Metallurgique and a Mystery Solved

As often mentioned in this newsletter, one of FMM’s obligations is to record and preserve items relating to South Africa’s wonderful motoring heritage. In this regard, a photo was published in the July newsletter’s Rear-View Mirror slot but where and when it was taken was unknown. When well-known SA motoring enthusiast, historian, journalist and author Andrew Reed saw the photo, he recognised it immediately and sent us the following information, which includes the background to one of the cars in the photo and its iconic owner…

The photo shows part of the late Oliver Douglas ‘OD’ Inggs’ collection of old cars, mostly veteran, vintage and post-vintage, that were housed in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) until the collection was broken up and sold in 1968. The photo used in your feature was taken on his property, behind the double-storey house on the corner of Hill and Market Streets in the town, which served as both his home (upstairs) and his undertaker’s business (on the ground floor).

OD had run out of storage space for his cars and decided to put them on auction. Appeals to the city council of the time to assist him in setting up an old-car museum had fallen on deaf ears. A museum would have been a wonderful tourist attraction, of course. At one point, OD’s collection was said to number 134 cars…

I was born and grew up in the town, and in the 1960s used to accompany my dad and older brother, both car and classic car enthusiasts, to visit OD at his home, usually on a Sunday morning. You can imagine what a treasure trove his collection of cars was for a young boy such as me in the 1960s!

The outstanding cars in the collection included a 1909 Peerless lorry, a 1911 Austin Tourer, a 1912 Arrol-Johnston, a 1913 Renault, a 1921 Wolseley Doctor’s Coupe, several Model T Fords and a white 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Tourer, which often featured at VIP functions and in mayoral processions and weddings in the town.

Also in the collection was an extremely rare 1908 Metallurgique Tourer, believed to be one of only three extant. OD found the car’s remains early in 1958 when he visited a farm near Bedford in the Eastern Cape to inspect an old wreck “lying in the veld”. He bought the wreck, which was missing vital parts such as the headlights, radiator and gearbox, for £5, and transported it home.

OD’s legendary knack of tracking down missing parts came into play. The headlights and gearbox were found on a neighbouring farm, and the radiator was retrieved from a boring contractor in Bloemfontein who had been given it many years before when drilling for water on the farm. Nine months later, the restored Metallurgique rolled out of OD’s workshop to become the star exhibit in his collection.

The story of the Metallurgique is told by, among others, Doreen Palmer in CAR magazine of May 1960 and Mike Jones in Fine Cars of July-August 1988. Mike Jones described a visit to OD’s home as “something out of Dickens”. His home, as I well recall, was crammed with old clocks, lamps, antique furniture, old paintings and other curios, and he was also an avid collector of coins and postage stamps. At the back of his property, Mike added, was “a labyrinth of corrugated-iron garages, barns, outbuildings and lean-tos …” It was here that the photo used in Rear-View Mirror was taken.

OD Inggs passed on in June 1997 at the age of 88.


(The Metallurgique is in the second row, third from left.)