WhatThe History of South African Saloon Car Racing Part 1
WhereGrand Central Racetrack
When15 November 1958
CommunitySouth Africa National

Part 1 - '58 9 Hour was SA's first saloon car race

South Africa has a superb and rich history of saloon car racing that stretches back more than sixty years and spans some pretty incredible eras, from the very first time that tin-tops were raced in the ’58 Grand Central 9-hour through the days of Group 2, Onyx Saloons alongside Group 5 and Modified saloons and the incredible Manufacturer’s Challenge. 

Then it was Group 1 and Group A and who will ever forget Group N, the V8s, Production Cars and on to today in GTC, Polo Cup and a heady collection of wonderful regional race championships.

This series was originally penned by Mario Lupini and ran in both Cars in Action and Classic Car Africa magazines  over the years. Mario actually raced an Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce in that historic first 9-hour and his saga covers the history of saloon ace racing in South Africa. Once completed online, the saga will be published as a book and sold in limited quantities. 

Mario has been in or around car racing as long as he can remember, having grown up hearing his dad Gigi’s tales of his experiences racing in the early late-1920s Mille Miglias, through his own race and rally career and then his sons Michele and Paolo’s on and off-track endeavours. Now Mario is grandson Giordano’s biggest fan as the lightie aims to continue the family legacy towards a century of racing in a few years time...

Looking back at the roots of saloon — or production car racing as it has become known today — and how that has over the years influenced how winning on Saturday has sold some often very special machinery on South African Mondays, this is the  first instalment of the series now exclusively brought to you via Motorsport Media and Auto & Sport at a time where entertainment is at a premium, we look back at the start of it all.

Hot saloon cars are a common sight on our busy roads today — most carmakers worth their salt offer entire performance car ranges in their line-ups — think M, AMG, RS and the rest. All of them long ago realised long ago that prime car performance technology is only perfected in one place — and that’s on the racetrack. 

Those are the brands hardest charged by passion and performance and it is only when you slip into the well-contoured, body-hugging driver's seat of a proper super-saloon and feel the rush of power, the responsiveness and impeccable road manners that a little proper tuning can achieve, that one appreciates what a performance saloon is all about. 

But production cars have not always been that way — until the late 1950s, most cars were merely a means of getting from A to B. There was never really anything special on dealer floors, nothing much exciting at all on the road and racing was just as dreary -- fields of home-built 'specials’ only raced on handicap in races like Cape Town's van Riebeeck Trophy and Jozi’s Queenshaven Meeting. 

That ‘50s highlight saw a certain C Andrews and his Studebaker Special out-handicap Whitehead and Gaze’s visiting Formula 1 Ferraris in a procession that thankfully proved among the last top-level pursuit races to be run. Andrews won much in the same way that another local, Buller Meyer managed to out-fumble the monstrous Auto Unions of von Delius and Seaman in East London just before the War with his little Riley.

That however all started to change toward the end of the 1950s ,when performance motoring really took its first big step forward, of course sparked by racing and in South Africa it was the legendary first Johannesburg 9 Hour race  that spurned it at the old Grand Central circuit in Halfway House — what we call Midrand these days.  

November 15 1958 was a huge day for motoring and motorsport in South Africa, because that was effectively the first time that regular family ‘saloon’ cars were ever raced in anger. The first 9 Hour not only boasted a drawcard Le Mans start, but it invited average production cars in various states of tune to have a go against far more fancied sports and GT adversaries.

Ian Fraser-Jones and Tony Ferguson won that race in a Porsche 356 Carrera Speedster ahead of John Love and George Pfaff’s Le Mans Austin-Healey, but there was a shock in third as Ernest and Andre Pieterse fended off a pack of exotic and hugely expensive sports and GT cars to put their Scuderia Lupini entered Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI onto the overall podium, with the similar Howell/de Lange car fifth behind a MGA.

The two subtly tweaked, humble Alfa Giulietta family saloons also lifted the coveted Index of Performance as they beat off allcomers including a V12 Ferrari 225s, a Jaguar XK 120, a Porsche 356, Triumphs, MGAs and the lightweight Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce Horse Boyden and I were fighting for second with, when a welch plug blew and we cooked that glorious little all-aluminium engine.

Few were however ready for the likes of those diminutive 1290cc Alfa Romeo Giulietta Tis to emerge in a giant-killing third and fifth, but they were set to steal SA race fans’ hearts for ever and a day, never mind the Wilson brothers Volvo Californian in fifth and a couple of Volvo 444s steered by Jan Aukema and Ewold van Bergen and Francis Tucker and JDB Myers in sixth and seventh.

That result also helped the man in the street to appreciate that the little Giulietta was capable of cruising at a magical 100 miles per hour (162km/h) all day long — a haigh ground that had until then been solely the domain of Ferraris and Jaguars. It took that giant-killing effort to help the penny to drop as Alfa Romeo and Volvo's popularity and cred on the street quite literally went through the roof.

So the die was set and tin-top racing, as some like to call it, was on its way to become an integral part of racing as we know it today and the South African sport was en route to deliver a show of car and driver legends never to be forgotten. Now come back regularly over the coming weeks as we follow that incredible story through to today - it's a quite incredible tale… - Mario Lupini


Issued on behalf of SA Saloon Racing History

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