Peter Luhanga - January 12, 2023

Pheiffer was honoured with numerous awards for his contribution to motorsport in the Western Cape, and for his work as a motoring journalist

If it weren’t for Pheiffer, Killarney would not exist

Motorsport legend Adrian Pheiffer, who co-founded the Western Province Motor Club and rescued the Killarney International Raceway from almost certain closure in 1965, had died at the age of 92 after selflessly devoting most of his adult life to motorsport in the Western Cape.

“Even after he retired in 2018 at the age of 87, he took a keen interest in the club and I recently received an excited phone call from him when he learned that a long lease for Killarney had been approved by the city,” said Killarney International Raceway executive manger Des Easom. 

“I am glad he was able to make that call,” said Easom.

Dubbed ‘the ideas man’, Pheiffer matriculated from Rondebosch Boys High in 1947 and after qualifying as a motor mechanic and spending a year in England, he returned to Cape Town and finished a three-speed, 1172cc side valve Ford-engined Spyder that he and his friend Willie Meissner had been working on before he left.

“He was a colleague, a mentor and a true friend, He was and remains a huge influence on Killarney. Despite his quiet and unassuming manner, he was a skilled storyteller with a wicked sense of humour, which he used to good effect in his newspaper articles and the periodical The Blower which he produced for the Club,” said Easom.

Pheiffer fitted a hand formed sheet-metal body and entered it in a handicap race at the old Killarney circuit in 1956, said Easom. The handicappers took one look at the car’s basic bodywork and its unknown rookie driver, and gave it an enormous start. Not even South African champion Bill Jennings in his famous Riley Special could catch him, which is how Adrian beat the national champion in his debut race.

He also took part in one of the early LM Rallies from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques as navigator for Alan Wolman in a Jaguar XK120, which he said later was totally unsuited to the task.

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 Joubert, and 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.

The Western Province Motor Club has bestowed every award it can on Pheiffer for his outstanding contribution to the club and to motorsport in general, including the Edgar Hoal Memorial trophy, a Lifetime Achievement award and one of only 15 life memberships that have been awarded during its history.

 He wrote and compiled the prestigious book Killarney, 50 Golden Racing Years 1960 to 2010, and was honoured with a number of motoring journalism awards, including the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists’ Motorsport Journalist of the Year in 1988 and the Colin Watling Award for Special Services to Motorsport in 2010. Pheiffer also received a special Lifetime Achievement Award from Motorsport South Africa in 2014.

 “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. Rest well, Adrian. We will miss you.”

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