My affair with the Countess from Sweden – Pieter de Lange

I have always had this boundless enthusiasm for exciting and interesting automobiles. I blame it on my Van der Vyver genes from my mother’s side. My dear granddad, Oupa Benjamin, had to look after a second-hand car dealership in Badplaas all these years ago when I was still a young boy and I was allowed to play in the dusty old Fords and Chevrolets with their lovely smelling leather hide interiors for hours.

I would go from one car to the next one, pull the steering wheels around for a bit, change gears constantly, and dream of racing in the famous races like the Miglia Millia, or just imagine myself on the open road aiming at the endless South African horizon.

Later on, I heard of Syd van der Vyver’s achievements in Grand Prix motor racing. He was my mother’s cousin and although I never met him, I was seriously impressed with his achievements, he twice won the South African Drivers Championship, in 1960 and 1961, and he was runner up in 1962. I only saw him race once at The First Natal Grand Prix at Westmead in 1961 in the inaugural Springbok Series.

Syd managed 5th position behind international legends like Jim Clark and Stirling Moss. I later read that Syd was “invited to England in mid-1961 by Stirling Moss, who was impressed with the South African’s technical ability and there he worked on the handling of the Maestro’s car”.

Looking for Cheap Flights or need a Room, Hostel or Hotel or Cheap Car Hire?

Later on, I heard and read about Henry van der Vyver’s E Type Jaguar, but living out in the sticks in Kroonstad, far away from Johannesburg, I never even got to see the car. Henry and Thelma visited me years later when I was practising in London and it was a pleasure to get to know them better. By now, I have developed my own preferences and it was the Italian stallion of Ferrari that took my fancy. Maybe it was all those Saturday evenings listening to the Afrikaans classic music program “U Eie Keuse”. We had so many records of the famous voices of that era, like Benjamino Gigli, Mario Lanza and Maria Callas. Well, Enzo Ferrari often referred to the song of 12, when he discussed his favourite engine layout of 12 cylinders.

Ironically though, my first serious sports car was a Lamboghini Jarama that I acquired in the seventies, which is now a rare, almost extinct beast. The Managing Director of Lamborghini in the UK was a patient of ours at the time and he arranged a good deal.

But it was the prancing horse that I was really after, and after saving and working like crazy, I managed to buy a brand new Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer in 1975, which I eventually took back to Pretoria. One Sunday evening, I got stuck on the Ben Schoeman highway without petrol and a very nice guy gave me a tow to my flat in Pretoria. When he saw my very basic living quarters in Hatfield, he could not put the two things together and he politely asked me if it was really my car.

Zorba the Greek famously stated in the movie that “A man must have a little madness”. Well this is mine. If you skip 40 years, during which I bought and sold numerous Ferraris, a few Porsches and a Lamborghini Countach, the worst car of the lot that appreciated the most, to earlier this year, when that little irresistible buzz in the back of my head started to go off again. But it was not just me, the classic car madness that hits the world every 25 years or so, was in full swing again, and everyone is on the lookout for “sleepers”, that is underrated cars that might still appreciate.

Looking for Cheap Flights or need a Room, Hostel or Hotel or Cheap Car Hire?

I have always felt that a certain Ferrari, namely the 456GT, was underrated and undervalued, and was very surprised to see sports cars with less pedigree like the ugly duckling 308 Dinos, the much more common Mercedes Pagoda SL’s, and even Ford Escort Twincams rise in price before any real movement for the 456. This is a beautiful elegant car with a hundred more horsepower than a Daytona (a classic from the seventies), at a fraction of the price, with two extra seats thrown in as a bonus! And then all of a sudden the values of the 456GTs started to shoot up. Now that the market has finally woken up to this fact and my predictions are coming true, and I have not done anything about it, I told myself.

My first encounter with the 456GT was at the Kyalami race track, between Pretoria and Johannesburg, when it was officially launched in South Africa in the mid-nineties. I was in the back of the demonstration model when we sailed past a Ferrari Testa Rossa down the straight, and I clearly remember the smooth relentless surge of the V12. The poster of that day’s Ferrari line up is still on my wall. Since then, I have bought and sold quite a few Ferraris and Porsches, but no 456GT, somehow.

Time for action then; I scoured the internet late that Monday night and a beautiful, blue, single owner, low mileage, 456GT Modificato almost leaped out. This car was a manual and in Sweden. I decided to rather go for a manual in left hand drive, than an auto in the UK, as I had a 400I auto years ago, and the overriding memory of that car was that of a missed opportunity, as the three speed slush box was so out of character with the high revving twelve cylinder engine. I also prefer the Modificato, as it must be an improved version and it just sounds special.

There was a lively exchange of e-mails over the next two days, as I got to know the interesting dealer. Kjell Lind runs a one man show near Gothenburg and is a serious Rolls Royce collector himself. I spoke to one of his satisfied UK customers in Scotland and decided to fly over to view the car. We struggled a bit to agree on a date, as Kjell was due to fly out to Rome for a family holiday and it transpired that unfortunately Easter Friday was the only suitable day. So I was on my way to City Airport early on a chilly grey morning when serious doubts started to set in. “Why are you not at home on this special Christian holiday, why are you borrowing all this extra money when you have already got a Ferrari?” I asked myself.

Looking for Cheap Flights or need a Room, Hostel or Hotel or Cheap Car Hire?

The Gothenburg Airport was small and Kjell picked me up as arranged and we got to know each other during the hours’ drive to his hometown. Kjell told me about the 1932 Rolls Royce he is restoring, and how he still enjoys working on cars himself. He also described how the Swedes tend to put their special cars away before the harsh winters set in, and that their climate with all the snow is much colder than England but also much drier, which is better for corrosion. The 456GT was as he described it, original, unmolested, interior perfect except for two small holes in the dashboard leather where some kind of phone connection used to be.

Over lunch, Kjell told me about the previous owner, a countess, with two castles in the south of Sweden and a summer residence in Monaco. She is or was connected to the Swedish Royal family as the Lady of the Robe, he said. I do not quite know what that means, sounds fancy though. Things were really beginning to look up after the miserable early morning start when Kjell showed me his private collection of Rolls Royce’s, Bentleys, Jaguars and a precious Bugatti at his house. We then took the Ferrari out for a scenic test drive along a winding road next to some lovely Swedish lakes.

The first impression was how solid the car felt and the lovely orchestrated song of the 12 cylinders, then it became more responsive, lively, and urgent the faster we went. It was difficult to heed the speed limits and I just wanted to keep on driving. Needless to say, we came to an amicable agreement about the price, and I returned home to tell the exiting story to my anxiously waiting family. It was more than just a purchase; it was a memorable day in every way.

To my surprise and delight, Mariaan, my wife has also succumbed to the subtle charms of this Italian thoroughbred. The Countess as we call her, now shares my garage with the Rumbling Rocket, a much more modern Ferrari 599, I often sneak in just to take a peak. The UK registration was completed and our first journey was to an Afrikaans church service in a lovely small chapel in a nearby village. Now, for the rest of the hopefully long summer, I can carry on with my love affair with the exciting Swedish Countess.

Looking for Cheap Flights or need a Room, Hostel or Hotel or Cheap Car Hire?

Enjoyed this post? Share it!


Leave a comment