City to City Record Breaking and Car Trials…

Posted: December 21, 2018 in Features
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(SLSA Searcy Collection)

A couple of intrepid adventurers, Harold Bowman and Murray Aunger about to set off from Adelaide to Mount Gambier, Prince Henry Vauxhall, Saturday 6 April 1912…

Some shots just blow my tiny mind and this is one of them.

The gelatin or glass plate photograph was taken in King William Street, Adelaide, the cities main drag. The GPO, still there, is in the background.

Just look at the sharpness of the shot and the subtlety of greys and darks, the formaility of all of the blokes- they are ALL fellas as far as i can see. What awaits the drivers is a journey of around 1149 miles on unmade dirt roads including clearing the dreaded 95 miles of the Coorong Desert, as it was called then, not too far from Adelaide.

The South Australian duo are part of an amazing event organised to test the time in which a military despatch could be carried by road from the Adelaide Military Commandant to his Sydney based equivalent.

‘From that aspect it became an event of some public importance, but its utility went further, for it provided an instructive comparative test of the three modes of conveyance which were employed’ the Adelaide Advertiser reported.

Contestants were split into three division, there were 30 cyclists, 52 motor cyclists and 12 ‘carists’. The Dunlop promoted and supported event was a relay contest, and in the best traditions of Australian motor-sport for the next four decades or so was also a handicap event.

The Dunlop Company handicappers had the cars concede 6 hours to the motor cycles and 30 hours to the cyclists. When the handicaps were announced there was considerable comment in sporting (betting no doubt) circles that the cyclists had no chance of reaching Sydney first and that they would soon be overhauled by the motorised opposition.

Adelaide Advertiser 11 April 1912

The first two cyclists left Adelaide at 5 am on Friday 5 April with their sealed despatch from Colonel H Mesurier to be delivered to Brigadier General Gordon 1149 miles away in Sydney.

‘Notwithstanding the early hour and already rain, there was an enthusiastic crowd to see the commencement of the most interesting despatch test ever attempted in any country, and amid ringing cheers, the wheelmen set off with all the importance of being on “The King’s business”.

The cycle class was divided into 65 sections varying in length from 10 miles to 28 miles, with two motor cyclists starting at 3 am on Saturday morning, they had 25 sections varying in length from 27 to 72 miles.

‘The motor car, the “King of The Road” by virtue of its superior speed, will have four relays only, each running into hundreds of miles, and if the car drivers hope to be in it at the finish they must average a speed of nearly 30 miles an hour…’, the wheelmen will probably average 16-18 mph and the motor cyclists 23 mph The Melbourne Argus reported.

The motor cyclists were thought to be able to do the course in 46 hours with the cars needing to do the event in 40 hours ‘to come up level with the cycling divisions’. The car records at the time from Adelaide to Melbourne and Melbourne to Sydney were 20 hours 6 minutes and 19 hours 47 minutes respectively, a total of 39 hours 53 minutes so the automobilists had no easy task.

The route traversed good and bad roads, hilly to mountainous tracks, plains and sandy desert sections and ‘therefore it will be an interesting trial and from which military authorities may gather useful data respecting the three classes of transit and the most effective means for rapid mobilisation’.

Bowman and Aunger made a cracker of a start for the ‘car team’, setting off from King William Street at 9 am on the Saturday morning, they ‘startled the motoring world, and the event organisers by driving from Adelaide across the Coorong Desert to Kingston (185 miles) in 5 hours 15 minutes.

Such a feat appears incredible to those who know who now the route from Meningie to Kingston, but the fact remains that Messrs Bowman and Aunger averaged 35 miles an hour in the rain along this section of the relay. Leaving Kingston the limestone road got so slippery that fast pace was unsafe, and, in fact impossible, so, by the time Mount Gambier (303 miles from Adelaide) was reached the Vauxhall was 32 minutes behind the time schedule.

A Wiseman and T Bell then took up the running in a Maxwell and had a shocker of a time driving in pouring rain- they managed to lose their way near Glenburnie, devouring an additional hour in the process. Further hazards of the day were three punctures between Ballarat and Melbourne, a distance of about 70 miles. They finally arrived in Melbourne, still raining, at just before 11 am on the Sunday morning and ‘sorry spectacles they were’!

S Day and P Allen in a Vinot and M Smith and R Lane, FN then stepped up to the plate ‘having an unpleasant 200 mile drive against a head wind and heavy rain’, Albury being reached at 7.18 pm Sunday.

Sandford and Scott then took care of the dispatch from Albury north to Sydney but missed the road at Germanton (re-named Holbrook during the War) and went many miles out of their way. The car dispatch finally reached Sydney at 10.14 am on the Monday morning.

The event was not without incident of course, G Fitzgerald who rode the Kingston to Furner leg on a motor cycle fell heavily on the greasy road and fractured his leg.

 

Syd Barber, Bert Backler, Bob Smith and Charles Smith in Kingston, South Australia during the 1912 relay event (SLSA)

Despite bad weather conditions with slush and howling head winds the cyclists covered the 1149 miles in 69 hours 32 minutes averaging 16.5 mph and delivered their despatch to Sydney 6 hours 18 minutes ahead of the motor cyclists and 7 hours 12 minutes before the car despatch was handed over.

The cyclists performance was remarkable in that they’clung tenaciously to schedule hour after hour and were rarely more than 30 minutes either inside or outside of the timetable, while at Sydney they were just 4 minutes within the figures set for them’.

The motor cyclists took 51 hours 50 minutes averaging 22.5 mph whilst the cars recorded 47 hours 46 minutes an average speed of 24 mph.

A Cairns Post review of the event in 1930 mused about how quickly the times would have improved with the improved inetrstate highways of that time- the 2018 times would be interesting too!

‘No doubt the military authorities will be impressed with the reliability and effiiency of the cycles and motor cycles…One lesson to be drawn from the contest is the proved value of the three types of vehicles for military purposes…Given fair roads in this sprasely populated country, the value of the cycle and the motor vehicle in rapidly mobilising units is inestimable.

The motorists and wheelmen demonstrated that high speed can be maintained on very indifferent roads, and even if the pace did not exceed one third of the average in the respective classes, it would be fast enough to serve all purposes for home defence. The Imperial military authorities are making free use of both cycles and motors in the latest defence scheme, and paying the greatest attention to the roads- a most important factor in military operations.’ The Adelaide Advertiser said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nascent motor industry realised one means of proving the worthiness of cars was to demonstrate their reliability of by long distance events.

City to city transcontinental success soon evolved into city to city record breaking- the achievements of the cars and drivers was picked up by the print media of the day and the successes of the cars and their suppliers of fuel, lubricants etc were also promoted.

Before too long drivers such as Norman ‘Wizard’ Smith, Boyd Edkins and AV Turner were household names and drew crowds when they were departing and completing one of their adventures.

In parallel, car organisations/clubs were formed to provide the means for like minded motorists to share information and to tour together- there was safety in numbers if for no other reason than to have a mechanic at hand to keep your conveyance moving in the event if it faltered.

Inevitably the more competitive of motorists wanted to test their steeds in competition so Car Reliability Trials evolved from runs to more competitive events. These comprised trips from the city to the country of a navigational nature with speed events within them which typically comprised timed flying quarter/half mile/mile, acceleration tests, hillclimb(s), and what later became gymkhana type events. Normal roads were used which were closed off to other traffic- which was very limited in volume as the Trials were typically well out of town and the PC Plod’s glare. The more public of these events would have complied with the laws of the day in terms of requisite permits but perhaps not so much the smaller ones…

So, it seemed smart to do an article showing some of the cars used in these very early forms of competition in Australia- there was no permanent ‘circuit’ or ‘speedway’ in Australia in 1911. The City to City Record Breaking Era ended in 1930 when such open road ‘events’ were made illegal.

 

(JOL)

Napier Tourer: Brisbane to Toowoomba, Queensland 1912…

Walter Trevethan drove this 1911 or 1912 6-cylinder Napier from Brisbane to Toowoomba, 127 Km in 3 hours 7 minutes, one puncture and missing the railway gates at Redbank cost him a total of 16 minutes. Walter carried three passengers ‘The record has never been lowered although attempts have been made’, the photo caption says.

 

(S Hood)

Armstrong Whitworth: Sydney 1913…

AP Wright of Angus & Son and passenger, probably John Leys ‘in a stripped down Armstrong Whitworth record-breaking chassis in front of the Art Gallery’.

 

(SLSA Searcy Collection)

Vauxhall ‘Prince Henry’: Adelaide to Melbourne 1913…

Two unknown men in a Vauxhall ‘possibly prepared for an Adelaide to Melbourne record run in 1913. The journey is 735 Km.

 

(JOL)

Motor Sports Carnival: Brisbane, Queensland, 10 October 1914…

We do have State based differences in Australia, perhaps this is one of them, a variation on the trials theme perhaps? I wonder what marque of car she has jumped from?

‘A female athlete competing in the motor sports carnival in Brisbane, Queensland 1914’, most intriguing, i can’t find anything more about this event but am keen to know if any of you are descendants of this pioneering, rather attractive young lady. The caption tells us all we don’t need; ‘A woman athlete wearing a knee length dress and bonnet competing in the motor sports carnival at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. She appears to be a runner’. No shit Sherlock.

 

 

Essex: Hobart to Launceston and Return, ‘Wizard Smith’ 1923…

Norman ‘Wizard Smith’ acquired his nickname as a result of his speed in all manner of cars but received his label after multiple wins in the Victorian Alpine Trial.

The return trip of 400 Km took 4 hours 19 minutes. Smith left Hobart at 4am, he was at the Launceston GPO at 6.08, and after a minute was heading south again, ‘he arrived at Hobart Post Office at 6.19am, just 4 hours and 19 minutes after he left but in the meantime travelling 244 miles’…’The really remarkable thing about the whole business is that ‘Wizard’ Smith lowered the previous record by 1 hour 18 minutes…Mr Smith stated that his average speed was 56 mph, his maximum speed 101 mph…Our speed visitor holds the record from Brisbane to Sydney…Adelaide to Melbourne…These achievements have all been made on an Essex car’ The Adelaide Register reported.

Its interesting to look at the Essex and its stripped down nature, deviod of running board and mudguards, but fitted with additional wheels and tyres to prepare for punctures which were far more prevalent then than now.

 

(JOL)

Austin Tourer: Reliability Trial, Maleny Queensland 1924…

Austin Tourer, a 4-cylinder car built between 1921 and 1924 during an RACQ reliability trial. Maleny is in the beautiful countryside inland of the Sunshine Coast about 100 Km north of Brisbane. No doubt quite a testing dive in the twenties.

 

(JOL)

 

Overland ‘Whitey’: Fred Eager in Don Harkness’ famous Overland in 1924…

‘Whitey’ was a stripped down 1914 Overland devoid of mudguards and headlights which broke the interstate, 915 Km speed record from Sydney to Brisbane on public roads. Fred Eagers’ company was the Queensland distributor for Willys-Overland’.

The photo caption goes on to state ‘Interstate speed record breaking was very popular after World War 1 into the 1920’s. Record breaking runs wre usually made with a single, specially prepared car with a driver and mechanic. Official timing was established by motoring clubs in the starting and finishing cities, and a great deal of publicity could flow to drivers, sponsors and manufacturers from the speed record attempts. Increasing speeds on the poor roads of the day led to crashes and serious injuries, so by the mid twenties the police were clamping down on these runs, which were eventually banned in 1930’.

 

(S Hood)

Chrysler: Melbourne to Sydney, ‘Wizard Smith’ 1927/8…

Scrutineers check all is good before Smith heads out of Martin Place and then south for the 875 Km journey.

Wizard is alongside what is now the wonderful GPO-Westin Hotel complex, my favourite Sydney CBD place to stay. The old building behind the car is still there in all of its magnificent, restored glory.

 

(Fairfax)

Citroen: Sydney to Bourke, 5 May 1932…

Arthur Barnes about to embark on his 760 Km trip to Bourke in the Darling River country of New South Wales, well supported by Texaco and Rapson Tyres. The photo caption records the attempt as an unsuccessful one.

Credits…

State Library of South Australia Searcy Collection, State Library of New South Wales- Sam Hood, ‘JOL’- John Oxley Library within the State Library of Queensland, Fairfax, The Adelaide Advertiser, Melbourne Argus and Cairns Post April 1912 and other newspapers via Trove

Finito…

 

 

 

 

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