Bob's Studebaker Resource Website

Studebaker South Africa

Studebaker's association with South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD) began with the signing of a franchise agreement in October 1946 to assemble Studebakers in Uitenhage.

The first Studebaker left the production line in November 1948 despite the fact that the factory had not yet been completed.

Over the years a number of different Studebaker models became available, the two most popular during the late 1940's and early 1950's were the Champion and Commander. Engines were available in various capacities and kW ratings, some of which ranged between 3.2 and 4.0 litres, producing 60 and 74.5 kW respectively. The 4.0 litre V-8 engine of the early 1950's produced 104 kW initially and 120 kW later.

Famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy was responsible not only for the Lucky Strike cigarette packet design amongst others, but also for the daring bullet-shaped design of the Studebaker of the late 1940's and early 1950's.

A total of 977 Studebakers were delivered to dealers by the end of 1949 - a number that compares with the number of Citi Golf currently sold in one month.

SAMAD stopped the assembly of Studebakers in 1965, the compact Studebaker Lark being the last variant built.

From 1950 to 1955, SAMAD also assembled Austin cars on contract to Austin of England. The VW Transporter (Kombi) was introduced to the range in 1955 after the Austin contract was terminated and would remain in production for nearly 47 years.

1950's: SAMAD entered into an agreement with Volkswagen in Germany in July 1951 to assemble the unconventional air-cooled, rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle in Uitenhage. This was a bold step as the car was virtually unknown in South Africa with only a few privately imported examples to be seen. The first locally assembled Beetle rolled off the production line on 31 August 1951.

Early Beetles were fitted with an 1100 cc engine developing 22 kW. Capacity was increased at the end of 1953 to 1200 cc, the engine developing 27 kW and again in 1961 when horsepower was increased to 30kW, although the engine was still 1200 cc. More powerful 1300, 1500 and 1600 cc engines followed between 1966 and 1971. Interestingly, the most powerful Beetle was the SP 1600 introduced in the closing months of 1976 which produced 50 kW, more than twice as much power as the old 1100 motor.


Volkswagen South Africa and Uitenhage have come a long way since the company founded its home there in 1946. Back then, the Indiana based Studebaker Export Corporation signed a franchise agreement with South African Industrial and Commercial Holdings Ltd, marking the birth of South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors Ltd (SAMAD), which later became VWSA.

It made sense to be near a port, thus negotiations first began with the Port Elizabeth Municipality. But, when the talks became too drawn out, a satellite town on the prickly-pear belt took the gap and offered SAMAD twenty hectares of industrial land in the Swartkops Valley for the rock-bottom price of R 2500.

Uitenhage, already the country’s leading wool-washing centre with large railway workshops, became ‘Spanner Valley’, home to the sapling of a motor industry giant. Canadian Mel Brookes was appointed SAMAD’s first managing director and the first Studebaker trucks were rolled out in late 1948. On February 18, 1949, the new plant was officially opened on the site of present day VWSA. The factory employed 320 people and production was a steady 12 units a day.

In 1948 Baron Klaus Von Oertzen, a colourful business visionary who had settled in South Africa, met the man who had resurrected the VW factory in Germany, Professor Heinz Nordhoff, and was offered the VW distributing franchise for South Africa. Following some clever negotiations involving the export of 340 000 litres of Cape wine to Germany, Von Oertzen received his first import permits. The ‘odd-looking’ car’s future was still a topic of skeptical debate in the industry, but Mel Brookes knew a hot bet when he saw it. Negotiations led to one of the most historic meetings in the life of the company.

In July 1951, Nordhoff, Brookes and Von Oertzen formally signed an agreement between Volkswagenwerk and SAMAD that enabled the Uitenhage plant to assemble and distribute VW vehicles and parts in the Union of South Africa. Two fully-assembled cars had been dispatched from the VW factory in Wolfsburg to be used for evaluation and as a platform for training for local assembly. The second arrived in Uitenhage in early August 1951. By the end of that month amidst cheers and broad smiles, the very first locally-assembled Beetle was driven off the SAMAD production line. It was a momentous day for the company and the start of a love affair between VW and South African motorists. It also put Uitenhage on the map as the home of the successful motor manufacturer.

Another old favourite, the VW Kombi, was launched in 1955. In 1956 when a rising labour force, increased production and an ever-expanding plant laid SAMAD financially bare Volkswagen AG bought a controlling interest in the South African company, making it part of the global Volkswagen Group’s network.

When production of Studebakers ceased in 1965, the Uitenhage plant was left with its attention solely on Volkswagens. At a meeting of the SAMAD stakeholders in November 1966, it was unanimously decided to change the company’s name to Volkswagen of South Africa Ltd. Audi joined the production line in 1968. The last four-ringed car rolled off the production line in April 2001.

The factory became known as Volkswagen of South Africa in 1974. Production was focused on the Beetle and Kombi until the late 1970s when the Beetle was superceded by the ever popular Golf 1, today’s CitiGolf. VWSA has been successfully exporting cars for the past decade, beginning with exports of Jetta 2s to China in the early 1990s.

Extract from a speech by Dr. Carl Hahn, Chairman of Volkswagen, at the Drostdy Museum, 5 October 1987:

"It never ceases to amaze me how events which seem to be relatively insignificant at the time, lead to great things. It is not generally known that the late father of Mr. Dawie le Roux MP, Mr. Pieter le Roux, had a part to play in the birth of Volkswagen in South Africa."

"At a time when SAMAD was a small, struggling company assembling Studebakers and Austins, Mr. Le Roux, then manager of Standard Bank here in Uitenhage, read in a bank bulletin that the young Volkswagen organisation in Germany was in the process of developing export markets."

"Mr. le Roux immediately contacted the then Managing Director of SAMAD, Mr. Mel Brooks, and suggested to him that he should investigate the possibility of obtaining a licence to assemble Volkswagens in Uitenhage. Mr. Brooks followed his advice, and the rest is history…"