Part 4: 1500 F1 is born in South Africa

Up until 1960, South African single seater racing comprised mainly local-built specials mingling with a few incredible mostly pre-war Grand Prix machines, often bought off overseas drivers who had visited SA to compete in various grands prix  international races over the years.

Leading up to that point in time, the Formula 1 World Championship had been racing normally-aspirated 2.5-litre engines for a few years since ’54, after an interim couple of seasons of 2-litre Formula 2 enforced by a lack of development of the old supercharged 1.5-litre and 4.5-litre normally machine.. Formula 2 was meanwhile revised to a new 2-litre formula.

1958 proved a watershed for F1 after Stirling Moss won the Argentine Grand Prix in a mid-engined 2-litre 4-pot Rob Walker 2-litre Cooper-Climax from a field of factory Ferraris and Maseratis. That first modern era F1 grand Prix victory for a wieldy little rear-mid engined car was about to change the future of motor racing.

The Coopers were becoming impossible to beat locally to as they also went on to dominate F1 and looking to create an effective local premier formula, South African race authorities adopted the then new international 1.5-litre Formula 2 rues for the 1960 season, although the old specials and sportscars, as well as older GP machinery was still allowed alongside the already well proven newfangled kit. 

It was a move would that would soon prove quite prophetic…

Local racers were well advanced with plans for the coming SA Grand Prix and the exciting new season ahead. Syd van der Vyver had already well proven the worth of an Alfa Romeo Giulietta engine bumped up from its regular 1275cc to 1.5 litres, fettled with a couple of side-draught Weber carburettors and slotted into the back of a Cooper T43.

Doug Serrurier thought that was a great idea and did the same, but he mated his Alfa engine to a Cooper T45 chassis, while Don Philp simply acquired a Cooper T43 complete with its 1660 Coventry-Climax engine, as a going concern. 

The big news was Stirling Moss was headed for South Africa alongside Chris Bristow to race a pair Rob Walker’s 1.5-litre Cooper T51 Borgwards in the rejuvenated South African Grand Prix on East London’s new 4km track comprising the best aspects of the original pre-war Prince George Grand Prix Circuit. 

They were joined by Belgians Lucien Bianchi and Paul Frere, Bruce Halford, RT Humphreys and Aussie Dick Gibson’s T51s packing latest 1.5-litre Climax power and faced by a competitive local field including van der Vyver and Serrurier’s Cooper-Alfas and Philip and Rhodesian Jimmy Shields’ Cooper-Climaxes. 

But that’s not all – Bill Jennings had his splendid new tube-framed rear-mid engined Porsche RSK -powered Jennings special ready – once again self-built to the same immaculate standard of his old Riley-powered triple-SA championship winning machine. 

Other Libre entries came from Dave Wright’s Lotus 11 and Alan Korte in a Lotus-Climax, old school trio, Sam Tingle’s Connaught and JG Hanning and Helmut Menzlers’ Austin-Jaguar and Borgward Specials, and even Horse Boyden in Scuderia Lupini’s unique Formula Junior-based ‘Pooper’ Cooper Porsche.

There were a number of eclectic sportscars entered too, not least the Pooper’s unique 250-powered ’51 Monaco GP winning Mille Miglia Ferrari 225s stablemate in Fanie Viljoen’s capable hands, Louis Jacobsz’ perhaps more crudely converted Maserati 150-Corvette, 

Add SA champion Ian Fraser-Jones’ Porsche 550-Spyder, John Love in his D-Type Jaguar and a couple of Tojeiros – a Jaguar powered version for Tony Maggs and Eric Glasby’s machine with a Bristol engine

Moss led the New Year’s Day Grand Prix until his Borgward engine developed a misfire to allow Frere to take the win from  Moss second, wile van der Vyver not only gave the locals something to cheer for as he brought his Cooper-Alfa home a fine third from Lucien Bianchi, second local home, Don Philp’s similar machine and Fraser-Jones in his Porsche. Moss set the fastest lap at 1 minute 38.7 seconds.

So van der Vyver took maximum points away from East London with Philp and Fraser-Jones also scoring well and with construction already under way at Killarney, the WPMC ran the January 9 False Bay 100 on the tricky temporary Sacks Circle track at Bellville.

Local hero Don Philp pleased an enthusiastic crowd no end by beating British visitor Chris Bristow’s more modern Cooper T45 Borgward with similar, albeit year older Cooper T43 Climax. Syd van der Vyver ended third in his Cooper Alfa ahead of John Love’s D Type and Ian Fraser-Jones in the Porsche RS Spyder. 

Van der Vyver then added three more wins to his 1960 SA Championship tally, beating Doug Serrurier’s similar Cooper Alfa, Philp, Maggs’ Tojeiro-Jaguar and Bill Dunlop’s Cooper-Jap in Pietermaritzburg’s Pat Fairfield Memorial Trophy at  Roy Hesketh before went on taking he Rand Autumn Trophy at Grand Central and making it a trick at Hesketh’s Coronation 100.

Back at Grand Central, George Cannell made history. Having shoehorned a 290 horse 4.6-litre Corvette V8 into a Cooper Bristol, he score South Africa’s the last-ever front-engined SA Driver’s championship victory. Phil Hill would win the final front-engined grand prix in a Ferrari 246 at Monza that September.

Van der Vyver then closed off the 1960 South African Driver’s Championship with his fifth win in seven points-paying races at the Border 100 at East London, taking the title by four points from Philp, Serrurier, Cannell, Fraser-Jones and Love.

There were several other non-championship races through 1960 – Doug Serrurier won the Grand Central Summer Handicap in February, while Sam Tingle won Sailsbury’s Marlborough Grand Prix in his in March, Jimmy Shield won the Sailsbury Grand Prix in his Cooper Climax March and Serrurier the Wolff Trophy in his Cooper Alfa.

Van der Vyver also won the 31 May Union Day Race in Sailsbury, the 26 July  Gran Premio de Moçambique and 13 August Rhodesian Grand Prix, from Serrurier, Dave Wright’s Cooper Climax and Tingle and then the Rand Winter Trophy at Grand Central’s 27 August double header, where Philp won the Rhodesia vs. South Africa Challenge too!

Remember we called SA adopt Formula 2 regulations prophetic? Well here’s why – the Formula 1 World Championship also adopted F2 rules from 1961 – the Coopers and Lotus had proven unbeatable and when Ferrari went for a rear-mid-engined car for ’61, the call was made to limit  F1 to 1.5 litres too.

World championship rules did limit engines to four cylinders as in SA, but the rest was the same – 500kg self-starting 1500cc normally aspirated open-cockpit open-wheeler single-seaters running on pump petrol with no oil replenishment in races, safety fuel tanks, a roll-over bar and a double braking too.

The ‘61 South African Championship started with a new two-round Springbok Series including the 17 December Cape Grand Prix at the revamped Killarney and the 27 December South African Grand Prix. 

Which meant there were actually two SAGPs in 1960 as local organisers brought the race forward to late December so as not to clash with the Tasman Series in Australia and New Zealand after the 1 January race just under a year prior.

The Cape race attracted Stirling Moss and Jo Bonnier’s Rob Walker Porsche 718s and a bit of racing royalty in Graf Wolfgang von Trips’ Lotus 18/21 Climax  and Count Carel Godin de Beaufort’s Cooper T51-Climax.

The SA contingent included Syd van der Vyver heading up a newthree -car Scuderia Alfa line-up in his new Lotus 18 Alfa Romeo alongside Bruce Johnstone in van der Vyver’s SA champion Cooper T45 Alfa and Eugene Bosman’s venerable Lotus 15 Alfa Romeo. Doug Serrurier in his faithful Cooper Alfa and Don Philip was back in action in his Cooper Climax.

Bill Jennings had taken a few months off to fettle his Jennings Porsche and there was an exciting entry for John Love aboard the Cooper T51 Maserati that Scuderia Lupini was rushing to complete in time. Scuderia Colonia had Wolfgang in a Seidel Cooper T45 Climax and Helmut Menzler’s Lotus 18 Borgward.

Old school entries included  George Cannell’s Cooper-Chevrolet, Sam Tingle’s Connaught and Tony Kotze’s front engined Lotus 16 Climax . Add the last trio of specials, John Hanning’s Austin-Jaguar, Clive Trundell’s Austin-Riley and SA motorcycle hero Vic Procter Vic's Alfa Romeo and sportscars men Dawie Gous’ Porsche-Spyder and Fanie Viljoen in a Maserati 200SI.

Moss and Bonnier put on a tremendous display for the packed Cape Town audience Porsche with just 0.4 seconds separating the two silver cars at the flag after almost two hours at the wheel with von Trips third from top SA driver home, Bruce Johnstone, who found himself in a royal sandwich ahead of de Beaufort. 

Eugene Bosman and Syd van der Vyver’s Loti made it a Scuderia Alfa 1-2-3 among the locals, ahead of Love in the hastily readied Cooper-Maserati and Jennings, while Bonnier set a new Killarney lap record of 1 minute 31.1 seconds in the Porsche.

Newly-crowned F1 world champion Jack Brabham joined the grid for the South African Grand Prix at East London two weeks later driving a prototype 1.5litre FPF Climax-powered Cooper T53 ahead of the ’61 season, alongside Aussie Dick Gibson returned and Rhodesian Dave Wright’s Cooper Climaxes  
Stirling Moss and Jo Bonnier’s Porsche 718s would leave South Africa undefeated following another dominant 1-2 at East London, leaving Brabham and Cooper scratching their heads ahead of a season that would keep them frowning. 

Syd van der Vyver was best of the locals in fourth and happier with his new Lotus, ahead of Wolfgang Seidel’s Cooper and Bruce Johnstone in Scuderia Alfa’s Cooper. Bonnier lopped over two seconds off the East London lap record as with a 1 minute 35.7 second tour.

The world was watching as several South African 1.5-litre F1 races went down well before the new world championship commenced later in ’61, as reigning champion van der Vyver put his Lotus 18 on pole alongside Johnstone and Serrurier’s Cooper-Alfas, with Love and Seidel on he second row.

Van der Vyer led until his Alfa mill went off to allow Johnstone to move ahead until Love caught and passed him, only to spin to leave Johnstone to win from Love, Seidel, Helmut Menzler’s Ecurie Wolman Lotus-Borgward, Tony Maggs in Scuderia Colonia’s Lotus 18-Climax as Maggs and Love signed to race Formula Junior Ken Tyrrell in in Europe shortly after the race.

Scuderia Lupini arrived at Killarney for van Riebeeck Trophy race with its previously red Cooper Maserati painted yellow and John Love buoyed by his international prospects. Love put the car on pole alongside Menzler and van der Vyer as Johnstone had problems and would start at the back. 

Do as they may, van der Vyver and a recovered Johnstone could not catch Love, before  a steamy Syd once again found engine problems and Johnson was excluded for outside assistance after a spin. That left  Love to win from Menzler, Bill Jennings’ Jennings-Porsche and the struggling van der Vyver.

Grand Central’s Rand Autumn Trophy drew entries from Carswell’s Cooper-Mercedes-Benz and a new Scuderia Alfa Heron Alfa Romeo for saloon car star Ernie Pieterse. Teammate van der Vyver put his Lotus on pole from Don Philp’s Cooper now sporting a 1.5-litre Climax FPF and Serrurier, who went on to win from van der Vyver, Pieterse and Bosman’s Lotus 15 in an Alfa 1-2-3-4 .

Johnstone went off while leading and Philp hit trouble, but Bruce’s Cooper Alfa troubles finally came good when he romped to victory in Roy Hesketh’s Coronation 100 in April. Van der Vyver was back in front at the Grand Central Winter Trophy after pole man and early leader Pieterse retired after setting the fastest lap.

Van der Vyver won the East London Border 100 in July before completing a second hat trick of wins in two seasons at the Grand Central Rand Trophy in August as an improving Ernie Pieterse ended second overall following a couple of third places in those two races. 

The 1961 South African Championship then came to a head at a dramatic Rand Spring Trophy to open the new world championship level Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit on the 4 November 9-hour race bill, with Bruce Johnstone in a position to beat Syd van der Vyver to the ’61 title.

Johnstone led the from pole man Pieterse’s Heron Alfa, John Love back from overseas in the Cooper-Maserati, Serrurier and van der Vyver. But a puncture cost Johnstone the race win and the title , leaving Pieterse to win from Love and van der Vyver, who wrapped up his second SA Driver’s title on the trot.

As always, there were several non-championship races through the 1961 season, starting with Bob van Niekerk winning the Grand Central Junior Autumn Trophy in Ted Lanfear’s Lotus-Ford in March, while Jo Eckhoff won the ‘Martizburg Royal Show Trophy at Hesketh in his Cooper-Climax.

Two midyear away races saw Johnstone steer to victory over Pieterse in Lourenço Marques’ Governor General Cup , before Pieterse beat Serrurier’s new LDS-Alfa 3 and Fanie Viljoen’s Cooper Climax in thr Rhodesian Grand Prix a week later. Trevor Blokdyk closed the season by winning the Total Cup at  Pretoria’s new Zwartkops Raceway in his Cooper Ford.

In what had proven a watershed year for South African single-seater racing, the local sport led the world into a new 1500cc era as Syd van der Vyver won two SA Driver’s Championships in a row. 

Local officials had also taken a cue from itheir international peers and the 1962 season would cater only for 1500cc open-cockpit single-seater race cars in a move that effectively eliminated the last of the specials, sports cars and old school voiturettes. Come back next week to read all about it!

South African Formula 1 History Index

Part 1: The Beginning
Part 2: Special Times
This series will continue regularly until complete

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


Issued on behalf of SA Single Seater History

What:South African Formula 1 History – Part 4
Where:South Africa
Community:South Africa National

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