Garrie Cooper’s Elfin 600D Ford leads Vern Schuppan’s March 722 Ford through the fast swoops of the challenging Thomson Road circuit and into the hot, dense, green, steamy forests of the island city state during the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix…
Vern was 2nd in his March 722, a good result as he boofed the car early in the 30 March-2 April race weekend. ‘I crashed in qualifying when something broke in the rear suspension – the car was absolutely brand new. Luckily I hadn’t hit anything too solid and so we were able to cobble something together and I started from the back’. This chassis was the same one which, with modifications by Brian Falconer, he raced to victory in Singapore in 1973. Garrie didn’t finish the ’72 race he won in the very first Elfin 600 in 1968. I wrote an article a while back about the 1973 race, the last until the modern era, click here to read it;
I remember as a kid thinking Asia was a very exotic place…
Australia had, believe it or not, ‘The White Australia Policy’ (progressively dismantled from 1949-73) which kept non-whiteys, Asians included out of the joint, so back then you didn’t see ‘em on the streets. The place was bland, populated as it was by lotsa similar looking Anglos. Thankfully all that is a thing of the long distant past. People from countries to our immediate north have added hugely to the wonderful, disparate melting pot of race, creed and color we have enjoyed here, especially post World War 2.
To me as a kid though, Asia was exotic, different, but not far away like Europe. I read with great interest of the success of Kevin Bartlett in Macau and Leo Geoghegan at Fuji in 1969 when i flicked through the 1970 ‘Australian Motor Racing Annual’, my first road-racing magazine purchase, and marvelled at the circuits.
Two decades later, in 1989-91 I was regularly in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore on business. Even though I had it in my mind then to walk as much of the Thomson Road Circuit as I could, I never did make the easy 12 kilometre excursion from central Singapore to do so, it was always too hot to walk the place. Dammit!, its such a wild looking track…
Cooper was a popular Singapore visitor having won the race in 1968 in the very first Elfin 600 built. Garrie’s 1972 Singapore car is to me the ‘definitive ultimate’ Elfin 600; chassis 600D ‘7012’ was built as Cooper’s own, works, 2.5 litre Tasman Formula car powered by the ‘definitive’ Repco Tasman engine, the gorgeous little ‘830 Series’, SOHC, 2 valve, Lucas injected ‘short block’ V8. Mind you, in that form it didn’t have the ‘fugly’ Tyrrell type nosecone it wears here.
The Tasman 2.5 Formula was over as Australia’s ANF1 at the end of 1970 so the Repco in ‘7012’s frame was removed and fitted into an Elfin 360 sportscar. An injected Lotus/Ford twin-cam was then inserted into the spaceframe chassis for ANF2 racing. And for events in South East Asia which changed to a ‘twin-cam, 2 valve’ formula, effectively mandating the venerable, wonderful Lotus/Ford engine which was a mainstay of motor racing globally for the best part of 20 years.
I’m in the middle of drafting an article on the Repco engined Elfin 600’s at the moment, all three of them, so will leave that topic for now. ‘7012’ was bought by Col Allison for his lad Bruce at the end of Garrie’s Asian tour, the speedy Queenslander was showing promise in a 600FF back home, steering ‘7012’ around Lakeside and Surfers Paradise was another step in Bruce’s rise to prominence and success overseas.
The winner of the 1972 GP was Max Stewart who took his final big win in the Mildren Waggott which had given him so much success over the years.
The big, ultimately fast, country-boy from Orange in New South Wales literally knew every nut and bolt in this long-lived cars frame. His most recent success in it was the 1971 Australian Gold Star series when he ‘nicked’ the title from his great mate Kevin Bartlett. KB’s F5000 McLaren M10B Chev had the speed in the first year the Gold Star was run to F5000, but Max had enough speed, better handling and much more reliability from his Waggott 2 litre, DOHC, 4 valve, circa 275bhp motor.
Max was racing an F5000 Elfin MR5 Repco in 1972 Tasman and Gold Star events, but no doubt victorious transition back to the little Mildren was as easy and sweet as a ‘booty call’ with a recent girlfriend!
Missing from the ’72 Singapore GP grid was three times (1969-71) winner, Kiwi champion Graeme Lawrence who had an horrific shunt during the opening lap of the 1972 New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe in January which destroyed his brand new Lola T300, badly injured himself and killed Bryan Falloon, whose Rennmax/Stanton Porsche, Graeme collided with.
One of Lawrence’s many Australian friends Leo Geoghegan raced Graeme’s Brabham BT30, the 1970 Australian Gold Star champion finished 5th in the unfamiliar, but oh-so-forgiving Ron Tauranac designed chassis.
Ostensibly retired from open-wheeler competition, Leo was lured back in 1972 by Birrana Engineering boss Malcolm Ramsay, Malcolm a South East Asia regular competitor. The exploits of these two are well covered in the ’73 Singapore GP article referenced above.
Vern would see a lot of his countrymen in the years to come in F5000 competition but it was the first time he had raced against Cooper, Stewart, Geoghegan, Muir, Bartlett and Kiwi, Lawrence.
Schuppan left South Australia’s Flinders Ranges town, Booleroo Centre, with some karting experience in Australia and via Formula Ford success in the UK, won the first British F Atlantic title in 1971 in a works Palliser.
He was very much a coming-man at the time of the Singapore GP, having a BRM contract in his pocket for 1972. BRM had more drivers than hot dinners that season, the Aussies only races were the non-championship May, Oulton Park ‘Gold Cup’ and October, Brands Hatch ‘Victory Race’ in which he finished 4th and 5th respectively.
Despite that, he impressed BRM boss Lou Stanley enough and signed a contract to drive alongside temporary Ferrari escapee Clay Regazzoni in 1973. Stanley’s hiring of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda’s schillings sidelined him. ‘I knew that I had to be in F1 with a good team by the time I was 30 – and so I thought I’d cracked it. But when I arrived back in Australia for Christmas and picked up a Daily Express at the airport, there it was: Lauda Signs for BRM. I attended races with the team and did a lot of testing, something I always enjoyed – but it was a disappointment’ said Vern in a recent MotorSport interview.
Sonny Rajah (above) was a Malaysian character who won a lot of friends in Australia in 1974 when he contested our Van Heusen Australian F2 Championship. He used the same March chassis, the ex-Ronnie Petersen Euro F2 Championship winning 712M, he drove to 4th place in Singapore, the misfiring March finishing between Schuppan and Geoghegan.
Rennmax BN3 Ford; Kevin Bartlett and Bob Muir…
Amongst the most numerous cars from one marque were Rennmax BN3’s, these cars raced by Stewart (nee Mildren) as well as his F5000 buddies Kevin Bartlett and Bob ‘Skinny’ Muir.
Regular readers may recall that these cars were built by Sydney’s Bob Britton on the Brabham BT23 jig he created to repair Denny Hulme’s works BT23 damaged in New Zealand during the ’68 Tasman Series.
Bob Muir’s car was, I think, Ken Goodwin’s chassis raced by Bob in Australia during 1971, notably at the Hordern Trophy meeting at Warwick Farm. Muir had a very competitive run in Singapore finishing 3rd in the yellow car.
KB leased Sydney driver Doug Heasman’s car and recalls the weekend well‘…unfortunately I had a DNF result after an off, due to slight damage to the suspension. Fire marshalls had inexplicably placed a fire hose across the road on a blind corner to douse a crashed car, I bounced off the road when the wheels hit it. There was no flag signal of the situation at the flag point before, which caused the problem’ recalled KB recently.
As to the Thomson Road circuit he related that ‘I quite liked the layout as a real road circuit. It had jungle like bush in many parts, with huge drainage ditches to one side in many places and virtually nil runoffs, certainly it was a challenging place. I remember leading for all but the last few laps one year (1970) from Graeme Lawrence’s Ferrari (ex-Amon 1969 Tasman winning Ferrari Dino 246T in which Graeme also won the 1970 Tasman) with a DNF in the Mildren Alfa V8 ‘Yellow Sub’ the car in which KB won the 1969 Macau Grand Prix and Australian Gold Star Series.
Singapore GP 1968, Garrie Cooper and Elfin 600 ‘6801’…
Garrie’s win in the Elfin 600 prototype ‘6801’ was pretty handy commercially for the likable, talented South Aussie and his band of gifted artisans at Edwardstown, an inner south-western Adelaide suburb.
Elfin 600’s won in FF, F3, F2 and ANF1; no other car in Australia (the world?) ever had that ‘bandwidth’.
Critically the car was built in relatively large numbers and exported providing valuable cashflow, the lifeblood of any business especially a small one financed, as they are typically in Oz, by a mortgage over the business owners home. 600’s were built from 1968-72 and were cars which helped launched a swag of careers not least Larry Perkins who won Australian titles in FF and F2 aboard a 600FF and 600B/E. The following, less successful model, the 620/2/3, were evolutions of the 600 spaceframe design and also sold well.
Cooper and his team finished ‘6801’, raced it at Calder in Victoria in March and then shipped it to South East Asia. These shots show the beautifully fabricated steel spaceframe chassis, Lotus/Ford Weber fed, DOHC engine, a good 1600 twinc good for circa 170bhp at the time. Gearbox here is a Hewland HD5, production cars usually used Hewland Mk8/9 or FT200 dependent upon application.
The cars first race on its Asian tour was the Selangor GP at Shah Alam, Malaysia on the 6/7 April weekend, Garrie didn’t complete his heat with a broken crown wheel and pinion.
In the Singapore GP, Allan Grice had the gearbox problem, the case of the ex-Mildren/Gardner/Bartlett Brabham BT11A’s Hewland ‘box split causing the end of a good dice between Cooper and Grice. Jan Bussell’s Brabham BT14 Ford was 2nd and Steve Holland’s Lotus 47 Ford sportscar, the event was run to Formula Libre, was 3rd.
‘6801’ was still giving a good account of itself in ANF2 in 1973/4 in Paul Hamilton’s hands amongst all the modern Birrana, March and Bowin monocoques and is still raced by him in historic racing. It always brings a smile to my face whenever I see the little red, immaculate machine given its Elfin historic significance.
Cooper (above) in the 600D Ford ‘7012’, Singapore 1972. He really did make a beautiful car as ‘ugly as a hat full of arseholes’ didn’t he?, no doubt it was effective though. Tyrrell started this F1 trend at the ’71 French GP.
These Elfin 600D experiments flowed directly into the modified noses of the MR5 F5000 cars which Cooper fitted to his, and John McCormack’s car during the Australian Tasman rounds in 1972. See photo below. Those noses became ‘definitive spec’ on MR5’s and the subsequent MR6 F5000. It was only at the very end of the MR5’s long life that Garrie tried a ‘chisel nose’ and side rads on his MR5 when he was assessing the body shape and profiles to be fitted to his 1976 MR8 F5000, a very successful series of cars.
This 1972 Oran Park shot above shows the MR5 ‘before and after’; John Walker’s car in front with the original 1971 blade front wing and Cooper’s car further back with the ‘Tyrrell’ type nose, both MR5’s are Repco powered. That’s Max Stewart’s Mildren Waggott’s nose shoved up John’s clacker by the way. Interesting that he was racing the little 2 litre car rather than his MR5 at this meeting. What meeting is it folks, its not a Gold Star round, one of you Sydneysiders will know?
Leo has had an argument with the local geography and lost, ‘sorry Graeme, it was like this…’, no damage to the rest of the little BT30 mind you.
MotorSport ‘The Forgotten Singapore Grands Prix’ by Paul Fearnley September 2016, The Nostalgia Forum, Kevin Bartlett
National Archive of Singapore (AOS), Lynton Hemer
Tailpiece: Cooper accepts the plaudits of the crowd and the victors garland in 1968, neat rear cowl of the Elfin 600 clear and a feature on all the production cars…