Kevin Bartlett from Spencer Martin and Greg Cusack on the plunge down the mountain, Bathurst March 1967…

David Atkinson’s depiction of Kevin Bartlett’s dice and achievement of the first over 100 mph lap of Mount Panorama shows the Brabham BT11A Climaxes of  KB and Spencer from Greg’s Brabham BT23A Repco V8.

Bartlett first raced a Morris Minor at Bathurst in the late fifties, he knew the place as well as anyone- the sense of achievement was great. ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ is the title John Medley gave his wonderful ‘biography of Bathurst’ and goes a long way to making clear the significance of this wonderful place and it’s importance in the continuing pantheon of Australian motor racing.

Only Lobethal and Longford match it for its majesty and Warwick Farm, Phillip Island and Albert Park it’s importance.

During a couple of torrid dices in a preliminary race and in the NSW Road Racing Championship round Bartlett and Martin both broke the lap record and 100mph mark repeatedly but Kevin was the first to do so.

Frank Gardner casts a paternal eye over his younger teammate and his old BT11A in the Longford paddock in 1968. It’s not wet so it’s not raceday! (oldracephotos)

In many ways I see Kevin and Spencer as the Australian ‘Bobsy Twins’ of the time…

Both Sydney boys, both born in 1940, both motor mechanics by profession, both drove for one of the best teams of the day in Alec Mildren Racing and Bob Jane Racing- both raced Brabham BT11A’s powered by 2.5 litre Coventry Climax four cylinder ‘thumpers’ and both were sublime practitioners of the single-seater driving art. Driver’s-Drivers if you will.

Spencer had greater experience of these powerful single-seaters than Kevin but the Curl-Curl Kid was learning fast, a classicist with god-given intuitive feel and car control that thrilled the crowds and record books for decades.

Oopsie. Spencer post WF Tasman contretemps with The Causeway, 1967- late in the race won by Jackie Stewart’s BRM P261 from Jim Clark’s Lotus 33 Climax (B Wells)

Bartlett from Martin during the WF 100 race, Tasman Series 1967. KB was 6th, Spencer’s shown in the shot above. Both cars Brabham BT11A Climax (B Wells)

Bartlett declared his intent in practice with an over 100 mph lap of  2:18.6 with KB setting a time of 2:17.7 in a 6 Lapper for Racing and Sports Cars in a fierce battle with Spencer- in the process Martin matched KB’s 2:18.4 he had set on lap 3, only for Bartlett to do a 2:17.7 late in the race.

In an amazing weekend for Bartlett he contested four races winning three- two single-seater events in the Brabham and a touring car race in Alec Mildren’s Alfa Romeo GTA- he was second to Bob Jane ‘s Mustang in the other race. But the thriller of the four was the feature race.

Peter Wherrett, then racer and later immensely gifted automotive TV broadcaster covered the meeting for Max Stahl’s monthly Australian motor racing bible ‘Racing Car News’, his account brings the thrilling weekends racing to life.

‘The feature event in the nine race program was the 1967 NSW Championship for Racing Cars…it was a thriller but disappointing as well…Geoghegan and Harvey were installing new engines and were indisposed…Then right there on the grid…poor Greg Cusack and his team pushed and shoved the Brabham all over the place, but the big Repco V8 refused to start’.

‘Bartlett had pole after his fabulous practice time, but there was determination written clearly all over Spencer Martin’s face. When the flag dropped they raced neck and neck for Hell Corner. Since Bartlett had the inside running he also had the advantage and was first out but accelerating away up Mountain Straight Martin again drew alongside. Up and over the mountain they raced with Bartlett leading Martin by the depth of his tread.’

‘Down Conrod and into the braking area it was still Bartlett, now by a car’s length , as they crossed the line after a standing lap of 2:21.3, already 4.4 seconds inside the lap record. Martin again caught up going up the hill but once more it was Bartlett who led down Conrod.’

‘Those who saw them said none have ever gone down the Esses like this pair. Bartlett, particularly was breathtaking!’

‘It seemed he simply twitched the car from one corner to the next, setting the booming Brabham up in the middle of one corner so that it was as near as possible to be spot on line for the one following, and then upsetting the whole thing in the middle of the corner so that he would be right for the next one and so on.’

‘Already way back in the field Max Stewart led the 1500’s…F2 Rennmax…Phil West 1100 Brabham running in close company with Alton Boddenberg in the Lotus 32’.

(P Maslen)

 

Brian Caldersmith’s wonderful painting of the battle

‘But it was the Bartlett-Martin duel which was drawing the attention of the masses. Bartlett’s second lap put him 30 yards in front and this was not surprising when it was announced that the lap record was now  2:17.4. Too much!’.

‘Spencer was right in there though, and on the third he picked up a bit. Into the fourth they went and again Spencer seemed to catch Kevin going up the hill and Kevin seemed to gain it all back again on the straight.

On the fifth of thirteen, people began to doubt they could both withstand the pace. Again Bartlett was in the 17’s but this time Martin joined him with a personal best of 2:17.8 and then…it was just too good to last.

We crazy money-paying enthusiasts are just not deserving of such joy. Going up to XL Bend for the sixth time Spencer slowed and with oil pressure failing withdrew the ailing Brabham. Bartlett slowed (?) to the low 20’s and could not be beaten. Stewart took second place, mad with glee, and Phil West gained a creditable third from Boddenberg, Barry Lake and Peter Cohen, who was in and out of the pits and only completed three laps’.

‘All but one of Bartlett’s laps were under the old lap record, and six of them were under the magic 100 mph lap (2:19.5)’.

Warwick Farm 100 1968, The Causeway, KB Brabham BT11A Climax DNF halfshaft in the race won by Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 Ford (oldracephotos)

Its interesting to look at the speeds recorded through the flying 1/8th of a mile that Easter long weekend. Cusack’s Repco V8 powered Brabham was the quickest open-wheeler at 162.45 mph, a time he recorded in practice with Bartlett and Martin doing identical times in their identical cars during the NSW Championship race- 159.57 mph. The quickest car over the weekend in a straight line was Bob Jane aboard his 4.4 litre Repco RB620 V8 engined Elfin 400 sporty, with 163.63 mph.

‘Ron Hodgson, who probably thought he was on a good thing with his offer, had to part with 100 bottles of bubbly for the first 100 mph lap, and these were added to Kevin’s 25 bottles scored on Sunday for fastest practice lap’ Wherrett wrote.

Martin inside Bartlett at Murray’s Corner

Bartlett’s recollections are recorded in Alec Mildren’s biography-

‘…We were at it hammer and tongs. We were both pretty gung-ho. I was probably a bit more aggressive…Alec was really on the ball…I wouldn’t have attempted what I did otherwise. I came in after first practice and he said “Where do you reckon you can get the laptime” He knew the circuit, look, he knew it…”What if you short shift here, leave it that gear there, what revs are you using? He was at me’.

‘I was the train (engine) and Spencer was the guards van. He broke the 100 mph mark, too don’t forget. Always remember that. But because I was leading and crossed the line first, I got the credit. And when it came to the run of the race. I out braked him by outbraving him- it was one of those do or die things. I said to Alec later “Spencer and I got pretty close, Alec”. “We nearly lost the lot”. He said “Yeah, but you outbraved him didn’t you?” That was the way he talked’.

Later ‘When  Alec asked me what I was going to do with the champers, I said I don’t want it, you have it, and he said “Good, I’m going to throw a party”. Anyone and everyone in motor racing was invited to the splash-out at the Mildren Newport (Sydney North Shore ocean beach suburb) residence…Alec was never a boozer- he was an orange juice man. But I’m sure he had a champers or two that night’ Bartlett recalled.

Bartlett amongst the Repcos in 1967: Leo G Lotus 39, KB Brabham BT11A and John Harvey Brabham BT14, ‘Angus & Coote Trophy’ Oran Park (Rod MacKenzie)

Whilst Bartlett was the hero of the day at Bathurst, Martin again won the 1967 Gold Star, as he did in 1966 with two wins (Surfers Paradise, Mallala) to Cusack and Bartlett’s one apiece (Symmons Plains and Lakeside).

The two BT11A’s would have been the most highly developed cars of their type in the world with Martin and Bartlett both having, just, the legs of the Repco V8 engined cars of Cusack, Leo Geoghegan and John Harvey- Brabham BT23A, Lotus 39 and Brabham BT14 respectively. Spencer’s Bob Jane Brabham was more reliable than KB’s however, Spencer took the title with a points haul of 30 from Cusack 23, and Bartlett 16.

Formative KB single-seater years, 17 December 1961 Warwick Farm in the Lynx BMC FJ. Race won by Leo Geoghegan’s Lotus 20 (J Ellacott)

Another Big Bathurst Moment…

Bartlett and John Goss in the Bell cap (Greg Bartlett is the kiddo with his back to us) on the Bathurst 1000 victory dais in 1974.

What a sweet win for them both- especially KB who had a bad accident at Pukekohe at the seasons outset during the Tasman Series, he became a ‘Lola Limper’, breaking a leg when his T330 Chev came to grief, a lengthy recovery period followed.

That’s a walking stick in the young veteran’s left hand, quite a few of his fans shed a tear watching his gritty performance that day and this presentation on the telly, me included.

(autopics)

Etcetera: Spencer Martin HDT Holden Monaro GTS 350 alongside Allan Moffat’s works Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 1, warm up lap, Sandown 3 H0ur, September 1969…

There are plenty of Fords behind- Moffat/John French won from Tom Roddy/Murray Carter and Fred Gibson/Bo Seton all in HO’s.

Spencer had been retired for a year or so when he took a call from new Holden Dealer Team team manager Harry Firth to share a Monaro with KB during the HDT’s first event, the 1969 Sandown Datsun 3 Hour.

Ex-Ford racer/engineer/team manager, now Holden new boy Harry Firth was prevailed upon to hire a couple of single-seater drivers to race his new toy, Firth more of a believer in taxi drivers racing taxis, so to speak.

In a story for another time Martin had a massive brake failure at about the 45 minute mark of the endurance classic at the end of Sandown’s main straight, he skilfully backed the car into the Shell Corner armco minimising the damage to his good self but the car caught fire. The accident is variously attributed to boiled fluid, ‘brake booster system’ or standard brake pads being mistakenly fitted to the car prior to the race.

The Monaro was repaired after the race and sold by tender, it still exists. Spencer retired from a meeting he only entered after agreement with his new wife that a race in a touring car was relatively safe! His comeback to racing in the historic scene was a couple of decades hence.

In 1969 Bartlett had many successes in front of him including the second of his two Gold Stars aboard the Mildren Alfa/Waggott, in Asia and the US with much Formula 5000 and plenty of touring car wins including a Bathurst crown…

Slightly singed but not fatally damaged Monaro in the slip road on the outside of the Sandown track on pit straight, scene of Spencer’s high speed handbrake turn into the fence. KB did not get a drive during the race (unattributed)

Photo & Other Credits…

Racing Car News May 1967, Rod MacKenzie, autopics.com.au, Brian Caldersmith, oldracephotos.com.au, Bruce Wells, John Ellacott, Bob Jane Collection, ‘Driven To Succeed: The Alec Mildren Story’ Barry Green, ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ John Medley, Peter Maslen Collection

Tailpiece: Bartlett at the wheel of the McLeod Ford / John Goss Ford Falcon GT during the Bathurst 1000 in 1973- they won in the same car in 1974 but I like the look of the big yella beastie the year before…

Finito…

 

 

Comments
  1. McCarthy, Andrew says:

    Interesting to see KB’s use of a walking stick in the presentation podium Thanks. Mark. Andrew M

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Terry Sullivan says:

    The walking stick was because he was recovering from a big accident in his Lola F5000 in NZ.

    • markbisset says:

      Yes Terry,
      Big shunt- put a wheel off circuit at Pukekohe in his T330. No doubt the Bathurst win was just the tonic he needed. He was right on the pace in F5000 too in 1974- some top 2/3 finishes and a win at Phillip Island late in the year.
      Mark

  3. Rob says:

    Mark,

    If the famous 100 mph lap was achieved at the Easter Bathurst meeting, that would make it 27 March 1967 rather than May 1967.

    Rob

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