Orlando Fregona

Orlando Fregona was a pioneer of the ‘500 movement’ in South Africa and one of the earliest successful racing drivers in the little ‘cyclecars’ but he has never been accorded the recognition he deserves as motor racing developed into a more professional’ affair. In the immediate post war years Fregona made a name for himself by winning two significant races and being National Hillclimb Champion in 1949 and 1950. He excelled on the dangerous street circuits used at the time.

Before WW2 Orlando had raced motorcycles but after being demobbed he set about building one of the country’s first ‘500s’ with the assistance of the legendary Don Hall. Prior to this he had dabbled with some unsuccessful specials and a supercharged MG R-type in South Africa’s first post war motor races. Don Hall was a brilliant mechanic and tuner besides being an accomplished rider and race driver. In 1929 he was 6th in the IOM Junior TT on a Velocette. In 1930 he bettered this with a fourth and he scored further ‘top tens’ in this gruelling test of man and machine in 1933 and 1936. In between he won the 1934 Durban-Johannesburg inter-city race on a 350 Norton and then went on to win the 1936 SATT. Turning to four wheels he won the 1938 Bluff Grand Prix and the 1939 Fairfield Handicap on his self built Halford and then went on to help build a number of 4-wheeled specials.

Starting in 1948 Fregona and Hall based their Tiger Cub on a modified and much lightened 1937 Fiat Cub chassis and initially used a Triumph Tiger engine and gearbox. Later they were to switch to BSA power and run selected events in 650 cc form. The little car was developed into a potent and respected force on the South African circuits and dominated the 500 class as well as embarrassing the ‘big’ machinery until the first factory Coopers were imported.

Due to the wide disparity of racing specials on the tracks and the large fields racing was based on a handicap system and moreover separate events were held for ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ cars – later some smaller engined cars were included in the ‘senior’ fields due to their incredible performance.

 

 

Fregona on his way to winning the 1950 Junior Fairfield in his Triumph 500 Special “Tiger Cub” on Durban’s Snell Parade at an average of 59.7 miles per hour after 70 minutes of racing.

Initially the efforts of Fregona went unrewarded due to ill luck or mechanical failure but he burst onto the scene in April 1949 on the roads of Pietermaritzburg’s dangerous Alexandra Park to win the Coronation ‘Junior’ handicap averaging 59 miles per hour over 77 minutes of racing. In so he outpaced a field of nearly 40 cars including several MG’s, Austin 7 Specials, Singers and a pair of Rileys. It was the first important win for a ‘500’ on the local tracks and the first time Fregona had finished a race. Interestingly, the driver of the second placed Austin 7 Special, Arthur Mackenzie, was later to import the first factory built Cooper 500 to South Africa. To close off the 1949 season ‘Frig’ won the Burman Drive hillclimb in the 500 Triumph powered Cub.

Some 9 months later on another demanding street circuit on Durban’s beachfront the 30 year old Fregona, having been flagged off second last, drove through a 23 car field to win the prestigious Fairfield Junior Handicap. The ‘new’ 500s were making their mark. But the Durban motor dealer had to wait for December that year to record his next big success when he again won the Burman Drive Hillclimb and set a new class record for up to 850 cc cars, the agile little Cub having been updated to 650 cc Gold Star power and proving a whole 4 seconds quicker than the 500 version.

Jock Leyden captures the mood of Fregona’s success. (Reproduced with kind permission of Murray Leyden)

 

By 1951 the Cub was sleeker and its driver more ‘professionally’ clad.


By 1951 the handicappers were aware of the potential of the tiny ‘cyclecars’ and getting into the results was hard work as they invariably were among the last of the fields to be flagged away. Nonetheless ‘Frig’ drove well enough to take 6th place in the East London Winter Handicap raced on the perilous Esplanade Circuit. But time had marched on and the homebuilt special had become outgunned by the newly imported factory Coopers and so he sold the Flash Cub to the burly “Ox” Oxenham and for the 1953 season equipped himself with a new Kieft-Norton. This smart machine was amazingly road registered in nearby Lourenco Marques – possibly a ruse to avoid import duties. Sadly the Kieft was never a success and after a bothersome time he acquired a Cooper from his old adversary Arthur Mackenzie. Ironically “Ox” showed the durability of the old Cub by taking a very good 6th place in the 1953 Parkhill 120.

Starting from ‘scratch’ in the 1953 Parkhill Light Car handicap at Snell Parade. Fregona found the Kieft to be very tail happy and spun it several times but mechanical unreliability sidelined him during the season.

Fregona’s last hurrah was another win in a ‘major’ - the 1955 Fairfield Handicap when he drove the ex-Mackenzie Cooper to victory on handicap and second on scratch beating such notables as Syd van der Vyver Wishart-Midwill and Harry Peirce (MG Special).

1955 Fairfield Handicap, on his way to victory, Cooper, mounted, Orlando dives inside Terry Sturgeon’s Vanguard Special.

Our thanks to Rob Young for the words and photos in this article.

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