ADRIAN PHEIFFER – THE MAN WHO SAVED KILLARNEY
At an emotional gathering in the Killarney International Raceway clubhouse on Saturday, 27 October, the Western Province Motor Club bade farewell to the man primarily responsible for the formation of the club, the ‘ideas man’ who saved the circuit from almost certain closure in 1965 and who devoted most of his adult life to motorsport in the Western Cape – not for his own gain but for the benefit of all competitors and racing fans.
Adrian Pheiffer got into motorsport at a very young age. He attended the Friday practice for the 1937 Grosvenor Grand Prix at Pollsmoor as a six-year-old with his father, Henry “Fireworks” Pheiffer, himself a keen amateur racer, where he was introduced to top drivers Bernd Rosemeyer, Ernst von Delius and Earl Howe.
He served his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic and in 1955 took ship for England, because he wanted to watch “real motor racing”. However, the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was a huge disappointment because, unlike at Killarney, nobody knew who he was, so he couldn’t get anywhere near the cars or the drivers. The circuit still closely resembled the bomber base it had been during the war, so he couldn’t see much from the spectator area.
By then Pheiffer had had enough of English weather and decided to go home. Overland. On a motorcycle. Given that he had never ridden a motorcycle in his life, it was just as well that he couldn’t afford one – or he would still be stuck in the Sahara desert.
So he did what we all did in the 1950s and 1960s when we wanted to go somewhere and didn’t have any money – he stuck out his thumb. It took about fourteen weeks and, apart from a few nervous moments in Kenya at the height of the Mau Mau campaign, he had no problems. He was even offered a few nights’ free accommodation at an hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in exchange for servicing the owner’s cars.
When he got back to Cape Town he finished off a three speed, 1172cc side valve Ford-engined Spyder that he and his friend Willie Meissner had been working on before he left. He fitted a hand-formed sheet-metal body and entered it in a handicap race at the old Killarney circuit in 1956.
The handicappers took one look at the car’s somewhat basic bodywork and its unknown rookie driver, and gave it an enormous start – so much so that not even South African champion Bill Jennings in his famous Riley Special could catch him, which is how he beat the national title-holder to win his debut race.
Pheiffer also took part in one of the early LM Rallies from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques as navigator for Alan Wolman in a Jaguar XK120 which, he says, was totally unsuited to the task. However, one of the marshals on that event was a young lady from Pretoria called Jutine Nykamp. Ever the gentleman, he has never revealed what he did to make such an impression, but when she later moved to Cape Town, the two met up again and (after 59 years), are still together.
In 1959 The Metropolitan Motorcycle Car Club (Mets), under his chairmanship, negotiated a loan of £20 000 from the Divisional Council for the construction of a circuit to the Formula One standard of the time. It was ready just in time for the inaugural Cape Grand Prix, promoted by a joint committee representing the Cape’s major motorsport clubs, on December 17, 1960.
Unfortunately the ground around the circuit was still bare and a fierce South-Easter created a sandstorm on race day. Despite the presence of Stirling Moss and a number of other top drivers, attendance was poor and together with various factors not budgeted for, the race, which was won by Moss from works Porsche team-mate Jo Bonnier, was a financial flop.
The 1961 Cape Grand Prix, a triumph for Trevor Taylor after Lotus team-mate Jim Clark uncharacteristically spun out of the lead going into the Malmesbury Sweep, was almost as bad, leaving the Mets with very little money in the kitty and a huge outstanding loan.
Somebody had to pull something out of the bag, so Pheiffer came up with the idea of a mammoth motor show at the Goodwood Showgrounds. Staged over eight days, it included a “Go-karts for Hire” track, as well as Nascar-style stock car racing (after modifying an existing chassis to create the first modern stock car in South Africa). The show was a huge success, paid off the club’s debts and enabled Cape Town’s motorsport enthusiasts to start thinking about the future.
At this point the Mets had a circuit but no cash, the upmarket Amateur Automobile Racing Club had money but no venue, and the rest contributed nothing but hot air. Once again it was the ideas man who proposed that the clubs should merge to form a single administrative body for the circuit.
The Cape Peninsula Motorcycle & Car Club opted out but the AARC, the Kape Kart Klub and the Motor Sport Marshals merged with the Mets in 1965 to form the Western Province Motor Club, with Pheiffer as the first chairman.
Before that, the Kape Kart Klub had been another of his bright ideas. Inspired by an article about a large roller-skate powered by a Briggs & Stratton lawn-mower engine in an American magazine, he built the first kart in Africa and launched the first formal karting organisation in Africa.
After a year as chairman he stood down to concentrate on racing. He’d competed in a Cooper with an Alfa Romeo engine and Hewland gearbox in the 1961 SA Formula One series and the 1962 South African Grand Prix at East London, where he crashed out and wrecked the car.
That same engine and box were then installed in locally-built replica of a Lotus 23. It was named the APM, after those involved – Adrian, Peter and Maurice – and finally ended up with a 1595cc twin-cam Ford competition engine. In between he raced all manner of saloon cars taking two Western Province championships along the way.
When his racing career ended Pheiffer became involved again with the administration of the club, especially in promoting the karting section and persuading the motocrossers to move from Noordhoek to Killarney. He also became a regular contributor on motorsport to local newspapers, and continues so to this day, being published regularly in the Cape Times, Cape Argus, Die Burger, TygerBurger and a number of electronic media including Independent Online and Wheels24.
He also wrote and compiled the prestigious “Killarney, 50 Golden Racing Years 1960 to 2010” which will forever stand as his monument, and has been honoured with a number of motoring journalism awards, including the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists’ Motorsport Journalist of the Year in 1988 and the Colin Watling Award for Special Services to Motorsport in 2010.
The Western Province Motor Club has bestowed every award that it makes on Pheiffer for his outstanding contribution to the club and to motorsport in general, including the Edgar Hoal Memorial trophy and one of only 13 life memberships that have been awarded during its history.
He plans to retire to Darling in November 2018 but will continue to produce the Club’s quarterly magazine, The Blower. His daily presence at the circuit, however, will be sorely missed.