Bugatti Castlemaine Spring Rally…

Posted: November 27, 2021 in News/Events, Sports Racers
Tags: , , , ,
From the front, Types 30, 37A, 23 and 44 by two (G Murdoch)

Castlemaine, a Victorian Gold Rush town 120km to Melbourne’s north-west was home to the Victorian members of the Bugatti Owners Club of Australia, Spring Rally.

Event El Supremo Roger Cameron made a great choice of event base, there are some superb roads in the area. The town itself has some wonderful, majestic buildings as befits its status one of the boom-towns within the Golden Triangle, the area bounded by Avoca-Castlemaine-Wedderburn. 1,898,391kg of gold was mined in Victoria between 1851-1896, a few bucks-worth in today’s values.

More than a few examples of early Australian automotive exotica was acquired with gold-wealth, not least Bugattis.

Inglewood. Jim Thompson’s ex-Molina Brescia in the foreground, over the road, Type 44, 3/5-litre Bentley and T35B Pursang at right (M Bisset)
Likely Lads: Messrs, Stanley, Thompson, Berryman at rear, and Montgomery, at Inglewood (M Bisset)
Roger Cameron aboard his Type 44 on Saturday morning, by mid-afternoon the look of delight had changed to one of concern with maladies which transpired to be a broken brake-shoe spring (M Bisset)

Given the People’s Republic of Victoria’s title as the most Covid 19 locked-up-joint-on-the-planet, it was no surprise to see plenty of Victorian clubbies celebrate freedoms recently returned to us by the talented ruling duumvirate of Scotty-Bro and The Allstars, and Dan The Dastardly. Victoria’s weather can be capricious, but sunny, blue skies prevailed for most of the three days. In short, the planets were aligned for a wonderful weekend of motoring on great roads, albeit many of them are sadly in need of decent maintenance.

The line-up included three Brescia Type 23s, two Grand Prix cars – Types 37A and 35B Pursang – and an interesting mix of two and three-litre eight-cylinder un-supercharged tourers; Types 30 and 44. John Shellard’s Type 57 two-seater Corsica replica body machine is impressive – straight-eight 3-litre DOHC non-supercharged – a car I don’t recall seeing before. Co-stars comprised an interesting mix including two 5-litre’ised 3-litre Bentleys, a Lancia Fulvia 1.3S Zagato, MGA, Porsche 992/911 and my buddy, Bob King’s AC Ace-Bristol.

Avoca Hotel vista with the Shellard T57, and Murdoch and Thompson Brescias up front (M Bisset)
Saffs in Castlemaine, very good too (M Bisset)
Inglewood. Anderson T44, Montgomery Bentley and Schudmak T35B (M Bisset)

Starting point was the Woodlands Historic Park at Oaklands Junction (adjoining Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine) and then to Lancefield via Romsey.

The post-lunch session was some magnificent roads from Lancefield to Castlemaine. Immediately after clearing Lancefield we headed north west on the Burke and Wills Track, which is great but gets rutted and shitful towards Mia Mia. Then a respectful stop at Spring Plains, the site of the first flight – seven metres – by John Duigan aboard an Australian designed and built aeroplane on July 16,1910. Click here for more; John and Reginald Duigan, Australian aviation pioneers (monash.edu.au)

Electrical and motor engineer, John Duigan mid-flight on the family farm, Spring Plains, Mia Mia circa 1910. Self constructed – of wood, metal and Dunlop rubber coated cotton fabric – pusher type single-seat biplane with a moving foreplane elevator and light undercarriage. Power by a JE Tilley (Melbourne) 25hp vertical four stroke, four cylinder OHV engine, with drive to the four-blade 2.6-metre prop by chain. 9.27-metres long, wingspan 7.47-metres, weight including pilot 280kg, maximum speed 40mph in sustained flights at heights of 30-metres (Museums Victoria)
Cameron T44 detail. Nice (M Bisset)
The only one owner early Bugatti in the world? The late Dr Noel Murdoch famously did his 1920s rounds at his country, Yarra Junction practice in a Fiat 501 and this T44 – which is still a treasured family member nearly a century later. That’s the Anderson T44 opposite (M Bisset)

Then on to Redesdale, Sutton Grange, Faraday and into Castlemaine via Chewton on its eastern outskirts.

French mistresses are notoriously fickle, high maintenance critters so it was no surprise that one or two of the breed required the care of tender, loving, expert hands before dinner.

Grant Cowie’s Up The Creek (ya gotta hand it to a Kiwi with a sense of humour) enterprise – one of Australia’s acknowledged fettlers of fine pre-war marques, Bugatti included – is in Castlemaine and was called upon once or twice to assist in keeping Ettore’s finest behaving to the manor born.

A quirk of automotive history is that the hot-rod capital of Victoria (Australia?) is Castlemaine and its surrounds. As restoration of fine cars grew exponentially in the 1970s, many specialist body and engine builders, woodworkers and others located in the area to draw upon the technical skills, foundries and jobbing shops which had progressively grown earlier.

While being a treacle-beak at Grant Cowie’s, Bob King spotted David Reidie, formerly proprietor of the Harley City, and a recently minted Bugatti owner (King’s 35B Rep). He showed us through his amazing museum of 125 or so historic, mainly competition Harley Davidsons. Reidie is still working out how often to open to the punters, but it’s complete, ready to rock-and-roll, and will be a must-see even for those not particularly interested in ‘bikes.

Min Innes-Irons T23 Brescia in Clunes (M Bisset)
Schudmak T35B and Shellard T57, Clunes (M Bisset)

Proceedings started at 10am Saturday morning, with plenty of rumbling straight-eights being gently warmed up in the cool but sunny Spring breeze, and Adam Berryman getting good oil-pressure sans spark-plugs, by nine. The run was to Avoca, to the south-west, the Avoca Pub to be precise.

There were some dirt sections thrown into the mix early in the day, reminding me again that these folks like to use their cars, they aren’t Pebble Beach poseurs. What was it the late, great Lou Molina useter say? “We are goers, not showers”.

The route went through Muckleford South, the fringe of Maldon, Lockwood, Woodstock, Newbridge and into Inglewood for the first coffee pitstop for the day. Needless to say, the cars are a hit with local folks, it’s not every day of the week automotive splendour of a bygone era comes to town.

Cameron T44, Dillon Bentley, and King AC in Inglewood (M Bisset)
King AC Ace at Mia Mia (M Bisset)

The roads are a great test of chassis, my mount was Bob King’s 1960 AC Ace Bristol, what a great car it proved to be.

The 2-litre Bristol straight-six (thanks muchly BMW) is at its lusty best from 3000-4000 rpm, the thing has a gear for every occasion too, with Laycock de Normanville overdrive fitted. Suspension is independent front and rear – with leaf springs nicely controlled by Koni reds – soaks up all the bumps Victoria’s roads throw at it, brakes (disc/drum) are good, the driving position is great as are the seats – which are fantastic. My only grumble is the heavy steering at low speeds, but maybe I’m just turning into a soft-old-codger.

After an hour we set sail south for Avoca via Rheola, Bealiba, Riversdale, and thence the Avoca Hotel, it’s an easy relaxed pace, there was no competitive component to the proceedings and the route instructions are good, clear.

Berryman T37A at left, Shellard T57 in shot, Avoca (M Bisset)

Amazing what you can get at Mitre 10 these days. Berryman’s T37A #37327 in Inglewood (M Bisset)

The lunch at the Avoca Hotel was great, but I was preoccupied. Adam Berryman suggested it was time to drive his Type 37A on the return leg to Castlemaine, about 100km.

I’m very familiar with right-hand-shift Hewland ‘dog-boxes but it was still with some trepidation I jumped alongside Adam for the return voyage. The buffeting in the passenger seat sans small-aero screen on the short trip to clear town was incredible, but there was no such problem in the right-hand seat.

You drop your bum into a tight seat, wedged between the gearbox and passenger on your left, and chassis frame to the right. Don’t even think about a drive without your race-boots on and even then, there is no dead-pedal to the left. Your right foot (conventional pedal set-up in this car thankfully) looks after the throttle and brakes, with the left either dabbing the (easy) clutch or sitting as lightly as you can manage above it.

“First is towards you and back, second is straight forward, third is back-across-and away from you and back. Fourth is directly forward again,” Adam shouts. “Yep, goddit.” Without even a feel of the ‘box away we go.

The supercharged three-valve, SOHC, 1.5-litre 110bhp four is hard edged. It’s rappy and revvy with a very light flywheel and is not too many hours back from a Tula Engineering (UK) rebuild. Its magnificent, your whole-body fizzes for hours afterwards, the solidly mounted engine buzzes you good-vibrations. Adam uses ear-plugs, ya need ‘em too.

The whole experience is heightened by being on public roads, nuts of course. Glorious nuts. The thing is deceptively fast, Adam shouts that we are doing 85mph, well over the Victorian maximum, the roads are so poor the chassis is easily affected by the road corrugations, it’s sprung race stiff of course.

I wouldn’t say I covered myself in complete glory with the gearbox, second was my boogie gear on the way down early on, but if you are used to a right-hand shift it’s not too dramatic a change.

Berryman’s rump framed via an Ace bonnet in the wilds of Arnold. Only the muffler underneath ruins the visage – but is appreciated while at the wheel! (M Bisset)
Business end of T37A #37327. 1496cc (69x100mm) SOHC, 3-valve, Roots supercharged four cylinder engine giving circa 110bhp @ 5000rpm (M Bisset)

The engine never copped the big rev, rather the trip was about savouring the experience, the view down the road through the aero screen and tall, narrow tyres wobbling away, big wooden rim wheel oh-so-close to your chest, moving constantly – don’t keep correcting it, just let it move gently in your hands – almost sits in your crutch. Its counter intuitive if your long-armed, 10-inch Momo orientation is a Van Diemen Formula Ford or Ralt RT4 phenomena, but the size of the thing makes sense as you negotiate tight corners where the big wheel provides the required leverage!

Sounds assault you, not the exhaust so much, gasses and associated music exits via a long pipe under the car and a minimalist hot-dog muffler at the very rear of that seductive derriere to the lucky schmo following you. Gears assail you in a very raucous mechanical orchestral kinda-way. The gearbox is beside you, the diff immediately behind, while the camshaft and engine ancillaries are mainly gear driven, not to forget the supercharger meshing and doing its thing.

The reaction of the good citizens of Maryborough was so funny. The French racing blue rocket (chassis 37327), looks exactly as it did when raced by ‘Sabipa’ (Louis Marie Paul Charavel) in the ’27 Targa, and later by Frenchmen Jean-Claude D’Ahetze, Vincent Tersen and Andre Vagniez throughout Europe and North Africa from 1928 to 1931.

The look on little kids faces on the footpath, or their front-yards is the five-year-old equivalent of WTF?!, it’s just so out of place. Not behind the wheel mind you, albeit my left leg is tiring of trying to stay clear of the clutch pedal at about the 80km mark, the oil and water temps are good (thermatic fan fitted), the clutch is easily modulated and light and gearbox now more familiar. I could have gone for hours…

All too soon we are in the Castlemaine ‘burbs, one final blat away from the lights, then a U-Turn into the BP servo in Barker Street, and it’s all over.

Some days are forever etched in ‘yer brain as experiences to treasure, a drive of a GP Bugatti is one of them. Sick little unit that I am, I’ve been buzzing with afterglow for days, hopefully my state of arousal will subside soon, it’s quite uncomfortable really. Grazia Adam, bigtime.

Orf-piste @ Targa. Louis Charavel in, perhaps, #37327 during the 1927 Targa Florio. The Dieppe born, sometimes works-Bugatti driver – winner of the 1926 Italian GP aboard a T39 – ‘left the road on the first lap near Polizzi when his Bugatti fell 15 meters down a ravine tumbling over (doesn’t look like it to me) Luckily he suffered no injuries,’ according to kolumbus.fi (unattributed)
Murdoch T30, and distant T44 roadside at Arnold West. Fuel delivery dramas being sorted by Geoff Murdoch (M Bisset)

The Murdoch family Bugatti Type 30 (above) always draws me.

Its allure is its beauty and history, powered as it is by the very same 2-litre, three-valve, twin-carb straight eight #89 (below) fitted to Geoff Meredith’s Type 30 chassis #4087 when he won the very first Australian Grand Prix at Goulburn in 1927.

This T30, (chassis #4480 pictured), has an in-period Australian competition record of its own. There is a good chance the remaining parts of Meredith’s ex-AV Turner, and later Jack Clements “possibly most famous of Australian Bugattis” #4087 will be reunited by the Murdochs one day.

Bugatti 2-litre straight-eight #89 fitted to T30 #4480 (M Bisset)
Murdoch family T30, and T23 Brescia behind, in Clunes (M Bisset)

The evening functions at the Castlemaine Railway Hotel and Wild Food and Wine, within the space of Castlemaine’s old fire station were great, add them to your list.

Doyens, and founding members of the club, and the Bugatti world globally, are Stuart Murdoch, Stuart Anderson and Bob King. Anderson’s 90th birthday was recognised with Murdoch’s only a short time away, Bob is a veritable youth in this company.

They are interested, and interesting, having been into Bugattis when they were old-bangers, and restored many of them. Anderson’s cv includes restoration and racing a GP Talbot Darracq 700 and a couple of Maseratis, Murdoch’s a couple of Delages and lordy knows what else, Bob’s restoration and race tastes are mainly, but not exclusively French.

These events have a rhythm a bit like a race meeting, albeit without the pressure. Soon we were up-and-attem on Sunday morning, warming the cars up, but this time, after a pitstop in Clunes, then lunch in Trentham – all god’s own rolling hills country – it was time to go home.

Etcetera…

(M Bisset)

A couple of scallywags in Inglewood. Bodybuilder (car) extraordinaire Richard Stanley, and Jim Thompson about to jump into his much cherished ex-Molina Brescia.

(M Bisset)

Des Dillon’s Bentley bullies Bob King’s AC Ace in Inglewood, ‘the world’s fastest lorries’ really do have on-road presence and menace the likes of few!

(M Bisset)

Ecurie Schudmak – Phil and Susan – in Avoca, about to hit the road. These guys and their trusty Pursang T35B have done Bugatti rallies on most continents of the globe in this much loved and used car.

(M Bisset)

The Latreille Lancia Fulvia 1.3S Zagato, very tasty too, and Quinn MGA.

(M Bisset)

Michael Anderson and Bui Khoi before the off in Inglewood, Anderson family Type 44, another cherished car which has been in family hands for decades.

Shellard T57, great in profile, in Lancefield.

(M Bisset)

Clan Murdoch, or part thereof, in Inglewood.

(M Bisset)

Chewton crew. Bob King, then the masked avenger, Trevor Montgomery, Des Dillon and his lady – and Bentley 3-litre.

(M Bisset)

Credits…

Mark Bisset, Geoff Meredith

Tailpiece…

Berryman T37A, Castlemaine (M Bisset)

Le derriere incredible…

Finito…

Comments
  1. Fantastic Mark.

    We were up at Hepburn Springs last Sunday and got to follow the Murdoch’s for a few miles , delightful.

    The Mark 2 3.8 Jag he bought new from the motor show in 1961 ,and had Firth do plenty to it with the intention of racing in VIC events , he even bought items from Coombes for it as I remember him telling me about a decade ago, sadly it was rear-ended and sold and my sister was born so no more racing .

    Greville E, has lent me his scrape book , what a a wonderful history of events, people and cars .

    I finally picked up my fathers photo collection , sadly many of the photos have stuck together and are destroyed , oh well .

    The 3.8 mark 2 he bought from the 1961 Motor show carmen red ,got Harry Firth to prepare it for racing , bought bits of Commbes in the UK, and Jaguar , but the car was rear ended and my sister was born the car was sold and no more racing .

    A numer of photos of the T26 I’ve never seen before as well

    Rob

    ________________________________

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers Rob,
      It’s amazing we didn’t cross paths on those roads, Castlemaine was a terrific base.
      Bob King introduced me to Grev early in the year, we visited him (and his amazing yacht resto project) in Moorabbin and I scanned the racing shots of interest to me. I’m gradually including them in articles – he truly had an amazing life in fast cars!
      Pity about your dad’s stuff but that tale is a familiar one, hopefully there are some happy memories within!
      Is the ‘trick Mk2’ still with us??
      M

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