Thanks to a long history of working in the automotive media space we count some of SA’s most illustrious motoring personas as friends. In this series Most Memorable Motoring Moments we will highlight those memories that are etched into the minds of some famous names in the automotive arena. In Most Memorable Motoring Moments Part 1 we learn about a drive across the world’s highest border in a 1300 cm³ Chana by leading industry journalist Denis Droppa.

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Let us know whose Most Memorable Motoring Moment you’d like to hear about and we will try to make contact with them. Droppa recounts his experience below…

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A treasure trove

There have been drives in exotic cars at exotic locales. Who can forget driving a Porsche GT3 RS around the Nurburgring, a Ferrari 488 GTB at Fiorano, or a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ at Estoril? 

But my most memorable motoring experience is in one of the most humble cars I’ve ever driven: a 1,3-litre Chana Benni. The Chinese hatchback is as modest a conveyance as can be imagined with its gutless engine and a plasticky interior that smelled of industrial glue.

A long road

It was the locale, you see. It was part of the Chana Trax expedition in 2007, a marketing exercise to introduce the Chana brand to South Africa in which a relay of journalists drove a small convoy of Chanas from their factory in Chongqing, China across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, all the way to Mzansi. 

The high road

My leg, from Kashgar on the western edge of China to Islamabad in Pakistan through the Karakoram Highway, was a 1 400 km adventure unlike any other motoring launch. The world’s three mightiest mountain ranges – the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas – intersect here, and across the most breathtaking scenery the week-long journey took us through the Khunjerab pass across the world’s highest paved ​border post at dizzying 4 700 metres. 

Along potholed roads littered with rocks dispensed by the peaks above, and weaving around glaciers that had scraped away sections of tar, and often sharing the roads with Pakistan’s ornately decorated “jingle trucks”, our convoy crawled along narrow mountain passes with vertiginous drop-offs as seen in Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

As gutless as they were, the plucky little Chanas handled the cratered roads and high altitudes like troopers, and reached their destination intact after the 20 000 km journey. Chana’s stay in South Africa was unfortunately short lived, but the memory of that journey will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten the smell of the cabin.