In a tiny town in the heart of the Eastern Cape rusty, run-down cars are lovingly restored to their old-school glory days by Nosipho Kholutsoane.
Nosipho (39) has always loved vintage cars, and after watching a TV show about car restoration, she was inspired to give it a try.
With a little help from her mechanic husband, Moeketsi (52), who lent her R2 000 to get her business started, Nosipho rolled up her sleeves, took a deep breath and spent most of that money on a 1974 Pontiac.
The Pontiac, most people would have thought, would be quite at home rusting away in a junkyard, but Nosipho knew she could breathe life into it, and launch her career as a successful entrepreneur.
Now, six years later, Nosipho’s business, Lereku Trading Classic Cars, owns nearly 30 classic cars, and employs a team of four people, a panel beater, a painter, an electrician and a cleaner.
The business makes money by restoring old cars, which they strip down, remove the rust, repaint the bodywork, replace or repair missing or damaged parts and engines. Her husband taught her about restoration and works with her team.
The cars are hired out for weddings and matric dances. In the early years the business earned just R50 000, but it has since increased, she says.
Her business may be deep in a rural area, Mount Fletcher, but her middle-of-nowhere location has an advantage, as it is on the R56, the shortest route between KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
This has connected her to customers from big cities in the county as well as international travellers passing through, who often stop to look at her vintage cars, which are visible from the road.
She also displayed her cars at a private showcase she
arranged with friends, and she hopes to host more of these now that the
lockdown has eased.
“It’s a unique business and I want to keep the legacy of these old cars and the history of the heroes who built these cars,” Nosipho tells us.
She travels around her part of the province looking out for vintage cars she can buy and restore. She also locates cars via her Facebook page, where people contact her to sell their old rides. She says she asks owners about the history of the cars and she also does her own research.
Her fleet also includes a 1970 Valiant, a 1972 Ford Cortina and a 1972 Chevrolet El Camino, as well as many others that are in the process of being restored.
The Pontiac cost her around R25 000 to restore. Nosipho bought the Valiant for R4 000 and restored it at a cost of about R12 000. The Cortina cost R800 and she spent about R15 000 restoring it, and the El Camino was bought for R1 000 and restored at a cost of R25 000 because it was in very bad shape.
Her first restoration job, on the Pontiac, took four years because at the time their village did not have electricity. Subsequent restorations take about six months, she says.
Before she had electricity, she used a petrol-powered generator to operate her power tools, such as her grinder and welding machine, in her yard, which doubles as her workshop.
It’s been a long road to success, says Nosipho, explaining that the business only went into the black last year, after being launched in 2014. But she’s proud that she was able to hire a team and seeing the cars restored to their original forms makes her happy.
Her passion for the business and job creation kept her going. “We live in a country where there is a great deal of youth unemployment, and I want to share skills with the business.”
Nosipho is teaching her children – Karabelo (20), Reabetswe (18), Mehla (11) and Gauta (10) – who often help out, about the running of the business and restoring cars.
The lockdown has brought challenges and opportunities. Her business could not operate under the high levels of the lockdown. However, she used the time to attend business lessons from the Small Business Academy programme, presented by the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
She was one of 19 small-business owners sponsored by the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency to take part in the programme, to empower entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in the province.
“They took me to another level and I’m very happy. They’ve taught me how to market my business and manage my finances. I didn’t understand profit and loss before, but now I can track whether business is growing or going down – and the best part is that I can see that the business is currently growing,” she says.