(J Comber)

Ern Seeliger jumps aboard the magnificent Maybach 4 Chev at Fishermans Bend in March 1958…

One of the Covid 19 phenomena, the only good one I might add, is the incredible number of enthusiasts who have been using time released from normal outdoor activities to doing stuff inside including finding and sorting old racing images, Melbourne enthusiast, John Comber is one such fella.

In addition to the shots he also wrote a piece about his work experience as a fifteen year old in Seeliger’s workshop at 52 Baker Street, Richmond, Melbourne way back in 1958- Seeliger didn’t frighten him off either, he commenced his career as a panel beater shortly thereafter.

Of course i have written about the Maybachs before, here; https://primotipo.com/2014/12/26/stan-jones-australian-and-new-zealand-grand-prix-and-gold-star-winner/ and here; https://primotipo.com/2018/03/01/1954-australian-grand-prix-southport-qld/

A big blow up of the one remaining Maybach six cylinder engine at Gnoo Blas littered the bitumen with expensive metallic debris in early 1956 and resulted in Stan Jones decision to acquire a Maserati 250F, the Maybach was handed over to Seeliger, long time friend and preparer of some of his cars to further develop and race, although Stan did have the occasional drive too.

Maybach 3 was styled along the lines of the Mercedes Benz W196, its chassis was built up from two 4 inch diameter steel tubes, the cars front suspension was by upper wishbones and a lower transverse leaf spring and radius rods, drum brakes were by PBR and the gearbox a four-speed manual.

Seeliger’s evolution of Maybach 3 to 4 essentially involved the insertion of a Chev Corvette 283 cid V8 into the space once occupied by the German 3.8 litre SOHC injected six, changes to accomodate it and better put its power to the road.

Maybach 3 in the Gnoo Blas, Orange paddock on the fateful early 1956 when its beautiful, fuel injected SOHC six lunched itself bigtime for the last time-who is at the wheel? (B Caldersmith)

John Comber’s time in the Seeliger shop coincided with some of these modifications, lets look at his work experience now.

‘…My second job was also with a neighbour, Mr Seeliger, who had a small automotive engineering business in Richmond…The arrangements were for me and my friend Trevor to be at the Seeliger’s house at 7.30 am Monday morning, do a days work and see how we liked it.’

‘On the Monday, with a  packed lunch and wearing our best “old clothes” we arrived at 7.30 just as Mr Seeliger was starting the engine of his utility. “Jump in boys” he said and we took off straight away, heading for Richmond (from Blackburn).’

‘I still remember quite clearly his opening comments, “Well i have the right job for you two bastards today, you can clean some car parts with kero, “That’ll keep you busy”.

‘The thought of cleaning the car parts with kerosene didn’t faze me but the language had caused me something of a jolt. To me this was school-yard  language and i wasn’t used to adults swearing, certainly not from my parents or relatives, or family friends.’

‘Well the rest of the day turned out fine, Trevor and i set-to with a can of kerosene cleaning mechanical parts and some body parts as well. This was quite an easy job and allowed us to look around and take in the surroundings. Mr Seeliger’s workshop  was converted from some old run-down stables with cobblestones between the sheds and an overhead loft used for storage. The yard was quite large with grass growing between some old cars and car trailers adding to the overall run-down appearance of the place.’

‘This must have been too much for Trevor as he didn’t come any more but i was there each day for the next fortnight, working amongst the cars was perfect for me…’

The core of Mr Seeliger’s business was tuning and maintaining racing cars, he was a qualified aircraft engineer and understood high performance engines and was also a racing driver himself. One of the racing cars he worked on had a V8 engine and was a potential race-winner. I learned later that this car was known as the “Maybach” and had a long history of success. He had spent several days working on the rear of the car making some modifications. Finally with it all finished i can still visualise him standing on the back of the car, making it bounce up and down and saying “That’ll keep me ahead of those bloody Ferraris.”

‘There were only three on staff, Mr Seeliger, a mechanic and Roy, the apprentice. Although Roy was only a year or two older than me he was quite friendly and helpful. To quote an old mechanic’s saying “he knew his way around a toolbox”, sometimes i helped with jobs on customer cars- simple jobs…’

‘Working conditions can best be described as matching the already mentioned surroundings: primitive might sum it up. There was no lunch-room, morning tea break was around the car being worked on and discussing the progress of the job while sipping tea or coffee. Lunch break was a little better though with a couple of old car seats to sit on…There was no heating of any sort, the area between the main sheds being open to the elements. The toilet was basic and the only tap available for hand washing was also used for filling radiators and washing cars etc.’

‘Despite these poor working conditions, which by twenty-first century standards would be deemed illegal, i thoroughly enjoyed myself working with cars and receiving five pounds each week. Now i was even more eager to finish school and begin an apprenticeship as a panel beater’, John Comber concluded in a wonderful personal account of what it was like ‘in the day’.

Tom Hawkes’ Cooper T23 Holden-Repco and Ron Phillips’ Cooper T38 Jaguar (J Comber)

 

Seeliger, above, with his mount at Bathurst during the 1958 Australian Grand Prix weekend- and a successful meeting too, second behind Lex Davison’s Ferrari 500/625 3 litre.

 

(J Comber)

In fact the modifications to the car John alluded to included the design and construction of a de Dion rear axle to better put the greater power and torque of the bigger, heavier cast-iron V8 to the road. The previous quarter-elliptic springs were replaced with a transverse leaf, the rear track widened by an inch, the chassis lengthened a bit and at the front an anti-roll bar was fitted which incorporated brake torque rods. A larger 30 gallon tank was made to feed the thirsty Chevy.

American hot-up parts were quickly produced for this engine (in large numbers continuously for about seventy years so far!) the first of the ‘small-blocks’- the modifications to the motor used in Maybach involved fitment of two 4-barrel Carter carbs, porting and polishing the heads, bigger valves, stronger springs, lightened flywheel, oilways modified for greater flow and dry-sumping- 274bhp @ 3500rpm and 300lb/ft at 3500rpm was the result. Seeliger designed and made the clutch and a bell-housing to adapt the American engine to German Maybach ‘box whilst the diff was the same unit used in ‘3’ but with shorter axles and stronger cv’s bolted and mated to the new de Dion.

Ern made the cars debut in this form at Fishermans Bend in March 1958, John Comber’s first shot at this articles outset and some others below were taken on that very weekend.

His bid for victory came to an end with stripped tyres, John recalls ‘We watched the races from a large furniture van…after a few laps of the main race the rear tyres showed white strips around their perimeter and those on the van became quite worried the tyres might blow- fortunately Seeliger saw the problem and retired from the race….Back in the van there were many commiserations and i distinctly remember asking him “Would he be suing Dunlop because the tyres let him down”? He laughingly said “Oh no, they were just some old tyres anyway”- and indeed if you look closely at the first photograph the rears are well worn.

Importantly, the car was quick right out of the box though, Seeliger was a mighty fine design and development engineer.

Stan Jones was stiff not to win the 1958 AGP at Bathurst aboard his 250F- as was Ted Gray unlucky to dip out in Tornado 2 Chev, but Seeliger finished second in Maybach 4 with Lex Davison, always a lucky AGP competitor, the winner.

Be in no doubt my friends Maybach 4 Chev in Jone’s hands was a front row car had he felt so inclined in 1958 but he was busy winning the Gold Star aboard the 250F in any event. John believes he took the second #69 shot about two years later at a Fishermans Bend Sprint Meeting- it would be great to hear from anyone who can date it.

Into 1959 Maybach 4 was still competitive in Ern’s hands, and Stan took a win in the ‘South Australian Trophy’ Gold Star event at Port Wakefield in late March and third place in the Lowood Trophy race in Queensland but his performances that year were not enough to win him the Gold Star again despite his Longford 250F AGP win at the season’s outset.

The reign of the ‘Red Cars’ was quickly coming to an end In Australia but lets never forget the dark blue Tornado 2 shown in the Albert Park paddock below in late 1958, and the silver/blue Maybach 4- both Chev V8 powered locally designed and engineered devices very much as quick as the more sophisticated, twin-cam, exotic, expensive factory cars from Italy’s north.

Click here for a feature on the Tornados; https://primotipo.com/2015/11/27/the-longford-trophy-1958-the-tornados-ted-gray/

Tornado with the Derek Jolly Lotus 15 Climax in profile behind, Albert Park 1958 (J Comber)

 

(J Comber)

In fact that is a beautiful segue to Comber’s second 1958 Albert Park, Melbourne Grand Prix shot above of Stirling Moss’ Rob Walker entered Cooper T45 Climax being pushed through the paddock by Tim Wall.

Just look at the relative size and packaging of Tornado 2 Chev, together with Maybach 4, Stan Jones Maserati 250F and Lex Davison’s Ferrari 500/625 the fastest cars in Australia in 1958 and the tiny, light, nimble 2 litre Cooper.

At the season’s outset, before the Fishermans Bend meeting in March when Seeliger debuted Maybach 4, Stirling Moss won the first World Championship Formula 1 race taken by a mid-engined car by receiving the chequered flag in the Argentinian Grand Prix in a Walker T45- i am not sure if he used the same chassis to defeat Jack Brabham in another T45 that Melbourne summer afternoon- sadly the last use of Albert Park as a race venue until the modern era.

That day in Argentina reset the paradigm for Grand Prix and Sports-Racer design, the last World Championships for front engined cars were won in 1958- Vanwall took the constructors title and Mike Hawthorn the drivers award in a Ferrari Dino 246.

It was the same, in a fashion in Australia, the last front-engined Gold Star win was Jones 1958 award aboard his Maserati 250F, the first mid-engined one went to Len Lukey who raced the same Cooper T45 Brabham ran at Albert Park in late 1958 to Gold Star victory in 1959.

No wonder Comber’s camera was drawn to the little Cooper at Albert Park.

See here for Moss at ‘The Park’; https://primotipo.com/2016/12/27/moss-at-albert-park/

 

(J Comber)

Derek Jolly’s Lotus 15 Climax has been well covered, here the car is at rest with Norman Hamilton’s Porsche 550 Spyder alongside- Ern Tadgell raced the car that weekend.

Before the end of a weekend the Lotus’ good health was ruined comprehensively- a rear suspension failure pitched the car into the trees late in the Melbourne GP race and resulted in some acrimonious discussions between Colin Chapman and Jolly about the quality of its build- a Le Mans drive and new chassis was the net result- see here for a feature article on the Derek’s Deccas and Lotuses; https://primotipo.com/2017/11/09/dereks-deccas-and-lotus-15s/

 

(J Comber)

David McKay’s Jaguar Mk1 is another car which has been well covered in these pages, here at Albert Park it has not been in the country long at all. See here; https://primotipo.com/2014/08/05/gnoo-who-gnoo-blas-circuit-jaguar-xkc-type-xkc037/

The Sydneysider had a great carnival winning the Touring Car Scratch Race on both weekends with the eternal Bob Holden, and Clem Smith Holdens second and third on both occasions- Holden raced an FE and Smith a ‘Humpy’.

(J Comber)

Doug Whiteford was as close to a professional driver Australia had at the time, albeit his St Kilda and Hawthorn garages and dealerships were an inextricable part of his business mix- above is his Dodge Custom Royal and Rice Trailer contained within is his famous, long raced and much lusted over Maserati 300S- Fisherman’s Bend February or March 1958.

This piece is about the Maserati 300S; https://primotipo.com/2015/05/15/bob-jane-maserati-300s-albert-park-1958/

(J Comber)

Len Lukey made his name in Ford Customlines before adding single seaters to the mix and winning a Gold Star aboard a Cooper T45 Climax in 1959.

He famously towed his Cooper Bristol to a Caversham Gold Star round with a Customline and then contested the Touring Car races with said tow-car, note the tow-bar in this ‘Fishos shot.

All about Len here; https://primotipo.com/2019/12/26/len-lukey-australian-gold-star-champion/ and here; https://primotipo.com/2018/02/20/teds-tornado-and-lens-cooper/

(J Comber)

Another two Fishermans Bend tourer contestants are this #69 Hillman raced by Harry Firth and Esquire Motors entered Wolseley driven by 1936 Australian Grand Prix winner, Les Murphy, towards the end of a very long racing career- 22/23 February 1958 weekend. The shot below is Bob Holden’s FE Holden.

(J Comber)

Otto Stone and crewman push the great engineer, and very handy steerers MG K3 through the paddock- I think it is fair to say that Stan Jones Maserati 250F fortunes changed for the better when Otto took over the preparation of chassis ‘2520’.

(J Comber)

Other Photographs…

(J Comber)

Two of the cars featured above in period in more recent times- the late eighties during an Eastern Beach, Ritchie Boulevard, Geelong Sprint meeting.

These days Maybach 4 I think is owned by Peter Briggs’ York Motor Museum in West Australia and Tornado 2 Chev by Frank Moore in Queensland- both are such significant cars it would be great to see them out and about more often.

(J Comber)

 

(J Comber)

A series of three photographs at Sandown to finish off- the first is again Tornado 2 Chev, this time during the 1978 ‘Fangio Meeting’ with, if memory serves, one of its ‘in period’ drivers John McDonald at the wheel, perhaps someone with a  program to hand can check that.

John has framed his shot brilliantly by avoiding modern advertising hoardings, this is the run along Pit Straight, close to Peters/Torana Corner.

Stan Jones is one of my all-time faves so i’ve saved the best till last!

And what a cracker of a shot it is, a beautiful pan of Jones’ Maserati 250F on the run away from Dandy Road towards The Causeway with the tree and blurred background giving the place a feel of a time five or so years before it actually opened.

(J Comber)

John believes this is probably the ‘St Vincents’ Historic Meeting’ in November 1963. By this stage Stan’s financial fortunes are not what they were, the Maser is for sale so my guess is that this is probably his last drive of a car which was perhaps kinder to him than any other- Maybach 1 made his reputation but the Maserati ‘brought home the bacon’.

It would have been with a heavy heart he backed off the throttle alongside the grandstand to lose speed and pulled into pit lane and the dusty paddock to switch off the peachy, punchy straight-six for one last time.

The crop of the same shot below reveals Stan’s usual race attire inclusive of five year old helmet and T-Shirt- just magic, I can hear the bellowing six and snickety-snick changes executed with expert familiarity…

(J Comber)

Photos/References…

John Comber’s words and pictures, as he quipped ‘Not bad for a 15 year old equipped with a Box-Brownie!’- who can argue with that, a mighty fine, evocative job indeed.

David Zeunert Collection, Australian Motor Heritage Foundation Archives, Brian Caldersmith Collection

Stephen Dalton for vehicle identification and additional research

Tailpiece: Ern Seeliger, Stan Jones and Superior Motors salesman Doug Roberts aboard Jones’ HRG, Baker Street, Richmond, 1950…

(D Zeunert Collection)

David Zeunert observes ‘Stan’s second hand car emporium “Superior Motors” in Victoria Street was only five minutes away from Ern’s garage, very handy for both guys who used one another’s wits on many race projects.’

Stephen Dalton chips in, ‘The photo would have been taken in the first week of October 1950,  just before or after the October 1950 Bathurst meeting that Stan Jones ran as car number 34. Mr Medley has Stan spinning in his Bathurst tome for that chapter- by the following weekend the car was carrying #7 at Woodside, South Australia.’

(D Zeunert Collection)

Finito…

 

Comments
  1. Rob Bailey says:

    Such an enjoyable read ,and that last photo iconic .

    • markbisset says:

      An absolute cracker of a shot Rob,
      Sorta a nice last shot of the car in action- its weird too- a Maserati 250F at Sandown ‘in period’ is out of place or out of context but it looks so right given the lack of advertising hoardings and the like.
      Its a favourite shot already.
      Mark

  2. robert king says:

    Haven’t read it yet, but did you see the Maybach 3 shot of C Dean at Rob Roy – in chassis form. I remember him similarly equipped making a stirring climb at T’stowe. I wonder if Norm Wilson had something to do with the laydown M’bach?

    Up to my ears in Joe Carstairs (not the first person to have been there, mind you) and a mate has a lot on her racing boat yard in UK – interested? – ‘The Queen of Whale Cay’.

    B

    • markbisset says:

      Crikey!
      I’ve never had an article with so many comments so fast- John has hit the spot! Thanks for all of your contributions guys. Joe Carstairs is Google time for me Bob.
      Mark

    • markbisset says:

      Bob,
      I don’t recall which part of Repco Norm came from into RBE but i don’t think he came thru Repco Research or worked on Maybach- a good question for Smithy.
      M

  3. Phil WALTERS says:

    Bravo!

    Great piece Mark

    Phil Walters blue-sky@bigpond.net.au

    >

  4. grahamedney says:

    Re the Maserati at Sandown shot, yes it was the St Vincent’s Hospital charity meeting but in the race itself the car ran without its bonnet, as pictured in AMS August 1963 page 33 (sorry but I can’t work out how to post the photo with this comment). I was at the meeting and remember being disappointed and thinking the car looked a little down at heel, especially when the number roundels began to peel off as the AMS picture also shows.

    And as an aside, it was a very cold day hence SJ wore not his usual T-shirt but a white V-necked pullover of a style popular at the time. I remember being impressed as a 15 year old because I had one just like my hero’s.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks for the confirmation Graham,
      Intrigued to see that shot, my AMS collection is a bit skinny so i don’t have that issue, but i suspect it was probably his last race in the car.
      Mark

  5. robert king says:

    Some thoughts on your last shot in the John Comber piece. The HRG is definitely the Jones car (see Blanden, p.245). Could it be Misha Ravdell in the driver’s seat – he owned the next HRG and would have been friendly with the lads? Wasn’t he once the victim of a kidnap?
    I was spectating at the StV’s meeting from Shell corner and well remember my mate David Roberts creeping around the inside of the corner in his 1750 Alfa Romeo with Stan Jones on the outside of him being overtakenby Doug Whiteford in the 300S with two wheels in the grass – serious stuff. (A young Alan Jones steered the 250F through the pits to my great envy).
    And one last thought – note the patch pockets on the shirts – essentiall for you fags, but now neccessary for a ‘phone, but seldom seen.

  6. greg moss says:

    Driving north on the Hume somewhere around Wangaratta in, I reckon the early ’90’s, I was amazed to see the the Maybach being DRIVEN south towards Melbourne, from memory I think there was an upcoming historic meeting (Winton?Sandown?) Perhaps it was road-registered and perhaps not?

    • markbisset says:

      Hi Greg,
      Wondering whether that car may have been John Sheppard’s recreation of Maybach 2- he did a beautiful job, not sure who has it now but i think it is still in Victoria. What a road car!
      Mark

  7. Barrie Read says:

    Hi Mark Thank you,this is my 1st and most enjoyable. Regards Barrie Read

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  8. Brian Simpson says:

    This time you have really excelled Mark , John Combers photos I’m sure would have be seen by very few & are just brilliant . A shame both the Tornado & the Maybach are not campaigned any more & have attained collector status as they belong on the racetrack even if only in the Regularity events . Well done & best regards , Brian .

    • markbisset says:

      thanks Brian
      Aren’t they a wonderful selection? I’ve used some of the words before but it turned into quite an interesting piece.
      There are a few similar pieces to come actually, lots of folks have been going thru their ‘bottom drawers’!
      Mark

  9. shaneb234 says:

    Hi Mark an excellent article and great photos from John Combers. What a treat. If that last photo is indeed Misha Ravdell he owned the Bathurst model HRG, chassis W179 that was developed into PRAD 4 & 5. The HRG chassis is still in PRAD 5 as a sports car in my garage. Regards Shane

  10. Rob says:

    Mark,

    Re your request for confirmation that it was John MacDonald driving Tornado 2 at the 1978 Sandown “Fangio meeting”, I can confirm that the Official Programme has John McDonald as the driver of the #74 Tornado, so, spelling aside, you are on the money.

    Rob Bartholomaeus

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob,
      There was so much going on at that meeting i don’t think i paid too much attention to the car- it may not have the ‘sex appeal’ of some other Oz Specials but its right up in the top bracket for me.
      There are a few more photos in that piece now, John keeps discovering more!
      Mark

  11. Ron Simmonds says:

    Hi Guys Simmo here. It’s interesting that one of the photos of Stan in the Maserati 250F shows the bonnet not fitting properly, I wonder did it fly off during this event, hence the photos showing it without the bonnet??. Just aside as a kid I played racing drivers with Alan Jones in the 250F Maserati and the Maybach pretending we were F1 world champions, only one of us made it. The Jones family were my neighbors in Yongala St Balwyn. Cheers Simmo.

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers Simmo,
      You were a lucky boy to have those cars as toys! Wasn’t it #9 Yongala- I did drive past about a decade ago but have not looked for a while. I am going to make a pilgrimage soon to suss 31 Brackenbury Street Warrandyte where Phil Irving lived for many years- do you have any idea of Stan’s Warrandyte address when growing up?
      And it would be great to know the bonnet story, I visited Lloyd Holyoak on Thursday but did not think to ask.
      Mark

  12. Rob Bailey says:

    I’ve never been able to understand why when for sale for so little in the post credit squeeze period ,that someone with vision did not buy her just to own admire and start on occasions ?

    When a teen I asked my father once why he never bought one of the Maserati’s as they came up for sale ,he just shrugged and said garage space.

    The Maserati to have bought would have been the Whiteford 300S as the Leech bros did and put it on road reg and enjoy.

    When Colin Crabbe bought the Jones 250F he got only the 2.5 litre motor …so where did the unused 3.0 litre go to?

    • markbisset says:

      Rob,
      It seems so obvious now, maybe even then it’s a surprise someone didn’t buy one of the 250Fs to use as a ‘club car’ the way the fellow did with one of the Lagos.
      The 300S was an easy choice for all of the obvious reasons including using it as a supreme road car- we are lucky the two cars were here for so long I guess (then Reg’purchase of another later).
      And yes to the 3 litre engine question- good question.
      Mark

      • Rob Bailey says:

        Its called no vision ,reason so many great cars have gone overseas ,so many wonderful pre war and post war cars .All we are left with are boxes on wheels and hashed up OHOS.

  13. Rob says:

    Mark,

    Reading above about the Touring Car races held on each of the two weekends of the 1958 Melbourne Grand Prix meeting at Albert Park, I see that third place in both are credited to Charlie Smith in a “Humpy” Holden. Suspecting that this might be a case of the wrong Smith, I checked the two Programmes for the meeting but both list a C. Smith in a Holden without giving a first name. However, in an article on South Australian Clem Smith, published in Australian Muscle Car No. 73, Smith is quoted as saying that he “came third at Albert Park in 1958” driving a Holden FJ. (https://www.pressreader.com/australia/australian-muscle-car/20140701/283016872784895) Checking the Modern Motor meeting report by David McKay, I find reference to McKay winning the first event from “the much modified Holdens of Bob Holden (Vic.) and Clem Smith (S.A.).”

    It would seem that the C. Smith was Clem rather than Charlie.

    Rob Bartholomaeus

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob,
      I think the Charlie Smith guess was mine, i think Barry Green may have just had C Smith and i have made an uneduacated guess…
      Many thanks- how you doin’ over yonder- leper colony still struggling, sadly.
      M

  14. Rob says:

    Mark,

    Don’t beat yourself up too much over it as I see that Barry Green actually has “Charlie Smith” in his “Glory Days” Albert Park book. I can’t find anything else to support that however.

    We are OK at this time thanks but it’s not hard to see that changing unless SA is very careful.

    Stay well,

    Rob Bartholomaeus

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