Featured: Modern Meets Classic At Pablo Clark's Ferrari Oasis In Africa

Modern Meets Classic At Pablo Clark’s Ferrari Oasis In Africa

By Robb Pritchard
December 14, 2018

Photography by Robb Pritchard

A little while back, I shot and wrote about a Ferrari 643 Formula 1 car in the workshop of the South African Ferrari preparation and restoration specialists at Pablo Clark, and it came with a readily accepted open invitation to return for a proper walk around. Back in the warm climes of Africa for the winter again, I decided to take him up the offer to see the what was “in the shop.”

The first question I asked was about the name of the place, and General Manager Paul Gerber explained that Pablo Clark is the racing moniker that the company’s owner Paolo Cavalieri used when his first began entering motorsport events—such that his father wouldn’t find out about the risks he was happily undertaking on the weekends.

He chose the cover identity name becomes Pablo is similar to Paolo, and Jim Clark was his racing hero, so there you have it. Being signed as a works BMW driver and also competing at the front end of the South African Formula Ford championship was a bit hard to conceal from the family forever though, but the pseudonym had stuck and its what he used for his racing team, and when he opened the Ferrari workshop, he used it again for that venture as well.

Stepping out of the fierce Johannesburg sun, it’s the scrubbed aluminum body of the 250 LM shell that grabs my attention first. Mounted on the wall, it was bought on the proviso that it would only ever be used as an art installation—not to be made into a road car. It’s real though, from one of the 32 LMs that was once re-bodied and quite possibly on its own is worth almost as much as everything else in the workshop together.

The black 308 QV and the pair of gorgeous red boxer 512s next to it are all in stunning concours condition, with nary a finger mark on any of them. All are for sale, as I expected, so they understandably command a little bit of a showroom space, but it’s next door in the workshop where the really good stuff is hiding. I have seen all manner of Ferraris in my day, and even driven a few of them, but seeing them in pieces is such as rare sight that I can’t help but stare for a while without saying much.

The first car is a carbon fiber-clad F458 Challenge. It’s a client’s track car, and after every weekend of being driven hard around circuits like Kyalami and Zwartkops, it gets brought in for a thorough servicing which includes a full systems check, a run through the diagnostics, and getting it set it up for the next event. Doing this all often gets expensive quickly, but nobody said that playing with Ferraris was a cheap hobby… The red 430 Challenge on the ramps next to it is a good example of this; the full rear-end strip down is just to to replace the clutch, which is a 20-hour job for a Ferrari-trained specialist. Of the 29 or so Ferrari race cars being used in South Africa, Pablo Clark manage and look after 16 of them.

This lovely 1971 Dino GT came in to have an engine noise diagnosed which turned out to be worn chain guides, a pretty usual age-related issue on these cars. On further investigation, though, it was found that the main drive cam gears had worn their teeth pretty far down and so the owner decided that the time had come for a full engine rebuild. Apparently the hardest part of such a project is not the actual work, but sourcing the parts, as the Ferrari new-old stock for cars like this ran out long, long ago. Today it’s companies such as Hill Engineering and GTO Engineering that Pablo Clark go to for obscure fittings.

The 328 parked next to it had dropped a valve, which is a big enough job to repair on its own, but while the 3.2L V8 was out its owner decided to go for the full monty and have a complete strip-down and rebuild done as well. Over the last year the chassis was sandblasted and powder coated and almost every single detail on the car has been checked, refreshed, or refurbished. Many of these stories follow the “while you’re in there” plot. Once finished this car will be better than new, which some don’t prefer if the alternative is a “preserved” car, but if you’re already doing repairs the lines get blurry on what’s really original and what isn’t.

Another Ferrari in the workshop for a total rebuild is the Fly Yellow 1969 365 Daytona in the corner. The complete nut and bolt restoration is almost finished with just the interior to be completed, done with the same type of Italian leather as worn by the original. After a few little things like the Pitman arms for the steering box, it will be ready to see the light of day for the first time in a couple of years. With 24 years of working on Ferraris, Massimo Vecchio is the most experienced technician in South Africa, experienced even in the holy grail of Ferrari restorations like those undertaken on 250 models, as well as official Ferrari training that goes up to the decidedly modern stuff  like LaFerrari.

Taking a moment from overseeing the clutch operation on the hoisted-up 430, he explains that all the upholstery work is done by a contractor and if needed, some bent body panels are outsourced to a capable and trusted local bodyshop, but everything else is done in-house. “There is nothing we can’t do for a Ferrari,” he smiles.

That’s about it for the work restoration and repair projects that are going on during my visit, but there are a some other Ferraris in the shop worth a look. Modern and track-orientated, these F430 and 360 Challenges are for the Pablo Clark Driving Experience where clients get to drive some of these cars themselves on the Zwartkops International circuit while getting instruction from professional racing drivers such as Jaki Scheckter, nephew of famed F1 driver Jody, and also Jody’s brother Ian, a former Williams F1 driver and teammate to James Hunt.

Afterwards, they swap seats and take you on what they accurately call “Hot Laps,” where the extremes of what the car can handle are demonstrated firsthand. Perhaps a subject for a future Petrolicious feature… At the back of the brochure there is a fitting quote by Enzo Ferrari: “Everyone dreams of driving a Ferrari. It was my intent from the start.” Thanks to places like this you can do more than just rent one to drive down Rodeo.

Last but not least is Paolo’s personal racer, the ex-Kessel Racing 430 GT3 Scuderia that won the 2009 Italian GT championship. The Challenge cars are lightened and tuned road cars for the gentlemen racer to enjoy in the one-make series or in national GT championships, but the GT3 version is the full thoroughbred race car. It is gorgeous in the flesh as it is on the photos. In the hands of Jaki Scheckter it’s a multiple race-winner in the local GT series, and still regularly beats more modern GT3-spec cars.

But we’re not quite done yet. There’s a 1977 308 GTS that needs to be taken out on a little test drive, and my hotel is not so far away after all. Alongside my miniature F40, it was the 308 I used to have a treasured Matchbox model of, and although I’d rode along in Max Schnieder’s rally-prepped 308 before, this was the first road car 308 I’d ever been in. Open-topped, in immaculate condition, and bright red, it looked the part.

First impression though was that it is absolutely tiny. At 6’4” I have a bit of trouble getting into certain sports cars, and once I’d fitted myself in the seat the top of the window was level with my eye line. Bending over at an odd angle, I could just about see ahead through the green sun strip, but with the South African summer sun beating down on and the stop-start of the neighborhood street grid system it meant almost instant motion sickness. Even driven sensibly in weekday city traffic, it’s still a Ferrari. Even though it would be no match for many a modern hot hatch in a straight fight these days, it’s still a Ferrari. Even if after just 10 minutes I crawl out sunburned and shaking and trying to hold onto my breakfast, it’s still a Ferrari. The photos do a good job summing up how it all felt in the moment.

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