Arthur Mackenzie was a well known Durban garageman and long time motor sport enthusiast and was the first South African driver to import and then win a race with a factory built ‘500’. As racing was developing in Southern Africa during the 1950’s there were no ‘special class’ races for the 500s and they were included in the multi-car fields of diverse machines that graced the local grids and as a result racing was on a handicap basis.
At Easter time in 1949 as racing was reborn in South Africa the racers ventured to Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg for a weekend of sport and the 38 year old put up a creditable show in the “7’ but the new 500s were already making their presence felt and it was his good friend, Orlando Fregona, in a cleverly constructed machine, Tiger Cub, that triumphed in the 1949 Junior Coronation, relegating the Scotsman’s Austin 7 Special to second place.
The following year his trusty Austin scored podium finishes in the ‘junior’ races for the Pat Fairfield Trophy (2nd) and the Coronation 100 (3rd) on the Natal road circuits at Snell Parade and Alexandra Park, respectively. Both races were of some 75 miles.
As 1951 drew to a close the revolutionary little Coopers astounded the cynics. At the famous Burman Drive Hillclimb Arthur set a new record for the up to 850 cc class in his 500 JAP and became National Hillclimb Champion as well as pocketing a silver medal and 5 pounds! His time of 1 min 9.6 secs for the 1600 yard climb knocked an incredible 2.6 seconds off the old mark and was beaten by only .2 secs by the 1100 JAP engined Cooper of Chris Fergusson.
But there were still those who doubted what the little cars would do on a ‘long circuit’.
In September 1952 Arthur thrilled the crowds on his way to an emphatic win in the 47 mile Parkhill 120 on Durban’s Snell Parade. After being waved away as last man in a quality field of cars and established drivers, and ‘giving away’ 750cc, he vanquished the favoured MG’s and took the chequered first averaging an incredible 74 m/hr. He was also placed fourth on handicap.
By the 1953 season the cyclecar brigade were making a big impression. At Pietermaritzburg’s Easter weekend motor races Arthur entered his Cooper with a 344cc JAP engine for the Light Car Handicap on Easter Saturday but ‘faded out. The car was then taken to the pits to have the 500 JAP installed for the next race – the scratch rolling start event for cars up to 1250 cc. This event was billed as the “First race of its kind”. To huge excitement a pilot car driven by Gordon Henderson lead the field around them round to cross the start line at 100 mph. Lapping at 66 mph despite the heavy rain making conditions on Alexandra Park treacherous Mackenzie won at a canter.
On Easter Monday, in the 120 mile 1953 Coronation Handicap, using the same engine as he had on the Saturday he placed first on handicap and second on scratch (to the SA Champion, Doug Duff in the ex-works ex-Bob Gerard Riley 1500) averaging 69.2 mph and taking home the huge prize of 100 pounds.
During 1954 upgraded the power unit to 1100 cc but more speed resulted in unreliability although he set fastest lap on the Snell Parade in the Durban Centenary Races at a very rapid 78.7 m/hr. In V-twin form the Cooper was a match for anything on the South African tracks but more speed resulted in unreliability. At the newly built Roy Hesketh Circuit, in 1100 form, the Cooper sped to an impressive victory in the Union Day Races, setting fastest lap at 72.9 m/hr in the process.
By 1954 the 500s were astounding the enthusiasts with their pace – the more so when the long chassied versions were upgraded to 1100 cc. A snippet from a report on the 1954 Queenshaven Motor Races held at the bumpy Grand Central Circuit near Johannesburg makes interesting reading.
As he ended a long career he raced sparingly but was encouraged to enter the Cooper in an International Easter event at Roy Hesketh Circuit in April 1957. Lined up against the Cooper were two very new Mk.1 1100 cc Climax engined (T41’s) of the Ecurie Kiwi pair Ronnie Moore and Ray Thackwell, Lord Michael Louth’s D Type Jaguar and the Connaught of Dick Gibson plus the fastest of the local machinery.
As the 1950s drew to a close Arthur raced infrequently but was tempted to test himself when international drivers visited. In April 1958 he was tempted back to Roy Hesketh Circuit for the Coronation 100. The determined 48 year old Scot had the measure of them all and set fastest lap of the race at 70.7 m/hr, equalling his lap record, against the likes of Dick Gibson’s Cooper T43 Climax, the 1500 cc Porsche engine Cooper Mk. VI of Ian Fraser Jones, Jimmy Shield’s ERA and the Riley Special of Bill Jennings before he fell out with mechanical troubles. After that he hung up his helmet.
Our thanks to Rob Young for this profile.