Geoff Smedley’s Twin Plug Coventry Climax 2.5-litre FPF…

Posted: November 16, 2017 in Features, Obscurities
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smedley twin plug FPF Levin, NZ January 1964 (Smedley)

Geoff Smedley fettles his twin-plug 2.5 Coventry Climax FPF engine fitted to John Youls’ Cooper T55 …

In the late Formula Libre period in Australasia – just before the Tasman Cup commenced on 1 January 1964 – the engine of choice was very much the Coventry Climax FPF. In fact the Tasman Formula was specifically designed around the ready availability and price of the 1959/60 World Championship winning 2.5 litre engine to allow the locals to compete against the internationals on more or less equal terms.

Before then (1 January 1964) the-go was the 2.7 litre Indy FPF, most of the locals and visiting internationals each summer raced this engine.

But down in Australia’s south, in beautiful Tasmania, a very clever engineer, Geoff Smedley was working on another solution to make the FPF produce more reliable power and torque. His driver was the very quick John Youl, the car an ex-works/Bruce McLaren 1961 F1 Cooper T55. Here is the story in Geoff’s words.


John Youl cruises thru the Warwick Farm paddock in 1963, Cooper T55 Climax (Smedley)

‘Firstly, in 1963 the fad was to re-sleeve the 2.5 Climax to 2.7 litres chasing more hosepower but ‘bigger holes’ was the American way, I was sure a better alternative could be found.

Frank Hallam at Repco Research had been playing around with a twin plug head for one of Brabham’s engines, using two distributors driven from the rear of each cam bank and couldn’t make it work through an inaccurate spark which was put down to windup in the camshafts in the high rev range.

I preferred to stick with a man’s toy, the magneto. Two of these more robust spark producers set up properly must be the answer. A total new drive was made up for a second maggy from the crankshaft protruding from the front of the sump which allowed comfortable room within the confines of the T55 chassis, and the head modified to accommodate a second plug.’

‘1963 saw the end of alcohol fuel for our cars, reverting back to 100 octane caused a few problems leading to the idea of a cleaner more efficient fuel burn. Obviously there are easier methods today, but 50 years ago we were still looking in any way we could, without the aid of computers, only perhaps with a slide rule and something to write on, and a lot of time was lost to mistakes, but on the occasion when you were successful it was nice being 10ft tall….’

‘The initial effort seemed rewarding with a test day at Symmons Plains, the result was pleasing and being able to alter each magneto individually, the differences were very noticeable.’

‘Living in Tasmania and being able to carry out this work undercover of our opposition, based on the Australian mainland, was an advantage, I and my young family were living at Symmons Plains in those days and my workshop was a converted coachouse close to the main homestead where all the chassis work was carried out. The big advantage I had was having full use of the family workshop (Bedford Machine Tools) where I was able to produce any part required.’

‘The final test of the engine was to take it all to Melbourne and place it on Repco’s dyno at Dandenong to test the result. We were met by Frank Hallam who was very dubious about the whole thing, but some four hours later he confessed that our 2.5 Climax had shown better figures than any previous Climax including the fashionable 2.7 litre. The horsepower was up, but more importantly the torque figures were so much improved. Those days of satisfaction have melted into oblivion and all that is left is a lot of frustrated old farts that look back and remember when….!!!!’

smedley fpf on dyno The Smedley twin plug, twin magneto engine being being tested on the Repco Research dyno in November 1963. The engine reverts to ‘standard’ by replacement of the standard CC sump. (Smedley)

Racing the Cooper T55 twin-plug FPF…

‘Gosh! It’s hard to believe more than 54 years have passed since those heady days, but it doesn’t seem that long,  but as mentioned I have been pressured into writing my autobiography which has meant scratching back over the coals to bring those great times back to life again, starting with taking the land speed record way back in 1961’.

We will trouble Geoff for that story, achieved by Geoff’s Chev engined Cooper T51 owned and driven by Austin Miller, another time.

‘I went to work for John Youl in 1962 and stayed with him until his retirement in 1965, we had a lot of fun as a team being able to work here in Tassie so privately and then going to the mainland where the car would be pounced on and inspected for the sign of any tinkerings that may help our opposition! So in that respect it was always a lot of fun, and yes, the duel ignition trick really did work wonders on the old FPF engine’.


John Youl and Geoff Smedley aboard the Cooper T55 ‘twin-plug’ for a debut win- on the victory lap after winning the Advertiser Trophy Gold Star round at Mallala, South Australia in October 1963. John won from the 2.7-litre Brabham BT4 Climax of Bib Stillwell and Wally Mitchell’s Brabham BT1 Ford 1100 (Smedley)

‘Now the very first race for this new configuration was the Gold Star Race at Mallala, South Australia on the October 14, 1963 which we won from Bib Stillwell and Wally Mitchell. Then came the Hordern Trophy Race at the ‘Farm on December 1, 1963, we won that one as well from David McKay and Bill Patterson’.

‘Then it was off to New Zealand for the 1964 Tasman Series.’

‘In that series of races we came back with (in heats and championship races) one first, two seconds including Lakeside, two thirds including Sandown and fourth’s at Levin, Wigram and in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe behind Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Tim Mayer. We were fifth at Longford in the final round’.


Levin form up area for the very first Tasman Championship race on 4 January 1964. Youl’s #5 Cooper T55 Climax, the two Cooper T70’s of McLaren #1 and Tim Mayer and then the victor, Denny Hulme’s works Brabham BT4 Climax. Mayer was 2nd, McLaren 3rd and Youl 4th (Smedley)

‘Prior to all this, we, like others using the Jack Knight gearbox on their Coopers, found the crown wheel and pinion was the big weakness and only two-three races seemed to be their life span. So I set about making two sets myself as I fortunately had access to the family business’s machine shop. The first set of these was fitted to the gearbox just prior to fitting the duel ignition system’.

‘This new CWP was straight cut but considerably stronger using a much higher grade steel than the original. Although a little noisy at first, it soon settled down by fitting a separate oiling system. The same CWP was in the car when John sold it to Arnold Glass in 1965.’


John Youl, Cooper T55 Climax at Mount Maunganui, NZ, December 1963 (Fistonic)

‘The car, then around 1967, I think – Cooper T55 Chassis No. F1/11/61 – was sold to a collector in the USA and years later in the nineties the car was sent to England to be auctioned. I have found it there in photos sitting in the pits in places such as Goodwood and the like’.

‘The car is back today in its original form being Bruce McLaren’s 1961 works car it looks great and I have no idea but it could still have the twin plug motor in it, who knows!’


Smedley with his charge, note the comments about the gearbox in the text, twin plug 2.5 FPF fitted, Longford Tasman 1964 (Smedley)



‘The card was drawn up by John Youl himself as a record of the T55 during his period of ownership’- Geoff Smedley

The shot below is of Youl jumping from second grid slot, away from McLaren #10 on pole, Tony Maggs #3 and John Surtees #2, as well as Bib Stillwell in the light blue Brabham BT4 and Chris Amon’s red Cooper T53; its the start of the Lakeside International on February 17, 1963.

McLaren, in a Cooper T62, the two Lola Mk4A pilots Maggs and Surtees, and Bib were all driving the latest cars with 2.7 FPFs, Youl was in a 1961 car, his Cooper T55 fitted with a 2.5 FPF, not Smedley’s twin-plug engine either. Surtees won from Graham Hill’s Ferguson P99 and Stillwell. Youl retired on lap seven that day.

Its such a shame duty-called for John Youl, he was needed to manage the families large grazing properties in Tasmania, so his racing career was ended way before it should have. For sure he was a driver of world class, as indeed was Smedley as an engineer/mechanic.



Special Thanks…

Geoff Smedley, many thanks for this very special account of an interesting engineering obscurity which should be more widely known


Geoff Smedley Collection, Milan Fistonic,

Tailpiece: John Youl, Cooper T55 Climax in the Levin form up area, January 1964…


Car #4 is Chris Amon in a Reg Parnell Lola Mk4A Climax, perhaps Denny Hulme’s Brabham alongside him (Smedley)

  1. gray chandler. says:

    Another brilliant informative story and what an amazing era in Australian Motor Racing.

    • markbisset says:

      Amazing bit of innovation isn’t it!
      Geoff’s book will be a ripper too- bits about the Youls, Matich, Austin Miller, he had a stint in Asia, and the rest!
      Thanks for the feedback,

      • gray chandler. says:

        Mark ,any idea on the title and release date for the book. cheers,

      • markbisset says:

        No Gray,
        Will drop him a note to find out. Derek Kneller is busy on one in the UK at present too- it will be a beauty generally and specifically about his 1969-74 years with Frank Matich- not sure how far it is away either!

  2. Martin says:

    Thanks Mark, another great article.

    The very first Warwick Farm meeting I went to, was the 1963 Horden Trophy. I seem to recall that Bib Stillwell and Frank Matich tripped over each other, and that it was David McKay’s last race in the Brabham BT4.
    My memory is getting a bit dodgy, but wasn’t Geoff Smedley with the Howard brothers, post Matich (designed their downdraft head)?…. or have I got that completely wrong.
    A good excuse to buy the book.


    • markbisset says:

      Thanks for reminding about the Matich/Stillwell collision, I have an article ready to go on the early Intercontinental Brabhams, I must put it up at some time.
      Geoff went from Youl to Matich and then I think the Howard’s after that but I have no knowledge of their cars so am not sure what was achieved.
      Am just researching an article about McKay’s Lola Mk1 Climax at present and was only flicking thru his wonderful biography last nite- I’d forgotten how good it is about not just him but the scene at the time. He was stiff not to win the ’61 AGP at Mallala and unfortunate for we fans he got into single-seaters too late- with the Aston’s he had the budget to buy one but for his own reasons went with the sporties at the time rather than, say, a 250F. Adding McKay into the single-seater mix circa ’56 would have added depth to our Gold star fields.

  3. Rod James says:

    Such a great story, John Youl was as good as they get. A couple of corrections, John retired after Lakeside in 1964 selling the Cooper to Arnold Glass who finished 5th in the Hordern Trophy that year and of course it was John who had the monumental accident at Sandown in 1962 when he was clipped by Bruce McLaren coming onto the main straight. I am convinced that John Youl if he had kept racing could have been one of our great champions, in many ways he was. Many thanks for the memories.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks for the corrections. I will get to John Youl as a feature at some point but probably best to wait for Geoff’s book and do a précis then. Key Gavin Youl into the primotipo search engine if you have not seen the article about him I wrote 6 months or so ago.

  4. Ray Bell says:

    Geoff had the lease on the workshop at Berala where the Matich cars were prepared. When Total dropped Matich it was empty, Geoff was living upstairs and somehow got the gig of preparing the Howard & Sons Racing Team cars.
    Syd’s Lotus 7 and the Lotus 23 and Lotus 27 for Les.
    He designed and had cast downdraft heads for the Ford engine and fitted one of these to the 1100cc bottom end in the 23. They sold about a dozen of these heads before the patterns were destroyed.
    It was after this episode that Geoff moved on to preparing the ex-Bartlett 2.5 Brabham for PH Wong (driven by Allan Grice) in Singapore.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Ray,
      Good to piece the sequence together, Geoff regularly pops up on social media with photographs and insights of his day- which spanned a long period as you know. I should buy his book!

      • Ray Bell says:

        Geoff’s book is certainly full of interesting information and background, though the ravages of time have led to some errors in chronology which the astute reader can overcome with a bit of thought. Little details of things which happened over half a century ago do tend to help explain things you never knew or maybe wouldn’t have thought about, just as this effort to make use of the second spark plug per cylinder allowed for in the original FPF head design worked and Repco’s attempts didn’t. Geoff’s ability to use his engineering skills led to drivers using his services benefitting every time they went onto the circuit.
        I particularly like his account of John’s late arrival for practice for the 1962 AGP at Caversham. Geoff and John were the perfect partners – an underrated driver and an engineer who could put a car worthy of his talent underneath him.

      • markbisset says:

        Yep, Geoff certainly worked with some of the best.
        His sojurn in Singapore was interesting, every now and again a photo pops up- I wasn’t really aware ‘in period’ of just how much racing activity from Aussies there was in the region. I really must get to Macau to see the GP, I have wanted to do so for so long.
        And John Youl- what a shame. I get the family responsibilities bit but it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with a Brabham at the time. I didn’t realise his outright pace until writing a piece on the Matich Lotus 19’s a while back and seeing just how well he went in the ’64 (I think) Tasman. A real talent without doubt as too was Gavin.

      • Ray Bell says:

        By the end of Geoff’s time with the Cooper it was almost a Brabham anyway, wearing a lot of Brabham suspension setups. John was particularly good at Lakeside and in the wet.

        Maybe you need to do an article on particularly impressive wet weather performances over the years?

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