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Historic Racing Car Festival at Zwartkops

Broadcast dates : 26th February 2006
4th March 2006

Itís somehow fitting that the South African motorsport season kicks off with the Historic Racing Car festival incorporating the Legends of the Nine Hour.

Back in the 1960s and early '70's top-flight European teams came out to South Africa to escape the winter for what was then known as the Springbok Series.

For the past few years, Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria has been re-enacting the glory days of South African motor racing in early February.

Bobby Olthoff was a Krugersdorp lad who set off to England to seek racing fame and fortune. When he returned to South Africa in 1965 he brought two of the John Willment teamís most famous cars Ė a Cobra and the mammoth 7-litre Ford Galaxy.

Bobby died last year after running a successful sports car importation business in America, and the parade paid tribute to one of South Africaís most famous drivers.

The beauty of the Zwartkops commemorative festival is that it attracts international driving legends from the old days of the Kyalami Nine-Hour and the Springbok series, organized by multiple winner Englishman David Piper.
The awesomely fast Lola T70, today driven by Nigel Hume, came awfully close to winning the Nine Hour in 1969 in the hands of the late John Love. Itís one of the most revered sports car classics in the world today, running fuel injected Chevy V8 motors of anything up to seven litres.

But it was the Galaxy that just about everyone in the Zwartkops crowd had come to see. The car had taken Bobby Olthoff to the South African Saloon Car Championship in 1965, battling mightily with the less powerful but much nimbler Lotus Cortinas of Koos Swanepoel and Basil van Rooyen.
Joining in the fun were all sorts of Nine Hour-eligible saloons like Ford Mustangs Volvos, Renault Gordinis, Alfa Romeoís and even a Consul 315.

There were some highly valuable imported racers in the bunch too, like the Aston Martin DB4 from 1960 driven by Englishman John Brewer.
But the tussle between the Galaxy and two Ford Mustangs had the crowd on their feet. The massive Galaxy had no right really to be in front of the Mustangs. Except it was driven by Sarel van der Merwe, one of our most successful and fearless drivers of all time.
Sarel was giving the Galaxy coupe, originally developed for NASCAR racing in America, a full tonk. And enjoying every minute of it.

This particular Galaxy coupe was actually brought out as a racing spare by Ford and was stored, undiscovered for almost forty years before being resurrected by Peter du Toit and his crew.

Two cars are linked to the Galaxy in SA motorsport lore. The Ford Mustang, which outgunned the much heavier Galaxy in 1966, and the Ford Lotus Cortina, which gave the Galaxy such a torrid time in 1965.

This particular Lotus Cortina is an exact recreation of the car that took Koos Swanepoel to the 1964 saloon car championship, right down to its famous race number, 141. Itís owned, prepared and raced to excellent effect by former rally ace Ben van der Westhuizen.
In the 1960ís, Fordís corporate slogan was "total performance" and this encompassed nearly every model, from the humble Anglia to the Le mans-winning GT40.
The car that spelled the end of the Galaxyís competitive life in 1966 was the Superformance Ford Mustang, raced by Basil van Rooyen. This is a faithful recreation right down to colour schemes and advertising decals, built and driven by Brian Rowlings.
Entirely home grown was the South African built Protea Triumph, while the mix of sports and saloon cars sharing the same bit of tarmac captured the Nine Hour spirit perfectly

The diversity of eraís also proved fascinating for old-timers who witnessed the actual nine-hour races at Kyalami in the 1960ís.
The tight nature of the Zwartkops track makes close racing hard on the driversí nerves when pedalling historic racing cars worth upwards of ten million Rand.

The owners of these priceless relics have to share the same piece of tarmac with some old-timers that have been pretty much cobbled together.
A car that didnít need American power was the incomparable Chevron, which was all British. This closed coupe B16 was a race winner in the hands of Grant Orbell.
The B19, in Gunston colours, which we featured on the show a few weeks back, ran hard in the hands of Anthony Corin.

Running a close second to the Galaxy in the popularity stakes was David Piperís Porsche 917, which he used to win the 1969 Nine-Hour at the old Kyalami. David had been a regular Nine-Hour winner in Ferraris since 1962 before switching to the Porsche, which was said to be an evil beast to drive.

According to legend, the chassis flexed so much that when you reached for the gear lever it wasnít where it was before, because of so much power and such little chassis rigidity.

Another legendary Nine-Hour car was the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33. Belgian driver Teddy Pillette pulled out about a quarter lap lead in the 1970 race at Kyalami as he simply hopped in and roared away, doing up his seat belts on the move.

This is a later evolution of the original Alfa 33, restored and driven by UK driver Bobby Bell.

Maintaining an historic racing car, especially a classic works car like this Alfa is extremely difficult, as there are no readily available production parts. Alfa Romeo was also notorious for changing the specifications at a moments notice.

The 33 used a highly modified version of the V8 Montreal Alfa motor.

Those inlet trumpets of the Alfa V8 are a sight to savor, as are cars like the Aston DB4 and DB5, the MGB, and all the rest.

All we need now is to see thousands of caravaners and campers spending the night at Zwartkops before the race, and the spirit of the nine-hour will have been truly resurrected.

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