Farewell to a legend: TopGear SA bids farewell to Adrian Pheiffer

The legacy of Adrian Pheiffer lives on. The man who was instrumental in establishing the motorsport scene in South Africa.

TopGear Reporter
January 2, 2023
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Farewell to a legend: TopGear SA bids farewell to Adrian Pheiffer

South African motorsport bid farewell to a stalwart who's put so much into the history of motorsport in this country. Often crossing paths in parallel universes, such is my relation to a man many speak about with high regard, given the amount of time I've spent at Killarney International Motorway, never to have had the opportunity to meet him. A true gentleman whose passion for Motorsport went beyond the norm. 

As tributes pour in from my fellow journalism colleagues and motorsport writers and fans for the work and effort put in by Adrian, I cast my mind over the hard work that goes into the behind-the-scenes efforts to make local motorsport a success. Perhaps not entirely unnoticed, but compared to the fanfare of face-value events, men like Adrian are the unsung heroes.

Not only was Adrian responsible for forming the Western Province Motor Club, but he was also instrumental in ensuring that Killarney International Raceway had a sustainable future in the 60s. Although not active in the club's day-to-day running, he continued to serve the club after handing over the reins to leaders like Dr Greg Mills, who carry Adrian's legacy forward. "The Club would not be but for Adrian," said WPMC President Dr Greg Mills.

"As Robert Browning wrote: 'I hold that a man should strive to the utmost for his life's set prize'. Adrian certainly did that for the WPMC and Killarney. 

Like some fortunate scribes, Adrian competed in various Cape Town Grand Prix. A story that was shared involved the late great Sir Stirling Moss.

"In 1959, when Adrian 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 Denis. 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. But the ground around the circuit was still bare, there was a fierce South-Easter on the day, and the blown sand stung like a swarm of killer bees. Despite the presence of Stirling Moss and a number of other top drivers, attendance was dismal, and the race, which was won by Moss from works Porsche team-mate Jo Bonnier, was a financial disaster."

And so Killarney International Motorway was born, but its stories may go unnoticed. Some may have been recorded in digital formats, others not. But they display the willingness of men like Adrian to create something incredible and simultaneously document it. The story went on…

The 1962 Cape Town Grand Prix, which was 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 Adrian came up with the 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 club's debts and enabled Cape Town's motorsport enthusiasts to start thinking about the future. Once again, it was Adrian, the ideas man, who proposed that Cape Town's motorsport clubs should merge to form a single administrative body for the circuit. The Amateur Automobile Racing Club, the Cape Kart Klub and MotorSport Marshals merged with the Mets in 1965 to form the Western Province Motor Club, with Adrian as chairman and Denis as secretary.

Anecdotes like that formed part of an even more extensive body of work for motorsport, paving the way for what Killarney is today, and we have men like Adrian to thank. His sacrifice, effort and determination lead the path for many motoring aces over the years to go on and enjoy the sport, compete internationally, and give motorsport a chance to survive and thrive into the modern era. For Adrian's countless efforts in motorsport and journalism, we owe an enormous debt to him for seeing an opportunity many times over and executing it. 

As I enter my year of racing in GTI Challenge in 2023, I have a new appreciation for my local track's founders and an important chapter in the South African Motorsport history book. Rest well, Adrian.

Words: Brent vd Schyff

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