BCA Rally, Healesville, April 2021…

Posted: April 16, 2021 in Features, News/Events
Tags: , , ,

The Bugatti Owners Club of Australia, Victorian Division held their 2021 rally in and around Healesville, in the Great Dividing Ranges, 70km from Melbourne from 9-11 April.

These gigs are not my stock-in-trade, but Bob King’s wife opted out of a seat in his Type 35B Replica #BC134, an opportunity I was happy to accept.

Over the last four years I’ve got to know one of the marque’s noted authors and historians, he has well and truly infected me with Bugatti-lore, my marque knowledge is probably now a low pass.

King T35B #BC134

Trevor Montgomery’s Alfa 6C1500 Spl s/c, McWhirter Brescia T23 #2467 and blue Stuart Anderson owned, Michael Anderson driven T44

Murdoch T30 and T57C Atalante

We did three long loops out of Healesville in different directions; on Friday afternoon, all day Saturday with a pit-stop at Eildon for lunch, and then a hardy-souls-only Sunday morning one when it really was ‘pissin down!

Cripes these dudes use their cars!

The Ettore Works Driver awards went to the Adam Berryman/Louise Murdoch T37A, Rod/Rita Quinn T35B and Brendan Dillon Hispano Suiza combinations on Saturday afternoon. They braved the very wet, muddy, dirt, steep, dark Acheron Way to return to Healesville after some wally in a modern 4WD left the road on the Black Spur, causing the Gendarmes to close that road.

All five were buzzing with excitement back at the hotel, but both gals – sans the aero-screens afforded the drivers – were soaked to the skin and had faces so muddy they could have been on the Black and White Minstrel Show (if one was allowed to write that).

Well over 500km was covered over the three days on a variety of roads including some ordinary dirt, with a good percentage of it in wet weather. A good test of drivers, resolve, and steeds.

Reefton Hotel vista across the cockpit of the Berryman 37A, then King 35B, Dillon Hispano, Dillon 35B Rep #BC135 and McWhirter Brescia

Messrs Berryman and King looking suitably soggy and happy at Yarra Junction

GP Bugatti parade at Yarra Junction. The Roberts T37 and Berryman T37A book-end the T35Bs of Dillon and King

Living is blatting along at 3,000 rpm in a straight-eight Bug, rain, wind and dirt in your face with the raucous, basso-profundo bark of a supercharged engine assaulting your left-earhole and rattling the spaceframe supporting your brain.

The engine competes with incredible gear whine in the indirects, top-slot provides some relative cruising peace.

I don’t know about all that tearing calico-crap as a descriptor of the exhaust note?

The engine, with its oddball firing order, has a music all of its own, the timbre of which is infinitely variable with a smidge more, or less, of throttle. Lugging-slightly in fourth at low speed, then accelerating, makes the thing breathe really-deep, and demonstrates the flexibility of Ettore’s 2.3-litre, three-valve, under-square design.

The thing is unbelievably stiff, but by the same token the spring/shock rates are well resolved; the chassis itself is also a spring of course, which absorbs the imperfections of Victoria’s B-roads.

Great speed on dirt would threaten your false-teeth, with kidney-belts a necessity. Bill Thompson and his ken were legends to race at the speeds they did in their T37/37As to win Australian Grands Prix on rugged Phillip Island dirt and dust in the twenties – 200 miles flat chat would have been a hard days work, to say the least.

Eildon Hotel, the Corona was nice and cold, as was the day. King T35B, McGann T40 1.5 s/c with Lydia Bugatti style body, and Michael Anderson’s T44 3-litre eight

Roberts’ T37 #37146 cockpit. Gauges are tach, clock, fuel and oil pressure. The lever is ignition advance/retard, set here fully retarded. Blue chassis cross-piece under the gearbox. Silver tube is part of gear shift mechanism, shift on right outside the cockpit. First is left bottom, second straight forward, third across to the right away from you and back, top is straight forward

Eildon. Murdoch T57C and T23 Brescia, McWhirter Brescia T23. Nice to see a car worth a small piss-ant country driven on normal roads

The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria’s Healesville Country Club was a perfect choice for the gig.

It’s close to Melbourne with plentiful underground car parking for about 12 Bugatti’s and interlopers. These included Trevor Montgomery’s ex-Lex Davison ‘Little Alfa’ 6C1500 s/c, David Hands’ ‘fat’ 3-litre Bentley with Phil Schudmak as sidekick, Brendan Dillon in brother Des’ incredibly quick 1914 4-litre Hispano Suiza Alfonso, Rod and Rita Quinn’s Bristol 400 and a couple of others.

Car parks established for electric Tesla’s became pit-bays for the GP cars which needed a check-over and charge of the batteries before resuming battle the morning after. The irony of these beautiful, charismatic, dirty old gas-guzzlers using facilities established for modern tributes to boredom will not be lost on you.

There was no mechanical carnage, albeit one Brescia, fresh from an engine rebuild, displayed some petulance, but nothing the talented new owner/driver, Phil McWhirter and his patient wife Laurette couldn’t overcome.

The poverty-end of Bugatti ownership these days is about $A400,000-plus for a Brescia, not cheap. What was impressive was the amazing depth of mechanical and racing history knowledge amongst owners, and the high proportion who wield their Stahlwilles with deft skill.

Belle of the ball was the Murdoch family, Type 57C Atalante #57788, which is simply, jaw-droppingly stunning.

Like a beautiful woman, your eyes take in every perfectly proportioned curve, each one of which blends into the next and teases you a little more as you take the thing in, from top to bottom, and back to front. Then do the same thing over and over.

Ooh-la-la indeed.

Yes, the Acheron and Taggerty locals did need chiropractic treatment after passing this lot on the Maroondah Highway roadside
King T35B
Michael Anderson’s T44 3-litre normally aspirated eight at Reefton, wonderful tourer

The T57C has an Australian history since the Dale brothers imported it in the late-fifties. Young Doctor King must have been quite an Ormond man-about-town in it in the early sixties cruising the streets of Melbourne. He sold it just as his sixth-sense suggested the engine may be in need of very expensive TLC soonish.

It then passed to Eric Pengilley, where many an Australian Bugatti became a resident of his Black-Hole-of-Cammeray Bugatti burial-ground on Sydney’s lower north-shore .

Stuart Murdoch made many trips from Melbourne to Sydney before prising it from Pengilley, then starting the long, expensive process of restoration. The Murdoch patriarch is as sharp as at a tack and was much in demand, so I never did get the full T57C story.

He did burst the bubble of one old, oft repeated myth though.

It’s said that his father, Doctor Noel Murdoch made his Yarra Junction 1920s house-calls in an eight-cylinder Type 44, which the family retain. Stuart said that would only have been for the most special of patients, his normal chariot of choice was one of Australia’s first Fiat 501s.

Both these blokes drove with plenty of brio. Brendan Dillon in brother Des’ Alfonso Hispano and Adam Berryman with another brave, lucky ‘victim’
King 35B butt-shot @ Healesville RACV. Makes the knees tremble really
The Rod and Rita Quinn Bristol 400. I did 150km in the car and thoroughly enjoyed the drive, it only falls short amongst the moderns on long, steepish hills where 2-litres ain’t enough

The most stunning part of the long-weekend took place inside an enormous, designer Bat-Cave, sitting low in a small valley surrounded by sweet smelling, damp eucalypts.

There, the good Doctor King was put very much on the spot, with about 40 of us looking on. His task was to identify a factory T37A chassis. He went to work with a small-torch, and all of the experience which comes from restoration of his share of the cars, and having seen more of them than you and I have had hot dinners.

That was just the sweets course of this automotive archaeology segue, mind you.

The main dish was having laid out, before our eyes, some of the core components of the Geoff Meredith driven, 1927 Goulburn, Australian Grand Prix winning, ex-Turner/Meredith/Clements 2-litre eight-cylinder Bugatti T30!

Neil Murdoch showed the cut down chassis, front cross-member, cast-aluminium firewall and engine. It’s far from a complete car of course, but is heaps of bits in a world where a reconstruction often starts with no more than a vinyl Lola nose-badge.

The ex-Meredith 2-litre, three main-bearing eight cylinder engine currently powers a perfect, black Type 30 driven by Fiona Murdoch. No doubt her two brothers, Neil and Geoff are trying to get little ‘sis engine for this important part of Australian racing history. Stuart Murdoch quipped, “I’ve done my restoration bit, that one is for the next generation.”

So it is too. It’s more of a five year or decade long project, but over time, doubtless the Murdochs will acccumulate the bits they need, including another two-litre eight to pop under the curvaceous long bonnet of the immaculate black Type 30! Watch this space.

Interlopers included David Hands’ Bentley 3-litre which had arrived home from the UK at Port Melbourne a few days before. Drove it to Sydney over two days following the rally
Practical things these long-legged eight-cylinder touring Bugattis. Michael Anderson’s T44 at Yarra Junction

Robert’s T37 at Reefton Hotel

It was great to see Tom and David Roberts in Tom’s beautifully patinated T37 37146, and old-mate, Adam Berryman’s T37A, 37327.

Tom has owned the ex-Brearley/McGrath AGP contestant since 1958, the car has not been spotted for a while so Roberts father and son were welcomed like long, lost cousins.

“That car was the first Bugatti I saw. I was standing outside the Melbourne University Union building when Ian Ferguson and his brother pulled up and parked it, jumped out, pulled their trousers out of their socks – done to avoid the inevitable pool of oil in the footwell – and rushed off to lectures. How cool was that, I thought!” recalls Bob King of the late fifties Melbourne Uni car-park which contained its share of old-banger Bugattis.

I reckon todays 85 year olds probably had the best of motoring as we currently know it. They saw the end of the front-engined GP era, the best, pre-wing, mid-engined era, and had available to them a truckload of exotic road and racing cars which were cheap old rockets before their era as global investment grade assets.

T35B Rep, Brescia, Alfa 6C1500 Spl, Brescia, T57C and T30 at Reefton
Brescia T23, T35B Rep, Bristol 400 and light blue Triumph of Mr Terdich, Eildon
Berryman’s ex-Chiron Targa T37A is about as good as it gets. Sex on wheels. Reefton

Berryman’s T37A, a car his father bought in the seventies, was imported by Melbourne racers/businessmen/Light Car Club stalwarts, the Leech brothers in the fifties.

I sat alongside Adam from Reefton to Yarra Junction. The experience was in some ways similar as the 35B, given the chassis of types 35 and 37 are the same, but the engines are quite different of course- the T37A is a SOHC, three-valve, 1.5-litre supercharged four (T37, same engine un-supercharged).

The 37A feels, and is lighter, the engine is notably more responsive to the throttle with a lighter flywheel and higher state of tune than Bob’s 35B. The 35B is ultimately quicker on a like-for-like basis.

A quick refresher course on Australian Bugatti Grand Prix wins. These were achieved with the modified-tourer T30 2-litre eight raced by Meredith in 1927, T37A 1.5-litre supercharged voiturettes raced by Arthur Terdich in 1929 (Tom Roberts’ T37 was second driven by Reg Brearley), Bill Thompson in 1930 and 1932 and the T39 1.5-litre supercharged eight raced by Carl Junker in 1931.

What a weekend.

Many congratulations and thanks to organisers Michael Anderson, Bui Khoi and Geoff Murdoch for their creativity, warm hospitality, attention to detail and deft-touch. Fantastic stuff!

Credits and Commerce…

Bob King quoted the chassis numbers out of his head, not bad at 84. I’m that confident he is right I’ve not checked any of them!

The photographs are all mine, with one exception.

For those with an interest in all the Antipodean Bugattis, see ‘Bugattis in Australia and New Zealand 1920-2012’ by King and Peter McGann. $110 plus postage, email McGann on; pmc24757@bigpond.net.au

Tailpieces…

Let’s finish as we started with the Murdoch T57C Atalante. Man I cannot get this thing outta my sick little mind…

(B King)

Finito…

Comments
  1. michael anderson says:

    Such warm, grinning, and comprehensive coverage of our weekend, with terrific photos: thank you Mark! I feel that any further official reviews for our Club journals have been rendered entirely redundant. It was a delight to share our Rally with you and other guests, along with a great turn-up of Club members, and we can’t wait to do it all again in the near future. We had such fun!!!

  2. John Macmillan says:

    I knew Bob when he took me to Rob Roy in his mother’s Peugeot 203 (sic) I was so jealous when he bought ?invested in his first Bug. He is a great man. What a wonderful story with perfect pictures. Glad to know (Judge ) Stuart Murdoch still enjoying the days ; must be the pur sang. Congratulations and thanks on preserving this week-end . John Macmillan

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