ROD, MEMORY LANE … AND THE MUNSTER MOTOR MUSEUM
WORDS AND IMAGES: SHIRLEY LE GUERN
Back in the old days, the family used to go for a Sunday drive. Dad used to roll out the blue Jaguar and the kids were bundled into the red leather clad backseat while Mom parked her immaculately matched handbag in the front. We often wound through the sugarcane along the South Coast, gazing over beaches and estuaries under vivid blue skies. It’s comforting to know that people still do that and that various spots along the Hibiscus Coast remain popular destinations for everyone from new age
petrol heads to classic car clubs.
“The Museum is a car venue. People love to take their old cars for a run. They will come down and either go to the Wild Coast Sun or come to the Museum. Robin Broide, the Curator and I have organised motor clubs to visit us. We have had the Lotus Seven club, motorcycle clubs, a Supercar Club, Ferrari’s, Lamborghinis, even the Ford Club. They enjoy a fun run down a quiet part of the world,” says founder and owner of the Munster Motor Museum, Rod Kinsey.
He greets us at the door of the Kinsey estate known as Secret Sithela which, very roughly translated, describes a home hidden in the cool shade of the coastal forest. A private indigenous game reserve, managed by his conservationist wife Jeanne-Louise, surrounds the house and stretches all the way up to the museum itself. Indigenous trails stretch out and wind along the Tongazi River to the dam. There’s plenty of space for picnics as well as the car boot sales and markets that are hosted at this lush venue.
The indigenous forest is home to everything from bush buck to duiker and Nyala as well as a plethora of indigenous trees and birds – not to mention those lurking classic cars.
THE MAKING OF A MUSEUM
Rod, who meets us in a bright “Orange Army” T-shirt with MAX (Verstappen) proudly written across his chest, is eagerly awaiting the first Formula 1 event of the season.
Comfortably seated in his lounge, he tells us that his was a family where a fascination for cars and motor sport passed from generation to generation – right from the days of Grandpa Deeks and his wife who used money earned on the gold mines during the 1930s to buy this beautiful estate to the generations that have since added another 40 acres to the original 40-acre property. It now has its own airstrip and next to the main road that borders the small coastal town.
Rod’s own career as a businessman has seen him run everything from a small shopping centre with a service station and supermarket to a wholesale grocery and hardware business to car dealerships in South Coast towns such as Margate and Port Shepstone with his brother Dave and team.
He talks about three E’s when it comes to business – Energy, Enthusiasm and Enterprise.
“You’ve got to have the energy to do it. You’ve got to have the enthusiasm or passion which is very important. Then comes enterprise – putting the components together. You’ve got to raise the money, you’ve got to get the right people and you’ve got to motivate your team.”
This is evident in the Museum which was opened in 2018 by South African born Ferrari designer, Rory Byrne whose name appears on a plaque by the door. “He designed every one of Michael Schumacher’s cars. He happened to be coming out from Italy to South Africa and I managed to catch him and fly him down to Munster to open the museum. We had a wonderful opening, about 300 people,” recalls Rod.
For Rod, cars have been nothing short of a lifelong obsession. But, it is one thing loving cars. How does this translate into creating a whole museum?
“Well, first of all you’ve got to collect a lot of things, to be able to show them off,” he chuckles.
“I’ve been collecting all of my life. I was doing up second hand motor cars while I was at university in the late sixties and, ever since then, I’ve been collecting motor car bits and pieces. I just decided one day that I was going to build a museum. About ten years ago, we started in Margate in a smaller showroom but we ran out of space and I decided to purpose build it here in Munster,” he continues.
Both from the stories that Rod tells and the photographs and memorabilia in the Museum itself, it seems that car families pass down the passion from generation to generation.
KEEPING CLASSIC CARS IN THE FAMILY
The Kinsey family has had a long tradition of motoring in their veins.
Rod moved to the South Coast in 1973. He finished university in 1969. In between, he travelled, finally working as a racing mechanic in England during the early seventies.
“My great grandfather in London was trying to improve the internal combustion engine in 1876.That’s how long it’s gone on – and it’s come right down through to my grandfather, my father Burton Kinsey, who won the Durban- Jo’burg motorcycle race in 1933, and finally to me.”
He returned to South Africa to be with his very close knit family and, in retrospect, believes he might have stayed a little longer and even ended up designing cars in England.
“I’ve built my own cars, I’ve done quite a bit over my 76 years,” he smiles.
A VISIT TO THE MUSEUM
As we arrive at the Museum, we meet a full time mechanic Mike Leonhardt who is carefully cutting out and shaping parts for a vintage Lotus that is being lovingly restored in a way that is reminiscent of a reality television car show.
The Lotus, Rod is quick to emphasise, is not your everyday car but a specialist British sports car that just happens to be his particular fancy.
“The first car I raced was a Lotus 7. I’ve got a Lotus 26 at the moment, a Lotus Elan. It is the 26th car built over the years by designer and founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman. Lotus ended up building more than a hundred different designs over a period.”
A Lotus was also one of the first cars that he restored. At the age of 21, he had saved enough money to import a Lotus racing car which he put on the track.
“People used to say to me “Gee, you must have a rich Father”! I’d reply: “No, I’ve worked hard and I’ve saved money. With the R500 that my Father gave me for my 21st, I had enough to buy that car. I sold it some time ago. I nearly bought it back but it had been crashed and rebuilt badly. It hurt me to see it”.
Rod believes that everyone should have a special relationship with a car in their lifetime – whether it is the jalopy that starts their car journeys or the fancy dream cars that they drive along the South Coast.
“I think everyone gets attached to motorcars at different times. Your car is your home office while you’re on the move. And, when you get back to your car, you are back in your comfort zone. Even if it’s just a nice little car, you fall in love with it. There are particular cars in your life that you’ll speak about more than others. It’s the same for me. There are various cars during my lifetime that I loved.”
Older cars, he admits, are simpler and far easier to repair.
“They’re beautiful if they’ve been looked after. If they’ve rusted and fallen apart, they’re not so special anymore. You can still find classic good cars. Especially from the drier parts of South Africa where they haven’t rusted. The further you go, the better the car you’ll find.”
He sources cars from across SA, having travelled as far afield as Uppington and buying Volvo’s from Posmasburg. He usually finds out about them by word-of-mouth.
“Somebody comes to the Museum and tells us about a car. We have a book where visitors can leave their addresses and details. I find the person and often get close to doing a deal without seeing the vehicle. Then we go out, take a look and collect it.”
His finds are restored at the Museum workshop, ensuring that it is not only a “working museum” but one where the exhibits change regularly.
“The workshop restores classic cars. That means that the Museum is not static. I have had a Model B Ford, a 1928 Chev, a Rolls Royce and a Bentley and a couple of Porches that I’ve sold. Now, besides others, I’ve got a Model T Ford and a Dart. I’m continually changing the stock by buying and selling interesting cars.”
After 76 years, many of which were spent with his head under the bonnet of a car, Rod says he has a lot left to do. He still has a bucket list that includes travel as well as, perhaps, another motor-related business.
“That’s just one of my wishes. I want to live as long as I can and I never want to retire. I don’t believe in retirement. I think it makes you old!” he says.
You can contact Rod at Rod@kinsey.co.za or 082 579 6387.