The last Rhodesian hero
- Marius Matthee
- April 28, 2005
- The 1960-1975 South African Drivers Championships - Grand Prix at the Cape, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Rob Young
- 1975 South African GP - Local Springboks' final jump at Kyalami, by Mattijs Diepraam
John Love, Dan Gurney, Jo Siffert
Cooper-Climax T79 (self-entered), Eagle-Climax T1G, Rob Walker/Jack Durlacher Racing Cooper-Maserati T81
XIII South African GP (January 2, 1967)
The 1960s was a decade that gave birth to a series of phenomena in the history of the world that would be remembered forever by future generations - some good, some bad. Mankind had entered the space age, The Beatles and Rock & Roll music were going from strength to strength and the Flower Power cult became a haven for several individuals that found refuge in a world high on psychedelic euphoria and free love.
Far, far away, though, from the First World’s trendsetters a different kind of love was brewing under the blue skies of Southern Africa. Amidst a milieu of petrol fumes, burned rubber, the smoke of barbeque fires and suntanned bodies one of the Dark Continent’s greatest racing drivers was carving his niche in the sport and into the hearts of thousands of admirers. That man was John Maxwell Lineham Love.
…but like all good stories, let us start at the very beginning.
John was born on 7 December 1924 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia and received his education at the town’s Technical High School. After leaving school the young Rhodesian was employed as an apprentice electrical fitter at the local Municipality, but unfortunately WW2 soon cut short his life as municipal employee when the military authorities called him up for service. As member of his country’s Armour Car Division, John served in places like the Middle East and Italy. It was also in Italy where he got his first experiences as a driver – not behind the steering wheel of a sedan car, but that of an Army tank. Later while stationed near Monza with the 6th Armoured Division he and some fellow servicemen found time to indulge in a few sorties around the Grand Prix circuit on an old Zundapp motorcycle that they managed to piece together. For John this was a taste of things to come. Soon afterwards speed became part of his daily life when he was appointed as a dispatch driver between various Italian towns and the Swiss border.
After the completion of the war Love returned to Bulawayo where he completed his apprenticeship at the Municipality. Like so many ex-war soldiers from his generation he invested in a motorcycle as mode of transport when he returned to civilian life. His war experiences and the adrenalin rush he so often experienced during his stint as dispatch driver, was most probably the reason why he decided to take up motorcycle racing in 1947.
From 1947 to 1953 John competed in motorcycle races on a variety of bikes that included a TT-replica Rudge (his first ride), Norton, AJS, Triumph and Velocette. Here he competed against local legends like Ray Amm and Bepe Castellani, but Love had an urge to go car racing and by 1954 he had enough money to purchase a 500cc Cooper JAP. Part of the money for the car came from a transaction when John sold his motorcycle to compatriot and friend Jim Redman. It was this bike that launched Redman’s career that would eventually saw him winning six motorcycle world titles.
For the next three years Love was a regular competitor in Southern Rhodesia, first in the Cooper JAP, which later was fitted with a Norton engine. After this car was written off in an accident, he purchased yet another Cooper-Norton. Races were mostly held on dirt circuits and during this time he scored five victories at Umgusa Speedway and another five at Salisbury’s Coronation Park. After cutting his teeth against some of his countries best drivers, men like Jimmy Shields, Gordon MacPherson, Jimmy de Villiers, Sam Tingle and Peter Wood, John moved south of the border for the first time to compete in South African race meetings.
In an ambitious move to widen his experience in the sport he managed to purchase the Riley-Special that belonged to Bill Jennings, the three time South African Drivers’ Champion, in October 1957 for the princely sum of £500. Success immediately came with a win at the Heany Summer Handicap race meeting on 27 October. A day that was described at the time by Murrell Love (John’s former wife) as “the most wonderful day of his life”.
It was not all plain sailing afterwards, though. In the hands of Jennings the Riley-Special blew away the opposition in the mid-1950s, but Love had difficulty at first to come to terms with the car’s gearbox. Bill was accomplished in the art of double-declutching and in this regard the original gearbox served him well. Things improved, though, when John installed a MG TC box. In general the year 1958 brought good results which included a second position on scratch at the False Bay 100 (Gunners’ Circle, Cape Town), a third at the Transvaal Autumn Handicap (Grand Central Circuit, Johannesburg), a second on scratch at the 14th Coronation 100 (Roy Hesketh, Pietermaritzburg) and more second places at the Union Day Handicap (Grand Central) and in a Formula Libre handicap at the Belvedere Circuit in his home country.
His greatest achievement during 1958 was most probably the second place at the 1st Nine Hour Endurance race that was staged at the Grand Central Circuit on 15 November. Love and compatriot George Pfaff were late entries in Pfaff’s Austin-Healey 100. They raced hard to cover a total distance of 544 miles, 16 miles less than the winning Porsche Speedster Carrera of Ian Fraser-Jones and Tony Fergusson. The race was not without mishap, as one would discover from an interesting bit of trivia in Autosport’s race report: “ John Love of Rhodesia lost his number plate part way down the straight, halted, dashed across the track in font of an oncoming bunch to retrieve it, and proceeded to the pits to replace it.”
The first race of 1959 was the False Bay 100 on New Year’s Day in Cape Town. Disaster struck at this meeting. The gallant Riley-Special’s engine just couldn’t take it anymore after all the years of torture and on his fifth lap in practice the motor virtually disintegrated when it broke a con-rod. Shortly afterwards Love and his compatriot and fellow racer, Jimmy Shields, left for England in an attempt to further their racing careers. John had sold the Riley-Special and also his wife’s car to find funds for the trip abroad. Their ambitions came to none, when they could not find interesting parties to support them. The only positive aspect of his visit to the UK was the purchase of an ex-works Jaguar D-type that saw competition at Le Mans in 1954. John brought the car back to Rhodesia and began entering it for races in the second half of year.
His first major success in the Jaguar was a second place at the Grand Prix of Angola in Luanda in September 1959. On 1 January 1960, Love competed in his first South African GP. In this non-championship race, which was also the first South African GP, since the end of WW2 a couple of sportscars was also amongst the entrants. Love finished 7th in this race. After a handful of decent races in the Jaguar, the British and European racing scene was calling strongly again and a friend arranged that John could meet Lola’s Eric Broadley in England. After some discussions he was offered a place in the Fitzwilliam Formula Junior team, which was accepted without hesitation.
From April to July Love drove the team’s Lola Mk2-Ford at circuits like Monza, Monte Carlo, Reims, Albi and the Nürburgring. He was very competitive in these races and although a victory eluded him, John managed to record a few good podium places. At the Copenhagen Cup and Eifelrennen meetings he got second places and at Reims and Albi he came third on each occasion.
Ken Tyrrell noticed John’s talent at the Albi race and offered him a test drive in one of his car’s at the Goodwood Circuit in England. Further convinced by the Rhodesian’s abilities, Ken asked Love to drive for him. Behind the wheel of a Cooper T52-BMC he competed at Pescara and Goodwood. Back in Southern Africa he won the 9-hour sports car race at the Grand Central circuit on 29 October in a Porsche Spyder RS that he shared with Dawie Gous. In future years Love would compete from time to time with great success in sports car races in cars like the Ferrari GTO, Ferrari F4, Lola T70 and Lola T212. In December 1960 there were also two races for Scuderia Lupini in South Africa in the Cape Grand Prix and also the South African Grand Prix, after Gigi Lupini asked him to drive his team’s new Cooper T51-Maserati.
The following season (1961) once again saw him driving the same car for Tyrrell in the European Formula Junior Championship. This time around he had an old sparring- mate from the Southern Africa races as teammate. It was the talented Tony Maggs from South Africa. The two of them, together with the rising Swiss star Jo Siffert, would dominate Formula Junior in 1961. Love’s first victory in a Formula Junior race came at Cesenatico in Italy where he won the first Heat and also set fastest lap. His first outright victory came at the daunting Chimay circuit in Belgium during the GP des Frontieres meeting on 21 May. More victories followed at Caserta, La Châtre, Nogaro, Roskilde and Monthléry. Upon his return to Africa at the end of the European season, John again drove Scuderia Lupini’s Cooper T51-Maserati at the Rand Spring Trophy race, where he finished second. There were also two races in Arthur Pillman’s LDS-Porsche before Love returned to the UK.
In his third season for Ken Tyrrell, John was now behind the wheel of a Cooper T59 to take on the F.Junior opposition in 1962. With the car lacking in power in comparison to some of the other cars in this formula, life was not so easy for the Rhodesian. Victories still came his way, nevertheless, at Roskilde (twice), Magny Cours and Karlskoga. Love greatest success of the year, though, was behind the wheel of a tin-top car. Early in the year Tyrrell also asked his driver to drive a Mini-Cooper in the British Touring Car Championship. Out of eight races he scored seven wins in the <1000cc class and by doing so clinching his class as well as the overall British Touring Car Championship.
On 9 September 1962 during a Formula Junior race John’s racing career was steered into a new direction. During the Formula Junior race at Albi he had, what he describes, as the most serious accident of his career, when he crashed into a barrier while trying to avoid a spinning Tony Maggs. In an interview with CAR magazine in January 1992, Love recalled the consequences of that accident: “ I broke my left arm and had to have a bone graft from my hip. Tyrrell wanted me to go back to Europe the following season and I also had test drives lined up with Cooper and Brabham, but I didn’t think that I was going to be good after that.”
From then on Love had to adopt a new driving style for the remainder of his racing career, since he couldn’t bend his arm properly. Race goers would recall how John use to rest his left hand on the lip of the small wind screen though corners while steering with one hand. He said that this was his only option, since he had no wrist movement in his left hand, but soon got use to the technique of driving with the right hand and checking with left. Following the accident John decided to return to Rhodesia. His immediate aims were to make a success of his business interests in Bulawayo and to switch to more powerful racing cars. For the latter, he got hold of a F1 Cooper T55-Climax that he brought back from England. The Natal GP and South African GP (his first World Championship F1 race) saw the debut of this car in December 1962.
By mid-1963 John was making his mark again in racing when he was competing in the South African Drivers’ Championship. The South Africans had adopted a set of rules for their championship that were basically the same as for the international F1 World Championship. Love’s ex-works Cooper was thus eligible for the championship and so began an new era for the garage proprietor from Bulawayo – one that will see him dominate the top racing class on the African continent for the rest of the decade.
Love somehow got off to an unimpressive start in his newly acquired car, when various mechanical gremlins prevented him from finishing and getting decent results. At the Rhodesian Grand Prix that was held on 12 December 1963 at Kumalo, John lead from start to finish to score a popular win in front of his home crowd.
It was a different story the following year. After a third place at the opening round of the 1964 championship (Rand Autumn Trophy) on 29 February at Kyalami, he would score four outright victories during the course of the season. Success came his way at the Coronation 100 (Roy Hesketh), the Royal Show Trophy race (again at Roy Hesketh), the Border 100 (East London) and the Rand Spring Trophy (Kyalami). It was also at the Rand Spring Trophy meeting that John clinched his first South African Drivers’ Championship title. This he did in great opposition from Peter de Klerk who was set to take title, if he could prevent Love from finishing first or second. In the end Love won the 1964 championship with a total of 48 points, followed by De Klerk on 45. Trevor Blokdyk, Doug Serrurier and Clive Puzey took the next places. Another highlight of the year was when he was awarded Springbok (national) colours from the South African motorsport authorities.
There was also some disappointment install for the champion during the year when he was hastily drafted into the works Cooper team to contest the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. In an ill prepared car he could only do four practice laps before a quill-shaft broke, thus preventing him from qualifying for this prestigious race.
The ‘64 championship-winning season was very much a prelude for things to come, even though John was already 40 years old at the time and at an age where modern day F1 divers are retired and some long forgotten. The opposition was forced to race in the dust of Love’s Cooper in 1965 and to live on whatever scraps they were offered – not that there was much. John kicked off the season in his faithful Cooper T55, which was now fitted with a 2700cc Climax engine. A non-finish at he South African GP was followed with a second place at the Cape South Easter Trophy race at Killarney in Cape Town. After that a remarkable series of five straight victories followed. The Rhodesian hero stood on the top step of the winners’ podium at the Rand Autumn Trophy, the Coronation 100, SA Republic Day race, the Natal Winter Trophy and the Border 100.
It was at the Border 100 that Love first raced a Cooper T79. John wanted to stay ahead of the opposition and after his strongest rivals purchased new machines, he was soon shopping around for something new. It was Bruce McLaren’s Tasman Cooper T79 that eventually found its way to Bulawayo. The Climax engine he bought from Ireland. Love and the Cooper T79 were a potent combination right from the word go and they blew away the opposition. John would win six races on the trot and also his second Divers’ Championship.
It was very much a case of déjà vu in 1966. Love and his Cooper T79 were still the most dominant combination in the South African Drivers’ Championship and the rest had a hard time keeping up. At the first race of the year, the non-championship South African GP on New Year’s Day, he was rewarded with a disappointing sixth place. After that it was very much plain sailing again and John would clinch seven victories during the course of the season. John Love, by now, had become a household name and he was treated as a celebrity not only in his country of birth, but also in South Africa where he was very much seen as an honorary South African. Spectators would flock to the races to see the remarkable Rhodesian super-hero in action. 1966 was a wonderful year for the Rhodesian folks. Not only would John win his third title, but his compatriot Sam Tingle would also finish second overall in the championship.
The South African GP on 2 January 1967 was probably the race that was the highlight of John’s career as racing driver. Love does acknowledge this by saying that it was his “best performance and also his biggest disappointment.” Against the world’s best F1 drivers and cars of the time, he set a surprising fifth fastest time in practice in his, by then, outdated Cooper-Climax T79. Due to the fact that the race was run over 80 laps, extra fuel tanks were fitted to the car. Prior to the race John lend a fuel pump to Rob Walker’s team after Jo Siffert’s car developed some problems. This deed of generosity stood between him and a victory in the end. He brought two pumps to the race and the one that was suppose to go into his race car, John lend to Walker, thinking nothing of it at the time.
Love was off to a slow start and dropped a couple of places on the first lap. He then gradually gained a few positions. A mixture of excellent driving and the retirements of other drivers saw John moving up to second place behind Denis Hulme at the halfway mark. Then, 20 laps later, John took over the lead on lap 61 when Hulme had to pit. He looked set for victory when the engine began to misfire. John said that he could distinctly hear the slight misfire. In the pits there was concern amongst his team that John was running out of fuel and so they brought him in for fuel. What was heartbreaking was the fact that there were only seven laps left in the race. John stormed into the pits only to find that the refueling took much to slow. Then Doug Serrurier ran up with a screwdriver piercing the petrol cans to increase the fuel flow. They put some two gallons of fuel into the tank, but by the time Love rejoined the race, he had lost his lead to Pedro Rodriquez and had to settle for second place.
After the race they discovered that the car had enough fuel in its tanks, but that is was the fuel pump that caused the misfire. If Rob Walker did not ask for a fuel pump, the result could have been so different… In defeat, John was still humble and honest to admit: “Of course, if it was not for the misfire we could have completed the race without the pitstop, but those are the ifs and buts of motor racing. I suppose, in all fairness, you could say it was a bit of an inheritance because a lot of cars packed up in the race. I was bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t win, but for a South African or a Rhodesian to even get that high up… well, we didn’t believe it would happen.”
There was no time, though, to contemplate of what could have been, since only a couple of days after the SAGP the 1967 South African Drivers’ Championship kicked off at Killarney with the Cape South Easter meeting. Love would win this race and follow it up with a second place at the Rand Autumn Trophy. More wins at the Coronation 100 and the Bulawayo 100 completed the first half of the season. With the Cooper T79 now being very old and the competition catching up, John decided that his new mount would be a Brabham-Repco BT20 that he had purchased earlier from Jack Brabham. This was also the time that John changed the color scheme of his car from the traditional green and white to red and yellow. The sponsorship that he received from the Shell oil company was the main reason for the change.
Love had no problems with converting to the new car and made a clean sweep in the remaining races. It was only at the Rand Spring Trophy that he had a slight mishap with a jammed throttle. This lead to a pitstop that cost him two laps in the end. Victory went to Dave Charlton with Sam Tingle second and Love managing to clinch third place. At the end of the season John had won his fourth drivers’ title. On 73 points he finished well clear of Sam Tingle (42 points) and Dave Charlton (28 points).
It was also Love and Tingle that made a bit of history at the South African Grand Prix on 1 January 1968 that would be recorded in the annals of F1 racing. The two Rhodesian heroes arrived at the race with their cars, Love in his Brabham BT20 (now with a Climax engine) and Tingle in the LDS-Repco, painted in the colors of the Gunston cigarette brand. This opened the doors for other tobacco companies to follow what would become the mainstay of F1 sponsorship for more than three decades until countries began to place a ban on cigarette advertising. Team Gunston, as they were known, was actually launched at the Rhodesian GP in December 1967 as reported in Motoring Mirror: “A lot of the background talk at the Rhodesian GP centered on the launching of Team Gunston and the partnership of John Love and Sam Tingle in F1 racing for 1968. The Winston Tobacco Company, marketers of Gunston cigarettes, have offered sponsorship to these two fine ambassadors of Rhodesian motorsport and they will campaign under the attractive Gunston colours”. The logic behind the Gunston sponsorship was to attract foreign currency to Rhodesia, the world’s foremost tobacco producing country at the time, and South Africa was very much seen as a target market for this campaign. The Love-Tingle-Team Gunston outfit would eventually run from 1968 to 1970 in the end.
The ’68 South African GP was not a happy affair, though, for the two Rhodesians. Tingle retired with overheating and John was way off the pace. Although he finished in ninth position, he was running more than 5 laps behind the winner. Love would compete in one further race in the Brabham-Climax BT20. At Killarney he failed to finish in the Cape South Easter race, due to engine failure. For the rest of the year he would defend his drivers’ title in the Lotus 49/R3 that Graham Hill used in the South African GP earlier in the year. Another first for Love was the fact that he was the first privateer that used the potent Cosworth DFV engine in his car. The Cosworth meant that he had a great power advantage over the opposition and in the care of John’s long serving chief-mechanic, Gordon Jones, the Lotus 49 would bring him six victories in 1968. The only hiccups were at Bulawayo 100 where he finished second after a faulty spark plug caused him on run on seven cylinders, at the Natal Winter Trophy a broken brake pipe lead to retirement and at the Rand Spring Trophy a broken ball joint had the same end result. At the end of the season John had clinched his fifth drivers’ title on the trot and he decided to sick to the Lotus 49 for the new season.
In 1969 Love still would have superior horsepower to his rivals, but the Lotus had become outdated and he would experience some stiff opposition in the domestic series. John McNicol in Lola 142 and Basil van Rooyen in a Mclaren M7A were the strongest challengers. The Rodesian made a slow start to the season with a non-finish in Cape Town due to a broken universal joint. At the South African GP early in March he qualified in a creditable 10th position, but in the race he was no more than a mid-field runner until ignition problems forced him out of the race.
At the Coronation 100 Love again realized that 1969 was not going to be a cakewalk, since Basil van Rooyen again won with Love in second place. Van Rooyen was leading the championship at the time, but victories at the Rand Autumn Trophy and the Bulawayo 100 brought John Love’s campaign back on track. A slump in mid-season saw him under pressure once again and during this time it was John McNicol that came to the fore. Love was not going to let the title sip away and bounced back with top podium finishes at East London and Lourenço Marques. At the Rand Winter Trophy there was drama again for the man from Bulawayo. During practice the car’s engine went off song and it was discovered that there was water in the oil, which pointed at a broken piston. McNicol took full advantage to clinch victory, thereby increasing his stakes for the championship title.
Love came back with a dominant performance in the next race in Cape Town, to first claim pole position in practice followed up with an easy win in the race. When the competitors arrived at the Kumalo circuit for the penultimate round of the season. McNicol was still leading the championship. A slippery circuit caused by light rain and oil spillage lead to several spins during the race. The powerful Cosworth behind Love was not suited to the conditions and John managed to spin the car on four occasions. He also made a pit stop to fit wet weather tyres. At the chequered flag he was sixth, while McNicol came third.
McNicol now only had to finish second in the final race of the year to take the title away from Love. The drama that unfolded in that final race at the Rand Spring Trophy at Kyalami has to be told to remind the reader what true sportsmanship really meant in those days:
On the warm-up lap before the race it was discovered that McNicol’s car had developed a chassis fracture. The other drivers, lead by Love, pleaded with the race organizers to postpone the race to later in the day, thereby allowing McNicol to repair his car to take the start. Doug Serrurier immediately began doing some welding repairs assisted by Pretorius, Love, Driver and Tingle.
McNicol’s car was repaired and he held second place, behind Love, and a championship winning position for most of the race. Then on lap 32, eight laps before the end of the race, the whole right-hand rear wheel and suspension came off his car that caused him to crash into the barriers. Meanwhile Love was storming to the chequered flag and victory, thereby clinching his sixth drivers’ title with a mere two points separating him and McNicol in the final standings.
The end of the decade also brought the end of Love’s complete domination in the sport. A new star had risen on the horizon in the form of Dave Charlton. The South African driver would take over the reigns from Love and would equal Love’s six Drivers’ Championship titles in the following six years. Younger talent and some potent machinery in the hands of the opposition were not the only reasons why Love was eventually dethroned, but also the purchasing of a string of rather poor cars by the ex-champion.
For the first five races of the 1970 season John was behind the wheel of the Lotus that served him so well over the previous two seasons. The year kicked off on a winning note at the Cape South Easter race at Killarney. That was very much the end of John’s challenge, since Dave Charlton’s Lotus 49C would crunch the opposition in the forthcoming races. Love bought a March 701 with the hope of ending Charlton’s winning streak, but the car did not handle well and was most unreliable. John pulled off a win in his very first race in the March at the Bulawayo 100, but then a string of retirements very much ruined his year. There was only one other finish when he came second at the Rhodesian Grand Prix.
John continued to race the March for the first couple of races in 1971. Success was equally slim and only one win came his way at the Goldfields Autumn Trophy. He then purchased Mike Hailwood’s Surtees TS9 from John Surtees, but was appalled by the condition in which the car was delivered to him. Basically every fluid-holding device on the car was leaking apart from a hundred and one other problems. Many an hour was spent to make the car race worthy. The first two races in the Surtees brought two pole positions, nevertheless, but results were restricted to only a fourth place at Kyalami. At the Governor General Cup race at Lourenço Marques victory went to John in the absence of Dave Charlton who were competing in Europe at the time.
John Love had his biggest accident in a Southern African race with the Surtees TS9, when he was nearly decapitated at the next race at Kyalami. He crashed into the Armco barriers at Clubhouse corner when the car’s throttle pedal got stuck on a floor pan bolt. John tells the story, “ With the throttle wide open, I froze on the brakes, locked the front up and of course the car wouldn’t turn. It slid between two layers of Armco. When the action stopped, I had the Armco barriers pushing my head to the left. The car was nearly destroyed, but I was fine.”
After this unfortunate episode he had no other option than to turn to the ill-fated March 701, but this, surprisingly, brought him success when he scored successive victories at Killarney and Bulawayo. The season came to an end with a second place at the Welkom 100 that was held at the Goldfields Raceway. Charlton easily clinched the title with a total of 69 points followed by Jackie Pretorius on 46 and Love on 42.
The Surtees TS9 was repaired in time for the start of the ’72 season and fitted with a Cosworth DFV that originally did service in the back of Love’s old Lotus 49. At the Highveld 100 race at Kyalami he qualified the car on the front row of the grid, but in the race he spun off at Crowthorne corner on lap 2 after he overdid things in an attempt to stay with Dave Charlton. On 4 March 1972 John competed in the last of his nine World Championship Grands Prix. From last on the grid he was a running at the rear of the field for most of the race. Then six laps from the end the Surtees suffered a puncture that lead to another heavy crash. Once again the car was a near write-off.
John decided that his March 701 was not capable of challenging Charlton’s super fast Lotus 72, so he bought the ex-Jack Brabham, Brabham BT33/1 from Willie Ferguson in time to compete in the Coronation 100 at Roy Hesketh. Love claimed that the car was very good and perhaps even the best that he had driven in, although it still lack the speed to cause a serious thread to Dave Charlton. In the absence of Charlton, Love scored his first win in the Brabham early in July at the Natal Winter Trophy race. This was followed by a very popular victory at the Rhodesian GP where he and Charlton had a royal battle during the first half of the race. When Charlton retired with suspension problems John took over the lead to win in front of his patriotic countrymen. Three second places at the Rand Spring Trophy, the Rand Winter Trophy and the Welkom 100 also added some esteem during 1972. Love finished second in the overall point standings with thirty points separating him and the champion, Charlton.
John’s last season in motor sport was 1973 and several factors influenced his decision to retire from racing. After three decades in the sport, and him nearing his fiftieth birthday, Love realized that he eventually had to make way for a younger generation of racing drivers. This however, was not the primary reason why he quit, since he was still extremely fit and when it came to experience, dedication and his professionalism both on and off the circuit, he was in a league of his own.
It was the changes in the rules of the South Drivers’ Championship and the politics that surrounded this decision that broke the camel’s back. Love was extremely unhappy when he learned that his sponsor Gunston, announced that they would in future compete in the newly formed F2 category instead of the F1 class. This was a suicidal move, since John knew that there was no chance that a F2 car could compete with the powerful F1 cars for an outright victory. It was apparent that the tobacco sponsors were behind this change in rules in an effort to boost the sales of a particular brand.
Team Gunston had purchased three brand new Chevron B25s for Love and teammate, Ian Scheckter. A nominated guest driver used the third during the year. As expected the Chevrons were no match for the all conquering Lotus 72 of Dave Charlton. Charlton managed to win 10 of the 12 races during the course of the year. His closest rival was Eddie Keizan in the ex-Patrick Depailler Tyrrell 004. Love best placing was at the Highveld 100 where he finished third. At the Goldfields Autumn race he came fourth, while the rest of his results were made up of a couple of fifth and sixth places. After also being outscored by his teammate, Scheckter, he decided to call it a day. Love finished sixth in the final points classification in 1973.
Six years later, by popular demand it must be said, John was invited to compete in two Formula Atlantic races towards the end of the ’79 season. This was also the last time that John competed as a Rhodesian national. His country would soon become known as Zimbabwe after a bitter conflict that saw many of his compatriots killed or resettled all over the globe. As a 54-year old he was surprisingly quick in Team Gunston’s March 77B and managed a top six placing at the Killarney race on 28 October. During the mid-1980’s John again briefly returned to the circuit when he competed in saloon car races in Zimbabwe. He got a VW Golf GTi from Geoff Mortimer in South Africa, in which he was quite competitive, before he finally quit the sport and by doing so, ending a racing career that span more than forty years.
All through his career race goers and fellow competitors admired John Love. He conducted himself as a gentleman both on and off the circuit. A tough and brave character that wouldn’t give an inch, but apart from this rock-hard image, someone that was always willing to assist with both word and deed. In short he was the man everyone looked up to in South Africa – a legend and forever a hero.
To learn more about the career and life of John Love I can suggest the following fine books for further reading:
- Sun on the Grid (Ken Stewart and Norman Reich)
- John Love (Adri Bezuidenhout)
- For the Love of It (Greg Mills)
- Manne en Motors (P. de la Rey)
For the purpose of this item I also consulted the following publications:
- CAR magazine (South Africa)
- Motoring Mirror (South Africa)
- Peter Macintosh’s A record of South African F1 Racing
- Classic Car Africa
- Various South African newspaper reports
- Official race programmes
John established a garage business in Bulawayo during the 60s and this is where he spent most of his time after retiring from racing. He still took a keen interest in the sport and would often be seen at race meetings in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. Terminally ill he made a last appearance at the Zwartkops historic meeting, that was held in his honor, during the last weekend of January 2005. Present were several of his old rivals from the past and also some of the cars that he competed in. After spending some time with family in Durban, John returned to his beloved Bulawayo where he passed away on Monday, 25 April 2005.