If you want to taste excitement in the air, come to Philipstown this week. They’re counting down the days before the Wire Car Festival, the local event of the year.

philipstown south africa
Le Mans-type start of a typical Philipstown Wire Car Grand Prix.

Wire cars, or draadkarretjies, are big around here. The young boys of Philipstown will do just about anything for a wire car fashioned by one of a select group of craftsmen.

When master-crafter Kiewiet Plaatjies and his friend Nikolaas Seekoei were boys, they used to play a game called Spietkoppe en Rowers – Cops and Robbers to you and me.

Kiewiet Plaatjies (centre) in his street in Philipstown, Northern Cape.

In this historic but tumbledown Northern Cape settlement, they used to craft the most intricate of wire cars, complete with candle stubs and coloured glass for lights.

Yelling “Wee-Wah, Wee-Wah” as they ran down the dusty side streets in the early evening, the boys morphed into fast-moving chase cars hurtling after the ever-elusive bad guys.

Philipstown is where, as an aspiring crafter, you sit on the main street and watch the out-of-town SUVs (or 4x4s) come growling past. You beg, borrow or steal a length of fencing wire and all the accessories you can rootle out of the local dump and you replicate your favourite vehicle as best you can.

And then you go “Wee-Wah” into the night.

Crafter Johannes Thiele shows off one of his latest innovations to a group of fans.

Crafter Johannes Thiele wears crocheted headgear in the devil-may-care style of a French Resistance fighter.

His son Wesley is the reigning champion, not only for winning the race but for having the best-made car.

Johannes doesn’t only make draadkarretjies. He also does piecework on farms and fashions big pots out of barbed wire. These he transports to a farm about 20 klicks away with a home-made trailer attached to his bicycle. The farmer’s wife pays him and sells it on.

The draadkarretjies come in many shapes and sizes. One vehicle is clearly an Amarok. Another is an Audi Truck. Oh look, there’s an Isuzu.

Some have other half-tins wired onto the back seat (the spare wheel) and others have Eveready batteries strapped onto the bonnet to weigh them down.

Draadkarretjie mural in Philipstown, dedicated to the art of wire car racing.

One vehicle is weighted down with a stone, in a cage of wire in the middle of the draadkarretjie. They have their ways, these crafters.

Some have aerosol tins hacked in half for wheels. Others have pram wheels or bottle tops. Some have wire wheels, patterned back and forth like a tractor tyre.

Next time you stop at the garage to refuel in Philipstown, look up at the parapet and you’ll see wire statues of kids running their cars, made by artist Kay Fourie of Rooipoort Farm. Home-made dreams come true.

  • The 2015 Philipstown Draadkarretjies Festival takes place this Saturday, October 10. See the programme HERE