Motoring and literature may seem uncommon companions, but they do get together quite often, from Tom Wolfe’s classic collection of essays in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby to Stephen King’s Christine. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is arguably about cars. and there are plenty of gripping non-fiction novels about drivers, designers, and motoring escapades.
South African motor racing legend Peter Lindenberg’s autobiography, Flat Out and Fearless, fits into the latter, and he was at the annual Jewish Literary Festival on 21 March to regale us with some of the exploits it contains.
On a panel with fellow sports writer Michael Meyerson at the Old Shul in the Gardens Community Centre, sportscaster Tapfuma Makina chatted to Lindenberg about how he went from an undistinguished sporting career at KES to become a watersport and motor-racing legend.
On The Critter, Greg Penfold wrote of how Lindenberg’s recently published no-holds-barred tell-all autobiography contains plenty of incidents detailing his sheer will to survive and win at all costs, including a few brushes with the Reaper. These included being assumed dead while being treated in hospital after after power boating accidents at speeds in excess of 200 km/h. Not once, but twice. There was the time his car caught fire in a crash, and the time, back in ‘98 he broke both his ankles when he crashed his Ford Mustang but then drove his bakkie to race in a power boat qualifier and got back into his bakkie to go to another motor racing qualifier. It was only then he realised something was wrong, called for the medics and passed out (his crushed ankles had been held together by his racing boots). Penfold wrote that in hospital, the doctor manipulated the bones back into place without anaesthetic. His wife could hear the screams out in the hall.
Beyond racing, Lindenberg set up his own powerboating factory, which was then burnt to the ground. In his book, he writes of how the arsonist got caught:
“Back home, the wheel turned in the arson investigation. At home one night, I received a call out of the blue.
‘Is this Peter Lindenberg?’
‘Yes, who’s this?’
‘Did you have a factory burn down recently?’
‘Yes, yes, who is this?’
‘No, we don’t know each other. I’m at a pub in Rosettenville and there’s a guy here who’s a little pissed, and he’s telling everyone that he burnt down your factory.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Not a word of a lie.’
‘Okay, where is this place. Do not let this guy out of your sight.’
I called the police and with the help of the Good Samaritan who called me, they identified the man and arrrested him.
The guy they picked up was one Carl Hattingh, a disgruntled former employee from my Rosettenville dealership who I’d fired after I caught him stealing.”
There was near bankruptcy, which may well have happened except the plaintiff took ill and died a week before the sequestration hearing, but probably most tragic was the attack at the Gosforth race-track which he helped establish, where a multiple shooting left three of his managers dead.
But Lindenberg never took his foot off the throttle: “If you have fear you will never win. If you’re scared, you will never go beyond the limit,” he said.
While in motor racing his longest association is with Ford, in which he claimed most of his wins in the Wesbank Modified class, his first race was in a Peugot. Talking to him by phone after the Jewish Literary Festival, he said his introduction to motor racing and subsequent career was by chance.
He was invited to do an event for the Sigma Celebrity Challenge, which happened to be in the “boring old Peugots they’d just launched”.
He won the event, and racing champion Tony Viana convinced him to race at the Welkom track, “so I ended up racing a Mazda”, which was what Viana was driving.
Lindenberg and Viana became “good mates” and Lindenberg ended up driving for BMW but later on, he said, when he could make his own choice, he swung to Ford.
Choosing Ford probably came down to the family cars his dad drove, he said, which were mainly Fords, including the Ford Fairlane for towing the caravan.
Then in 2015 Lindenberg opened the first, and only Shelby factory in South Africa. Situated in Malmesbury, they manufacture custom performance vehicles recognised globally as the premium upgrade to Ford Mustangs. He’s also secured the distribution rights for the Cobra, Daytona, and Ford GT40.
As to the enduring appeal of the Ford muscle cars, of which the Mustang is the forerunner, Lindenberg is all about the practicality. “Everything really works well,” he says. While there are many good reasons to lean toward the British and European classic manufacturers, when it comes to Fords, they are “simpler, more efficient, and parts are more easily available”.
Although he’s indulged in owning the odd Ferrari, his all-time favourite car is not a Mustang, but the king of South Africa’s racetracks in the ‘70s, the Ford Capri Perana.