Lex Davison, MG TC, the Lobethal ‘Stobie Pole’ and the Lucky Escape…

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Obscurities, Who,What,Where & When...?
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davo stobie pole

(State Library of South Australia)

At the daunting Barossa Valley Lobethal road circuit in January, 1948, Lex Davison, having borrowed the ‘Missus new MG TC had his first major crash. He went for the ‘wrong side’ to pass Gavin Sandford-Morgan’s MG and ran off the road, destroying this innocent ‘Stobie Pole’, the TC but fortunately not himself…

This is the story of Davisons MG TC Spl chassis #TC.0825 and more briefly the importance of MG as a marque to motor racing in Australia until the dawn of the sixties.

davo mg

Woodside 1949.Here the car is in its early supercharged form, suspension standard but for ‘Telecontrol’ shocks, finned brake drums and air scoops. (State Library of South Australia)

Diana Davison/Gaze recounts the story in Graham Howard’s biography of Lex…‘While he waited for the Alfa (Alfa Romeo P3/Tipo B Monoposto) to arrive, Lex entered the TC for the New Year’s meeting on the formidable 8.65 mile Lobethal public road circuit. He drove it over from Melbourne accompanied by Peter Ward and Lyndon Duckett in an old 6cylinder Vauxhall.

During practice they went off the road, slewed down the sloping grass verge, somersaulted, then hit a Stobie pole so hard the steel pole was bent into the shape of a question mark. The violence of the accident bent the MG’s chassis and tore off the driver’s door, the bonnet and the outer scuttle panelling. The alloy seat was bent, the rim of the steering wheel was broken away from the spokes, a front wheel smashed and its tyre gone. Lex had a chipped bone on one knee.

Naturally, I was dreadfully upset at losing the MG, as I had never owned a car before, but it had gradually disappeared from my hands. We had both driven it at Rob Roy, where Lex had coached me from the passenger’s seat, then Lex raced it at Nar Nar Goon grass track and I had competed at the final Killara Park Sprints – dashing back to the house between runs to check on baby Anthony, who usually travelled in the car in a wooden cradle fitted behind the seats.

I was just grateful that Lex wasn’t too badly injured’.

Chris Davison, Diana’s son recently recalled ‘ The story goes that mum was getting tired of being left out, so Lex bought her the MG to ensure she was part of the team. Motor racing then bacame a real family affair. Smart move Lex!! When my daughter Claire drove at RobRoy for the first time she took this photo to remind her of the family history at Rob Roy’.

diana davo

Diana Davison in the MG Spl at Rob Roy, year unknown. (Davison Family Collection)

The TC reappeared as a bare chassis for Rob Roy and Nar Nar Goon at the end of 1948, with Lex and Reg Nutt driving. DD; ‘By the following March the Head Brothers had created a narrow 2-seat shell with shapely cycle guards. It had nice upholstery and was painted red, and I think they christened it ‘Mum’s Racer,’ and they fitted it out with a small leather pocket for my compact and lipstick’.

‘Several times the car lowered the ladies’ record at Rob Roy, including once with the supercharger fitted, and that record stood for some time. Lex raced it widely and Bib Stillwell contested events at Woodside in 1949. Our last entry for the car was with Ian Mountain driving at the Grand Prix at Albert Park in 1953.’

DD

Here Diana Davison at Rob Roy in 1946, in what appears to be an Austin 7 Spl. Happy to take advice on the car. DD an immensely talented, popular and respected member of the Australian racing community for all of her life. ‘Australia’s First Lady of Motor Racing’. (George Thomas)

MG and Motor Racing in Australia…

I have written about Lex Davison’s cars on primotipo before, he was a winner of the Australian Grand Prix four times, winner of the inaugural Australian Drivers Championship, the ‘Gold Star’ in 1957 and was the father and grandfather of two generations of champion racers. His premature death in 1965 meant he never saw the achievements of his scions.

MG is surely the most significant marque in Australian Motor Racing before 1960?

The cars won the Australian Grand Prix four times; Les Murphy’s P Type at Phillip Island in 1935 and the famous 1937 race at Victor Harbour actually held in December 1936.  Alan Tomlinson’s legendary, clever and brave drive at Lobethal 1939 in his supercharged TA Spl and Bill Murray, TC Spl at Bathurst in 1947. MG were always contenders in the AGP as the race was run to Formula Libre rules and handicapped until the early fifties, so whilst not usually the quickest entries, the handicaps gave everyone a chance.

Mind you, in the right circumstances the cars were outright contenders, Frank Kleinig’s ‘Kleinig Hudson’ which used an MG Magna chassis started from scratch in the 1949 AGP at Leyburn, Queensland. In that race he was advantaged by the withdrawal of a swag of Victorian topliners who didn’t enter in a political protest, but the Kleinig Hudson was always an outright contender, albeit an unreliable one driven as it was by a mechanically talented if not entirely sympathetic driver.

In fact the last MG placing in an AGP, well into the mid-engined era appears to be Noel Barnes 10th place in his TC Spl in the 1960 event at Lowood, Queensland, the race won by Alec Mildren’s Cooper T51 Maserati. Three TC’s started the race, all from the back of the grid.

AGP wins is not the real contribution MG made though, that was more around ‘mass’ participation. The cars were affordable, accessible and ‘tunable’, a way to view them is the Formula Vee or Formula Ford of the period. The cars gave so many drivers a start, whether it was local hillclimbs and sprints, circuit racing or the elite levels of the sport, such as they were in Australia between the wars and through to 1960.

fishermans bend 1951 davison jp read

Lex Davison in the MG TC Spl Fishermans Bend 1949. (VHRR P Read)

Rebuild and Specifications of  ‘TC.0825’…

Back to Lex’ Spl. Davison gave the car to Reg Nut in Melbourne to rebuild the chassis which was largely standard but fitted with brake torque cables from the frame to the tops of the king pins, aluminium cooling fins on the brake drums and air scoops to the backing plates.

The 3 main bearing, cast iron, 4 cylinder, pushrod OHV, ubiquitous ‘XPAG’ engine was fitted with domed pistons giving a compression ratio of 12:1. The ports were opened, ports and combustion chambers polished. Valves were from a Jaguar, bigger than the biggest in the MG ‘catalogues’, cam followers and valve gear modified, lightened and polished as were the crank and rods.

Capacity was standard, wider bearings used by widening the crankshaft journals, a bigger 2 1/4 gallon sump was fitted and an aluminium oil cooler fitted underneath the radiator.

Bigger 1 1/2 inch SU carbs fed the thirsty little engine, spark was provided by a Lucas NV4 magneto, albeit the wiring for a coil and distributor setup was retained to allow changeover if required.

Head Brothers in Murrumbeena, a Southern Melbourne suburb, built an attractive sports car body with road equipment, the front and rear guards easily removed depending on the nature of the competition event.

Heads used a strong but light framework from square section seamless tubing, then covered it with pre-formed panels of light aluminium sheet, attached by wrapping their edges over the tube frame. The grille was hand made by light tubing, the one piece bonnet retained by leather straps.

The fuel tank Lex ‘knocked off’ from his newly acquired Cooper, the 10 gallon aluminium tank lives inside the MG’s low tail, it’s quick-action cap exposed outside the body.

The car was beautifully finished and trimmed. Instruments comprised Smiths tach, oil pressure and oil and water temperature gauges.

16 inch wheels were used, 5 inches wide at the front and 5.5 or 6 inches wide at the rear, shocks were ‘Telecontrols’. Gear ratios and ‘box were standard but a lower 4.875 rear axle ratio was used as the ‘best compromise’ for events contested.

mg front

Picture of the very neat, fast for its time, road/track sports racer. Here in unsupercharged form. Head Bros of Melbourne built the body, lights and guards easily removable front and rear. (AMS)

Davison TC Spl Competition Record…

The car contested it’s first Rob Roy Hillclimb in 1948, driven by Reg Nut, Lex then ran it at Nar-Nar-Goon in both events the car was successful.

It next raced, after the Heads’ body was fitted and a supercharger at Fishermans Bend in 1949. It raced at Woodside, SA later in the year before the supercharger was removed ‘as it’s bonnet hump was thought unsightly’. (Makes no sense to me as a reason to remove it but ’tis what the contemporary reports say).

The car then raced successfully throughout 1950 in unblown form and in 1951 the MG returned to South Australia, racing at both the Gawler Airstrip and Woodside road circuit. Diana Davison also raced the car very competitively in hillclimbs, retaining her Ladies Record at Rob Roy.

Lex’ racing focus was primarily his Alfa Romeo P3/Tipo B Monoposto, the 2.9 litre car arrived in Australia in early 1948, the MG wasn’t being used much, it’s last race when owned by the Davisons’ the 1953 Australian Grand Prix meeting when it was raced for them by Ian Mountain.

The car rapidly passed through the hands of several owners, it was rolled without causing much damage in 1960 at Phillip Island. Historic Events started in the sixties, the car used then by John Fitzpatrick and others. It was bought by Reg Bowran in 1970, but has appeared only occasionally since.

mg cockpit

Simple cockpit layout, array of Smiths instruments. (AMS)

The Davison TC had a major accident early in its life which resulted in it’s rebirth as a competition car but by the standards of Australian MG Specials this car, touted by the Davisons’ in the early Fifties as ‘the fastest unblown TC in Australia’ (David McKay would have contested this claim, his ex-Brydon ‘TC.3306’ the other contender for that title at the time, but the cars never decided the contest) has had a remarkably easy and little raced life!

More importantly it typifies the type of MG Spl which provided the backbone of Australian Motor Racing for decades…

mg tail

Butt shot, scan of an old magazine so a bit scratchy. (AMS)

Etcetera…

chris and claire

In a nice bit of Davison Family and Rob Roy symmetry Diana Davison’s granddaughter Claire, here pictured with father Chris Davison, won the ‘Diana Davison Gaze Trophy’ for Ladies FTD at Rob Roy in 2014. Car a Reynard Formula Ford. (Davison Family Collection)

Bibliography…
Australian Motor Sports Magazine April 1952 (AMS), ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, ‘Lex Davison Larger Than Life’ Graham Howard, Chris Davison

Photo Credits…

State Library of South Australia, Davison Family Collection

 

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