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NOTICE OF DEATH - BRUCE JOHNSTONE (1937-2022)

It is with great regret that we must inform Members of the death of Bruce Johnstone last Thursday 3 March at the age of 85. Born in Durban, Bruce came to the United Kingdom in his teens, ostensibly to train at Cranwell to join the Royal Air Force. However, he soon deviated from the intended path by taking up motor-cycle racing and scrambling, competing at such West Country venues as Castle Combe. On returning to South Africa after 12 months in the UK, he started racing cars, initially in an MG which was followed by the Volvo-engined Speedy Engineering single-seater special originally built by Doug Serrurier. He was employed by Lawson Motors in Johannesburg which was running a team of Volvo PV544 saloons. In 1960 Bruce shared one of these Volvos to fourth place in the grandly titled ‘4th South African 6 Hour Production and Sports Car Endurance Test’ at the Roy Hesketh circuit but had to retire from the Kyalami 9 Hours. 

For 1961 the new FIA Formula 1 catered for cars with 1500 cc engines which had become increasingly popular in South Africa as the international Formula 2.  Bruce replaced the Speedy Special with the Alfa Romeo-engined Cooper T43 with which Syd van der Vyver had won the 1960 South African Drivers’ Championship and now enabled Bruce to emerge as one of his country’s most promising talents. As such he was given the opportunity by Reg Parnell to drive one of the Yeoman Credit Cooper T51s at the very end of 1960 in the non-championship South African Grand Prix in which he finished sixth having taken taking fourth place 10 days earlier at the new Killarney circuit in the Cape Grand Prix behind such luminaries as Stirling Moss and Joakim Bonnier in Porsche 718s and ‘Taffy’ von Trips in a Scuderia Colonia Lotus Type 18.

With his own Cooper T43 Bruce won the Pat Fairfield Trophy at Roy Hesketh and the Mozambique Grand Prix at Lourenco Marques. He also finished second in the Rand Autumn Trophy at East London. At the halfway stage in the season, the Drivers’ title seemed to be heading Bruce’s way with his prospects enhanced by a return to Reg Parnell Racing and its new Formula Junior-based F1 Cooper-Climax T56. In the Rand Grand Prix at Kyalami Bruce finished fifth behind the works Lotus Type 21s of Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor and the works Porsche 718s of Jo Bonnier and Edgar Barth. However, in the Natal Grand Prix while running as best-placed local driver behind the likes of Jim Clark (Lotus Type 21), Stirling Moss (Lotus Type 18/21) and Jo Bonnier (Porsche 718) he crashed out, the damage sustained being incapable of repair in time for the South African Grand Prix itself nine days later. With a puncture and a faulty battery cable causing retirements with his own Cooper in other races, Bruce lost out to Syd van der Vyver for the South African Drivers’ Championship. Away from single-seaters, Bruce shared an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti with Nick Kingwill to finish second overall in the Kyalami 9 Hours.

Encouraged by his performances against the Formula 1 stars from overseas, Bruce set his sights on pursuing his racing career in Europe. His driving had caught the eye of some members of BRM’s hierarchy, and he was approached about the possibility of a test-driving role at the end of 1961 in South Africa. Nothing much came of this initially but in early 1962 Bruce was offered a job as test driver. Having liquidated all his motor racing assets to cover the cost of the air fare, Bruce arrived in the UK to discover that he seemed to be seen as a distraction to the BRM team’s principal objective of winning the F1 World Championship with Graham Hill supported by Richie Ginther. 

Bruce was ready, willing, and able to turn his hand to anything but there was precious little driving involved. Eventually he was given the chance to drive a BRM P57 in the Oulton Park Gold Cup on 1st September. The car at his disposal was the rebuilt chassis in which Graham Hill had crashed heavily after running over a hefty TV camera lying in the middle of the track during practice for the German Grand Prix. The race was a full Grand Prix distance and attracted all the British F1 teams. In a car set up for Graham Hill on a ‘just in case’ basis Bruce drove a mature race to finish fourth behind Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, albeit by the end he wasn’t on the same lap as the three past and future World Champions. 

That day at Oulton Park was as busy in racing terms as Bruce had enjoyed all year for he also drove one of the Ian Walker Racing Team Lotus 23s in the sports car race. After qualifying slightly quicker than the sister car of team mate Paul Hawkins, Bruce ran third behind the larger-engined Lotus Type 19 of Innes Ireland and Jim Clark’s similar Lotus 23 until gearbox problems intervened and necessitated a pit visit which cost a couple of laps. Earlier in the season Bruce had driven an Ian Walker Lotus 23 with a 1-litre Ford engine in the Nurburgring 1000 Ks round of the World Sports Car Championship. Co-driven by Peter Ashdown, the little yellow Lotus came home eighth overall and winner of the 1-litre sports car class by a very large margin. The Ian Walker connection, which had come about on the suggestion of Graham Hill who had been impressed by what he had seen of Bruce’s abilities when in South Africa at the end of 1961, also resulted in Bruce sharing a Ford Zodiac Mk 3 with Paul Hawkins in the first Brands Hatch 6 Hour race for production saloons, the car finishing well back after various technical problems. 

Four weeks after the Oulton Park Gold Cup, Bruce drove a IWRT Formula Junior Lotus Type 22 in the Vanwall Trophy at Snetterton, finishing fifth behind friend and fellow countryman Tony Maggs in a Tyrrell Cooper T59. Whilst at Snetterton that weekend Bruce fell into conversation with David Piper who was planning on taking his newly acquired Ferrari 250GTO to South Africa for the Kyalami 9 Hours at the beginning of November. By the time they had finished their chat Bruce had been invited by ‘Pypes’ to share the 250GTO in the race which they duly won. 

The BRM connection remained to the end of the year, but it was not a particularly enjoyable experience. The intention was for BRM to make available to Bruce one of its 1961 P48s upgraded to P48/57 specification for the Rand Grand Prix at Kyalami followed by his home race in the Natal Grand Prix at Westmead and the South African Grand Prix at East London which was for the first time a qualifying round of the Formula 1 World Championship. It was also the final round of the Championship with Graham Hill head-to-head with Jimmy Clark for the title as were BRM with Lotus for the Constructors’ Championship. The car was not ready for Kyalami. At Westmead, Bruce finished second in his heat to Richie Ginther’s works P57 but he was forced to retire from the final in a cloud of engine smoke. It was not until the evening before the South African Grand Prix a week later that BRM came up with a replacement engine. Bruce and his own team were having to operate the car so as not to distract the works team from its bid to win the World Championships, so they set to and completed the job just in time for Bruce to take up his place at the back of the grid without any practice laps or a chance to set up the car. The engine lost power as the ignition retarded and the gearing was all over the place, but after a pit stop Bruce kept going to take the chequered flag in ninth place as Graham Hill and BRM won the race and the world titles. 

Disappointed at being unable to show well in front of his home crowd, and disillusioned by the way BRM had treated him, Bruce ran in three South African Formula 1 races in the early months of 1963 with his last being at his home circuit of Westmead where he finished eighth in a Lotus-Alfa Romeo Type 18 before hanging up his helmet.  In 1965 he shared an obsolete Maserati 200SI in the Kyalami 9 Hours with Chris Fergusson, but the car was an early retirement. The race was won by David Piper with Richard Attwood in a Ferrari 365P2.  Bruce’s lifelong passion for motor cycles stayed with him and he went to work for South Africa’s Yamaha importers. He was one of the first people to develop the possibilities of motor sports sponsorship.

Bruce was elected to the BRDC as a Full Member in 1962 but later allowed his membership to lapse after walking away from the sport. In later years he regularly attended motor sport reunions and spoke knowledgeably and interestingly about his era of Formula 1. To his family and many friends the BRDC offers its deepest condolences.

The Club regrets to report the death of Tony Brooks who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1954
It is with great sadness that the Club reports the death of John Rulon-Miller who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1995
The Club regrets to report the death of Peter Gaydon, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1970
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