Derek Martin Rasmussen: A Remarkable Journey with His 1971 Toyota Hilux

Over half a century has passed since Derek Martin Rasmussen bought his Toyota Hilux, and it is still serving him well.

Photographs: Paul Henman

Born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal, Derek has served his province and community well and has a reputation in his community as a “an honest, upright and highly principled man who is often sought after for his superb carpentry skills”, says friend Anthony Durnford, who introduced the team at Toyota Connect to Derek to learn more about his 1971 Toyota Hilux.

Born on 10 November 1941, Derek was educated at Merchiston Preparatory School and Pietermaritzburg Technical College, after which he joined South African Railways to do his apprenticeship as a carpenter. The training, he says, was rigorous and there was little room for error. He later spent many years working for the government in several spheres, including the Department of Education, where he was promoted to inspector in 1981 and remained there until 1999.

In 1971, Derek put his carpentry skills and passion to further use on weekends, building his own home. At the time he drove a Valiant station wagon, but soon realised that it would be far more efficient to invest in a bakkie to transport building materials for his house. So he traded in the station wagon for R450 against a brand-new, made-in-Japan Toyota Hilux. “I paid R1,750 for the vehicle on the 26th of April 1971 and paid it off over three years at R44 per month. The registration was and still is NR 5350.”

"The Hilux was unusual as it had a gear change on the steering wheel and we were accustomed to floor change gears, but it only took me a couple of days to get used to the lever, lifting it up for reversing and then back down again."

Derek Rasmussen

He is certainly used to it now – 52 years later and the Hilux is still (and always has been) his only vehicle. It has served him well as both his working steed and personal car, and he fondly remembers road trips with his wife and three young sons, going on fishing trips along the Wild Coast.

“When the kids were older, I used to take the battery out so they wouldn’t use the car, only to discover that they used to take the battery out of their friend’s father’s car on the farm across the road, put it in my truck and drive around all day when I wasn’t there! I also recall my wife driving it one day on a dusty road. A car came from the opposite direction and flung up a stone which broke the windscreen. We had to have the windscreen replaced.”

Derek used to do a lot of driving – from fishing trips to business travel to power stations such as Kriel in Mpumalanga – and he estimates that the vehicle has done in the region of 1 million kilometres. (The clock has reset a few times as the speedometer only goes to 100,000km.) Despite this, other than replacing valves and small things, the engine itself has had no overhaul.

Derek still lives in the house he built. Sadly, his wife passed away last year, and he is battling to come to terms with her absence. He also lost one of his beloved pets, Chippy, a Jack Russell, at the time. While his one son is based in Pietermaritzburg, the other two are in Iraq and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Now 82, Derek has been working with wood for over 60 years and still does small carpentry jobs from his workshop in Merrivale. He remains a regular and popular sight in Howick, always accompanied by his last remaining pet, Molly, a much-loved rescue dog, who even has her own water bowl in the corner of her owner’s favourite watering hole, Coopers.

As for the Hilux – of which there are very few, if any, such models still in active use – it is also still going strong. “Because it was manufactured in Japan, certain spares are unfortunately no longer available in South Africa. The vehicle requires tie rod ends, for example, as the steering is a little shaky at times, but I still drive it every day.”

The vehicle is testament to the durability and resilience of a Toyota Hilux, but it is also testament to an invincible owner, who is proof that ongoing maintenance will keep your Toyota on the road.

* Background information supplied by Anthony Durnford.


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