John Maxwell Love
"Why do I do it? You might as well ask a drunk why he drinks." The words are from Rhodesian champion racing driver John Love, who created an amazing record in winning the South African championship in six successive years from 1964 to 1969.
Bulawayo-born Love became a legend in racing in Southern Africa and had fate perhaps been kinder, he would almost certainly have joined the ranks of regular works drivers in the world Formula One Grand Prix circuit.
A crash at Albi, in the south of France on 10 September 1962, changed all that. After swerving to avoid hitting his friend and rival Tony Maggs, Love's car left the circuit and struck an earth bank. He suffered a crushed left arm and was in severe pain for several weeks as surgeons worked to heal the injury. When he eventually returned to Rhodesia, the arm was stiff and unresponsive and he was told his racing career was over.
But, typical of the man — Love was not born to be a loser — he refused to accept that racing was over for him and went to see a Salisbury surgeon. Five months and two operations later he was back behind the steering-wheel even though he had still not regained all movement in the arm.
It was this injury which forced him to channel all of his efforts into the South African racing scene where he was later to achieve such amazing results. A few weeks after the Albi accident he was to have been given a trial in John Cooper's latest car at the high-speed Monza track. The accident put paid to that.
But two years later came a very big moment in Love's career, one that caused a small sensation in British motor racing circles. No one was more surprised than Love himself.
John Cooper made a surprise telephone call to Love's Bulawayo garage and out of the blue offered him Phil Hill's place in the next Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Love had no hesitation in accepting the offer — he had waited so long for a chance in Formula One. He left for Rome with his old friend and team-mate in the South African Gunston team, Sam Tingle, with high hopes of performing well
enough to ensure a place in the line-ups for the American and Mexican Grands Prix which were to follow the Italian race.
Fate again took a hand and about a month later Love was back at home in Bulawayo, a very disappointed man. His practice for Monza went badly after a distributor drive broke when he had completed only four laps and he was scratched from the race, as spares were unavailable to repair the damage.
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He was given another trial at Goodwood in England and Cooper said he wanted Love for the 1965 season, but that the petrol company which invested heavily in the Cooper team favoured approaching another driver. Some of the disappointment was made up for when Love won his first South African championship later that year.
Like many other drivers, Love started his career on two wheels. He raced on the oil-dirt surfaces of Umgusa and Coro Park with the men who nurtured Rhodesia's fine record in world motor cycling; men like Ray Amm, Frank Riley, Ken Robas, Charlie Harrison, Phil Snyman, Hymie Stanger and Colin Graves. World champions Gary Hocking and Jim Redman followed.
His motor cycling career started after he returned from service with the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy. It was 1946 and his first machine was an ageing TT Rudge. Although he scored only moderate success, particularly in the 350 cc events on a Velocette, he soon gained a reputation for being a wizard with engines. "I love motors," he said. "I hate to see them abused."
His debut on four wheels was made in a little Cooper into which he had built a Norton 500 cc engine. The car went well but was tail-happy and almost brought about a premature end to Love's career on the old Belvedere track in a spectacular crash from which he managed to emerge alive and still determined.
Love continued racing in a Cooper with a variety of engines until he took over a Riley Special and, pushing the machine to the limit began to cause upsets against more sophisticated works machinery. By then he was firmly 'hooked' on motor racing and in 1959 he travelled to Britain with veteran driver Jimmy Shields in the hope of getting a works drive.
The eager Rhodesian found a place in what was then a new class, the Formula Junior, and began driving a front-engined Cooper for Ken Tyrell, who later ran one of the leading Grand Prix teams. He returned home after a hectic season,having gained valuable experience — the fields in Formula Junior were big and the competition was fierce. More important, Love came back with a contract to
drive for Tyrell the following year (1960) and in that European season he gained some notable successes.
He finished third in the Italian race, took a second at Copenhagen and scoreda victory at Chimay. He went on to take third places at Rheims and Albi — the scene of his fateful crash two years later — and finished second at the infamous Nurburgring circuit in West Germany after breaking the Formula Junior lap record by seven seconds.
Of his efforts overseas Love was later to say: "It was tough breaking into European racing. I struggled for years trying to get a toe-hold into the set-up there. But once I missed out, could not honour my contracts because of my accident, well, that was it. So I turned to home events."
His decision to stick to the Rhodesian and South African circuits was the beginning of a remarkable chapter in local motor racing. After the Albi crash, Love brought his car, a works Cooper-Climax, back to Rhodesia. But success did not come immediately to Love and his faithful mechanics and friends. Keith Starling and Gordon Jones.
Initially they were plagued by breakdowns and mechanical failures at crucial times. Moderate success came in 1963 and the following year, after responding to Cooper's invitation to race at Monza, Love missed two vital championship races.
But on his return, Love found that he still had a chance for the South African
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title provided he won the last event of the season at the Johannesburg Kyalami track. With everything to gain and nothing to lose, the Rhodesian got out in front and stayed there, beating old rival Pieter de Klerk to record the first of his incredible run of South African titles.
Success had not come easily to John Maxwell Love but he could look back with satisfaction on years of sweat, strain, self-sacrifice and sheer hard work, and times when only his grim determination and enthusiasm kept him at it.
The 1965 season that followed was one of Love's best After a slow start — he gained only a solitary third place from the first three events — there was just no stopping him. He won sixteen races in succession with victories at Salisbury, Bulawayo, Lourengo Marques and ten events in South Africa.
Love's formula for success is simple. "I have always had a tremendous incentive to win a motor race. I go all out for a win and nothing else. 1 have never gone into a race saying to myself 'Hell, I cannot win this'. That is fatal."
Fitting tribute to Love comes from Pieter de Klerk, a man who often had to settle for second place: "You can be beaten by a lot of things in motor racing. You can be beaten by mechanical failure, by your own bad nerves and by pure bad luck. You can also be beaten by a better driver. If I must be beaten, I'd rather be beaten by John Love than by anything or anybody else."
What made Love's achievements all the more remarkable was his age. He was twenty-nine when he made the switch from motor cycles to cars and forty-five when he won his sixth successive South African championship. When he finally retired from racing in 1975 he was fifty-one and that was the end of a track record which will never be forgotten.
Love so nearly stunned the whole motor racing world in 1967 when, driving an out-dated four-cylinder car against the world's best in the South African Grand Prix, he led until the last lap when he ran out of petrol. He finished second, but made his mark. It was like a fairy-tale as Love, in his old Coventry-Climax, defied more modern and vastly more powerful cars around the Kyalami track.
Among the other milestones in Love's career were his breaking of former world champion Jim Clark's Kyalami lap record with an average speed of 111,8 mph, the award of Springbok colours in 1967, his selection as Rhodesian Sportsman of the Year in 1968 and his selection as South African Motor Sportsman of the Year in 1970.
John Love will be remembered as the man who always wanted to be out in front — and got there.
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