1973 Chevrolet C20 4×4
It may be a relic from the days when bell-bottoms were the in thing, but Pierre Strauss from Sasolburg isn’t planning to trade in his sprightly Chev C20 for something younger.
What type of vehicle is it?
It is a 1973 or ’74 Chevrolet C20 4×4.
What is the odometer reading?
The odometer only goes to 99 999, but because it was a government vehicle, it has probably turned over a couple of times.
How did you find the Chev?
My wife and I started camping in 1963 – with an old rented army tent. Even though it was primitive we liked it, and we are still camping. At the time we were living in Namibia, which is where we bought our first caravan. Although it was much better than the old tent, I didn’t like the towing one bit, and the roads were all dirt.
In 1973 I wanted to buy another towing vehicle and decided on a Land Cruiser (they had only been on the market a couple of months).
We went on holiday with the caravan afterwards and then sometimes left the caravan at a police station and drove further with just the Cruiser. This way we crisscrossed the whole of Namibia, sometimes sleeping at the roadside.
When the kids had to go to high school, we returned to the Republic and I sold the Cruiser and caravan here.
After a time here I bought a caravan again, but even though the roads were tarred, I still didn’t feel like towing. In 1990 I decided to look for a 4×4, but they were expensive and the load bays were small.
That is when I decided to look for an old Ford F250 or a Chev C20 (the Chev’s load bay is 1.6 m wide x 2.6 m long).
After seeing an ad for a Chev in Magaliesburg one day, I went to view it: it was standing in a mealie field − rusty, but complete and without any major dents and dings. The owner had bought it in 1986 at an auction of old government vehicles.
The asking price was R7 000, which was a bit too high, but these vehicles were rare and some were missing parts. Moreover, the bakkie had two 90-litre petrol tanks with a solenoid regulating switching over between the two – it is still working.
And so it came that the Chev arrived here at my home on 14 October 1990. I towed it all the way from Magaliesburg – it was no joke.
And then the real work probably started in all earnest?
It took two years and two months to rebuild it, and on 14 December 1992 he passed his first roadworthy at the first try.
I stripped it until only the chassis remained, and thereafter started cleaning, fixing and assembling everything.
I replaced the broken rear automatic diff lock with a normal diff. The front free-running hubs I also had to replace with new ones.
I completely overhauled the 4.8-litre straight six engine, the Chev’s original one. The rings fell out in pieces like confetti when I removed the pistons. For the oil pressure I fitted a mechanical and electrical pressure gauge.
After about 20 000 km I fitted a Weber 38 carburettor and a Donaldson air filter. The original carburettor was too worn-out to be fixed. The gearbox and transfer case only needed new bearings and seals.
On the back I fitted a fibreglass canopy with a roof rack, the legs of which were bolted to the inside of the steel load bay. Inside the canopy was a double bed (on which we slept soundly), with packing space underneath, as well as a 120-litre water tank.
At the door was a small freezer that didn’t work very well, but well enough to at least keep the beer cold.
How much did everything cost?
R51 000, including the purchase price, repairs and all equipment. It was the same price as a Japanese bakkie with only bare basics on the shop floor.
What about the camper on the back?
Packing in and out bugged my wife too much after a while, and she started looking for something better. She saw an ad for Peet Botha’s Bakkie Toertuig (travel vehicle) and we went to have a look. She liked it a lot and in 2004 Peet built one for the Chev.
Now everything is in cupboards inside and within easy reach, and there is a lot of packing space under the sleeping bunks. All we take out now are two tables, two chairs and a stand for drying washing and then we’re all set.
We’ve used the two-plate gas stove inside each time because of bad weather. There are also two 75-watt solar panels on the roof for a 85-litre freezer powered by a 105-amp battery.
The battery can also be charged from the vehicle’s alternator. I also built in a 1 000-watt converter in case I need 220V.
How many owners has it had?
Only two, the goverment and the seller.
Does it have a nickname?
Where have you been in it?
The Makgadigadi Pans, Moremi, Chobe, Mabuasehube (all in Botswana); twice to Mana Pools, round Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls, and Mata¬sudona Park on the banks of Lake Kariba (all in Zim¬babwe); the Kruger Park and four times in the Kgalagadi.
Your dream destination?
South Luangwa Park in Zambia
Any accidents or breakdowns?
None, and I hope it stays that way!
Repairs up to now?
Only regular services and a stainless steel exhaust
I made space for a second battery for the engine and fitted a Donaldson air filter. The rest of the bakkie is exactly the same as it came out of the factory.
What do you like about it?
The spacious cabin, and you can get into the engine bay and work on the engine.
And what not?
Its thirst for fuel. The fuel consumption is probably not very good − the best I got was 5.5 km/litre − which, on the other hand, is probably not too bad for an old, large, comfortable vehicle.
If you could change something?
I would have power steering fitted.
Your best memories of the vehicle?
On the way to Mabuasehube we helped a French family who were stuck in very thick sand at a dune.
We could only get their vehicle in four-low or neutral, and then only the left rear wheel turned while the other wheels were stationary.
While taking them back to Nossob, my vehicle almost came to a standstill just before the crest of a dune, but it crawled up very slowly and crested the dune − to which the Frenchman remarked in broken English, “What type of rally driver are you?” I could only smile.
Will you travel through Africa in it?
Yes, because it has no electronic components.
Do you pack anything special for a long trip?
Tools I had to make to remove or adjust the wheel bearings, an alternator, water pump and fan belts
If it were a person, who would it be?
My wife, for being so patient during the two years’ rebuilding.
If we gave you R10 000 …
I will see if I can stretch it to have power steering fitted.