Port Elizabeth in 1929.

Austin Motor Company (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd.
B. M. C. (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd
Land purchased by Austin in 1948, construction began in 1953.
Assembly began by BMC in 1955 at Blackheath near Cape Town

Chrysler South Africa (Pty.) Ltd
In 1968 production began at Chrysler Park, Silverton Pretoria.  All previous Chrysler plants had started off independently owned.

Fiat South Africa (Pty) Ltd
In 1968 production began at Fiat’s Rosslyn plant and continued up to 1980 when the plant was acquired by Datsun-Nissan.

Domestically Owned Independent Assemblers and Manufacturers (at their inception)

This list of independent assemblers is sorted by date of commencement both for the assemblers and then the brands within each assembler.  The date range identifies the assembly/manufacture timeframe.  Further details may be found under each brand category later in the article.  Kindly note that the timeframes identified below relate only to the periods when these brands were assembled or manufactured.  Most makes began importing fully built cars far earlier than these dates.

Stanley Motors Limited
National Motor Assemblies Ltd from 1969
The origin of Stanley Motors began in 1919 as Colonial Motors Limited founded by Stanley Anderson handling the sale of Arrol-Johnson, Delage, Scripps-Booth and Sunbeam, followed two years later by Austin.  In 1932 Anderson formed National Motors (Pty) Ltd, to handle the Hudson franchise.  These two private companies were combined into Stanley Motors Limited in September 1936 upon incorporation and flotation as a London public company.  The Bentley and Rolls-Royce franchise was held from 1934 to 1956 and Fiat also from 1934 but only for a short while.  [ 2] The business was initially run from an acquired building on the corner of Eloff and Marshall Streets, Johannesburg.  In 1936 another premises called Colmot House at 171 Eloff Street Extension was acquired but the headquarters settled in later years at 30 Eloff Street. [ 3]  

Following Stanley Anderson’s death on June 1, 1948 another Stanley became Chairman and Managing Director, Stanley Drysdale Edmiston (born June 27, 1910, died 1973) continuing in this role until his retirement in 1963.  Brian G. Rootes became Chairman, with the Rootes Group having gained a majority interest the prior year. 

The decision by Stanley Motors Limited to begin automobile assembly operations preceded the outbreak of war.  N. Swart list 1939 as the time Hudson assembly began but that date likely refers to a pilot plant located temporarily at the 171 Eloff Street Extension facility. [ 4]  The next year the Willys agency was acquired and CKD operations began the same year.  Property for a permanent plant was acquired early in 1939 at Natalspruit, near Alberton in the Transvaal.  By early 1940 it was evident that any expectations of assembling UK or European cars was unlikely as America and Canada appeared to be the only likely source for CKD packs.  Construction of the Natalspruit plant commenced in May 1946 and by April 1947 assembly of Hudson and Willys resumed. [ 5]

Assembly operations under the name of Stanley Motors ended in September 1969.  This Natalspruit assembly operation was purchased by Peugeot Automobile Africa (Pty.) Ltd in November 1969 creating a name change to National Motor Assemblies Ltd.  This plant closed at the end of 1978.  Stanley Motors effectively became a dealer retailer.

Hudson(1939 - 1957)
Willys(1940 - 1960)
Austin A40 Devon, A30, A35(1949 - 1959)
Peugeot(1950 - 1969)
Simca(1958 - 1959)
Rambler – ex Hudson(1958 - 1967)
Rootes(1959 - 1969)
Citroën (1959 - 1969)
Peugeot (1970 - 1978)
Renault(1970 - 1972)
Citroën (1976 - 1978)


Atkinson-Oates Motors, Ltd
Atkinson-Oates Assembly, (Pty) Ltd
Chrysler South Africa (Pty) Ltd formed 1959
Leyland Motor Corporation of S. A. (Pty) Ltd
Atkinson-Oates Ltd. was floated on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on June 12, 1929 as a holding company. A subsidiary plant Atkinson-Oates Assembly (Pty.) Ltd. was completed at 44 Paarden Eiland Road, Paarden Eiland, Cape Town in 1941 and began assembling the Chrysler group cars but stopped early in 1942. [ 6]  

A new plant was built in nearby Elsies River and became operational in February 1956.  The body jigs for Chrysler and Peugeot were locally made by Consani’s Engineering Ltd. [ 7]    

In February 1959 Chrysler International took a 50% ownership in newly formed Chrysler South Africa (Pty.) Ltd with Atkinson-Oates Ltd. having the balance for a few years.  The Elsies River plant was leased by A-O to Chrysler.  H. G. Oates was appointed Chairman on February 13, 1959.

Chrysler built their Silverton plant near Pretoria in 1968 resulting in assembly at Elsies River winding down through to 1972.  Leyland bought the Elsies River plant in 1974 for their commercial vehicles but added cars in 1982.  The plant closed in 1985.

Chrysler Group brandsPE(1941 - 1957)
Rootes - Hillman PE(1949 - 1956)
Rootes – Humber PE(1951 - 1956)
Chrysler Group brandsEL(1956 - 1972)
Peugeot 403EL(1956 - Until at least 1960)
Rootes EL
(1956 - 1959)
SimcaEL(1959 - 1970)
MitsubishiEL(1970 - 1972)
Leyland Commercial EL(1974 - 1985)
MiniEL(1982 - 1983)
RoverEL(1982 - 1984)
RenaultEL(1983 - 1985)
PE Paarden Eiland
EL Elsies River


Motor Assemblies Ltd
Toyota SA Manufacturing Limited
Primary original investors were McCarthy Rodway Ltd., Forsdick Motors and to a lesser extent from 1946, Atkinson-Oates Ltd.  The Atkinson-Oates investment was later acquired by Norman Marshall.

Justin McCarthy purchased land in 1940, but the construction of a plant only began in 1947 with production commencing in 1948.  In addition to their original Jacobs plant, the Prospecton plant came on stream in May 1971, handling Toyota, Rambler, Volvo and Mazda.  This new plant progressively took over the machining of engine blocks previously handled by Turin Motors. [ 8]  

Dr. Wessels, took control of Motor Assemblies on December 31, 1964.  In 1979 Toyota SA gained full ownership of Motor Assemblies when they purchased the final 15% owned by McCarthy Rodway.  In late 1981 Motor Assemblies was named Toyota SA Manufacturing Limited.

Chrysler makes (1948 - 1957)
Dodge, Fargo & DeSoto trucks (1948 - 1962)
Morris (1950 - 1964)
MG TD (1950 - 1951)
Standard Vanguard(1952 - 1962)
Standard 8/10 (1953 - 1958)
Triumph (1955 - 1969)
MGA (1957 - 1962)
MG Magnette (1957 - 1962)
Wolseley (1957 - 1961)
Riley (1958 - 1962)
Austin A55 (1959 - 1962)
Mini (Austin & Morris) (1960 - 1963)
Volvo(1961 - 1973)
Datsun(1961 - 1965)
Toyota(1962 - current)
Fiat (1962 - 1969)
Lancia(1962 - 1968)
Mazda(1963 - 1977)
AMC Rambler/Hornet(1969 - 1976)
Renault 5 (1975 - 1985)


South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors Ltd (SAMAD)
Volkswagen of South Africa Ltd. from 1966
The primary original shareholder was South African Industrial and Commercial Holdings Ltd.  Production commenced in 1948 at Uitenhage, Cape Province.  SAMAD changed their name to Volkswagen of South Africa Ltd. in 1966.

Studebaker (1948 - 1965)
Austin (1950 - 1955)
Volkswagen(1951 - current)
Audi (1968 - 2001)
Volvo(1973 - 1975)
Jeep(1976 - 1980)


Nash Distributors Assembly (Pty) Ltd registered
Car Distributors Assembly (Pty) Ltd (CDA) renamed March 28, 1949
Mercedes-Benz of South Africa (Pty) Ltd formed 1984, CDA renamed 1986
The initial registration occurred March 18, 1948 under the name Nash Distributors Assembly (Pty) Ltd but this name was changed to Car Distributors Assembly (Pty) Ltd (CDA) from March 28, 1949.  Early shareholders were Haaks Garage of Pretoria, Bloemfontein Motors and Westraads Motors of Oudtshoorn.  Production started in 1950 at East London.
Following the formation of Mercedes-Benz of South Africa (Pty) Ltd in 1984, CDA adopted this name in 1986.

Nash(1950 - 1958)
Standard Vanguard(1950 - 1952)
Packard (1950 - 1957)
Fiat (1950 - 1964)
Renault(1950 - 1968)
Mercedes-Benz (1958 - current)
Alfa Romeo (1960 - 1967)
Jaguar(1960 - 1966)
DKW/Auto Union(1961 - 1965)
Honda (1982 - 2000)
Land Rover(1950 - 1956)
Thornycroft(1952 - 1953)
Reo(1953 - 1953)
Commer(1954 - 1960)
Hino(1963 - 1968)
Prince(1964 - 1966)
Mitsubishi(1994 - current)
Freightliner(1996 - current)


Datsun Motor Vehicle Distributors (Pty) Ltd
Rosslyn Motor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd
Nissan S. A. (Pty) Ltd
Initially this was a Datsun assembly operation with M. C. P. “Thys” Becker and Colonel Andries J. Becker as primary shareholders.  Rosslyn Motor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd was formally established on September 20, 1967 when Renault acquiring a 26% interest with the remaining 74% held by Datsun Motor Vehicle Distributors (Pty) Ltd.  Three years later full ownership was restored to Datsun Motor Vehicle Distributors.

Datsun/Nissan(1965 - current)
AMC Rambler(1967 - 1969)
Alfa Romeo(1967 - 1977)
Renault (1968 - 1970)
BMW(1968 - 1970)
Peugeot (1969 - 1969)
Renault(1972 - 1975)


Kaiser Jeep Africa (Pty) Ltd
Praetor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd
BMW (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd from 1972
In 1967 Kaiser Jeep built the plant that became Praetor at Rosslyn, Pretoria under the ownership of Hugh Parker Ltd.
In 1972 this became the first BMW owned plant outside Germany

Kaiser Jeep(1967 - 1974)
Lancia(1968 - 1970)
Mitsubishi Colt(1968 - 1970)
Citroën (1969 - 1971)
BMW(1970 - current)


Chrysler South Africa (Pty.) Ltd
Sigma Motor Corporation (Pty) Ltd
Amcar Motor Holdings (Pty) Ltd
South African Motor Corporation (Pty) Ltd (Samcor)
Ford of South Africa
Although listed above under Foreign Owned Plants, the Chrysler Park Silverton Plant near Pretoria transitioned through domestic ownership before emerging under foreign owned Ford.  It began in October 1968 as a Chrysler North America owned operation, but within eight years the fortunes of Chrysler suffered both in the USA and South Africa. 

In 1976 Chrysler Park was renamed Sigma Park when domestically owned Anglo American Corporation of South Africa Ltd formed Sigma Motor Corporation (Pty.) Ltd with a 75% investment leaving Chrysler Corporation USA with 25% of Sigma.

The Anglo American Group formed Amcar Motor Holdings (Pty.) Ltd. in 1984 as its automotive holding company replacing Sigma.   Subsidiaries of Amcar were Mazda South Africa, MMC Automobiles (Mitsubishi) and Peugeot SA.

The South African Motor Corporation (Pty.) Ltd. (SAMCOR) was formed in 1985 when Ford wanted to extricate itself from its South African investment.  Thus Amcar and Ford SA merged, with Anglo American Group the majority owner.

In 1994 Ford bought back 45% interest in SAMCOR gaining full ownership in 2000.  Thus a plant that started off foreign owned by Chrysler transitioned through three domestic entities tied to Anglo American, eventually emerging back under American ownership as Ford.

Chrysler (1968 - 1981)
Chrysler Europe (ex Rootes)(1969 - 1977)
Mitsubishi(1972 - 1994)
Mazda(1979 - 1980)
Citroën (1979 - 1980)
Peugeot(1979 - 1986)
Ford(1985 - current)


Alfa Romeo South Africa (Pty) Ltd
Brits Engineering Works
Production started in August 1974 of the Alfasud in a plant owned by Dr. Vito Bianco.

Alfa Romeo(1974 - 1985)
Fiat(1978 - 1984)
Daihatsu Charade(1983 - 1985)

Domestic Brands


Dr. Alex Roy, John Meyers and Bob Fincher were the designers of a fibreglass sports car using a tubular space frame with ladder-type floor plan supporting an independent coil front suspension and a live rear axle using coils trailing arms and a Panhard rod.  Power came from a 100E Ford 1172 cc side valve engine fed through a three-speed gearbox.  This project appears to have started in 1957 but only about 14 authentic models were built using Ford engines.  A similar number had other engines but the Protea largely expired when the principle financer, Rob Hudson, left South Africa in 1959.  The best sporting success was winning the 1959 Pietermaritzburg Six-Hour race at the hands of Meyers and Mason-Gordon, using an aluminum body.

GSM Dart/Flamingo

Glassport Motor Company (GSM) was formed by Willie Meissner and Bob van Niekerk who announced their glass fiber sports car early in 1958.  Large Ford dealer Grosvenor Motors offered the open 2-seater Dart for £888 in early 1959.   A Willment overhead-valve conversion almost doubled the output of the 1172 cc Ford side-valve engine but other alternatives included the Ford 100E, 105E and the Coventry Climax units used by Lotus.  The independent front suspension used a top transverse leaf spring with lower wishbones and coils at the rear with parallel trailing links and lateral A-arm.  Production amounted to 122 units.

In 1960 the Dart was exported to the UK under the name Delta in body only form.  A 997 cc Ford engine was installed at the destination.  The UK began exporting the Delta to the USA in mid-1961.

In 1962 GSM introduced a closed sports car called the Flamingo using at first the Ford Taunus 1758 cc engine and later the 1498 cc Cortina GT engine.  Full production only began in January 1964.  Double cast aluminum wishbones were used at the front, first with the Mini rubber cones but later with coils.  Different length trailing arms at the rear suspension helped reduce wheel spinning from a live axle.  The single left trailing arm handled lateral forces using a Panhard rod, while twin right trailing arms took care of torque effects.  An Austin A40 windshield was used with twin rear windows split by a 1963 Corvette like spine, except the Flamingo windows were set in two valleys leading to a triple fin appearance.   Approximately 130 Flamingos were built that included one V8 prototype.  

A majority holding in GSM (Pty) Ltd was acquired early in 1963 by Bonuscar and Motor and Industrial Investments Ltd.    GSM appears to have lasted to 1967.

Raubenheimer Manufacturing Company – Marcos Mini

Raubenheimer Manufacturing Company (Pty) Ltd was formed in 1967 in Pietermaritzburg, Natal to build the fiberglass Mini Marcos.  The fiberglass work was subcontracted to Plasba (Pty) Ltd.  Between November 1967 and December 1968 only 67 bodies were built before legal issues with Marcos Cars Ltd in the UK hindered further production. [ 9]  


In January 1978 the Interstate Motor Vehicle Company, a subsidiary of the Patterson Corporation, introduced the Trax 3-7 off-roader.  A 3.7-litre Chrysler slant six with Torqueflite automatic transmission fed only the rear-wheels.  The front suspension used  torsion bars and the rear, leaf springs.  The Trax had 85% local content and was built in Pretoria.  By late 1978 the Trax was also offered with a 1971 cc Peugeot engine and changed its suspension to coils all round.  In September 1979 the 3.7 Chrysler and 2-litre Peugeot engines were dropped but the range expanded to Chevrolet 2.320 cc and 4093 cc units, Ford 1993 cc and 2994 cc V6, Mercedes-Benz 2404 cc diesel and a Datsun 2753 cc six.  Unfortunately November 1981 was the last month that Trax was listed on the market.

Assembly and Manufacture by Brand

American Brands

AMC Nash/Hudson/Rambler/Hornet/Jeep

The Mercedes-Benz manufacturing operation in East London actually started off as Nash Distributor Assemblers in March 1948 before it became Car Distributor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd in March 1949, literally before any production began in 1950. [10]    Nash remained at CDA through June 1958 with accumulated production totaling 4,890.  In the USA American Motors was created from the merger of Nash and Hudson in 1954 taking on the Rambler branding after 1958.  Stanley Motors near Alberton had been assembling Hudson since 1941 and continued Rambler assembly from 1958, until it moved first to Rosslyn Motor Assemblers in 1967 run by Datsun. [11]  When Wesco Investments Ltd., parent of Toyota SA, acquired 60% of American Motors South Africa (Pty) Ltd late in 1968, Motor Assemblies took over manufacture in January 1969. [12]    

Willys from 1941 and Jeep from 1947 were assembled by Stanley Motors.  A March 30, 1960 US announcement indicated that assembly had moved to Wynberg (also known as Bramley) close to Sandton in Johannesburg.  This Willys Afrika (Pty) Ltd plant began with the civilian and military Jeep and from January 1965 the Jeep Gladiator and Wagoneer station wagon.  In early 1967 Willys Jeep Afrika (Pty) Ltd) was renamed Kaiser Jeep Africa (Pty) Ltd and an additional Rosslyn plant was announced. [13]  This plant assembled the Jeep Wagoneer as well as the Mitsubishi Colt and Lancia models and in 1969 became Praetor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd, owned by Hugh Parker Ltd and later taken over by BMW in 1972.   The Wagoneer was last listed in March 1971 and the Gladiator in 1972.  An agreement was reached in September 1973 between Hugh Parker Ltd and American Motors S.A. (Pty) Ltd whereby the latter had sole distribution rights for Jeep.  Plans included the assembly of the CJ5 and CJ6 plus a Jeep truck, but in December 1974 Jeeps were no longer listed in price lists.

                The Rambler and its replacement the Hornet became the last American car to be manufactured in South Africa under the Phase III rulings.  Until late 1973 the AMC 232 cu. in. six was machined by Turin Motors but thereafter the Hornet used the locally built Chevrolet 4.1-litre six.  From January, 1969 the Rambler and Hornet were marketed through the Wesco/Toyota franchise network but this arrangement ended in 1976. 

Earlier reports indicated the Wesco Group would assemble Jeep but Volkswagen announced in July 1976 that they had secured the Jeep assembly and distribution rights.  It is easy to recognize that AMC could hardy embrace a situation where the Jeep would share the same showroom with a Toyota Land Cruiser.  But apparently if Motor Assemblies could not get Jeep, they were no longer interested in the Hornet.  VW started with the CJ-5 and CJ-6 models in August 1976.  By March 1980, Jeep was no longer listed on the market, no doubt deciding not to comply with Phase V that included light commercial vehicles for the first time.


The early success of Chrysler brands in South Africa can largely be attributed to William Atkinson (1873 – 1963), an Australian who fought for the British side in the Boer War and decided to stay in the country.  Savings from his army pay of £28 started his multi-million enterprise that in 1929 went public on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as Atkinson-Oates Motors Ltd.  At that time the group only had the distribution for Chrysler in the Orange Free State, although they held agencies for other makers elsewhere in the country.  Atkinson-Oates gained a listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1936 reflecting turnover for 1935 of over £3-million and after tax earnings of £312,582.

William Atkinson was the primary investor along with brothers-in-law H. G. (Bert) Oates and L. H. (Len) Oates also immigrants from Western Australia.  During the Depression era Atkinson-Oates was able to acquire a majority interest in two large ailing Chrysler agents, Sydney Clow & Co. in the Transvaal Province and Carson & Co, of the Western Cape run by the legendary Gerry Bouwer.  Bouwer built a reputation for long distance runs in Chrysler cars, breaking records first from Johannesburg but also later from Cairo to Cape Town as well as many other exploits.   That left Atkinson-Oates holding the franchises for the full Chrysler range for all regions of the country except Natal and the Eastern Cape.  

A single source identifies 1937 as the point Chrysler began building operations in Johannesburg but this abbreviated reference likely relates to the construction of Chrysler House on Eloff Street, between Albert and Harries Street.  Also known as Atkinson House, the building became a sales outlet for Sydney Clow and Co., the Chrysler agents.  The 12-story building was modeled after the New York Chrysler House complete with the ziggurat tower design.  The ground floor displayed new cars including Rolls-Royce.  The large showroom windows had a faint black tint which together with a concave shape, curved inwards, gave the impression that no glazing was present.  Used cars were sold on the second floor, parts located on the third floor, servicing on the fourth and fifth floors and the sixth contained a body shop locally known as a panel beating shop.  Higher floors catered to car storage, mechanics’ rest rooms and building utility needs but with a posh nightclub on the top floor named the 400 Club.  This building was owned by the Atkinson-Oates group and not Chrysler.

However in 1938 an Atkinson-Oates subsidiary, Rillstone Motors of Johannesburg, did partially assemble Fargo trucks from semi-knocked-down kits.  Percy Rillstone had married Grace, the sister of Bert and Len Oates. [14]    

Atkinson-Oates built the Paarden Eiland assembly plant in Cape Town which began production in 1941 building only the Chrysler group cars through to the next year.  During the war years the plant was rented to the Defence Department while their Selby facilities in Johannesburg built armored cars and the Sydney Clow facilities built radio equipment.

Henk Lith started as the supervisor of the Rillston assembly operation, followed by a move to Motor Assemblies as the works manager.  He became the general manager of the Atkinson-Oates Assembly (Pty) Ltd in Elsies River and later the managing director of Chrysler South Africa (Pty) Ltd. 

Although Stanley Motors started a pilot assembly operation of Hudson automobiles in 1939, thereby becoming the first domestically owned assembly operation, their permanent plant did not become operational until 1947.  Alternately Atkinson-Oates started the first domestic permanent assembly operation.  Take your pick as to who was first.

Motor Assemblies Ltd near Durban also assembled Chrysler products, starting in 1948.  Motor Assemblies was funded by McCarthy Rodway and Forsdick Motors with Atkinson-Oates added as a later investor.  Forsdick Motors run by Jack Forsdick had the dealerships in Natal for Chrysler, Plymouth and DeSoto.  The plant was initially intended solely for Chrysler assembly but various import controls soon added additional clients. [15]  

Atkinson Oates Motors built a replacement assembly line in Elsies River in 1956, which first absorbed the nearby Paarden Eiland production, followed by removing all but the truck assembly from Motor Assemblies near Durban in 1957. 

Chrysler South Africa (Pty) Ltd was formed in early 1959 with Chrysler International S.A., Ltd having a 50% interest and Atkinson-Oates Motors the other 50% interest, but only for a few years before selling all to Chrysler.  Atkinson-Oates Motors retained Atkinson-Oates Assembly (Pty.) Ltd. whose Elsies River facilities were leased to Chrysler.  Simca, previously handled by Stanley Motors, was included with the Chrysler deal while the Rootes Group vehicles previously built at Elsies River were transferred to Stanley Motors.

Although the DeSoto brand expired in the USA in 1961, a 1962 South African DeSoto Rebel was a mildly tweaked Dodge Lancer which also shared the Valiant platform, and the larger Diplomat was a clone of the Dodge 330 known in the USA as Dart.

South Africa’s top selling car in 1966, 1967 and 1968 was the Valiant taking second place for the next four years.  From October 1972 Valiants were sourced from Australia which, at introduction, already had 59.7% local content derived from the underbody structure, back axle and engine.  These new Valiant bodies had nothing in common with the USA version.  The Dodge Monaco continued through to 1968 but the Chrysler 383 from 1969 to 1973 used the Monaco body which retained the 1971 design through to the end.

Chrysler announced an expansion on September 17, 1964 with a new plant that included engine machining at Silverton, near Pretoria with the first car dispatched on October 9, 1968. [16]  Hillman and Humber were moved to this plant in 1970 from Stanley Motors.  Also in 1970 Chrysler took over the distribution of Mitsubishi from Praetor Industries, handling assembly through their old Elsies River plant that also looked after Dodge trucks. [17]  The Elsies River plant was finally vacated early in 1972 and acquired by Leyland in 1974.

On September 1976 the Chrysler Vogue, the Hillman successor, was replaced by the Chrysler Colt, based on the Mitsubishi Colt/Galant, of which the 2-door coupe had been an assembled model since 1973, but the new 4-door was classified as manufactured.  A year later a totally restyled Colt arrived, which challenges the claim that its predecessor was not an interim assembled model.  The Dodge Avenger, launched late in 1974, was the base model in the Chrysler lineup using an Argentinian body design with a British grille and for its first year had a Peugeot engine. 

In the closing days of 1976 the Sigma Motor Corporation was formed which was a merger of the Illings Group who contributed Mazda with Chrysler including the Avenger, Colt and Valiant.  The parent of Sigma was the vast Anglo American Group best known for their mining operations and already owner of Illings, but Chrysler International retained a 25% interest in Sigma. [18]  The first casualty was the Avenger which left the market in 1977.

Sigma in turn moved Mazda Capella production from Motor Assemblies to Chrysler Park, which became Sigma Park, and in 1979 also gained Peugeot and Citroën. Even Leyland was added to the Sigma family but that deal fell apart within months.  Sigma attained market leadership in 1979.  Chrysler quietly withdrew from South Africa in March 1980 after only 69 sales the previous year.  Like in Australia, the styling of the VH series introduced in 1972 failed to gain acceptance partially because of its large car appearance at a time of fuel restrictions.  Anglo American and its subsidiary Amic (Anglo American Industrial Corp) shared 50/50 in Sigma having bought out Chrysler’s 25% in April 1983.  Sigma was absorbed into SAMCOR as discussed below under Ford.

In 1966 Anglo American together with McCarthy Rodway of Durban acquired about 38% of Atkinson-Oates Motors following the death of William Atkinson in 1963 becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of McCarthy Rodway in 1975, uniting nearly all Chrysler dealerships in the country.  Retail outlets such as Sydney Clow fell away as the new owner consolidated retail outlets under the name McCarthy Motors Group Limited.  This giant claimed to be the largest vehicle retailer in the world during the 1980s.


Although Ford Motor Company of South Africa was first registered on December 29, 1923, it had already started converting a Port Elizabeth wool store into an assembly line that began operating on January 19, 1924, becoming the 16th foreign Ford plant.  H. F. Alex Stockelback was installed as managing director on February 5, 1924.  Ford Motor Company of South Africa was a subsidiary of Ford Canada not Ford USA.  Expansion demands prompted a move in October 1930 to Harrower Road, Port Elizabeth and in 1948 a major investment resulted in a third move to Neave Township.

After WWII the British Fords started with the “Puddle Jumper” Anglia and Prefect, followed in the early 1950s with the Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac.  The Cortina began in 1962, proving to be a big hit and even came with a V6 in 1973.  The 1960s decade included the Consul 315 (late-1961) and Corsair (mid-1964) as well as the introduction of the German Taunus 17M P3.  The American Fords, the Falcon, Fairlane and Galaxie, lasted until the 1967-1969 timeframe when the Australian Fairlane and Fairmont (derived from the Australian Falcon) replaced them.  The Fairmont and Fairlane were classified as assembled models.  The Zephyr and Zodiac were withdrawn early in 1970.

Ford had four entries for Phase III local manufacture, the Escort, Cortina, Capri and German 17M/20M Fords.  The European Granada replaced the 17M and 20M in 1973 and lasted until April 1986.  An engine plant at Struandale, Port Elizabeth started assembling engines in April 1964 with full manufacture from 1965.    In 1974 Ford erected a new plant at Struandale to exclusively build Cortinas which changed to Sierras following their September 1983 announcement.  Ford F-Series pickups were produced from 1940 to 1980.  The Escort made way in June 1986 for the Mazda based Laser and Meteor created by Ford Australia.

After confirming joint discussions in October 1984, Ford SA finally in mid-1985 merged with Anglo American subsidiary Amcar (nee Sigma) which handled Mazda and Mitsubishi.  The new entity was named South African Motor Corporation or SAMCOR for short.  This reduced Ford of Canada’s interest to 42%.  Anglo American held 58% but that was increased to 76% in 1987 when Ford of Canada fully divested its interest in South Africa.  The remaining 24% was held in trust for the employees. 

Ford moved most of its manufacturing operations from Port Elizabeth to the ex-Chrysler/Sigma plant outside Pretoria.  Their engine plant remained at Struandale and other parts of the plant were taken over by General Motors.  One unique vehicle was the Ford Husky minivan derived from a Mitsubishi minivan L300 or Starwagon.  In 1994 Ford bought back a 45% interest in SAMCOR gaining full ownership in 2000, renaming the company Ford of South Africa.

General Motors

Nathaniel C. Tuxbury opened the General Motors South African (Pty) Ltd plant in March 1926 at Darling Street, Port Elizabeth after registration on February 20, 1926.  Three years later a new plant was built at Kempston Road.  Prior to WWII, GMSA assembled at one time or another every GM brand including Oakland, LaSalle, Cadillac, Vauxhall and Opel.

Post-war assembly largely focussed on Chevrolet, Pontiac, Opel and Vauxhall, with Holden from 1960.  Buick and Oldsmobile ceased right-hand-drive modes after 1951 and were not listed after 1953 but did reappear only from mid-1958 to 1959 although the 1959 models remained on price lists through to 1962.  Starting from mid-1959 an Opel Olympia pick-up with local body pressings was unique to South Africa.  Late in 1962 GM began pressing doors, trunk and engine lids of various models starting with Vauxhall.  Rationalization resulted in the departure of the Opel Kapitän in 1964, the Rekord in 1971 and the Kadett in 1974.  All Vauxhalls left the market starting with the Velox in 1966, the Victor in 1968, the Cresta/Viscount in 1969 and the Viva in 1971.

The Aloes engine plant began production in April 1965 of six-cylinder engines and towards the end of the year four-cylinder variants for the 1966 models.  The local engines were the Vauxhall 1.2/1.3 and Chevrolet based 2.1 and 2.5 (and later 1.9 and 2.3) 4-cylinder engines and 3.2, 3.8 and 4.1 in six-cylinder form.  This was earlier than required by the local content program but Opel in 1966 and Vauxhall in 1968 introduced entirely new engine families. At first the 1.2 engine was used in the Kadett and Viva, the 2.1 in the Rekord and Victor, the 3.2 in the Chevy II, Acadian Canso, Cresta and Holden and the 3.8 and 4.1 in the Chevelle and Acadian Beaumont.  The Acadians were derived from GM Canada and were mildly restyled Chevrolet equivalents.  Barwell and Sons of Alberton became the major source for casting engine blocks for the local industry.  As a temporary measure, GMSA had been importing Brazilian castings prior to receiving their first shipment from Barwell in 1971.

The 1968 to 1973 Ranger was a restyled Opel Rekord with 2.1 or 2.5 engines.  Likewise the 1969 to 1979 Chevrolet Constantia and Kommando were derived from the large Holden models and replaced the North American intermediate and full-sized Chevrolets, Acadians and Pontiacs.  Also derived from Holden were the DeVille and Caprice V8 assembled models as well as the Holden Monaro based Chevrolet SS V8.  The 1.2/1.3 and 2.5 Chevrolet Firenza, for 1971 to 1975, used a Viva body, which was restyled into the 1300 and 1900 models from 1975 to 1978.  The 1973 Firenza coupe even offered one-hundred copies with a Camaro Z28 302 CID (5.0-litre) V8, with an 800 CFM Holley carb and 4-speed Muncie M21 transmission.  The zero to 100 km. flashed past at 5.4 seconds to a 225 km/h top speed.  The Rekord/Commodore based Chevrolet 2500, 3800 and 4100 from 1972 to 1978 became the best seller in 1974 and 1975.  The Chevair from 1976 to 1982 used an Ascona body with a Manta front end together with 1960 and 2320 cc Chevrolet engines but changed to the Opel 1.6 engine from 1981.  A 1.3 Ascona without the Manta nose ran from 1978 to 1981.  The Opel Kadett returned in 1980 and its later sedan version was called a Monza.

From 1978 to 1982 the Chevrolet Senator (4.1), Commodore (4.1 & 3.8) and Rekord (2.3) retained the Chevrolet name and engines, but reverted to the Opel brand and engines from 1982.  The 66% local content was achieved without the Opel engines which were all imported.

Early in 1985 GMSA and BMW explored the possibility of joining forces as only the Senator overlapped in the market.  Instead GM negotiated an employee buyout in November 1986 creating Delta Motors but with provisions for GM to reinvest in the future.  With the apartheid issue resolved GM acquired 49% of Delta in 1997 and completed the full acquisition in January 2004, whereupon the name was changed to GM South Africa.  In mid-1991 Delta created a unique version of the previous generation Rekord with a 3.8 V6 (Buick origin) and independent rear suspension, a combination not found anywhere else in the world.  GM announced its full departure from South Africa in May 2017.

Other North American Makes

Studebaker in 1948 was the initiator of South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD) which ultimately became Volkswagen of South Africa in 1966, a year after Studebaker left the market.  The Lark with a Chevrolet V8 was a popular police vehicle in SA with the performance to catch most cars that were not wise enough to pull over when a siren and lights were activated. 

Packard, which had joined forces with Studebaker in the USA from 1954, used CDA in East London for assembly of 865 units from 1950 to June 1957, a year before the revered make expired in the USA.  In its final year Packard was the most expensive car offered in the country. [19]  


European Brands

Alfa Romeo

Titan Industrial Corporation had the sole concession for Alfa Romeo until late 1961 whereupon Alfa Romeo dealt directly with dealers.  The 1960 Giulietta Ti was the first assembled Alfa Romeo at the Car Distributors Assembly plant.  From 1963 the 2600 Berlina 2.6 and the Giulia 1.6 sedan were assembled in the same East London plant.  Alfa Romeo vacating the CDA plant over the July to October 1967 timeframe.  From July 1967 assembly of the Giulia sedan and coupe commenced at the Datsun plant outside Pretoria, which become known as Rosslyn Motor Assemblers in 1968. [20]  

In 1971 Alfa Romeo announced that both the Giulia and 1750/2000/Berlina would conform to Phase III local content requirement using body stampings from Rosslyn and Dorbyl Heavy Engineering in Brits.  The Giulia title gave way to 1300 and 1600 models.  The Alfetta arrived in 1973 and ultimately displaced the Berlina.

The Alfasud was manufactured at an exclusive Alfa Romeo plant at Brits Engineering Works owned by Dr. Vito Bianco starting in August 1974.  In 1977 Alfetta production moved to Brits and late in the following year included the Fiat Elita 2000.  A new Giulietta was added to the range in August 1979 starting with 58% local content but quickly ramped up to the required 66% primarily from body pressings.  The 1.8 engine was fully imported.  The semi-assembled V6 Alfa Romeo gained access to the market in May 1981 thanks to export credits. [21]  

South Africa became the source for many right-hand-drive markets for Alfa Romeo.  In addition between 1972 and 1989 there were more Alfa Romeos on South African roads than any other country except Italy. [22]    

Shortly after its 1983 European launch, the Alfa Romeo 33 arrived in SA in November of the same year as a locally manufactured replacement for the Alfasud which had been renamed the 1.3/1.5 Export.  Alfa fans outside SA were envious that some local models were not available elsewhere in the world, such as the 3-litre GTV6 from early 1984.  After a 3.6% share of the 1984 market, Alfa Romeo announced in September 1985 that they were quitting South Africa and were no longer publishing prices after December.


In 1932 Gunther Lugwig acquired the sole rights to import BMW motorcycles through his business called Club Garage.  He imported the first BMW Isetta in 1958 fully assembled and later the 1500 and 1600 cars.  Club Motors retained sole import rights until 1968 when BMW decided to expand South African operations. 

From June 1968 to early 1970, BMW relied on Datsun’s Rosslyn Motor Assemblers to assemble the Glas model, which BMW Germany gained control of on November 10, 1966.  BMW distributed the 1800 and 2000 models through Euro-Republic Automobile Distributors (Pty) Ltd. formed by Hannes Pretorius. 

Praetor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd took over BMW assembly in 1970.  The Praetor plant, also located in Rosslyn, was initially built and operated by Kaiser Jeep Africa (Pty) Ltd, starting in early 1967 under managing director Joe Scialom.  These two Rosslyn plants were the first plants outside Germany to manufacture BMWs, and by 1971 local content was 61%, which far exceeded the then requirement of 52%.  The larger 2800 model was classified as assembled. [23]   

In late 1972 BMW AG acquired a controlling interest in BMW South Africa (Pty) Ltd which took full ownership of Euro-Republic and the Praetor assembly plant at Rosslyn, previously owned by Hugh Parker Ltd. [24]   This was the first occasion that BMW AG had taken a controlling interest in a foreign BMW operation.  In September 1973 the Glas bodied BMW 1804 and 2004 were restyled to gain a proper kidney style grille but withdrawn from the market in August 1975.  The 5 Series BMW was announced as a manufactured model in March 1974.  Last to arrive was the 3 Series in November 1983. 

The 7 Series was also locally produced and in mid-1983 (through to 1987) created a unique to South Africa 745 which by 1984 was being exported to Hong Kong.  Only 249 units were built.  Its 24-valve 3543 cc M88 engine derived from the M1 supercar gave it greater performance (286 bhp) than any German 7 Series, and was also fitted with superior leather trim.  The use of a turbo in the top German 7 series prevented a right hand drive application, hence the South African adaptation of the M1 engine.   Another SA special was the 333i from August 1985.

British Motor Corporation/Leykor/Leyland

As mentioned elsewhere, the Stanley Motors predecessor Colonial Motors acquired the Austin agency for the Transvaal in 1921 and expanded into Durban, Natal in collaboration with J. Forsdick and C. E. Hoare in 1925 but this alliance ended in 1927. [25]   

Except for Ford and GM UK models, Stanley Motors began the assembly of the first UK and European cars in October 1949 with the Austin A40 Devon followed later by A30 and A35 through to 1960.  Also from February 14, 1950 Austin were assembled outside Port Elizabeth, in Uitenhage, by SAMAD for the Cape and Natal Province until 1955. [26]     

The formation of Austin Motor Company (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd. was announced on December 16, 1948 along with the purchase of a 112-acre site in Blackheath, near Cape Town, but construction of a plant only began in 1953. By the time production began at Blackheath, Austin and Nuffield had merged into BMC.  The first car to come off the assembly line on May 21, 1955 was an Austin Cambridge.  Austin-Healeys 6-cylinder cars were assembled from 1956 to 1961.     

Justin and Pat McCarthy of the McCarthy Rodway group secured the sole SA concessionary for the Morris and other Nuffield products in 1948.  British Car Distributors was formed to handle the distribution of the Nuffield range of cars.  The assembly operation, Motor Assemblies, in which McCarthy Rodway had the majority interest, began assembly of Morris in 1950.  Because of the influence of McCarthy Rodway, assembly of these models remained at Motor Assemblies through to 1962, before joining Austin at Blackheath.  The Morris Minor remained at Motor Assemblies through to 1964.

Stanley Motors ceased to assemble the Austin A35 or handle most of the Transvaal franchise for Austin on April 10, 1959 as a result of acquiring the full Rootes range. [27] Austin in the 1960s used the retail outlets Sydney Clow, Rillstone Motors and Atkinson Motors, all owned by the Atkinson-Oates group.

Leyland, when it was only a truck and bus operation, set up an assembly plant in Elandsfontein near Johannesburg in 1950.  At some point (at least by 1967) an assembly plant in Mobeni, near Durban, catered to Leyland, Albion, Scammell and AEC trucks.  Following the UK mergers, Leyland Motor Corporation of South Africa was formed in September 1968, using the name Leykor of which the car division was split between Leykor Manufacturing and Leykor Distributors both launched December 9, 1968.  The Leykor brand was replaced by Leland late in 1971. 

Jaguar assembly, previously handled by CDA in East London from 1960, moved to Blackheath at the end of 1966 with a 3.8 S-type the first Jaguar produced at Blackheath in 1967.  The Triumph 2000 moved from Motor Assemblies in October 1969 and Rover and Land Rover all merged into Blackheath. 

Rover South Africa Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd began assembly initially of Land-Rover in 1962 in Port Elizabeth at the corner of Lindsay and Stanford Road.  This plant built the 3-litre from 1963 and the P6 Rover from September 1965.  This plant was taken over by Citroen.   Previously Land Rovers were assembled by Car Distributors Assembly (Pty) Ltd from August 1950 to 1956.  Local content reportedly reached 44% by 1972.

The Austin Apache launched late in 1971 featured an extended front and rear styled by Michelotti.  It along with the Mini, and Triumph 2000/2500 were included in the Phase III manufactured category.  The Apache lasted until May 1978.  Another South African variation was the Wolseley 1000 that was offered without the extended boot or trunk, whereas for a while the Mini did have this feature.  The Rover V8 and Jaguar XJ6 were classified as assembled. 

Starting from February 8, 1964, the A Series engines that were fitted to the Mini, 1100 and Apache were the first engines to be manufactured in South Africa using rough castings imported from the UK.  Ferroform’s subsidiary, Gearings Foundry Ltd in the Cape, began casting blocks for the engines in June 1967 and heads in September.  At first the 848cc and 1098cc were manufactured but the smaller engine was replaced by the 998 cc unit in November 1965.  Leyland South Africa created a 1098 cc engine that was unlike the earlier engine of the same capacity and any other in the world.  The South African 1098 cc engine had the same 70.64 mm bore as the 1275 cc engine, using a unique shorter crank with a stroke of 69.85 mm versus the 81.28 mm of the 1275 cc engine.  The Minis used the SA only 1.1-litre and 1275 cc engine from 1971 and at the same time the Apache fitted the larger engine.

By August 1975 Leyland claimed 66% local content for the Mini, Apache and Triumph 2000/Chicane, well ahead of the deadline at the end of 1976.  In 1974 Leyland South Africa took over the former Chrysler plant at Elsies River for commercial vehicle assembly. 

Instead of being called a Morris, the Austin Marina began as an assembled car using the MGB 1.8 engine but dropped the Austin name and became a Leyland Marina when the Blackheath plant inherited the Australian 1.8 four and 2.6 six engine production facilities.  Installing these OHC engines in early 1975 allowed classification as a manufactured model.  The Marina gained a 1300 A-Series engine in 1977 but by the end of 1978 all Marinas were withdrawn except for its pickup version which lasted until February 1980.  The Rover SD-1 arrived as a locally manufactured model in April 1978 effectively replacing the Triumph Chicane. 

On October 1, 1978 the Leyland operations merged with Sigma Motor Corporation (Pty) Ltd to form Sigma Leyland (Pty) Ltd.  Sigma held a 51% interest and British Leyland UK had 49%.  Plans included moving all Leyland car production from Blackheath to Sigma Park in Pretoria, but not for long.  This planned move excluded the commercial vehicles.  However, by May 1979 the merger with Sigma had unraveled.  At the time the assembled Range Rover was added to the Leyland range consisting of the manufactured Rover and assembled Jaguar.  The Mini had left the market early in 1979 but returned as the Clubman in mid-1980 as a manufactured model.  In terms of Phase V of the local content regulation, assembly of cars was not allowed beyond the end of 1979 resulting in the loss of Jaguar but stockpiled production kept a supply and eventually the car was imported fully built-up attracting a 100% duty.

Leyland South Africa’s Blackheath plant was sold to Sigma Motor Corporation for their commercial vehicles.  The announcement was in September 1981 with plans for implementation at the end of 1982, but Sigma decided not to occupy the plant even though they had finalized the sale.  Leyland moved their operations including the Mini and Rover to their Elsies River plant, but leased portion of the Blackheath plant for engine manufacture.  Since 1979 Leyland had been building Sigma’s commercial vehicles at Elsies River under contract.  But Leyland announced they were exiting the manufactured market in 1983, resorting to importing all cars fully built thereafter although commercial vehicles such as Land Rover continued in local production.  The Mini dropped off the price lists in September followed by Rover in November 1984.


Citroën began assembling their ID at the Stanley Motors plant (from 1968 named National Motors Assemblers) in 1959 and remained there for 10 years, before moving to the old Jeep plant at Pretoria.  That stay was short lived before moving to Port Elizabeth late in 1971.  Citroën combined with Isuzu to assemble the DS at Lindsay and Stanford Road in Port Elizabeth naming the operation the Cituzu plant which had previously been used by Rover. [28]   

The GS Club went into Phase III manufacture early in 1973 at a second plant in Markham, Port Elizabeth, reaching 57% by August of that year.  The last DS was built in 1975 with a total count from all three plants of 10,944 units.

Following Peugeot’s 38.2% acquisition of Citroën from Michelin in December 1974, the South African Citroën operations left Port Elizabeth and returned to the Peugeot Natalspruit plant near Alberton, Transvaal during late 1975, commencing production in 1976. [29]   

The automotive arm of Anglo-American, Sigma, acquired both Peugeot and Citroën in 1979 but local manufacture of Citroën was dropped mid-1980.  The CX-2400 Prestige arrived in 1981 as a special import with a price tag higher than a Mercedes-Benz SE.


Fiat began assembly at Car Distributors Assembly in 1950 even including the Multipla, an early minivan.  Starting in May 1962, Fiat began moving most models to Motor Assemblies near Durban, Natal completing the task in June 1964 with the 600D likely the last CDA assembled model. [30]  Fiat South Africa (Pty.) Ltd was formed in September 1961 to take over marketing and importation from the previous six distributors.  Fiat remained at Motor Assemblies until 1969 but also began manufacture in late 1968 from their own 30,000 square metre plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria, relying on Turin Motors for the manufacture of their engines.   Turin Motors Ltd of Industria, Johannesburg began in 1964 using CNC machining techniques to adapt to variable client needs that included Toyota, Rambler, Peugeot and Renault in late-1970.  Fiat Italy held a 40% interest in Turin Motors.  From 1969 the blocks were cast by James Barwell (South Africa). [31]   

Locally manufactured began with the 1500 model followed by the 124, 125 and from 1971 the front-wheel drive 128 followed by the 132 in January 1975.  The 124 was replaced by the 131 in October 1977.  Earlier in August the mid-engined X1/9 was added as an assembled model.  It was announced late in 1978 that the Fiat Elita 2000 would move its production from the Fiat plant to that of Alfa Romeo at Brits. [32]

Lack of profitability caused Fiat to announce its withdrawal from the South African automobile market in November 1980.  This withdrawal did not involve Fiat’s truck and tractor operations.  Its Rosslyn factory was sold to Datsun-Nissan while Alfa Romeo took over the support of existing models as well as the continued manufacture of the Fiat 128 pickup.  From 1982 Alfa Romeo began small scale assembly of the Fiat 128 4-door sedan lasting through to 1984.  The Fiat Uno was built and marketed by Nissan from 1988 to 1998.


T.A.K. Motors (Trans-Afrikaanse Kontinental Motormaatskappy) of Anderson Street, Johannesburg handled the Lancia and Ferrari brands and managed to classify the Appia, Fulvia and both the sedan and coupe of the Flavia as assembled models.  In the case of the Flaminia coupe the Pininfarina body shell came fully welded, requiring local trimming and paint.  Motor Assemblies had the distinction of being the only foreign plant to finish a Pininfarina body. 

Lancia Assembly moved to Kaiser Jeep Africa (Pty) Ltd in 1968 and remained there until September 1969 (sales in 1968 – 1969 109 units).  Thereafter it became the sole car assembled by a Daihatsu South Africa (Pty) Ltd plant.  This Daihatsu plant changed its name to Contract Motor Assemblies (1973) (Pty) Ltd in 1973 but had disappeared by 1975. 

Except for the Fulvia Coupe which continued until November 1974, Lancia assembly spanned from 1962 to 1968.   Assembly of the Beta 1800 was claimed to have occurred from June 1974 but no Lancia sales were reflected by NAAMSA in 1975 and 1976 although 115 sales were shown in 1977. However Lancia sales may have occurred under an “Other Makes” listing for 1975 and 1976.  The Beta 2000 Coupe was added in August 1976 but the sedan was dropped in June 1978.  From January 1980 T.A.K. Motors chose to import their cars fully assembled.

Lotus and Lamborghini

Intermotomakers, operating out of Cape Town, began offering the Lotus Esprit in April 1977 as an assembled model.  By October they had included the Eclat and Esprit as well as the Lamborghini Urraco and Espada in their price list.  Unfortunately these exotics were no longer listed on the market in September 1979.


Mercedes-Benz first opened a South African office in 1954.  Initial resistance by authorities to the importation of Mercedes-Benz was eased by the availability of a diesel car.  South Africa had started the Sasol oil-from-coal project which would yield more diesel fuel than was currently sought. [33] 

On November 10, 1956, several dealers incorporated a joint company called MB Motor Importers (Pty) Ltd, with MB standing for Mutual Benefit and not Mercedes-Benz.  The dealers were cargo Motors of Johannesburg, Haak’s of Pretoria, Stanley Porter of Cape Town, John William’s Motors of East London and Natal Motor Industries.  These dealers were able to convince Germany to convert the Ponton sedan into a pickup version, locally called a bakkie.  This uniquely South African model was imported without any bodywork from the B-pillar back for fitment of a load box by Morewear Industries of Germiston. It is relevant to note that the Ponton used unit body construction.

The first assembled MB vehicles were dispatched on February 20 1958 from the East London based Car Distributors Assembly (Pty.) Ltd. (CDA) plant.  South African Auto Union (Pty) Ltd was allocated the Mercedes-Benz franchise late in 1961, but was absorbed by United Car and Diesel Distributors (Pty.) Ltd. (UCDD) when the latter was registered on January 31, 1962 and appointed sole distributor.  SA Auto Union was registered on February 9, 1951 for the distribution of DKW under the direction of Leo Karl Dreissen.  In Germany Mercedes-Benz acquired majority interest in the DKW/Auto Union successor Audi on January 1, 1958.   

UCDD acquired 26% of CDA in January 1964 and increased this holding to 93% early in 1966.  [34]  In turn a Daimler-Benz subsidiary out of Zurich acquired 26.6% of UCDD.  In 1968 Volkskas Bank bought 39.9% of UCDD from Morris Shenker (then head of UCDD) and Leo Dreissen (former head of UCDD).  At the end of June 1972 UCDD ownership was 49% Volkskas, 26% Daimler-Benz AG and 25% the Göhner Foundation.  In 1977 United Car and Diesel Distributors (Pty) Ltd was formally shortened to UCDD (Pty) Ltd.  From February 1969, CDA had discharged assembly of all other makes to exclusively handle Mercedes-Benz. 

In 1967 the 230S became the first Mercedes-Benz to sign up for Phase II of the local content program.  Both the New Generation and S-Class Mercedes-Benz signed on for Phase III of the local component program in 1970 relying primarily on body panels pressed by Volkswagen of South Africa in Uitenhage.  Approval was given on May 2, 1973 to use Turin Motors for engine manufacture.  By June 11, 1974 the local content requirement resulted in the casting by Ferrovorm, machining by Turin and assembly by CDA of Mercedes-Benz engines from the 2.4 diesel to the 3.5 V8 except the 230/6.  South Africa became the first country outside Germany where Mercedes-Benz cars were assembled, manufactured and had their engines built locally.  Starting in 1977, the 450SL and SLC were added as assembled models but withdrawn in April 1981.  But in spite of only 1,532 sales in 1980 a new S-Class was introduced in May 1981 as a manufactured model as was the 380SEC in March 1983.

With expansion the body, paint and assembly operation were spread out and overhead conveyors were deemed too expensive.  Instead a custom vehicle that involved no manual handling was designed to transport these bodies between the various locations.  The first was named Fred, short for ‘Flipping Ridiculous Engineering Device’.  Fred’s companion Alfred stood for ‘Another Lousy Flipping Ridiculous Engineering Device’. [35]  

The Honda Ballade entered the South African market in October 1982, manufactured by CDA.  The Honda was seen as a better alternative to the small 190 MB which may have stolen sales from the more profitable W124 model.  In June 1984 Daimler-Benz AG increased its holdings from 36.7% to 50.1% of UCDD (with Volkskas at 26.5% and Göhner Foundation at 23.4%).  At the same time the UCDD name was retired following the formation ofMercedes-Benz of South Africa (Pty) Ltd.  CDA took this same title in 1986.  DBAG raised their holdings to 76.6% in 1992 by purchasing the Volkskas share. Morris Shenker’s replacement in March 1985 was Jürgen E. Schrempp, the future Chairman and CEO of DBAG.


Stanley Motors Limited began assembling Peugeots in September 1950 at the Natalspruit plant near Alberton, Transvaal.  In addition the Peugeot 403 was also assembled by Atkinson-Oates at their Elsies River plant beginning in 1956.  The Natalspruit plant began manufacture of the 404 engine in November 1964.  In June 1967 Datsun Nissan announced that they would be pressing body panels for Peugeot and Renault.  Based on a January 20, 1969 announcement, Peugeot moved to Rosslyn Motor Assemblers but returned when Peugeot acquired from Chrysler South Africa the Stanley Motors plant previously renamed National Motor Assemblies Ltd on November 1, 1969. [36]    Previously, the Rootes Group gained the plant in 1964 and in turn it was inherited by Chrysler following its takeover of Rootes.    

Renault also moved from Rosslyn Motor Assemblers in 1970 with Renault sharing in the Peugeot acquisition of the National Motors Assemblies plant.  But Renault left in 1972 and its interest was bought out by Peugeot.  The Peugeots entered for local manufacture (Phase III) were the 404 and 504 with the small 304 classified as assembled.  Peugeot engines were built first by Turin Motors from 1970 and then by Alrode out of Germiston. [37]  In 1974 Peugeot Automobiles Africa (Pty) Ltd merged with National Motor Assemblies Ltd to create Peugeot Automobiles South Africa Limited.  At the time South Africa was the second largest Peugeot market outside of Europe, accounting for 5% of exports. [38]  

Effective January 1, 1979 Peugeot Automobiles Africa Limited was absorbed by the Anglo-American subsidiary Sigma, moving manufacture to Sigma Park.  This resulted in the closure of the Natalspruit operation, one of the oldest independent South African assembly plants.  The venerable Peugeot 404 sedan was also a casualty but not its pickup equivalent which was moved to the Blackheath plant operated by Leyland, lasting through to 1981.  Effectively replacing the venerable 404 was the locally manufactured 305 from September 1978 lasting until May 1985.  The local content rules specified that manufacturers could not add models to the programme, only replace existing models that were classified as manufactured.  The 505, released in December 1980, was added as a manufactured model by taking over the Citroën GS slot in the Sigma lineup.  Peugeot somehow got excluded from the Samcor merger involving Sigma/Amcar with Ford, prompting the announced departure of the French make late 1985, effective 1986.


Renault was initially assembled from July 1950 by Car Distributors Assembly in East London where engine machining and assembly also began in early 1965 to comply with local content requirements. [39]  At the end of 1967, Renault moved assembly to Rosslyn Motors Assemblers in which it had acquired a 26% interest.  Rosslyn earlier in the year had agreed to press body panels for Renault. [40]  As of March 1968, the full Renault range, the 4, 8, 10 and 16 was classified for manufactured status. 

A third move to National Motor Assemblers took place in July 1970 in conjunction with Peugeot.  Renault’s engine manufacture was handled by Turin Motors of Johannesburg for the Renault 8 and 12.  The rear-engine 8 and 10 were replaced by the front-wheel-drive 12 in December 1970. 

In the closing months of 1971 Renault Africa handed the manufacture and assembly franchise over to the Lawson Motors Distributors (Pty), Ltd resulting in a move back to Rosslyn Motor Assemblers in late 1972.  In 1974 the Wesco Group that owned Toyota SA acquired a 40% interest in Renault Africa, with 15% allocated to Finansbank and 45% retained by Lawson.  However, Lawson folded in 1975 and the Renault 16 was only listed for sale until February 1975 with the Renault 12 already withdrawn in 1974.  Fortunately Dr.Wessels and his Wesco Holdings Group took an interest in the Renault 5, launching the car in October 1975 within the Toyota dealership network.

Renault chose to re-enter the South African market at of the beginning of 1983 taking over the marketing of the Renault 5 from Toyota.  The Renault 9 was introduced in July 1983 as a locally-manufactured model followed in April 1985 by the 11, a hatchback alternative.  These cars were built by Leyland at Elsies River, Cape Province.  Unfortunately, devaluation of the Rand currency, sales tax increases and interest rates above 25% prompted the withdrawal of Renault later in 1985.


Atkinson-Oates started assembling the Hillman Minx in 1949 at their Paarden Eiland plant, adding Humber and Commer in 1951.  This arrangement carried over to the Elsies River plant in 1956.  Before Chrysler began investing in the Rootes Group with a 30% share in 1964, they assembled Hillman, Sunbeam and Humber cars from their Elsies River plant which Chrysler had taken over in February 1959. [41]    

On April 11, 1959 Stanley Motors Ltd gained the franchise for the Rootes Group cars and took over assembly at their Natalspruit plant, close to Alberton.  Up to this point Atkinson-Oates retail divisions such as Rillstone Motors sold the Rootes Group cars. [42]    

To avert a hostile takeover attempt of Stanley Motors by a Dr. Heskel Khazam, the company approached the Rootes Group to acquire a 69% majority ownership of Stanley Motors which occurred in 1962.  Dr. Khazam ultimately gained the GM dealer group Williams Hunt.  Hillman began using Peugeot engines from early 1965. 

Following Chrysler’s full acquisition of Rootes in 1967, the Natalspruit assembly plant was sold to Peugeot in November 1969.  The Rootes models finished assembly at Stanley Motors in September 1969 (NAAMSA) moving to Chrysler’s Silverton plant, near Pretoria in 1970.  See also Chrysler above.


The Chrysler Corporation acquired 15% of Simca from Ford in 1958 and gained a majority stake of 64% in 1963 through purchasing stock held by Fiat.  When Stanley Motors gained the Rootes assembly contract from Chrysler in 1959, Simca assembly, previously done by Stanley Motors, was taken over by the Chrysler Elsies River plant.  Atkinson-Oates division Rillstone Motors became the Simca dealers at this time.  The Vedette V8 lasted until mid-1962 and the Aronde until January 1964.  The Simca 1000 ran from June 1963 and was last listed for sale in March 1970.

Standard Triumph

The Standard Vanguard started assembly at the East London CDA plant in 1950 but transferred to Motor Assemblies Ltd. (MA) in May 1952 lasting through to mid-1962.  The Standard 8 joined the MA assembly in December 1953 followed by the Ten early in 1955 until May 1958.  The Triumph Herald began assembly in November 1959 lasting through to November 1965 including sedan, coupe and convertible versions.  The Triumph TR2 entered assembly in October 1955 and was replaced by the TR3 in January 1957 which continued until October 1958.  There was a gap until the TR3A began in February 1961 lasting to February 1963.  The Spitfire ran from July 1963 to September 1967.  The Triumph 2000 began in January 1965 but ended in October 1969 when assembly moved from MA to the Leyland Blackheath plant.  See BMC/Leyland above for further details of the Triumph 2000/2500/Chicane.   


South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD) had started assembly operations with Studebaker with the first car leaving the line in 1948, before the operation was officially opened.  In 1950 the popular Austin A40 joined the assembly line.  What appeared to be a risky venture was adding Volkswagen on August 31, 1951, but its success was rapid leading to the Kombi replacing Austin in 1955 when the latter moved operations to Blackheath in the Western Cape. [43] 

In 1965 the SAMAD began pressing body panels for Mercedes-Benz and would add other outside customers as the years progressed including Volvo, Citroën and Peugeot.  Following the loss of Studebaker in 1965, after 24,900 units had been built, SAMAD changed their name to Volkswagen of South Africa in 1966.  Volkswagen A.G. had held a 63% equity since 1956. [44] 

Porsche 356 CKD kits were sent to South Africa from at least 1959 and assembled by the agents Lindsay Saker.  There was no production line; cars were simply built in one space.  Approximately 50 to 60 cars were built from six or seven CKD packs through to 1963.  One CKD pack sank in the Suez Canal.  At the later stages Stanley Motors took over the assembly.  Local content consisted of glass, batteries and upholstery.

The descendants of Audi started off as DKW and Auto Union, with these models assembled at East London by CDA from September 28, 1961 to 1965.  Although discussions took place CDA did not assemble Audi.  SAMAD began assembly of the Audi 90 in January 1968, while 1973 marked the manufacture of the Audi 100 as well as the Volvo 144 and 164.  Although VW did manufacture air-cooled engines, they already exceeded the 66% local content requirement by 1976 while importing all their water-cooled engines, including for Audi.  Local content was primarily gained through body pressings.  However, in April 1980 VW announced a 46-million Rand expansion for an engine plant which opened August 1981.

Four years after its European release the Golf finally reached South Africa in July 1978 and this first generation model would continue on for three decades as the CitiGolf.  The Golf joined the Passat and Audi 80 twins, plus the Audi 100/200 in local production.  South Africa finally said farewell to the Beetle on January 18, 1979 when the last of 290,916 Beetles left the production line.  Audi transitioned manufacture from the 100/200 series to the 500 series in December 1983 but became an import after 2001.


After importation began in 1957, the Motor Assemblies plant in Durban began assembly of the beetle-backed PV544 in 1961, followed by the 122, 144 and 164.  Volvo confirmed that both the 144 and 164 were entered for Phase III local content, becoming the first Volvo manufactured outside Sweden.  The last 122S produced in the world came from Motor Assemblies.  [45]  A transfer to the Volkswagen plant was announced in mid-1972 for implementation at the end of the year.  Previously body panels had been pressed by Rosslyn Motor Assemblers but their quality was not acceptable, hence the move to VW. 

Volvos were marketed through Lawson Motors Distributors (Pty) Ltd.  In mid-1970 Lawson Motors and Illings, who distributed Mazda, combined their sales and dealer force. [46]  With the failure of the Lawson Group in 1975, Illings attempted to secure the franchise with Volvo AB in Sweden but without success.  Accordingly, Volvo ceased manufacture in South Africa with price lists finally withdrawn in June 1977.


Japanese Brands


Leyland assembled the Daihatsu small pickup from 1968 to fill a much needed category in its product offering.  This arrangement concluded late in 1978 when the aborted Sigma deal was taking place.  Besides, Leyland had their Marina bakkie at this stage.

There appears to have been a Daihatsu South Africa (Pty) Ltd plant from at least 1969 but initially it only assembled a few Lancia cars.  This Daihatsu plant changed its name to Contract Motor Assemblies (1973) (Pty) Ltd in 1973 with either a Brakpan or Dunswart, Boksburg address but did not appear to have lasted past 1974. 

The three-cylinder Daihatsu Charade arrived in South Africa in late March 1983 at first imported but from October manufactured at the Alfa Romeo plant at Brits and sold through Alfa dealers.  But with the collapse of Alfa Romeo in late 1985, Daihatsu went down as well.


The October 7, 1936 issue of the Natal Mercury announced the impending arrival of the baby Datsun at Whittaker Motors on West Street in Durban.  This 722 cc four cylinder with three-speed gearbox model was copied from the Austin 7.  Plans included an arduous run to Johannesburg and back, which certainly would have been a tough test for such a small car.  Projected retail pricing was between £160 and  £170, undercutting the pricing of all cars offered on the South African market.

In 1959 M. C. P. “Thys” Becker and Col. Andries J. Becker, two brothers with strong contacts with the governing National Party, chose to revive an interest in the Japanese auto industry.  Without any automotive experience they ordered a test batch of one hundred 1.0-litre fully built vehicles from Datsun.  With their contacts in the government they were assured of import permits.  The first Datsun sedan and wagon were announced in November 1959 with leaf-spring solid axles front and back and an obvious copy of an Austin engine.  Based on the successful sales of their first batch of cars and pickups, the Beckers and Datsun became the first Japanese vehicle customer of Motor Assemblies in 1961. [47]   

The sales company was named Datsun Vehicle Distributors (Pty.) Ltd. and likely acquired Automakers SA Ltd as its parent in 1963 when the latter was formed.  The overall parent was Datsun-Nissan Investment Company Limited, registered on March 31, 1965, which traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange from June 10, 1965.   On March 6, 1968 Messina (Transvaal) Development Company Limited acquired 49.3% of the Datsun-Nissan Investment Company Limited, gaining effective control at a cost of R4,306,000 for 1,480,000 shares.   M.C. P Becker, Chairman and Joint Managing Director, and W. J. Ackerman, the other Joint Managing Director, disposed of 1,350,000 shares in the transaction.  Thereafter W. J. “Bill” Wilson became Managing Director. [48] 

When ground was broken in May 1964 the domestically owned Datsun organization became the first of several manufacturers to build a manufacturing plant at Rosslyn, north of Pretoria.  Preliminary test assembly runs began in October 1965 with regular Datsun production in place the following month.  The Datsun-Nissan Motor Vehicle Manufacturing and Assembly Plant was officially opened on April 4, 1966.  The Datsun Bluebird sedan, wagon and bakkie (light truck) derivative plus several Nissan trucks were assembled initially.  [49] 

Datsun-Nissan Co. (Pty.) Ltd was the entity responsible for manufacture, which included body pressing facilities under the name of Steelmobile.  The assembly operation separated from September 20, 1967 to become Rosslyn Motor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd, with Renault acquiring a 26% interest with the remaining 74% held by Datsun-Nissan Investment Company Limited.  In addition to Renault, Rosslyn Motor Assemblers concluded agreements by mid-1967 to produce Alfa Romeo and Rambler cars.  Furthermore, body pressings were provided for Renault, Peugeot, BMW and Volvo, but from Datsun-Nissan rather than Rosslyn Motor Assemblers.    

The Datsun name was used for the three ranges in the Phase II local content category, the 1200, 1600 and 2300/240/260.  To achieve these targets, machining of engines began in mid-1973 relying on casting from Ferrovorm of Nigel.  At the opening of a new stamping plant in August 1975, Datsun-Nissan announced that it would construct what it claimed was the first automotive foundry in South Africa, with a planned commencement of 1977 in nearby Brits.

From September 1982, Datsun introduced the new Skyline range that slotted between the Stanza and Laurel.  The small 1200 had evolved through the Y series into the Pulsar, the middle of the range consisted of the 1600/U/Stanza/Langley (from October 1983) with the top represented by the six-cylinder range (2300/240/260/300C/Laurel)

In 1982 marketing began under the Nissan brand.  Following the closure of Fiat production, Messina acquired the Fiat plant also in Rosslyn.  In addition Messina bought Magirus-Deutz of South Africa from the Iveco Group of Italy and created Magnis Trucks in mid-1981 operating out of the old Fiat plant along with Nissan heavy duty trucks.  Messina’s parent Sanlam Insurance reallocated ownership of Datsun-Nissan under its investment arm Sankorp, likely in 1984.

One failure for Nissan was their first front-wheel-drive car and first hatchback, the Pulsar.  To supplement its range, Nissan SA took on the assembly and distribution of the Fiat Uno in 1990.

In 1996 Nissan Motor Company Limited of Japan began investing in Automakers SA Ltd gaining a 50% interest.  In 2000 Nissan Japan took control through the purchase of the 37% stake held by Sankorp and subsequently increased ownership to 98.7%.  In 2001 the name was changed from Automakers to Nissan (South Africa).


The Honda Ballade was introduced on October 13, 1982 using the Mercedes-Benz dealer network as well as the CDA assembly plant in East London.  CDA also assembled a single Honda commercial vehicle as far back as 1966 but the negotiations that finally were successful began in 1977.  This arrangement with Mercedes-Benz lasted through to 2000.


Mazda was a latecomer to South Africa starting assembly of pickups in 1963 and cars in 1970.  Distributed through the Illings (Pty) Ltd, the first 1200 and 1300 cars were classified as assembled but the 1971 616 sedan conformed to Phase III manufacture through Motor Assemblers until at least late 1974.

As mentioned above Illings merged with Chrysler to form Sigma late in 1976.  The first new model under Sigma and its smallest offering was the rear-drive Mazda 323, introduced in July 1977. In April 1983 it was announced that Anglo American and its subsidiary Amic (Anglo American Industrial Corporation) would each hold a 50% interest in Sigma, having bought out the 25% held by Chrysler.  In spite of purchasing the Leyland Blackheath plant, as mentioned above, Sigma chose later not to occupy the plant and instead moved their commercial production to their Markman Industrial plant in Port Elizabeth in mid-1983.

Mazda added the 626 to their lineup in October 1983.  In mid-1985, Amcar Motor Holdings, previously known as Sigma, joined forces with Ford to create Samcor.  Ford continued to sell under the Ford corporate banner but the Amcar name was changed to MMI to reflect Mazda and Mitsubishi.


The Mitsubishi Colt was announced mid-December 1967 relying on Kaiser Jeep for assembly which later became Praetor Assemblers (Pty) Ltd.  From early 1970, the assembly of the small Colt 1100 was taken over by Chrysler.  The Colt was retired at the end on 1984. [50]   

One Sigma entry that came and went quickly was the Mitsubishi Tredia which was announced in July 1983 but was on its way out late in 1985.  Sigma became Amcar which in turn became MMI in 1985 as described above under Mazda.


Dr. Albert Wessels was encouraged by government contacts to examine Toyota on a Japanese textile buying trip in November 1960.  He finally gained the Toyota franchise once he was able to secure an import permit for ten Toyota Stout 1.5-ton trucks, the first of which arrived early in 1962 but only with a 1.5-litre engine.  In the late 1950s Dr. Wessels had obtained the Dyna-Panhard franchise but the French company was not adept at the export market.

Assembly of the Stout truck began in 1962 at the Motor Assemblies operation at Jacobs just outside Durban, Natal.  The engine capacity was increased to 1.9-litres.  Datsun cars and pickups were already being assembled at Motor Assemblies with Mazda to follow.   

During 1964 both Fiat and the Becker brothers (franchise holders of Datsun) attempted to acquire Motor Assemblies from its founders, the McCarthy Rodway Group.  However, Dr. Wessels, stepped in and clinched the deal and took control of Motor Assemblies on December 31, 1964.  Dr. Wessels formed Toyota South Africa Ltd in 1963 to replace Toyopet Commercials (Pty) Ltd which had been founded on May 26, 1961.  In 1979 Toyota SA gained full ownership of Motor Assemblies when they purchased the final 15% owned by McCarthy Rodway.

The Corona nametag, which was the first Toyota car dating back to June 1966 was finally retired in September 1980.  From inception, the Corona was classified as a manufactured model, the first Japanese car to do so, relying on Turin Motors to machine the early castings from Japan.  The Mark II began in 1969.  Until the April 1975 arrival of the Corolla, Toyota had depended solely on the Corona and Corona Mark II.  In November 1977 the Cressida replaced the Corona Mark II providing Toyota SA its largest car to date.

Dr. Wessel’s holding company Wesco Investments acquired a 40% interest in Renault SA in 1973 and at that time also had a 60% interest in AMC SA.  Wesco became distributors in 1968 of the Rambler or Hornet as it had become known.

In addition to the original Motor Assemblies plant at Jacobs, Toyota opened another plant nearby at Prospecton in May 1971.  Toyota began engine production for the Toyota 1600 and Renault 5 in 1975 and used Gearings Foundry, a subsidiary of Ferroform, for their cylinder block castings.  Mazda was also built by Motor Assemblies in late 1974.  Motor Assemblies was renamed Toyota SA Manufacturing in 1981.

Toyota gained market leadership in 1980.  The Lexus LS400 arrived in 1993 as a fully built import.  In October 1996 Toyota Japan acquired 27.8% of Toyota South Africa increasing to 74.9% in 2002, with previous owners Wesco Investments retaining the other 25.1%.  Toyota Japan became sole owner of Toyota SA on August 5, 2008.


The local content program did have the effect of pushing car prices up faster than an already high inflation rate.  It also eventually flushed out several manufacturers and reduced the range of cars available, which created a healthier environment for the surviving makes.

Three German manufacturers, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, stayed in the same plants since inception (except for the first two years for BMW) as well as Toyota, but none were the initial plant clients.  Except for their first three years, GM has been in the same location and easily beats all other manufacturers for its length of residency on one site.  The French makes certainly hopped around and had the most dance partners, even returning to past companions.  Every manufacturing operation has had multiple ownerships, frequently alternating between domestic or foreign parents.  The vision of the founders of Toyota and Datsun-Nissan in South Africa is notable because they committed to plants before the sale of their cars were established, based solely on light pick-up success.  In both cases these founders had no background in the automotive industry.

The Phase VI which replaced weight for value as the determinant for local content is not covered in this article.  In reality it was a transition to the subsequent Motor Industry Development Program (MIDP) of 1995 that better addressed the needs of consumers and industry through encouraging exports to minimize net foreign currency outflow.  With plentiful platinum resources in South Africa, catalytic converters became a popular export credit generator for many manufacturers allowing the importation of fully built vehicles at reduced tariffs.  Local content was still encouraged by allowing 27% of components to enter duty-free based on the wholesale value of a vehicle.

To an extent those manufacturers who had invested heavily into local content had to compete on the “open market” against less expensive imports.  All the makes that had been forced out by the local content requirements were back again by the end of the century as well as many new entrants, resulting in a wide range that likely will not be adequately supported in after sales service and parts.  As usual the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

Contributions from the following gratefully acknowledged

David Atkinson – Atkinson-Oates
Paul Clark – GM & Datsun-Nissan
Mike Compton – Motor Assemblies & Toyota
Peter du Toit – Stanley Motors
Tim Gallwey – Motor Assemblies & Toyota
Roger Houghton – Chrysler
Arthur Jones – Chrysler
Mike Longley – Stanley Motors
Ryno Verster – BMC and his vast digital library
Rob Young – Stanley Motors


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