The belief that entry-level cars are merely city cars best used as runabouts, with little capability beyond urban borders has been shattered by two Finnish adventurers. In just 16 days they travelled 9 800kms across South Africa, into Namibia and across Botswana.
The car that Finns Vesa Eskola and Jarmo Kymenlathi chose for their epic road trip was a Datsun GO. A car that emerged unscathed from a demanding schedule that saw the duo spending eight to ten hours a day behind the wheel and averaging about 613km a day on the road.
The challenging drive, really nothing new to Vesa, who has clocked up well over a million kilometres on roads across the globe, was a journey with a purpose.
It was part of a driving ambition first raised with Datsun’s global head, Vincent Cobee, a few years ago. At the meeting, journalist Vesa expressed a wish to drive a Datsun GO from its manufacturing point in Chennai, India to his home in Finland. The trip proved impracticable, but Vesa has since clocked up the equivalent mileage by driving a Datsun GO on epic journeys across Indonesia, Russia and India.
His latest trip began in Johannesburg, whereafter he meandered across to the Kruger Park and then down to Durban. From Durban, he travelled along the garden route to Cape Town and up the west coast into Namibia. Then it was up to the Etosha Pan and back along the Trans-Kalahari highway.
This trip, says Vesa, recalls the road trips that Finns have made throughout Europe in Datsuns and other light passenger vehicles in the 70s and 80s.
“Nobody thought twice about taking on long journeys in cars that today would be regarded as ‘city cars’. Today, people are obsessed with larger cars, SUVs and the like, and wouldn’t even think of tackling a long road in an entry level vehicle like the Datsun GO.”
Ultimately they are missing out, says Vesa, reporting that he took full advantage of the low-down torque of the Datsun GO’s peppy 1.2, 50kW litre motor.
“Even though the engine is small, the car cruised happily at 140km/h on the long open stretches of road across Namibia. Fuel consumption was a winner at only 6.9 l/100. The vehicle’s strongest points were its height, which was an advantage in areas where there were potholes, and the seats which were great, providing support for all the hours we spent in the car. Carrying the bags for two people – and at one stage – three people – was no problem either.”
The only maintenance required during the entire 9 800km journey was to two tyres that suffered punctures on the flinty roads in the desert areas of Namibia. Comparing his African trip to those in Indonesia, India and Russia, Vesa saw Africa coming up trumps.
“South Africa is very beautiful with landscapes that keep changing. The diversity is wonderful and the roads are good.”
The best things about the trip? “The Kruger Park; being surrounded by a herd of 40 elephant in the Etosha; the winelands of the Western Cape. Most importantly for a Finn when away from home, the quality of your coffee and South African coffee shops. Biltong? Not so lekker,” he says.
Another highlight was a stop in the Free State to view the classic Datsun collection of around 70 vehicles belonging to enthusiast Freek de Kock from DeKelder in Bothaville. The prize-winning vehicles in the collection – an original Datsun GTR, introduced as a sedan in 1971, and the Fairlady – the answer to the British 1960s genre of two seater sports car, but unusually featuring a third seat mounted at right angles to the driver’s seat in the rear of the vehicle.
The trip may have been challenging, but road conditions made it pleasant, contrasting strongly to the India experience where one 270km stretch of road took just under 11 hours to complete. The car at the completion of the trip did not have a single panel undamaged – a marked difference to the South African journey where the car was returned to Johannesburg a bit dusty, but otherwise untouched by the journey.
Vesa’s advice to fellow Finns about visiting our part of the world; “Do it, but do it at leisure. There is a lot to see, so allocate three months for the trip.”
Welcoming Vesa and Jarmo back to Johannesburg, Des Fenner, General Manager of Datsun South Africa, said the epic trip brought to motorists’ attention something often overlooked by car buyers.
“The Datsun GO, introduced to South Africa as a car for ‘Risers’ – young people looking for an affordable first car that offers value for money, is a very capable vehicle. As Vesa demonstrated, it can tackle long journeys and cruise happily and economically along at the speed limit for hours. It is unlikely that many local buyers would drive an average of 613km per day for days on end, but the vehicle has proved that doing this is a breeze.
“South Africa is a land of wide open spaces, a place built for long distance driving. Many of our roads are superb, so there is no reason that we shouldn’t see Datsun GOs everywhere we travel.
“With its competitive pricing, styling, quality finishes and willing engine, there is little question that it will continue to be a South African success story. It is a vehicle that is capable of leading the Datsun challenge on its mission to reinforce its position as an iconic brand, just as it was from the 60s through to the 80s,” says Fenner.