Armien Levy, the driver who raced through apartheid roadblocks
Cape Town - Armien Levy has loved fast cars all his life. As a child he dismantled a clockwork toy car his father had given him and modified the mechanism to make it go faster and by the time he was 12 he knew he wanted to be a racing driver.
His first taste of motorsport was watching the Cape Helldrivers at Goodwood Showgrounds. Armien was hooked instantly but this was South Africa in the 1960s and motorsport was closed to people of colour.
To please his family he qualified as a bricklayer before becoming a full-time motor mechanic, which was not considered a respectable career at the time. He and a few friends formed their own stock-car club, the Cape Daredevils, and built their own cars. Typical of Armien, he jumped in at the deep end – his first racing car was a modified Ford Fairlane V8!
The Daredevils had cars, but nowhere to race, until Jack Holloway of the Cape Helldrivers helped them organise the necessary permits (which took a year of battling with bureaucracy) and gave them a race date, December 28, 1969. Attendance was expected to be poor but by 4.30pm on the day they had to close the gates – the place was packed!
Armien drew pole position for his very first race and and that was all he needed. He won every race he ran in that night and says to this day that nothing in his life will ever beat that feeling.
The Cape Daredevils later ran a successful stock-car programme at Paarl Showgrounds; Armien built a Ford Anglia for this series and won every race that he entered.
In 1979, he entered a Datsun SSS in the Castrol International Rally, a tough and prestigious five-day event that ran from Pretoria to Swaziland. On day three, however, he missed his slot for the start of Stage 30 in Barberton and was timed out. Nevertheless, he followed the rally to the next liaison point, to be told that Stage 30 had been cancelled and he could start Stage 31!
At the end of the rally in Swaziland he was 11th, the only South African entry to finish that year.
Armien began Main Circuit racing at Killarney in a Formula Ford in 1981, once again proving his undeniable talent by winning six regional championships. He took part in many three, six and nine hour Endurance Races, either in a succession of Toyotas or a Ford XR6, and is proud that he never failed to finish in these long-distance events.
In the late 1990s, when the number of Formula Ford entries would no longer sustain a regional series, it was Armien who proposed that the category be opened as a Formula Libre series.
He was elected chairperson of the new section and a Western Province Motor Club exco member, while continuing his own racing and rallying career, in addition to running an eight-car racing stable, Team Armien Levy Motorsport, from his workshop in Athlone.
Two of his sons, Anwar and Ebrahim, followed him into motorsport, as did his daughter Fuzlin, although she has now retired, while Ebrahim's son Reza – a third-generation racing Levy – is a budding star in the karting world. In 1989, the Levy clan was honoured by Motorsport SA as the most enthusiastic family in South African motorsport.
Armien, who says he never gets speeding fines on the road, is scathing about today's illegal street racers.
“I opened the doors for them at Killarney in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said recently, “and I had a tough time doing it.
“Now the youngsters race expensive cars on public roads with R1 million modifications; they can be a star at Killarney, they can’t be a star on the road. How can Hashim Amla become a star if he plays cricket in the street?”
Killarney International Raceway