1968 Pontiac GTO

Jerome’s Al Goaté

 Photos and words by Gero Lilleike

Pontiac GTO

The 1960’s in the United States was undoubtedly marked with a distinct counter culture and brazen rebellion particularly amongst the youth in America. However, the 1960’s was also the decade of the muscle car, a direct result of the tumultuous culture of the time. The muscle car in many ways embodied the rebellious spirit of the 60’s that forever entrenched and solidified the muscle car within American culture. Born from the relentless desire for speed and power, the muscle car culture lives on in the present day, not only in America but across the globe.    

Some 30 years ago, Tyrone Tozer, a young man living in the United States discovered his passionate love for muscle cars. Many years later in South Africa, Tyrone passed his passion on to his son, Jerome, who has embraced the thrill and beauty of building and driving his dream machine.

Pontiac GTO Rear End

It was through his Dad that Jerome developed his passion for muscle cars. They shared the pleasure of re-building a 1971 Firebird and discovered the thrill of creating a unique street machine. 4 years ago, Jerome received a phone call from his Dad who had found a 1968 Pontiac GTO body for sale outside a sweet factory in Johannesburg.

The Pontiac GTO, also commonly known as ‘The Goat’, is revered by many as the most influential muscle car of the 60’s, not only because it set the trend at the time but also because it’s beastly sleek design was simply unparalleled.  Tyrone asked Jerome if they should buy it. Of course Jerome said yes. It turned out that Jerome had a remarkable project on his hands.  

Jerome’s passion for building muscle cars grew from watching the TV program Overhaulin and decided he wanted to build his 1968 Pontiac GTO into a Chip Foose custom street machine, instead of merely trying to achieve the common classic look. Jerome completed many drawings depicting various design options at his disposal. For Jerome this was an integral part of the conceptualising and creative process.

The project lasted over a period of 4 years and although the car has come a long way since Jerome started his work,  Jerome admits that work still needs to be done to the car and is still in many ways a work in progress. “It’s not finished, it’s driving on the road, but it’s not completed to the point that I want it to be” says Jerome. Jerome plans on spending more time and money on tweaking the paint job as well as completing the interior.

The car was built with the help of a family friend by the name of Patrick, ‘The Mechanic’. “This guy’s insane. He actually built the whole car. He’s got amazing knowledge. He built the motor up from scratch, he re-did everything, the petrol lines, electronics, the interior, everything” explains Jerome.

When Jerome acquired the body, he sent it to a panel beating shop where the body was worked on for more than a year. Plenty of time and effort went into the body, from sanding to sourcing new parts and panels. Some of the parts were sourced locally in scrap yards and other parts had to be imported from the United States. For Jerome, sourcing parts for his Pontiac GTO was part of the fun of building his own muscle car. All the parts on the car are either brand new or reconditioned. The 6.5 litre V8 engine was rebuilt from scratch. “This car has a certain look and although it’s got a classic feel, I wanted to add a custom street machine twist, which I think I’ve achieved. I love the sound of the car and the fact that it’s completely unique, there is no other car like it” says Jerome.

Pontiac GTO "The Goat"

Passion for muscle cars alone is not always enough when building the car of your dreams, “its also about determination, I’ll tell you that much, because starting one of these projects and finishing one is another thing, many people give up half way, and I’ll be honest, I wanted to give up a few times” laughs Jerome. 

Street custom culture is big in the United States and is steadily growing in popularity in South Africa. For Jerome, it’s not just about the cars but rather the people and the culture surrounding muscle cars. “There is a crew of like minded people, sharing their passion for muscle cars and a significant camaraderie exists amongst muscle car owners and that’s what it’s about” says Jerome.

Jerome’s future in building muscle cars is far from over and he has some exciting new challenges lying before him. “I don’t think it will be the last [laughing] let me put it to you that way, there are a few muscle cars that I would still love to build, like the 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda or a 1967 Mustang, if I could ever find one [laughing].”

Jerome’s 1968 Pontiac GTO Al Goaté is hot for a reason. Its performance on the road is, well, brutal, to put it simply.

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South Africa I Still Love You

South Africa, I still Love You

Written by Gero Lilleike

People fascinate me. I go watch a movie at a friend’s house and I’m not there for even five minutes and some junky is outside in the street trying to break into my car. There is no radio in my car, nothing, because it was stolen a few weeks ago, ok.  “Sorry, the other guys got here before you my brother” is what I thought to myself.

The gear lock was on as was the steering lock and the anti-hijack would have kicked in anyway. This thief was going nowhere quickly, thankfully. The street guard managed to chase the thieves away and they disappeared into the Jozi night, as they always do. The bright chaps managed to unlock my door but broke the lock so I couldn’t lock my car.

I then thought. Well, I guess I have to get that fixed pretty soon.  It’s that, or I could make my car a home for homeless people instead. The next morning I shoot off to my trusty mechanic and he sorts it out no problem. I pay him, done.

As I step out the office I notice that my car has been washed. I only realised a second later that an elderly Madala was standing not too far away. I greet him and ask him if he washed my car. He responds, “Yes sir, I wash your car.” I thanked him and gave him a note for his kindness. He took his hat off in delight and bowed to the side and then said “thank you sir, wherever you get this money, I hope you get more”.  I replied and said “I hope the same for you my brother”.  South Africa, I still love you.

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Published in the Saturday Star on 2 June 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

We snuck away from Johannesburg under the cover of night. Our destination was a small town on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, where we were to rendezvous with the ocean and the waves that had beckoned us for so long. We were desperate…

The drive to Durban was short and painless. We pushed south to Scottburgh and then to Kelso, where we settled for a much needed rest.

The onshore wind was strong, leaving the ocean puckered with waves breaking unevenly all along the coast. We drifted into a relaxing sleep, with the breeze soothing our dreams.

The afternoon faded and so too did the wind, a clue of what was to come.

A train passed with empty carriages and the driver blew his horn, sending Vervet monkeys scurrying into the surrounding bush before disappearing into the distance. There are 10 of us and we all live and work in Johannesburg. We are all different but have one thing in common – our love for the ocean. We spend most of our time talking about surfing and the waves that provide us with so much pleasure.

We are simply by consumed by it, taking every opportunity to pack our bags and head off to the coast to do what we love, to do what makes us happy. For us it’s the ‘Great Escape’, an adventure unlike any other. Although we’re from Johannesburg, A land-locked city in the middle of nowhere, we surf, or at least try to. Our time has finally come.

The rising sun pierces through our cabin, waking us to a beautiful day. John screams “Hey, get up”. He taunts us from our slumber. It’s 7 am. There’s no wind. The air is fresh. The waves have arrived.

Standing on our porch with toast and coffee in hand, we ogle the waves wrapping around the point. Our camp is chaos as we prepare our equipment and make our way to the beach where fishermen line the shore in hope of a bite.

The sea is clear and warm. We paddle out and with much pain reach the waves that we’ve dreamt of for so long. We peer through the water and see fish swimming beneath us.

The bottom is rocky. Not too long ago, the coast of KwaZulu Natal was pounded by the biggest swells recorded in 23 years. Apart from doing massive damage to seaside properties along the coast, the massive swells also washed away many of the sandbanks, exposing rocks. It’s really scary looking down and seeing rocks , especially when you plan on riding a wave over them. There are about seven to ten waves in a set, with the last being the biggest and breaking a little further out to sea.

This is the wave you want to catch, and it’s called ‘the outside’. Fear strikes when this wave arrives. Just as we are talking about the rocks and the damage they could inflict, a sizeable wave pitches on the horizon.

I yell “outside” and panic sets in. Everyone scratches the water to get over it. The beast approaches and I just make it. I look down at those who are too late and shout “goodbye”. The wave crashes down, spraying shards of water into the air.

I chuckle to myself. Some make it, some don’t. Who cares? It’s all part of the fun.

As the morning progresses, more surfers flock to the break for a piece of the action. One of them fascinates me. He’s a grey-haired man in his mid-seventies carrying a longboard. He paddles into the sea greeting everyone on his way.

He is fit and before long everyone witnesses him yodelling into some of the best waves of the day. We all smile, knowing that hopefully we will be doing the same when we are his age.

After a few hours in the water, hunger sets it and we are forced to retreat to our cabin for lunch. There’s not a moment of silence as we tell stories of our experiences in the waves.

Our faces are beaming, rejuvenated by the energy of the sea. We’re happy. Everyday should be like this. The sea is a strange thing; it toys with your emotions, your fears, but when you embrace these emotions, the sea can truly liberate your soul. When you come from a fast-paced environment such as Joburg, there is simply nothing better than lying in the ocean and thinking about nothing.

It’s therapeutic and it’s not surprising that so many people choose the sea as their favourite holiday destination. It’s a great place to unwind. And so the days went by, in and out of the sea, surfing, eating and sleeping.

If life were that simple, we would never leave. In the distance of our minds, Joburg was calling, pulling us back to reality. We have jobs and we need to make money, but I know we will escape again.

We stayed in Kelso, south of Scottburgh, in a camp called Vulamanzi, the “place of open water”. For more details go to http://www.wheretostay.co.za/vulamanzi

In the Jump Zone

In the Jump Zone

Published in the Saturday Star on March 15 2008

Written by Gero Lilleike

I’m afraid of heights, I admit it and am not ashamed of the fact. But there comes a time in one’s life where fear needs to be put aside if pleasure is to prosper.  Jumping off a bridge may seem ridiculous to most of us and that’s what I thought until it happened to me. What the hell just do it, is what I kept telling myself, over and over again, but it would never be that easy and even I should have known that.

The Bloukrans Bridge is situated on the Garden Route at the Tsitsikamma Forest Village Market 40km from Plettenberg Bay along the N2 highway and is the highest single span arch bridge in the world.  Spanning an incredible 216m above the Bloukrans river, the Bloukrans Bridge is a spectacle to behold.  Construction of the bridge was completed in 1984 with the Bloukrans River forming the border between the Eastern Cape Province and the Western Cape Province.

The Bloukrans Bridge is not just a roadway, it’s a landmark, a place to visit and if you’re up to it, it’s a place that can change your life forever.  The Bloukrans Bungee Jump is considered the world’s highest commercial bungee jump and at 216m – it’s no joke.  Face Adrenalin has been operating the Bloukrans Bungee Jump since 1997 and have maintained a 100% safety record since.  Even so, nothing can prepare you for that moment you step off the edge.

It was the perfect morning.  The fresh pungent smell of fynbos hung heavy in the air with not a cloud in the sky.  It was 7am and the heat was already unbearable. Standing and staring at the mammoth gorge before me was really amazing but the thought of falling into it left a lump in my throat.  Before long it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I knew why I was there and there was no turning back. Doubt seeped into every corner of my mind but eventually I forced myself to part with R590 for an experience I would never forget, ever.

The friendly personnel took my weight reading and I was immediately directed to the harnessing area, where I was fitted with my very own safety harness, my lifeline from the very hard rocks strewn at the bottom of the gorge. Then, the waiting game began.

The jump

Getting to the jump zone at the centre of the bridge is a frightening experience and there are two ways of getting there. The Bridge Walk is a steel, caged walkway attached to the side of the bridge and offers easy access to the jump zone.  If you are brave and have R100 to spare, a 200m long cable slide called the Flying Fox will get you to the jump zone in no time. Once on the bridge, the shear size of the Bloukrans gorge becomes all too real. The vibe on the bridge is energetic with dance music blaring into the gorge, calming shot nerves and preparing the jumpers for that moment of truth.

The bungee personnel also referred to as ‘The Crew’ always ensure that the bungee cord is safe for jumping purposes.  Jumpers are ordered according to weight and then the thrilling fun begins. Just watching ‘The Crew’ operate made me nervous.  Images of snapping bungee cords flashed through my mind on a regular basis.  I felt ill to the stomach, which by that stage had shrunk to the size of a golf ball.

The Bloukrans Bungee makes use of pendulum bungee technology ensuring that the jumper experiences the smoothest and most comfortable bungee jump possible. Jumpers are required to jump outwards as far as possible to maximise this pendulum technology. In my world things don’t work that way.  I heard a crew member call my name. The time had come. ‘The Crew’ rigged me up, with the bungee cord attached to my ankles and my harness clamped on.  I was struggling to breathe. Adrenalin surged through my veins, making my fingers tingle.

The crew helped me to the edge with my toes dangling off the end.  “Look down,” they said.  Far below, I could see the river making its way to the sea, and all the hard rocks were there too.  I was pale in shock. “Smile for your friends at the camera,” said the crewman to my right.  I obliged. Then suddenly, five, four, three, two, one, bungee.  At that moment nothing went through my mind, my knees went weak.  Unable to jump, I literally fell off the side of the bridge, plummeting to the earth with incredible pace not realising where I was. It wasn’t long before I came around and started howling as loud as I could.  A feeling of weightlessness overcame me.  My attention quickly shifted to my ankles.  My feet felt like they were slipping through the ankle padding and panic set in.  I clenched my toes outwards in distress.  There I was, dangling hopelessly in the Bloukrans gorge only to be rescued by a crew member and hoisted to the relative safety of the bridge.  I was overjoyed.

I had conquered the Bloukrans Bridge but more importantly I had conquered my worst fear and it felt out of this world.  A word of advice though, jump, don’t fall. For more information on Face Adrenalin, visit their website on www.faceadrenalin.com.

Thai Backpacking

Thai Backpacking – It’s a great way to see the whole country

Published in the Saturday Star on 17 March 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

I stand over a drain in the vicinity of Khao San Rd, with a rotting stench rising to meet my nostrils. I feel bilious. Everything about this place overwhelms my senses. The sidewalks are lined with mobile food stalls, vendors cooking endlessly, coaxing everypasser-by into buying food.

Every tuk-tuk driver offers a ride, I respond with Mai, Khop Krun Krap, meaning “no, thanks”. They smile and drive off, instantly melting into the chaos of the street. When the sun sets over Khao San, roadside markets dominate, luring every character onto the street only to indulge in shopping, eating, drinking and sex. This is Bangkok. As a first time traveller to Thailand, I didn’t know what to expect. I only had R8000 that had to see me through a month.

I had no choice but to surrender to an average budget of R260 a day, which had to pay for basic necessities such as accommodation, food and of course shopping. For most people this would seem impossible, but I was soon to realise that my Rands would get me a whole lot more than I bargained for.

Thailand caters exceptionally well for the large influx of foreigners it receives on a daily basis, so accommodation is easy to find. The area around Khao San Rd is known worldwide by backpackers, offering the lowest accommodation rates in Bangkok and is certainly the place to be in terms of entertainment and nightlife. You can expect to pay R100 for a double bedroom, adjoining bathroom and air conditioning. If you can live with a fan and communal bathroom, expect to pay R80 per night, for two people.

Obviously if backpacking isn’t your style, simply find your way to the hotel district in central Bangkok – at a price of course.

When hunger consumes you, there is no need to go far for a feast. Thai cuisine is considered to be of the best in the world, using a large variety of fresh vegetables, meats, noodles, rice, herbs and spices, leaving no room for disappointment. There are restaurants wherever you go in Thailand with popular mobile food stalls being the cheapest in Bangkok.

Meals can be bought for prices as low as R5 – unbelievable, but true. If you consider yourself brave then feel free to snack on some really tasty local delicacies such as spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers and maggots. You might need some water to wash that down, but remember that tap water in Thailand is not drinkable so bottled drinking water has to be on your daily shopping list.

Bangkok has much to offer the tired, stressed traveller. The full body Thai massage is a must. For only R35, you can receive an hour long rub down that will ease you into the vibe and leave you totally relaxed.

Bangkok is also famous for its shopping, so if your budget is in the green then go wild. Merchandise stalls are permanent features in the streets, selling anything and everything imaginable.  Markets are a way of life, with the biggest being at the weekend and also know as the Chatuchak Market, with more than 15 000 stalls and catering for about 250 000 people a day, this market will simply blow you away. Vendors love bargaining, so don’t feel shy to name your price – you will be amazed at the result.

Bangkok is undoubtedly one of the most exciting cities to visit in the world, but does require a certain level of tolerance. The intense bustle of Bangkok has the ability to bring anyone to their knees, but being sun loving South Africans, we decided to move on and go in search of the much acclaimed islands of Southern Thailand.

If diving is your favourite pastime then the island of Ko Tao is the place you want to be, but getting there is a mission. A 10-hour overnight bus trip took us 800km south of Bangkok, to a town called Chumpon where we boarded a leaking ferry for four hours before arriving on Ko Tao.

The whole journey set us back about R250, which is amazing considering the distance we travelled. Long tail boats or taxi boats offer daily snorkelling trips around Ko Tao, with lunch and fresh fruit served on board.

These particular boat trips are a pleasant way to experience the surrounding reefs, but also to get a good idea of the overall size and beauty of the island., and for only R100, what more can you ask for.

If you are lucky, you can find yourself in the presence of a black tip reef shark. Apparently they don’t bite humans. After the 2004 tsunami, places such as Tonsai Bay were left with long tail boats washed ashore which are now home to new coffee bars and restaurants.

Massive limestone cliffs rise from the sea, creating a world class playground for rock climbers. Located some 40 km west of Tonsai Bay lies the island of Ko Phi Phi which forms part of two islands, namely Ko Phi Phi Leh and Ko Phi Phi Don. Ko Phi Phi Don was one of the islands worst hit by the tsunami, with estimates of more than 10 000 people missing or dead. Effects from the tsunami are visible, with the construction of new buildings still underway.

Despite the tsunami, Ko Phi Phi remains a popular tourist destination, with the warm spirit of the island remaining untouched.

A snorkelling trip around the islands will take you to ancient caves and popular beaches such as Monkey Beach. Ko Phi Phi Leh is uninhabited , with cliffs enveloping deserted beaches. Maya Bay, on the northern end of Ko Phi Phi Leh is home to a beach called Noppharat Thara that became famous with the filming of the movie The Beach taking place there in 1999.

Accommodation on Ko Phi Phi Don was more expensive than we expected, about R160 a night, but considering that Ko Phi Phi Don was overrun by the tsunami – the rates increase is justified.

We covered 3000km and witnessed the awesome scenery the islands had to offer, but just as you commit your soul to Thailand and all the good things that linger there, the realisation of returning home creeps in and slaps you in the face. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and our time in Southern Thailand was wearing thin, so a flight from Phuket got us back to Bangkok – just two days before our flight back home to South Africa.

The creativity and love for life displayed by the Thai people will both surprise an impress you. Thailand is so vastly different from South Africa in all aspects, making it a perfect holiday destination.

No amount of words or photographs can grasp Thailand entirely, but one thing remains, as South Africans we are all well aware of the fact that our money doesn’t buy a hell of a lot.

In Thailand, our seemingly worthless Rands made us feel like kings. So save some money, take a deep breath, and plunge into paradise, it really is heaven on earth.