Geoghegans were the Australian importers and distributors of Lotus cars from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies when Jim Smith’s Peter Manton Motors in Melbourne stepped up to the plate

The brothers Geoghegan are no doubt well known to most primotipo readers by now, even you international mob. Between them they had ‘Taxis’ or Touring Cars and Open-Wheeler racing covered in Australia. Ian or ‘Pete’ Geoghegan was a multiple national champion aboard cars with a roof and Leo was similarly a champion on many occasions in the more rarefied and refined single-seater world, not always in Lotuses mind you.

Whilst the Lotus Racing halo internationally was huge in the mid-sixties for all of the obvious reasons the Geoghegan connection must have polished the Lotus brand considerably in this part of the world too. Who wouldn’t want to buy a car from them and then have it serviced there? Why, if you were lucky during February, you might even time your trip to have the Webers of your Elan tickled with the visit of Team Lotus who based themselves in the Paramatta Road, Haberfield dealership for the Warwick Farm Tasman weekend.

(Dalton)

The Lotus franchise in Australia is a bit of a ‘hot spud’ really- no one has distributed the things for a long time.

Not even those who were multi-franchise dealers and therefore had the earnings of other marques with greater volumes to support the lower financial contributions of what has always been a very niche brand in Australia, the brothers Geoghegan probably the longest of the dealers.

Some well known motor racing names have been involved in flogging the wonderful but idiosynchratic cars down the decades.

Alec Strachan was the original importer, he was based at Waitara, Sydney and negotiated the rights with Chapman off the back of purchase of a Lotus 6-the first of Chapman’s machines in Australia. Then Derek Jolly with his impeccable racing and engineering connections to Chapman himself took over, but that was never going to really work, Adelaide is a long way from the main East Coast markets especially back then. Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Hobart had tiny population for such a niche product.

Performance Automobiles sold a few in Hobart, John Roxburgh in Melbourne and Dick Thurston at Pitstop Motors on the Nepean Highway, Brighton way, moved a few when I was a teenager. At the same time Lance Dixon sold plenty of used ones, many times I rode by bike from North Balwyn to Doncaster to dream about a red Europa or Elan. The Zagame Group in Melbourne have the rights these days.

Whad’ll she do mister? Leo Geoghegan’s ex-Clark Lotus 39 Repco sitting forlornly on the 253 Parramatta Road lot in 1970. Leo raced the car finally, having acquired it from Team Lotus after the 1966 Tasman Series, in the 1970 Tasman, then it was put to one side to sell whilst Leo raced to Gold Star victory in a new Lotus 59 powered by a Waggott 2 litre DOHC, 4 valve injected engine (Fistonic)

These photos by Milan Fistonic capture the late-sixties flavour of the Geoghegan’s dealership in Sydney’s Parramatta Road, ‘Auto Alley’.

The shots are very much dated as being late 1970 the year in which Leo stopped racing his evergreen ex-Clark Lotus 39 Repco V8. There it is, the 1969 JAF Japanese Grand Prix winner sitting on the used car lot just waiting for a punter with the necessary readies. Click here to read my article about this wonderful car; https://primotipo.com/2016/02/12/jim-clark-and-leo-geoghegans-lotus-39/

It was not an easy car to move at the time with F5000 in the process of becoming the new ANF1, to replace the 2.5 litre Tasman Formula. The nutbags at CAMS made F5000 cars eligible to contest the 1970 Tasman Series but not the domestic 1970 Gold Star- that title was won by Leo G in the Lotus 39’s replacement, a brand new Lotus 59B to which he bolted a superb circa 275bhp 2 litre Waggott engine built not too far from the dealership. The 39 fell into the very best of hands, John Dawson-Damer, who did a brilliant job restoring it to its original, ex-works 2.5 litre Coventry Climax FPF engine form. It’s still in Australia, happily!

It seems fitting to provide some period written flavour to accompany the photos. To do so I have reproduced the wonderful recollections of ‘DanTra2858’ he contributed to ‘The Nostalgia Forum’, Daniel worked for the brothers Geoghegan right at that time, the late sixties. I’ve positioned his thoughts around several different headings to preserve some semblance of flow.

(Dalton)

On assembling Lotuses in Australia.

The cars arrived by ship from Hethel ‘CKD’ or in Completely Knocked Down form… ‘…1969, also working there at the time was Barry Lake (racer and very well known racing journalist) and Wally Willmott (for many years Bruce McLaren’s right hand in the nascent years of BM Motor Racing in the UK) Service Manager was Bob Everitt.

With a little help to remove a Europa from its crate and the motor/gearbox and diff assemby, it took me about 10 hours to assemble a car ready for registration.

There were some long days assembling the cars mainly due to the clutch plates attaching themself to the flywheel. Of course this did not show up until the installation of the motor/gearbox into the car on initial start up, sometimes it could be rectified by starting the car in gear but not always. Then out with the motor/gearbox as that was easier then split, fix the problem then put it all back together again, good days!

When Lotus cars were imported…they came in a open frame wooden crate with the car wrapped in plastic sheeting, that was the full extent of protection (during the long voyage from England) The motor/gearbox assembly was in a wooden box complete with the suspension, tailshaft , diff and wheels. Each crate/box had identification numbers on them to match the motor to body, so the first thing to do was match up the components to assemble a car.

When this was done the body crate was opened, plastic wrapping removed and using 2 trolley jacks the body was moved into the workshop and placed on modified jack stands. Then the motor box was opened and all suspension parts/wheels were removed and taken into the workshop ready for assembly, by this this time it was time to stop work for morning tea!

Now refreshed it was time to fit the suspension and wheels so the car was now a roller which made it easier to work on. When assembling the rear suspension the diff, drive shafts, Hillman Imp rubber doughnuts etc were all fitted. Now for lunch.

So with a full belly it was time to bring in the motor/gearbox, tailshaft and fit them into the car, along with the exhaust system. When this assembly was bolted in, cooling hoses, electrics and other parts were fitted. Then it was time to present to this ‘new arrival’ its first full meal of lubricants including brake fluid, so we then bleed the brakes. By this time it was about 4 in the afternoon so a cuppa was in order, then back to work.

Now that the car was fully assembled the work really started. Re-check that all previously assembled parts were correctly assembled and all bolts/nuts were tight, oil levels were correct and that there were no leaks in the brake hydraulic system and fluid was at correct levels. Next I checked that the clutch operated correctly and if not then one of two steps were taken to rectify the adhesion of the clutch plate to the flywheel/pressure plate. If there was no trouble with the clutch it was time to connect the battery and start the motor, let it warm up, check for fluid leaks and bleed the heater system in the cabin of the car by slackening the bleed screw on top of the heater core remembering to tighten it after all the air was bled off. If there was clutch trouble the first thing we did was to start the car while in gear, this usually caused the clutch plate to release then operate correctly. If not then it was out with the motor/gearbox assy to fix the problem then pop it back into the car- this would add 3 hours to the assembly time.

If all went well it was now about 6 pm but still the to-do list list included wheel alignment, checking that all lights operated correctly and that all of the electrics worked. Then tyre pressures were set with a final check for leaking fluids. By this time it was about 8pm and another 12 hour day was complete leaving the road test for first thing the next day- that also included cleaning up wood crates and plastic wrapping. Then onto normal service work with another assembly starting the next day. Well folks that is how it was done at Geoghegans I may have missed a few steps somewhere along the way, it is a long time from 1969…you have the picture’.

Plenty of lonely S2 Europa’s in 1970 (Fistonic)

On The Hot Sellers of the Lotus range…

‘The sales section always required stock on the floor that covered the Lotus range excluding Super 7’s. (Not sure why they were not imported to Australia, Chapman didn’t do the deal with Graham Nearn at Caterham cars to take over the rights to build 7’s until 1971 from memory, so Lotus Components were certainly still building them in the late sixties)

The slowest moving car was the Elan Plus 2 so every time one was sold we would assemble another but that did not happen often, the most popular was the Elan Coupe followed by the Europa, we would assemble 2 or 3 a week depending on sales of the model.

I found the Europa quicker to assemble than the Elan. My first experience driving a Europa along Paramatta Road (a main artery into and out of Sydney, in the days before freeways it was the ’normal’ way to go between Melbourne and Sydney so there was plenty of local and interstate traffic inclusive of large semi-trailers) was just straight out frightening especially when a double decker bus pulled up alongside me while waiting for the traffic lights to change to green. Sitting in the Europa I found myself looking up at the centre of its wheels with the bus towering over me, a feeling of vulnerability quickly came over me.’

Tried and true technique of naked ladies to get us blokes to scan the pages of a brochure in a thorough manner. Lotus Elite brochure , must be US issue, way too racy for 1960 Australia (Dalton)

On Painful Customers…

‘Pete Geoghegan did not come down to the service section much at all…on one of those times he was showing off on a motor bike, doing wheel stands in the lube bay then the 6 foot dash from the lube bay through our parts area into the Lotus workshop then back again with the biggest smile I have ever seen on a guy that has just achieved what no-one else has done.

One Elan FHC I do remember very well. Its owner arrived at our service area unannounced while we were having morning tea wanting something fixed right away, I told him that I would look at it as soon as I finished my coffee but that was the wrong answer for this guy.

He then spoke to Bob Everett, the Service Manager and was told by him that I would look after his car as soon as I had finished my coffee, this slowed him down a bit but he kept on looking to his watch. So I finished my coffee quickly…went into the service bay held out my hand and introduced myself, without a blink he shook my hand introduced himself told me what the problem was, I fixed it in 10 minutes and he was on his way, oh his name…Warwick Brown, I serviced his Elan from then on…’(In 1969 20 year old WB would have just been starting his racing career in a little Brabham owned by Pat Burke- who was still his patron when he won the Tasman Championship in 1975 aboard a Lola T332 Chev F5000)

Photographer Milan Fistonic with an eye for Plus 2 Elans (Fistonic)

Lotus equals ‘Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious’…

‘Whilst at Geoghegans I only worked on one Elite, was very impressed by the construction of the car as a full mono-fibreglass enclosure setup…it was on sale in the yard so it would have been a quick mechanical check up prior to the car going on sale. The main thing that had to be done, as with all fibreglass Lotus’ was to make sure that the electrical earth set up was not corrupted by corrosion on the body to chassis alloy mounting bobbins in the body. That was number one check on all Lotuses even new ones. The alloy bobbins on the Elite are for suspension mounting, but there again steel bolts into alloy bobbins, which means corrosion of the bobbin which have been known to become loose in their fibreglass enclosure- meaning fibreglass repairs.

Lotus Elans were bad for water leaks at the top of the A-pillar and in the boot. We tried re-gluing the door sealing at the top of the A-pillar but all to no avail as the inside plastic section of the seal kept on pulling it down leaving a small opening at the top where the seal assembly transferred to the horizontal. The final Geoghegan factory fix was to push the seal assembly up as hard as you could into the top of the A-pillar while your offsider drilled a one eighth inch hole through the vinyl inside section of the seal and into the fiberglass body, then insert a pop rivet and pull it home and there was a permanent fix with nothing but happy customers. By the way we didn’t leave the pop rivet just plain silver so it would show, we concealed it by painting it with a black texta.

For me the hardest thing while working at Geoghegans was learning how to spell their name, Smith or Brown would have been much easier!’…

Photo Credits…

Milan Fistonic

Bibliography…

DanTran2858, The Nostalgia Forum, Stephen Dalton Collection

 

 

 

Comments
  1. gray chandler says:

    Derek Jolly !! Recall him offering me a sit in the Decca Special. For an 11 year old on my way to school it was the best way to start the day. Such a great era. cheers.

  2. John L says:

    One of my flat mates had a series 2 Elan in Sydney in 1971, complete with “racing clutch”…either on or off, which made driving around Sydney fun, to start with. It also had a propensity to drop the exhaust pipe out of the header assembly…bad enough, fume and noise wise, but, the one time it did it to me on Parramatta Rd, whilst endeavouring to get back to Coogee, where we lived, and all the tools were, it melted the clutch fluid line, leaving me stranded around Camperdown! That and the other habit of having the rear driveshaft rubbers shearing….
    Still enjoyed driving it though!
    An Elan was the first sports car I drove – 4 weeks after I got my licence, having just turned 15 (NZ) a farming neighbour, one Peter Hull called around to see Dad in his newish Elan (Nov 1963). Newish, because he’d been carrying a sheepdog in the boot and it’d chewed out the wiring to the rear lights as he drove it over the paddock! Seeing me drooling all over it, he threw me the keys, said hop in, and we proceeded on a long loop around the block (about 10 miles). I’ve been a Lotus fan ever since!

    • markbisset says:

      John,
      Too funny! My own Lotus experience is of an S1 Elise I owned for 5 years a decade ago- it was a thoroughly wonderful experience, mind you other than for about 3 months it wasn’t a daily driver.
      Am looking seriously at an S4 Elan owned by a mate at the moment- not so sure I am up for the challenge to be honest! Still we will see how things fall in the next few weeks. It’s not an original car, tho that’s not really my thing, it has a ‘stroker’ engine- a Kent 1600 block out to about 1750cc, still with the Lotus head, so goes well. We shall see…
      Mark

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