Emotions ran high as Minota-Ann van Bergen waved the chequered flag on the start / finish line for her husband, Ewold van Bergen, approaching in his 1936 BMW 319/2, nicknamed Matchbox for obvious reasons, at Killarney International Raceway on Saturday 11 December 2021.

If ever there was an argument for retaining this circuit, still in its original format, as a heritage site for motorsport, this was it – life had just gone full circle for Ewold van Bergen and Matchbox.

Ewold van Bergen was the first South African Rally Drivers Champion in 1960, a feat he would repeat in 1964, 1965 and 1970 – the last with his wife Minota as navigator; they are still the only couple to have won the South African Rally Championship.

It took Nick and Robert Middelmann 16 years of challenging research and work to complete the restoration of the supercharged BMW 319/2 and though Van Bergen had originally provided much of the technical wizardry that made his Matchbox unique in the world as a racing car he hadn’t seen the end result until Saturday morning.

To watch Van Bergen re-familiarise himself with the cockpit in which he set racetracks ablaze in the 1950s really reminded one of the amazing engineering skill and bravery of the drivers of that era.

The BMW was considered years ahead of its time, with the power output of its 1911cc straight six boosted from 34kW to 82Kw by a Marshall supercharger, increasing top speed from 115km/h to 178km/h, and innovative hydraulic drum brakes that simply stressed the suspension to extremes.

Driver protection was practically non-existent: no seat belts, no fireproof clothing, leather helmet and gloves strictly optional, and standard road tyres that had to last at least one full season, replaced only when only replaced when absolutely necessary.

Ewold van Bergen is the only surviving Springbok rally driver; his pioneering career includes four South African Rally Drivers titles and five SA Manufacturers’ awards as team manager for Nissan in the South African Rally Championship. His 15 year technical association with Nissan (he is credited with the development of the iconic Datsun 1600 SSS) and his international success in rallying from Monte Carlo to Canada and Portugal set him head and shoulders above his peers.

But there was no need to set any records as Van Bergen, now 92 years old, gently drove the 85-year-old BMW out onto the circuit for his final lap of honour, with Cape Town Mayoral Committee member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith as navigator and Nick Middelmann advising from the rear seat – and before they reached Hoals Hoek Middelmann had been given a list of things that needed fixing, including too-tight steering.

More than a few throats tightened and a tear or two was shed as the Van Bergen family gathered on the Start/Finish line and Minota van Bergen waved the chequered flag to welcome her driver, husband and life partner at the end of the Matchbox cycle of life. Ewold van Bergen, you are legend – Patrick Vermaak