(Walkem)

Bruce Walton aboard Norman Hamilton’s Porsche 550 Spyder at Longford in March 1958…

The 1958 ‘Longford Trophy’ was the first Gold Star round held at what became the legendary Tasmanian road circuit that March long-weekend. Ted Gray was victorious in Lou Abrahams Tornado 2 Chev. Bruce Walton shared the beautiful Porsche 550 Spyder with its owner, Norman Hamilton. Here he is parked beside ‘The Flying Mile’ near the old startline towards the end of the ‘mile. In 1959 the start/finish line and pits were moved to a safer spot around the corner between Mountford and the Water Tower.

Porsche Spyder 550 chassis ‘550-0056’ was ordered on 2 June 1955 and arrived on the MV Sumbawa in October 1955. One of 91 cars built, it was the only 550 imported to Australia by Norman Hamilton, famously one of the first people awarded commercial rights to the then nascent marque way back in 1951.

The story of Norman’s ‘Porsche introduction’ is a well known in Australia, its an amusing one. The Melbourne pump manufacturer was rumbling up the Glossglockner Pass on the way from Austria to Switzerland to check out the latest in pump technology in an American beast- an Oldsmobile 88 when he was ’rounded up’ by a low slung, snarling silver bullet.

In a village further up the valley he came upon German racer and Porsche tester Richard von Frankenberg partaking of a refreshing beverage in an Inn. He interrupted his break from the arduous task of refining the cars chassis and showed Norman the weird little car. In a burst of entrepreneurial zeal Hamilton followed the German and the car back to the Porsche factory and on a handshake secured the Australian commercial rights- in so doing he became the second agent outside Europe after Max Hoffman in the US.

Looks nothing like my Aston old boy?! South Melbourne Town Hall 1 November 1951 (PCA)

Months later, on 1 November 1951 Hamilton held a cocktail party for Melbourne’s ‘great and good’ at South Melbourne Town Hall, not far from Albert Park, to launch the marque in Oz.

On show were a maroon coupe and a silver cabriolet- forty months after the first 356 Porsche received its road permit in Austria, the cars looked like ‘flying saucers’ compared with the British and American cars with which we were so familiar.

Shortly thereafter selected local motorsport people were invited to test the cars- around Albert Park Lake of course! Very soon after that the Porsche Australian motorsport debut took place with Hamilton family friend and experienced racer/constructor Ken Wylie running the coupe up the dusty Hurstbridge Hillclimb, northeast of Melbourne on 28 January 1952.

Ken Harper and Norman Hamilton with Porsche 356 before the 1953 Redex Round Oz (PCA)

Porsche had fallen into the very best of motorsport friendly hands in Australia. In the following decades Norman, and particularly his son Alan Hamilton, raced exotic Porsches in Australia and aided and abetted the careers of drivers such as Colin Bond, Alan Jones and especially Alfredo Costanzo in Porkers and F5000 and Formula Pacific single-seaters. That story is well covered here; https://primotipo.com/2015/08/20/alan-hamilton-his-porsche-9048-and-two-906s/

(Clarence La Tourette)

The 550-1500 RS Spyder was first exhibited at the 1953 Paris Salon, the sexy body hid Dr Ernst Fuhrmann’s ‘Type 547’ DOHC, 2 valve, air-cooled, 1498 cc (85X66 mm bore/stroke) horizontally opposed, twin-Solex fed four cylinder circa 110 bhp @ 6200 rpm engine. This motor provided the basis, as it was progressively modified, for the motive power of successive Porsche racers until 1961. Built from 1954-1955 the 550 design had ‘an integral body-frame with floor frame…the flat frame consisted of welded tubing’. The transaxle was 4 speed with a ‘slippery’ diff, drum brakes were fitted front and rear. With the machine weighing a feather-light 590 Kg, a top-speed of about 137 mph was achieved with levels of endurance and reliability which became key brand values.

When the 550 first arrived at Port Melbourne it was delivered the short distance to the Southern Cross Service Station on St Kilda Road, Melbourne where it was uncrated and checked over by engineer/mechanic/racer Otto Stone. Pronounced fit, veteran AGP winner Les Murphy gave the car it’s competition debut at Rob Roy on Melbourne Cup Day in November 1955.

Delivered to New Zealand for Stirling Moss to drive in the 1956 New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at Ardmore, the great Brit won the ‘Ardmore Handicap’ in the 550 and then jumped into his works Maserati 250F to win the NZ GP. The Spyder also participated in that Formula Libre GP- to ninth place driven by New South Wales ace Frank Kleinig.

One of the great shames of Australian Motor Racing is that Kleinig didn’t win an AGP in his wonderful (and still extant) Kleinig Hudson straight-8 Spl. It was apt that Hamilton gave Frank this ‘works’ drive. I’ve mused more than once about how many ‘big races’ Kleinig could have won had he raced a car equal to that of Bill Thompson, Alf Barrett and Lex Davison to name some drivers of equal calibre who spanned ‘the Kleinig decades’ but had much better rides.

Frank Kleinig and the 550 outside his Parrmatta Rd, Burwood, Sydney workshop in early 1956 (C Gibson)

The car was shipped back from New Zealand to Sydney in time for the South Pacific Championship meeting at Gnoo Blas, Orange on 30 January. Kleinig was to drive the Porsche but was barred from competing by CAMS, then a new organisation- the controlling body of motorsport in Australia. Frank had taken part in the ‘unofficial’, as in not sanctioned by CAMS, Mobilgas Economy Run and was punished for his crime by not being allowed to race.

Jack Brabham, who that weekend raced the Cooper T40 Bristol he drove to victory in the 1955 AGP at Port Wakefied to second in the Sou Pac feature race behind Reg Hunt’s Maser 250F- then drove the heavily handicapped Porsche to sixth in the last event of the day, a five lap racing car handicap.

Ron Phillips AH 100S approaches the looped Otto Stone in the 550 Spyder at Jaguar Corner during the Moomba TT, Albert Park in March 1956 (unattributed)

Otto Stone had a few steers of the 550 including meetings at Fishermans Bend and the 1956 Moomba TT in March (4th) and the November Australian TT both at Albert Park- the latter race famously won by Stirling Moss’ works Maserati 300S from Jean Behra’s similar car, both of which stayed in Australia and were then raced successfully by Doug Whiteford and Bob Jane. Otto failed to finish the race.

Into 1957 Stone contested a 15 lap club trophy race at Fishermans Bend (below) running with the quick guys including Paul England’s Ausca Holden Hi-Power and Doug Whiteford’s Maser 300S- following Stone is Ron Phillip’s Austin Healey 100S.

(unattributed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norman Hamilton, Fishermans Bend, June 1957 (autopics)

Walton won the Australian Hillclimb Championship from 1958 to 1963 at a diversity of venues across the country aboard his Walton Cooper in an era when the title ‘really mattered’ and attracted both large crowds and the best of the circuit racers, some of whom like Stan Jones and Lex Davison had cars in their equipes acquired and developed to suit the particular rigours of the ‘hill discipline.

Bruce Walton fettles his modified Cooper Mk8 in John Hartnett’s Melbourne workshop, date folks? (L Sims)

 

Bruce Walton does his thing at Rob Roy in Melbourne’s Christmas Hills, 1953. Walton Jap Spl (unattributed)

Whilst Bruce also circuit raced, he did not contest as many events as many enthusiasts would have liked- had he done so he was the calibre of racer who could have won a Gold Star or at least won a Gold Star round- he was that good.

Not much has been written about the great Bruce Walton who died not so long ago in 2017, this article in ‘Loose Fillings’ is a nice comprehensive piece about his hillclimb exploits. Click here to read Terry Wright’s work; https://loosefillings.com/2017/06/10/climbed-your-last-hill/

Walton, 550 mounted at Fishermans Bend in Feb 1958 (autopics)

 

Bruce Walton passes the Newry Pumphouse, Flying Mile, Longford, Porsche 550, Longford 1958

Walton raced the Porsche at Fishermans Bend in February 1958 which was a good means of getting the feel of the car before attacking the formidable Longford road circuit over the Labour Day long-weekend in March 1958.

In the 5 lapper on Saturday Norman Hamilton drove to second behind Bill Patterson and ahead of John Youl’s Porsche 356. In the feature sportscar race, the Tasmanian Tourist Trophy, Bruce drove to third behind Whiteford’s Maserati 300S and Royce Fullard.

The Marsh owned 550 Spyder at Templestowe Hillclimb in Melbourne’s east circa 1962 (unattributed)

In November 1959 the car was sold to Reg Smith, and sold again after the unfortunate motor dealer lost his life at Bathurst driving a 356 Coupe. Acquired by Victorian Lionel Marsh, it was raced extensively with great class success in Australian and Victorian Hillclimb Championships. Marsh raced it up until 1964 inclusive of hitting an earth bank at Lakeland Hillclimb to Melbourne’s outer east.

After changing hands on several occasions over the following twenty years, including into and out of Alan Hamilton’s hands once or twice, prominent Melbourne businessman Lindsay Fox acquired ‘0056’ in 1992. He tasked Brian Tanti to restore it, a job which took three years to complete.

The RS550 Spyder now resides in considerable comfort at the Fox Collection in Melbourne’s Docklands and is exercised every now and again attracting all the attention it deserves for a car with a roll call of prominent to great drivers including Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Les Murphy, Otto Stone, Frank Kleinig, Bruce Walton, Allan Williams, Ted Gray, Austin Miller, Ern Tadgell, Lionel Marsh and of course Norman Hamilton…

Albert Park paddock, 1958 Victorian Tourist Trophy, Ern Tadgell up that weekend (unattributed)

Credits…

porsche.com, oldracephotos.com.au, Walkem Family Collection, autopics.com.au, Clive Gibson, Porsche Cars Australia, Paul Geard Collection, Clarence La Tourette, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden

Etcetera…

£1500, oh dear! Give Lionel a call, not far from my mums place actually!

 Tailpiece: Walton using all the road exiting Mountford Corner for the run up Pit Straight, Longford 1958…

(P Geard)

Finito…

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