Rear-view Mirror

A regular look back at old motoring and motor sport items…



Fifty-five years ago, South Africa’s land speed record was broken twice within a couple of months. At the time, the record of 149,5 mph (240,59 km/h) had been set by famed motorcyclist Vic Proctor at Verneuk Pan in 1952. On 21 October 1967, famed SA racing driver Bobby Olthoff took his 5700cc V8 McLaren-Ford to a flat (a gradient rise of only 0,1%), eight-kilometre stretch of the Soutpan Road near Bloemfontein to try and beat the record. However, although the stretch of road was not ideal because at an altitude of over 1 300 metres a power loss of around 10% was the order of the day – Bobby couldn’t get the car past 6 000 r/min, some 6 000 r/min down on maximum revs. Nevertheless, a trial run over the measured kilometre realised a two-way average of 177 mph (284,85 km/h). A modification was made to help force more air over the carburettors and the first official record run saw Bobby repeat his trial run average. Not satisfied with this, a second and final run was made that realised 182 mph (292,90 km/h) with the wind and 174 mph (280,02 km/h) against it, for a new record average edged of 178 mph (286,46 km/h).

Then five weeks later, on November 29, British racing legend David Piper – for many years one of SA’s staunchest motor racing supporters – took his Ferrari P3/4 to the same venue. The car, said to have been the only one of its type in private hands, was powered by a four-litre, quad-cam, twin-spark V12 fed by six Weber carbs and delivering 420 hp (313 kW). It would spin to 8 000 r/min but peaked at 7 700.

Earlier in the month, the car had raced at the Kyalami 9-Hour and Cape 3-Hour, and with nothing more than a change of spark plugs, fitting a better final drive ratio to help achieve a higher top speed, and a slightly more streamlined nose, ‘Pipes’ set about establishing raising the record. His trial run gave a sign of things to come: a two-way average of 188,6 mph (303,52 km/h). His first run set a new official record with a 302,55 km/h average. A faulty spark plug was changed and slightly bigger Firestone Indy tyres were fitted for the second run, which was aborted due to an electronic timing device failure after a one-way speed of 186,7 mph (300,46 km/h) was recorded. The bigger tyres had reduced maximum revs and affected stability so the original tyres were refitted. A couple more runs were done to maximise settings, and on his final run, Piper achieved 189,4 mph (304,81 km/h) and 189,5 mph (304,97 km/h) over the two directions for an average of 189,45 mph (304,9 km/h) and a new South African Land Speed Record.


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