When a friend of mine posted a picture of her Dad’s rat rod, I was intrigued. This car had so much detail and was so unusual, that I had to know more. I knew this street surfer would be something special and different to share with our SA Hotrods readers!
Jan van der Walt set off for the Vaal early one morning with me, heading for Johann Bukes’ place on the river. This feature was an adventure from the start, with dense mist shrouding the road and only Google Maps for directions. Our navigator’s voice first led us, appropriately enough, to Wild Goose Lodge. But we eventually found our way to Johann’s house and our first view of the car in the metal.
Johann spends a fair amount of time in the US, and he was inspired to build a car after seeing a number of stunning rat rods in the States. He has built a number of bikes and customised cars previously, but this is his first complete build.
The car started life as an Austin 16. Johann stripped the car down completely to the frame before beginning a painstaking rebuild. Almost all the work was completed in his own workshop. He is in the earthmoving and construction business and was able to utilise much of his own equipment in the build.
Most of the original bodywork was retained and restored, before being painted in a unique pastel blue. Johann laughed when I asked him about the colour: “I took all the leftover paint in the workshop and mixed my own colour”, he says. The paintwork was done in-house, and I must say the result is stunning.
The original motor made way for a supercharged Lexus V8, and this was coupled to a 7-speed Lexus auto gearbox. Additionally, the exhaust was designed and made by Johann, and the car sounds awesome, with an attention-grabbing throaty growl.
The front suspension came from a V6 Ford Cortina, and a Toyota D4D rear diff was installed to handle the uprated power. The rear side shafts had to be modified to extend beyond the bodywork as clearance was initially an issue. Furthermore, massive Maxxis Tires – USA tyres, were fitted in order to retain the original windows of the car while achieving the low profile of a typical rat rod.
The original seats have been restored and retained, except for the passenger seat. Evidently, it has been replaced with a seat from a Massey Ferguson tractor. This is typical of the numerous unique and unexpected features of the car, and each one has a personal story to tell.
I asked Johann what inspired him to take the direction he did with the car. He said that it all started when he found an old surfboard and guitar in a Free State pawnshop. He knew he had to have a feature on the roof, and the surfer’s roof rack led to the vision of the completed build. This makes a lot of sense, as the Bukes family are huge water sport enthusiasts and the car is a great expression of their love of open water. The rooftop’s feature includes a pair of plakkies from Mauritius and one of the paddles from his son’s paddle ski!
Every feature tells a story: the braai grille in front is attached to an old 1970s Cadac South Africa gas bottle that belonged to a friend’s father, the @Castrol cans came from an antique shop in Parys, the fuel cap comes from an old Komatsu Construction bulldozer and the front-mounted skull was created from a motorcycle helmet picked up ten years ago at a motorcycle rally in Clarens.
The interior has so much detail that you need time to absorb everything. The massive steering wheel was made from an old bulldozer track chain, although many of the old gauges and dials have been retained. The gear lever is a real jaw-dropper. In place of your normal shifter, you find the central thrust control lever of a Boeing 737!
The Mad Max look is completed with doors lined with old road signs, and a roof lining made up of old number plates.
All builds are very personal, and this car is no exception. Each detail has a tale to tell and has been meticulously added to complete an utterly unique and unusual car. Jan and I were privileged to view some of the incredible machinery in Johann’s collection. I think it’s safe to say there will be more stories featuring his creations in future editions of SA Hotrods. Johann is clearly a perfectionist, and is now ready to move on to new projects – watch this space!