WhatThe History of South African Saloon Car Racing Part 3
WhereSouth Africa
CommunitySouth Africa National

Part 3 — Carmakers seek a racing edge

Moving on to the third episode of the history of South African Production Saloon Car Racing and its influence on performance motoring in this country, Mario Lupini looks back at the early ‘sixties.

That second phase saw tin-top racing take its first major step from being just a gentleman's pastime, to the professional, hi-tech business it is today. It was also an era that heralded the development of a uniquely South African phenomenon of the homologation special — or showroom stock street machines developed with the sole intention of winning on the racetrack...

Saloon car racing had moved on by the end of 1961 on the back of the opening of the highly acclaimed new Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, which was celebrated with the fourth Rand Daily Mail Nine Hour Endurance Race as 75,000 race fans turned up on a hot sunny Saturday afternoon to witness a incredible moment in SA saloon racing history. 

‘Streepie’, as Ernie Pieterse and Doug Serrurier's seemingly humble Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti would soon become known, set down a significant marker when it qualified fourth on the grid on Friday afternoon behind John Love's Porsche 550 Spyder, Tony Maggs' D-Type Jaguar and Jack Holmes' Dart Climax. Streepie was quite unique though, because Pieterse had replaced its regular 1290cc engine with a 1500cc SA-developed and built Formula 1-spec lump.

The little Giulietta starred in the race, listing and screaming along at a pace to shock one and all against is sports and GT race car rivals, but Streepie would later stop with mechanical problems, leaving Nick Kingwell and Bruce Johnstone’s Group 2 specification 95kW 1290cc Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti, which ran like clockwork for nine hours straight, to come home an incredible second overall behind Love and Dr. Dawie Gous’ full race Porsche. 

Not bad for a humble family saloon, considering it beat an AC Bristol and a Climax F1-powered Dart. John Conchie and Scamp Porter’s Fiat 1100 also starred in fifth, while Danny Alderton and Ian Houliston’s Volvo Sport ended seventh ahead of the Dave Clapham and Ed Klesse Saab, Colin Burford and Phil Porter’s Renault and Dave Charlton and Roger Beerstecher in a massive Dodge Lancer as SA saloon racing once again shone against the best racers in the world. 

Meanwhile well down the order, an unknown youngster by the name of Basil van Rooyen shared a Ford Anglia with Barnie Dworsky to 20th overall. Basil would soon fit his car with an 85bhp 1000cc Formula Junior engine and take on allcomers in local racing. Kingwill and my 1290cc Alfa Romeos and Chris Griffith's Jaguar were however still kings at Kyalami by late ’63, in spite of several special saloon car projects to try stop us.

Renault Africa then teamed up with Alconi Conversions to produce the rapid and highly successful R8 streetcar in sufficient numbers to justify them racing it on track too, to take on the likes of the new Ford Cortina, Mini Cooper and Ford Anglias. All had proven popular and quick in Series Production Group 2 racing, but it was a new development over in Britain that was about to break that Alfa Romeo and Jaguar stranglehold.

Lotus had applied an all-new aluminium twin-cam cylinder head to a standard iron bottom end and Ford built and sold enough such-powered Cortinas to qualify the Lotus Cortina to compete in Production Car races. Featuring a squish-shaped combustion chamber atop wedge-crowned pistons, rather than Alfa Romeo and Jaguar's hemispherical chamber and domed pistons, it also ditched its conventional inlet manifold in favour of four individual, curved inlet tracts. 

Arnold Chatz and Scamp Porter’s Alconi Renault R8 meanwhile delivered the highlight of the ’64 SA tin-top year with an incredible fourth overall at Kyalami’s Nine Hour behind a Ferrari 250 LM, a 250 GTO and a lightweight Jaguar E Type. Another surprise was Libero Pardini’s SA land speed record attempt with a 300kW 7-litre Dodge Polara allegedly capable of 300km/h, but it proved too heavy for Verneukpan’s salty crust, which crumbled causing the tyres to shred at 250km/h!

The much anticipated ultra-fast Lotus Cortinas duly arrived in South Africa with a bang as van Rooyen and Cape Town hero Koos Swanepoel initially decimated the local saloon car field. That prompted PE motorcycle racing champion Bernie Marrinier to acquire one of Andy Granatelli’s US record-breaking Avanti V8-powered Studebaker Larks, while Pardini built a quick but unreliable Valiant, but they were no match for the new twin-cam Fords. 

The 1965 South African Saloon Car Racing season opened in grand style in a dream showdown between Jackie Stewart's Lotus Cortina, Paul Hawkins' Willment Ford Galaxie and South Africa's enfants terrible, van Rooyen and Swanepoel. The race proved a close-fought affair, with the Galaxie winning by a tenth of a second from Stewart, Basil and Koos, as the four Fords made for the best racing of the day by far.

That season proved an entertaining one as van Rooyen and Swanepoel took on Bob Olthoff in the Willment Galaxie and the occasionally super-quick Marriner’s Studebaker, while the South African homologated Renault R8 Alconi even won races overall in in the Onyx Group 2 Production Car Championship. It all changed again for ’66 however, as armed with a pair of Ford Mustang V8s, van Rooyen and Swanepoel moved the game even further along. 

That was just the start and an incredible new era was about to dawn — don’t forget to come back next week to follow the next step in the splendid story of the History of South African Production Saloon Car Racing.

The History of South African Saloon Car Racing will be published in more comprehensive form in a new book anon…


Issued on behalf of SA Saloon Racing History

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