Farm girl to top car designer

2010-02-05 13:04

LIFE for Oona Scheepers was ­simple growing up as an Afrikaans

bare-foot girl on a karakul farm in the Karoo until her parents sent her off to

boarding school.

So far, she has been part of the design teams that created the

­Porsche Cayenne and Carrera GT, as well as Audi’s R8, TT and A5.

Today, she is flying South ­Africa’s flag high alongside car-design

guru Walter de Silva as part of the Volkswagen team designing cars in Wolfsburg,


City Drive got the opportunity to get to know her better and ask

pertinent questions at the ­local launch of the new VW Polo.

Scheepers has been working abroad for more than 20 years, but her

Prieska charisma still shines through.

“The most precious asset in an isolated environment is friendship

and the warmth of the people. Something I still treasure and ­enjoy today,” she


“I always wanted to do something in the line of art for as long as

I can remember. I used to draw, draw and draw. My dad always had to cling to his

pen tucked away in his khaki shirt pocket as I was sure to snatch it to make

­another drawing.”

At the age of six, Scheepers was sent to Kimberley to attend an

English girls’ school.

“This was quite a shock for an Afrikaans-speaking farm girl – the

strict routine and having to wear shoes and a hat ­every day,” she recalls.

She was always in trouble in boarding school.

“The first week I landed in the principal’s office for climbing the

mulberry tree.

“The second week I landed in the office again because I picked a

flower – the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, a daffodil,” she beams.

“During spring in Germany, when wild daffodils pop up everywhere, I

always pick the first one I see with a silent chuckle.”

Scheepers studied graphic ­design at Cape Technikon.

After completing her studies, she started working for a small

­graphic company in Bellville.

She then left with her husband for the United Kingdom and ­Germany.

Lacking a permit then, she kept herself busy by drawing ­portraits

of her son’s school friends.

“One Friday a parent offered me a freelance job starting the next

Monday at his company.

“This was my first introduction into the ­automotive world.”

She then started freelancing for various companies.

She spent most of her first years at Ford.

“During this time, Style Porsche offered me a job and I spent seven

years with the company in Weissach, near Stuttgart.

“I was mainly responsible for the colour and trim on the Cayenne

and the ­Carrera GT.

“After Porsche, I moved on to Audi in Ingolstadt to join the

­design team of Walter de Silva. The most fun projects at Audi were definitely

the new A5, TT and the R8.

“After roughly three years I ­followed Walter to Volkswagen in

Wolfsburg where I have been for the past two years,” says Scheepers.

The new Polo is the first VW product on the market she has worked


For this reason the new Polo will always be ­special to her.

When asked what she misses most about “home” she says it is South

Africa’s nature and the ­freedom to be yourself.

“Germany has a lot of rules and regulations.

“I suppose with a population count of 82 million living in only a

quarter of the space of South Africa, you need them,” Scheepers says.

As to what keeps her going, she reflects on something her father

taught her.

“If you are going to do something, you might as well do it right,

otherwise you’re going to have to do it again,” she says.

This motto still holds true for her today.

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