A photo taken in the early 1990s, showing the BP signs of the Bridge Service Station.
Date: 25 February 2019 By: Anton van Zyl
A popular landmark in Louis Trichardt for almost 50 years is soon to be demolished. Fortunately, this will only be temporary as a brand new and ultra-modern fuel station will be erected on the same spot. The new filling station will not only boast more space for more cars and even trucks, but it will host a 24-hour convenience store, ideal for the late-night grocery shopper.
Bridge Service Station has become synonymous with the entry into town via Rissik Street. Throughout the past almost five decades, millions of vehicles filled up here with fuel. The service station also played host to a number of different car dealerships, with brands such as Chrysler, Citroën, Mazda, Peugeot, Mazda and Ford.
When Johan Gilfillan and his wife, André, arrived in Louis Trichardt in 1971, they probably never realised how big an impact they would have on the region. Johan, a dealership manager in Maraisburg, Johannesburg, prior to his arrival here, was looking for a business of his own. Bridge Service Station came up for sale and, with the financial assistance of some family members, they grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
For a small period, right at the start, Bridge sold Toyota vehicles. In 1972, the switch was made to Chrysler, and models such as the Valiant started appearing on the showroom floor. In 1976, two major motor companies, Illings and Chrysler SA, merged to form the Sigma Motor Corporation. Brands such as Mazda and Mitsubishi were added to the range. Sigma Motors also had local manufacturing plants for cars such as the trustworthy Peugeots. Other names that appeared locally were the modern Colt vehicles and the ultra-luxurious Citroëns.
The older residents in town may remember that, at one stage, Bridge Service Station also hosted a range of caravans. Sprite caravans could be ordered from here and even the more luxurious Wilk caravans were on sale.
In 1985, Sigma merged with Ford SA to create the South African Motor Corporation, known as Samcor. This development meant that Bridge Motors could offer Ford’s products to their clients. Since the town already had a Ford dealership (Van Rooyen Ford), the two dealerships discussed the options, and Bridge Motors decided to buy Jannie van Rooyen’s business.
In 2013, yet another car manufacturer’s sign found its way to Bridge when the Kia dealership was acquired. This meant, however, that space was becoming a problem. At that stage, the Fords and Mazdas were already competing for showroom space. A new building was erected on the corner of Rissik and Grobler Street and Kia motors moved there for a while.
When Mazda parted ways with the Ford brand internationally in 2014, the display areas once again became problematic. A year later, in 2015, Bridge Auto bought vacant land from the municipality next to the N1, adjacent to the cricket field. Shortly afterwards, construction started on a new showroom for the Kia vehicles as well as a new home for Ford.
When the Kia brand moved to the new building next to the N1 in 2017, Mazda moved to the building on the corner of Rissik and Grobler Street. Several setbacks were experienced in the construction work at the new Ford buildings, but early in 2019 the Ford brand could also move their inventory.
In 2017, the Bridge Auto group was sold to Unitrans Automotive, one of the largest automotive dealer networks in South Africa. The sale meant that the three dealerships joined a group with 110 branches countrywide. It was “business as usual”, because the transaction did not affect the management of the dealerships.
As far as the old Bridge Service Station is concerned, these developments have allowed the owners to renovate it completely and build something new that is geared for the future.
According to Rampie Gilfillan, general manager of Bridge Auto, the building will be demolished and the service station will be closed for an estimated three months. He apologised to clients for the inconvenience, but promised that the new setup will be much more user friendly and will offer fast and convenient services.
The new driveway will be much bigger and will cater for light vehicles on one side and trucks on the other. The driveway for cars will boast six islands, with easy entrances. Ample parking will be available, especially for those who want to use the convenience store.
The convenience store will be a Pick n Pay Express store, while a Wild Bean Café will offer coffee and a wide range of freshly baked sweet and savoury snacks.
He invited people with suggestions or complaints to contact him or André Gilfillan directly at (015) 516 2311.
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror for over 27 years. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.