John Love

John Love

John Love was born in December 1924 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia and educated at the town’s Technical High School. After leaving school he was employed as an apprentice electrical fitter but was called him up for service at the start of the war. As member of his country’s Armoured Car Division, John served in the Middle East and Italy. It was also in Italy where he got his first experiences as a driver of a tank. Later while stationed near Monza with the 6th Armoured Division he and some fellow servicemen found time to indulge in a few sorties around the Grand Prix circuit on a Zundapp motorcycle. Soon afterwards he was appointed as a dispatch driver between various Italian towns and the Swiss border. After the end of the war Love returned to Bulawayo where he completed his apprenticeship. He purchased a motorcycle when he returned to civilian life and from 1947 to 1953 John raced on a variety of bikes that included a TT-replica Rudge, Norton, AJS, Triumph and Velocette but Love had an urge to go car racing and by 1954 he had enough money to purchase a Cooper Mk III JAP from James Burgoyne. Part of the money for the car came from a transaction when John sold his motorcycle to Jim Redman. For the next three years Love was a regular competitor in Southern Rhodesia in  the Cooper, which later was fitted with a Norton engine. After this car was written off in an accident, he purchased a Cooper Mk V Norton. Races were mostly held on dirt circuits and during this time he scored five victories at Umgusa Speedway and another five at Salisbury’s Coronation Park.

John's Cooper looks very small in such company. Photo courtesy Rob Young

After cutting his teeth against some of his countries best drivers,  like Jimmy Shields, Gordon MacPherson, Jimmy de Villiers, Sam Tingle and Peter Wood, John moved south of the border for the first time to compete in South African race meetings. In a move to widen his experience, he purchased the Riley-Special of Bill Jennings, the three time South African Drivers’ Champion, in October 1957 for £500. Success came with a win at the Heany Summer Handicap race meeting in October.

Salisbury, Rhodesia 15th April 1956. John in number 24 next to Tony Fergusson in 26. Number 22 is Peter Davies from Kenya, 20 is Les Mitchell and  27 is Norman Lunderstedt in the Lundy Special (a 998cc car). Photo courtesy of Rob Young.

John pushing his Norton 500 home at the 1957 National meeting at Belvedere. Photo courtesy Love family.

1958 brought good results which included a second position on scratch at the False Bay 100, Cape Town, a third at the Transvaal Autumn Handicap (Johannesburg), a second on scratch at the 14th Coronation 100 (Roy Hesketh, Pietermaritzburg) and more second places at the Union Day Handicap (Grand Central) and in a Formula Libre handicap at the Belvedere Circuit, Rhodesia. His finest achievement during 1958 was most probably the second place at the 1st Nine Hour Endurance race at the Grand Central Circuit in November. John and  George Pfaff were late entries in an Austin-Healey 100, they raced hard to cover a total distance of 544 miles only 16 miles less than the winning Porsche Carrera of Ian Fraser-Jones and Tony Fergusson. The race was not without incident, as Autosport’s race report says: “ John Love of Rhodesia lost his number plate part way down the straight, halted, dashed across the track in font of an oncoming bunch to retrieve it, and proceeded to the pits to replace it.”.

In 1959, Love moved to England in an attempt to further his career but could not find anyone to support them however he purchased an ex-works Jaguar D-type which he brought back to Rhodesia and used it for the second half of year achieving second place at the Grand Prix of Angola in Luanda in September 1959. In January 1960, Love competed in the first South African GP and finished seventh. After a handful of decent races in the Jaguar, a friend arranged that John could meet Eric Broadley of Lola and he was offered a place in the Fitzwilliam Formula Junior team, driving the Mk II. He was very competitive, in spite of the Lola becoming quickly outclassed by the Lotus and John managed to record some podium places. At the Copenhagen Cup and Eifelrennen meetings he got second places and at Reims and Albi he came third on each occasion.

Ken Tyrrell noticed John’s talent and offered him a test at Goodwood, further convinced by the Rhodesian’s abilities, Ken asked Love to drive for him in the Cooper T52. Back in Southern Africa he won the 9-hour sports car race at the Grand Central circuit in October in a Porsche Spyder. In future years Love would compete from time to time in sports car races in cars like the Ferrari GTO, Ferrari F4, Lola T70 and Lola T212. In December 1960 there were also two races for Scuderia Lupini in South Africa in the Cape Grand Prix and also the South African Grand Prix, after Gigi Lupini asked him to drive his team’s new Cooper T51-Maserati. 1961 again saw him driving the same car for Tyrrell in the European Formula Junior Championship, partnering Tony Maggs from South Africa. The two of them, together with Jo Siffert, would dominate Formula Junior in 1961. Love’s first victory in a Formula Junior race came at Cesenatico in Italy where he won the first Heat and also set fastest lap. His first outright victory came at the daunting Chimay circuit in Belgium during the GP des Frontieres meeting in May. More victories followed at Caserta, La Châtre, Nogaro, Roskildering and Monthléry. Returning to Africa at the end of the European season, John again drove Scuderia Lupini’s Cooper T51-Maserati at the Rand Spring Trophy race, finishing second.

In his third season for Ken Tyrrell, John drove a Formula Junior Cooper T59 but the BMC engine lacked power and the season proved challenging with wins only at at Roskildering, Magny Cours and Karlskoga. 1962 did, however bring great success at the wheel of  of  Tyrrell's Mini-Cooper in the British Touring Car Championship. Out of eight races he scored seven class wins taking the British Touring Car Championship. In September 1962 during a Formula Junior race at Albi he had the biggest accident of his career, when he crashed into a barrier while trying to avoid a spinning Tony Maggs, breaking his left arm and had to have a bone graft from his hip. From then on Love had to adopt a new driving style as he couldn’t bend his arm properly. John would rest his left hand on the lip of the small wind screen though corners while steering with one hand. He said that this was his only option, since he had no wrist movement in his left hand, but soon got use to the technique of driving with the right hand and checking with left. Following the accident John decided to return to Rhodesia to focus on his business interests in Bulawayo and to switch to more powerful racing cars. For the latter, he got bought a Cooper T55-Climax Formula 1 which he debuted at the Natal GP and South African GP in December 1962.

By mid-1963 John was making his mark again in the South African Drivers’ Championship in his ex-works Cooper and so began an new era for the garage proprietor from Bulawayo, one that would see him dominate African racing for the rest of the decade. Love got off to an unimpressive start in his newly acquired car, when mechanical gremlins prevented him from finishing but, at the Rhodesian Grand Prix in December 1963, John led from start to finish to score a popular win in front of his home crowd.

The following year proved better, after a third place at the opening round of the 1964 for the Rand Autumn Trophy in February at Kyalami, he would score four outright victories during the course of the season. Success came at the Coronation 100 and the Royal Show Trophy race, at Roy Hesketh, East London and the Rand Spring Trophy at Kyalami giving John his first South African Drivers’ Championship title.

John was already 40 years old but dominated the 1965 season in his Cooper, now fitted with a 2700cc Climax engine. A non-finish at he South African GP was followed with a second place at the Cape South Easter Trophy race at Killarney. After this, a series of five victories followed at the Rand Autumn Trophy, the Coronation 100, Republic Day race, the Natal Winter Trophy and the Border 100, now in a later  ex McLaren T79. 1966 proved similar, at the first race of the year, the non-championship South African GP, he only achieved sixth place. After that John would clinch seven victories during the course of the season.

In the South African GP in January 1967, against many of the world's best, John led until fuel problems forced him to pit and hand the lead to Pedro Rodriquez and he had to settle for second place, probably John's greatest drive. He continued to compete right through to the early 70s in a variety of machinery including a Brabham BT20, Lotus 49, March 701 and Surtees TS 9. John’s last full season's racing was 1973, after three decades in the sport, and nearing his fiftieth birthday, Love realized that he had to make way for a younger generation of racing drivers.

After a long struggle with cancer, at the age of 80, John Love, 6-times South African motor racing champion, passed away at his home in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on the 25th of April, 2005.