Described as a go-ahead club, the Piston Ring was formed in 1970 by a group of eager enthusiasts, headed by the late Alf Harris and the late Alan Schikkerling. Their prime objective was to restore and preserve vehicles of yesteryear, on a policy of 25 years and older eligibility.
From the initial small site in Kensington, Johannesburg, with a club membership of 70, the Piston Ring has developed into the largest club of its type in South Africa. The Piston Ring is affiliated to the South African Vintage and Veteran Association.
Today club membership is way in excess of 1200 members, providing an excellent variety of 3000 vehicles, ranging from "Teens" to the "80's"
Over the years the Piston Ring has operated from three different venues. In 1994 we were fortunate enough to persuade AECI and Modderfontien to rent us a house. WE were also given a long lease and permission to build a hall, a flat, ablution blocks and a storeroom. This was the first time in all the years that The Piston Ring actually had a roof over their heads. Prior to that all meetings, swopmeets, etc were held under the African sun. Despite this the Club grew from strength to strength and is noted for being the most active in the South African Vintage and Veteran Association.
Club Meetings are held on the third Sunday of each and every month from January to December, in the tranquil, historic and beautiful surroundings of Founders Hill at Modderfontein. The venue is superb and draws hundreds of enthusiastic and highly supportive members to each meeting. There are usually over 200 golden oldies at each meeting from as early as 8am. In fact Piston Ring can boast a "Cars In The Park" at each meeting.
The unique and bustling club canteen, called the Piston Ring Filling Station , and an ever bustling Insignia unit, cater for large numbers of Members, families and friends at each club meeting.
The Charity Canteen together with the Golden Hubcap, which is run by the chairman, generates funds for our various charity donations. Each year Piston Ring donates a number of wheelchairs, cash to a variety of worthy causes, as well as hosting underprivileged children to our Annual Christmas Tree/Party. It has always been the policy of our Committee and members to assist those less fortunate than ourselves.
The annual club activities include rallies and social outings, occasional Sunday Breakfast Runs and Bring And Braai Breakfasts. which are always well attended. Once a year we have a huge Charity Breakfast which is catered for by ourselves. This, too, generates funds for our numerous charity activities.
Piston Ring has two swopmeets per year which have grown to such an extent that they can be aptly described as the largest Swopmeets this side of "Hershey". In fact the September Bi-Annual Swopmeet has been recognized as a National event by SAVVA, attracting thousands of enthusiasts from throughout South Africa and Neighboring countries. An average of over 100 Swop stalls are usually booked, ranging from Austin's and Antiques to Zodiacs and Zeppelins. Apart from this an incredible variety of other items are usually on sale.
Further sideshow promotions during the monthly club meetings include trucking displays, sports car sizzlers, circle of champions, 50th Birthday celebrations, continental and soft top shows. The activities are endless.
Piston Ring usually host The Toyota Sponsored Motorshow in July each year. This has proved extremely popular and once again thousands of people attend.
As you will gather from the above, Piston Ring is exceptionally active. They are rewarded by the incredible enthusiasm received from the vast number of members who respond without hesitation by bringing out their golden oldies. This results in a sensational "Bumper to Bumper" exhibition on each and every occasion.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MODDERFONTEIN By Vic Hayne
Modderfontein Dynamite Factory was established in 1894 on a site in the rolling hills northeast of Johannesburg, covering several thousand acres.Today it is the biggest dynamite factory in the world. It was established principally to supply the emerging gold mines of the Witwatersrand with much needed explosives which were required to reach the newly discovered main reef at ever deeper levels.
The original factory was based on the layout of the Nobel chemical plant in Ardeer, Scotland. In the early years, many immigrants arrived in South Africa to work at the newly established plant.
Of note, were a large contingent of Italians who erected a mini village which came to be known as "little Italy".
Over the years as the factory expanded, the residential areas were relocated and the original "little Italy" was engulfed by the main factory. Although parts of it still exist, the charming little Italian-style houses are hidden from the eyes of the public inside the general factory area, as is an historical clock tower, a fire station which is still in use, and several other old buildings.
The factory belongs to AECI, previously known as African Explosive and Chemical Industries, under the umbrella of the Anglo American group. In 1924, a survey of the property was carried out and the Franz Hoenig House, which is now a museum, was valued at 4000 pounds sterling.
During the Anglo Boer war, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, was then Colonel of the Irregular Horse Regiment in South Africa and he resided at the Franz Hoenig House.
Those club members who remember the previous site of the Piston Ring down near the lake will remember the huge old oak tree and the corrugated iron scout hall. The tree was in fact planted by Baden-Powell and the hall was the remaining part of a school which he set up while in residence.
The factory manager's first official means of transport was a carriage drawn by 4 large Argentinian mules, which was followed later by a Victorian carriage, before a motor car was supplied in 1908. What car it was, does not seem to be documented, but in subsequent years, Chrysler products were utilised.
The imposing general office building was built in 1937 and today houses the accounts, wage and salary, computer, engineering and secretarial departments.Today it is known as Modderfontein House.
Modderfontein was proclaimed a Health Committee in 1952 and a Town Council in 1986. Today it is part of greater Edenvale. The production of the first million tons of explosive was achieved in 1953.
Today, besides manufacturing over 3 000 000 cases of explosives per year, there are also very large installations and facilities for manufacturing ammonia and other chemicals, the fixation of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen from the atmosphere, blasting explosives, safety fuse, detonators and many others. Awesome stuff! Being a dynamite factory, Modderfontein has had its own and related tragedies. 1896 was an awful year for South Africa. Apart from the Jameson Raid, their was a plague of Rinderpest and the new ocean liner , the Drummond Castle sank off the coast of France, but the most horrifying event of all was the "Great Dynamite Explosion" in Braamfontein on February 19, 1896. A few hundred metres from the centre of Johannesburg, stood a train containing 55 tons of sweating dynamite, cooking in the hot highveld sun. It had been there for three days. It took only a slight jolt from a shunting locomotive to set the whole thing off! The result was a crater 250 metres wide and 30 metres deep, which also left over a hundred dead and and 2000 injured, not to mention the destruction of hundreds of homes and loss of horses and livestock. Again, in 1932 a dynamite train exploded near Leeuwdoringstad, with similar consequences. The last major explosive accident at Modderfontein was in 1964. Since then, stringent safety precautions have ensured that the factory has operated with a healthy safety record.
Modderfontein has been host to Piston Ring since 1987. It is an ideal venue with beautiful natural vegetation and a wonderful country atmosphere. Since 1994, Piston Ring has been at its present site with its very own clubhouse, magnificent hall and all the facilities that are expected of a club of this magnitude. With the outstanding enthusiasm of The Club Chairman and his Committee, the club continues to grow by the day.
Meetings are held on the 3rd Sunday of the month, when it is normal to have a gathering of between 200 to 300 old cars. Why not come and visit, enjoy the facilities and perhaps even become a member? Modderfontein has a lot to offer, historywise, culturewise and motoringwise.