John Love is one of only two people from Zimbabwe (Then Rhodesia) to race as a driver in Formula 1, the other being Sam Tingle. What is most interesting is that he was involved in one of the most interesting stories in Formula One’s history, which sadly seems to be mostly forgotten.
John Maxwell Lineham Love was born in Bulawayo on December 7th, 1924 and sadly recently passed away on April 25th, 2005. Overall he raced in 10 Formula One Grand Prix races during a decade in the sport, with his first on December 29, 1962 and his last race in 1972. He never managed to win a race, although came very close (more about this below), but did get one podium place (2nd), and scored a total of 6 championship points. A very bad accident that resulted in a badly broken arm ruined his chances of racing in Formula 1 full-time.
John first got into motor racing just after World War 2 (WW2), where he served in the Middle East and Italy in an Armour Car Division (where I think he was a Tank driver), he returned to Bulawayo and then from 1947 to 1953, competed in motorcycle races against other Zimbabwean motor cycle racing legends like Ray Amm and future six time world motor cycling champion Jim Redman.
During the 1960’s he was the South African F1 Champion six times. Before racing in F1, he did very well racing for a very famous name in motorsport, in Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper-Austin team in the European Formula Junior firmament.
1967 South African Grand Prix in Kyalami
Probably he most unlucky moment came during the first race of the 1967 F1 GP season, held in South Africa and for the first time at Kyalami, which would help the local drivers like John who had raced on the track before. Because the previous season had ended late, both the Ferrari and McLaren teams decided not to race and many of the other top drivers were still using last years cars. But all the big names of the day were there:
Sir Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme racing for the Brabham that dominated the 1966 title in their BT20, the Repco 3 litre V8. Graham Hill and Jim Clark racing for Lotus, Jochen Rindt and Pedro Rodriguez racing for Cooper in their T81 Maserati V12, John Surtees racing for Honda, Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence racing for BRM in their P83. Other entrants included Dan Gurney, Jo Siffert, Bob Anderson, Jo Bonnier and Piers Courage, plus two other South Africans, Charlton and Luki Botha and the other Zimbabwean to race in formula 1, Sam Tingle.
John would be racing in a vehicle that had never raced in F1 before, the Cooper T79 with a Climax four-cylinder engine. The chassis had actually won the Australian GP at Longford in 1965 as it had been a special built for Bruce McLaren, after which John Love then bought it and had used it to win many local races.
John Love (No.17) in fith place at the start of the 1967 South African GP
Qualifying went well and he started the race in 5th place on the grid, behind Brabham, Hulme, Clark and Rodriguez. Unfortunately he made a poor start and was down to 10th place after the first lap, but some excellent driving and some retirements saw him get up to second place behind Hulme, who almost had a minutes lead, until a break fluid problem forced him to pit on lap 61. So with three quarters of the race done, John Love was in the lead and it was looking good for the man from Bulawayo to taking the chequered flag and his countries first ever win in an Formula 1 race.
Sadly, it was not to be however and with just 7 laps to go, his 2.8-litre four-cylinder Climax engine began to run low on fuel and he had to pit to re-fuel to the complete astonishment of the now very excited crown. Pedro Rodriguez in his Cooper went on to win with John finishing in a career best in second place.
When his racing days were over, he went back to live out the rest of his life in his beloved Bulawayo where he set up and ran a garage and Jaguar dealership and also had his own stock car racing team that competed in the 80’s.