Home > Africa, Zimbabwe > Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 1958-1980: Historical Info now available!

Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 1958-1980: Historical Info now available!

The Renault 4 was the most successful model in Rhodesia over the period

* See the Top 25 most produced models by clicking on the title! Many thanks to Frank *

Today the Africa Project is getting its first historical contribution, thanks to Frank Stevens. Frank was born and grew up in what was used to be Rhodesia up until 1980 when it became Zimbabwe, one of the most tumultuous times the country has known. During that period, up to 17 car manufacturers assembled models in a country plagued with United Nations trade sanctions, and thanks to Frank who also worked at the National Vehicle Registration Department there in the seventies, I am able to share with you the best-selling models in Rhodesia from the late fifties to the early eighties. Fascinating info if you ask me!

1958 Pontiac Strato Chief

In the fifties Rhodesia, being part of the Commonwealth, truly benefitted from the American and European export drives. The most popular models in the country at that time included the Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Polara, Pontiac Strato Chief, Ford Galaxie 500, Plymouth Fury and Mercedes 220 fintail, sharing the roads with the Austin 1100, Wolseley 6/110, Skoda Octavia, Borgward Isabella, Taunus 17M, Ford Zodiac and Anglia, Jaguar S type, Opel Rekord, Vauxhall Victor, Volvo Amazon, Holdens and even the odd Datsun...

1963 Isuzu Bellett

In 1958 BMC opened an assembly plant in Umtali (now Mutare), and Ford did the same in 1960 at Willowvale in Salisbury (now Harare) with the two brands likely dominating sales in Rhodesia in the early sixties. However the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965 triggered UN trade sanctions against Rhodesia from 1966 until the creation of Zimbabwe in 1980. As a result BMC and Ford stopped supplying CKD kits and by 1967 there were very few new cars available, except save for the occasional Isuzu Bellett and Daihatsu Compagno.

Peugeot 404

From 1968 onwards, the composition of the Rhodesian new car market changed drastically as sanctions busters found new sources of CKD kits and new brands made their appearance on the streets. Thanks to Frank's meticulous observation and note-taking when working at the Vehicle Registration Department at the time, I am able to share with you the most produced (and therefore best-selling) models in Rhodesia from 1966 to 1980.

Datsun 120Y

Interestingly, the Frenchies dominate the ranking with 4 models in the Top 5... The Renault 4 is likely to be the best-seller over the period ahead of the Peugeot 404 in all its formats (sedan, station-wagon, pick-up) with the Datsun 1200/120Y/140Y rounding up the podium. The Renault 12 and 10 follow while the Datsun 1500 pick-up ranks #6.

The BMW Cheetah/2000 SA was a rebadged Glas 1700 assembled in Rhodesia

The Alfa Romeo Giulia ranks #7, the Mazda B1600 pick-up is #8, the BMW Cheetah #9 and the Peugeot 304 #10. Other interesting entries include the Citroen DS at #11, the Alfasud at #14, the Toyota Corolla Mk2 at #18, the Peugeot 504 at #22 and the VW 1300/1600 bush buggy at #24.

Previous Zimbabwe post: Toyota Corolla sovereign, info needed

Info on Rhodesia assembled BMWs, the Rhodesian Bush-War and Full 1966-1980 Top 25 Ranking Table below.

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Categories: Africa, Zimbabwe
  1. June 19th, 2014 at 11:16 | #1

    Could I sign up for your posts?

  2. March 7th, 2014 at 01:50 | #2

    What a great walk down memory Lane -all the vehicles mentioned were like i saw them yesterday Parked in the city or Avondale car park .Thanks ! It certainly took me back to times when i rode around in most of them ,-family / folks/ friends cars back in the good old days!

  3. February 5th, 2014 at 09:31 | #3

    Mate, truly fantastic guide.

  4. alan wareing
    January 8th, 2014 at 01:02 | #4

    I am busy restoring a 1977 Datsun 120Y 3 door wagon which I believe was assembled in the old BMC factory in Umtali and purchased new in Bulawayo by the original owner from whom I acquired it, he from paperwork I have brought it to South Africa in ’85. These 3 door cars were not sold in SA so they are quite rare here.
    The makers plate states only DATSUN with the chassis/engine number no indication of country or plant of origin.
    The condition of the car is best described as “perished” but with not much rust. It is very basic transport with only the bare essentials, I am planning to have it ready for a return trip to Bulawayo in September.

  5. Russell
    August 21st, 2013 at 00:03 | #5

    I have an 1964 MGB Roadster that has a plaque on the chassis, indicating that it was bought from Northern Motors Limited, in Northern Rhodesia. I would love to find out any information on that dealer and if it might still be around. You can mail me on tinmen@mweb.co.za

  6. Peter Starling
    July 13th, 2013 at 03:35 | #6

    Does anyone have a photo of a BMW 3.0s?

  7. frank stevens
    June 29th, 2013 at 17:33 | #7

    @Mike bond
    Hello Mike,

    Prior to circa 1971, Rhodesia had an easily identifiable regional registration system, which clearly denoted the town where the vehicle was first licensed from new, as follows:
    RB – (Rhodesia) Bulawayo
    RG – Gwelo
    RS – Salisbury
    RU – Umtali
    The first two letters were then followed by a further letter, indicating how recently a car was registered, and then four digits. The plates featured white (or silver) letters on black.
    For example, RSG 9999 would have been followed by RSH 0001, RSH 0002 and so on. (Note that the letters ‘I & O’ were not included in the regional designations, to avoid confusion with numbers.)
    In the early ’70’s it was realised that with all the new locally assembled vehicles coming on stream, this system would soon run out of numbers, eg. what would come after RSZ 9999?
    Thereafter a new national system came into being. All existing vehicles had to be re-registered with new reflective yellow plates. Sadly with this later system, regional identification was only possible from the registration document and tax disc on the windshield. Your registration falls into the new system which would have led-off as follows:
    1-001 A, 1-002 B, etc. For example, I had a new in 1973 R4 (169-726 J), a re-registerd 1958 PA Cresta (RSA 6228 changing to 231-890 D) and a new in 1976 R12 (268-868 G).
    Judging by the registration, your Elan S4 would have been an import, probably brought into the country around 71/72 by a new immigrant, of which there were many at the time. Similarly, a newly arrived teacher at my school had his MGB GT shipped over to Cape Town, from where he drove the 2,000 miles up to Rhodesia.
    Zimbabwe still uses this system today, though judging from some recent photos, they will need to change soon, as 999-999 Z can’t be too far away!

  8. karen
    June 18th, 2013 at 20:31 | #8

    does anyone knw If I can find details about the old 7 Miles hotel in rhodesia

  9. Mike bond
    May 17th, 2013 at 07:07 | #9

    Can anyone help withidentifying where in Zimbabwe my 1968 lotus élan s4 was registered? It has number plate 21-518N stillattached to it. Any help will be much appreciated.

  10. Cameron
    February 15th, 2013 at 02:51 | #10

    I remember All those cars…That was Rhodesia and even Zimbabwe. If you go there today you still see them datsun 120y s running strong…..only rebuilt twice…..

    I used to be taken to Bording School in a Crocodile in case we got Revved.

    Ha ha

  11. Phil
    October 25th, 2012 at 23:29 | #11

    a 2000 from that Willowvale plant. I am also – most probably – the only one to have a rhodesian assambled Alfa 2000 in Europe…..

    Yes, all correct ! I was one of the few who visited Willowvale as Renault had sent a french manager to supervise the local assembly, and I knew that guy well. I had a Peugeot 404, an Alfa Giulia Super 1600 and later a 2000 from that Willowvale plant. I am also – most probably – the only one to have a rhodesian assambled Alfa 2000 in Europe…..

  12. Ken Westmoreland
    October 20th, 2012 at 11:30 | #12

    Fascinating – I visited Bulawayo in December 1994, and it was like going back in time when I crossed the South African border. My host drove a Renault 4, no seatbelts, and I also got a Datsun 120Y taxi. Zimbabwe got the Ford Laser before South Africa did, as you say, because of Willowvale’s tie-up with Mazda, but the Telstar wasn’t assembled or sold there. (However, Zimbabwe did get the Mazda 626 GD, unlike South Africa, as a sedan and wagon.)

  13. September 29th, 2012 at 16:46 | #13

    That really brought back some memories. Very accurate account, but I can add two more manufactures! A teacher at my school drove a Honda 600 which were quite common then. Remember the local TV ads for the “Dashing Honda”? Also around 1970 my Mom bought a brand new locally built NSU Prinz 1200 from Duly’s in Gwelo.
    And on the subject of TV ads, BMW had the car chasing a cheetah across the open bush, and the Citroen DS driving on 3 wheels with a phoney French accent commentary – LOL!
    Also the “Rhodesian built by Ford” blue stickers on the back windows of the Galaxies, Cortinas and Zephyrs. Nostalgic days indeed.
    As you may have guessed, I wound up in marketing!

    • matgasnier
      September 29th, 2012 at 17:08 | #14

      Many thanks for your contribution Rocket-man!

  14. September 28th, 2012 at 16:31 | #15

    Fascinating, love the pictures of the Glas and Isuzu Bellett, I remember at the time Peugeot was huge in Africa, I worked in Libya for fourteen years and when I first went out there every other car was either a 504 Station Wagon or 404 pickup, then the Japanese started to take over, then the Koreans, the Chinese are now making inroads, I am enjoying the Africa Project, thanks for all the work.

  15. Paul
    September 28th, 2012 at 12:09 | #16

    Found it. Not too bad an effort. It was a always nice looking sedan and the BMW makeover certainly did it some justice. Oddities like this are what makes the whole industry so interesting.

  16. September 28th, 2012 at 01:45 | #17

    Hi Paul,
    Try Googling “Glas BMW” pics. Some interesting ones there including … a lemon coloured 1804; the rear of a German registered (rhd) 2004; a couple of a UK registered abandoned 2004; and strangest of all – a RHD station-wagon prototype on which you can just make out the BMW badge on the hubcaps, so definitely not a Glas and must have been built at Rosslyn.

  17. September 27th, 2012 at 17:52 | #18

    Excellent times, good souvenirs, nostalgic years… I remember all these cars when I was a little child and lived in Mozambique and South Africa. My father had a Mercedes 220 and my mother a Fit 850 Coupé. Cars to last…

  18. Paul
    September 27th, 2012 at 14:49 | #19

    So hard to find information and pictures of that BMW/Glas hybrid, especially the facelift that looked like a five series from around 1973.

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