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John Love’s Greatest Day

The day a Rhodesian privateer almost beat all the F1 regulars and their far more powerful cars

1967 South African Grand Prix, which moved to Kyalami for the first time after seven years at East London, will be remembered as one that almost caused an incredible upset. The F1 World Championship opener commenced the season early on 2 January as it attracted a full grid of new 3-litre machinery backed up by a healthy local contingent

Jack Brabham put his Brabham Repco V8 on pole position with a lap of 1 minute 28.3 seconds , ahead of teammate Denny Hulme, Jim Clark’s Lotus-BRM and Pedro Rodriguez’ Cooper Maserati V12. There was a surprise in fifth as South African champion John Love qualified his two-year-old four-cylinder 2.7-litre Tasman Cooper Climax a sensational among the cream of the crop of the world championship 3-litres, just 1.2 seconds off pole man Brabham.

Love significantly out-qualified John Surtees’ V12 Honda and Jochen Rindt’s Cooper Maserati V12, while another local, Dave Charlton’s similarly Climax 2.7-powered Brabham BT11 sat seventh on the grid, ahead of Jackie Stewart’s H16 BRM, Dan Gurney’s Eagle Climax and the rest.

Love diced Gurney

Brabham powered away to lead early on with Rhodesian Love’s immaculate dark green Cooper was in the thick of it from the get-go, initially fending Dan Gurney’s Eagle Climax 2.7 for sixth just behind the leading 3-litres – the two of them were never more than a car’s length apart for 44 laps until Gurney retired. Love’s progress was even more remarkable considering he was suffering a slight misfire, but he kept going as the cars ahead one by one ran into trouble, slowed, pitted or retired.

Sensationally this attrition soon allowed Love to move into the lead to the huge approval of the partisan 80 000 crowd on lap 59 of the 80 lap Grand Prix. From where he maintained his 20-second advantage over second-placed Pedro Rodriguez’ 3-litre V12 Cooper Maserati.

It was the first time a Southern African driver had ever led a World Championship Grand Prix – the crowd was loving every second, spurned by both the moment and the ecstatic track commentators. “The huge crowd of went wild,” veteran South African motoring scribe Sy Symons reported. “The roar of cheering had to be heard to be believed, but the ears were also strained for any worsening of that misfire, while stopwatches clicked as the gap between Love and Rodrigues was checked lap-by-lap.”

Love pulls into the pits

Then came a great groan, as Love pulled into the pits, gesticulating wildly on the 72nd lap. The story had always been that there were fuel scavenging problems in the Tasman Cooper T79’s auxiliary fuel tank fitted to see the car to the longer Grand Prix distance and that Love’s team had no spare pump after loaning it to Jo Siffert.

John however admitted to us many years later and a few months prior to his passing, that they always knew that the car could not go the distance. The Cooper quite simply never had the fuel capacity to go the distance, despite auxiliary tanks being fitted. And to be leading that day caught the team totally by surprise…

A frantic struggle ensued

What ensued was a frantic struggle as John’s loyal mechanics, Gordon Jones and Keith Starling fumbled with a funnel and a drum of race fuel that did not want to decant. Love leapt out of the car to assist as Doug Serrurier strode up with a hammer and a screwdriver to punch a hole in the floor of the can. That finally allowed the fuel to flow smoothly, but by the time Love was back in his Cooper thick with cement and grime from the dusty track, Rodriguez was long gone.

Pedro Rodriguez’ first, Cooper & Maserati’s last wins

Still, the result was memorable — Pedro Rodriguez took his maiden grand prix victory in what also proved to be great F1 brands Cooper and Maserati’s final win. Love chased the Mexican home to finish second, having lost nearly 30 seconds in that late, desperate splash-and-dash stop. The little Bulawayo team had done Africa proud as John Love sipped a beer with his men and then stole the world headlines the following Monday morning in a tale of David and Goliath tainted by a tricky twist of fate…

Surtees ended third in the Honda from Denny Hulme’s Brabham Repco 3-litres, Bob Anderson’s Brabham Climax 2.7 and Jack Brabham’s Repco V8 machine. South Africans Charlton and Botha suffered a litany of issues and while both were still running at the flag, neither was classified, while Rhodesian Tingle crashed his LDS 3 Climax out on lap 56.