(T Johns Collection)

Tony Johns well rugged up for the chills of Winton in 1965, Austin 7 Spl…

When I completed University my student earnings were all blown on a Venom Mk2 Formula Vee in March 1979, i entered the ‘real workforce’ and bought my first racer in the same week. Formula Vee was the way to go for the impecunious enthusiast with a hankering for single seater cars then, but a generation before in the late fifties/early sixties the path was a little more difficult without so many ‘factory’ cars about.

Tony Johns’ story of Austin 7 competition in the day is an interesting first-hand account of how it was for enthusiasts with a hankering for competition in those times- many Australian enthusiasts will be familiar with him as a racer, purveyor of fine motorbooks or co-author of ‘Vintage Bentleys in Australia’.

‘I was fortunate to grow up with very tolerant parents who accepted my love of old cars. Starting when I was a young boy with an Austin 7-owning great aunt which generated my passion for these wonderful cars. In my final years at school long before any of us were old enough to hold a driving license, two of my class mates already owned A7s, and soon after a third purchased a Chummy six months before me which he still owns to this day.’

John’s first Austin Chummy. ‘In the early 1960s the A7 Club held their annual beach run on the Mornington Peninsula at what was then a quiet peaceful beach at Shoreham, not far from Flinders. Never to waste an opportunity once the tide went out, the sticks were soon in place for a slalom event. If you look closely (very Tony!) under my armpit you can see Neil Johannesen’s Mooris 850 ex-1961 Armstrong 500’. Bugeye Sprite at right (David Lowe-T Johns Collection)

TJ and Chummy ascending Rob Roy in the early sixties (A Tracey)

‘As a teenager in the 1950’s I convinced my parents to take me to a race meeting at the Fisherman’s Bend airstrip circuit and the race meetings at Albert Park, mind you I had to wear my school uniform and cap!

Still months away from being old enough to have a driving license, I purchased my first Austin 7, a 1928 magneto-engined Chummy that was my entry card to join the Victorian Austin 7 Club in 1960.

In the beginning I competed in Gymkhanas and Navigation Trials but always wanted to build and compete in my own racing Austin 7. I started going to race meetings with Nigel Tait and got to know all the other drivers, observing what to do and what not to do. In those days everybody was very helpful and at race meeting, drivers would share spare parts if somebody needed help.’

Minimalism defined! ‘The gymkhana chassis, which, together with the body from Allan Tyrrell’s racing car which became my first racing Austin in 1965’ (T Johns)

Lakeland Hillclimb in the mid-sixties, still in short-sleeves but with secondhand Dunlop racing tyres and fifteen inch wheels (D Lowe)

‘John Fleming’s Merri Bridge Motors was the place to go for Austin 7 specials in the 1960s’ (T Johns Collection)

‘John Whitehouse and Dale Shaw were the front-runners when I had built my racing 7. My first race meeting as a driver was the Easter weekend in South Australia back in 1965, it comprised a hillclimb at Collingrove and races at Mallala. By then John Fleming and John Bowring had retired and sold their cars to new owners.

It took nearly a year to build with a lot of help from fellow Austin 7 club member Geoff Taylor, yet another A7 member who ended up as an engineer with General Motors. Geoff was still around when we built the two new Austins for the ‘1981 Raid’ to the UK- this time, as the Chief Brake Engineer for GMH. He used his contacts at PBR to supply all the new brake fittings, no going back to the wreckers!

Starting with a lowered chassis which had been modified to use in gymkhanas, I converted the original cable brakes to hydraulic operation using new alloy backing plates manufactured and sold by John Fleming (see advertisement) and Lockheed cylinders from a side valve Morris Minor obtained from the local wrecker.

Fortunately for me, Allan Tyrrell, due to both work commitments and a young family had decided to give up circuit racing and instead use his Austin to compete in an occasional hill climb. Having removed the alloy body to save weight he then agreed to sell it to me, however it took several years to get to own the inlet and exhaust manifolds but he loaned them to me for many years.

During these early years I had various manifold and SU carby setups hence the various power bulges and cutouts in the bonnet. Bill Sheehan came to my rescue on more than one occasion shaping the alloy transmission tunnel around my parents Hills Hoist.

The 1965 Easter weekend was the first of many all night sessions in order to get ready for a race meeting. Another Mallala story, one year at scrutineering the scrutineer eyes were focused on my front shock absorbers and nothing else. When I queried if there was a problem his reply was ‘Where did you get them?’- once again they were a gift from Geoff Taylor, my GMH friend, they were a pair of very special, fully adjustable Munro shocks used in the development of the Holden Torana and never available to the general public. Once that was all settled I sailed through scrutineering.’

Mallala 1965 shot which oozes atmosphere. TJ leads Trevor Cole’s ex-Fleming Austin through ‘Woodroffes Corner’ (T Johns Collection)

(T Johns Collection)

Easter Mallala 1967. Doug Jarvis on pole in the ex-Davison Alfa Romeo P3, #11 Ron Brownrigg Riley and #9 Peter Brady ex-Bira MG K3. On row 2 Bill Potts or son Douglas at left MG TA and an obscured Tony Johns #98 Austin 7. Johns observes ‘This is what it was like at the start of Vintage and Historic Racing in the sixties- no roll bars and short sleeved shirts and we are still here today’ (T Johns Collection)

Same event as above but the flag has dropped, ‘Ron Brownrigg making his usual fast getaway in the Riley Imp, in view behind the Austin is John Jarvis driving his father’s Alfa Romeo 8C2300. Digby Thomas at the rear in his SS100 #72. The same race had an embarrassing end for me. In practice I drove around the outside of the Smith Darracq-Talbot on what used to be called Castrol Corner, nowadays BP. During the race, with youthful experience, I attempted the same passing move, only this time he was going much faster and the end result was that I rolled over several times and was thrown out…a roll bar and seat belt were fitted to the Austin soon after!’ (T Johns Collection)

(T Johns)

‘Back in the 1960’s there were several books published in the UK on how to build an Austin 7 Special. In fact two of them were the first books published by authors Patrick Stephens and John Haynes who both became very successful publishers, anybody interested in reading about the subject was well catered for.

After a decade of racing in this form my good friend and special builder David Lowe decided my Austin needed a birthday, so it lived in his Toorak garage where he removed the pop rivets which held the body to the frame and then set about welding up a new steel tube frame complete with built-in roll bar using only the scuttle panel and top and bottom of the tail on the newly rebuilt car. A twin brake master cylinder conversion was added at this time.

The next major change to the car happened just in time for the 1978 AGP 50th Anniversary celebrations at Phillip Island when yet another Austin 7 Club member, Ross Stewart, offered to fit a supercharger to my car.

He designed, cast and machined all the alloy castings in the style used by the Austin factory back in the 1920s in order to comply with CAMS rules. Using a tooth belt to drive a supercharger was no longer allowed. Once again it was an all night session and Ross arrived with my car at the PI race circuit very late on Saturday afternoon with no time for practice. I continued to race this car for a further two years before building my Raid car to comply with UK VSCC rules- story coming soon on this adventure to the UK.

To quote Charles Dickens- ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.

During my thirty plus years of racing an Austin 7 the scene has progressed from Austin 7 Formula racing in the 1960s when we raced with the air cooled 500cc cars competing in Division 3 or 4 races at country circuits such as Hume Weir and Winton.’

Sandown pits 1965 ‘My racing car arriving on the Saturday morning after being towed from Brighton behind Bill Morling’s homemade A7 Ute- there are no hills on the route so we thought it would be good to upset the Bugatti owners etc with their Rice Trailers and Ford Mainline Utes!’ (Bill Morling-T Johns Collection)

Winton dummy grid in late 1968. An interesting shot in the context of Johns’ comment about the evolution of A7 racers and competition rules. #92 Nigel Tait with Neil Johannsen partially obscured behind him, then Johns in upright A7, #95 John Whitehouse in the Whitmor referred to in the text below, #93 Trevor Cole, #89 Maggie Rowe (D Lowe)

A Boxing Day meeting at Hume Weir in the mid seventies, Maggie Lowe chasing TJ (T Johns Collection)

‘Not long after, new very fast wedge-shaped Austins started appearing led by John Whitehouse in his Whitmor and Nigel Tait in his new car. These cars incorporated Triumph Herald front uprights together with coil spring shock absorbers, rack and pinion steering and 13 inch alloy wheel centres with spun rims. There was not much of a chance of an upright Austin 7 fitted with a beam front axle to first to great the chequered flag.

Vintage car racing in Australia began to flourish and the opportunity to be a front runner was there again. Another change to the rules for the A7 Formula was that engines other than the side valve Austin 7 could be used- Renault 750 and Hillman Imp motors were popular choices.

It was this period which included races at Warwick Farm, Historic Amaroo, Oran Park, Sandown Park and Historic Winton that were certainly ‘the best of times’ and when my engine seized a piston on the second lap at Mallory Park in the UK in 1981 during the 750 Motor Club Intercontinental Challenge and I retired, that was ‘the worst of times’.

It is sad to report that Austin 7s are now rarely seen on Historic Meeting race grids, these days the later 1930s cars are so much faster and the Austins now compete in Regularity events, Hill Climbs or Sprints.’


(T Johns Collection)

Equipe Johns in the Sandown paddock, September 1965.

The Chummy he acquired whilst still a student and the A7 racer he ran from 1965 to 1980.

(T Johns Collection)

Easter Mallala sandwich-the Johns’ A7 sandwiched between Gavin Sandford-Morgan’s Jaguar C Type with Gavin Sala’s Darracq closes in.

(T Johns Collection)

Austin 7 Club stand at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, Melbourne during one of the Racing Car Shows promoted by Jim Abbott and John Whitehouse in 1969 or 1970.

From left, beside the pole is Nigel Tait’s then new Formula Austin, then the Whitmor’s engine, the restored Ulster chassis owned by Doug Head and in the foreground is new spaceframe car designed to compete on Observed Section Trials. In the background is Alan Esmore’s 7 with a locally built Ace two-seater body and Johns’ racing 7 on the right.

(T Johns Collection)

Lakeland Hillclimb near Lilydale, Melbourne in the mid-sixties before installation of the first roll-bar.

(D Lowe-T Johns Collection)

Another shot above showing the evolution of racing A7s.

Lachie Sharp at Mallala during the Easter 1966 meeting aboard the John Whitehouse built ‘The Carrot’- the name a function of the car’s colour. It was built in 1961 with help from Dale Shaw and body builder Barry Hudson- the shark-nose was completed prior to its adoption by Carlo Chiti in Maranello for his 1961 World Championship winning 156 V6 machines.

The original setup included a split front axle and leaf spring, later on John Whitehouse made the conversion to fully independent suspension as the car is shown here.

Austin 7 Formula in Australia…

See this interesting article on the evolution of Austin 7 based racing cars which was published in the ‘Australian Motor Sports Review’ 1958-1959.

See ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ Austin 7 Racing in Australia thread…

This great thread has heaps of snippets, photographs and stories by Tony Johns and Stephen Dalton about the racing of Sevens since the 1930s- it is ever evolving and growing so keep an eye on it.



Tony Johns- many thanks for the article and pictures

David Lowe, Ashley Tracey, Bill Morling, Australian Motor Sports Review 1958-1959


(T Johns Collection)

Tony Johns in front of Nigel Tait at Winton in 1965- wonderful times, simpler times where it was about sport and fun.


  1. terry says:

    great article

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Terry,
      Shall make sure Tony sees your comment, i certainly didn’t realise the importance of the cars/class as both a category to either progress through or as a destination in itself.

    • Chris says:

      Hello if anyone can help please. We are trying to contact Tony Johns, for an elderly couple he knew in UK surname Weatheritt if you have his email contact please or contact us on chrisandlinknapman@gmail.com

      • markbisset says:

        Hi Chris,
        Have passed your details on to Tony who I am sure will have already dropped you a line, he remembers those happy times very well.

  2. Paul Cummins says:

    It is great to get a first hand account of the evolution of a car racing ‘Formula’. Over the years i have been almost totally unaware of the A7s and their role in motorsport history. Okay, we’ve all heard the stories that Brocky and McLaren had one as their first racing car but then usually skip to the more exciting, bigger engine stuff without delving too much in what modifying an A7 was all about.

    A few months ago i reluctantly, almost unwillingly, acquired a battered and tattered A7. It was only after communicating with A7 enthusiasts in the UK and Australia, that i become aware of the following and passion there was for them. At one point I clearly remember thinking “How have i missed this for most of my life!” While i won’t be racing it, and it will go back closer to factory spec than the hillclimb/trials spec it is now, i am looking forward to getting to some events (if that is ever gonna be possible!) and meeting the Settistas (Sevenites). The 100th anniversary at Warrnambool 2022 here i come!

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Paul,
      You had better send Tony a snap of the car you have bought! I have learned a lot about their place in the pantheon too over the last couple of months of Tony and Stephen Dalton’s postings on The Nostalgia Forum- have a look at the A7 Racing in Australia thread if you have not. Is there a big rally @ The Bool in 2022?

    • Tony Press says:

      For those whose interest in the Austin Seven’s early sporting history has been aroused the limited edition 2006 book Austin Seven Competition History the cars and those who drove them 1922-1929 by Canning Brown is well worth finding.

      This is a complete coverage of every event with copius pictures and details- my copy is 309 of 1500 copies

  3. Rob says:


    Re the image captioned “Easter Mallala 1966. Doug Jarvis on pole …..”, I have checked the Official Programme in an attempt to determine if the driver of the MG TA was “Bill Potts or son Douglas” only to find that the entries for the BP Trophy – Vintage Car Scratch Race did not include any cars numbered 5, 11 or 9 or 98. Checking the Programme for Mallala Easter 1967 we have G. Sandford-Morgan driving the No 9 Alfa Romeo P3 of D.H. Jarvis, the No 11 Riley Imp of R. Brownrigg, the No. 9 MG K3 of P. Bradey, the No 26 MGTB (rather than TA) of W. Potts and the No. 98 Austin 7 of A.W. Johns. The photo must be from 1967 rather than 1966!

    My hand-written results in the 1967 Programme have Sandford-Morgan winning the “BP Trophy – Vintage Car Race” from Brownrigg and R. Smith in a Darracq-Talbot. I would say that the Potts MG is actually on the third row as another car be seen ahead of it and to Tony’s right. This second row car is most likely the Darracq-Talbot.

    What a great photo. I was at that meeting as a ten year old.

    Rob Bartholomaeus

  4. Tony Johns says:

    Many thanks for confirming the correct year for the Easter Mallala photo as 1967. To make amends here is another photo, this photo was taken very soon after the flag was dropped and shows Ron making his usual quick getaway in the Riley Imp. Now in view behind the Austin is John Jarvis driving his fathers 8C 2300 Alfa Romeo. The masking tape on the front guards is always a clue to the ownership of the Jarvis family cars. Digby Thomas can be seen at the rear in his SS Jaguar #72.

    That same race had an embarrassing end for me. In practise I drove around the outside of the Smith Darracq-Talbot on what used to be called Castrol corner, now days BP Corner. During the race with youthful experience I attempted the same passing move, only this time he was going much faster and the end result I rolled over several times and thrown out. A roll bar and seat belt were fitted to the Austin soon after.


  5. Rod Callaghan says:

    I remember a very long time ago, sometime in the 70s, at a Templestowe meeting.
    Tony had given his good mate Geoff a drive of his A7.
    Geoff didn’t put up s real quick time, and Tony and a few others were quick to bag him about it.
    Geoff then mentioned that he had actually rolled it down through the Essex and, as it landed on it’s wheels, he just set off down Banana Straight.
    A quick inspection of the roll bar and wheel centres showed some bright shine graunch marks.
    So it was decided Geoff’s time perhaps wasn’t so bad after all.
    Don’t know if he ever got another drive though.

    • Tony Press says:

      Not sure where Ron Callaghan got the information on Geoff Taylor in the Tony Johns Car at Templestowe but Geoff told me:

      “A lot of b*ll: The track was wet at monks corner a I nudged the front into the bank when it hit a dry spot. Car tipped gently on to its side. I let the brakes off, pushed on the ground and the car righted it’s self.I then drove back to the starting line to tell Tony what had happened !”

      This shows how incorrect information can sometimes be spread.

      Tony Press,


  6. […] Export to Australia (1978) The car went out to Australia with at least one other and were all associated with Tony Johns of “Raid” fame. Was one of these the UK ex-Gorringe car PL 5437(noted -2 in Canning Brown)? More on ‘Raid’ cars from Ilona Booth here and Tony Johns here. […]

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