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The South African BMW M Festival isn't just a big car show, it is a celebration for the country's love for everything BMW.

31 Oct 2019

In normal conversations, we tend to refer to BMWs as Bimmers. But 'triple-threes' and gusheshes - any of these words sound familiar to you?

Ask any South African and they'll tell you that that's another name for a particular BMW.

South African specials

The most iconic BMW in South Africa is the E30 325iS that featured an Alpina-derived 2.7-litre straight-six engine
I learnt that Gusheshe refers to one of the hottest second generation (E30) 3 Series variants that one could get their hands on in South Africa.

That variant is the 325iS, with an Alpina-derived 2.7-litre straight-six engine.

At the BMW M Festival, every person who walked past the Gusheshe took a closer look. I accidentally got myself in the crossfire of a man taking pictures of it, and we spoke briefly of another special E30 - the triple-three.

The triple-three, or 333i, is an E30 that featured a 3.2-litre straight-six from a 7 Series. It sang a tune of about 192bhp and 280Nm of torque - big numbers 30 years ago.

"South Africans will pay you top dollar for a triple-three," he adds. A Gusheshe owner himself, he says an immaculate condition 333i would possibly ask for the same price as a brand new 1 Series today.

The 333i, only meant for South Africa, is rarer than even the M3 of the same generation
With only 200-odd units produced only for South Africa, the 333i is in fact rarer than even the E30 M3.

In South Africa, M is king

The existence of the 333i isn't surprising. South Africa has played a big part in the development of BMW's Motorsport division. Hence, the existence of another special BMW - the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition, or MLE for short.

Tooled in BMW's factory in Rosslyn, the 530 MLE started its life as your run-of-the-mill 5 Series from the 70s. But to go racing in the Modified Production Series in South Africa, at least a 100 units must be made available for public sale under homologation requirements.

BMW could have easily said no. After all, it had its top national racing series in its own backyard back in Germany. Yet, it went ahead, with a tweaked 3.0-litre straight-six making some 194bhp and 277Nm of torque. BMW made more than 200 units of the 530 MLE between 1976 and 1977, just for South Africa.

This road-going 530 MLE has been restored by BMW Group South Africa, and is believed to be the only one in existence in such good condition
It was worth it. The 530 MLE bagged three consecutive titles, with 15 wins consecutively. By the time it retired in 1985, the 530 MLE was the most successful racing 5 Series in history. And if you think about it, the 530 MLE is in fact the first few BMWs to feature the letter M in its name. This was followed by the BMW M1 that premiered at the Paris Motor Show in 1978.

When it comes to BMW's Motorsport division, the 530 MLE was the automaker's first steps into making performance cars for the road, and it all started in South Africa.

BMW and South Africa today

These racing feats and special edition models happened more than 30 years ago, but the love and adoration of BMWs from South Africans stays strong today, and it is bigger than ever.

The Festival isn't just a big showcase of the latest and greatest BMWs, but a peek at the culture that surrounds it
The South African BMW M Festival is the best place to see this in person. The biggest M Festival in the world, the two-day event saw not just a showcase of BMWs past and present, but track and test drives and a wealth of activities fitting to the festival element.

Plus, it takes place at the historical Kyalami Racing Circuit in South Africa, where BMWs once battled in the famed Modified Production Series.

Over 20,000 turned up, and every person you meet will tell you a story of a BMW. Be it the first time they bought one, to doing donuts in their dad's diesel 3 Series.

The final question I had to ask was the meaning of gusheshe. "It means fast car," says the man I met. I figured.

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