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Golden Age of Motor Racing

Broadcast dates : 13th February 2005
17th February 2005


There’s a strong groundswell of opinion that the Golden Age of motor racing in this country was between 1960 and the late 1970s.

Every summer the Nine-Hour international race was run at Kyalami, followed by the Springbok Series which had a unique mix of top flight Jaguars, Porsches, Ferraris and the like sharing the track with humble Cortinas, Minis and Alfa Romeos.

It was a unique pot-pourri unlike anything then or since.

Marque loyalty was fanatical in those days. From the Jaguar D Types driven by six-times champion John Love, to the Anglias raced by Koos Swanepoel and Basil van Rooyen, the cars and the drivers were legends.

These were engines from the pre-electronics days, with carburetors and ignition systems you could tune to perfection.

Twin-cam Jaguars, Datsun pushrods, Lotus Cortina twin-cam four-cylinders, roaring American V8s, and of course…. Weber carburetors, wall to wall.

But it’s not only engines that people come to see. Every year enthusiasts gather at Zwartkops Raceway to celebrate some of the great names of the past.

A top gun in the financial world when he’s not thinking about racing cars, Peter du Toit is almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of historic, or old-timer classic motor racing in this country.

He rebuilt the Zwartkops raceway outside Pretoria a few years ago, and he is of the firm opinion that old racing cars should never be allowed to gather dust in a museum.

Peter owns and races dozens of cars himself, and his sons are also keen racers. Amongst his favorites are the classic Alfa Giuliettas from the late 1950s, such as these Spider and Sprint versions.

Alfa Romeo cemented its South African reputation on the racetrack with Giulia Sprints, Giulia sedans driven by the likes of Arnold Chatz, Chris van den Heever and Emmot Barwell from Cape Town.

These Italian production cars were years ahead of their time with twin cam engines and Weber carburetors in an era when other manufacturers were still producing side-valve bangers.

Alfa’s Grand Prix cars from the pre and post war era were world-beaters.

You have to be a real classic enthusiast to be aware of Chevron, a tiny sports car manufacturer from England.

Chevron B8s, B16s and B19s became household names in the Nine Hours in the late 60s and early 70s, designed and built by the late Derek Bennet.

The B19 has an illustrious history. It was driven in the 1971 Springbok Series by the likes of Mike Hailwood, Brian Redman and our own great champion, John Love.

Fitted with a Ford Cosworth-inspired four-cylinder multi-valve engine it was good for close to two-hundred-and-fifty horsepower, and because of its nimble handling and fantastic power to weight ratio it was capable of taking on the likes of Porsche and Ferrari on tighter tracks.

They may be old but these cars are seriously quick and things can go wrong, as first Jan van Veelen in a Porsche, and then the unfortunate Corrin found in his Chevron. Fortunately damage was superficial.

A wonderful aspect of the Old Nine Hour race was that it mixed factory sports cars from Europe, with humble saloon cars.
The Renault Gordini was a tweaked version of the R8 four-seater, and it became a legend in South Africa.

In the 1969 Nine-hour Event, a highveld downpour in November turned the track into a river. Who would forget the sight of Scamp Porter, then a Renault works driver, passing the Porsche 917 of David Piper down the straight, as the big Porsche slipped and slid on its massive racing tyres?

Our one and only World Formula One champion Jody Scheckter earned the nickname "sideways-Scheckter" in these tail-happy rear-engined cars.

This example is owned by Brian Evans and driven extremely quickly and neatly by his daughter Cindy.

Cindy is a modern day giant killer in historic races, and a lot better looking than Jody, we may add.

She may occasionally get to mix it with the Porsches, but these guys are no gentlemen racers.
The Porsche contingent in historic racing is known for its ultra competitiveness, and a 911 at the limit is no walk in the park. Ranging from classic 911 Carreras to potent 930 Turbos, to the outstanding Le Mans RSR turbocharged replica built and driven by Johan van Veelen, Porsches mean business at Zwartkops.

Porsche still holds the record for the most victories at Le Mans, and when it comes to building super-fast reliable sports racing cars, the Stuttgart factory has no equal.
It’s not all about the Nine Hour era at Zwartkops. A hardy bunch of enthusiasts are single-seater buffs, and here you’ll see pre- and post-war classics, such as the 1938 Alfa Romeo and MG specials mixing it with more modern Formula Fords.

Special-building was a fine art in South Africa in the 1950s, and one of the best exponents was Les Miller, who built a number of wonderful creations based on the old MG TC.
It’s not only the cars that are classic. Who would forget Dave Charlton, six-time SA Formula One champion, enjoying an outing in Roger Pearce’s MGB?

Now well in his 60s, Dave drove a modern B.A.R. Honda a few years ago. The braking ability of the B.A.R. was an experience he’ll never forget.

Unbridled enthusiasm, attention to detail, a passion for the sport. The Golden Age Zwartkops meeting, cars galore, including some without engines.
These tiny replicas of a Lotus 16 and a Ferrari 156 shark-nose are in fact soap-box racers.

Built by KwaZulu-Natal enthusiasts, they have won the Red Bull down-hill race for the past two years. Detail work on the soapbox racers is exquisite, right down to the intake trumpets on the Ferrari V6 engine.

Mustangs, GT40s, Gordinis, Porsches… a magical mix indeed. A golden era of motorsport that lives on in 2005.

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