Turtle 1

Podcast (Dutch)

Podcast (English)

Not all cars end up in a junkyard, some get reincarnated in Africa. Smets and Onna followed a trail of old cars and ended up at Suame Magazine (Ghana), the largest industrial car repair hub in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 200,000 people work and live simplifying modern cars and making them suitable for the African market. Could this informal recycling community design its own car brand and start an open air car factory?

Impression Suame Magazine

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Turtle 1

In collaboration with the Suame Magazine Industrial Development Organisation (S.M.I.D.O.), artisans built the concept car Turtle 1 in just 12 weeks. The Turtle 1 is assembled from various car brands and without a board computer, so it can be repaired with any available car part. This makes it impossible for the car to reach high speeds, but the low tech design makes it a robust vehicle, fit to the ‘Slow but Steady’-slogan.

The project attracted a lot of attention from the Ghanaian media and the Turtle 1 was blessed and inaugurated by King Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu during his first visit ever to Suame Magazine. The king ordered a promotional tour in Europe to showcase the emerging car industry of Ghana. The Turtle 1 was presented in several TV shows in Germany, France and the Netherlands, featured in many newspapers and magazines and was then exhibited at several events, car fairs and exhibitions. The Turtle 1 showcased the strengths, vitality and possibilities of Suame Magazine as a place for car manufacturing, as well as the potentials of an African car. It also inspired many people in and outside of Ghana to work towards a new Ghanaian car brand.

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2015 Master apprentice assembly line

In 2015 the Turtle came back to Suame Magazine where Ghanaian stakeholders wanted to investigate the possibilities to continue the Turtle project and explore the possible future of a local car industry in Suame Magazine. Based on the experiences and ideas in the building process, Aardschap together with local partners in Ghana and the Netherlands conducted a feasibility study to explore such a possibility.

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2016 Turtle 1: Building a car in Africa

Five years after Smets and Van Onna set foot on Ghanaian soil, it is time to reflect on what has been achieved. The book Turtle 1: Building a Car in Africa (2016) takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the authors’ experiences as naive outsiders – with no knowledge of cars – who wanted to find out how an informal economy works.

Designed by Ko Sliggers – known for his award-winning cookbook about Sicilian cuisine Koken Tussen Vulkanen, the book is filled with humorous and insightful images and videos. Warna Oosterbaan, author of various publications such as Motorziel: Kleine Sociologie Van Een Machine (2010) leaves no question unanswered in his thoughtful interview.

To fully understand the functioning of the Suame Magazine, a hand drawn map by Melle Smets is enclosed at the back of the book. Unique for a book is the inclusion of videos that can be called up on numerous pages by scanning the QR codes.

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Title: Turtle 1 – Building a car in Africa
Authors: Melle Smets & Joost van Onna
Photography: Teun Vonk
Text: Melle Smets, Joost van Onna, Warna Oosterbaan
Design: Ko Sliggers
Language: English
Publisher: Paradox, Verlag Kettler
Measurements: 17 x 23.5 cm
Pages: 288
ISBN: 978-90-818876-6-3
Copies: 1700
Price: €29,50

In other media

Period 2012-2015

Location Suame Magazine, Kumasi, Ghana

Team Joost van Onna, Melle Smets, Teun Vonk

Commisioned by Aardschap Foundation

Funding Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Centrum Beeldende Kunsten Rotterdam, Stichting Doen

Sponsor Royal Burger group, AEL, Xelvin BV

Special thanks Peter Michiel Schaap, Joris Lindhout, Maaike Gouwenberg, Jan de Bruin, Immanuel Sirron Kakpur


Suame Magazine Industrial Development Organisation (SMIDO), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Kumasi, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, United Pension Trustee Ghana, Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam, department Designlab – Cynthia Hathaway, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam,department Fine Art – Rolf Engelen, Xelvin BV, HAN Automotive, V2_

In collaboration with

Technical team S.M.I.D.O
Project management: George Amankwah (President) Charles Taylor (Vice President) Nyaabe – Aweeba Azongo (Consultant) Reuben Konlan, Eva van Ginhoven, (Communication) Pascal de Man (Website), Iztok Klančar, Mat Wijn (Video edit)
Technical supervision: W.A. Cophie Albert, Philip K. Kwarteng
Assistent technical supervision: Antipem Charles Ofori Mechanics: Christopher Adusei, Kofi Owusu, Eliaia Abew, Appiah Boateng, Daniel Appiah Adjeilum, Seth Frimpong, J.K. Mensah, Desmond, Apomasn Kofi Stevenson, Sidik
Adramani Painters: Appiah Kubi, Debora Nyarko, Thomas Owusu Liners: Atta Agyemari, Degraft Kwame, Atta, Joseph Arthur, Yaya Adama, Yaw Electra: Lamus Kofi Musah, Shiabu Nabiridih Rashidi, James, Justice Jamal Saeea, Francisco Yeboah
Bodyworkers: Abdul Razak Abubakar , Daniel Owusu , Sololmon Osei Yeboah All Round: Francis Kuyol, Samuel Ampiah, Daniel
Carpenter: Murphy Martey Cudjoe