22 Jul In memoriam
July was a tragic month with the passing of some of South Africa’s motoring legends. First, two of South Africa’s motorsport legends, Don Philp and Piet van Niekerk, passed away within a day of each other. Stellenbosch-born Don began racing in various motorsport events in 1947 and was particularly with Cape crowds. He drove a number cars, many of them ‘specials’, including a Singer and an MG. Don also built a 1475cm3 Quodra-Climax but the majority of his many successes was with a potent 1660 cm3 Cooper-Climax in which he finishing fifth in the 1960 (6th) SA Grand Prix. The same year the broke the Killarney lap record by four seconds and won the Rand Winter Trophy race. He was runner-up in the SA Drivers’ Championship. Don took part in the 7th and 8th SA Grands Prix, retiring in both but was the leading local driver in the former.
Piet grew up in South West Africa but after moving to Cape Town in the mid-1950s became involved with the development of the GSM Dart and Flamingo, working with Bob van Niekerk (no relation) and Willie Meissner. Although Piet had no engineering qualifications, his ‘feel’ for a car’s ride and handling characteristics played a generally unheralded but significant part in the success of the iconic South African sports car. A GSM closed down in 1965, Piet became actively involved in the GSM enthusiasts’ club, a task he carried out with enthusiasm throughout his life. Apart from GSM, Piet went on to race a variety of cars including a race début of the Mini Cooper in South Africa. He also drove Volvos, Mazdas, Peugeots as well as a Lotus 18 in the Natal GP. In March 1964, Don and Piet raced together, sharing a GSM Flamingo in the 1964 6-Hour at Pietermaritzburg, finishing second on scratch.
Later in the month came the shocking news that Jan Hettema had been fatally shot during a robbery at his smallholding in Tweedracht, near Pretoria. His wife, Elsa, and a worker survived the ordeal. Known as SA’s Rally King, Dutch-born Jan participated in the Monte Carlo Rally six times (including sipping champagne with Princess Grace after one event), the RAC Rally of Britain twice, was the first winner of the Roof of Africa Rally (1967), won the SA Rally Championship five times, the international Total Rally four times and every other major national rally at least once. Sarel van der Merwe remembers Jan as an “old enemy, mentor and friend”, and their tussles on rally stages and race tracks are the stuff of legends.
Then, shortly afterwards, we learnt that three-time SA rally champion Gugu Zulu had died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Gugu was with his wife Letshego and project leader Richard Mabaso as part of the Trek4Mandela team of climbers that was due to summit the mountain on Mandela Day. Over the past couple of years, Gugu and his wife have been unofficially tagged as SA’s ‘outdoor couple’. Gugu’s last post on his Facebook page stated, “Made it though day 2. My wife is doing fabulous, she has even learnt the local language. Am having flu-like symptoms and struggling with the
mountain but taking it step by step!! Today we managed to see our destination and our camp is literary above the clouds!!” Sadly, Gugu then suffered respiratory problems and despite being put on a drip and returned to camp, he did not survive.
Everyone at the Franschhoek Motor Museum extends their sincere condolences to the family and friends of all of these great characters who contributed so much to South Africa’s motoring heritage. To those who passed on, may they all Rest in Peace. MM