1962 South African at East London
What was the background to your grand prix debut?
I campaigned a Lotus 20 Formula Junior in England in 1961 and then brought it back home for the ’62 season. Then I bought Syd van der Vyver’s Lotus 21. It was one of the Team Lotus cars that Jimmy Clark and Trevor Taylor had brought out in 1961. The first race I did with it was the Rand Spring Trophy, where Gary Hocking beat me. Later I was fourth at the Rand GP and third at the Natal GP; Gary was killed in practice — I was heartbroken.
Did you regard the South African GP as just another race?
Oh my word, no! I can remember going to the drivers’ briefing and Ernie Pieterse and I were saying to each other, “What the hell are we doing in this august company?” At the fast right-handers just after the pits I was lifting off, and Jimmy Clark passed me on the outside, with his foot flat. I thought, “If he can do that…” So I kept my foot flat for the next lap and knocked three or four seconds off my time. Then I had to go to the pits and clean the sheets!
You were actually 10th, fastest of the locals and ahead of Roy Salvadori. What do you remember of the race?
The guy who looked after my car was called Dick Mobey. He had broken his fingers and could never straighten his hand properly. After I passed Salvadori my times came down a bit, and Dick came out of the pit and shook his crooked hand at me to say, “Slow down you little bastard!” I had always made a point of taking some coffee to the guys and spending time with them while they prepared my car for a race. But this time Dick said, “Bugger off! It’s a long race, go and get some sleep.” I thought that was odd. I only discovered later that he had found a crack in the cylinder block. I don’t know what he did, but he managed to patch it. I suppose it was better for me not to know.
Were you aware of the significance of getting a point in your first GP?
No, not at that stage. It took a while for it to really come home to me. In retrospect I should have taken far more advantage of what I had actually achieved. I undersold myself. And then, of course, as a graded race driver I was only allowed to do national races in my own country and only international races in other countries. That hit a bit hard.
What made you stop racing?
The greatest thing racing ever gave me was the relationship I built up with my father — and then he died in my title year, 1963. Then I broke my leg in the Rand Nine Hours of ’64. I’d lost my dad and our VW/Audi franchise had expanded, so I decided to stop. Aldo Scribante bought my car and persuaded me to tackle the ’65 South African GP with it. But it was shockingly prepared. I thought, “Why should I stick my neck out?” — AC