Spencer Martin: Australian ‘Gold Star’ Champion 1966/7…

Posted: April 30, 2015 in Features, Who,What,Where & When...?
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
martin 250 lm wf 1965

(John Ellacott)

Spencer Martin tips his Ferrari 250LM into the fast ‘Homestead Corner’ at Warwick Farm before unleashing the cars 3.3 litre V12 on the long Hume Straight, what a sound it must have made! August 1965…

Spencer Martin was one of Australia’s champion drivers of the 1960’s winning the Gold Star, the Australian Drivers Championship in 1966 and 1967 in a Brabham BT11A Climax.

His career could be summarised thus; he saw, he came, he conquered from 1960-1966, retired to marry and have a family, focus on business and then returned many years later…

martin portrait

Spencer Martin in his racing heyday, Lakeside 1965. (Bruce Wells)

I don’t cover Spencer’s career in detail but rather introduce an interesting article i discovered in a rally guide for an event held in memory of David McKay. Martin outlines his experiences as a driver/mechanic with McKay and Scuderia Veloce, if not the first, then certainly one of the first of Australia’s professional racing teams formed in 1959…

A brief background of McKay and SV is contained in these articles i posted a while back. One is predominantly about McKay’s Ferrari 250LM, one of the most evocative cars ever raced in Australia, https://primotipo.com/2014/07/03/pete-geoghegan-ferrari-250lm-6321-bathurst-easter-68/ , the other about his Ferrari P4/Can Am 350, an equally stunning car https://primotipo.com/2015/04/02/ferrari-p4canam-350-0858/  .

Martin commenced racing at Gnoo Blas, Orange NSW in 1960 in a Nota, he built from a kit himself, then progressed through the Prad Holden, a very successful sportscar and into ‘Appendix J’ sedans. He beat some of the heroes of the day in his ’48-215′ or FX Holden and was  approached by McKay to join SV. Martin picks up the story…

martin 48 215

Spencer in the ‘Boomerang Service Station’ Holden FX, Catalina Park, Katoomba 1963. It was consistent ‘giant killing’ performances against Norm Beechey and the like which attracted McKay to Martin. (Autopics.com.au Collection)

‘Work on the racing cars was carried out in a garage at the rear of his (McKay) house in Wahroonga on Sydney’s upper North Shore. We later moved to new premises beneath the Shell Service Station on the Pacific Highway at Wahroonga.

At this time I was driving the ‘Boomerang Service Station Holden’ for Joel Wakely and was keeping Norm Beechey very busy around Catalina Park, Warwick Farm and Sandown Park. In 1963 David brought Brian Muir back from the UK to drive in the Hardie Ferodo at Bathurst and I was to be Brian’s co-driver. Brian had been driving a Ford Galaxie in the UK and had won the British Touring Car Championship

David was, thankfully very impressed by my driving with Brian and told me he was about to retire and would I like to take over driving his Brabham. (Ex Jack Brabham BT4 Climax) Well you may imagine how I felt getting out of an EH Holden into an F1 Repco Brabham! We took the car to the short circuit at Warwick Farm for a few familiarisation laps where I was shocked by how much power the car had, especially how the far the nose lifted when you put the ‘pedal to the metal’.

It was not long before David entered the car at Bathurst. It was now 2.7 litres and running on methanol. He told me to keep it under 4500rpm down the straight for a few laps and be careful over the hump. I ‘pulled the string’ on the third lap and was doing 172mph over the hump. The car became completely airborne with a very much nose up attitude. I was wearing a Les Leston helmet with a small peaked visor to help keep the sun out of your eyes. Well the wind at this speed would catch under the visor which gave the effect of lifting you out of the car. It didn’t take long for me to remove the peak!’

martin longford tasman

Its 1967 as the painted date on the Longford Viaduct says. Martin eases his Bob Jane Racing Brabham BT11A Climax ‘IC-4-64’ into the right hander to exit the turn, ’67 Tasman ‘South Pacific Trophy’ 5 March 1967. He only lasted a lap of the race, his Climax FPF suffering ring failure. Jack Brabham won the race in his Brabham BT23A Repco. Clark took the series win in his Lotus 33 Climax FWMV 2 litre V8. Love the local ‘topography’, sturdy stone viaduct!, hay bales, painted, slippery white ‘no passing’ lines on the public roads. (oldracephotos.com/David Keep)

martin wf brabham 1967

Spencer Martin exercising all of his Coventry Climax’ lusty 235 horses through Leger Corner, Warwick Farm, December 1966. ‘Hordern Trophy’ Gold Star round won by Frank Gardners’ Brabham BT16 Climax from Kevin Bartletts’ Brabham BT11A and Martins’ similar car in 3rd. (Autopics.com.au Collection)

‘The biggest difference in driving the cars of David’s and my time was the safety aspect. No seat belts, no fuel cells, no on-board fire extinguishers, no roll cages, no fireproof clothing. I was driving the Tasman Series in New Zealand and was wearing a polo-shirt made of nylon. When Jim Clark saw me in this he explained how dangerous nylon was in the event of a fire. Jim gave me a pair of his Dunlop Racing overalls. Boy, did I think I was smart wearing these and they were fireproof so I could go faster! Actually they gave you about 5 extra seconds in the event of a fire. They were made of cotton and soaked in a fire retardant. Rather different from today’s suits.

Another extremely dangerous factor was the aluminium fuel tanks which were placed either side of the drivers seat. We needed to have over 18 gallons of Avgas for a long race, so we packed dry ice around the tank prior to the race on hot days.’

001MartinAllenGibsonwm

Spencer Martins’ Ferrari 250LM ‘6321’  leads the ‘Country Club GT Race’ at Warwick Farm September 19 1965. The chasing Lotus Elan 26R’s are Niel Allen and Fred Gibson. (Heinz Federbusch)

‘Graham Hill was driving our new Brabham (BT11A Climax) at Warwick Farm in 1965. When we fuelled the car, an hour before the race, one tank was leaking through a crack in its top edge. I went into panic mode, Graham, however, asked me to go to the toilet and bring him back a bar of soap. He made this into a putty mixture and plastered it into the crack. As he explained, the leak was on the top of the tank, so after a few laps the fuel would be below the problem area. I used this fix a few times over the years. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening to an F1 Ferrari or McLaren?!

One of the biggest events to materialise at SV was when David talked Archie White, the Shell Racing Manager, into buying the 250LM Ferrari. I was not allowed to go to the wharf to bring it home as I had work to do on the Brabham. However I’ll never forget seeing it for the first time and David saying it was mine to drive!’

‘David was the best motoring journalist at this time. Not only was he able to write about cars, he could also drive them. David was at the front of the grid for the 1963 Australian Grand Prix at Warwick Farm alongside Surtees and McLaren. He was the first Aussie home and all this on a 40 degrees Celsius day when many of the younger drivers stopped due to heat exhaustion. The temperature inside his car was measured at over 50 degrees.

agp 1963 front row

Front row of the AGP grid, Warwick Farm February 1963. Surtees on pole, Lola Mk4a Climax, McLaren Cooper T62 Climax and McKay Brabham BT4 Climax. Jack won in his BT4 Climax from Surtees, McLaren and McKay.(Autopics.com.au Collection)

David, in his motoring column, was very critical of the cars which Ford, GMH and Chrysler were building at that time. Sir Frank Packer allowed David to continue his reports in the Sydney Telegraph because his column was selling newspapers. When News Ltd took over the Tele, they would not allow him such a full hand as they explained they needed the advertisers money from the motoring industry so David left.’

martin bathurst 20lm 65

Spencer Martin in one of his early drives of the SV Ferrari 250LM at Murrays Corner, Bathurst, Easter 1965. (Autopics.com.au Collection)

martin

‘Australian Autosportsman’ magazine July 1965. Shell ‘Advertorial’! Martin on the cover in the SV Fazz 250LM, picture taken probably on the same day as the one above, but this time, i think, ‘Hell Corner’, which leads onto the uphill ‘Mountain Straight’ having gone past the pits. (Stephen Dalton Collection)

‘The first race for the 250LM was the Sandown Park Tasman round sports car race in February 1965…Graham Hill was to drive the Brabham in the Tasman race, however he put it on David to allow him to also drive the LM. David kept his word to me and told Graham that ‘the boy’ was going to drive it. Well, Frank Matich was leading (in Elfin 400/ Traco Olds) then suddenly we did a ‘Stephen Bradbury’ as Matich blew up and we went on to win it’s very first race. In reality it was no match for the more powerful Elfins and Lola’s. It did however win every long distance race in which it was entered.

The ‘Old Red Lady’ as David affectionately called the LM, was a fantastic car to race. With the V12 very low slung in the engine bay behind the driver, and with 8000rpm, the noise inside and out was certainly something to remember for driver and spectator alike.

David was a vary hard taskmaster. He expected me to work on customer road cars during the day and maintain the Brabham and Ferrari after hours. I was made an offer by Bob Jane which I decided was better for my future so I moved on. Years later David wrote me a letter saying he was sorry for being so hard on me. This lead to a rekindled friendship where we travelled overseas together to many of the F1 races.

I really miss ‘The Old Man’. He was a true Ferrari-ist, and gave us all the true pleasure of seeing the two best cars ever to race in this country, the 250LM and P4 Ferraris!’

rcn martin lakeside

This ‘RCN’ cover David Atkinson painting depicts Spencer winning the 10 July Gold Star race at Lakeside, Queensland 1966 ahead of Kevin Bartlett #14 Brabham BT11A Climax and John Harvey Brabham BT14 Ford 1.5…1-3rd in the race en route to Martins 1966 Gold Star title. (Racing Car News)

David McKay had this to say about Spencers’ departure and career in his wonderful autobiography, ‘David McKays Scuderia Veloce’…‘I was both surprised and disappointed but in retrospect I had expected too much and had been too hard on the young man. I had treated him as I would a son and no doubt Martin thought ‘the son’ had had a lucky escape. Sadly I had planned to take Martin to Maranello where I was sure Mike Parkes would have got him a drive at Le Mans and he would eventually have graduated to F1.

However, instead of telling me he’d been waiting for this chance and had his bags packed, Martin said he didn’t fancy Le Mans with its dangerous mix of cars and drivers and thank you but no thanks. I still consider to this day Martin would have achieved a successful career with Ferrari and we have often joked about what might have been. Martin argues that he has all his arms and legs in place and that his successive Australian Championships in 1966 and 1967 fulfilled his motor racing ambitions. It was twelve years before we were to speak again and it was the LM which brought us together’.

symmons grid 1966

Front row of the Symmons Plains, Tas 1966 ‘Gold Star’ grid. #7 the winning ex-Clark Lotus 32B Climax of Greg Cusack, #5 Brabham BT11A Climax of Kevin Bartlett and on the near side Spencer in his Brabham BT11A Climax. The nose of John Harveys’ Brabham BT14 Lotus/Ford TC is on row 2. Cusack won from Harvey and John McCormack, Brabham BT4 Climax. (oldracephotos/David Keep)

martin WF

Martin on the way to 6th place in the SV Brabham BT11A ‘Warwick Farm 100′ Tasman race 13 February 1966 won by Clarks’ Lotus 39 Climax. This is not long before Martin left SV for Bob Jane Racing, this same chassis ‘IC-4-64’ won his 1966/7 Gold Star titles. (Autopics.com.au Collection)

As Spencer says he left SV and Sydney to join Bob Jane Racing in Melbourne, both Shell sponsored teams at the time and a controversial move albeit a very successful one for both driver and team…Jane acquired the Brabham BT11A Climax Spencer had been racing for SV, it was this car in which he won the Gold Star in 1966 and 1967. His toughest competitor was Kevin Bartlett in a similar car entered by Alec Mildren, the pair having many close dices with Bartlett famously setting the first over 100mph lap of Bathurst during their Gold Star encounter at Mt Panorama in 1967.

spencer

A touch of understeer for Spencer in his Bob Jane Brabham BT11, ‘Hordern Trophy’, Warwick Farm in December 1966. Race won by Frank Gardner from Kevin Bartlett. This shot is from a ‘period’ Shell magazine ad. (Spencer Lambert Collection)

In 1967 Repco’s 2.5 litre Tasman ‘740 Series’ V8’s powered the cars of Greg Cusack (SV Brabham BT23A), Leo Geoghegan (Lotus 39) and John Harvey (Brabham BT14 ) even though these cars were all competitive they lacked the consistent reliability which prevented Repco ever achieving a Gold Star Series win…Martins’ Climax engined Brabham won 2 rounds, winning his second title by 7 points from Cusack, his replacement at Scuderia Veloce and promptly retired.

Years later he re-established his relationship with McKay as he outlined above, he owned a share in McKays’ LM for a while and raced a range of exotic racing cars in historic racing in both the US and Europe. He still lives in Australia and is in happy retirement with a large extended family to keep him busy…and the occasional competition drive.

martin and mckay

Spencer Martin and David McKay pictured on 27 October 2004. Chris Haigh took this shot having just taken David for a lap of Wakefield Park, Goulburn, NSW in McKay’s original Jaguar Mk1 ‘The Grey Pussy’. David died on December 26 2004 at 83 of cancer. (Chris Haigh)

Etcetera…

longford grid lm

Spencer Martin stands by the front ‘guard of the SV 250LM, his second meeting in the car, Longford Tasman meeting February 1965. Yellow car is the Mildren Maserati, driven by Ralph Sach (built by Rennmax’ Bob Britton on his Lotus 19 jig) the yellow shirted Mildren mechanics are (L) Stewart Randall and (R) Glen Abbey, the latter behind many Mildren/Gardner/Bartlett/Stewart victories. Driver behind the Fazz perhaps Les Howard. (oldracephotos.com/David Keep)

martin brabham surfers

Martin leading and winning the Surfers Paradise Gold Star round in 1966. Shot taken below Repco Hill, Brabham BT11A Climax. (John Stanley)

Jackie Stewart contested the above, Surfers’ Gold Star 1966 race, this article may be of interest to some in his ‘one-off’ Brabham BT11A Climax drive…https://primotipo.com/2015/02/13/jackie-stewart-at-surfers-paradise-speed-week-1966-brabham-bt11a-climax-and-ferrari-250lm/

mc kay lm longford 1965

The ‘Guvnor David McKay steers his 250LM through the Longford paddock in March 1965, the second meeting for the Ferrari driven by Martin. Graham Hill drove the SV Brabham BT11A Climax in the final ’65 Tasman race, the AGP, to 4th place, Bruce McLaren won in a Cooper T79 Climax. (Ellis French)

symmons grid 67 martin brabham

Martin being congratulated before the start of the Gold Star race at Symmons in November 1967. DNF with cam follower failure, race won by Greg Cusack, his replacement at Scuderia Veloce, in a Brabham BT23 A Repco. #2 is Garrie Coopers’ Elfin Mono Ford TC. Its Martins’ final race of ‘his serious career’, he had wrapped up the Gold Star for the 2nd time in succession and retired, the car driven by John Harvey for Bob Jane Racing from then. (oldracephotos.com/David Keep)

martin lakeside barbham 65

Martin in the SV Brabham BT11A ahead of Leo Geoghegans’ Lotus 32 Ford 1.5 TC, Lakeside ‘Gold Star’ race July 1965. Martin won from Leo and John McDonalds’ Cooper T70 Climax. (The Roaring Season/Bruce Wells)

martin tassie brabham

Car owner, the stocky, strong Bob Jane tests the rear spring rates…whilst driver Martin does his best to ignore the chief. Symmons Plains Gold Star round November 1966. Brabham BT11A Climax, ‘box is Hewland HD5. (Ellis French)

Spencer Martin 2006 Tasman Revival

Spencer pictured beside the Brabham BT23D Alfa Romeo raced by Frank Gardner in the ’68 Tasman and then Kevin Bartlett to Gold Star success in 1968. Car restored by Paul Moxham and driven by Spencer here at the Eastern Creek, NSW Tasman Revival Meeting in December 2006. (Stephen Dalton Collection)

Spencer Martin Catalina

Spencer Martin signed program of the Catalina Park cover on which his Holden starred! (Stephen Dalton Collection)

Bibliography…

‘David McKay Memorial Rally 2012: Rally Guide’, ‘ David McKays’ Scuderia Veloce’ David McKay, The Nostalgia Forum

Photo and Other Credits…

John Ellacott, Bruce Wells, autopics/Richard Austin, The Roaring Season, Chris Haigh Collection, Racing Car News, Heinz Federbusch, Ellis French, John Stanley, Racing Car News, Chris Haigh

Lindsay Ross of Oldracephotos http://www.oldracephotos.com/content/home/ for the use of the shots by David Keep

David Blanch of Autopics Collection  http://autopics.com.au/

Stephen Dalton Collection, Spencer Lambert Collection

Finito…

Comments
  1. Buzz Buzaglo says:

    A brilliant article Mark & I to really believe Spencer had he followed the Guv to Europe would have made it to F1 & been very successful.

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers Buzz, he raced before my time of interest but definitely one of our absolute top drivers of the 60’s, right up there with Matich and Bartlett, all three, in the right circumstances would heve done well in Europe. Leo G and John Harvey maybe add to the Sixties list, go well, will give you a yell to catch up. M

  2. […] Here is a link to an article about Spencer Martin and David McKay which also includes additional pictures of the 250LM and Martin’s driving impressions of the racer; https://primotipo.com/2015/04/30/spencer-martin-australian-gold-star-champion-19667/ […]

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