The finalists are off to a flying start in the 6 October 1930 ‘World Championship’ for under 1500cc cars on dirt, Penrith Speedway, Sydney…

The glass plate negative, wonderful monochrome photograph creates such an evocative feel apart from the scene itself. From the outside is John Sherwood’s cumbersome looking Lea Francis Hyper, then the Sam Aggett and Charlie East driven Bugatti T37’s and on the inside Tom Lord’s, Geoff Lowe owned Austin 7 Brooklands. On the very inside verge is a touring Lea Francis slowing having paced the competitors for a lap before the championships 3 lap journey, East was the winner in his Bugatti.

Event and Competitors…

A record entry of 79 cars was received for the meeting. The winner of the feature event, Charlie East, described as an ‘old hand track and competition driver’, was proclaimed World Champion for cars under 1500cc on dirt tracks.

The 6 entries for this 3 lap race were all rather local notwithstanding the grandiose title of the Light Car Club of New South Wales promoted event, not that there is anything new in promoters ‘puff’ to put bums on seats!

The Nepean Times reported that the race was ‘No mere crow attracting stunt, but a legitimate worlds championship event’. The ‘International Racing Organisation…specified certain electrical timing apparatus, this to be controlled by officials sanctioned by the leading motor body of the state’. The event was supervised by the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport was not formed until the 1950’s.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted Mr TF Lord’s supercharged Austin 7 Brooklands was a new car with Messrs Charlie East and Sam Aggett entering 1496cc (T37) Bugatti’s. Tom Sulman had a career which went all the way from the early 1920’s in the UK to his unfortunate death in a Lotus 11 Climax at Bathurst in 1970, was entered in a 1096cc Salmson.

John Sherwood was a luminary as a driver, businessman, motoring and motorsport administrator down the decades, he entered a 1496cc Lea Francis. Sherwood was the driving force of the NSW Light Car Club as well as the key individual who created the Mount Panorama track at Bathurst. From a pioneering motoring family, he was a formidable competitor and later, as a Director of Empire Speedways, was a big contributor to the growth of Speedway Racing in Australia.

WH Northam was the final entry in another 748cc Austin, a combination which had many wins at Penrith and who later raced to 6th place in the 1932 Australian Grand Prix aboard this car. Bill Northam had an extraordinary life of achievement in commerce, sport and as a charity fund raiser. Long after he stopped motor racing he took up yachting in his mid-forties making the Australian Olympic Team and winning the Gold Medal in the 5.5 metre class at the Tokyo 1964 games. He was knighted in 1976 and died, aged 83, in 1988.

Other races on the ‘Eight Hour Day’ Monday public holiday card were an all powers handicap over 5 miles, a handicap for under 850cc cars over 3 miles, a four mile scratch race and finally the NSW LCC handicap over 3 miles.

The Championship Race…

Four starters took the flag with Sulman and Northam knocked out in eliminations conducted over 1 lap, a mile, with each car having a flying start. Aggett was the fastest qualifier at 66.91 mph from East, Lord, Sherwood, Sulman and Northam the slowest on 60mph.

The racers were given a rolling start behind JA Fields Lea Francis, then East immediately took the lead in his Bugatti from Lord’s Austin, then Aggett’s Type 37 and Sherwood’s Lea Francis ‘handicapped by a cumbersome body’, ‘Sherwood’s Lea Francis could not be opened up except in the back stretch’ in 4th. East drew away to a lead he never relinquished, and led Aggett by 100 yards from Lord. East’s lead stabilised at about 400 yards from Aggett, who was handicapped by an oiled plug, Lord was 100 yards further back and then Sherwood last.

In the final quarter of a mile Lord and his little supercharged Austin seized an opening through the dust, coming alongside Aggett’s Bugatti in 2nd. ‘Aggett swung a trifle wide on the last turn onto the home stretch, and, straightening up, cut down to the inner edge of the racing course. The two cars touched with the Austin spinning wildly. ‘Lord’s car spun on its side, dragging the driver, who was half out, and half in the Austin. Lord sustained abrasions to his legs and face. Charlie East one of the Maroubra stars, won in a time of 2 minutes 33 seconds at 70.58 mph by 100 yards with a wheel, literally, between Aggett and Lord in 2nd and 3rd. Sherwood’s Lea Francis was last car home.

The excitement was far from over though. ‘With Lord in the hands of the ambulance people, the stewards took prompt action. They disqualified Aggett and ‘sent him out’ (banned him from competition) for six months’. ‘The Referee’s’ report of the race then pointed out the unfairness of this process which was so speedy, their was no call for full evidence and Aggett appealed. I’m uncertain of the response of officialdom to this request.

Aggett and Lord make contact, the accident attributed to the Bugatti T37 driver rather than Lord aboard the tipping Austin 7 Brooklands (Fairfax)

John Sherwood’s Lea Francis  won the final of the open class ‘Widgery Cup’ Handicap, the ‘Clyde Battery Cup’ handicap for cars under 850cc final was won by CB Tye’s Austin 748cc and the All Powers Scratch Race final by CO Spurgeon’s Rajo Ford with the Club Handicap for under 2000cc cars won also by Tye’s Austin. In a day of interesting racing a special match race between Captain Hammond’s Gypsy Moth aircraft was won by the plane over J McCutcheon’s Morris Midget by a few lengths, the distance a flying mile, pun intended!

Penrith held the international spotlight for a week during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the town is 50Km west of Sydney on the Nepean River, it was the site of the whitewater rafting and rowing competitions. But the hype about the Penrith 1930 World Championship race inclusive of its title were not indicative of the events true local nature.

The competitors were all from New South Wales, a notable absentee was Bill Thompson, three time winner of the Australian Grand Prix and in sparkling form in 1930. Earlier in the year he won his first AGP at Phillip Island and had swept the board in the same AGP winning Bugatti T37A during the Gerringong Beach racing carnival on NSW’s Illawarra Coast in May. Thompson was reported to be entered at Penrith but did not race, his entry was received ‘out of time’ and so was refused. Talk about a promoter putting due process in front of ‘the show’! ‘The Referee’ report noted the ‘the field was unworthy of a world championship. Without entries from Thompson, Drake-Richmond and Terdich, to mention but three of the missing cracks, the field was not even truly representative of Australia’. Both Harold Drake-Richmond and Terdich were Victorian stars, Arthur winner of the 1929 AGP at Phillip Island aboard a Bugatti Type 37A.

Charlie East, all smiles aboard the winning Bugatti T37, Penrith, October 1930 (Sydney Morning Herald)

Not that the quality of the final lacked talent in the context of Australian Motor racing, very much nascent at the time…

The Australian Grand Prix was held for the first time on an oval dirt layout around the showgrounds at Goulburn, New South Wales in 1927. The 1928 AGP, ‘The 100 Miles Road Race’ at Phillip Island, the first proper race in Australia on a road, run on a large, rectangular, gravel course was more indicative than Goulburn of the direction Australian racing would take and was indeed the race which started the tradition of road racing in Australia.

At the time Australian motor racing was largely amateur, a ‘run what you brung’ approach prevailed with most competing cars driven to and from the track. The sport evolved from hillclimbs, sprints and races on horse-tracks, the province of the gentry pre-War, to hillclimbs at Waterfall Gully, Kurrajong, Mount Coot-tha and Belgrave, beach racing at Gerringong and Sellicks to venues such as Aspendale, Maroubra and Penrith Speedways. Racing on Sydney’s banked, concrete  Maroubra Speedway track was very professional. Maroubra was owned by a commercial enterprise, not a car club, there was prize money to be won, the approach of the top competitors was consistent with that- the importation of cars and preparation thereof with a view to commercial success prevailed.

Some brave kids watching a competing car at Kurrajong Hillclimb, 75Km northwest of Sydney in the lower slopes of the Blue Mountains, October 1920, the competitor has the two outside wheels in the dirt on turn in! Hillclimbs were incredibly popular forms of motorsport in Australia at the time either as stand alone events or as part of trials which were events mixing navigation and speed events, usually sprints and hillclimbs. Between 1915 and 1926 there were at least 50! different hillclimb venues used across the country (Michael Terry)

John Medley wrote that ‘it was some time before other groups followed (the Light Car Club of Victoria’s Phillip Island) road racing direction, preferring the simpler expedient of running trials with speed sections included (rather like modern rallies) or contests on simple dirt speedways- both of these being more easily controlled by the organisers and also less accessible to the long arm of the law. One consequence was that their was very much a casual air to the whole occasion, with ‘chop picnics, family gatherings and exuberant overnight parties.’

I have not used the term speedway racing as the ‘forked road’ the sport took in later years had not yet occurred, competitors contested a variety of events as above. In addition solo intercity record-breaking attempts were also important with Graham Howard recording that ‘…intercity records…were the most consistent form of competitive motoring in Australia until the late 1920’s, and produced our first household-name drivers…’

A little snippet in the ‘Nepean Times’ article is a reminder of the important co-existence, with the motorcycle dudes the leaders, of ‘bikes and cars racing at the same meetings. The article notes that the Penrith meeting was ‘the only all car one in New South Wales for about five years’. It is also reported in terms of contemporary competitor numbers (79) that the meeting had ‘a record entry for a car race meeting for any part of Australia’. Also amusing, the ‘Times notes ‘Women are barred, (from entering the championship race) which means that Mrs J.A.S Jones will not be driving her supercharged Alfa Romeo. (6C1750) But it is hoped this fine car will race even with a mere male at the wheel’!!

Penrith Speedway’s first meeting was at Easter in 1924 and morphed through lap distances of 1 mile 80 yards to the 1 mile course used in 1930. The track was touted by international competitors who raced there as ‘The Worlds Greatest Dirt Track’ but its life was relatively short-lived. The Commonwealth Defence Department compulsorily acquired the land in 1941 and the circuit was consumed in that process.

RG Potts racing the Mrs JAS Jones owned Lea Francis on Gerringong’s Seven Mile Beach, 50 Mile Handicap on 10 May 1930. You can just see the pole at left which Potts is turning around to head back the other way on this beach near Kiama, 130 kilometres to Sydney’s south. There was no road racing in NSW at the time so racers did ‘the lot’- sprints, the hillclimbs which were often part of the trials conducted by local car clubs, the speedway at Penrith, and here upon Gerringong Beach. Sellicks Beach on Adelaide’s Fleurieu Peninsula was also used by ‘bikes and cars to race (Fairfax)

The six ‘World Championship’ entrants were all experienced New South Wales competitors with Sherwood and Sulman later entrants in Australian Grands’ Prix. Sherwood’s car appears to be a Lea Francis ‘Hyper’, a competition variant of the marque successful in the UK at the time and powered by a supercharged 1496cc 4 cylinder engine.

I can find no details of Sulman’s Salmson and am keen to hear from any of who may know about his car. Tom Sulman is revered in Australia as a doyen of racers who simply never stopped until the sport eventually took his life. I was at Winton a fortnight ago and looked again at the Sulman Singer, the amazing self-constructed dirt car Tom built and raced in England in the 1920’s before his return to Australia. It was a constant in Australian motor racing in both contemporary circuit events, and later from the mid-seventies, in historic racing when driven by Ron Reid. Upon his death not so long ago, his sons continue to race a car which must have done more racing miles than any other on the planet!.

Somewhat bizarre is that the ex-Charlie East Bugatti T37, chassis  ‘37104’ sits in Earl Davey-Milne’s garage in Toorak, Melbourne one kilometre from where I am writing this article right now! Chassis ‘37104’ was the fourth T37 built and shipped to Sydney’s  Russell Taylor, the prosperous owner of the Advanx Tyre company. It was raced for him by Charlie East, a driver whose stature was growing at the time. East was a Maroubra regular, one of its stars having first raced there in 1926 and subsequently lapping at over 96mph and on one occasion his lap was timed at over 116mph. Davey-Milne bought the car in 1943, it remains in the Chev Corvette V8 engined, open chassis form Earl rebuilt it to in the late 1950’s. East didn’t race the car in an AGP but ‘37104’ was raced in the 1933/4/5 events at the ‘Island driven by Cec Warren in 1933 and John McCutcheon in ‘34/5.

It isn’t clear if either or both the East and Aggett Bugatti T37’s were normally aspirated or to T37A, supercharged specifications. I can find no references as to which particular Bugatti Aggett raced and am keen to hear from any Bugatistes who can help with the identity and specification of the car and the drivers background. Similarly, whilst Lord’s Austin 7 is reported to be of blown Brooklands specification I have no details of the Northam Austin 7. All details again gratefully received. These snippets of history are all interesting i think!

In this case the photo which inspired the research and the resultant article popped up on that internet thingy when I was messing around looking for shots of Bill Thompson after reader Rob Bartholomaeus corrected the caption of an article I’d written about Thompson and his Bug T37A. Its funny how one thing can lead to another!…

Intercity record breaking was a popular form of solo road competition in Australia until outlawed in 1935 due to accidents. Here is the 25.5hp Th.Schneider with Arthur Barnes at the wheel and mechanic Bill McCulloch alongside- they have just taken the Broken Hill, NSW to Adelaide, SA record covering the 533 kilometres of unmade roads in 8 hours 3 minutes. The car is parked out front of Booth’s Garage, 411 King William Street in Adelaide’s CBD. 12 August 1925 (WS Smith)

YouTube Footage of Penrith…

Makes clear the speed and danger of the place! I looked at the film enthralled but the danger was readily apparent before discovering other footage of a multiple fatality when a car crashed into spectators in 1938. When ‘shit happens’ at speed, without protective barriers, its all over in the blink of an eye. Racing entry tickets still have the ‘Motor Racing is Dangerous’ message to this day, and so it was for all, spectators included until not so long ago!

Bibliography…

‘Nepean Times’ 27 September 1930, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ 30 September and 7 October 1930, ‘The Referee’ Sydney 8 October 1930

‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’, John Medley, ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard and Ors, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden

Photo Credits…

Fairfax, Sydney Morning Herald, State Library of South Australia, WS Smith, Michael Terry

Finito…

 

 

 

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