Archive for the ‘Sports Racers’ Category

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…

(oldracephotos.com)

Barry Cassidy’s Ford Falcon XR GT ahead of Bill Brown’s Ferrari 350 Can-Am, Newry Corner, Longford 1968…

Series Production or showroom stock racing was hugely popular in Australia during a golden period to the end of 1972 when the Supercar Scare forced the rule-makers to change tack – a story in itself! Actually there is about it in the middle of this Holden Torana XU-1 V8 epic here; Holden Torana GTR XU1 V8… | primotipo…

Here, local lad and long time racer Cassidy is practicing for his event during the Tasman weekend in his brand new, straight off the showroom floor, 289cid V8 powered Australian pony-car. It was the first in an amazing series of road legal and oh-so-fast Fords built from the late sixties to the late seventies. Most of them won the Bathurst 500/1000 classic including the XR GT which triumphed at Mount Panorama in the hands of Harry Firth and Fred Gibson in 1967.

Cassidy showing delicacy of touch exiting Mountford, Longford 1968 (oldracephotos.com)

Cassidy had a top speed of 120mph or thereabouts, Brown about 170, and is about to swallow him on the uphill run to the right, then to the left onto the Flying Mile. He recalls that Brown was “probably not too impressed about being passed under brakes by the XR GT and signalled his thoughts about it as he blasted past on the Flying Mile!”

Cassidy raced the car for a bit, and was later at the vanguard of ‘Formula’ HQ Racing, a series for lightly modified Holden HQ Kingswood/Belmont of the early seventies, a hugely popular cost effective way to get into, and stay in motor racing. He is still racing too.

Cassidy chasing Graham Parsons’ Cortina GT and Darryl Wilcox’ Humpy Holden through Newry Corner. Barry was off a low grid position after being pinged by scrutineers for having a spare tyre not of identical section width as the four on the car! (HRCCT)

Credits…

oldracephotos.com, Historic Racing Car Club of Tasmania

Finito…

(B King Collection)

John Williams, DFP takes the chequered flag for The Sun, from HW Miller’s similar car for The Herald, in a five lap battle of the Melbourne Motor Editors at Aspendale on June 9, 1924

Fragments on a forgotten make

Mssr. Dorian, Flandrin and the Parant brothers made light cars of no great distinction in Courbevoie (Seine) between 1906 and 1926. Chronically underfunded, they relied on proprietary engines. They are best remembered by the reflected glory from their London agent W. O. Bentley’s use of aluminium pistons in DFP’s which led him to success at Brooklands. WO claimed that the idea to use aluminium pistons came to him in 1913 during a visit to their Parisienne factory. He said they allowed him to obtain ‘much more’ power from the engine – the main advantage being greater thermal efficiency, rather than weight saving. In regard to novelty, it should be noted that Aquila Italiana had been using aluminium pistons from 1906 under the guidance of their talented designer Giulio Cesare Cappa.

‘WO’ in a very smart looking DFP (B King Collection)

Rendering of a similar DFP to WO’s (T Johns Collection)

Whether through ‘reflected glory’, improved performance or clever marketing, the DFP was not an uncommon entrant in post-WWI motor sport in Australia. It seems that the sporting motorist had a love affair with French cars, possibly engendered by their panache. This was distinctly lacking from the majority of Italian and English light cars of the period. It should also be remembered that cars from ‘former enemy’ countries were forbidden to take part in motorsport in the early post-war years– at least in Victoria.

My motoring archive has several splendid photos of DFP’s in action and Mark Bisset felt I should share them with you on primotipo.com

The first race at Aspendale on ANA day, 1906 (J Crooke Collection)

Aspendale

Situated in a sandy bayside suburb of Melbourne, Aspendale Motor Racing Club had a history dating back to the dawn of motoring. James Robert Crooke had a horse racing track built on his father’s land in 1889. The name of the venue played tribute to his champion horse ‘Aspen’, which had won the Newmarket Cup in 1880 and 1881.

Entrepreneurial Crooke had won Australia’s first motor race at Sandown Park in 1904 driving his steam powered Locomobile. By January 1906 they were motor-racing at Aspendale Park on what he claimed to be the world’s first purpose built racing track. After only a few events the track went into hibernation until a new banked concrete/bitumen track was built in 1923. The first event was held on this surface on 1 March 1924.

(J Crooke Collection)

The promoter’s club badge

(J Crooke Collection)

The ACV’s invitation to attend – love the formality of the day, and program, or programme, more correctly!

(J Crooke Collection)
(J Crooke Collection)

The track layout.

John Williams and the DFP at Aspendale

John was a jovial beret-wearing, Gauloise smoking motoring journalist who had a preference for French cars. He was the second owner of a Brescia Bugatti in 1929 and was still driving a Ballot 2LT in post-war years. As Motoring Editor for the Sun News Pictorial and later the Argus, his knowledge of cars was encyclopaedic. He came into our realm through friendship with Lou Molina and attendance at Lou’s Brighton Central Hotel in the 1970s.

John took part in an unusual event at Aspendale on 9 June 1924 – a match-race between the Motor Editors of the Sun and the Herald. Fortunately, photographs survive of this encounter, showing that the drivers were accompanied by their wives. John annotated the back of one photograph, stating that this was the first time that women had travelled as mecaniciennes in a motor race in Australia. John’s wife Pegg is quoted as saying “What a damned row 24,000 people can make!”

(Bob King Collection)

The start of the motoring journalist match-race.

(Bob King Collection)

John and Pegg Williams ensconced in the DFP. Winners are grinners, the rest can make their own arrangements.

Sporting Cars, DFP and Miss Marie Jenkins

If clever marketing contributed to the DFP’s popularity here in Victoria, the responsible party is likely to have been Sporting Cars, the future agents for Bugatti, who used the attractive Marie Jenkins to promote their brand (Sex sells).

Sporting Cars claimed that the DFP had ‘a remarkable reputation for speed, coupled with reliability and hard wear’ – these characteristics being exemplified by the crest and motto on the radiator badge – a greyhound ‘Courant’ under the words ‘Fidele at Vete’.  Marie was often seen in the company of Sporting Cars directors; their relationship has not been established.

(B King Collection)

Marie Jenkins was used to promote the make in this Sporting Cars pamphlet, the rest of it, providing detailed specifications is at the end of this article.

Dudley Barnett, Chenard Walcker, Marie Jenkins DFP and Arthur Terdich Bentley 3-litre, with Maude. 1924 Davies Bay, Victoria (B King Collection)

Marie in her little DFP is dwarfed by Sporting Cars director Dudley Barnett’s Chenard Walcker (left) and Arthur Terdich’s 3-litre Bentley

(G Jarrett)

Marie goes camping, the only thing missing appears to be the kitchen sink! Poor liddl’ darlin’ would have struggled carrying that lot.

(Fairfax)

Here she is, looking rather marvellous, at Sydney’s Maroubra banked, concrete Saucer of Speed in her victorious Brescia Bugatti in 1925.

(B King Collection)

1928 Australian Grand Prix

Two DFPs took part in the 100-Mile Road Race, aka the 1928 Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.

Ab. Terdich was the brother of Arthur whose Bugatti faltered while he was leading the race; he won in 1929. Ab’s DFP retired with engine trouble. The other car shown, driven by Les Pound, had better luck, completing the distance in a little under 2½ hours at an average speed of 41.6 mph, he was thirteenth and last. Les became a well-known name in post-war years as proprietor of Volkswagen dealers, Pound Motors. The Pound DFP is nearing the end of a long restoration.

(B King Collection)

Les Pound made slow progress in the 1928 AGP, but had the satisfaction of completing the distance.

DFP random

Nigel Tait of Repco and ACL fame had an ancestor with a DFP that managed to have an accident in Bourke St, Melbourne in 1915. That must have been hard to achieve – perhaps an errant horse?

(N Tait Collection)
(N Tait Collection)

This Tait family photograph shows the same car (above) which was driven by George McCarey below.

(B King Collection)

I suspect the photo of car with registered number 27277 is being driven by George McCarey in the 1921 RACV 1000-mile Reliability Trial. This was an earlier 2-litre car of the type raced by WO Bentley, rather than the more popular 1.1-litre car which was introduced in 1922.

(T Johns Collection)

Les Pound completes the hill climb at Wheelers Hill with the same DFP he raced in the AGP at Phillip Island in 1928.

(B King Collection)

Doug Benson’s DFP on a bridge over the Kiewa River.

DFP Technical Specifications…

(B King)
(B King)
(B King)
(B King)
(B King)

Credits…

Bob King, John Crooke, Tony Johns and Nigel Tait Collections, Fairfax, Graeme Jarrett

Finito…

(B King Collection)

George Martin’s BMW 328 enters The Dipper during the 1938 Australian Grand Prix on Mount Panorama.

The Melbourne based Australian representative of the Cunard White Star Line (passenger liner) was fifteenth in the handicap race won by fellow Brit, Peter Whitehead’s ERA R10B.

Martin and his wife had settled comfortably into Australian life, he was the President of the Light Car Club of Australia and had competed in the car for only a short while. It was bought for him by racer/scion of Snow Department Stores, John Snow on one of his annual purchasing trips to Europe of stock for the family stores, and top-end racing cars for his mates/clients in 1937.

On his way back to Melbourne from Bathurst, Martin crashed the 328 fatally outside Wagga Wagga, the car was repaired and sold.

George and Mrs Martin, car unknown (B King Collection)
George Martin, AGP, Bathurst 1938 (B King Collection)

After passing through several sets of hands, 328 chassis # 85136 was bought by Geelong, Victoria motorcycle dealer/racer Frank Pratt in 1947.

Pratt had the car prepared for him by AGP winner, Les Murphy. Despite it being his first motor race, Pratt – with vast experience on bikes – won the 1948 AGP at Point Cook, an airfield track used just once.

Held on a fearfully hot Melbourne summer day, Pratt triumphed over many more fancied entries due to the retirement or non-classification of sixteen cars. The mortality race was high with many car’s cooling systems unable to cope. Pratt was also assisted by the favourable handicap afforded a novice…Alf Najar’s MG TB Spl was second and Dick Bland’s George Reed Ford V8 Spl third.

Frank Pratt’s recently acquired BMW on the way to 1948 AGP victory on the RAAF Point Cook airbase in Melbourne’s outer west (VSCC Vic Collection)
Frank Pratt having a celebratory fag after his ‘48 AGP win, with Les Murphy – who missed out on the drive, or co-drive – at right (VSCC Vic Collection)

Next owner, Peter McKenna raced the car throughout Victoria in 1949, at Ballarat in 1951, practiced but did not start the ’52 AGP at Bathurst, Port Wakefield’s opening meeting in 1953 and at Albert Park’s first AGP later that year where the machine retired after 11 laps. Entered for the ’54 AGP at Southport on the Gold Coast hinterland, McKenna rolled the car while leading a preliminary so didn’t start the feature.

The well-used immensely significant BMW was sold by McKenna to the sympathetic hands of Melbourne enthusiast Graeme Quinn who restored it in the mid-seventies. Since then # 85136 has been a global investment commodity, pinging its way around the globe, returning to Australia once or twice. Pat Burke owned it at the time of the collapse of his empire, it’s now thought to be in Japan.

Peter McKenna and passenger in # 85136, now re-registered, at Fishermans Bend circa 1951, beautiful lines of the machine shown to good effect (VSCC Vic Collection)
(drawingdatabase.com)

The BMW328 was a celebrated design built from 1936-1941.

With a light alloy frame, aluminium body, and peppy 1971cc, six-cylinder, two valve, triple carb 79bhp engine, the 1825 pound sportscar was a high performer of its day.

Via war reparations settlements, the BMW designed Bristol built engines provided post-war power for a host of great sports-racing cars and single seaters, not least the Cooper Bristols which launched the GP careers of Mike Hawthorn and Jack Brabham.

Etcetera…

(I McCartney via D Zeunert)

David Zeunert had this wonderful chance find of Frank Pratt on his way to 1948 Point Cook victory, at Camberwell Market a couple of years ago. The 10X12 shot is beautifully mounted, Irvine McCartney is not one of the usual race ‘snappers of the day, operating from Chapel Street, South Yarra.

Credits…

Bob King and VSCC Victoria Collections, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Irvine McCartney/David Zeunert Collection

Tailpiece…

(B King Collection)

During the Peter McKenna era at Rob Roy hillclimb in Melbourne’s outer east Christmas Hills.

Finito…

Marquis Alfonso de Portago and Edmund Nelson accelerate their Ferrari 335S away from the Rome control, heading north on the homeward leg during the 1957 Mille Miglia on May 12.

At that stage the ill-fated crew were placed fourth. They later crashed only 35km short of the Brescia finish, killing eleven – five of whom were kids – after tyre failure.

I wrote about this race and car some years ago here; Peter Collins: Mille Miglia 1957: Ferrari 335S… | primotipo…

This piece is a pictorial delving into the the Klemantaski/Getty Images archive, remembering an event which changed the face of motor racing, ended the lives of two combatants, nine innocents and the Mille Miglia.

The table of nobles; De Portago along side Wolfgang von Trips during a ‘training camp’ or perhaps more accurately a pre-event briefing and planning session in the weeks before the Mille, held on 11-12 May 1957.

Wonderful Doug Nye piece on De Portago in MotorSport; Ferrari’s fastest playboy: Alfonso de Portago – Motor Sport Magazine

Peter Collins leaves Maranello for a quick blast up the Abetone Road to check that all is good with his 335S- note the bonnet is still to be painted.

The team cars below in the famous factory courtyard are the four 4-cam cars for Piero Taruffi – the winner – Von Trips, De Portago and Collins, with the Collins/Klemantaski machine at left. A blur of activity.

The series of photographs below are at Brescia, the start and finish of the classic event. The shots show the sheer pageantry and grandeur of the event tinged with no shortage of pathos given the events that day which took De Portago, Collins twelve months later aboard a Ferrari Dino 246 during the 1958 German GP at the Nurburgring, at at Monza in 1961 when Von Trips perished in the early laps of the Italian GP aboard a Ferrari 156 along with another group of spectators.

De Portago and Von Trips swapping notes before the off while Taruffi seems a little more focused on the needs of the adoring locals.

Enzo Ferrari with Peter Collins (above) before the start, and De Portago below.

De Portago and Collins shortly before Alfonso’s departure from Brescia, car the ill-fated 335S chassis 0676. Louise Collins is mid-shot.

It was the first time De Portago raced the 4-litre car – the most powerful car he had ever driven. He drove it with skill and seemed set to finish well in this most difficult of races in the world’s fastest sportscar.

De Portago and Nelson departing the Ravenna control – in Emilia-Romagna – a couple of hours into the race.

Piero Taruffi won in a 315S from Von Trips second in another 315S, while the Collins/Klemantaski 335S DNF with driveshaft failure in the fifth hour. The De Portago/Nelson accident happened after five hours, seventeen minutes at 3.30pm near the village of Cavriana 35km from Brescia.

De Portago’s final pitstop was in Montova where he refused a tyre-change to save time, at that stage the crew were fourth, third by some accounts. “This may have caused his car’s tyres to be more susceptible to failure when the Ferrari ran over cat’s eyes at high speed.” The left-front failed at a little over 150mph.

Not too many photos exist of Edmund Gurner Nelson, De Portago’s navigator, friend, confidant, fixer, Bob-sled coach and whatever else, in the car.

Here they are leaving the Ravenna control, the shot gives a sense of immediacy and pressure, note Ed’s sports-blazer casual attire.

Credits…

All photographs Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images, motorsportmemorial.org

Tailpiece…

This moody shot was taken by Louis Klemantaski at high speed during the event alongside Peter Collins in his 335S. 150mph plus is all fine and dandy – even with an enthusiastic Italian crowd encroaching on the road – until something goes wrong. Apologies for the statement of the bleeding obvious…

We should all be thankful the Targa Florio survived in its traditional form for as long as it did given the ’57 Mille.

Finito…

(E Adamson – Miller Family Collection – T Johns Collection)

The K Guest Alvis 12/50 Ducksback during the 1927 Herald Dependability Test, in the Bruthen main street “with some very nervous looking bullocks outside the butcher shop” Bob King observed.

LOL etc, it was too good a shot of another time and place to resist – some great research from the Johns/King/Sands combination has cracked this mystery, not completely though.

It’s the 1927 Herald (Melbourne newspaper) Dependability Test run by the Victorian Light Car Club. Many thanks to reader, Paul Cummins for solving the question of location! See this link for a Tony Johns/Stephen Dalton piece on the ’27 Dependability; https://forums.autosport.com/topic/215085-austin-seven-racing-in-australia-from-1928/page-6#entry9568756

In 1922, using the 10/30 as a starting point, freshly-minted Chief Engineer Captain GT Smith-Clarke and Chief Designer WM Dunn commenced work on the 12/50.

Powered by a new 1496cc four-cylinder OHV engine, the 12/50 had a successful baptism of fire winning the prestigious 1923 JCC 200-mile race at Brooklands in a car crewed by CM Harvey/Tattershall.

The first production cars, priced at 550 pounds went on sale later that year. Popular with sporting motorists, the cars gave peppy performance and a top whack of 75-80mph as long as the body fitted was not overly portly.

The SA model had a wheelbase of 108.5 in and the SB 112.5. A 1598cc version of the same OHV engine was marketed from 1924 when a stronger platform chassis was used rather than the earlier, slender ladder frame. Front brakes were available from 1924 too, the cars had a four speed non-synchro gearbox with right hand change and a fabric-faced aluminium-cone clutch.

The Guest 12/50 during the 1927 Dependability Test – note absence of windscreen (The Car)
1927 Herald Reliability Test route (D Zeunert Collection)
Phil Garlick, Alvis 12/50 s/c and crew after winning the 1926 Lucky Devil Cup. Unfortunate name given his subsequent demise at Maroubra (unattributed)

Built in right hand drive, the light, robust sporting cars were popular in Australia with Williams Bros, the Sydney agents claiming that one-fifth of British cars sold here in 1923 were Alvis’.

Inevitably many were used as competition cars in trials, hill-climbs and racing.

Several 12/50s contested early Phillip Island Australian Grands Prix, the best placed was J Hutton’s eighth in 1928.

The most famous Australian Alvis combination was the 12/50 raced by the the great Phil Garlick at Maroubra’s Olympia Motor Speedway in the mid-twenties. Unfortunately he died a gruesome death in his ex-works-Harvey, supercharged, JCC 200-Mile Race winning 12/50 in January 1927.

The K Guest car shown in this article is an SC model Ducksback 2/3 seater (perhaps a TF subject to a better view), the prettiest of all 12/50s, fitted with optional front brakes.

An immensely robust and versatile car, Alvis’ 12/50 was well designed and built, easy to service and simple to repair. Performance and handling for a 1.5-litre car was exceptional for the time. With a healthy dose of that ephemeral quality called character they are sought after, quintessential vintage cars. A good number are extant, in part due to factory support until Alvis ceased car production in 1967.

Tony Johns circulated the fantastic opening shot earlier in the week, the full credit, to show the tortuous century long route from photographer to you, the online audience, is as follows.

The ‘snapper was the great Edwin Adamson, from whom the shot was bought by Arthur Terdich, 1929 AGP winner. When he died he left his very large, life-time car/racing photo collection to his son Arnold, his widow in turn left them to the Vintage Sports Car Club (Victoria). At some point, club-member Graeme Miller was given a copy, later still Graham gave a copy to my mate Tony Johns, and now my friends, here it is.

Melbourne born Edwin Ted George Adamson (1895-1974) opened for business in 1920, by the 1940s he ran a prominent studio at 169 Collins Street and later 229 Collins Street, Melbourne.

His major clients then were the State Electricity Commission, Gas and Fuel Corporation and sections of the motor industry. Despite a practice doing plenty of commercial work, and regarded as a major chronicler of Melbourne life in the mid-20th century, he positioned the practice as one specialising in portraiture.

We are lucky that the development of smaller cameras and faster films in the 1920s encouraged Adamson (and no doubt other members of his studio) outside to capture the sports he loved.

Straying upon this chance Alvis photograph was timely, ‘Guided by Art’ published ‘Remembering Edwin Adamson’, an article by Michael Schwarz on August 1, 2021, only last week! Click here to read it; Remembering Edwin Adamson – Guided By Art (beguidedbyart.com)

Langlauf race at Mount Buller in the Victorian Alps, 1930-40s (E Adamson)

Holeproof Hosiery ad 1930s

Credits…

Tony Johns, Bob King, Robert Sands, Dale Parsell, Peter Miller, The Car, David Zeunert Collection, Guided by Art

(E Adamson – Miller Family Collection – T Johns Collection)

Finito…

Stirling Moss jumps aboard his Porsche 550 Spyder at the start of the Buenos Aires 1000km on January 26, 1958.

It is intriguing to know how often the great one practised this manoeuvre, the chances of getting ones legs mixed up in gear-shifts and other componentry due to a poor landing are obvious.

He won the 2-litre class in the 1.6-litre car shared with Jean Behra, and was third outright in the 106 lap race – the first round of the FIA World Sports Car Championship – won by the works Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa driven by Peter Collins and Phil Hill.

Moss and Behra were entered in a Maserati 300S but were offered the 550 after the Maserati’s crankshaft broke during practice. See here for pieces on the car; Hamilton’s Porsche 550 Spyder… | primotipo… and Porsche 550 Spyder, Nurburgring… | primotipo…

Credits…

Porsche AG

Finito…

Today we are so used to cast or forged alloy wheels on our cars that we don’t think about them, at least not until we hear that infuriating crunch when we brush a curb. Just when the modern alloy wheel first appeared is subject to some speculation. (See The Nostalgia Forum – https://forums.autosport.com, 12 November, 2009 et seq.) When discussing these wheels, aluminium, magnesium and Elektron (a magnesium alloy) are often confused. Regardless of what we call them, ‘Mag, Alloy or Ali’, there is no disputing that Ettore Bugatti pioneered the use of aluminium wheels on racing cars when he used them on his ground-breaking Type 35 that first appeared at the Grand Prix de l’ACF (French Grand Prix) at Lyon on 3 August, 1924.

Ignoring Bugattis pioneering wheel for the moment, it would seem that cast or forged alloy wheels started to appear in general use in the late 1930’s – perhaps initially in the aviation industry – by this time the USA was a hotbed of experimentation in aluminium casting and alloy development. In England Alex Issoginis used 6 spoke Elektron wheels on his fabulous ‘Lightweight Special’ which he developed in the latter half of the 1930’s. These wheels had integral brake drums, à la Bugatti, but the spokes were bolted to the rim as distinct from being cast in one piece; a technique also used with aircraft.

Bugatti’s aluminium wheel as seen at the French Grand Prix in 1924 (B King)
Alec Issigonis aboard his Lightweight Special with electron wheels in 1961 (unattributed)

In the early post-war years, the use alloy of wheels became commonplace, particularly with racing cars. Perhaps the first to use these wheels in this period was John Cooper on his Mark II. Doug Nye in his seminal COOPER CARS , states that Cooper discussed the increasing difficulty in obtaining suitable wheels with his cousin Colin Darby and they came up with the idea of casting wheels with an integral brake drum “like Bugatti pre-war”.

They patented their design and had them cast, claiming that the wheels were “lighter and stronger than the old Fiat type”. Arthur Owens, THE RACING COOPERS, states that their first production alloy wheels appeared in 1947 and were “cast in Elektron with 8-inch brake drums cast integrally”. Others state that it was in 1948 that the Cooper Mk. II, their first production model, appeared with these wheels. Again, claims were made for better brake cooling, more rigidity and better access to the brakes. Other small-time manufacturers such as Laurie Bond with his eponymous Bond ‘C’ type of 1948 used alloy wheels; in the case of Bond, they were to his own design.

Meanwhile across the pond, ex-Douglas aircraft engineer Ted Halibrand began experimenting with magnesium alloy wheels in 1946 which he first used on his own midget racing car. He tried them out on Indy cars in 1949, but had problems with cracking and the soon to become ubiquitous Halibrand cast wheel did not appear at the Indianapolis 500 until 1950. Subsequently, every Indy car between 1951 and 1967 wore Halibrand wheels and Halibrand’s influence still looms large in the wheel industry and hot rod community.

‘Sure, it looked a lot more aggressive than a steelie with poverty caps’. Ted Halibrand with magnesium alloy wheels and other castings (Internet Commons)
A ‘modern’ Messier Bugatti alloy Boeing nose wheel serves as a hose reel for the writers garden hose. Yes, the Bugatti name survives in the aero-spatial industry (B King)

Historically, it had been generally accepted that the cast aluminium wheel was solely the product of the inventive mind of Ettore Bugatti. However, in 1981 influential American automotive historian Griffith Borgeson (1918-1997) set the cat among the pigeons with his BUGATTI by BORGESON (Osprey). The sub-title of this book is ‘The dynamics of mythology’, and in it he tries, at times too hard, to discredit some of the pioneering work of Bugatti. In chapter 13, ‘Wheels within Wheels’, Borgeson claims priority for the invention of the aluminium wheel for Harry A Miller in a US Design patent of 4 May 1920,

Miller’s design for an ‘ornamental wheel’ (G Borgeson)

Recently, while researching the racing history of Diatto factory works driver Carlo Massola we were shown a book on the marque by Sergio Massaro titled simply: DIATTO. We were astonished to see that on the front cover there was depicted a car with what appeared to be cast wheels. In fact, in 1923 ‘Automobili Diatto’ produced a version of their racing Tipo 20S with aluminium wheels described by Massaro as “the fantastic ‘holey’ wheel” which was cast in light alloy.

It is important to understand that there had been a long-standing relationship between Bugatti and Diatto dating back to their membership of the Turin branch of Club Automobilisti d’Italia as early as 1899 or 1900. According to Steinhauser’s ETTORE BUGATTI, Pietro Diatto, who was nine years older than Ettore, ‘Took an interest in Bugatti’s prototype T8 in 1907. Their relationship was uninterrupted’.

The T8 refers to Bugattis eighth car design which was for the German industrial giant that was Deutz. It was in effect a prototype for future Bugattis with an overhead cam actuating vertical valves via ‘banana’ tappets – a design feature later glorified by his highly successful Brescia model.  In October 1915 Louis Panabel, the Diatto agent for France, obtained an option for Bugatti’s pioneering eight in-line steel-block aero engine in the name of Cavaliere Pietro Diatto. This was the aero-engine which had grown from Ettore’s concept for a luxury car engine of eight cylinders with which he had been experimenting since 1912.

The Diatto-Bugatti aero engine was successfully tested in September 1916, Diatto sending an enthusiastic telegram to Bugatti “I am happy to announce the excellent results for the engine … the testing resulted in a brilliant 210 HP”. This collaboration led to a 1919 agreement in which Bugatti was to supply Diatto with fifty 16 valve car chassis made in Molsheim; they were to be fitted with Diatto radiators. (Other than the radiator and the bonnet, these cars were identical to the Bugatti factory product – they are what today is referred to as the ‘Brescia Bugatti’).

Three of these Diatto-Bugattis were shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1919, all with a Diatto radiator with a Bugatti badge. Bugatti displayed two of his outdated 8-valve cars on another stand. Bugatti was a late entrant for the show, and it would appear that the industrial giant Diatto had stolen a march on the under-funded Molsheim factory. There is an unsubstantiated claim in Wikipedia that Diatto also manufactured chassis for Bugatti.

The fantastic holey wheel used on the Diatto 20S (Massaro)

Dane Claude Teisen-Simony has written of the relationship between Bugatti and Diatto. According to Claude, Diatto, which was the second largest Italian automobile manufacturer post-WWI, formed what was “an absolute dream team. Not only did he start with the collaboration of Bugatti, he also linked-up with the outstanding engineering capacity of Giuseppe Coda of FIAT and SCAT racing fame plus two of the Maserati brothers, Alfieri and Ernesto”.

Teisen-Simony claims that “Bugatti used the much larger Diatto factory and its capacities as a test facility for his new ideas, such as a hollow front axle in 1920 and racing cars with superchargers in 1921”. He states that the remarkable Bugatti hollow front axle was developed as a collaboration between Bugatti and Coda. He notes that Borgeson also referred to a partnership between Bugatti and Coda in the development of the Deutz Type 8.

Although the source of the information on the alliance between Bugatti and Coda is not given, there is sufficient grounds to accept that Diatto and Bugatti worked closely on a number of projects, including aero engines and the sixteen-valve car. Other tangible evidence of the close association between Bugatti and Diatto is indicated by the similarity between their radiator badges and by their adoption of the term ‘Thoroughbred’ translated as, ‘Pur Sang’ and ‘Puri Sangue’ respectively, to describe their cars. It is not clear to the writer when Ettore first used the ‘Pur Sang’ description; but it has been applied retrospectively to the first Bugatti, his Type 13 of 1909 – ‘Le Petit Pur Sang’. Diatto used ‘Puri Sangue’ to promote the company’s success with their Tipo 30 (Bugatti).

The Diatto radiator badge has an identical form to the Bugatti badge (Massaro)
Diatto’s thoroughbred (Internet Commons)

The Bugatti cast aluminium wheel.

Cast wheels were not a novelty in 1924, and therefore not patentable; nor would the change from iron to aluminium have had patentable merit. Bugattis first patent for his wheel (FR581308), filed on 5 May 1924, was titled Roue à disque à refroidissement ‘cooled disc wheel’, concerning itself with the increased brake cooling provided via skewed spokes. (In production the spokes were parallel).

The Bugatti wheel was distinguished by its integration of the brake drum into the wheel, but this arrangement was not unique as many automotive wire wheels prior to WWI had their spokes laced into the periphery of the brake drum. Malicet et Blin (MaB) were well known for their use of this design and as parts suppliers to the automotive industry this pattern of combined wheel and brake drum appeared on many, mostly French, cars in the early days. Closer to home, Bugatti used this pattern of wheel on his Type 16, the Bébé Peugeot, from 1912 – possibly this influenced his thinking when it came to making an aluminium wheel with an integral brake drum.

The rear wheel of the writers Bebe Peugeot, showing the integration of the brake drum into the wheel (B King)
The original Bugatti aluminium wheel as patented in 1926 in the USA. It shows two rows of six spokes, offset; significantly different to the final product (Ploeg)
Bugatti wheel (Salzman)

Wheel manufacture had played an important part in Diatto’s history; Guglielmo Diatto was a thirty-year-old wheelwright and coachbuilder when he established his eponymous company on the banks of the Po River in Turin in 1835. In 1838 he patented ‘a perfect wheel’. From what can be seen in a photograph of the wheel taken from the patent application, it appears to be a normal metal spoked cart wheel. Was it the use of metal spokes that made it patentable, or was it a pioneering cast wheel?

Guglielmo Diatto’s ‘perfect wheel’ of 1838 (Internet Commons)

Aluminium wheels, Bugatti, Miller or Diatto?

It seems unlikely that Bugatti was influenced by the 1919 Miller design for an aluminium wheel. Miller, strictly, did not patent the design – it was a Model Registration that concerned ‘the ornamental design of a wheel’. The wheel was intended to be used on an innovative racing car known as the T.N.T., but in its one or two track appearances it was fitted with conventional wire wheels.  (Mark Dees, THE MILLER DYNASTY) The model registration did not address any perceived mechanical advantage from a cast wheel. The wheel was six spoked, compared with Ettore’s eight spokes, and there is nothing in the model registration to suggest it used an integral brake drum. It appears that Borgeson, not for the first time, was ‘drawing a long bow’ when he suggested that Miller’s design was the inspiration for Bugatti’s cast aluminium wheel.

In regard to the association between Bugatti and Coda, we are prepared to believe that the Diatto and Bugatti aluminium wheels might have had common antecedents. In the absence of documentation, just who influenced who remains unclear. The presence of Giuseppe Coda in the allegedly contemporary drawing of a Diatto 20S with perforated aluminium wheels does imply his possible involvement in this novelty.

Bugattis original patent described the wheel “as consisting of one, two or several discs, pierced in a manner to give the desired form to the ‘arms’ or spokes”. This description better fits the Diatto wheel than the aluminium wheel as it first appeared on the Type 35 Bugatti at Lyon in 1924. Could this design have arisen from discussion between Coda and Bugatti, or was Bugatti inspired to make his own version having seen the cast wheel designed by Coda? Italian patents relating to the aluminium wheel might be revealing.

A representation of Coda at the wheel of a Diatto 20S with cast aluminium wheels (Massaro)

What is certain is that Ettore Bugatti was the first to produce a practical light alloy wheel for racing and passenger cars – wheels that are now standard on modern cars.

Etcetera…

Aerolite wheels detail construction

More on the Aerolite wheels from Stuart Ulph, owner of the Almack Austin.

“I was completely unaware that a commercial fleet had been equipped with Airlite wheels. My knowledge of these wheels (apart from owning some) was derived from the “Motor Sport” article, so to me they were ‘Aerolite’. They were made by Bramber with, I am pretty sure, Dunlop rims, the rims being steel of course. I had wondered if High Duty Alloys were involved in the supply of materials – just speculation.

Pete Almack refers to them as ‘my patented wheels’. I assumed he was the patent holder  – he held other patents – but a patent search has revealed nothing. Peter also acted in some sort of consulting capacity to the patents board. It has occurred to me that Bramber may have held the patent.

As far as Austin Sevens are concerned, I know that both 15″ and 16″ wheels were made. I had heard that a ‘Motor Show’ Vauxhall 14 was equipped with Pete’s wheels and I have a set of 16″ wheels which were fitted to a BMW 315. Unlike the Austin 7 wheels, these do not have integral brake drums. The BMW wheels have a patent pending number on them as I recall but even this proved of no use to the searcher.

You would think that more of these wheels might turn up, given that Bramber seem to have sold quite a few sets. I telephoned Bramber circa 1980, by which time they had moved to Wales and their major occupation was in producing trailers for Land Rovers. Though interested by the story, by then they had no records or knowledge of the alloy wheels.”

CZ Z13 1.5-litre two stroke (D Ploeg)

And this contribution from Dick Ploeg, “You may also wish to add that the Czechoslovakian firm of CZ (CESKOSLOVENSKA ZBROJOVKA), on their 1931 Z13 racing car they copied the Bugatti alloy wheels, with integral brake drums.

Furthermore there was a French make of aftermarket light alloy wheels available shortly before and after WW2. These were seen, I believe, on Amilcars and Peugeot Darlemats of the period. I have no name available at the moment, but it must be recorded somewhere.”

Credits…

Bob King and his collection, Tony Johns, Mike Costigan, Stuart Ulph, Dick Ploeg, Diatto’ Sergio Massaro, Brockbank and other references quoted in the text

Tailpiece…

Finito…

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…

Carlo Massola and riding mechanic aboard his works Diatto Type 20 during the April 1922 Targa Florio weekend. DNF after one of four 67 mile laps. #18 is the nose of Giulio Foresti’s Ballot 2LS – a Maroubra visitor in 1925 (BNF)

Formed by 30-year old Guglielmo Diatto in Turin in 1835 as a coach-builder, Fratelli Diatto later morphed to railway engineering in 1864 before (Vittorio and Pietro Diatto, grandsons of Guglielmo) focusing on new-fangled motor automobiles in collaboration with Adolphe Clément in 1905. Its first cars were licensed Clément-Bayard designs, known as Diatto-Cléments.

After Clement’s 1909 departure, Diatto (Societa Anonima Autoscostruzioni Diatto), a major concern of over 500 employees, made its own cars, the 12/15hp Tipo Unico was its most popular pre-War.

After the conflict Diatto built the Giuseppe Coda designed Tipo 20. Powered by a 2-litre SOHC four, it produced 40bhp and was exported globally. With assistance from the Maserati brothers – Alfieri Maserati split his time between his Bologna factory and Diatto in Turin – Diatto produced the short-wheelbase 2-litre, DOHC, 75bhp Tipo 20S Grand Prix car for the 2-litre formula which commenced that year.

Carlo Massola was a FIAT mechanic and test driver before joining Diatto to fill a similar role. He contested the 1922 Targa Florio in a Tipo 20 (or 20S, accounts vary) but failed to finish, as did Domenico Gamboni in the other works car which started; Giulio Masetti won in a 1918 Mercedes GP 18/100.

At the end of the year Massola emigrated to Australia to join the Ongarello brothers’ Diatto Australian agency, based in Melbourne.

He successfully raced his Targa Diatto, and other marques, at Aspendale amongst other venues from 1923, later still he took Australian citizenship. His son Silvo was a noted racer/engineer post-war; HRG, Bugatti and the M.M. Holden are amongst his race/construction credits.

The Ongarellos sold Diatto Tipo 20A’s in rolling chassis form, the most infamous of which was owned by Melbourne’s Roaring Twenties gangster, Joseph ‘Squizzy’ Taylor who was gunned down in a 1927 Carlton shootout (in a Barkly Street terrace, not the Diatto!).

After a succession of financial reconstructions, Diatto ceased car production in 1927 to manufacture other products. In 2007 the Carrozzeria Zagato revived the brand for a concept car displayed at the 2007 Geneva Motor, the Diatto Ottovù Zagato.

I am in the process of researching an article about Carlo inspired by Bob King with the assistance of the Massola family. Carlo’s race record in Australia is pretty clear, his career in Europe is not.

I am keen to hear from any readers, particularly Italians who may have access to race-records in the decade before 1923, to fill in the gaps. Gimme a yell at mark@bisset.com.au if you can assist, many thanks!

Alfieri Maserati and mechanic, Diatto GP305/20S 3-litre four, DNF oil-tank, during the November 1922 268 mile Coppa Florio. Boillot won on Peugeot 174S. Wonderful action, whites of the eyes shot (Wiki-unattributed)

Credits…

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, ‘Diatto’ Sergio Massaro via Bob King Collection, Wikipedia

Tailpiece…

(S Massaro)

Beautiful drawing from the Massaro book showing a race Diatto 20S long-tail. The light-alloy, holey wheels date from 1923.

Finito…