What is the most sought-after car in SA? Is it a Porsche, a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?
These might be the most valuable, but the most sought-after car is one which requires a couple of armed bodyguards and an escort car, one which ensures no one can get near you as you drive through iconic parts of Johannesburg.
That car is the famous Gusheshe, the BMW 325iS for those who don’t know. It is a car that attracts a great deal of attention, as we found out recently while driving from Constitution Hill in Joburg, through the CBD into Soweto, back to Parkhurst and to the Voortrekker Monument.
To the uninitiated it just looks like an old E30 BMW, but this car is a global legend and a South African icon.
Last year we drove the 333i, another icon produced only at the BMW plant in Rosslyn, and while we drove it again recently — and it is still my favourite of the two — it was the Gusheshe that created the most excitement.
Wherever we went, people waved, shouted and whistled. People tried to gather near it under the watchful eye of its discreet, armed carers while car park guards danced and sang. Few people create this level of hysteria, let alone cars.
Launched in 1985:
The model was first launched back in 1985 in two variants: a 145kW and a 155kW both of which used the same 2.7-litre engine. They had a special M Technic iS body kit, 15-inch alloys, a 25% limited slip differential, M Sport suspension and Bilstein shocks. Their creation allowed them to enter national circuit racing and they were dominant in such series as the famous Stannic Group N championship.
More than 30 years later, the 325iS joined the M1 and 333i in being fully restored by BMW SA. It was a special moment to drive it and even more special to experience just how iconic a car it is for the people of SA. It lacks the grunt and the sound of the 333i but it has an aura that is on a par with driving an old supercar.
Like the 333i, the build quality is superb and it cruised with the same style and pace as any newer model on the road today.
The steering is not as precise of course and you have to work the clutch much more than any modern vehicle but there is no denying the level of engineering in the vehicle, even allowing for the fact that it has been restored.
It is unlikely there will ever be something like it again. In the days of the 325iS, BMW SA could produce unique vehicles which also included the legendary 745i with its M1 motor. Today Germany is more strict and there’s no more after-hours tinkering by technicians at Rosslyn to create this uniquely South African vehicle. But Rosslyn is still producing iconic models, albeit ones of the mass produced variety.
As well as the 325iS we also drove the last 3 Series to be produced at the plant, a 340i, and the first X3 to be manufactured at Plant Rosslyn. Over the decades, Rosslyn produced 1 191 603 3 Series models which were sold in SA and exported to markets all over the world. It is a massive success story not just for BMW SA but also for SA’s automotive industry.
There were concerns when the company announced that it was to end 3 Series production after 35 years, but the market is changing and people are switching from traditional sedans to SUVs. Rosslyn became a key part of that with the announcement that the plant would produce the new X3 for export. BMW invested significantly to increase capacity to 76 000 units per year and the first vehicles rolled off the production line in April 2018.
As part of what BMW SA called the Legends of Rosslyn Tour, we also drove that last 3 Series and the first X3. Not surprisingly both showed that the levels of engineering remain extremely high, testament not just to the ethos of Germany’s BMW but the quality demands of Plant Rosslyn.
It is unlikely that the last generation 3 Series (F30) will be viewed in the same way as the famous E30 and especially the 325iS but Plant Rosslyn and indeed SA can continue to be proud that it has contributed so much not just to BMW but to the pages of automotive history. – Mark Smyth