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The Cape 1000 is Africa’s answer to the Mille Miglia

This article appeared in the U.K travel site Detour on 31st March 2022 –

Inspired by Italy’s most epic rally, the Cape 1000 is four days of petrolhead perfection in beautiful wine country.

At the foot of the iconic flat-top Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, a group of excited, mainly male, sports and vintage car enthusiasts from all over South Africa gather at the V&A Waterfront Hotel.  The expansive dockside development is the scene for the inauguration of the Cape 1000, a first-of-its-kind vintage car rally inspired by Italy’s Mille Miglia, voyaging deep into Cape Town’s scenic hinterland.

There are marked differences that sets this incarnation of the event apart and give it a life of its own.  For starters, classic cars all the way through to modern-day supercars are permitted, unlike the stricter guidelines in Italy that only allow Mille Miglia-specific vehicles.  The regulatory stages, periods where speed limits are strictly adhered, also constitute less a part of the Cape 1000, very much in line with the continent’s free-spirited ethos. 

This is something that suits the three Lamborghini entrants in particular.  “We’re here to have fun but definitely here to also beat the Ferraris!” jokes Grant Mason, President of the Lamborghini Club.  The camaraderie amongst their numbers stands out.  

While the route does travel well-known destinations on the tourist trail, such as Chapmans Peak, Franschhoek and the Garden Route, its passage through lesser-known regions of the Western Cape’s Winelands that make the Cape 1000 truly worthwhile.  Scenery dominated by vineyards, fruit trees and wheat fields, spread over gently, contoured landscapes and set against the dramatic backdrop of distant mountain scapes all around, made all the more eye-catching by ominous cloud formations threatening autumnal rain.

Just past the town of Robertson on the second day, very much the regional epicentre of winemaking, the first old Dutch colonial farmhouses appear.  Whitewashed buildings often with large green, barn-like front doors, large paned windows, corrugated green rooves and a distinctive porch, or “stoop” as it is known locally, that is their signature look. 

But for all the old-fashioned character, the second day is also remarkable for its stunning natural landscapes.  On the approach to Montagu, a small town where colonial buildings line the main road and where old women knit together on stoops as they have done for centuries, the rally finally reaches the mountains that had seemed forever unreachable.  Traversing the Tradouw Pass through the Langeberg Range, some of the most stunning mountainous views in the Western Cape are up for grabs.  The 16km drive meanders along while vertiginous mountain sides rise up on either side.  Diagonal striations of ancient rock travel up in agonised contortions touching the saturated blue of the sky. 

The road passes through a small hole where the mountain’s encroachment becomes complete.  Here, the wind is funnelled through in a tortured howl, broken up by the thunderous rumble of the Lamborghini engines out in front.  Not to be outdone, the day ends with a climb and descent over Tradouw’s better-known cousin, the Franschhoek Pass, and ends at the Motor Museum.   

The third day sees the route make a sharp turn southwest back into Cape Town and the Killarney Race Track.  In a nod to the Mille Miglia that graces the Autodrom Nazionale di Monza, one of the oldest circuits in F1, the Cape 1000 makes its own pilgrimage to the course in the industrial heartland of Cape Town.  Only 25 years younger, Killarney first saw action way back in 1947.  Here, the cars venture out for a few laps around the tiny circuit, banded together in small troops according to class.  It is the buzz of the large township outside the race track though, known as Du Noon, that makes this leg slightly surreal and ever so South African, where different worlds often sit so close to each other. 

Venturing back out of Cape Town to Tulbagh along the R44 and more of the same farmland landscape, this juxtaposition of differing realities really takes on a life of its own.  Travelling between roads lined with whitewashed buildings with quaint gardens and perfect stoops and the township on the outskirts of Tulbagh as part of a few gymkhanas thrown in to the rally to test drivers and navigators alike,  people stand waving and cheering in the townships.  A chorus of “Hello! Hello!” goes up as each car passes and each car’s occupants duly return the gesture.

From here, the afternoon sees the road venture back along a mountain pass.  A family of baboons sits in the road picking at unseen treats not giving the stream of vehicles a second thought. As the pass gives way to flatlands again the clouds that had threatened rain throughout finally make good on their promise. 

For the older vintage cars though, many with the common problem of overheating, the downpour is a blessing in disguise.  Greg Marucchi who owns a limited edition Ferrari 2001 V12 550 Kereta but chose instead to hire a 1957 Austin Healy 106 in the true spirit of the event, suffers such a fate.  “We overheated fortunately after the Tradouw Pass yesterday.  The car actually completely expired,” he recounts,  “But then coming here in the rain, the car’s running well again.  It’s running better than the driver right now who is wet and bothered!” he quips. Asked if he would have preferred his Ferrari, he shoots back, “Nah, I love this.  I could do this all day long.”

The wind farms and pylons that have appeared forever distant like the mountains further on are suddenly looming large on either side of the road.  The route passes Porterville, a non-descript farmer’s town and eventually makes its way to St Helena Bay, a coastal town resort north of Cape Town.  As the parade of vehicles approaches Cape Town on the last day, the mist that had settled low suddenly clears as Table Mountain looms large once again on the final stretch in.  Back in Cape Town for one final night of reflection, prizes, and celebration back at the V&A where it all began.

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