On yer bike: Paddy Driver

With business operations curtailed by the nation-wide lockdown, FMM Curator Wayne Harley continues his series of recollections of South Africa’s motorcycling heroes…

This month we take a look at yet another man who has not only left his mark on motorcycle racing history in South Africa, but is also just one of three men ever to race in both the World Motorcycle Championship and Formula 1.

Ernest Gould Driver, better known to us all as Paddy, started out on his own without sponsorship, building, maintaining and racing his own bikes, something that is rarely seen. In a story where the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Paddy’s father, Johnny, was an accomplished motorcyclist. In 1929, Johnny and Alf Long broke the record for a motorcycle and sidecar combination in the Durban to Johannesburg race.

Paddy was born into this background in Johannesburg in 1934. His schooling culminated in attending Michaelhouse High School in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, which, in his own words, he found “rather uneventful”. However, he regularly slipped away to Pietermaritzburg to watch motor racing, where the seed was further planted of a future in the sport.

So, after completing his apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic in 1952, he took a job at the Albion Motor Company, which allowed him to purchase a motorcycle and go racing. He kept this activity from his mother, who did not like motorcycles, however she did eventually find out after reports of his first victory appeared in the local papers. That win came in 1953 on a 1938 500cc Excelsior Manxman ‘bronze head’ (the cylinder head was made from bronze), a bike he bought in Maraisburg, Johannesburg as a box of pieces and assembled himself.

Before long, Paddy was part of the South African racing family and was soon competing alongside the likes of Bepe Castellani (the focus of last month’s feature), Rudi Allison and George Anderson. In 1957, Paddy purchased one of Bepe’s motorcycles and that very same year he raced against Jim Redman, Mike Hailwood and Dave Chadwick, all of whom would become great friends. Later that same year, Paddy and Jim Redman packed their kit and headed off to the UK to start their international racing careers. Driver and Redman travelled the racing circuits and lived in a self-contained Austin van. Paddy secured Shell as a fuel sponsor, which led to a long-standing friendship with Lew Ellis.

And so began Paddy’s international career. 1958 was not all easy going, racing on older machines with incorrect tyres, but he did achieve some success with an 11th place in the Isle of Man TT 350cc class. However, back home in South Africa, that same year he was awarded his Springbok Colours. He returned to the international circuits in 1959, which was a much better year as he finished the season in 12th position overall in the 500cc class, including a remarkable 6th position in the Isle of Man Senior TT, and 13th in the 350cc class.

Paddy managed to finish in the top 10 in either or both the 350 and 500cc classes in the following years 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964. However, it was in 1965 and his 3rd overall in the World Championship that stands out in his motorcycling career, especially when you consider it was Giacomo Agostini and Mike Hailwood that kept him from that elusive top step of the podium.

1966 was the last year Paddy raced on two wheels but most definitely not the end of his racing career as he turned his attention to four-wheelers – but that’s another story… Except to say that, together with John Surtees and Mike Hailwood, both of whom he befriended, Paddy is one of only three men to compete in both the Motorcycle and Formula 1 World Championships.

For 43 years, motor sport, in one form or another, would be part of Paddy Driver’s life. He was the first South African to win national titles on both two and four wheels, truly a remarkable feat. In 2004, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for motorsport.

I can most definitely recommend you get a copy of his book ‘When sex was safe and motor racing was dangerous’.

(NB: No copyright infringement is intended with any of the images used to illustrate this article.)