Motor Assemblies

My informant Tim Gallwey wrote in with the following:

Hi Allan,

Most of your material concerns the central business district and industry is hardly ever mentioned.  I realise that this is a reflection of the material sent in to you so I am submitting something about motor car manufacture i.e. at Motor Assemblies.  I was there for six and half years, mostly at Jacobs but for a couple of years at Prospecton.  Our Managing Director was John Sully who was well known for his sailing exploits in the Flying Dutchman class.

I was particularly involved in the local manufacture of parts for the Toyota 7R engine at Mobeni.  Initially this plant had been acquired for truck assembly but then we added the engine assembly and test operation which had its own small quality control group. The site manager was a great guy called Dave Martin who had been production manager in the car plant at Jacobs.

The MA Toyota 7R engine undergoing durability test during Nov 1968.
The MA Toyota 7R engine undergoing durability test during Nov 1968.

Our first engine with local parts had to be subjected to durability testing in November 1968 for spells of ten hours at a time at full throttle for twenty spells.  To avoid back pressure in the exhaust we installed a large “drain pipe” of about 250 mm diameter up the outside wall and we had massive complaints from local companies during the day, plus the local residents at night, because of noise.  Within a day or two that had to be modified but we completed the tests on time.

In those days all the local parts were made by outside suppliers elsewhere in the country and the initial negotiations with them were done by my boss Mike Compton.  Toyota sent three engineers for a visit of two to three weeks to check on our activities and on those of our local suppliers.  We were somewhat relieved to pass, mostly with flying colours, and operations went ahead at full speed and further suppliers were added subsequently.  Some years later we built our own engine machining plant at Prospecton and sold the Mobeni site.  By the time I left in early 1973 the payroll exceeded 3000 people, a pretty significant employer.

We have compiled a document on the company and it can be found here on Blogspot.  I hope it will arouse the interest of other people who worked there and that they will add their memories.

As with other correspondents I enjoy the site.  Thank you.

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2 Responses

  1. John Taylor
    | Reply

    I have had business connections with Motor Assemblies / Toyota for many years in the IT and until my recent retirement, vehicle tracking fields. As a connected issue, what is the origin of the name Prospecton? I have a vague memory of seeing a small locomotive of the sugar cane transportation variety named Prospecton. Toyota SA must be synonymous with Prospecton, seeing that most of the area is occupied by the company or allied businesses.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi John,
    I am quoting from a book called “Valiant Harvest .. The Founding of the South African Sugar Industry 1848-1926” written by Robert F. Osborn and published by the South African Sugar Association in 1964. I have the complimentary copy given to Mr R.H. Mack by SASA, Mr Mack being one of the old sugar farmers still alive in 1964. He was then 95 years old. The book gives pen sketches of all the early sugar farmers and it is here that I found reference to Prospecton. The name obviously is taken from the original sugar farm.

    I will not write out the complete text but here are relevant portions of the text .

    “Alfred Platt. Prospecton Sugar Estate 1852-1945”

    “Sidney and Lawrence Platt arrived in Natal within a year of each other. Sidney bought a farm at Isipingo in 1849 and Lawrence after an early inclination to take up ground with friends at Umhlali eventually secured 50 acres near his brother in 1851, naming the farm, Prospecton. At first the Platts grew beans but in 1852, Lawrence joined Mack and Birkett, also of Isipingo in despatching an ox cart to Edmund Morewood at Compensation asking him to load it up with cane tops for which they paid £3 per thousand. Lawrence passed on 1886 leaving the work he had started so well to be carried on by his youngest son, Alfred to whom he had given Prospecton at the end of the Zulu War. Alfred who was born in 1853 expanded the family interests , and at his retirement deputed his son Cecil to assume responsibility for the whole estate.

    The original farm of Isipingo granted to Dick King by the Natal Government consisted of some 6000 acres between the Umlaas and the Umbogintwini Rivers , while that portion of it forming Prospecton Estate in its latter days covered about 2000 acres, with the factory almost astride of the South Coast railway. Alfred Platt died in 1938. In 1945 the Prospecton Sugar Estate was amalgamated with the Tongaat Sugar Company Ltd with Cecil Platt as director. He passed on in 1950 aged 68.”

    From what can be ascertained the Birketts, related to the Macks, the Macks and the Platts had adjoining farms. The farms ran at right angles to the existing South Coast freeway and extended down towards Isipingo Beach. They in fact included what became Louis Botha Airport. In the early 60s the Group Areas Act declared Isipingo an Indian only area and all sugar farming ceased as the land had to redistributed to Indians. I recall in 1967/1968, the hills at the south end of Isipingo being flattened by huge Caterpillar earth movers in order to make level land available for human settlements which still exist today. Prospecton first developed on the land side. I recall OTH Beier
    being an early establishment. The development on the airport side was slower but eventually both sides were filled.

    I have memories of family picnics at Umgababa Beach in the late 50s. Travelling down there, my late uncle would stop the car, get out his bush knife and help himself to several canes which grew either side of the road. These were later cut up and eaten at the beach as a treat. Gerald

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