On their latest clean-up of the Kowie River, the Port Alfred Lions Club made a startling find – a well-preserved Ferrari 308 GTB buried in the mud at Centenary Park.
More than just a matter of curiosity, Lions now hope to raise funds for the work of the service organisation by restoring the classic vehicle to working order and auctioning it off.
Still a mystery is how the vehicle got there and how long it had been buried in the mud.
“We’ve found supermarket trolleys sticking out of the water before and all other kinds of junk on the river bank – including car parts and bumpers – but this was most definitely a first,” said Lions president John Dell.
“Nico [Muller] spotted it first – a piece of the taillight sticking out of the mud. It was at a place the river bank has eroded a bit, so it must have been entirely covered at one time.”
He said as well as picking up flotsam in the river itself, the Lions and fellow volunteers also hopped out on the river bank at some places when they spotted debris at low tide.
The mud stank and I was going to walk away but then a couple of the other Lions asked what I was digging at
Muller thought the piece of the Ferrari sticking out was just some jetsam in the mud, but it wouldn’t budge when he tried to pick it up, so he started scraping away the mud around it.
“I nearly gave up,” said Muller. “I mean we do clean-ups a lot as Lions, but you can’t get to everything. The mud stank and I was going to walk away but then a couple of the other Lions asked what I was digging at.”
Others also tried to pull what they thought was a piece of a vehicle from the mud, but failed. Determination got the better of them, and they all started scraping away, bearing with the stench of the mud.
“It wasn’t actually just mud around the car, it was sludge like you get in a sewage pond,” said Dell.
Unknown quantities of sewage have leaked into the Kowie River across the vlei from the sewage ponds, near to where the car was found.
“The little piece I saw at first went on and on and we thought, heck, there’s half a car here,” Muller said.
Little did they know at the time it was an entire Ferrari.
There was some deliberation among the Lions as to whether they should just leave the car part in the mud. They decided to return to the spot with shovels. The more they dug, they more the car body was exposed.
“Now our curiosity was really aroused,” said Dell. “Lion Mike Newlands is our resident classic car enthusiast and he first identified it as a Ferrari, the kind that Magnum PI used to drive.”
The sludge had hardened around the car like a shell. That must have stopped most of the saltwater from leeching through
Most amazing was how the car had been so well-preserved. The interior seat upholstery had decayed, but the dashboard and steering wheel were intact.
“The sludge had hardened around the car like a shell. That must have stopped most of the saltwater from leeching through,” Dell said.
“The car bodywork itself is in great condition, and the engine is salvageable,” said Newlands. “Obviously it’ll need a paint job,” he added with a laugh.
Dell said the car was lying at an angle, tail up, like it had been driven off the river bank.
The next step was to ask if a Ferrari had been reported missing in Port Alfred.
“The police station knew nothing, they just gave us blank stares,” said Newlands. “These Ferrari 308 GTBs were popular in the 1980s – if you had money – and looking at the state of the car, this could very well have been buried in the mud since then.”
“But no-one in my circle of vintage and classic car enthusiasts knew anything about it. It reminded me of the VW Beetle that was found in the river mouth a dozen years ago,” Newlands said.
TotT has also been unable turn up any leads on a missing Ferrari in the past few decades.
The Lions hired a TLB to dig carefully around the Ferrari, and then member Dirk de Vos, who owns a towing company, winched the vehicle out.
The Lions had more unwanted excitement by having to fend off a trio of men who attempted to rob them in Centenary Park, which is known as a crime hot spot
“We’ll also have to get new tyres. I guess that was hoping too much,” Newlands said with a chuckle.
While the recovery was taking place the Lions had more unwanted excitement by having to fend off a trio of men who attempted to rob them in Centenary Park, which is known as a crime hot spot.
With no one laying claim to the Ferrari, Newlands and a few fellow enthusiasts have immediately set about cleaning and restoring the vehicle.
“We managed to order some second-hand parts, got some donations and the car is nearly looking driveable again,” Newlands said. “We got the engine going like a dream. Next is the paint job, in classic Ferrari red.”
Newlands said he was looking forward to test driving the car himself, aptly sporting a moustache like Tom Selleck in Magnum PI.
After that, the Ferrari will be auctioned, on a national platform, to raise funds for Lions projects.
“This is so exciting for this little club,” said Dell.