Mixing with the best at the Concours d’Elegance

‘Recognizing me will be no problem,’ he said, after we had agreed to meet at Lavington Green. ‘No problem at all – I will be riding the fastest bike in the world!’

Kimani Gathu is a fascinating man – a man with an interesting history, a quick humour and a deep fund of stories. (Far too many stories to fit into this little space.) And he has a very special motorbike. A Kawasaki ZX-14. Big, black and capable of reaching 300 kph. The only one of its kind in Kenya.

I was meeting Kimani because I wanted to be telling you something this morning about the Schweppes Africa Concours d’Elegance, the celebration of cars and motorbikes, that is on today at the Nairobi Racecourse…. But let me stay on Kimani for a while. Because what I learnt about him in the couple of hours chat at Kengeles will help me convey something of the spirit – the fun and the flair of the Concours.

‘So why do you like such a big bike?’ I asked Kimani.

‘It’s the sense of freedom it gives you,’ he said. ‘And the power between the legs!’

He told me that as a youngster – growing up in the harsh world of Ziwani, Eastlands – he set himself to get three things: a motorbike, a piano and a degree. In that order. And he got all three.

‘I notice you didn’t mention getting yourself a wife in that list,’ I said.

‘Oh, that wasn’t so difficult. You see, she fell in love with my bike before she fell in love with me!’

It seems he inherited something of this attention-seeking device from his father, who wooed his wife by riding slowly past her on a bicycle – again and again.

I told Kimani that I could imagine the thrill of speeding down an empty road on his Kawasaki; I could appreciate the pride as car drivers turned to stare – but I couldn’t understand the spending of many hours cleaning and polishing the bike for the Concours.

‘But it’s all about passion,’ he insisted. ‘I don’t drink; I don’t go out to clubs – so I spend time with my bike.’

So today at the Racecourse you can watch Kimani ride past you, slowly…. And so many others on, or in, their powerful machines. Not all big and powerful machines, though. Some are small and beautiful. Like the 1936 Austin Seven, for example, that is being entered by Wifred Oroko of Vintage Weddings. This is one of the ‘Golden Oldies’ – cars built in or earlier than 1940. The little Austin Seven will be showing itself off in fierce competition with a 1922 Hupmobile, two 1928 Ford Tudors, a 1934 Railton and a 1934 Rolls Royce.

This year, the Schweppes Concours has added ‘Africa’ to its title. This is because the event has increasingly drawn entries from all over the continent – from Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. This year, Kenya Airways will be flying in four motorcycles from South Africa. And ten cars will be driven all the way from there, all 5670 kilometres, by members of the African Odyssey – a group of classic car enthusiasts.

Also, three motoring enthusiasts from Tanzania will be coming: Malcolm Wigmore with a 1965 Mercedes , Tor Allen with a 1966 Peugeot 404, and Jerome Bruins with a rare 1930 BMW motorcycle.

But there is much more to the Concours than a judging of cars and motorcycles. There is a sale of classic cars and, for those of you more interested in new rather than old vehicles, there are 25 motor trade stands.

All through the day there will be free children’s entertainment – from painting faces to riding donkeys – live bands, fly pasts and model aircraft displays. After the prize-giving there will be a free (in the other sense of the word) fall parachute drop and a grand finale featuring an exciting dance routine and an interactive show by the TV personality, Mitch Egwang.

I guess you are reading this at breakfast. You might be wondering what to do with the day. I’m sure you can’t find anything more interesting to do this Sunday than the Concours. The Racecourse gates open at 9.00 am; the judging starts at 10.15 am. The fun goes on till about 5.00 pm. Bring the family.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation