Werrangourt Archive: Jock Finlayson…

Posted: February 3, 2023 in Features, Sports Racers
John Snow, Delahaye 135S Competition during the 1939 AGP at Lobethal (B King Collection)

Sydney rich-boy-racer, John Snow was on a mission from god to spend plenty of the family company – Sydney Snow Ltd was a retail softgoods company – money to race some of the best pre-war cars and to change the face of Australian motor racing by importing – for his mates and others – decent European racing exotica.

Three of the cars which arrived in one of his final pre-war shipments were an Alfa Romeo Tipo-B/P3 for Jack Saywell, an Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Le Mans which shortly after arrival was sold to John Crouch, and a Delahaye 135SC for his own use. To look after these machines and other customer cars, Saywell and Snow bought the Monza Service business located at 393 Riley Street, Surry Hills (later 217 Bourke Street, East Sydney). Together with the cars, they also enticed the impeccably-credentialled British mechanic, Jock Finlayson, who arrived with Snow on the Monterey and the cars at Number 1 Wharf, Darling Harbour, Sydney on Monday September 5, 1938.

The catalyst for this piece was yet another photo-share from Bob King to me (god bless his cotton-socks), including shots of the three cars mentioned, taken during the 1939 Australian Grand Prix weekend at Lobethal, and discovery of the article below. It all reminded me of an apocryphal story about poor Finlayson during his short time in The Colonies…

This photograph appeared in The Sun, Sydney on Sunday March 5,1939. The caption, with spelling corrected reads “Racing cars, two of them capable of speeds up to 150mph, being prepared for the Grand Prix meeting at Bathurst on Easter Monday. Left foreground, Paul Swedberg’s Offenhauser; right front towards rear, Jack Saywell’s Alfa Romeo, John Snow’s Delahaye, R Curlewis’ MG. O Debbs’ MG, J Crouch’s Alfa Romeo. The Monza Service garage in which the cars are being prepared, is owned by Snow and Saywell, and is in the charge of the English racing mechanic JD Finlayson.”
Newspaper ad in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Monday April 3, 1939. Like all motor traders, everything is always for sale, including the Delahaye 135SC (or is it CS?) which Snow had barely used in Australia. The Bugatti, see photo below, and Mercedes are both Snow imports. The Alvis Hudson is the engine-less ex-Phil Garlick machine traded by John Crouch in the deal that bagged him the Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Le Mans. The Hudson engine was fitted to the Alvis by Frank Kleinig in a quid-pro-quo deal with Snow, who lent Kleinig the cash to travel back to Sydney after the Lobethal January 1939 meeting, fitment of the engine represented payment. There are hundreds of little gems like this in Medley’s John Snow book!
The Bugatti referred to in the ad above Bob King identifies as Type 46 #46577 ex-Giles Brothers in the UK. The 1950s shot shows Mrs Pengilley in the (long) time she and husband Eric Pengilley owned the 5.3-litre unsupercharged straight-eight. Pengilley’s Cammeray, Sydney home was a well known Bugatti ‘nursing home’ from which many fine cars arose from the dead after Pengilley sold said remains (B King Collection)

At Lobethal, Finlayson’s new charges all finished the race, Snow in fourth place, Saywell in sixth and Crouch seventh, all of them were well behind the extraordinarily fast Alan Tomlinson’s MG TA Spl s/c. The bigger cars suffered from tyre problems during the very hot 150 mile race on January 2. In truth, none of the Monza Service equipe racers was intimately familiar with his new car, other than Snow, who had raced the 3.5-litre Delahaye to fourth place in the 1938 Antwerp Grand Prix and in the 24 Hours of Spa (not that I can see any proof of the latter). See here for the 1939 AGP report; https://primotipo.com/2020/12/04/tomlinsons-1939-lobethal-australian-grand-prix/

“JD ‘Jock’ Finlayson had been a mechanic for the Bentley boys, particularly Tim Birkin and Australian Bernard Rubin,” John Medley wrote in his superb ‘John Snow:Classic Motor Racer’. “When Birkin died in 1933, Finlayson found himself swept up in the remarkable motor racing campaign of 21-year-old Cambridge undergraduate the wealthy American Whitney Straight.”

“Finlayson spent two years with Straight, spending much of his time with the Italy end of the organisation, strongly influenced by the same Lofty England who became legendary post-war as the Racing Manager of the even more successful Jaguar Racing Team. He was no less strongly influenced by Giulio Ramponi, who took him with him when Whitney Straight had achieved his goals and moved on from motor racing.”

Dick Seaman and Jock Finlayson, Coppa Acerbo August 15, 1935. Seaman won the Coppa Acerbo Junior voiturette race in his ERA B-Type (R1B) by a minute. Here they are, before the off, with the car sitting on pole (LAT-Robert Fellowes)
Giulio Ramponi being pushed by Jock Finlayson in Dick Seaman’s Delage 1.5LS into the Donington Park paddock during the Junior Car Club 200 meeting on August 29, 1936. The pair had enhanced the performance of the ‘old beast’ by lightening it, fitment of hydraulic brakes, improving the gearbox and coaxed over 185bhp @ 8000rpm from its 1.5-litre supercharged straight-eight. Dick Seaman won the race, which was a mixed GP and Voiturette grid. It was his third win in as many weeks; the Coppa Acerbo Junior, Prix De Berne and JCC 200 (L Klemantaski)

“Richard Seaman had raced the former Whitney Straight MG K3, so when he decided to adopt a more professional approach to his racing, used an ERA, and ended up with the cleverly rebuilt 1927 Delage in 1936, he like Straight before him with Birkin’s men, chose to chase the very professional mechanics from the Straight operation. Giulio Ramponi was his first choice and it was Ramponi that both suggested the purchase of the Delage and modified it to be the best voiturette racer of 1936. Before that it had been Seaman’s employing of Ramponi that had changed Seaman’s success rate in 1935. And Ramponi had taken Finlayson with him, directly from the Straight team to the Seaman team. Seaman had the highest opinion of his new mechanics, Jock Finlayson apparently no less than Giulio Ramponi. It was Richard Seaman who recommended Jock Finlayson to John Snow.” John Medley wrote.

After the heat of Lobethal and Adelaide, poor Finlayson looked after the Saywell and Snow cars during speed record breaking attempts they had organised on a 10-mile-loop course on the dry, dusty Coorong pipeclay surface under merciless sun and temperatures of 96-106 degrees Fahrenheit on January 5 and 6, 1939.

On the first day, Snow set nine national records before the Delahaye was slowed by valve trouble. Saywell took the wheel of the 2.9-litre Tipo-B/P3 the next day, attacking both the standing start, and flying mile records. Using a four mile run-in, Saywell averaged 134.7mph in the big, booming Grand Prix Alfa, over the flying-mile, and 89.2mph in the standing start, both were new Australian records. See here; https://primotipo.com/2018/12/11/coorong-speed-records/

Jack Saywell’s Alfa Romeo Tipo-B #5002, during early practice at Lobethal. The #1 allocated to him for the race has not yet been applied to the machine (B King Collection)
Jock Finlayson beside Jack Saywell’s Alfa Tipo-B (is the stout guy behind the wheel him?) and Delahaye 135SC at the Coorong, South Australia in January 1939. Fred Pearse Collection shot, perhaps taken for Castrol, undoubtedly a sponsor. Mind you, if you were a sponsor you wouldn’t want all the nuffies in shot! although perhaps they are the SCC South Australia timing officials. Check out the bloke – fifth from the left – with a pistol down-his-strides, if the gun goes off his wedding-tackle will end up in Glenelg. Perhaps he was on snake-patrol (F Pearse Collection)

The two cars next ran in the New South Wales Grand Prix at Bathurst on Easter Monday, April 10, 1939. There, cars imported by John Snow dominated the results. John Sherwood’s MG NE Magnette won from visiting American midget-ace, Paul Swedberg in Snow’s Delahaye (he was overseas), John Barraclough MG NE Magnette, John Crouch, Alfa Romeo 8C2300 LM, Bob Lea-Wright’s Hudson Six Spl, and Jack Saywell – well in the lead of the handicap race off scratch until terminal brake problems – Alfa Romeo Tipo-B. Only the Lea-Wright Hudson hadn’t been imported to Australia by John Snow. NSW GP report here; https://primotipo.com/2018/08/03/history-of-motor-racing-in-australia-by-john-sherwood-in-1953/

Saywell’s Alfa had broken the lap record during its fantastic run at Bathurst, but the fateful decision was made to rebuild the engine and the brakes. The challenges posed by Vittorio Jano’s superb 2.9-litre twin-cam, two-valve, supercharged engine were considerable but should not have been difficult for a mechanic of Finlayson’s experience.

“Legend has it that all was well until the rebuilt engine was restored to its rightful place in the car,” Medley wrote. “It wouldn’t start. Despite protests from onlookers Jock Finlayson then chose to tow it behind another vehicle to try to clutch-start the Alfa Romeo, not realising that he had the timing wrong. Bent valves were apparently the least significant damage. The main damage was to Finlayson’s reputation: Saywell and Snow fired him, and he caught a ship back to England.”

John Crouch, Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Le Mans #2311202 8C, Lobethal 1939 (B King Collection)

No longer trusting anyone other than the Alfa Romeo factory, Saywell had the engine packed onto the ‘S.S.Minnow’ for a rebuild in Milan by July 1939. It wasn’t a good time to be on the high-seas though, Germany invaded Poland on September 1 1939, as a consequence Great Britain and Australia declared war on Germany on September 3.

With the Kriegsmarine’s U-Boot wolfpacks marauding the seas, the ‘Minnow’ was easy pickings. Saywell’s engine, the Skipper and the Professor, Gilligan, Thurston Howell (the third) and his wife, Ginger, not to forget poor Mary-Ann of course – I always fancied her more than Ginger or Mrs Howell – gurgled to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again.

The Alfa Tipo-B raced again post-war, but that is another story…

Eyes on the prize Gilligan. These days American cultural imperialism gives me the shits but I couldn’t get enough of it as a kid!


As is so often the case, after finishing this piece I then had a proper Google – yep, I know, it would be better to do it first, but I get excited sometimes about a topic and this is one of ’em – finding the Coorong shot in a long forgotten article of my own, the Donington shot and this marvellous piece by Doug Nye in MotorSport, which I’ve paraphrased a bit.

“Its amazing just how much detailed history has come down to us not necessarily recorded in any history book, but instead scribbled on scraps of paper, on the back of photographs, or as a fleeting caption in a scrap book.”

“One of the best respected of all racing mechanics in the 1930s was Jock Finlayson. I recently unearthed a couple of the late Jock’s photographs, the first showing the Bentley pit at Phoenix Park, Dublin, after the 1929 Irish Grand Prix there for sportscars. In the 300 mile Eireann Cup handicap, an Alfa Romeo 1750 led home the work’s two Speed Six Bentleys driven by Glenn Kidston (second) and Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin (third).”

(Jock Finlayson-GP Library)

“In the Finlayson photo, taken just after the finish, urbane ex-naval officer Kidston is relaxing on the pit counter, inevitable cigarette in his right hand, while immediately behind him, marked with an-inked ‘X’ is Jock, minus spectacles, but with goggles slung around his neck – and with Tiger Tim to the right. Jock’s caption is simple enough, reading just, ‘My second ride with Birkin.'”

“Another hugely significant photo he preserved – given the shortage of such nutsy-boltsy shots of the engine of the nine-year-old Delage 1.5LS Grand Prix car in 1936 when he won almost everything in sight – as written by Jock, ‘1936 Berne Delage motor 1st Seaman 1 1/2-litre class.’ Here it is taken on the day on which Mercedes Benz team manager Alfred Neubauer sat up and took notice of a young British racing driver, named Dick Seaman and began to consider him seriously for a Mercedes test-drive…”

(Jock Finlayson-GP Library)


Bob King Collection, ‘John Snow : Classic Motor Racer’ John Medley, ‘Bathurst:Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ John Medley, LAT-Robert Fellowes, Louis Klemantaski, Fred Pearse Collection, Doug Nye in MotorSport, GP Library, The Golden Era


(B King Collection)

Yet another of the John Snow top-end racing cars (probably) imported to Australia was Melbourne man, Tim Joshua’s Fraser Nash monoposto. Here he is at Bathurst during the 1938 AGP won by another blueblood, the ERA B-Type raced by Peter Whitehead.

This machine had a very long competitive life in Australian racing – including fitment of the inevitable Ford Flatty V8 during its mid-life crisis – is getting close to being restored to correct specifications in a small Murray River village.


  1. robert king says:

    The Bugatti saloon is likely to have been another Snow import – Type 46, chassis number 46577, a 5.3 litre slaoon originally owned by the well know Giles brothers in England – they christened her ‘Fanny’. Post-war she was sold by the irrepressable John ‘Backoff’ Baraclough: “I sold it for 475 pounds to a Mrs Jarvis of Killara. It was totally unsuitable but she looked very good in it”.

  2. John Polson says:

    Interesting article. My Father tracked down Finlayson in the 1970s to help with the restoration of the ex-Snow Delahaye. Finlayson had ended up as chief mechanic for Bobbie Baird’s racing team on his various Ferraris in the early 1950s. According to Finlayson Baird was going to get the UK Ferrari concession, but it all came to nothing when Baird was killed in a Ferrari at Snetterton.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks John,
      Amazing fragment of history, so Mr R Hoare got the gig at that point?
      Met your Dad last week together with Bob King actually, in downtown Brighton – ours not yours!

  3. John Polson says:

    From memory Mike Hawthorn took the concession on in 1958,
    following his tragic death Ronnie Hoare took it on in about 1960.
    Interesting you met Dad, he has only just got back from Oz.

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