(B Howard)

The Light Car Club of Australia achieved a major promotional coup by securing Juan Manuel Fangio’s attendance at the fiftieth anniversary of the first Australian Grand Prix held at Sandown, Melbourne on 10 September 1978…

Here (above) the great man ponders his car during practice. Fangio raced a Mercedes Benz W196 2.5 litre straight-eight engined Grand Prix car, the design with which he won his 1954 and 1955 World Championships- whilst noting the two wins he took in Maserati 250F’s in 1954 before joining Mercedes from the French Grand Prix.

JMF wanted to drive in a Polo-Shirt as he did in the day but the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport would have none of that, hence the overalls over his normal clothes.

https://primotipo.com/2015/10/09/mercedes-benz-w196-french-gp-1954/

Fangio W196 on display behind the Sandown grandstand- the ‘Interstate Betting’ is a function of the place’s prime function- donkey races (mouserat159)

(S Dalton Collection)

Fangio hooks the big Mercedes into Dandenong Road corner at Sandown (I Smith)

The Sandown event created huge interest far beyond the racing fraternity, including articles in such unlikely places as the ‘Australian Womens Weekly’, normally the province of the Royal Family, cooking recipes and similar – such was the mans immense global stature decades after his last championship win in 1957. He won five F1 titles of course- in 1951 in an Alfa 159, 1954/5 Benz W196, 1956 Lancia-Ferrari 801 and the final in 1957 aboard a Maserati 250F.

It was the Argentinian’s first visit to Australia, he had planned to race in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games GP at Albert Park, a race won by Stirling Moss in a Maser 250F, but in the end conflicting commitments scuttled the idea. He returned to Melbourne in 1981 and came to Adelaide twice I think, the sight of him blasting along Adelaide roads during the wonderful 1986 ‘Eagle On The Hill’ run from the city up through the Adelaide Hills to the top of Mount Lofty is not something any of the large number who saw it will readily forget either. He drove a Mercedes sports-racer, a 300SLR on that occasion. If memory serves he may have boofed an Alfa Romeo Alfetta 159 of the type he raced in 1951 at Adelaide doing a demo- by that stage he would have been well into his late seventies mind you.

Fangio contested a ‘Race of Champions’ at Sandown which included Jack Brabham aboard his 1966 championship winning Brabham BT19 Repco ‘620’, and former Australian Champions Bill Patterson in a Cooper T51 Climax and Bob Jane in a Maserati 300S. Both were cars they had raced in period and retained.

(mouserat159)

All eyes were on the Fangio, Brabham ‘battle’ over the three lap journey of course, the footage well known to most of you says it all in terms of the speed and spirit in which the cars were driven, note that JMF was 67 at the time and had suffered two heart attacks in the years before his visit.

(C Griffiths)

The sight and sound of Fangio driving the big, noisy W196 on the throttle, kicking it sideways in the manner for which he was famous lap after lap in practice around Sandown’s third-gear Shell Corner onto Pit Straight is forever etched in my memory. He could still boogie at that stage- well and truly.

As you all know, normally the paddock is a hive of activity with mechanics and engineers getting on with necessary preparation of their steed for the next session or race. Sandown’s then layout afforded those in the paddock a great view of the cars on circuit from or near the pit counter. On the occasions that Fangio was on circuit the tents in the cuddly-small Sandown paddock were empty as drivers and mechanics watched Fangio strut his stuff. It was simply not to be missed whatever the competitive needs of the moment were.

It’s always funny to re-live discussions of ‘that weekend’ with fellow enthusiasts as so many of us were there from all over this vast land, all having a different experience or highlight but equally excited recollections of it all despite the elapse of forty years. As a student at the time I was there from the meetings start to finish, it was sad when it was all over, I was very conscious of the fact that I had witnessed something special.

Fangio was the President of Mercedes Argentina and owner of two dealerships when he visited Oz and had to ‘sing for his supper’ over the week he was here. He did a range of promotional events, dinners and drives with motoring writers to promote, mainly, the ‘Benz 450 SEL 6.9 which was the range-topper at the time, a snip at $A68,500 in 1978.

(C Griffiths)

Postscript…

The 1978 AGP, held to F5000, was a race of attrition won by Graham McRae in his see-through perspex cockpit McRae GM3 Chev from John David Briggs and Peter Edwards in Matich A51 Repco and Lola T332 Chev respectively.

In fact it was an entirely forgettable AGP- very bad accidents hurt both Garrie Cooper, Elfin MR8 Chev and Alan Hamilton, Lola T430 Chev. These very high speed shunts, together with a tangle that eliminated second placed Jon Davison’s T332 and Vern Schuppan’s Elfin MR8 Chev on lap 28- and a broken head-gasket for pole-sitter John McCormack’s unique ex-F1 McLaren M23 Leyland conspired to rob a race which had lots of potential.

An arcane end to this piece.

It’s a long story, but a decade or so ago, an Australian enthusiast ‘discovered’ in contemporary newspaper reports that a very short race named ‘Australian Grand Prix’, was contested on an oval layout at Goulburn’s racecourse, New South Wales on 15 January 1927.

This race was shortly thereafter recognised by many, but not all historians as ‘the first Australian Grand Prix’ thereby replacing the previous event which held that honour, the ‘100 Miles Road Race’ held at Phillip Island in 1928, later recognised as the first AGP.

So, Juan Manuel Fangio was here in 1978 to celebrate the fifty-first AGP not the fiftieth…

https://primotipo.com/2017/04/14/1936-australian-grand-prix-victor-harbour/

Photo / Other Credits…

Bruce Howard, John Stoneham aka Stonie, Chris Griffiths, Stephen Dalton Collection

Tailpiece: I wonder which particular W196 chassis Fangio ran here in 1978?…

(mouserat159)

Big butt isn’t it? All fuel and oil tank, its an object lesson in Vittorio Jano’s design intent with the D50 Lancia to get the fuel between the wheelbase via his pannier-tanks. I’ve a vague recollection this particular chassis was fitted with a 3 litre SLR engine for demonstration purposes rather than the GeePee 2.5? Interesting the way the body comes together too.

Finito…

 

Comments
  1. I remember it so well to see Fangio and Brabham was unforgettable but just seeing Fangio was pure inspiration and awesome!

  2. Hi Mark,

    Bob Jane drove his Maserati 300S at this special Sandown event & narrowly avoided serious injury when the tail shaft snapped, in September 1978 the Maserati 300S was valued at Aus $150,000, Bob also drove his D Type Jaguar,
    Keep up the great work Mark,

    Regards,

    David Zeunert.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks David,
      I well remember David McKay’s dramas with the 250LM and broken oil line but forgot Bobs problems. It was always great to see his run the 300S and D Type- I’ve some shots of the cars at Sandown circa 1973 somewhere!
      Mark

  3. Stephen says:

    Stonie wit-less as ever

  4. Rob says:

    Mark,

    Re your hunch that the Fangio W196 at the 1978 Sandown meeting “was fitted with a 3 litre SLR engine”, this is supported by the Official Programme which has the engine capacity of the car listed as “3000”. There may be a connect to the W196s which contested the 1955 Grand Prix of Buenos Aires, as outlined at https://www.mercedesamgf1.com/en/mercedes-amg-f1/races-1955/

    • markbisset says:

      Rob,
      Thanks, I can’t believe I chucked out all my old race programs ten years ago- post divorce clean out – including the Fangio meeting! All would be handy now with this primotipo caper. I’ve a feeling the 3 litre SLR engine may have been fitted for its more torquey power delivery- minimise the need for rebuilds. Those cars worked pretty hard post-retirements in demos around the globe, nice to have the confirmation, thankyou. Reminds me I have a 300 SLR article complete, I must upload at some point.
      Mark

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