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The History

1968 - 1995

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Johnny Clifton - Car # 5


The names Johnny Clifton and Johnny Clifton Motor Spares is not only one of the best known inside the stock car racing circle, but a household name in Cape Town. Johnny’s stock car career which spans more than two decades is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement making this legendary driver a true veteran and one of the most experienced drivers around. A notable feature of his illustrious racing career must surely be the large selection of different model cars used over the years, not to mention the array of colour schemes. Johnny’s comment on this was “ a change is as good as a holiday”  

A true gentleman on and off the track  - by Gary van Oudtshoorn #93 (picture on right)

As a new comer in 1985 and having the privilege of racing  with such a legend as Johnny Clifton, he has always come across as being friendly, helpful with advice and well mannered. Something that I will never forget about him was during a race when he came up from behind at the Epping corner. Having the perfect opportunity to send my car spinning, he very gently indicated that he needed to get passed by giving me two soft taps on by rear bumper. By moving my car to the outside, I let him slip through. It’s not often that a driver would show such consideration for a new comer such as myself “what a man, what a driver”  

Johnny Clifton #5 choosing to use some gentle persuasion to get passed rather than an aggressive approach

Insert by Johnny Clifton

My first memory of stock cars was doing ramp jumps with my dad, Jack Clifton. I was probably about twelve years old at the time and felt so honoured to be the one to share the limelight with him. What an adrenalin rush it gave me. He warned me that I would have a blackout and I did. We jumped 9 cars that night, but he cleared the distance of 13. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. He fitted a special seat for me and there I was in my charcoal suit, all spruced up for what was to be one of the most amazing moments I shared with my hero. From that moment on, I was hooked!

Jack Clifton was a force to be reckoned with in his 1937 Plymouth which was once held the lap record at Goodwood. Jack is pictured above after winning both the American Swiss and Track Thrills trophies on 29 March 1958. He was also an accomplished ramp jumper having cleared 9 cars driving a 1937 Dodge and is the father of Johnny Clifton who needs no introduction.

(Click on picture to enlarge)

On racing nights I got to drive my dad’s stock car around the pits. My friend and I would fetch burgers for the crew, thinking that we’re “main manne” as we cruised around looking so cool. I started my racing career at the age of eighteen, displaying my lucky No.5 on the side of every car that I raced. My dad didn’t believe in modifying anything and said it made the car too unreliable.   He would do all  the fine -tuning  for me before  a  race  and he

 never failed to impress us with how he could tune a standard car to be the fastest in the pack. In the early days all the cars were the same. It was only in the 70’s that the drivers started modifying engines and adding wings. There wasn’t money to do that in the “old” days. My dad was very clear on one thing though – he said that if I got hurt, he would close the business. We were both involved in his business at the time, Cliftons Motors in Queenspark Avenue, Woodstock. Needless to say, I’ve never been seriously injured.

Another memorable stunt moment for me was the making of a UNISWA Insurance advert back in the late 60s. The driver was expected to roll a car down the side of a mountain. The advert was shot in Clifton, along Kloof Nek Road. They managed to capture what they were looking for in one take which took 10-15 rolls down the mountain, with no helmet, a thin roll-bar and landing on all four tyres once reaching the bottom. Offering a fee of R3500.00 for those days, together with the adrenalin of doing such a stunt, made it a sure thing for me. They had approached Deon de Waal and Johan Tulleken first, but they weren’t crazy enough to do it!

Sequence of picture frames taken during the filming of the UNISWA Insurance advertisement Click on pictures to enlarge

Winning some championships  were also                                                              highlights in my racing career. One of the wins was in my 1955 Chev. I remember that Deon                                        couldn’t  catch me and I won by only 1 point! Another win was with the Flexi which I bought from Louw Bosch. At that time I was very involved in growing my business, Johnny Clifton Motor Spares, and I couldn’t meet the expectations that were put on the guys to travel. I hung up my racing helmet when I sold this amazing machine to Quinton Swart in Kimberley in the late 80s.

My 48 Plymouth Coupe in action during the 1968 season

So many people ask me about the name board I had positioned on the front of my bonnet, “Cake”. I can honestly say I don’t recall much about its origin, but that was my pitt crew who came up with that. It was a play on words. Instead of saying “Kyk na my”, they decided to do a direct translation to “Cake”. Silly I suppose, but everyone seems to remember it.

Powering my 55 Ford passed the grandstand during the late 60’s

Although I don’t race anymore, I’m still totally committed to the sport. I’ve sponsored a few of the younger guys in the past, and I never miss a race at Killarney or Kraaifontein. I get out to Worcester as much as I can and recently went up to watch racing in PE. A lot has changed since our days of racing on gravel at Goodwood, but the sound, smell and thrill of this sport is what will always keep us coming back for more. Would I race again? Sure, this old-timer still has a lot of kick in him. More organized races with us so-called legends are sure to draw the crowds and offer some thrills and spills. I’d be there in a heartbeat, or rather an engine -rev!

The Chev SS of Deon de Waal having a hard time to get passed my 55 Chevy, eventually winning the championship by a single point

Enjoying my final season in my Chev Camaro (Flexi) 1986


No. 1 Reen Road Athlone Industria Cape Town - Tel  021 637 1223 / 4 / 5 - Fax 021 637 4356  email felix’s@intekom.co.za

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Friday, January 11. 1985

  Hell driving

with  Neill Hurford

BUCKETING along at megaki-kilometres and hour on a tight oval track, shunting booming behemoths out of the way may not be everybody’s idea of a relaxing Saturday evening’s entertainment but I can only recommend it as one of  life’s most exhilarating experiences - dodgem cars for real.

With club champion Johnny Clifton at the wheel of “Frustration” his aviation fuelled, five-litre Chev SS V8. I could have ended in a total demolition.

And here, I must stand in awe of the skill displayed my the men in in their monster machines. Every couple of weeks in the season they face danger for the glory of coming out on top, and in some cases just completing the gruelling course

Serious injury is pretty rare, but wipe-outs are common. I witnessed at close hand a car do a double somersault close to our rampaging vehicle.

The evening started with Ray Butters, organizer of the Cape Hell

Johny Clifton (left) with Neill Hurfort and the slime green “Frustration”

Only then, as the straight-through exhaust system of 10 cars bellowed, did I experience the flow of raw adrenalin.

The sensation of speed was enormous, the car being low and the track tight. Barriers loomed and receded as the car drifted and hurled down the straights. Nothing could touch us as we raged through the nine laps, smoke belching into the cab - and then the chequered flag, well ahead of the pack.

As I stepped from the car, sheer bravado took over, and I heard myself say: “Hey guys  I want to be in a real race.That was tame.” I headed back to the stand to choke down a  chicken  sandwich and grin

Drivers, offering me a choice of black or white crash helmet. I am not superstitious. But the white looked more optimistic.

So in front of the crown of around 15000, I walked out on to the slushy track, with one thought in my mind: “ Don't slip on your ass here baby, you couldn’t  handle the humiliation.”

Tucked into Johnny’s slime green “Frustration”, I wedged my helmet against the radically lowered roof and cosily clutched the batteries between my Knees. Ray buttoned up my shirt against flying stones and mud, and slammed down my visor. We took front position on the grid and the white flag came down.

reassuringly at my daughter and my lady who claimed they had spent the race clutching one another for support.

Worse was to follow for them, and for me, as the next V8 race was called. Back in the car, fifth on the grid and a whole new ballgame.

A furry of mud in my face as the car in front spun away from the start. And then Johnny showed his mettle as he rammed the car through the pack.

Clunk, crunch and grind followed by the sweet scream of the engine. In front, a car hurtled into the air and landed on it’s roof. Yellow flags bloomed but the race continued unabated. One more major “stoot” and the white flag came down for the last lap.

This spurred Johnny on to greater efforts and a surge of speed brought us up in the pack to end second

Next Profile

Kees van der Coolwijk

Johnny ramps with Dad (Jack ) aged 12

Starts racing at 18 (1964)

Stuntman for Insurance ad late 60’s


Many cars and many colour schemes, Johnny continued to achieve racing successes to become a true Hell Driving legend.