Untold John Love racing stories create a unique perspective.
A Franschhoek Motor Museum initiative
You won’t miss John Love’s aura in the Franschhoek Motor Museum’s motorsport Hall D. He’s there in spirit, that’s for sure! John Love memorabilia abounds – it’s all there from his trophies to his helmets and overall and even a Formula Atlantic Chevron B25 BDA Love drove in the later 1970s.
Interesting Insight, Incredible Achievements
In one of John’s final interviews before his passing in 2005, Mario Lupini caught up with his old racing pal in an interview that would reveal more than what most people knew. It proved a most interesting insight of stories that offered a different perspective to the six-time South African Driver’s Champion’s incredible achievements…
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John Love was synonymous with my early years of motor racing. I’d just made the grade as Horse Boyden’s co-driver in the Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce Lightweight and well remember the works 4-cylinder Austin Healey that John and his Rhodesian pal Pfaff, drove to a surprising second in the First 9-Hour at Grand Central in 1958.
Healeys were fast, but our Sprint Veloce could easily handle them. Not that one, though. For some reason it had slipped amongst the Goggomobils, Austin’s and smallest Fiats, Renaults and other slower cars entered onto the bottom of that 9-Hour entry list.
John Love Raced Some Spectacular Cars
Yet it finished second, behind Ian Fraser-Jones and Chris Fergusson’s Porsche Carrera in one of John’s more meaningful early results. Up until then, John Love had raced a Cooper Jap, which was later fitted with a Norton engine. In 1956 he purchased another Cooper.
Keen to move up the racing ladder, Love soon acquired Bill Jennings’ incredible Jennings Riley. John won at Gunner’s Circle and then finished second to Jimmy Shield’s famous pre-war ex-Pat Fairfield ERA in the False Bay 100. Love’s next acquisition would prove most exciting. John bought one of Jaguar’s famous 1954 factory Le Mans D-Types (above).
Having just fitted an all-new 250 engine to our Ferrari 212s, we’d hoped to compete on level terms with John’s D-Type in the first post-War South African Grand Prix at East London. Love qualified 14th, the Ferrari 17th before John went on to finish in a fine seventh in that New Year’s Day 1960 race.
John Managed to Win with the Mule
It was around then that we began talking to John about racing our new Scuderia Lupini Cooper T51 Maserati. He then left for England where he made his first big international break driving for the Fitzwilliam Formula Junior Team.
John returned to South Africa later that year, when my father Gigi Lupini formally approached him to drive the Cooper Maserati. “That was an exciting part of my life,” John admitted. “The Cooper-Maser was so difficult to keep on the damn track, it was truly challenging. “I called it the Mule and that stuck throughout that car’s long career!
“Still, we won the Van Riebeeck Trophy (above) with the Cooper Maser at Killarney among several other good results.”
Incredible Days of Racing Camaraderie
Back in the day, South African race teams were extended families. There was great camaraderie between the likes of Ecurie Aquila, Scuderia Los Amigos and our Scuderia Lupini. There were no sponsors, most drivers raced their own cars, backed by loyal petrol-heads who’d toil on the cars through the night just for the glory of it and nothing else.
“Do you remember the day I was chased by those four ducktails outside Pietermaritzburg?” John asked. I nodded. “We were late towing to Hesketh, and I was pushing my Ford Country Sedan. “I took a chance overtaking a slow Standard Vanguard, miscalculated it and nicked its right front corner with the end of my trailer.
“When I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw their clenched fists and grim faces, and also being so late, I decided to push on. “Those buggers were still on my tail when I pulled into the Roy Hesketh paddock and stopped next to the Scuderia Lupini pits. “Knowing that the whole team was there, I jumped out of the car, faced them and said, come, let’s do it!”
John Love Could Drive Any Race Car Exceptionally Well
John was ready as ever to rattle and the four, now significantly outnumbered, quickly, turned and made off. Fearless as he was, however, John Love could drive any car, be it a saloon racer, a single seater, a sports, a GT or a Can Am Ferrari (above) exceptionally well. He possessed a finesse, balance and ease and was able to find the sweet spot in an instant.
Still affable and easy going as ever, his iron fist in a velvet glove temper remained as clear as day at 80 years of age. I reminded John of a story he once told me of English lady racer who had shocked the BTTC establishment when she put her Mini Cooper on pole position.
“Yes, that was Christabel Carlisle,” John smiled. “I had heard from another driver that Christabel took the high-speed chicane flat out. “I thought she was mad! “Where everyone else feathered the accelerator, she blasted through flat out. “We concluded that Christabel was out of her mind, but she certainly earned her nickname Crystal Balls!”
Winning in England, in Junior and BTCC Minis
“Is Marchetto still around?” John asked. Highly regarded ace mechanic Marchetto re-engineered our Ferrari and Cooper Maserati was the man who impressed all Gigi’s drivers. I told John that Marchetto had passed two years prior at 93 years old. “Great guy.”
“After a particularly strenuous morning setting up the Cooper-Maser with Marchetto in the Wynberg workshop, he said come, Love, we go to lunch.’ “We drove to your father’s house in Bramley and when I arrived, I was made to sit at the other end to Gigi at his 20-seater table. “Just him and me, twenty yards apart!” Those lunches were sumptuous.”
John later returned to race for Ken Tyrrell’s Formula Junior and Mini Cooper team in England and Europe alongside South African Tony Maggs. Known as the Terrible Twins, John and Tony enjoyed great success. Maggs would stay on in Europe to race F1 and score two podiums, while Love returned home to win his six straight South African Drivers’ titles.
Love returned to Win Six SA Championships
There was however one question we had to ask. John Love was quite incredibly leading the 1967 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami in his humble 2.7-litre 4-cylinder Tasman Cooper Climax. He was up against the finest drivers in the world in the very latest 3-litre V8, V12 and even W16 Formula 1 cars in front of 100,000 crazy South African spectators.
Among his pursuers were Jim Clark and Graham Hill’s W16 Lotus BRMs, Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence in BRM H16s and Jochen Rindt and Pedro Rodrigues’ V12 Cooper-Maseratis. Add John Surtees’ V12 Honda, Jack Brabham Denny Hulme’s Repco Brabham V8s, Dan Gurney’s Eagle, and the rest.
John Love’s Greatest Race
Rhodesian privateer Love had qualified alongside Surtees on the third row of the grid and bided his time from the start. The Brabhams were well ahead approaching mid distance, with Hulme leading Brabham, Rindt, Surtees Love in an impressive fifth position. John soon passed Surtees to the roar of the massive crowd. Then Rindt stopped.
Brabham and Hulme were soon in the pits with fuel starvation in the severe heat. Leaving an astonished John Love leading Rodrigues by 20 seconds to the delight of the wildly partisan crowd. I remember the misfire well. And then the groan of the crowd, as John pulled into the pits!
“I was running out of fuel,” John explained. “My mechanics were caught by surprise (below), and they struggled to pour the fuel from the drum into the Cooper’s tank. “It was flowing far too slowly, so I jumped out. “Just then, Doug Serrurier rushed up with a screwdriver and punctured the floor of the can.
Not What Many Thought to Be The Issue
“Then the petrol just rushed out and spilled everywhere. “But we got enough in the tank and I jumped back in and rushed back out on track. “I’d lost the lead and although I was closing on Pedro, there was not enough time to catch him. “Still, I consider that second in the South African Grand Prix to be my greatest ever race.
“It was widely considered that I had a fuel pump issue, but the truth is that the Tasman Cooper was never going to go the distance on fuel, even with the extra tank we had fitted. “I had never expected to lead that race, but there we were!”
John passed away a few months after this interview at 80 years old on 25 April 2005. Rhodesia’s six-time South African Champion raced ten Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, scoring one podium and six championship points, all that day at Kyalami.
John Love’s Spirit Lives on at the Motor Museum
John Love was also the first man ever to race a Grand Prix in a sponsored car alongside Sam Tingle for Team Gunston at Kyalami in 1968. The Franschhoek Motor Museum’s motorsport Hall D is in part a shrine to John Love and his South African racing peers of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
The must-visit experience includes Love’’s Chevron B25 (above) and other significant race cars, memorabilia and mementos of that halcyon bygone age.
This Auto Classic Feature is a Franschhoek Motor Museum Initiative
The Franschhoek Motor Museum has a regular display of significant cars, articles, and memorabilia on display including several out of South Africa’s significant Formula 1, Formula Atlantic and indeed the Formula South Africa eras. Visit www.fmm.co.za to learn more and plan your next visit.