To Have Loved and Lost
The 1967 South African GP
But 37 years ago, at the start of 1967, F1 was a completely different ball game, where the amateur spirit, though quickly disappearing as the era of sponsorship drew near, still permeated the paddock. One-off privateer entries for hometown warriors were in vogue, and with their local knowledge they could often mix it with the international stars. And so, as improbable as it seems today, the above events did actually take place, on January 2, 1967, as that year's World Championship kicked off with the South African Grand Prix, held for the first time at the Kyalami circuit.
With the 1966 season only having finished in late October, most of the teams brought their tried and tested machinery to South Africa whilst they prepared their latest weapons back home. Ferrari and McLaren chose not to show up at Kyalami altogether. Brabham arrived with the same combination that dominated the 1966 title - the BT20, the Repco 3 litre V8, and Sir Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme as drivers. Cooper were still saddled with their T81 and the cumbersome Maserati V12, and kept Jochen Rindt to partner Pedro Rodriguez, with John Surtees having left to go to Honda.
Graham Hill had signed for Lotus to join Jim Clark, although the Lotus 49 was not ready until the third race of the season and in the meantime they had to be content with the Lotus 43 with the BRM H16 motor. BRM themselves had chosen Mike Spence to replace Hill, but still had the talents of Jackie Stewart in the other P83. Dan Gurney was also running the previous year's Eagle, and apart from privateer entries for Jo Siffert, Bob Anderson, Jo Bonnier and Piers Courage, there were also four locals entered: Sam Tingle, Dave Charlton, Luki Botha, and one John Love.
Strictly speaking, Love was not a local. He came from Bulawayo in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He had tried his hand in Europe in the early 1960s, but age was not on his side, since by then he was already in his mid-thirties. In addition, business commitments soon kept him in southern Africa from the mid-60s onwards. Apart from one non-qualifying foray at the Italian GP in 1964, he had been a regular in open-wheeler and sportscar racing in South Africa, Rhodesia and Mozambique, and had already pitted himself against the internationals in the 1962, 1963 and 1965 South African GPs.
He entered the 1967 event in a model which had never been seen in the World Championship before: a Cooper T79 with a Climax four-cylinder engine. This car, chassis FL-1-65, had been a special built for Bruce McLaren for the 1965 Tasman series, taking victory in the Australian GP at Longford, before it was acquired by Love in the middle of that year. For the next 18 months or so, the Rhodesian clocked up victory after victory throughout the region, and despite being 42 he would have gone to Kyalami fancying his chances, since few of the foreigners would have been familiar with the track.
After qualifying, Love already had reason to celebrate. Brabham had taken pole ahead of team-mate Hulme, followed by Clark, Rodriguez and the mighty Rhodesian. 1.2 seconds away from the pole, he was only 0.4s behind the T81 of Rodriguez, and 0.7s ahead of Rindt in the other works Cooper, with both the T81s overheating and forced to cut back their noses to allow greater air intake, and Rindt's car suffering from a misfire. Indeed, it was a good qualifying all round for the locals, with Charlton in 8th out-qualifying both BRMs and the Eagle, and Tingle in 14th 0.2s faster than Hill's troubled Lotus!
But off the line, Love made a poor getaway, and by the end of lap one was down in 10th place. Meanwhile, Hulme had grabbed the lead off Brabham, and a fine start by Surtees saw the Honda up to 3rd from 6th on the grid. Rodriguez remained in 4th, with Clark dropping to 5th, ahead of Rindt, Anderson, Stewart, Charlton and Love. Clearly in no mood to give anyone else a chance, Hulme set off on a blistering pace, the New Zealander recording what would turn out to be the fastest lap of the race on only the third lap of the 80-lap Grand Prix.
By contrast, in trying to keep up team-mate Brabham spun, and fell a spot further back behind Rindt, who was scything past his rivals and now up to 3rd. But that was minor compared to Stewart's woes, the Scot forced to retire his BRM on the third lap with a blown engine, laying oil on the track in the process. This caught out the charging Rindt, who also spun, and then Hill also ended his poor weekend by crashing his Lotus. And so the order now had Hulme stretching his lead, from Surtees, Brabham back to 3rd, Rodriguez, Rindt down to 5th, a troubled Clark, then Love back up to 7th and Gurney.
Brabham and Rindt were, however, the men on the move, and on lap 21 the Australian passed Surtees, with the Austrian following suit three laps later, having already overtaken his team-mate for the second time. Rodriguez was actually struggling with a broken gearbox that left him with only third and fifth gear to use, and before the 30-lap mark he was a sitting duck for both Love and Gurney. But what about Clark? His fairly indifferent run had already come to an end after 22 laps when his BRM H16 engine blew. The Scot was quickly looking forward to the Cosworth DFV V8 ...
Rindt though was not to last much longer, the Maserati engine in his Cooper succumbing to the thrashing it was being given by Jochen's aggressive style. With over half the race remaining, and with Surtees having also fallen behind the duo of Love and Gurney, the local was now in a remarkable 3rd place behind the Brabhams, with Gurney, Surtees and Rodriguez making up the top six. But when reigning World Champion Brabham began falling back with a misfire, Love was now up to an amazing 2nd, one place away from a fairytale upset victory.
What's more, he no longer had Gurney pressurising him because the Eagle had suffered a rear suspension failure, and with Rodriguez having also found a way past Surtees, he only had the Mexican in the ailing Cooper behind him. Hulme, however, was a minute up the road and looking serene. Until disaster struck on lap 61, when brake fluid problems forced the Kiwi into two long pit stops, dropping him to 4th and elevating Love into the lead with less than a quarter of the race remaining! Rodriguez briefly challenged but Love responded, and the works driver all but gave up the chase.
Little-known local beats foreign stars to claim Grand Prix win and World Championship lead - was it too good to be true? Alas, it was. With seven laps remaining and Love sailing to victory, the 2.8-litre four-cylinder Climax in his T79 coughed. It was running out of fuel. In all the races it had done at the hands of McLaren and Love, for all the success it had had, the car had never been called upon to travel such a distance. The astonished crowd watched helplessly as Love pitted for fuel and re-emerged - now half a minute behind Rodriguez.
There was no time for a Fangio-style 1957 Nurburgring chase, although Love tried valiantly and set his fastest lap of the race, and third fastest overall. But it was not enough. Rodriguez recorded Cooper's last Grand Prix victory despite only having had two gears for most of the race, with Love 26.4 seconds behind in a gallant drive, a brilliant demonstration of local know-how against the supposed might of the international contingent. Surtees limped home a lapped third for Honda, with Hulme two laps down in 4th, Anderson claiming 5th by default, and Brabham the last classified finisher in 6th.
John Love continued to be one of the leading racers in southern Africa despite nearing 50 years of age, and he kept competing in the World Championship South African GP right up to 1972, although he never emulated the success of January 2, 1967. In one of the more dramatic races in the story of Formula One, although one surprisingly almost forgotten, it was the day when perhaps the biggest upset in Grand Prix history came within seven laps of being realised. It was a triumph of the unpredictable, which sadly modern F1 has done its best to avoid.
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