#HeritageDay: Do you remember the locally built GSM Dart? Here's looking back at 60 years of Glass Sport Motors in SA

Perhaps the most iconic of all the Proudly South African developed and built cars are the Glass Sport Motors (GSM) twins, the Dart lightweight sports car and the Flamingo hardtop coupe, and this past weekend the GSM Car Club of SA celebrated these vehicles at the GSM Revival held at the Franschhoek Motor Museum (FMM).

The Revival also celebrated the ingenuity of three South Africans, Bob van Niekerk, Willie Meissner and Verster de Witt, who teamed up with one goal in mind – to build a South African sports car. Pooling their individual talents, they created a fibreglass bodied car eventually called the GSM Dart (many other names were considered, including Cheetah, Mamba, Simba, Zebra, Kudu, Lunx and Tyger). 

Four prototypes were built in 1957, but the first production car rolled off the line six decades ago, in early 1958. In total, 116 Darts and 128 GSM Flamingos were produced from 1958 to 1964. 

To do even greater justice to the GSM company’s efforts all those years ago, the Club managed to source the first production vehicle to celebrate 60 years of the Dart – a very special occasion and a proud moment in South Africa’s motoring heritage.

gsm dart

                                                                     Image: Ferdi de Vos

Chassis number one

According to GSM Car Club member and avid Mazda collector Peanuts Fouche, who has a library of rare GSM memorabilia, including handwritten notes from Van Niekerk and De Witt, the first production Dart manufactured at the GSM factory in Bottelary Road was sold to Gilbert Colyn, a well-known architect who, amongst other buildings, designed the Johannesburg General Hospital, the Groote Schuur Hospital and five Trust Bank (nowadays Absa) buildings. 

gilbert colyn

 A picture of Gilbert Colyn, original owner of the first production GSM Dart, and his car in the late ’fifties. Image: Ferdi de Vos

He bought the Dart, painted silver blue with registration number CY 20136, directly from the factory, and not from a dealer, He did this to assist the GSM company with cash flow to be able to build the next vehicle, #5802. Gilbert sold the Dart to an unknown buyer in 1960 when he bought a Porsche 911.
Gilbert also assisted GSM founder Van Niekerk with the design of the Flamingo sports coupe, as the designer of the Dart, Verster de Witt, was still in England at this time. 

For the next twenty years the car “disappeared” – with no record of its whereabouts – but it resurfaced in 1980 when Martie and Schalk van Wyk bought the vehicle from Bill Law, who apparently have owned it for some years. After a decade of ownership Van Wyk decided to fit a Ford V4 engine into the Dart, but at this time current owner Piet van Zyl made an offer to buy the car from him, and it found a new home in Kimberley.

gsm dart

The handwritten notes of Verster de Witt with all the possible names of the GSM company’s first sports car. Image: Ferdi de Vos

Earlier this year Van Zyl’s cousin, Gerrit Cloete, convinced him to restore the vehicle and the Dart was brought from the Diamond City to Cape Town to get it restored to its original condition. 

The process of restoration is still on-going, but the first ever production Dart was ready to form the centrepiece of a display that included ten of the first GSM Darts built at the FMM. As part of the GSM Revival celebrations the cars will be on display at the FMM for the next couple of months.

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