In the late 90s, South Africa made great strides, as a nation just liberated from colonialism, emerging from the entrapment of their political situation, and searching for a new national identity. However, somewhere along the way, it rose to the top of the list as the most crime-ridden country in the world and carjacking in South Africa was at an all time high. This serious security risk on the roads led to the invention of the 1998 BMW Blaster, also known as the Flamethrower.
The Flamethrower was invented within legal bounds, considering that in South Africa, it was and still is legal to use force in self-defense. Invented by Charl Fourie, it was fitted with an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) flame-thrower on both sides, below the doors. By flipping a switch, the driver could blast a scorching flame into the face of any intruders forcing their entry into the car through the windows or the doors. The blast, while hindering the intruder, would cause no damage to the car itself.
With criminals brandishing knives, guns, and ready to use them, you could not really worry too much if the 1998 BMW Blaster scorched them blind. That would mean one or two carjackers less for the public to deal with. While the inventor claimed that the blast of fire would not kill but only blind the assailants; critics argued that criminals would opt to murder the driver first before taking the car.
For many would be buyers, the argument then was whether it was necessary or not. Where did the bigger risk lie? With or without the 1998 BMW Blaster there is a risk you may lose your life either way. Well, maybe we had better leave that to human rights activists, but if you have ever been carjacked anywhere in Africa, you certainly know that the criminals are not the “Excuse me ma’am, I would like to use your car please” types. You are the only obstacle standing between them and the car.
First buyer of the 1998 BMW Blaster and why it was shelved
Only a person who has been in the thick of things could tell what an important invention the flamethrower was. Superintendent David Walkley of the Crime Intelligence Unit of Johannesburg opted to have it with all its risks, rather than not having it all and drive around unprotected in the crime ridden streets of Johannesburg. Between 1998–2001, only a few hundred of the BMW Blaster had been sold. Unfortunately, the high cost of the flamethrower did not encourage many buyers and eventually, the device had to be shelved, contrary to false reports that it was banned.
With the high rates of carjacking in South Africa, the ability to blast scorching flames for up to 5 meters, certified legal and very easy to use, one would think that the device would make millions in sales, but Fourie had to pull the device out of the market and instead started selling a smaller, handheld flame-thrower device.
Carjacking rates in South Africa have since dropped, but not enough not to warrant the use of anti-hijack antics like the 1998 BMW Blaster.