It is with heavy hearts that the Killarney family bid farewell to ‘Mr Alfa Romeo’, for so many years the godfather of all things Alfa at our circuit, a championship winner and an Alfa engine builder without peer.

But there was so much more than that to Jan Driedijk, who passed away on Monday 21 December at the age of 80.

Jan was only 19 when his family emigrated to South Africa from the Netherlands in 1959, but he had already found his lifelong passion for Alfa Romeo, and had in fact trained as an Alfa technician before moving to Cape Town.

He soon discovered, however, that the brand was simply too small here at the time for him to make a living working on Alfas. He wound up in the building industry by day and working on the cars of Cape Town’s Alfaholics after hours, from home.

He began racing a succession of Alfas at Killarney in 1965, among them a Giulietta TI, a Super, a Junior and a Sprint – but he always said his favourite was the ex-Abel d’Oliviera three-litre GTV that was written off in huge crash exiting Malmesbury Sweep in 1988.

“That was a real mean machine,” he would say with a grin.

By then Jan was running his own business, Carsport Holland, and when Alfa Romeo withdrew from South Africa in 1985 he bought up all the spares he could from the local dealerships so that he could continue to look after Cape Town’s Alfa Romeos – especially those racing at Killarney.

In 2002 he sold the business to two of his employees, Jeremy van der Vendt and Nian du Toit, so that he could indulge his passion for building Alfa Romeo racing cars, purely for the love of the marque. He became the elder statesman of the Alfa community, always smiling and unfailingly generous with his time and expertise; it is said that at some time he has helped every member of the Killarney family who has ever raced an Alfa.

Notable among them were Peter Gough, for whom he built an incredibly quick GTA, and Keith Andrews, who won four regional championships in Alfas built and prepared by Jan. It is a measure of the esteem in which Jan was held that Keith will never say ‘I won’, but rather ‘We won’, always deferring to the builder of the cars, Jan Driedijk.

His generosity of spirit, his willingness to go the extra mile for a fellow Alfaholic, his encyclopaedic knowledge and attention to detail when assembling an Alfa engine were legend – but it was his enthusiasm for the marque and his willingness to share all that he had learned over decades of Alfa building and tuning that earned him the title ‘Mr Alfa Romeo’.

It is not only the Alfa fraternity who will miss his smiling presence at Killarney; his contribution to the Western Province Motor Club as a member of hugely long standing who always put racing before politics will long be remembered as an example of true sportsmanship.

Our thoughts and our prayers are with his brothers Robbie and Bert, and his daughter Tina, as we swallow our grief and remember the man as he would want to be remembered – at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo with a big grin on his face.