A 1996 Isuzu KB love story: a tribute to my late husband and his 900 000km bakkie

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Charles Garner's 1996 Isuzu KB 280 4x2
Charles Garner's 1996 Isuzu KB 280 4x2
Emcy Garner

• A 1996 Isuzu KB has been in the Garner family for more than 20 years.

The late Charles Garner, the bakkie's first and only owner, has covered more than 900 000km with it.

• Garner passed away in January 2021 due to Covid-19 related complications.

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Losing someone you love is never an easy thing, and for MC Garner and her family it was no different. Earlier this year, her husband, Charles, passed away, but he has left a lifetime of memories they'll cherish forever as Charles' legacy goes beyond his humanitarian deeds, and also includes driving more than 900 000km in his trusty 1996 Isuzu KB. Mrs MC Garner shares Charles and his Isuzu's incredible story.

I want to share the love story between a man born in Mthatha, Eastern Cape (raised around the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape), and who settled down with his family in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal, Charles Garner, and his faithful 1996 Isuzu KB 280 turbo diesel double cab 4x2, fondly known as 'The Van'.

When I saw the excitement and anticipation in my husband's eyes the day he came to proudly show me the bakkie and introduce it to the Garner family's lives, I knew it was very special to him.  

The Garner-Isuzu journey began more than twenty years ago, and this special relationship continued until the bakkie became the last vehicle we travelled in as a family this year, January 2021. It was the last vehicle Charles travelled in when our eldest daughter, Charleen, took him to the hospital; before he passed away on 15 January 2021 due to Covid-19 related complications. Sadly, Charleen also passed away just a month later on 10 February as a result of Covid-19.

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Charles Garner and his daughter, Charleen

A rich life

Charles' working career included being a former general manager in the transport and trucking industry, primarily import and export. At the time of his passing, he was a full-time pastor completing mission work around South Africa. 

Over the years, he travelled long distances for business purposes, and to complete humanitarian work - to serve communities around the country, spreading cheer, love and hope in cities and rural areas across all cultures and beliefs. In his capacity as a pastor, he ministered far and wide in his favoured Isuzu bakkie, including transporting people to hospitals in emergency cases.

Do you own an older bakkie or car which has no major problems with a high mileage? We'd like to hear and publish your story too. Please email us here with some pictures and details, or use the comments section below.

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Charles Garner

His beloved bakkie transported his daughters to school and varsity. And while the family trained for, and completed plenty of road-running races, the bakkie ran each step alongside them. In the later years, Charles transported his daughters' furniture with his faithful KB as he helped them move from KwaZulu-Natal to Mpumalanga, to Gauteng and the Western Cape. He'd often travel via the Karoo or the Free State (Bloemfontein, Trompsburg, and Qwa-Qwa) to enjoy the scenery along the way. 

We'd often go on holidays and adventures or just drive into the mountains or along the KZN coast as a family.

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Charles Garner's 1996 Isuzu KB 280 4x2

Up Sani Pass in a 4x2

Some of the family travels included bundu-bashing along the rocky uncharted terrain of uMzinyathi, KZN, and two trips up the Sani Pass and into Lesotho. During one such trip, adverse weather worsened road conditions and threatened our adventure, with locals advising that a 4x2 bakkie would not be fit for the task to ascend Sani Pass up to the Highest Pub in Africa. Yet, Charles and his Isuzu proved the critics wrong - amid forecasts of snow.  

Another family adventure included exploring rural Harrismith, Free State, along the Drakensberg mountain range, including Tandjiesberg and Skeurklip to share a part of his varied heritage with his family. 

This Isuzu bakkie also helped the Garner family avoid 'close calls' on the road, including a flooded bridge outside Amersfoort, Mpumalanga, when the Vaal River flooded over Christmas in 2010.

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The Garner family ascending Sani Pass in their trusty Isuzu KB

Just two breakdowns

Over the years, the bakkie required its share of running repairs, but these were mainly scheduled, efficiently completed and maintained at Charles' skilled hands. And sometimes with the assistance of his family working by his side in the home garage. In all the years, the Isuzu only had two breakdowns - in 2019 and 2021 - requiring a tow-in. The bakkie is, to this day, always ready and running.  

It still boasts its original gearbox - unopened and working faultlessly - and still using the same major mechanical parts like the unopened engine, rings, turbocharger, differential, and suspension. Regarding the bodywork, only the loading bin was replaced in later years due to minor rust. The longevity of this Isuzu KB was mainly due to the passion and care of Charles and his expertise as qualified petrol and diesel mechanic.

People find it absolutely unbelievable that this Isuzu bakkie is on the way to reaching 1 000 000km on the clock. At the moment, the odometer is reading 900 130km. It was Charles' dream to take his bakkie to its 1 000 000km milestone and to show that the brand's slogan has rung true all these years: "Isuzu Delivers". And we as the Garner family can attest that Isuzu truly is "with you, for the long run".

His sudden death ended this unique dream, but we as a family thought it fitting to share this story on his behalf. Through this, we hope to honour a humble yet exceptional man with a giant heart who thought the world of his 1996 Isuzu KB.

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Charles Garner with his wife Emcy and their three daughters
Compiled by Charlen Raymond
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