Rupert Steele explores the limits of his Bentley in the ample confines of Fishermans Bend (JP Read/VSCC Vic Collection)

Sir Rupert Steele was a pillar of the Melbourne sporting and business establishment throughout the 1960-1980s.

With a period typical sense of duty he served in World War 2, including a year as a POW in the Stalag Luft III camp, in Sagan, Lower Silesia (now Poland) after the Lancaster in which he was a bomb-aimer was shot down over Germany.

Before he discovered thoroughbred racing, he was a racing driver of some ability despite few competition miles.

He took over his father’s 1937 Bentley and was soon competing in the heavy, 4.25-litre six-cylinder, pushrod, twin-SU 120bhp sedan; he was timed at 90.8mph in a 1940 Cowes Speed Trial.

Post-war – still with the cars Martin & King body fitted – he won the Light Car Club’s Peninsula Trial in 1947 overall, and the Boneo Hillclimb within that event. In 1948 he contested the Light Car Club’s Mountain Trial and a Rob Roy Hillclimb.

Rupert Steele after battle at Fishermans Bend (JP Read/VSCC Vic Collection)
Fishermans Bend is the name these days! (Motor Manual Annual)

His serious intent was made clear when he had the Bentley body removed during a Rob Roy Hillclimb weekend in 1949. He competed body-on during the Saturday runs, and raced without it on the Tuesday Melbourne Cup Day! This work was performed by Allan Ashton at one of the most prominent race-preparation ‘shops of the day; AF Hollins in High Street, Armadale, Melbourne.

He raced the Bentley only once, on the occasion shown at Fishermans Bend, in Melbourne’s inner-west, in 1949. It was then game on; he purchased the Alfa Romeo Monza chassis # 2211134 previously raced by great Aussie Ace, Alf Barrett, who was retiring, this car was also prepared by Ashton and his crew.

“Everything was less serious in those days of course. Rupert Steele recalled that despite the lack of racing opportunities he put in quite a bit of practice driving in the Monza on outer Melbourne public roads, for example, driving from Dandenong to Beaconsfield and back at five in the morning.” he told great Australian race-historian Graham Howard.

Super rare shot of Steele in the Alfa Romeo Monza at Rob Roy, Melbourne Cup Day meeting, November 1949. His first three runs got better and better but the fourth was a bit more exciting for he and spectators after a lose up from the Spillway (Tony Johns Collection)
Steele in the Alfa Romeo Monza at Nuriootpa during the 1950 AGP, a most impressive performance from a novice in a demanding GP machine. A pity he retired so early (John Blanden Collection)

Despite his inexperience, he gave Doug Whiteford and his Ford V8 Special, Black Bess, a serious run for their money in the 1950 Australian Grand Prix run on the Nuriootpa roads in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. This event is covered here; 1950 Australian Grand Prix: Nuriootpa, South Australia… | primotipo…

The Bentley lived to fight another day, after the meeting shown its standard body was refitted, so equipped Rupert went into battle with the similarly equipped matrons on the Toorak, South Yarra and Armadale roads.

Rupert Steele was born circa 1921 and died in August 2000. His life of achievement included directorships of some large corporates including Carlton and United Breweries, he was Chairman of the Victorian Racing Club from 1978-1983 and knighted in 1980.

Etcetera…

(Darren Overend Collection)

Bentley chassis B 28 GA “Brand new in Toorak, immediately after importation by Cyril Steele, Rupert’s dad, before being bodied by Martin and King in High Street, Armadale for the 1937 Melbourne Motor Show,” current owner Darren Overend writes.

“The driver is the Steele chaffeur, Arthur Jackson, who was drowned with Cyril in a boating accident (believed the boat capsized in stormy weather) on Port Phillip Bay near the Heads” (the treacherous, narrow entrance of the Bay and Bass Strait – the ocean).

‘Bentley Specials & Special Bentleys’ Ray Roberts (Johns Collection)
(Darren Overend)

Sir Rupert Steele with his old Bentley, looking a little different than it did in his days with it as a racer, Toorak 1995.

Credits…

JP Read photographer-VSCC Victoria Collection, ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard and others, John Blanden Collection, 1950-51 Motor Manual Australian Motor Racing Yearbook, Tony Johns Collection, Darren Overend Collection

Tailpiece…

(JP Read/VSCC Vic Collection)

That imposing radiator ranging up behind would have scared the lesser ranks into submission, surely! Bentley sedan looks mighty fine as a sports-racer. While it looks the part, mechanicals were standard. Fishermans Bend 1949.

Obiter…

(Motor Manual Annual)

Finito…

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