Born in North Yorkshire but brought up thousands of miles away after his parents emigrated from the coastal village of Brotton when he was very young, Dave Charlton became one of the stars of the burgeoning South African Formula 1 scene in the early 1970s. Although ‘Charlie’ contested just a handful of world championship grands prix, he won the South African F1 championship six times at the wheel of a variety of ex-works machinery.
With plenty of sponsorship money on the table, South African racers had access to some of the most competitive cars on the grid, and the exploits of Charlton, Ian Scheckter (brother of Jody), John Love, Eddie Keizan and others kept readers of the racing press entertained during the world championship’s off-season.
Charlton made his top-level debut at the 1967 South African Grand Prix, driving a Brabham BT11/22 that had once been raced by Jack Brabham himself. He qualified eighth but failed to make the finish.
After claiming a number of wins and podiums in the Brabham over the following season Charlton upgraded to newer machinery, claiming the 1970 South African F1 title (and 12th place in the South African GP) in an ex-works Lotus 49C. He then appeared in a factory Brabham BT33 in the 1971 season-opening South African GP, out qualifying works driver Graham Hill, but his engine failed mid-race.
Travelling to the UK to collect a Lotus 72D, Charlton contested a European race for the first time, qualifying 13th for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in spite of losing practice time to mechanical issues. Once again luck deserted him and his engine dropped on to seven cylinders on the warm-up lap, but the car would propel him to the domestic championship for three consecutive seasons. He also tried his luck in three European rounds during 1972, but was stymied by an inner-ear infection which prompted him to return home.
For 1974 Charlton’s Scuderia Scribante team acquired McLaren M23/2, which Peter Revson had driven to victory in the 1973 British Grand Prix. Thus armed, Charlton took his domination of the domestic scene to a new level: at round one, the Mercury 100 at Roy Hesketh, teething troubles in practice consigned him to the back of the grid, but by the 15th lap he had overhauled polesitter Ian Scheckter’s Lotus 72. Towards the end of the season Scheckter properly got to grips with the Lotus and proved tough to beat, but by then Charlton had six wins in the bag and was well on his way to a fifth consecutive championship.
The following year Scheckter came armed with a Tyrrell 007 and Charlton secured just two victories, but with eight podiums to his name he took the title once again. He sold the M23 on to Australian John McCormack, who converted it to Formula 5000 spec and notched up further successes in the domestic Gold Star championship, while Charlton switched to Formula Atlantic and won that for four consecutive seasons.
Charlton passed away in February 2013 at the age of 76, much missed by both his family and those fans who fondly remembered a courageous, enthusiastic racer.