The Spook, The Baron and the 1938 South Australian GP, Lobethal…

Posted: November 8, 2018 in Features, Who,What,Where & When...?
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

(L Sims)

The Alan Sinclair Alta at far left, Jack Day owned Bugatti Brescia driven by Norman Ellsworth, Reg Nutt’s #2 Jack Day Special and two MG K3 Magnettes of Colin Dunne and Lyster Jackson before the off- 3 January 1938 South Australian Grand Prix, Lobethal…

My interest in this race was piqued by Bob King identifying the photograph above as this 1938 event rather than the 1936 South Australian Centenary Grand Prix- aka 1936 AGP- the photo was posted by Leon Sims on his marvellous Rob Roy Facebook page.

To my pleasant surprise good ‘ole Trove (an Australian digital newspaper research tool) produced a couple of comprehensive event accounts to bring some great photos to life.

The race meeting is significant for the fact that it was the very first Lobethal meeting for cars, one for ‘bikes preceded it the week before- that meeting has an air of intrigue about it which we will come to soon.

What was planned as ‘a quickie’ has become a 7,500 word epic as the threads were drawn together, not to forget Bob King’s return from the US and twenty more amazing photos to add to what I already had.

The newspaper accounts are verbatim, I like to reproduce them in full as I love to read the narrative of the time. I have added in snippets about the cars and drivers written ‘in period’ into the two core articles which are from ‘The Adelaide Advertiser’, a publication which exists to this day.

‘Although there are no official scratchings for either the South Australian Grand Prix (100 miles) or the 50-mile handicap, it is probable that five of the competitors nominated in each race will not start, but even so big fields will be left in both races—28 in the Grand Prix and 30 in the shorter event. The nominations are the biggest received for any motor car race in Australia.

The races, organised following the success of the Centenary meeting on the Victor Harbor circuit last year, (the 26 December ‘South Australian Centenary Grand Prix’ subsequently given the erroneous title, ‘The 1937 Australian Grand Prix’) will form the second day’s programme of the motor cycle and motor car speed carnival, and will be held on the new circuit at Lobethal, beginning at 12.30 tomorrow.

Motor cycle races, which were attended by a crowd of more than 20,000 were conducted on the same circuit last Monday 27 December. An even larger crowd is expected for tomorrow’s races. Since yesterday afternoon many camping and caravanning parties have arrived, and have taken places all around the 8 mile course’.

 

Bob Lea-Wright heads through Lobethal (B King)

 

Lobethal is 45 Km from Adelaide, I love this old map- a more useful one is at the end of this article inclusive of a description of what was regarded as the most challenging layout in Australia. The lap record referred to above was set by Alf Barrett’s 2.3 litre straight-eight, supercharged Alfa Monza during the 1939 AGP

 

‘The programme will be:— 12.30 p.m.—South Australian Grand Prix, 100 miles. 3.30 p.m.— 50 mile handicap.A heavy shower of rain delayed practice yesterday afternoon, and left the bitumen track very slippery in places. Immediately after the shower Reg Nutt driving J. Day’s Day’s Special, daringly lapped at more than 80 miles an hour. Considering the treacherous nature of the road and the fact that Nutt had not been on the circuit before, his performance was particularly good.

Alan Sinclair, Alta 1100 s/c (N Howard)

Alan Sinclair, in his supercharged Alta, “a very fast 1100cc Alta racing car…weighs only 10 ½ cwt, is supercharged and is said to be capable of nearly 130 m.p.h.” lapped at almost 80 m.p.h. but it was evident from his driving that he conserved his full power. It has not yet been possible to gauge his best performance, but there does not seem to be much doubt that he will have any difficulty in maintaining an average speed of 84 m.p.h.—an average he must keep up on every lap if he is going to win the race.

Ewald Kluge, Baron von Oertzen and a Mr Green, the Melbourne DKW agent. Northcott Avenue Canberra before their successful attempts to raise the Australian 250cc Land Speed Record in 1938. DKW SS 250 2 stroke supercharged machine. These were annual events in Canberra at the time, Northcott Avenue slightly busier now (The Velobanjogent)

The Advertiser in its pre-event build-up of the race reported on 16 November that ‘Mr Sinclair is a graduate of Cambridge University and is a partner in a motor firm at Hammersmith, London. He has competed with success at Donington Park and Brooklands and also at Belfast, Ireland. He is coming to Australia specially to compete in motor races in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales’.

In these dark pre-war days, Sinclair, it later transpired, also had official duties of state to perform in the Adelaide Hills as a member of British counter-intelligence and security agency, MI5!

The German DKW motor-cycle racing team led by champion rider Ewald Kluge, the entourage managed by Baron Claus von Oertzen, was under covert security by Sinclair with ‘much subsequently made of this cold war tactic’ Jim Scaybrook wrote.

Von Oertzen had migrated from Germany to South Africa, its said because of disaffection for the Nazis buoyed by the potential exposure of his Jewish wife in 1935, and imported DKW’s to South Africa. Ever the energetic businessman, Von Oertzen also began eyeing Australia as a potential market for the cars and was highly instrumental in arranging the Kluge visit.

Local authorities began closely observing the movements of the Baron and Baroness, noting that they made contact with many Germans while in Australia (certainly not that difficult in South Australia with its large German population) and that large amounts of money- eleven thousand pounds- were deposited into his bank account. It was later alleged that he was disbursing funds to individuals and groups and that he was listed in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Nazi Party of Australia. He was also accused of photographing strategic installations and trying to arrange for parts of Australia to be filmed from an aircraft’ wrote Scaysbrook.

Kluge led local rider and team-mate Les Fredricks in a 1-2 home in the 250cc Lobethal race in a race time just short of an hour. ‘The 350cc race was run concurrently and Kluge took that out as well after an entertaining dice with Frank Mussett’s Velocette until the British machine expired on the final lap, much to the delight of the huge German spectator turnout’.

Kluge aboard his DKW SS 250, Lobethal December 1937, Lobethal’s first meeting (T Parkinson/R Trevena)

 

Ewald Kluge and Baron von Oertzen (Baron Claus-Detlof von Oertzen 1894-1991) (J Scaysbrook)

Lets come back to this ‘spooks in the Adelaide Hills’ tale further on. Sinclair, during practice, had “head gasket troubles with the Alta but with a team of mechanics had the trouble rectified that night…Crowds congregated around the car, it was the first time that a racing car of that description or power has appeared on any racing circuit in Australia”.

‘Colin Dunne, (MG K3) who established a lap record on Friday, was a few miles an hour slower yesterday, but his time on Friday still stands as the best. As the road dried drivers went faster and all lapped within their handicap’.

Reg Nutt, Day Special- Bugatti chassis and Ford flathead V8. Nutt was both a great racer and Bugatti expert, during the 1931 AGP he sat in the mechanics seat of this car, chassis ‘4607’, alongside Carl Junker when Junker won that Phillip Island race as the car was originally built- a 1.5 litre, supercharged straight-eight Bugatti T39 Voiturette. After the engine failed, liked a few other Bugatti racers in Australia it was given a ‘birthday’ and received an engine the King of Molsheim would not have approved! Its not a tangent for now but Bob King restored this car decades later into its original form- that will be a nice ‘Words from Werrangourt’ topic soon

‘Twenty-five cars were at yesterday’s practice, newcomers being Nutt (Day Special) “a Ford V8 engine in a Bugatti chassis and this meeting will be the first time it has raced in South Australia”. J. Phillips (Ford V 8), well known inter-capital record breaker, H.Beith (Terraplane), R. A. Lea-Wright (Terraplane), M. A. Moulden (Sunbeam), D. D. Sowter (MG. Type P), N.Campbell (Singer Bantam) and N. Ellsworth (Bugatti). All the likely starters have now practised with the exception of J. McDonough (Mactonburgh Special) and C. Gartner (De Soto).

 

Norman Ellsworth in the Bugatti Brescia just sold to him and entered by Jack Day (B King)

 

Picking the Grand Prix winner Is more difficult than it was last year, (at Victor Harbor- correct spelling) as the course is harder and the race shorter. All cars are at their top and although the backmarkers may appear to have been severely dealt with by the handicappers, each has a good chance. Driving efficiency will play the biggest part on a course which includes 40 bends and which in parts is barely wide enough to allow two big cars to pass.

Alan Sinclair during practice, Mill Corner, Alta 1100 s/c, Lobethal 1938 (The West Australian)

Sinclair’s Performance

Sinclair (scr.) must average 84. m.p.h each lap and pass the limit man four times to win. Cowper (Morris 8/40), the limit man, must average 60 m.p.h. Sinclair, however, has not only got to pass Cowper four times; he must also pass every other car in the race—and having passed them, keep in front—at least once. He will have to pass the middle-markers—J. McDonough and L. Murphy—at least twice. Sinclair, Day, Dunne driving “Lord Waleran’s K3 MG Magnette (actually owned at the time by Sydney’s John Snow) which gained the fastest time in the 50 Mile handicap last year- Dunne has already created an Australian record in the car”.

Alf Barrett, Morris Cowley, he was unclassified but would appear with a more formidable weapon 12 months hence over the 1939 AGP weekend, an Alfa Romeo Monza  (N Howard)

Jackson and Joshua will have a very hard task, as Cowper will probably have lapped the course about four times before they start. Jackson and Joshua, both of whom have a handicap of five minutes will have almost completed one lap before Sinclair starts.  Joshua had a much faster machine than Alf Barrett’s MG he raced in the Centenary Grand Prix to second place “It is a specially built Shelsey model Frazer-Nash, which reached Australia on 3 December 1937…and competed in the Donington 200 Miles Race in England recently”.

Tim Joshua’s Frazer Nash alongside the two K3’s of Dunne and Jackson (L Sims)

 

Noel Campbell in his self-constructed and modified Singer Bantam, ‘giant-killer’ of the meeting (unattributed)

 

Les Murphy listens intently to the exhaust note of his MG P Type as he warms it up before the event. Car #21 is Arthur Beasley’s P Type (L Sims)

 

‘Murphy May Win.

 

With a handicap of 14 minutes and very few big cars to pass, Les Murphy (P type M.G.), winner of last year’s  Centenary Grand Prix has a very good chance of success tomorrow. Murphy, who has three Australian Grand Prix races to his credit, is the most successful driver in Australia. (what about Bill Thompson you schmucks?) He will be driving the same car as last year, “but he has converted the body into a single-seater with advanced streamlining” and it is estimated that he will have to lap at an average speed of 71 to 72 m.p.h. to win. At that speed he will still have plenty of power in reserve. Last night Murphy drove round the course over the exact route that he will take in the race. 

Les Murphy, MG P Type 7th (N Howard)

Most of the other competitors who will leave before Murphy are South Australians and have not had Murphy’s experience. Cowper may have completed almost two laps before Murphy starts, but, indicating how different his task is from Sinclair, Murphy will only have to pass 14 cars provided he can keep in front of the 17 competitors who start after him.

A biergarten arranged by Lobethal Carnivals Ltd, -which with Centenary Road Racers Ltd. is sponsoring the speed carnival, organised (or held under the auspices of) the Sporting Car Club and the Motor Cycle Club of South Australia will be held tomorrow night, when the prize-money and trophies, which include ‘The Advertiser Cup’ silver trophy and 150 pounds in prize money for the Grand Prix, will be presented. The biergarten will be the last event of the carnival which has been held this week to entertain the visiting speed men’.

‘Events To Be Broadcast

National station 5CL will broadcast the races from the Lobethal course today. The Grand Prix and the 50 mile open handicap will be described from four specially selected points from start to finish.’

 

60,000 folks turned up (B King)

 

 

The start-finish podium, or is that tree? (B King)

‘DRIVING a well-judged race in which he consistently averaged about 62 miles an hour on the eight and three-quarter mile circuit, Noel Campbell, a South Australian competitor, won the second South Australian Grand Prix, run over 100 miles, from a field of 24 competitors including interstate and international drivers, at Lobethal yesterday.

The racing, which was witnessed by more than than 40,000 people from vantage points around the course, was full of thrills, but free from serious accidents.
Colin Dunne (Vic), a comparative newcomer to road racing, provided the outstanding feat of the day by gaining second place in the Grand Prix with a handicap of 4 min and later winning the 50-mile handicap from the virtuaI scratch mark after Alan Sinclair, the English driver, had retired. Dunne took many risks, but his driving was masterly. Sinclair was unable to finish the course in either race because of oil trouble, but before he retired he gave an exceptionally good exhibition of driving and cornering.’

Lyster Jackson, MG K3 ahead of Sinclair’s Alta (N Howard)

Reg Nutt delicately drifting the Day Special around daunting Lobethal

‘Reg Nutt, who drove Jack Day’s Day Special, recorded the fastest time in the Grand Prix 77 min 33 sec, although Dunne did the fastest lap in the Grand Prix (83 1/2 m.p.h.). Nutt bettered that average by 1 m.p.h. in the second race, and recorded the fastest lap for the day. Dunne had the fastest time in the 50 mile handicap to win in 33 min 2 sec. This was the better race. With two laps to go it was anybody’s race, but Dunne, lapping brilliantly at more than 83 m.p. had passed car after car—he even went on the footpath in the Lobethal main street to pass one competitor— and won from J. Boughton.’

Nutt and Dunne before the off- Day Special and MG K3 (unattributed)

Jim Boughton, Morgan 4/4 from Reg Nutt, Day Spl (B King)

‘Results
South Australian Grand Prix (100 miles)
N. Campbell SA Bantam Singer, handicap 2 min 30 sec, corrected time 97 min 37 sec 1st: C. Dunne Vic MG K3 Magnette 77.39. 2nd: A. Ohlmeyer S.A. T Type M.G. 17 min 90 min 55 sec 3rd: R. E. Uffindel S.A. Austin 4th: Fastest time Reg Nutt, Day Special 77.33. Others to finish in order:— 3. J Boughton Morgan 18  min 92 sec. 54 sec -R. Nutt. 1 min. 30 sec. 77 min 33 sec, L. Murphy Vic P. Type M.G. 14 min 90 min 31 sec, F. J. Thwaites (S.A.). Ford V8. 9 min 30 sec. 89 min. 20 sec.
Fifty-mile Handicap
C. Dunne. 1 min, 30 min 2 sec. 1st: J. Boughton. 8 min, 45 min 30 sec. 2nd; L. Murphy. 6 min 30 sec,  45 min 10 sec 3rd: J. Phillips (Vic) Ford V8. 3 min, 42 min 1 sec 4th. Fastest time—Dunne. 38 min.
2 sec. Others to finish in order:—R. A. Lea-Wright (Vic) Terraplane: A V. McDonogh (S.A.) Ford V8; P. J. Thwaites (S.A.) Ford V8, G. A. Cowper (Vic)  Morris 8/40, A. Beasley (Vic). P Type M.G, N Ellsworth (Vic) Bugatti.
Presenting ‘The Advertiser Cup’ to Campbell, the Chief Secretary Sir Georgie Ritchie paid a tribute to ‘The Advertiser’ for having assisted to make an annual road race for motor cars possible. After handing Campbell the silver cup, he decorated the Grand Prix winner with a floral wreath and presented him with the Grand Prix pennant. The other trophies won during the day were presented at the biergarten arranged by Lobethal Carnivals, Ltd which assisted Centenary Road Races Ltd in arranging the races. ‘
Small, dark, quiet and unassuming the 25-year-old winner of the Grand Prix is a son of Mr. and Mrs. D. Campbell, of Coorara Avenue, Pirie. His success was gained in his first big race, his previous experience being restricted to Sporting Car Club competitions. He has been preparing for the event for six months. He bought the chassis of his car, built the body himself, and increased the power and speed. The gear is now much higher than the standard, and the compression ratio has been altered.’
Singer expert/enthusiast/restorer Nathan Tasca advises that ‘the probable specifications for Campbell’s Singer are sketchy, even from the family…The Campbell car was an early version of the Bantam, sent to Australia as a rolling chassis they were general bodied by Floods in Melbourne, and others including Holden Motor Bodies in Adelaide. The story goes that Campbell (25) had bought the rolling chassis himself and spent six months fettling the engine performance and built the body himself. He used it to compete in several SCCSA events prior to the GP. Post event, Noel moved to Sydney and turned the racer back into a road car, driving it around the streets of Parramatta at least until the late 1940’s. The engine was an OHC 972cc four with a single Zenith carb- basically a detuned version of the earlier Singer Le Mans engine, from which the cars chassis was also derived. This incorporated an underslung rear end sprung by leaf springs and solid axles front and rear. Brakes were hydraulic drums, the first fitted to a mass-produced Singer, the gearbox 3 speed’.

He is off! The little Singer squats at the rear as Noel Campbell starts the SA GP (N Howard)

‘How Grand Prix Was Run
Nine withdrawals from the original nominations left 24 starters.
Campbell had begun his second lap before Barrett got away, and Uffindell had begun his second lap when Beasley moved off. At this stage Cowper had a substantial lead. Sinclair got away well and passed Beasley who was beginning his third lap. Moulden stalled his engine on the first lap but was able to continue. Cowper was already being pushed by Campbell for the lead.
On his first time around Joshua went through the grandstand hairpin and lost valuable time. Dunne turned right around on his first time around and lost about a minute and a half but completed his first lap from a standing start at an average speed of 80 m.p.h.

Sinclair’s Alta from Moulden/Wyatt Sunbeam GP in the early stages of the race (J Blanden)

Reg Nutt, Day Spl (B King)

Many of the drivers were having trouble at the grandstand hairpin. Thwaites swung wide and Lea-Wright and McDonough who had started half a minute after him and got through on the corner.  Cowper still led with eight laps to go. The back-markers- Sinclair, Dunn, Nutt, Jackson and Joshua, were travelling at terrific speeds.
With seven !aps to go Campbell took the lead from Cowper and Uffindell was creeping up on Cowper. Barrett was lying fourth. Campbell had a lead of four miles beginning his sixth lap and Uffindell was a similar distance behind Cowper.’

MA ‘Ash’ Moulden and J Wyatt in the Sunbeam GP provided some of the unintended excitement of the day when Moulden lost the car in The Esses. He hit a bank whereupon the occupants were ejected, the car then crossed the road and stopped having mounted that embankment. Moulden had a suspected broken shoulder with Wyatt having cuts and abrasions. Rather a significant car which is a story for another time  (N Howard)

Apropos the above! (B King)

Fred Thwaites, Ford V8 Spl (SLSA)

‘Jackson, with six laps to go was less than two laps behind Campbell. Both Dunne and Nutt were averaging more than 81 mph. Phillips had to retire when he had only four laps to go and Sinclair had oil trouble. Joshua had a long spell in the pits but when Jackson, who started off the same mark had only five laps to go he came back into the race.
Jackson, on his sixth lap averaged  83 m.p.h. Campbell had the race won with three laps to go. He was about half a lap In front of with Offindell with Ohlmeyer third, creeping up.

Tony Ohlmeyer, 3rd in his MG T Type, a little bit sideways (N Howard)

Fred Thwaites, Ford V8 Spl, 8th (B King)

After Ohlmeyer  came Leith, Boughton and Cowper. Jackson and Dunne were still the best of the back-markers, but after completing eight laps Jackson went into the Pits with plug trouble. Nutt moved up to take Jackson’s place and was lapping at a consistent 81 mph. Campbell still had half a lap in hand with a lap to go and after Uffindel (second) came Ohlmeyer.
Dunne passed Cowper to take sixth place, and Murphy, one of the favorites for race—he won the Centenary Grand Prix last year—was eighth almost a lap behind Campbell. Ohlmeyer passed Uffindell and took second place as he began his last lap. Campbell finished half a lap ahead of Dunne, who was in his last lap passed Boughton, Uffindel and Ohlmeyer. Ohlmeyer was third, Uffindel fourth, Boughton fifth and Nutt, who made up ground, sixth.’

Ellsworth Bugatti Brescia during practice (B King)

Colin Dunne, MG K3 Magnette winning the 50 mile handicap. Car #5 to the side is Tim Joshua’s Frazer Nash (N Howard)

‘Fifty-Mile Handicap
There were 16 starters in the 50-mile handicap. Cowper had completed a lap before McDonough, Thwaites and R. G. Pank left. Sinclair moved off just after Boughton had gone past the start on his second lap and just before Beasley came into the grandstand hairpin on his third lap.
Dunne, driving at terrific speed, left the course at Charleston, but was soon back in the race and did not lose much time catching up again with Nutt, who started on the same mark. Nutt and Dunne averaged about 84 mph on their flrst lap and kept close together on the second. Cowper was still in front when he had three laps to go, but the rest of the field was bunching up.

Colin Dunne, MG K3 – 2nd in the GP, first in the 50 mile race (N Howard)

Les Murphy, MG P Type (B King)

Dunne gave the crowd in the grandstand a thrill as he raced toward the hairpin bend behind Phillips. Before he reached the corner he swung across in front of Phillips and led him round the corner. Nutt had to retire with engine trouble.
With two laps to go Cowper was still in front, but he was being chased by Boughton who was just keeping Beasley out of second place, then came Murphy with Dunne, travelling faster each lap in fifth place. By the end of his fourth lap Dunne had moved up considerably.

Jim Boughton, Morgan 4/4 (N Howard)

Boughton took the lead with two laps to go and Cowper dropped back to lead Beasiey and Murphy with Dunne coming very fast about 150 yards away in fourth place. Dunne and Murphy were very close together at the Mill Corner and Dunne, swinging  wide on to the footpath in the main street of Lobethal, passed Murphy and went into fourth place.

Bob Lea-Wright, Terraplane Spl ( N Howard)

Beginning his last lap Boughton led Dunne by only 400 yards; after Dunne coming Beasley, Murphy, Cowper, Phillips and Lea-Wright. McDonough was providing plenty of thrills with his car swinging all over the road. Dunne chased Boughton towards Kayannie on their last lap and coming towards the Mill Corner went to the front. Murphy went past Beasley into third place, but Boughton managed to bold off Murphy to finish second. Phillips, who came very fast towards the end of the race was fourth.’
Etcetera: Further photos of the SA GP…

Howard Trotter Bugatti Brescia ‘this might explain why he was a scratching’ Bob wryly observes (B King)

The crew examine Norman’s handiwork ! (B King)

One of the Terraplanes, Herb Beith? (B King)

Bob Lea-Wright, Terraplane  (B King)

Arthur Beasley, MG P Type (B King)

Dunne’s MG K3 (B King)

One of the K3’s (B King)

Lea-Wright, Terraplane (B King)

The mysterious Alan Gascoigne Sinclair…
So what do we know about the MI5 spook, motor trader, sailor and racing driver Alan Gascoigne Sinclair?
The Advertiser’s pre-race bio advises us that Sinclair was a graduate of Cambridge University and a partner in a motor firm at Hammersmith, London. He was born in Croydon, London on either 22 May 1905 or 22 May 1906- with 1906 the more likely date even though 1905 is more commonly cited.He died in Cornwall in 1995.
Whilst the local Adelaide press made a big fuss of Sinclair’s presence, by any elite standards he was a racer of limited experience and calibre- Peter Whitehead, who raced throughout Australia in 1938, inclusive of winning the AGP at Bathurst was far more of a ‘top-liner’ but even he was not of the level of Dick Seaman or Prince Bira to name two young thrusters racing in the UK at the time. Nonetheless, a foreign driver in our fields in a car of the Alta’s quality was notable- not that the Alta was an ERA Voiturette let alone a GP Alfa…

AG Sinclair in 1938 (Adelaide News)

The information which follows I have sourced from ‘The Nostalgia Forum’, notably the contributions of Australian racer/historian John Medley and one or two others with avatars. In addition there is a reasonable amount ‘in period’ contained in Australian newspapers of the era in relation to AGS’ racing and other adventures. In part my intention in writing this bit of the story is to ‘flush out’ those who may know more of the mans achievements and escapades in order that we may get a more wholistic perspective of Sinclair’s interesting and unusual life!
Tony Edwards found in his research, that Sinclair suffered a broken arm in a racing accident in 1935 and whilst recovering from that sailed to North America on a 1915 vintage beam trawler named ‘Seaplane’. The craft had been converted to a yacht by its owner, British writer GFG ‘Frank’ Pollard, the boat landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in July 1935, and then left for Boston shortly thereafter.

Sinclair, Alta 1100, Lewes Speed Trials, UK 21 August 1937 (MotorSport)

Sinclair’s Alta, was originally a sportscar and later converted into a single-seater, it’s 1933/4 1100cc supercharged engine had chain driven twin-overhead camshafts- an engine which was eventually used to power the Bill Dutton Alta raced by Ted Gray. This chassis (the AGS car) was sold by Sinclair to Bill Reynolds and re-engined with a Ford V8 and then raced by Bill, Arthur Chick, John Read, others and Ted Gray, ‘acting as a test-bed for the ferocious Tornado V8 in the early 1950’s’ John Medley wrote. Ultimately the car was restored by Graeme Lowe and completed in 1999. There is much more to be said about Sinclair’s Alta, but let’s keep on point- which is not about the car!
‘The single-seater Alta was prepared in a garage behind a pub in Hammersmith Street from where Sinclair traded cars. He had a flat close by from where he placed adverts for cars for sale. He was assisted by an Australian spanner-man…’. The passenger list of his ship to Australia in late 1937 lists his address as FAP Motors Ltd, rear of Clarendon Restaurant, Twickenham- 1-5 The Broadway Twickenham.
From the material publicly available it is not clear exactly when Sinclair started racing. It seems his main season of activity was 1937- what follows is a reliable list of UK events in which he participated, mainly in the supercharged 1100cc Alta he shipped to, and remained in Australia after AGS returned to the UK.
Brooklands
Whilst it seems Sinclair was a BARC member from 1933-1938 ‘he only seems to have competed at Brooklands in 1937’, John Pulford, Head of Collections, Brooklands advised Tony Edwards. All of the events listed below were in 1937.
29/3 BARC Easter Meeting Alta , 1/5 Campbell Trophy Alta with PF Jucker- did not get to drive as the Alta 61S failed with Jucker at the wheel, 10/7 BARC Races Alta, 2/8 JCC international Trophy MG with NG Wilson, 16/10 BARC Races Alta
Crystal Palace
24/4/ Coronation Trophy DNS engine, 17/7/ London GP 6th in heat DNF final Alta, 9/10 Imperial Trophy DNF heat therefore DNQ final
Donington
24/7/ 12 Hours, Sincair/NL Wilson Frazer-Nash DNF

London GP Heat 2 Crystal Palace 17 July 1937. Front row from left RW Appleton Appleton Spl 1100, R Parnell MG 1100, Mrs Eccles Rapier 1100, AG Sinclair Alta 1100, middle row, probably AC Dobson ERA 1500, B Bira ERA 1500, R Hanson Maserati 1500, J Bolster ‘Bloody Mary’ 200 and on the back row RC Fleming Alfa Romeo 2600- all cars except Bloody Mary supercharged. Bira won from Dobson, Parnell and Hanson (Getty)

Sinclair was a friend of John Bolster and shared a number of pre-war Frazer-Nash adventures, one of which Bolster records in his book ‘Motoring Is My Business’; ‘The Frazer-Nash was seriously damaged, but we decided we could tow it home, provided that we drove very slowly. All went well until just before our destination, when one of the wheels came off and bounced merrily away in the darkness. We were crossing a bridge over a river at the time, and Alan instantly flung himself over the parapet and plunged into the water with a mighty splash. This, he afterwards explained, was to find the wheel before the ripples subsided, but the tidal wave occasioned by his arrival rather defeated this project. I eventually found the wheel in a hedge some distance away’.
The Adelaide Advertiser did a great job with its pre and post GP reporting to keep the good citizens of South Australia up to date and maximise ‘bums on seats ‘(a temporary 1000 seat grandstand was erected on the corner of the Lobe-Mount Torrens and Charleston-Mount Torrens corner) and more particularly in the paddocks around the long ‘most challenging course in Australia ever’ layout.
Sinclair’s pending arrival was reported in the 9 December issue of The Advertiser which noted that ‘an informal entry had been received from Alan Sinclair (I wonder what an informal entry is?) who was to have left last Saturday’- the ‘Orford’ sailed from London on 6 November and arrived at Port Adelaide on 11 December 1937.
The Alta was said to be an interesting design- of four cylinders, cast in pairs with an aluminium block and steel liners. With a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and a supercharger blowing at 12 pounds of boost a top speed of 130mph was expected with a weight of 10 hundredweight. An ENV ‘special gearbox’ was mentioned.
Sinclair was said to be bringing an ex-Von Delius BMW 1.5 used in the 1935 Alpine Trial and an ex-Peter Whitehead MG Magnette. Another report expected his arrival on the ‘Orford’ with the Alta 1100 he was to race, with other cars, ‘a German BMW’, the ’tiser keen to help the punters understand that cars place of origin! and Sunbeam 1.5 s/c. On the week of 14 December two special Rileys and an MG will arrive. The tax man stood to gain 600 pounds in Customs Duties from this smorgasbord of imported racers! I am intrigued to know the stock list of what actually did come ashore.

Rundle Street, Adelaide 1938 (The Advertiser)

AGS was given a welcome lunch on Sunday 14 December, I wonder if he wasn’t amazed by all the fuss- Kluge also was honoured with one.
On 19 December the stillness at Parafield (20 Km from the Adelaide GPO) was shattered by the high speed, early morning blast of the Alta on the Main North Road, Alan was sorting carburettor settings of a car said to be the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere. He was confident after a couple of passes at 110mph over a total distance of 8 miles- in which a gallon of fuel was used that he could complete the 100 mile SA GP without stopping for fuel. Sinclair was confident his car could achieve 130mph during the event ‘thereby breaking the Australian record on 120mph’.
In a day of international diplomacy at Adelaide Town Hall on 22 December 1937 ‘The value of international visits in creating good relationships between countries was emphasised by the Lord Mayor (Mr Arthur Barrett, brother of Melburnian racer ace Alf Barrett) and other speakers yesterday when Alan Sinclair, the English racing motorist, and Ewald Kluge, motor cycle champion of Germany and Europe paid an official call on the Lord Mayor’.
‘Sinclair said that a recent holiday he had spent in Germany had been one of the most pleasant in his experience. He found nothing but friendliness toward English people. The Lord Mayor referred to the large German community in South Australia and said that any differences between the British and Germans had been almost forgotten. Also in the party was Baron von Oertzen, general export manager of the Auto Union A.G. of Chemnitz. He and Kluge were accompanied by their wives. Baron von Oertzen said that in South Africa and Australia he had found nothing but friendliness and hospitality. With more international visits there would be less talk of war’ The Advertiser concluded.

Sinclair, Lobethal 1938 (N Howard)

The performance of Sinclair in the SA GP has been well covered above, after the race he was reported to have spent ten days in the summer sun at Victor Harbor and was then was said to be racing at Phillip Island an event at the DKW team were also contesting. It same account has that he was also racing at Albury (Wirlinga road course) and at Bathurst.
Immediately after the Lobethal weekend the DKW team decamped and headed for Ballarat in Victoria to contest events on a specially prepared course at Mount Weatherboard, near Lake Learmonth. Between 6,000-7,000 punters saw Kluge and Fredricks race at a well organised meeting on a very rough course with Kluge taking the 250cc event.
The Germans then headed up the Hume Highway to Canberra where they sought successfully to take the Australian 250cc speed record on 14 January on a stretch of the Federal Highway. Kluge set a time of 94.25mph for the Flying Quarter Mile just eclipsing the previous record. A plan to achieve the Flying Mile was thwarted by good old Canberra rain. Logically AGS would have been in Canberra to keep an eye on Der Deutschlanders but we don’t know that.
Late in the month the DKW crew headed back south for Westernport Bay and the ferry crossing from Stony Point to Cowes for the Phillip Island races at Cowes on 31 January.
There, again, they contested the Victorian Tourist Trophy 250cc Lightweight, and 350cc Junior classes concurrently on the dusty 6.5 mile, original Phillip Island road circuit. Kluge and Fredricks finished one/two in the Lightweight, but Kluge could only manage third on the supercharged 250 behind the Velocettes of Frank Mussett and Don Bain in the Junior.
Whether Sinclair loitered with intent at the ‘Island is unclear.
After the Cowes event two of the three DKW’s brought to Australia were shipped back to Germany leaving one here, it’s subsequent history is an interesting one itself. When ‘Team DKW’ left Australia is unreported but Von Oertzen was certainly still in Australia in March as we shall see in a moment.

Albury GP aka Interstate GP competitor during the 1938 event at the Wirlinga road course close to Albury. ‘The Flying Standard’ Spl driven by K McDonald (J Dallinger)

The 1938 ‘Interstate Grand Prix’, held to celebrate 150 years of the city of Albury was held on the Wirlinga road course in New South Wales on 19 March.
AGS was entered but did not start the 34 lap 148.5 mile journey. Whether this was due to the unreliability of his mount or simply not making the journey to the Victorian/New South Wales border town is unclear. I have sourced plenty of photographs of both the 1938 and 1939 Wirlinga ‘Grand Prix’ events but can see no evidence of the Alta’s presence. Local Wangaratta boy Jack Phillips won the ’38, and 1939 race for that matter, in his Ford V8 Spl from the Terraplane Specials of George Bonser and Les Burrows.
Von Oertzen was in Perth in March and gave a far ranging interview to ‘The West Australian’, a local daily newspaper, the article was published on 11 March 1938. It either presented the facts or extolled the virtues of the Nazi regime others would have you believe Von Oertzen abhorred, depending upon your view of things…
The Baron spoke of the roads in Australia inviting people to buy cars, his surprise at the number of people owning cars; one car to every 9 people in Australia, one in 25 in Germany. ‘The only explanation I can see (in relation to the average income of the people) is that the (Australian) people prefer owning a car to buying their own house’.
‘Discussing the progress of the automobile industry in Germany, Von Oertzen said ‘…that under the Hitler regime there had been a great stimulus. Before the war there had been 1,000,000 unemployed…in the post war period this figure rose to 6,500,000 in 1932, but the Nazi regime had reduced this figure to 400,000. This meant greater general prosperity which was reflected in the motor trade. The smashing of trade barriers by Herr Hitler stimulated industry generally but particularly the motor trade…which also benefited from…no registration fees…nor a charge for a drivers licence…Hitler had caused insurance premiums to be reduced. In 1932, the year before the Hitler regime, the entire German motor car industry produced 42,000 passenger cars and trucks. Five years later, production was 450,000 cars and trucks, and 60,000 cars exported’ Von Oertzen said. The piece concluded that the Baron was to spend a few more weeks in all states and then proceed on his world tour via New Zealand, North and South America and return to his home in South Africa.
Sinclair entered the Victorian Sporting Car Club’s ‘Grand Prix’ meeting at Phillip Island on 28 March in the BMW ‘which has 117,000 miles to its credit but decided to give the old-timer a rest’. Whether he actually practiced the car I am intrigued to know- he was trying to flog the cars to unsuspecting colonials so one would assume a demonstration of his wares made sense? Inter-capital record breaker Arthur Beasley won the 116 mile Grand Prix in a Singer, it was a handicap event as was usually the case in Australia.
In April 1938 Sinclair took the little Alta to Mount Panorama for the circuits first meeting, the Australian Grand Prix, which was won convincingly by Peter Whitehead in ERA R10B aided by an overly generous handicap.
The Alta’s run of unreliability continued when Sinclair was unable to start the race ‘…but that may have had something to do with Sinclair spending the night in the cells on sundry drunk and disorderly charges. His behaviour in Australia seems at odds with the stories of Sinclair the British secret service agent sent to Australia to observe the DKW team…’ John Medley wrote in ‘The 50 Year History of The Australian Grand Prix’.

Sinclair, Alta 1100, Rob Roy November 1938 (L Sims)

Sinclair contested the June 1938 Rob Roy meeting in outer Melbourne’s Christmas Hills in the Alta (where Whitehead set the course record in ERA R10B) and was reported in ‘The Car’ as heading for the bar after setting the under 1100cc blown class in a time of 39.35 seconds. The account noted his bad luck on his tour so far and ‘those present were pleased to see him have a success, although the car is not as fast as he hoped it would be’.
Continuing his magical mystery tour of Australia, ‘The Autocar’ advised its readers in late September 1938 that AGS ‘has appeared again, in Darwin, it seems, attired in blue shorts, a 20 gallon sombrero and a .45 Colt’- no need for German intelligence to keep an eye on our Bond, they could read of his whereabouts in the British motoring press! It seems he ran at Rob Roy that November, these photographs of Sinclair and the Alta are of that meeting.

Sinclair heading up Skyline at Rob Roy in November 1938, Alta 1100 (L Sims)

By January 1939 Sinclair was back in Lobethal and hoping to make amends for the disappointing reliability of the Alta by entering another of the cars he imported, a Sunbeam Special in the ’39 Australian Grand Prix.

By that stage the Australian grids looked a good deal more impressive with several cars imported by John Snow contesting the race- his own Delahaye 135CS, an Alfa Romeo P3 for Jack Saywell, Alfa 8C2300 Le Mans for John Crouch, noting the Colin Dunne entered MG K3- ex-Bira had been imported earlier by Snow- scion of the Sydney retailing empire of the same name. Lets not forget Alf Barrett’s not so long in Oz Alfa Monza too, Barrett was very much ‘the man’ with this car in that immediate pre and post-war era.

Research by Bob King in the eighties determined that AGS’ ‘Sunbeam’ was in fact a special built by Cambridge undergraduate David Pearce in 1936/7. It comprised a Bugatti T44 chassis which was shortened, to which a 1.5 litre, four cylinder, 100bhp, Sunbeam DOHC, Roots supercharged engine designed and built for speedboat record-breaking (successfully) was fitted. The body was made by Pearce with a pointed tail incorporated from an old Alta. Without getting lost in the tangent, after the Sunbeam engine failed, ‘when a gudgeon pin let go’ a Dodge six was fitted, the  the car contested the 1950 AGP at Nuriootpa, Barossa Valley and many other races so engined- and was ultimately restored with a Bugatti T49 motor in the late eighties.

True to form, Sinclair’s Bugatti Sunbeam failed to take the AGP start with sheared blower drive minutes before the race start.  He ‘presented a tragic spectacle when, a few minutes before the starting time of the first race he sat helplessly in his Sunbeam Special in the Lobethal main street. He looked in vain from under his big 10-gallon hat for someone to push him off and start his motor. Pushers who volunteered were quickly exhausted, however and Sinclair did not start’ one local report observed of the poor Brit.

Sinclair was cross entered in a Riley Brooklands he had imported, sharing the car with Clifford Downing, this car also retired having completed only 5 of the 17 laps. Perth youngster Allan Tomlinson took a staggering win in an MG TA Spl s/c- a great story for another time.

The Bugatti T44 Sunbeam at an SCCSA meeting at Buckland Park, a property noth of Adelaide in February 1940. Entered by Tony Ohlmeyer, he was fastest from scratch and 8th in the 16 lap handicap. Photo included to show the ‘Sunbeam’ in the form built by David Pearce and then acquired by AGS just prior to his trip to Oz (Brooks/Harris)

In July 1939 the intrigue continued with Sinclair’s involvement in an attempt to ‘set up a Socialist State in an ideal tropical setting’ in the South Seas.
The ‘Connella’ was bound for the Marquesas, French owned islands in the South Pacific 5,000 miles from Sydney where ‘her crew of four will be the foundation members of a new utopia’ The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported on 9 July 1939.  The ships master, Fred Briggs and his wife, Jack Milne and, you guessed it- Alan Sinclair are members of ‘The International Settlement Organisation’, formed in 1938, which hopes to create a Socialist State in an idea tropical setting. The only thing missing from this Cold War era Bond-esque scene is the tall, shapely blonde minx.
‘They are confident that some day their settlement will be founded’. The voyage didn’t start well, on departure from Hobart ‘her sails were ripped apart by a gale that sometimes rose to more than 50 miles an hour’, the 6.5 ton 54 foot ketch reached Sydney after 12 stormy days coming up Australia’s east coast. The report noted that Sinclair ‘the English racing motorist…spent last winter shooting crocodiles in the Northern Territory’.
Perhaps the true nature of the trip is made clearer in that Briggs ‘is formerly an Australian Airforce survey photographer’, ‘who gave up his post to try to found a new Utopia’. It is intriguing to speculate on the real purpose of the trip- perhaps surveying certain parts of the South Pacific with war by then so imminent?
In February 1940 The Motor reported that ‘Alan Sinclair, who used to drive a single-seater Alta 1100cc and went to Australia about a year ago…came back to join the London Scottish (regiment); he was married in his spare time. Before that he did some racing in Australia and then, so I heard, set sail for the South Seas to find a Utopia on some choice islet. Before that he helped to get a sailing boat across the Atlantic to the States and back which was by way of being an epic…’
In terms of Sinclair’s war service John Medley recalls a conversation with a pre-war Australian competitor ‘who had in fact shared an overnight cell with Sinclair for boyish over-exuberance in South Australia- he knew Sinclair pre-war and walked into a wartime office in England to salute his new commanding officer who was none other than AG Sinclair, now very serious, very formal and correct’.
What more can we add to this picture of a man who seems to have had a very interesting life?!

One of the Lobethal Aces if not The Ace, Alf Barrett, Alfa Monza during the January 1939 AGP weekend (N Howard)

The Challenges and Perils of Lobethal…
Thrice winner of the Australian Grand Prix Doug Whiteford, a man whose career stretched from the pre-war era until the mid-seventies and all of our challenging circuits, rated the rolling hills of Lobethal as the most challenging of them all.
The map below is more detailed than the one early in this piece and will help guide you round the place, its a locals account adapted from narrative on the lagler.com website.

Colin Dunne and MG K3 pop over the top of one of the many Lobethal rises (B King)

From the old start-finish line and grandstand area north of Charleston (top right) you could be forgiven for thinking its nothing special. No really challenging corners just sweeping curves- but put it into context, the cars had spindly wire wheels and tyres, cart springs, beam axles and near useless brakes. These curves are all blind- there are crests preceding all of them, particularly the bridges, which funnel into chutes. Think of these machines dropping onto their suspension in mid-air whilst turning at 100mph.
Through the little town of Charleston, with its pub in Onkaparinga Road (still there) the crowds were thick, with stories abounding of drivers stopping mid-session for a ‘nerve settler’ or two! Out of here are frightening high speed kinks, all blind, all crests and dips. Then a blind right hand kink sucks you into Kayannie Corner, the tight right-hander which takes the intrepid racers towards Lobethal. Plenty of folks spectated in this area as they popped off the train from Adelaide.
The climb up the hill from Kayannie is significant, its straight-ish for the first 2 kays, but at the top ‘the track steals straight from the soul of the Nürburgring. Lined by trees, the blind crest plummets away left, bottoms out right, drops away again into a roller-coaster left’. Then it flattens, raises slightly, then has another drop into the braking area for the hard left-hand Mill Corner into Lobethal’s main street- which isn’t straight. Past the Pub on the right, there is now a little ribbon of Indy style paving across the road and a plaque to commemorate the Lobe racing era.
Heading up the hill the road funnels between shops and houses and then there is the blind, off-camber Gumeracha Corner which claimed lives. The stretch from here to the start-finish hairpin has to be experienced- 5 Km of crests, blind curves, feature changes and undulations. Here is where the truly great drivers such as Allan Tomlinson, Colin Dunne and Alf Barrett made up time on sheer balls, bravery and commitment…
One can still drive these roads my friends, make sure that you do, carefully.

Lobethal Lads: probably 1939, Terraplane Spl’s (unattributed)

Bibliography…

The Adelaide Advertiser various editions, Old Bike Australia article ‘A Tale of Intrigue’ Jim Scaysbrook, Nathan Tasca

On Alan Sinclair- ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ especially John Medley, Vitesse 2, eolith, fivestar

‘The 50 Year History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard and others, ‘Bugattis in Australasia’ Bob King, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ John Medley

Looking back towards the start-finish line (B King)

Photo Credits…

Bob King Collection, Leon Sims Collection, Gronwy Morris Collection, State Library of South Australia, The West Australian, Getty Images, MotorsSport, Adelaide News, The Velobanjogent, Tony Parkinson/Ray Trevena Collection, John Dallinger

Tailpiece: #7 Jack Phillips Ford V8 Spl, #20 Les Murphy MG P Type, the #2 Jack Day Spl driven by Reg Nutt and finally #23 the Brescia Bugatti raced by Jack Day…

(L Sims)

Finito…

 

Comments
  1. Martin says:

    Thanks Mark,
    Another of your researched in depth articles.
    How awesome was Lobethal, they don’t make em like that anymore!
    The following link is about a proposed computer sim of Lobethal
    https://forum.studio-397.com/index.php?threads/lobethal-australia-1937-39-possible-wip-expressions-of-interest.44808/
    It has links to an article by Ray Bell, and various youtube clips. May be of interest?
    Cheers,
    Martin

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Martin,
      I got carried away with the writing and Bob’s photos finished it off- reminds me I have a couple of captions to fix! Amazing place, hope to return early in the new year, even in a modern roadie you get a sense of the challenge.
      Mark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s