Killarney mourns death of motorsport legend

Adrian Pheiffer died on December 29.

Petrol heads and the Killarney family have paid tribute to award-winning motorsport writer and co-founder of the Western Province Motor Club (WPMC), Adrian Pheiffer, who died at the age of 92 last month.

WPMC executive manager, Des Easom, said Mr Pheiffer was not only a colleague but also a mentor and a friend.

Without Mr Pheiffer’s help, Killarney would not exist and be what it is today, he said.

“He was and remains a huge influence on Killarney. Despite his quiet and unassuming manner he was a skilled storyteller with a wicked sense of humour, which he used to good effect in his newspaper articles and the periodical ‘The Blower’ which he produced for the club,” said Mr Easom.

Mr Pheiffer retired in 2018 but still remained pivotal in the development of Killarney.

Mr Easom said Mr Pheiffer matriculated from Rondebosch Boys’ High in 1947; after qualifying as a motor mechanic and spending a year in England, he returned to Cape Town and 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, said Mr Easom.

“The handicappers took one look at the car basic bodywork and its unknown rookie driver, and gave it an enormous start. Not even South African champion Bill Jennings in his famous Riley Special could catch him, which is how Adrian beat the national champion in his debut race,” he said proudly.

Mr Pheiffer also took part in one of the early LM Rallies from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique) as navigator for Alan Wolman in a Jaguar XK120, which he said later was totally unsuited to the task.

However, one of the marshals on that event was a young lady from Pretoria called Jutine Nykamp whom he later married, until she passed away in 2020.

In 1959, when Mr Pheiffer was chairman of the Metropolitan Motorcycle and Car Club, with Denis Joubert as secretary, the club 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 designed by Edgar Hoal, with architectural assistance from Mr Joubert, and was ready just in time for the inaugural Cape Grand Prix, promoted by a joint committee representing the Cape major motorsport clubs, on December 17, 1960.

The 1962 Cape Grand Prix, a triumph for Trevor Taylor after Lotus teammate 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.

But Mr Pheiffer always had a plan, said Mr Easom, and he came up with an idea of holding a big motor show over eight days at the Goodwood Showgrounds, complete with Nascar-style stock car racing – which led to the formation of the Cape Helldrivers.

“The show was a huge success, paid off all the clubs debts and enabled Cape Town motorsport enthusiasts to start thinking about the future,” he said.

The Kape Kart Klub was another of Mr Pheiffer’s bright ideas. He had seen an article about a miniature racing car powered by a Briggs and Stratton lawn-mower engine in an American magazine.

He and Cedric Selzer each built one. Mr Selzer then went overseas to join Lotus and eventually become Jim Clark’s mechanic while Mr Pheiffer stayed in Cape Town and started the first formal karting organisation in Africa.

When his racing career ended, Mr Pheiffer again he became involved with the administration of the club, especially in promoting the karting section and persuading the motocrossers to move from Noordhoek to Killarney.

He wrote and compiled the prestigious book Killarney, 50 Golden Racing Years 1960 to 2010, and was 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. As well as a special Lifetime Achievement Award from Motorsport South Africa in 2014.

WPMC president Dr Greg Mills said:,“The club would not be but for Adrian. Rest well, Adrian. We will miss you.”

The Kape Kart Klub was another of Adrian Pheiffer’s bright ideas, said Western Province Motor Club (WPMC) executive manager, Des Easom.