Before Scheckter there was Love and Chariton…
Jody Shceckter will be remembered as one of the worthy Grand Prix drivers of the 1970s, bursting onto the Formula One scene like a shooting star in 1973 and crowning a pretty distinguished career by winning the 1979 World Championship title driving a 3-litre flat-12 cylinder Ferrari 312T4. But the curly-haired youngster from East London was by no means the first South African to have turned people’s heads when he was slotted into a works Yardley McLaren at the end of 1972. What’s more, Jody Scheckter never took part in South Africa’s own national Formula One Championship, a series which thrived from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Looking back, it seems somehow strange that this country, so far distanced from the European “hub” of F1 activity, should have sustained a national contest catering for Grand Prix cars. But sustain one it did, successfully, for many years. And, before the name Scheckter became a household word, there were two other drivers who stood out head and shoulders above their rivals as they battled for supremacy in South Africa. They were John Love and Dave Charlton. Both now retired from single-seaters, they happily retain an avid motor racing interest and were present at the recent South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.
European enthusiasts may well remember John Love’s exploits in Britain during the early 1960s when he was a regular competitor in both Formula Junior and saloon cars. Dave Charlton’s career has also taken him out of Africa on occasion, notably in 1972 when he sampled a handful of European Grands Prix in his own car. But the two men sustained an intense rivalry in South Africa for almost ten years, Love holding sway as the man to beat initially with Charlton gradually dislodging him from his perch in the early 1970s.
Motor racing success came John Love’s way relatively late in life. Born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, in December. 1924, he actually saw active War service with the Rhodesian forces participating in the Italian invasion. During the course of these operations Love found himself camped in the Monza park and, after unearthing an old Zundapp motorcycle in a haystack, actually managed to squeeze in a few laps of the famous track on this precarious machine. His enthusiasm thus fired, he took to racing motorcycles back in Rhodesia after the War and graduated to four wheels with an ex-Moss Cooper-JAP which had somehow found its way to that neck of the woods. From there he worked his way through a Riley Special before acquiring a Jaguar D-Type, OKV 3, the 1954 Reims winner which he found for sale in the advertisement columns of a British motoring weekly magazine. That lasted Love through until the end of the 1959 season at which point he decided to come to England to see if there was any chance of landing a drive over here. Love recounts with some amusement that he travelled over to Britain with a racing friend, one Jimmy Shields, and they both turned up at Lotus to ask Colin Chapman for a drive. “I told Chapman that traced a D-Type and Jimmy raced an ERA!” reflects Love. It didn’t take long for the Lotus boss to disabuse them of the notion that they might be about to earn a works Lotus seat on the strength of that experience!
Love did however find a ride at the wheel of an F/Junior Lola Mk.1 and his speed in a race at Albi attracted the attention of Ken Tyrrell who offered him a drive in one of his Coopers at Pescara. Despite a practice accident he managed to finish third behind Denny Hulme and Lorenzo Bandini. For the 1961 season he received a Tyrrell contract and finished fourth in the British F/Junior series behind Trevor Taylor, Peter Arundell and Tony Maggs. Despite a big shunt the following winter in the Natal GP at Westmead whilst driving a spaceframe LDS-Porsche special, Love resumed to Britain again in 1962 and won the British Saloon Car Championship in a works Mini-Cooper, despite being billed officially as number two driver to John Whitmore. Partnering Maggs in the Tyrrell F/Junior Cooper team, Love gained a fine reputation that season, but a shunt at Albi proved to be a turning point in the Rhodesian’s career. He badly injured an arm and was unable to take up an F1 Cooper test drive at Monza the following week. Thus, Maggs eventually got the number two Cooper with Bruce McLaren for 1963 and Love decided to return to Africa to pursue his racing ambitions.
Love took with him an ex-McLaren Cooper-Climax which Bruce had used in 1961 and supplemented that shortly afterwards with an ex-Tasman Coo, with which McLaren had done the 1963 Tasman series — the sister car, in fact, to that in which Teddy Mayer’s brother Tim had been killed at Longford, Tasmania. Fitted with a 2.7-litre, four cylinder Coventry Climax engine, John Love used it to win the South African F1 Championships in 1964, ’65 and ’66. And it was at the wheel of this car that he almost won the 1967 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.
It was only the second season of the 3-litre Formula One and very few people had got decent-handling cars organised in time for the ’67 South African race. In terms of chassis performance the Brabham-Repco V8s were in a class of their own; the first Cosworth DFV was six months away and both the BRM H16s and Cooper-Maseratis handled more like long distance lorries than precision racing cars. What’s more, the frontal areas of some of these 3-litre GP machines were substantial, there being very little concession to the matter of aerodynamics, about which comparatively little was understood in those far-off days. Love’s outdated Cooper was slim and slippery in comparison with many of its rivals — a fact which was underlined when the practice times were published. At the start of the race only the two Brabham-Repcos, Clark’s Lotus 43-BRM H16 and Rodriguez’s Cooper-Maserati were quicker than Love’s private machine. As the leading competitors gradually dropped by the wayside during a race run in tremendous heat, Love’s Cooper gradually pulled through the field. And when Hulme’s Brabham-Repco pulled in to investigate brake problems Love surged into the lead, only 18 laps from the chequered flag. Unfortunately, even with extra tankage fitted specially for the occasion, Love’s Cooper was running short of fuel. Gradually the Climax engine began misfiring, eventually casting out completely as John headed for the pits. Extra fuel was hurriedly added and Love resumed, but by that time he’d lost the lead to Rodriguez’s plodding Cooper-Maserati and had to settle for second place at the finish. “That would have been my greatest achievement if I’d managed to pull off a win”, he recalls sadly.
Although Love had enjoyed three seasons’ success with the Cooper-Climax, by now he realised that a multi-cylinder machine would be needed if he was to fend off new rising star Dave Charlton in the South African F1 Championship. Charlton had recently fitted a Re, Vs into his old Brabham, replacing a 4-cylinder Climax like Love’s, so John sold the old Cooper and acquired an ex-works Brabham-Repco BT20 which had been used by Hulme and Brabham the previous season.
Charlton, by then just thirty and fourteen years younger than Love had gradually been building up his reputation over the previous two seasons. Although a South African citizen, Charlton was born near Redcar, Yorkshire, in November 1936 but moved to South Africa with his mother when he was in his early teens. Charlton first sprang to prominence when he won the 1960 SAGP supporting sports car race at East London in an Austin Healey 100 / 6 and, two years later, also made the “pilgrimage” to Europe to try his hand racing against the “pro’s”. Despite acquiring an ex-John Whitmore Lotus 22, Charlton’s efforts resulted in virtually no race finishes and an exhausted bank balance. When he returned to South Africa, somewhat disillusioned, he had to scrape around running an Austin A40 in club races during 1963, unable to afford anything more ambitious. But he gradually got things together again the following year and turned a few knowledgeable heads with some sterling drives at the wheel of a Ford twin-cam engined Lotus 20. He came to the attention of staunch racing enthusiast Aldo Scribante who bought him a Brabham BT11 powered by a ubiquitous “Climax 4” and he took on a full South African F1 season in 1966. He admits that he never got to challenging Love during the course of that year, but after fitting a Repco V8 he won the 1967 Rand Autumn Trophy race — and beat Love’s Cooper-Climax by four seconds. It was the first time Charlton had triumphed over the reigning title-holder.
Several trips to Europe punctuated Charlton’s 1967 season and, anyway, Love had acquired that newer Brabham BT20 with which he successfully held onto his South African tide. In 1968 beheld onto the old Brabham-Repco, but still didn’t get on terms with Love. Not surprising, in view of the fact that the Rhodesian was determined to keep one step ahead of his rivals and, realising the threat posed by Charlton, replaced his Brabham BT20 with an ex-works Lotus-Cosworth 49. Love had never been particularly impressed with the Brabham-Repco’s handling, actually remarking that bethought it behaved “like a ten ton truck”. And that from a chassis which was generally regarded as good when compared with its contemporaries. In that connection it should be recalled that, after the 1968 South African GP, Dave Charlton was invited to test a works Cooper-Maserati at Silverstone in preparation for driving it in the few Grand Prix which Lodovico Scarfiotti was unable to appear. For better or worse, Charlton decided to give John Cooper an honest assessment of the factory machine; “It’s bloody awful”, said Dave flatly. And that was the end of any F1 career with Cooper, before it had even started!
In 1968 and 1969 Love thus continued to take the SA F1 titles, aided in the latter season by Charlton side-tracking to a F5000 Lola 1140 which brought him just a single victory in the Rhodesian Grand Prix. Then Aldo Scribante bought Charlton a Lotus 49C with which he got as high as fifth place in the 1970 South African GP before being forced into the pits for a tyre change. With this car Charlton really “clicked” in the 1970 South African championship, Love by this time having switched to a March 701 — which was something of a mistake. Charlton won nine victories to wrest the title from Love, his Rhodesian rival, at long last.
By this time considerable rivalry had brewed up between the two drivers’ sponsors, Love being backed by the Gunston tobacco company while Charlton raced under the Lucky Strike colour. Into 1971 it was clear that the Lotus 49C driven by Charlton — who had the bonus of a works Brabham drive in his home GP — was still going to have the legs of Love’s March. Thus, when Dave pulled out an early lead in the national championship, Love’s sponsors authorised huts to replace the Bicester machine with a Suttees TS9B which at least got John back into the race winner’s circle again. But it wasn’t sufficient to wrest back she Championship. What’s more, at the wheel of the TS9B, Love was involved in two very spectacular accidents, both at Kyalami. One occurred under braking for Clubhouse, the Surtee’s throttle sticking open during a national championship race as John chased Charlton for the lead. The one sliced between two layers of guard rail, opening them up and allowing than half swallow the TS9B. Love was trapped in the cockpit for some time, but emerged – miraculously – without a scratch. The following Spring he was dicing with Helmut Marko’s BRM during the South African GP when he lost control of the Surtees going through the fast kink before the pits, crashing heavily and damaging the car very badly.
For Love, that was the end of his F1 career, Team Gunston, apparently convinced that an agile F2 machine would be quick enough to see off Charlton’s F1 cars, purchased a couple of Chevrons for Love and Ian Scheckter to drive. But there was no way in the world that they were ever going to get on terms with a Cosworth DFV-powered F1 car and Charlton finally succeeded Love as the man to beat in South Africa.
In the summer of 1971 Charlton had been invited to drive a works Gold Leaf Team Lotus 72 in the British GP at Silverstone as a prelude to buying one of these cars and bringing it to South Africa. He retired on the opening lap of the British race, his car’s engine spewing out smoke even on the starting grid, but the car was a good buy and helped him retain the South African Championship in 1972 and 73. Charlton even found time to return to Europe for a handful of GPs the following year, but he was troubled by Peculiar motion sickness in a couple of events and never proved much of a threat to the establishment.
At the end of the 1973 season the international oil crisis, prompted by events in the Middle East, affected South Africa very seriously and a temporary ban on motoring sport seemed likely to result in the cancellation of the entire season’s racing. Fortunately the South African GP was saved and a national F1 series subsequently took place. Now challenged by youngsters such as Ian Scheckter (elder brother of the 1979 World Champion) and Eddie Keizan, Charlton took another step to maintain his pre-eminent position by acquiring an ex-works McLaren M23 to replace his Lotus 72. Although he seemed psychologically unable to reproduce his national championship Kyalami form when the Grand Prix circus visited South Africa, the M23 enabled Charlton to keep on top and win the last two national SA F1 titles in 1974 and 75, although by the latter season Ian Scheckter was winning a lot of races and proving very competitive indeed.
There the story of John Love, Dave Charlton and their domination of South African F1 finished. Worried about the spiralling cost of operating GP cars, the South African Motor Racing Club effected a change in their championship regulations for 1976. From that point onwards the national single seater series was to be for Formula Atlantic machines and the country thus fell into bland uniformity with several others around the world. The South African F1 championship could hardly be judged as an epic slice of motor racing history by the standards of some Grands Prix, but it had been immensely popular for well over a decade and provided fans with some splendid, hard-fought racing. To judge by the comments of South African enthusiasts we have talked to, it is sadly missed. — A.H.