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.
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.
By 1951 the Cub was sleeker and its driver more ‘professionally’ clad.
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).
Our thanks to Rob Young for the words and photos in this article.