The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa

The 1967 Season Opener: A War of Attrition.

The 1967 Formula 1 rules dictated 3.0 liter engines.  The cars looked like cigars on wheels.  There were no wings yet (those would not arrive until 1968).  The cars, largely free of sponsorship advertising, were absolutely elegant.  Among the three liter cars, there was a lot of variation.  Some teams ran four cylinders.  Others ran as many as 16 cylinders.  The first championship-points race of 1967 was at Kyalami, a track near Johannesburg in South Africa.  It took place in early January.  Monaco, the next race, was several months away.  In fact, in the middle of a rebuilding state, Ferrari did not even make the race.

1967 F1: The Teams and Drivers

The Brabham team has two cars for Jack Brabham, the team owner, and Dennis Hulme.  The well-prepared cars were unchanged from their form at the final grand prix of 1966 in Mexico.

Cooper also brought two cars to the 1967 South African GP.  The cars were driven by Rindt and Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s car was formerly John Surtees’ mount; however, Surtees raced for Honda in 1967.

Importantly, Team Lotus was about to drop a car with a Ford-Cosworth engine that would change the face of Formula 1 for the next 15 years.  However, neither the engine nor its special monocoque chassis were ready for the first race of the season.  Thus, they showed up with two cars rocking older H16 B.R.M. engines.

As mentioned above, Honda had employed John Surtees to race for their relatively new F1 team.  Surtees was working closely with the team to improve some temperamental  handling issues.

Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence were driving new 16 cylinder engines for B.R.M.  Stewart, now considered a legendary F1 figure, was just then achieving number one driver status for the team.

Finally, aside from the privateers, Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers (AAR) team completed the field.  Possibly the most beautiful of an already elegant era of car, the Gurney Weslake V12 would eventually push 415 horsepower at 10,000 revolutions per minute; however, the V12 was not quite race-ready.  Gurney, instead, put a Coventry-Climax four-banger in his gorgeous chassis.

Thursday Test and Tune:  Grand Prix of South Africa

You are correct to notice a lot of variation between the engine and chassis combinations of the different teams.  There were inline, V, and even H cylinder configurations with cylinders ranging from 4 and 8 to 12 and even 16 cylinders.   The variance in sound must have been amazing; at least, as compared to the homogeneity of todays F1 field.

Shakedown Problems

Yet, the first practice of the 1967 F1 season started rather quietly.  In fact, not everyone had even arrived yet.  Many of those that had arrived were having problems.  For example, John Surtees had already blown both engines before the first official practice.  When practice started, the mechanics were busy with repairs.  And, much like the 2017 Formula 1 season, the Honda engine (and chassis) were both beleaguered with problems.

Other teams were also having problems.  Graham Hill’s fuel tank was split open.  Jim Clark could not run simply because his helmet had ended up in Nairobi.  Dennis Hulme could not initially run due to a fault valve adjustment requiring the engine to be torn apart in his Repco-Brabham V8.

Compared to the subsequent test sessions and race, the Thursday practice was relatively cool.  The clouds also helped to keep down the track surface temperature.  Nevertheless, Jochen Rindt’s Cooper-Maserati had fuel vaporization problems.  Finally, with time, on Thursday, more and more engines came to life and the 1967 Formula 1 season was finally underway.

Early Speed in Practice

Jackie Stewart was the first driver to do any meaningful running.  He was driving a works B.R.M., which had an updated crankshaft.  The Lotus team, which were using B.R.M. engines for this race, did not have the new trick crankshaft.

Jack Brabham was quick from the outset.  Pedro Rodriguez, a Mexican driver racing for Cooper-Maserati, was also really fast from his first laps.  This was impressive because it was his first time to the track in an era long before endless simulator hours.  Not only that, but this was also his first time driving in the Cooper-Maserati.

Mike Spence, driving for B.R.M. lapped the fairly short nine turn track in 1:32.2. Rodriguez upped the ante with a blistering lap at 1:29.4.  Not to be outdone, Jack Brabham lapped the track even faster (1:29.1).  To put this in perspective, Brabham was lapping 4.3 seconds faster than the prodigal Jimmy Clark.

Gurney struggled throughout the session.  According to multiple reports, a spectator who had gotten into the pits managed to dislodge a small pebble from a tire and inadvertently knock it into the engine through an open spark plug port.  In any event, the American chassis was slow due to misfires.

As temperatures heated up, the cars encountered more problems and the drivers struggled to drive as fast as they had during the first practice.

Friday Heats Up

The ambient temperature was 85 degrees.  However, the track was a tire-melting 140 degrees.  Engine internals were also running abnormally high due to the combination of high temperatures and low cooling from the thin high-altitude air.

Fuel vaporization was now affecting most of the cars to some degree or another.    Hulme’s Brabam was quite strongly affected by the problem.  Surtees’ freshly repaired Honda was still not running very well.  Rindt (Cooper-Maserati), Gurney (Eagle-Climax), and Clark (Lotus-BRM) made the biggest gains, as compared to their times from the day before.

Final Practice on Saturday

On Saturday, Jack Brabham went nearly as quickly as he had on Thursday, in spite of ever-increasing overall temperatures.  However, even he could not improve on his ultimately quickest lap from Thursday.  This is important in these days because the grid was set by your practice time.  In other words, practice was, in essence, qualifying.

And so, the grid was set.  Jack Brabham had the pole position from his lap of 1:28.3.  Dennis Hulme, in the other Repco-Brabham V8 was also on the front row (1:28.9).  Jimmy Clark (1:29.0) and Pedro Rodriquez (1:29.1) made up the second row.  J. Love in a 2.7 liter Cooper Climax was in third, next to John Surtees in the Honda V12.  After them, it was Rindt, Charlton, Stewart, Anderson, Gurney, Bonnier, Spence, Tingle, Hill, Siffert, Botha, and Courage.

No Rest for the Mechanics on Sunday

Sunday was supposed to be a rest day.  However, as racing mechanics are acutely aware, a rest day typically benefits greater the driver than the wrencher.  Having encountered numerous problems on short runs, the entire field was at work making moderate to serious cooling modifications to their respective cars.  Some teams fit extra fuel radiators.  Other teams re-routed fuel or water lines outside the chassis, to expose them to the air.  Repco-Brabham even fitted containers to pack dry ice around key engine components.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa Race Report

The Grand Prix Start

The race took place on Monday, January 2, 1967.  Hulme got the best start from the second position on the front row and jumped ahead of Jack Brabham.  Just after the flag dropped, the engines roared to life and took off: Hulme, Brabham, Surtees, Rodriguez, Clark, and Rindt.

On the third lap, Jack Brabham had a quick spin and dropped from second to fourth.  This moved Jochen Rindt up to third.  Pedro Rodriguez was fifth, chasing Brabham.  On the same lap, Jackie Stewart’s B.R.M. H16  blew up in grand fashion spewing oil all over the track.  In one fact, one report from 1967 suggested that no grand prix had ever resulted in more total oil spilled onto the track.  Whether true or not, nobody can know.  However, on the third lap, there was already enough oil to send Rindt off the track.  He rejoined several places back.

By the south lap, Denny Hulme was showing his dominance.  Hulme continued to lead the field followed by Surtees, Brabaham, Clark, and Rindt.  There was a hard-charging battle for seventh place between Love and Gurney.

1967 Grand Prix of South  Africa: Midrace

Hulme was efficiently pulling away from John Surtees in the Honda.  It would seem that the Honda started better than it could sustain over a race distance.  In fact, Surtees’ Honda was falling into the clutches of the chasing cars: Brabham, Rodriguez, and Rindt.

On the eighteenth lap, Rodriguez passed Brabham.  However, he quickly lost his second gear shortly after the pass.  This left him fighting from his back foot for the remainder of the race.  As a result of losing second gear, he was reposed by Brabham.  Jochen Rindt also made it by Rodriguez.

Further back, the midfield battles continued.  J. Siffert had passed Love and Gurney, but then lost a fuel pump.  He eventually got it fixed and headed back out; however, the damage had already been done.  Around this time, Bonnier went out with a dropped valve.

On the twenty-first lap, Brabham shot past Surtees to take second place.  A few laps later, on lap 24 ,J. Rindt passed John Surtees for third place.  At half-distance, the four-bangers of Love and Gurney had also passed by Surtees’ Honda.

Halfway to Victory

At the halfway point, Hulme led Brabham by 28.6 seconds.  Love, Gurney, and Brabham battled for third, fourth, and fifth; the group trailed Brabham by 25 seconds.  Pedro Rodriguez was in sixth place.  In fact, at the halfway mark, he was the last car on the lead lap.  However, the heat and altitude were tolling the cars.  All four H16 cylinder cars had already dropped out.  More cars were soon to follow.

Trailing Hulme, Brabham’s car started to misfire.  He stopped in the pits.  His crew packed dry-ice around his fuel pump, in an effort to cool the engine.  But, by the time he returned, he was a lap down in eighth place.  Thus. Love slotted into second; Gurney went into third.

On lap 44, Gurney’s beautiful blue Eagle went out with a broken left-rear wishbone.  So, even in his problematic Honda, Surtees was racing in third, chasing the second place Love.  Pedro Rodriguez, for all his Formula 1 inexperience, was in fourth.

Finally, on lap 54, Rodriguez roared past Surtees.  Brabham was up to sixth, but only by way of more retirements in front of him, including the privateer Courage.

Racing to the Finish

With 21 laps remaining, Hulme was looking good for the win.  But, suddenly, he slammed his right foot-pedal to the floor.  His brakes were gone.  He dove into the pits like a bomber swooping toward its target, slowed down, and yelled to his crew to get brake fluid ready.  On the next lap, he stopped and his crew filled up his brake fluid.  But, it was of no avail.  His brakes were shot.  More than that, the probable winner was then in fourth.

At that point, Love, in the oldest and least powerful car, was in the lead.  Good ol’ Pedro was down 20 seconds.  He chased Love as hard as he could; however, he was unable to meaningfully close the gap.

In those days, pit stops for fuel were avoided at all costs.  To this end, Love had fitted a reserve fuel tank to his car.  But, there was problem with this ad hoc modification.  The fuel pump was not picking up the final three gallons of fuel.  There was no choice.  Love stopped for fuel.  Rodriguez shot by into the lead.  When Love got going again, he was 30 seconds down.

Thus, having lost his crucial second gear early in the race, Pedro Rodriguez won the 1967 Kyalami Grand Prix against all odds in a battle of attrition against the elements.  Love crossed the line in second place.  Surtees finished in third and burst a tire just after crossing the line.  Hulme finished, dejected, in fourth place.