Archive for the ‘Sports Racers’ Category

Darryl Harvey’s 1934 Ford Rodster takes on the Graeme Bolwell Jaguar Healey Sports at Riverside, Melbourne circa 1963 (P Ryan)

Saturday mornings for me generally have a common pattern depending upon whether i am with The Italian Sheila in Toorak, of whom i wrote in a Cooper S context not so long ago, or sub-optimally flying solo at my place in Windsor, a couple of kays south of Melbourne’s CBD.

Windsor is an interesting place, me ‘an a few ancient Greek ladies are its oldest residents. Otherwise its populated by 25 year old perky bottomed hornbags who say ‘Like’ a lot and their 26 year old gym-toned studmeister boyfriends who tend not to say much at all. Therefore, visually, Chapel Street is easy on the eye.

And so it was on Saturday 2 February, flying solo i did my uber-early jogging lap of Albert Park where i have the ducks and a solo fisherman near Powerhouse to keep me company and then retired to Oppen, the Scandinavian inspired cafe joint (recommended) beside Windsor station where i settle down for an hour or two with faithful Surface Pro to knock together some shite for you lot.

Its quiet there until 10.30 when the hotties and boyfriends arrive for replenishment of their slender frames after the rigours of the night before. At this point i leave as i don’t cope well with twenty young female people saying ‘Like’ in ever more shrill voices…and most of these knuckles have had pwivate school education gauging by the expensive vowels which accompany the continuum of ‘Like’s.

So, i wandered back to the Peel Street Love-Shack and pondered the next move of the day.

And then it happened…

Conor Ryan arrived with ‘my’ car 30 minutes after his father called me about the wonderful chance to drive it. Elgaram perfectly happy in busy Melbourne morning summers traffic and makes a superb early morning run/track car. Three of my mates called me within two days of the Phillip Island meeting to find out if the car can be bought- it can’t! (M Bisset)

I got the Works Driver phone call i longed for from Enzo Ferrari back in 1979.

I guess all of us who have been offered such rides have the approaches made in different ways, often through a manager or intermediary, or perhaps their Dad if the opportunity is a Kart and the driver nine years of age. But in my case the Team Owner took the direct approach and called me, i was watering the petunias out back at the time.

Patrick Ryan is a mate and long time historic racer in Australia having been involved since the start of historic racing in the mid-seventies. His fleet includes various vintage Vauxhalls, a Brabham Ford FJ, the supercharged MG TA Spl he usually races, a recently acquired American Sprintcar which is giving the Group LB fields a serious fright, other stuff, and the Elgaram Jaguar.

‘I’ve entered the Elgaram at the Island, i want to encourage you back into racing, you’ve been out of it too long, how bout having a lash in the car as i now can’t make it?’ was the gist of the call. How could one say no to such an act of generous stupidity?

Before i even had the chance to email Pat my fifty page Driving Contract with all the usual carve-outs for my own sponsors names on the car, driving suit, fees, accommodation requirements, media appearance obligations and all the rest of it the Equipe Elgaram’s Chief Test Driver was on the phone to say he was in the area and did i want to drive the car?

This was code for ‘lets see if the fat prick will fit in the thing’ before we proceed too far.

Pat’s son Conor Ryan had been down the road doing a ‘you show me yours and i’ll show you mine’ session with Bob King in Brighton- Conor drove Bob’s Bugatti T35 (lucky prick) and Bob the Elgaram.

Twenty minutes after the call- forty minutes after i had first spoken to Pat, Conor pulled up out front of the shack, startling a couple of hotties in the process. Before too long we set off up Dandenong Road in the direction of Caulfield Racecourse amongst thick mid-morning traffic, not ideal, but that 10 km and back was the extent of my pre-Phillip Island familiarisation.

This was all very impressive, Equipe Elgaram was far more organised than Scuderia Shitfight, my own race organisation.

First impressions were good- comfy driving position, with pedals, gear lever and instruments all in the right spot- lucky as the seat is fixed, so it was going to be a case of ‘tough-titties’ otherwise. The Jaguar engine sounds great with lots of mid-range punch and more than loud enough to scare the shit out of the hornbags trundling along in their white 3 Series. ‘Like, did you see that thing babe? Like?’. Like yeah i did like, fuckin’ loud. No muffler the bastard. Like.’

The Moss gearbox promised to be more of a challenge, not really like the Mk9 Hewland with which i am far more familiar.

And therein lay the challenge of the thing.

Other than a few club events in my road Alfa’s and Lotus Elise down the decades all of my race experience has been in Formula Vee and Formula Fords with two modest test sessions in a Ralt RT4 F Pac. I am used to fancy, schmancy, lithe, nimble, responsive poof-house little single seaters not a big hairy front-engined, rear-drive sportscar- a mans car.

Rex Styles, Winton (P Ryan)

 

Twin SU fed, ‘cooking spec’ Jag XK 3.8 litre engine sits well back in the chassis (M Bisset)

 

Healey/Ford solid rear axle fitted with slippery diff, leaf springs, telescopic shocks, Panhard Rod and short radius rods locate the thing- very well. Brakes are drum and ahem. Stock Healey tank and in-line filters and Terry Cornelius’ structure to support the body (M Bisset)

We will come to a full history of the Elgaram a little later. In essence it was built by Frankston, Melbourne bayside dentist Bill Suhr in 1961 and is a clever amalgam of Austin Healey 100-4 chassis, suspension, brakes and fuel tank, Jaguar twin-carb, twin-cam, XK 3.8 litre six-cylinder engine, Moss 4-speed gearbox and an AH rear axle incorporating a Ford 9 inch diff inclusive of slippery function. The whole lot is clad in a very swoopy, sexy, curvaceous body made by Graeme Bolwell- the first fibreglass body made by the Bolwells, Graeme was the car’s second owner and Suhr his dentist.

The car passed through many hands before being acquired by Patrick in 1974. Eventually the car rose to the top of the family restoration and preparation tree, it first raced at Sandown in 2013.

My competition licence lapsed long ago, the process of getting the requisite piece of paper to run in the Regularity from CAMS was surprisingly easy. That combination of words- ‘CAMS and surrisingly easy’ are not normally found together in the same sentence.

Also straightforward was fitting into my race suit. I figured that would not necessarily be the case after a decade and a bit. Clearly in that regard The Italian Sheilas pre-christmas demand that i ‘lose some weight if you want to sleep with me’ was effective. Desperate people do desperate things of course.

Jean-Pierre Bisset, P Is March 2019, lithe lisson lines clear (Bollyblog)

 

During the week before the meeting i did Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney then back to Melbourne between Monday and Thursday flogging our corporate message to the poor employees so i was tad rooted by the time i pointed my Alfa in the direction of my sisters place at San Remo, a drop-kick from the Island later on Thursday night with my kit.

But hey, i’m a Works Driver, i’ve done no race prep of the car nor had to tow the little critter to the meeting, that task was undertaken by Conor, driving the other Ecurie Elgaram racer that weekend- a Daveric Formula Vee (Elfin NG copy) and John Noble- Chief Engineer, Race Tactitian, Driver Coach and regular driver of the Ecurie Elgaram fleet.

John is a couple of years older than me- we worked out over the weekend that we grew up 500 metres apart, attended the same Boroondara Primary School in North Balwyn- and i very clearly remember as a young kid his TC rocketing around the area in the mid-seventies- a car, delightfully, he still owns.

The three of us had a ball looking after each other, the cars ran like clockwork so there was plenty of time to take in the contents of the paddock and talk/meet near neighbours including John Medley, Dick Willis, Shane Bowden, Les Wright and many others including my cronies Andrew McCarthy, Peter and David Brennan, David Mottram, Simon Gardiner and his offsider Andrew, Jeremy Mantello, Adam Berryman, Tania Langsford, Peter Ellenbogen, Lynton Hemer, David Crabtree and many more. The fun guys are in the ‘right-bottom corner’ of the PI paddock all the same!

For me i had a big responsibility to the car and its owners- to absorb, taste and test it but most importantly bring it home in one piece for John Noble to drive back to Williamstown at the weekends completion. In that regard the Regularity is ideal as you set your own pace- i’ve done so many meetings at PI the circuit was no issue but in an unfamiliar car it rewards respect. Shit happens and when it does down there, at high speed.

Big beefy Healey/Ford rear axle, the fibreglass body is light but the engine/box are not. Sexy beast from every angle (M Bisset)

 

Big wood-rimmed wheel nice to use, cockpit full of patina, it looks the goods. Six-point harness and old seat which holds you nicely and is comfy. Smiths instruments natch! Handbrake is ‘fly-off’, pedals beautifully placed for toe/heel and shift for the Moss 4-speeder in ze right spot (M Bisset)

 

I got on with the Moss box in the end, sort of. Lucas ignition box with St Christopher medallion dangling. Note the fuses, ignition switch and starter button. Switch alongside starter is for the thematic fan which is needed in warmer weather, Up is on (M Bisset)

You can tell the car has been set up by experienced racers as soon as you sit in it. The controls are all well placed and clearly marked. The fixed seat is perfectly placed for those 6 foot tall- Pat, Conor…and me luckily.

To start the thing you switch the electric fuel pumps on- the up position, turn the ignition key, and, with a prod of the twin-SU’s, stab the starter button. Usually, the engine, in ‘cooking’ specification- and giving about 290 bhp on Ian Tate’s dyno the Monday before the meeting, grumbles into life and is easily kept alive with gentle applications of throttle.

Instruments comprise a Smiths chronometric tachometer which makes me go all funny because i love sitting and looking at those things and their ‘wonky movements’- most of my own cars have had them. Smiths also provide the water temperature and oil pressure gauges.

All three are easy to read with the tach mounted such that 5000 rpm is in the vertical position. Conor said ‘use 4800 thru the gears and whatever it will pull in top’- my imposed rev limits were 4800 on the way up and 5000 in top- i needed to feather the thing on both straights as it pulls harder than a busload of school-boys, all up weight is circa 900 Kg- not light but not heavy either, the Bolwell body slips through the salty, warm seaside air very nicely.

The six point harness holds you in place well- not like a single-seater of course, the seat is delightfully unrestored and you can saunter around the paddock no wux at all, the engine is not in ultimate spec in terms of tune, the clutch is light and easy to operate with well felt ‘bite’ points.

Balaclava and helmet on, switch on the electric fan once on the move- the up position, it felt strange to rumble away from the form-up area, down the pitlane and out onto the circuit sitting up in a car rather than ensconced down low within it. It is a totally different orientation to the road.

‘Use your imagination and the thing feels like you are sitting in and looking out of a Maserati 300S’ Pat Ryan said to me on that first phone call and so it is too. The big six makes a magnificent, deep-throated bellow, the shape of the dash and vista out front make you feel you are in a fifties sports-racer- which in conception is exactly what the car is despite an early sixties build.

I decided i didn’t love the Moss box in Dandenong Road but moderated that a bit at PI.

From first to third are changes made on a ‘one-two count’- you cannot beat the slow syncro whereas the third to top shift (direct) is as fast as your left hand will move. Bewdiful. The brake and throttle pedals are perfectly placed for heel ‘n toe operation- the top-third change is a soda. Third to second is much more of a challenge with a soft detent to that plane, which makes it way too easy to end up in limbo-land below reverse if you go too far left- a couple of angel rides into MG suggested using third and letting the big fat torque curve do its thing was the percentage play. Doing that also precludes an unsettling ‘snap’ shift from second to third before rolling onto the throttle for the left-hander outta MG- critical for a quick lap as those revs carry you onto the long PI straight.

Lesson learned. I’m sure when you are familiar with the box, its not an issue.

Up the rise before the dive into MG- Nigel Tait behind in Lolita BMC

 

The handling of the car is just superb, somewhat to my surprise.

At high speed it has stabilising mild understeer but out of third gear Honda and especially third gear Siberia you can get the thing into a yummy easily controllable delicate slide on exit. Whilst the XK engine- and Moss box are not exactly Twiggy in girth those lumps are mounted well back in the chassis as you can see in the photos- the driver also sits well back. It would be intriguing to know just what the front/rear weight ratio is. Whatever it is the thing works well- the ‘slippery’ allows the power to be put to the tarmac and panhard rod and ‘radius rods’ either side of the car locate the rear axle well.

At the front its wishbones/lever arm shockers- the turn in is pretty good albeit the amount of feel via the 14 inch wheel and worm and sector steering is not quite the same as a ten inch Momo and Van Diemen rack and pinion- but if you don’t use that inappropriate frame of reference and consider the road/track tyres with which the car is shod it turns in well driving it at the pace i was and driving it as a single-seater rather than chucking it about more the way the Ryans do. I noticed how much ‘slack’ in the steering there is in my first session on Friday but by the end of our event on Sunday wasn’t even noticing it- familiarity is the point here.

But the brakes. Faaaaark- wot brakes?

Man those drums- ‘keep an eye on your braking distances after the second lap’ Conor had warned me and he was not kidding. The levels of retardation are totally unlike anything i’ve ever run on a circuit- twice at Honda i went straight on an extra 20 metres or so and then turned back hard right onto the racing line having misjudged the distances required. The car pulls up straight- its just that it doesn’t pull up! If thats what a drum braked car of the period(s) is about i dips me hat to all of yez who race them. Conor and Pat do very fast times in that car, quite how they do them with those anchors is something for me to ponder.

The Elgaram Jag is a stunning piece of kit in terms of looks and performance. The acceleration to a six-cylinder basso-profundo symphony is marvellous, and the gearbox is great to use as long as you work to its delightfully ‘mechanical’ in feel, slow timing. The handling is precise, steering light but joisus i really didn’t like the brakes.

The beauty of the thing is its race and road use, as a 200 km early morning run car its hard to think of something more charismatic- my Elise would do it more clinically, the Elgaram with a good deal more brio and presence.

What a marvellous car! A tribute to both its builders and its restorers, which is rather a nice segue to the machines origins.

Jag Healey Special in its original form was as ugly as a hatful of arseholes as we crass Australians sometimes couch these things. Holden FJ Ute behind with an added on canopy- Graeme Bolwell up (Bolwell)

Design, Build, Construction and Evolution In Period…

Bill Suhr commenced the project in 1960, it would be interesting to know what his motorsport background was before he came upon the notion of a special incorporating the Jaguar XK engine as was relatively common at the time.

He acquired a brand new Austin Healey 100-4 chassis, (number unknown despite plenty of effort to find out- we surmise it was a spare part), suspension and wheels and fuel tank from the Frankston, Melbourne bayside dealership.

To that he added a Jaguar Mk7 engine built to ‘D Type specifications’ in terms of valves, camshafts and other items.

Chassis and suspension Healey BN1, tall Jag XK 3.8 litre six, period crossplies on skinny wires (P Ryan)

 

Workshop unknown, perhaps the car in-build (P Ryan)

 

Graeme Bolwell place unknown (Bolwell)

The body was built by Bobby Wragg a local plaster business owner in the Lotus 11 style, as a sideline. But with the radiator exposed it was ‘as ugly as a hatful…’ and not particularly aerodynamically efficient either.

Registered (Victoria) in Suhr’s name HHD-671 from March 1961 to March 1962 the car was entered as the ‘Jaguar Healey Sports’ at the old Mount Martha Hillclimb, Geelong Sprints in August 1961 (15.90 seconds) and at Phillip Island in December 1962 where Suhr won the over 3 litre sportscar scratch- amongst other events, in Victoria.

Graeme Bolwell with his mother, Lorna, looking on, Mount Martha Hillclimb 1961, note the headrest, how long did that last i wonder? (P Ryan)

 

JHS at the second Templestow Hillclimb meeting (R Styles)

 

The nose of the Bill Suhr Jaguar Healey Special alongside Murray Carter’s Carter Corvette at Geelong Sprints in 1961- Event 16- 15.9 seconds for Bill, 13.550 for Murray (Autosportsman)

Graeme Bolwell then bought the car, or rather part-exchanged it from Bill- his dentist.

Suhr took the MGA 1500 Graeme had been using as his daily driver to the Police Training College in St Kilda Road, Melbourne as a part trade.

Bolwell didn’t like the body so removed the original and built his own. He started from scratch making a centre bulkhead from tubular steel, covering it with aluminium. ‘He…formed the panel shape in plaster and chicken wire, smoothing it over before fibreglassing over it. This resulted in the rough side of the glass surface facing outward, which in turn had to be filled, smoothed and painted.’ The windscreen was the rear window of an FE Holden.

The front of the car was E Type’esque but unique- there was no mould so the car was strictly a one off. Graeme’s design flair was apparent right from the start, without doubt the car is visually arresting from any angle.

Graeme Bolwell in the driveway of his parents Frankston home (Bolwell)

 

(P Ryan)

Graeme Bolwell developed a quite beautiful body for the JHS, here pictured in what i assume is the driveway of the family home in Frankston. A small sign proclaiming ‘Bolwell Cars’ was attached to the letterbox of this outer suburban Bayside house in June 1962- Campbell Bolwell’s intentions were clear!

Look carefully on the door of the car above- those competition numbers are the same as those on the opening photograph at Riverside Dragway.

Its a pity we don’t have the date of that meeting, it’s safe to assume it was pretty soon after the body was fitted- there are still some finishing touches to come inclusive of a windscreen.

(Bolwell)

The car was said to be the fastest sporty in Frankston, Graham took it to the drags at Fishermens Bend (Riverside) and took home three trophies- 13.9 seconds for the standing quarter was his time but in the main the car was a roadie, his day to day transport.

The body for the Jaguar Healey Sports was the first such built by Bolwell, it is referred to in Bolwell circles as the ‘Bolwell Mk3 or 3B’- the third car built by the Bolwell brothers. Lets come back to that a little later on.

Graeme advertised it in the December 1963 issue of Australian Motor Sports, the ad is below. You will note Graeme identifies the car as ‘Jaguar-Healy (sic) Sports’.

Australian Motor Sports December 1963

 

Bob Minogue in the Elgaram Jag faces off against John Skipper Allard J3, Geelong Sprints August 1964- 15.770 for Bob and 16.280 for John. Lex Davison took FTD that day in his Brabham Climax with a time of 12.98 seconds with Earl Davey Milne doing a 14.06 in the Bugatti Chev Spl I wrote about a short time ago (Autosportsman)

Unable to sell it, he traded the car in at Dick Thurston’s Pitstop Motors, Elsternwick where Rex Syles, a salesman there at the time, bought it on 18 February 1964- Rex traded in his Fiat 1500.

Styles used the car as both daily transport and weekend racer at venues as diverse as Winton, Lakeland (first meeting) and Templestowe Hillclimb. Bob Minogue, later a racer of some note, his work at the wheel of an ex-Brown/Hamilton/Costanzo Lola T430 Chev F5000 springs to mind, was a friend of Styles- also drove car, during this period the car was entered as the Elgaram Jaguar- Elgaram being the Maragle Avenue, Brighton street-name spelt backwards- Bob Minogue’s locale at the time.

In fact Styles raced the car at the inaugural Lakeland meeting on 15 March as ‘Elgaram’ so the name change seems to have been effected pretty much from the start of his ownership. FTD on that hot Lakeland day went to a youthful Tim Schenken in the White 500, ‘the White entered, go-kart based 500 cc device’ in a time of 33.25 seconds.

‘Rex Styles comes over the top in the Elgaram’ is the April 1964 Australian Autosportsman Lakeland caption

Minogue did a 15.77 second pass at the Geelong Eastern Beach Sprints in August 1964. Styles decided to part with the much loved car when the engine developed an ominous engine knock after a Templestowe meeting.

The happy purchaser was WC Lucas of West Newport, like Pat Ryan and his family, a proprietor of a busline.

He was a very active competitor on both road and track including Templestowe, Rob Roy, Calder, Geelong (he did 17.320 secs in 1965) and the Riverside Dragway.

Bill eventually over-revved the car bigtime, the tell tale said 9800rpm, a number for the which the Lyons/Heynes/Hassan XK engine was not designed. As a consequence he rebuilt the car around a worked over Ford Customline Star model V8 to which he mated a Crossley pre-selector gearbox! I imagine the little beastie was rather front-heavy at this point- during this period the car was entered in race meetings as ‘Beast’.

The Crossley box did not work well so Lucas refitted the Jag transmission, whatever the shortcomings of the configuration the car was a rocket in a straight line, recording more than 135 mph, a number which must have given the Werribee coppers something to think about. Over the standing quarter, 115 mph was the number through the traps.

The standard Healey diff was not up to the pace, so was ‘locked’ which resulted in broken axles so a change to a coil-sprung Jag XK120 rear end was made with which the car handled ‘reasonably well’ with race Dunlops fitted to the front and road going radials on the rear!

Bill Lucas owned the car for around three years and sold it, unregistered, in April 1966.

The car in essence has spent most of its life in Melbourne’s Western suburbs from the time Lucas owned it until the present.

Bill Lucas in the Elgaram Jag ‘Jag Spl’ at Templestowe Hillclimb in September 1966 (S Dalton)

Altona’s Fred Woolski bought it and dragged it, perhaps at Calder, he fitted vertical exhaust stacks by cutting sections from the bonnet, fitted a Customline dash and then sold to the car to ‘anon unknown’ in Altona who removed the engine and ‘box to fit to his road Customline.

The cars dark ‘limbo-land’ between life and death has well and truly begun- its now a cheap ‘ole’ (not so old in reality at all) banger.

Alan Forsythe of Braybrook then entered the cars life, his brother fitted an FC Holden ‘Grey-Six’ and gearbox to use in the paddocks. The next owner’s contribution was to pull the brakes apart and lose said componentry.

Footscay’s Jim Evans planned to use it in club events but it never cleared the Western Suburbs back-blocks before he sold it to fund his twenty-first Birthday celebrations! I doubt the cash realised would have bought too many Melbourne Bitter long-necks!

Elgaram during Iain McPherson’s ownership, note the Holden six engine. It’s before Iain found the original bonnet hiding in someone’s shed and the original Lucas aero screen. Note the wire wheels on the front and disc wheels on the back, when they needed to replace the rear end with an XK120 Jag unit the disc wheels became necessary (I McPherson)

The Limbo-Land was over when Bulleen’s Iain McPherson bought it.

During the period after the car crossed back over the Yarra McPherson started the long process of restoration by locating the bonnet, by then missing.

McPherson is a Healey enthusiast, his plan was to fit an AH engine to the car and use it in club events. Finding a photo of the machine in a racing magazine changed that, with great detective work and perseverance he obtained Rex Syles address from CAMS and over a number of years identified and made contact with most of the cars owners- this (truncated by me) chronology of the car’s ownership is Iain’s wonderful work.

Eventually Iain decided to focus on other projects at which point the car trekked back over the Yarra to Pat Ryan in Williamstown. Patrick paid the princely sum of $150 for the bundle of bits on 24 May 1974.

The three photos below were taken at the Ryan Bros Buslines depot which was then in Brunel Street, Essendon/Aberfeldie. Pat has carefully laid out the components gathered by Iain McPherson over several years but the scale of the task is clear!

(P Ryan)

 

(P Ryan)

 

(P Ryan)

Restoration…

Patrick was bitten by the car bug bigtime early in his life and has amassed an eclectic collection of cars he bought because he liked them- not for their investment value. He is a doer, user and racer not a poseur or polisher- which is not to say the cars are shabby.

By the time the Elgaram arrived he was both looking after the family busline with all the responsibilities of an employer and starting a family. And their were other projects and a racer or two to prepare for the next historic meeting.

‘The problem was every time I did prioritise the thing and put it up on blocks I managed to do something to myself. Once I got Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the next time I came off my bike bigtime and broke my neck. Eventually I was talking to David Rapley about stuff, it turned out he didn’t have a customer project at the time so quick as a flash we bundled up all of the bits and pieces are trailered it up to his place at Bunyip.’ This was the early 2000’s.

‘I had long decided to restore it to its Elgaram Jaguar specs but when acquired most of the critical bits were missing including the Jaguar engine and Moss gearbox. These I got off Jag racer and repairer Bob How.’

‘Iain McPherson had retained the wire wheels and hubs. Steve Pyke and Jim McConville helped with all of the myriad Healey bits and pieces we needed. Mechanically David brought the project together by, as David modestly said, ‘doing a rolling chassis mock-up’ whilst the body was built by racer/panel man Terry Cornelius at his shop in Korowa up on the Murray.’

Terry picks up the story ‘David had worked the chassis over and managed to set the bits and pieces of existing bodywork in place on the rolling chassis with a few rudimentary supports which allowed me to get the picture…similar to the Sabrina Austin, repaired after an horrific trailer accident after Historic Winton in 1979, it was clear a new body was required.’

‘Like Sabrina, the Elgaram body had been built “inside out” and never employed a mould. First I had to create a buck. The buck is a replica of the finished article and requires a different approach inasmuch as when completed, its temporary supporting frame will by convenience, be different to the final supporting frame. The buck is then completed to its ultimate dimensions and principles in terms of styling, openings, hinge-ing and so on. The existing sections of bodywork were also used.’

‘When happy with the progress- effectively a shiny replica of the original body the buck was delivered, complete with frame, and an extended, more robust chassis whilst the mould was being created- to Maverick Boats of Corowa, the local boat manufacturing company. They expertly made a mould in fibreglass which neatly enveloped the buck. At the same time, a basic external frame I had created, was incorporated for extra strength.’

‘Next step was a body laid-up within the new mould, after which it was released and finally both body and mould were returned to my ‘shop. Then, finally, a mould existed for the Elgaram and subsequently the new body was attached to the chassis via a newly designed and executed minimal framework. The main job was then done with attention then turned to the hinged and ‘catched’ openings, and, finally, when all of that was satisfactory, the body was painted with an intentionally faded maroon top coat’

Patrick ‘We were blown away by the result- both the look of the car and also the patina of David’s work in the cockpit and fine detail- not that it was a surprise!’

‘It was finally finished four or five years ago, its first run an MSCA Sandown Club Day in which I drove it. It was a great day for a first time out, other than some wheel/body clearance issues the car ran well and has given Conor, John Noble and a few others an immense amount of pleasure since both on the road, in hillclimbs and on the circuits. Suhr knew what he was about, he concocted a clever assemblage of parts that was very quick in its day. And still is now!’ quipped Patrick.

Tony Lupton at Rob Roy Hillclimb shortly after the Elgaram’s return to life (unattributed)

What Is In a Name?…

This car has been called a variety of things over the years, which is of course the owners perogative.

Original constructor Bill Suhr designated his concoction of components the ‘Jaguar Healey Special’, a name used by Graeme Bolwell in period. During the Rex Styles era he entered the car as the Elgaram Jaguar. Bill Lucas entered it as Jaguar Special, Beast or The Beast. Who knows what the boys from the west called it in their short periods of ownership.

The Bolwell folk refer to it either as the Bolwell Mk3 or Mk3B, it is appropriate that the car be referred to as one of the continuum of cars the Bolwell brothers evolved through on the way to becoming manufacturers in their own right.

But the car was never referred to as Bolwell Mk3 or Mk3B ‘in period’ by Graeme including at the time of its sale.

Clearly though, by the time of the Bolwell Mk4, launched on or about April 1964, the Bolwells had counted back through their previous projects to arrive at Mk4- their first ‘bespoke’ machine.

Correctly, Campbell Bolwell figured in similar fashion to ACB Chapman that the punters would be happier to buy a car off somebody who had been in the game for a while and Mk4 had better connotions of that than Mk1!

Bolwell Mk4 Sports in the Mordialloc suburb close to the factory at a guess, circa 1964 (Bolwell)

 

John Noble swung the Elgaram past the Bolwell display of 60 cars at the end of the 2019 Phillip Island Historic meeting, Campbell Bolwell made a beeline for the car, here he is, clearly enjoying a drive in his dentist- and brothers old car on the roads adjoining the circuit (J Noble)

 

Bolwell Mk4 GT Coupe circa- circa 1964 (Bolwell)

In fact, in 1974 when a youthful Pat Ryan excitedly visited the Mordialloc factory in his Beetle to tell the Bolwells about his find they were dismissive of it and couldn’t get Pat out the door quickly enough.

Times and attitudes change of course.

These days the Elgaram Jaguar- the specific era and specification of the car to which Pat restored the machine, is welcomed by Bolwell folk, indeed there was a steady stream of very knowledgeable marque enthusiasts taking pictures of the car and talking about it over the Phillip Island weekend.

For the absence of doubt, as the lawyers are want to say, in period the car was never called a Bolwell by Messrs Suhr, Styles, Lucas, Woolski, Forsythe, Evans, McPherson or Bolwell. It was not, is not and never was referred to as the Bolwell Mk3 or Mk3B until marketing convenience deemed it so.

(P Ryan)

Etcetera…

The Elgaram’s engine was donated by a Mark 7 Jag- engine number 3576, chassis number 710876, the car was first registered (Victoria) WY-981 on 2 April 1952.

Bill Suhr first registered the Jaguar Healey Special (Victoria) HHD-671 on 8 March 1961.

(P Ryan)

 

(M Bisset)

 

M Bisset)

 

JHS cockpit, note wood-rimmed wheel and Holden rear window used as windscreen (P Ryan)

 

(M Bisset)

 

(M Bisset)

 

(P Ryan)

 

(M Bisset)

 

(M Bisset)

 

(Bolwell)

Credits…

Patrick Ryan Collection, the history of the ownership chronology of the car was carefully researched and documented bu Iain McPherson, AHR- Australian Hot Rodder Number One, Bolwell Company, Bolwell Car Club, Peter Ellenbogen, Anna McConnell

Tailpiece: Graeme Bolwell, Jaguar Healey Sports, Riverside Dragway, Fishermans Bend circa 1963…

(AHR)

I just love this photograph of Graeme Bolwell not long after the construction of the JHS’ new set of clothes- no doubt he was in touch with his feminine side but the car was never pink, the hue is in the developing of the slide not the colour in actuality.

How sweet it is, whilst clearly influenced by the Jag E Type it is derivative of the period but does have a beautiful distinctive cohesiveness all of its own.

Quite how Pat happened upon ‘Australian Hot Rodder’ Number One to find this photo- both the pink car and driver are not identified in the text of the magazine, I do not know. The publication has a brief history about the commencement of Drag Racing from the nascent Australian Hot Rodding scene, which is interesting.

Organised, but not legal drag racing started in Australia on a strip of then very quiet, out of the way, Doherty’s Road at the back of Altona North not far from Geelong Road in Melbourne’s west in early 1957.

The Southern Hot Rod Club, founded in the late, lamented St Moritz ice skating rink in St Kilda- it’s where the boys hung out, were a highly organised lot inclusive of timers with CAMS ‘spoon type’ starter switches.

In the civilised manner of the day, the car and bike guys cooperated, the bike racers who used an intersecting road to test their machines alternated with the drag racers 30 minutes about- and the police, who were aware of the activities turned a blind eye. ‘For Christ’s sake be careful won’t you. You’re on a public road’ one member of the force is reputed to have said having stumbled upon the activities about twelve months after they commenced.

Things became a tad more kosher with the move to Pakenham Airstrip during 1958 but by 1961 the pressures of increased rent, CAMS sticking their noses in and more regular use by parachutists of the strip meant a new home had to be found.

An unused airstrip at Fishermans Bend provided the solution.

A policeman who was a SHRC member floated the use of the venue with the Chief Commissioner of Police and the path was smoothed by him with the Port Melbourne Council, who had jurisdictional responsibilities- to use the old runway for ‘speed trials’ on a non-profit basis under police guidance.

And so the sport of drag racing commenced in Australia at ‘Riverside’.

All of which is wonderful but I wonder what the date of the Riverside meeting pictured is?!

Finito…

 

(Getty)

Donald Healey in his supercharged Austin Healey 100S ‘Streamliner’ at Bonneville in November 1954…

Late in 1954 Healey’s introduced the 100S, its power output was up to 132 bhp over the standard 100’s 90 bhp. A four speed gearbox was fitted, suspension modified and Dunlop disc brakes installed to all four corners of the attractive car. Reshaped panels in aluminium both made the car lighter and slipperier.

What better way to promote sales of the marque generally and of the 100S specifically than a further spot of record breaking?- hence the construction of the Shorrock supercharged car with its swoopy body designed by Gerry Coker.

The top speed the car achieved in Donald Healey’s hands was 192.6 mph, whilst on the Bonneville Ten Mile Circuit Carroll Shelby took further records including the 25-200 kilometres plus the one hour mark at 157.92 mph.

The Healey team considered building a special car but time did not permit so a standard BN1 body/chassis unit was used to which was added a new nose and tail and bubble-type perspex cockpit cover. The workmanship of the snout and body were reported as being exemplary.

The mods were determined after wind tunnel tests on a scale model by Sir WG Armstrong of Whitworth Aircraft Ltd. ‘The Motor’ reported that the completed car was later tested in Austin’s full-scale ‘tunnel- the technician’s estimate of the machines top speed was only 0.6 mph shot of Healey’s best effort. Who needs computers?!

In terms of the engine, prepared by Dr JH Weaving of BMC Gas Turbine Research, the 100S had in standard form a nitrided crank running in trimetal bearings and ‘the special cylinder head with enlarged valves and special porting which are the outstanding features of the new unit’.

Changes from the standard S engine included lapping the head to the block to avoid head gasket problems, the water flow also was slightly modified. A stock Shorrock C250B supercharger was coupled direct to the nose of the crank by two ‘Layrub’ couplings- maximum boost was about 8 psi. A special radiator core was used and a Tecalemit combined oil filter/cooler was incorporated. The engine produced 224 bhp @ 4500 rpm whereas the standard 100S was quoted at 132 bhp @ 4700 rpm.

The Motor advised a ‘special’ five speed gearbox was fitted with overdrive which gave a top gear ratio of 2.2:1 with the standard 16 inch Dunlop disc wheels fitted.

So slippery was the Streamliner that it ran for six miles (!) when the engine was cut at 180 mph.

Safety features included an onboard Graviner fire extinguisher system which was directed at both the engine bay and boot where the 25 gallon fuel tank was located- both impact and driver operated switches were installed. A ‘crash arch’ was behind the driver, two levers allowed the Perspex screen to be jettisoned, a switch in the lubrication system shut off the fuel supply if oil pressure fell below a set level. Donald found the standard steering wheel interfered with his vision so a rectangular one was made.

When completed the Streamliner was tested at an airfield circuit by Geoffrey Healey to speeds of about 130 mph before shipment to the US.

Healey did the straight line runs at Bonneville raising the International Class D Records for 5 Km 182.2 mph, 5 miles 183.87 mph, 10 Km 183.8 mph and 10 miles 181 mph. The 192.6 mph measured kilometre time was an American national record but not a world mark- it was held by a Mercedes at 248.3 mph, a time set by Rudy Caracciola in 1939 on the eve of the War. The Healey on one run did better 200 mph.

Carroll Shelby then took over the wheel on the 10 mile circle course and set an International Class D Record for the hour at 156.7 mph.

Donald Healey achieved the 200 mph mark he sought in 1956 using the same BN1 Streamliner chassis (SPL227B) in which he was successful in 1954 but fitted with a supercharged C-Series engine which in normally aspirated form was soon to be fitted to the new 100-6.

Bill Leyland modified the engine at Austin’s to produce 292 bhp @ 5000 rpm. Wind tunnel work and the advice of Dr John Weaving resulted in the removal of the cars tail-fin, Geoff Healey thought this ruined the look of the car but stability was aided- Austin engineers estimated a top speed of 217 mph.

(www.healeysix.net)

 

Preparation of the Streamliner six in August 1956 (www.healeysix.net)

The removal of the tail fin is interesting as it was commented favourably upon in ‘The Motor’ report of the 1954 successes on the 10 Mile course ‘The car proved very stable, which was indeed fortunate, for conditions were by no means ideal, gusts of wind up to 30 mph sweeping across the Salt Flats.’

‘Moreover owing to the complete absence of trees or any other vegetation, the driver receives no advance warning of a gust before it strikes the car. The tail fin proved of real value in such circumstances, the general opinion being that it would even have been more helpful if it had been made larger.’

Whatever the case, the car ran sans tail-fin in 1956.

Healey tested the car at Bonneville on 9 August and after repairing a sheared supercharger drive took it out on 21 August, his two way average speed was 201.10 mph, Donald was the nineteenth person to exceed 200 mph.

Roy Jackson-Moore in the BN2 six-cylinder 100-6 ‘Endurance Car’ (www.healeysix.net)

The Healey Team Bonneville 1956 trip included another very sexy machine.

‘The Endurance Car’ was a long-nosed BN2 fitted with a six-port head to which three Weber 40DCOE carburettors were attached.

The Eddie Maher prepared, standard capacity 2639 cc, OHV six cylinder engine produced 164 bhp @ 5500 rpm burning a mix of one third each methanol, benzole and petrol using a compression ratio of 10.2:1.

The very swoopy, curvaceous body was designed and constructed by Jensen Cars- a mighty fine job they did too.

Testing of this car on 9 August revealed vapour lock problems which were solved and continued on the 14th where a misfire diagnosed as due to lack of compression on #1 cylinder due to a poorly seated inlet valve occurred.

All of the valves were replaced but it was discovered that the water passages did not line up. The gasket was predicted to have a short life so runs on the Ten Mile Circuit started early in the cool of the day, the driving chores shared by Carroll Shelby and Roy Jackson-Moore.

The car kept going for six hours before the gasket failed, long enough to capture International Class D records for 200 miles, 500 Km, 500 miles, 1000 Km, 3 hours and 6 hours at speeds of between 145.96 mph (6 hours) and 153.14 mph (500 miles).

The endurance car was Healey Blue and White and featured the oval grille and horizontal bars that were soon introduced on the 100-Six in September 1956, Healey being a believer on the win on Sunday sell on Monday dictum…

Carroll Shelby, Roy Jackson-Moore and Donald Healey beside the Endurance Car with the Streamliner in supercharged six-cylinder guise behind at Bonneville immediately after the successful record attempts in August 1956.

Streamliner, Bonneville, August 1956 (unattributed)

Etcetera…

(www.healeysix.net)

Carroll Shelby beside the BN1 100-6 modified engine Endurance Car in August 1956. Isn’t it just a lovely looking thing sans bumpers with head-fairing and the Dunlop disc wheels?

 

 

(www.healeysix.net)

Stirling Moss at the wheel of the BN1 100-6 modified engine Endurance Car during practice over the 1956 Nassau Speed week. He tested the car, but did not race it, winning the Nassau Trophy in a Maserati 300S.

 

Arcane and Irrelevant…

I’d never heard of a Layrub Joint so I figure some of you other non-engineering types may be equivalently ignorant as my good self.

This little jobbie, originally developed by the Laycock Company, is a number of moulded rubber blocks with specially shaped cavities at their ends sandwiched between two steel pressings. Each shaft is connected by means of a fork to alternate rubber blocks.

The construction of the device allows the rubber blocks to deform and drive to be transmitted through a small angle, small axial and angular movements for shaft length alteration can be accommodated as well as torsional damping.

So, there you have it!

Credits…

Getty Images, http://www.healeysix.net, ‘The Motor’ November 1954, ‘Hillier’s Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology’ Victor Hillier and Peter Coombes

Tailpiece: Donald Healey, AH 100S Streamliner November 1954…

You can just see the perspex screen over Healey’s head as he drives beside the line.

Finito…

(B Williamson)

The drivers of the 20 March 1954, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, Sports Car Race make for their cars…

Event Four on the program was of 12 laps, the journey started at 1.45 pm and was won by Melbourne transport businessman, Kevin Neal- the dude in the sports-jacket aboard the number 61 Jaguar XK120, his main competition according to Terry McGrath, was Harry Firth is his supercharged MG TC Spl.

From the front is the #66 GC Newton XK120, #61 car of Neal, the 3 litre Meadows engined Lea Francis of J Robinson, then the big 3 litre Bentley owned by Haig Hurst- you can just see car #55, the RH Reynolds Morgan Plus 4.

Other notables entered include Graeme Hoinville, MG TC (which he still owns), John  Sawyer, of later Bob Jane Racing fame in a K3 MG, Earl Davey-Milne in a Fraser Nash (which he still owns), Frank Porter, a later prominent touring car racer well into the late seventies, and P McKenna in the 1948 AGP winning BMW 328- you can see that light coloured car second in line behind the dark Jag, both still not off the start-line.

(T McGrath)

Its Neal away with a blinder of a start in his supercharged Jag from the Reynolds Morgan whereas the bulk of the field seems afflicted with problems caused by the ‘Prince of Darkness’- Lucas Electrics, or is that a tad unfair?

The light coloured car behind the Morgan is the RG Davis MG TC and the dark coloured one at the very back of the cars on-circuit is the Hoinville TC.

Click here for an article on Fishermans Bend; https://primotipo.com/2016/04/15/fishermans-bend-melbourne/

Neal progressed into some pretty serious motor cars including a Cooper T23 Bristol and the ex-Reg Hunt Maserati A6GCM with which he contested the 1956 AGP held not too far away in Albert Park. Click here; https://primotipo.com/2017/12/12/hunts-gp-maser-a6gcm-2038/

Credits…

Bob Williamson and Terry McGrath Collections, Stephen Dalton for the car identifications

Finito…

 

 

Michael Douglas, actor, Gunilla Lindblad, model and Pete Duel, actor with a Lola T70 at Ontario Speedway in 1970…

The Vogue photo-shoot is all about the ‘Me+Plus’ by Catalina ensemble and Endura watch worn by Gunilla. I wonder how they sold? Of more interest, maybe, is which particular Lola T70 chassis it is?

Douglas, then 26, ‘broke through’ in the 1969 CBS-TV ‘Playhouse’ special called ‘The Experiment’- the ‘Streets of San Francisco’, no doubt familiar to many of us, was still a couple of years hence.

Credits…

JP Zachariesen

Finito…

(oldracephotos.com.au/JEllis)

Frank Gardner leads a twenty-three car field away at the start of the 23 lap, 103 mile 1964 Australian Tourist Trophy, Longford on 29 February…

Gardner is aboard Alec Mildren’s Lotus 23B Ford 1.6 from Bib Stillwell, Cooper Monaco Climax FPF 2.7, Frank Matich, Lotus 19B Climax FPF 2.6 and Bob Jane, Jaguar E Type Lightweight and then in the distance is Frank Coad in the Lotus 15 Climax FPF 1960cc which Derek Jolly raced to win this event at Longford in 1960.

The Lotus was for sale, with Coad in Melbourne, close to potential East Coast potential purchesers, rather than in Adelaide where Jolly lived. ‘Hoot’ Gibson bought it for Bevan to race not so long after this, he drove the wheels off it of course, on the way to a drive with Bob Jane Racing several years down the track.

Matich (Brabham BT7A Climax obscured) and Jane seem to have found a nice bit of concrete on which to base themselves for the weekend. Or is a purpose built bit of ‘wheel alignment’ concrete? (oldracephotos.com.au/Smith)

Bob’s E Type had not long been in Australia, it first raced at Calder in December 1963.

Mildren’s Lotus is a new car whilst the great rivals in ‘outright’ sportscars- and from about then single-seaters too with the Matich acquisition of a Brabham BT7A, Stillwell and Matich are racing well developed cars- the 19B was FM’s second Lotus 19, whereas Bib had been racing the Monaco since September 1961.

(S Dalton)

Who is that pushing the Lotus into position with Matich- Bruce Richardson or Geoff Smedley? Gerry Brown is behind the Stillwell Monaco perhaps- click here for plenty on that wonderful machine; https://primotipo.com/2015/03/10/bib-stillwell-cooper-t49-monaco-warwick-farm-sydney-december-1961/

(S Dalton)

Whilst the opening photo immediately after the start shows Gardner getting the initial jump, 2.7 litres of Coventry Climax torque cannot be denied with Stillwell running strongly as the field contemplates the run up the hill past the Water Towers to the drivers left.

Gardner is second and Matich third, probably taking it easy off the line in deference to the somewhat fragile gearbox, then Jane and perhaps Greg Cusack’s Ford Cosworth 1.5 pushrod engined Elfin Mallala.

Matich looking for something in the Lotus cockpit- ‘his orange maybe’ as Stephen Dalton wryly observed (S Dalton)

The race was disappointing in that Stillwell and Coad were disqualified for push-starts, neither car was fitted with an operable self-starter- whilst Gardner was a DNF with gearbox problems after completing 23 laps.

Stillwell led from start to finish and had the time to make two stops to argue the toss with officialdom- and still was in front of Matich who stayed with Stillwell early- until Bib was disqualified, then Frank eased back confident he would be adjudged the winner.

FM won in 61.18 minutes at a race average speed of 101.25 miles per hour (fastest lap 2:33.0) with Stillwell protesting that his starter motor was operable but wouldn’t start the engine! Jane was second (2:43.3) and Greg Cusack, Elfin Mallala Ford 1475cc, third, a lap behind (2:48.4).

Les Howard was fourth in his Lotus 23 Ford 1098cc, 2 laps adrift (2:57.9), he had a great scrap throughout with the Coad 2 litre Lotus 15 (disqualified) with Bryan Thompson’s Elfin Mallala Climax fifth and John Edwards- the first Tasmanian home, sixth in his Morgan Plus 6 1998cc (3:15.8) 4 laps behind Matich.

Cusack was timed at 140 mph on ‘The Flying Mile’, Matich 150, Stillwell did 156 mph- as did Jane’s E Type.

Checkout ‘Long Weekend at Longford’, a superb Tasmanian Government film of the 1964 Longford weekend, it has excellent coverage of this race, apart from the rest of it which oozes with the relaxed atmosphere of the times.

Cusack’s Elfin Mallala exiting Newry Corner for the run down The Flying Mile (R Bell)

Greg Cusack was on the climb towards Australian National F1, racing a couple of Elfins- an FJ/WR375 and the Mallala sportscar which was derived from Elfin FJ componentry.

Two Mallalas raced that Longford weekend- Cusack’s Ford powered, third placed car and one driven by Shepparton racer, and later Touring Car/Sports Sedan drawcard, Bryan Thomson. The Thommo car was Coventry Climax powered, that 1.9 litre machine was eighth.

(oldracephotos.com.au)

The Cusack Elfin Mallala at rest in the paddock, I’ve long thought the Mallala was the prettiest of all of Garrie Cooper’s sporties. Five of the cars were built in 1962-3 based on the hardware also used by Cooper in the Elfin FJ single-seaters I wrote about a short time ago- all still exist.

As to the drivers of the ‘Humpy’ Holdens, please let me know.

(S Dalton)

Jane above passing the pit complex. Is that the Kerry Cox driven Paramount Jaguar in pitlane?

Matich on his merry way below- a very successful car with quite a few Brabham suspension components by the time FM and his boys had finished with it.

(S Dalton)

Credits…

oldracephotos.com.au, Stephen Dalton Collection, Mr Ramsay, Ray Bell

Etcetera…

(Ramsay)

Bevan and Hoot Gibson going for a blast around the streets of Mansfield in the newly acquired, immaculate Lotus 15 Climax, circa 1964- I love this shot, its just so ‘period’.

The story of the ex-works/Jolly/Gibson Lotus 15 is told here; https://primotipo.com/2017/11/09/dereks-deccas-and-lotus-15s/

(oldracephotos.com.au)

Tailpiece…

Matich, Lotus 19B on Kings Bridge- he turns to the right as he leaves the bridge in the direction of Longford village. Note the little boat/yacht trailer in the foreground. If memory serves there is/was a boat club in that part of the track?

The 19B met its maker at Lakeside in July 1965. Matich took the car to a Gold Star round we was contesting in his Brabham as preparation for the ’65 ATT, which was held that November and won by Pete Geoghegan in a Lotus 23B Ford. Matich had an enormous accident in the 19B pretty much destroying it and hospitalising himself.

Related thereto was the loss of his Total, the French oil company sponsorship- the local franchise of Total was acquired by Boral Ltd who were not interested in motor racing. As a consequence Matich went in a new direction- sportscars to the exclusion of single-seaters until 1969, the net effect was the purchase of an Elfin 400 Oldsmobile (aka the ‘Traco Oldsmobile’) with which he won the March 1966 Australian Tourist Trophy back here at Longford.

The Matich Lotus 19 story is here; https://primotipo.com/2017/09/08/bay-of-plenty-road-race-and-the-frank-matich-lotus-19s/

Finito…

 

 

Briggs Cunningham and his huge entourage of racers, technicians, pantechnicons and Caddies arrive in France for the 1954 Le Mans classic- ‘The Eagle Has Landed’!…

The racers are two Cunningham C4R’s whilst on the trailer is a Ferrari 375MM, the shot above was taken at the village of Bolbec, 35 km from the port of Le Havre where the team and all of the equipment above arrived from the United States on the ship ‘Mauretania’.

This article is about Briggs, his Cunninghams and the team’s 1954 assault on the event. In researching the C4R I discovered this fantastic website about all things Cunningham, so rather than using copious amounts of it here, take the time to explore, it is exceptional;

http://www.briggscunningham.com/home/cunningham-c4r-continuation/

This piece comprises a bit of context about Cunningham, some background on his cars and the main game which is the 1954 event. There are other images of the race but I have stuck as much as possible to the Getty Archive to keep the flavour of the shots similar, this Maurice Jarnoux chappie, whose work I am becoming increasingly familiar with, is a bit of an artiste.

Cunningham beside one of the C4R’s and the ‘Mauretania’ dockside at the port of Le Havre about 215 km from Le Mans (Getty-Jarnoux)

Briggs Cunningham…

Lived a life surrounded by extraordinary wealth and also one of considerable sporting achievement as both a yachtsman and racer, this slightly truncated obituary is as good a place as any to start.

‘Briggs Swift Cunningham II, a sportsman whose affinity for yachts and cars drew him to sailboat racing as an America’s Cup skipper and to auto racing as the creator and driver of his custom sports car, died Wednesday 2 July 2003 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 96. Cunningham sailed in the 1958 Cup races off Newport, R.I., as skipper of the 12-meter sloop Columbia, successfully defending the America’s Cup against the British challenger, the 12-meter yacht Sceptre.

”Briggs was like a fine violinist with boats,” said Victor Romagna, who sailed with Cunningham in the competition. ”He would need someone to do the tuning, as one might with a Stradivarius, but afterwards, we would hand the boat back to Briggs. Then he would play the instrument absolutely perfectly.”

‘Columbia’ – US16, the first 12 Meter America’s Cup winner in 1958. Cunningham skippered the boat which beat the Royal Yacht Squadron’s ‘Sceptre’- Columbia won 4 straight races by margins of between 7-12 minutes

Cunningham was born Jan. 19, 1907, in Cincinnati. His family helped finance railways, telecommunications, meat-packing and commercial real estate and his father was the chief financier of two young men who had developed a bath soap that floated. Their names were William Cooper Procter and James Norris Gamble.

Briggs spent his summers in the Northeast and learned to sail by the time he was 6. His family moved to Southport, Conn., when he was a teenager. At age 17, Cunningham joined the Star Class racing fleet at the Pequot Yacht Club in Southport. The venture was the beginning of his 30 years of sailboat racing on Long Island Sound.

He attended Yale for two years, then left in 1929 to marry Lucy Bedford, daughter of a Standard Oil heir, Fred Bedford. It was during this period that he entered into sport as a way of life.

As a member of the New York Yacht Club, he continued to sail the Columbia in club races through the 1960′s. He also developed ‘The Cunningham’, a common device on sailboats that adjusts sail tension.

Cunningham’s interest in racecars began in 1939 when he participated in the New York World’s Fair.

After World War II, he began competing in the 24-hour auto races at Le Mans, France, and in 1951 he showed up with the Cunningham C-4R, a racecar he had designed and built. Made with a sleek, hand-hammered aluminum body and Chrysler’s newly introduced V-8 engine, the Cunningham has been called America’s first sports car. A year later, Cunningham and his partner, Bill Spear, placed fourth with the car at Le Mans, averaging 88 miles an hour.

Time magazine cover in 1954

”Cunningham himself was never particularly interested in short races,” Road and Track magazine said in 1979. ”What he liked to do was get out and drive and drive and drive, which was why Le Mans was so fascinating to him.”

Having raced his sports car for the last time in 1955, Cunningham began competing on a Jaguar team and became a Jaguar distributor in New England. After moving to California in 1962, he bought several vintage powerboats and, in 1964, opened the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, Calif., which has since changed ownership and was moved to a private museum in Florida.

In 1993, he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

Cunningham was married 40 years to his second wife, the former Laura Cramer. He is survived by his wife; a son, Briggs Cunningham III of Danville, Ky.; two daughters, Lucie McKinney of Green Farms, Conn., and Cythlen Maddock of Palm Beach, Fla.; two stepsons; 19 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren’.

The George Rand/Fred Wacker Cunnungham C2R Chrysler 5.5 V8 at Le Mans in 1952 (unattributed)

 

Cunningham Cars…

Briggs first came to international attention with his Cadillac entry for Le Mans in 1950.

There were two cars, one looked standard, the other had somewhat bizarre streamlined open bodywork and was immediately nick-named Le Monstre by the Frenchies. Cunningham was encouraged by the results when the coupé finished tenth and the streamliner eleventh.

Cunningham’s original plan was a Cadillac-engined Ford, a high-power, low-weight recipe concepted by Phil Walters in the States, but the ACO turned it down.

The 11th placed Cadillac Spider ‘Le Monstre’ driven by Cunningham/Walters ahead of the 10th placed Cadillac 50-61 Coupe de Ville raced by Miles and Sam Collier at Le Mans 1950 (unattributed)

In a path that became well travelled, Briggs was convinced that a strong, simple American V8 with an equally sound, simple chassis would produce a competitive car to go head to head with European marques of more exotic specification.

Three specially-built sport-racers with Chrysler engines started the 1951 Le Mans classic. Two crashed, the third had engine bearing problems but finished eighteenth. Before its contretemps with the scenery one of the C2s was running in second place, a significant achievement for a new marque.

‘For 1952, less weight and more power were the goals. By now, having noted the C2’s promise (it had won at Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake) Chrysler itself was tacitly backing the team’s attempt to defeat the Europeans on their home ground. The Detroit giant now had a standard engine with real performance potential, and the sales impact of victory was tempting. The ‘hemi’ V8 engine used lateral push-rods to operate splayed valves from the single camshaft in the Vee. This gave it the advantage of hemispherical combustion chambers with less complexity than using twin cams, and the stock output was somewhere around 180bhp’, said MotorSport.

Extensive engine development included ‘all the usual bag of hot-rodders tricks’- valve-gear lightening, needle-bearing roller rockers and cam followers, solid lifters instead of wheezy hydraulic components, special crankshafts and hi-lift cams. Four Zenith carbs fed the beast which used a compression ratio variously quoted from 7.5:1 to 8.6:1. The engine’s capacity was 331cid or 5425cc, power quoted was between 300 and 340 bhp and torque some 312Ib ft at only 2000rpm.

The big cast-iron, 625 pound plus lump with its two-inch overhead valves was understressed- down the decades this formula of worked Detroit V8’s was very successful as long as the limitations of the inherent layout and design specification were not exceeded. The big step forward for American V8s’ from a racing perspective was the small-block Chevy with its (relatively) lightweight thin-wall casting techniques, but the Chrysler, pound for pound was a competitive unit ‘in period’, the 283 Chev was still a few years away in 1954.

1952 C4R engine detail (unattributed)

 

Pit shot of the #2 Spear/Johnston car at Le Mans in 1954. Note the Halibrand alloy wheels, deatil of the body and unique scuttle mounted oil coolers (Getty)

The chassis was a period typical ladder frame comprising two pairs of steel tubes joined vertically by tubing and gussets which carried the big bent eight.

Suspension up front comprised coil springs and double wishbones, a coil-sprung rigid axle replaced the De Dion set-up of the C2 at the rear, it was well located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod. Hydraulic tubular shock absorbers were used front and rear.

Chrysler engineers were involved in sorting the suspension geometry, spring rates and shock absorber settings together with Cunningham’s team of Phil Walters, Jack Donaldson and Briggs Weaver.

A stock or even modified Chrysler transmission did not offer the number of ratios required let alone the strength with all that torque tearing away at it. It took a truck unit to cope- an Italian Siata gearbox was used containing four ratios in a light aluminium case, it proved to be sweet shifting and great to use over long distances.

Sexy alloy Halibrand (as used at Indy and on America’s sprintcars and midgets) 7 X 16 inch wheels were used with big, 13 inch, finned drum brakes but they were not really up to the task. The brakes had to be used sympathetically in the manner of the day, albeit by 1953 Jaguar was pioneering the disc brake paradigm shift, an advantage they would press home to the end of the decade, especially at Le Mans.

The cars track was 4ft 6in front and rear, its wheelbase 100 inches and weight circa 2410 pounds, not a lightweight but much less bulky than the ‘pork-chop’ C2.

Briggs, sans helmet, parade lap perhaps, during the September 1952 Watkins Glen GP, 6.6 mile road course weekend- C4R. Cunningham led from the start of the 15 lap journey but a first lap racing incident between John Fitch C4R in second and third placed Fred Wacker’s Allard J2 Cadillac caused the latter’s tail to run wide over a kerb, killing a young boy and injuring 12 people. The race was abandoned- and caused the end of road course racing in the US (B Tronolone Collection)

 

The 10th placed C4R Coupe at Le Mans in 1953- raced by Charles Moran and John Gordon-Bennett

Three C4Rs were built. One was a Kamm-tailed coupé the other two slab sided spyders designed by Bob Blake.

Big grille and cutaway wings channelled huge swags of air to the radiator and finned, iron brake drums. Rear wing scoops cooled the tyres, neat slots in the trailing edges of the rear wings kept the flow going. For the spyders, instead of siting the oil-cooler low, where it would be vulnerable to stones, the team adopted a distinctive cylindrical aircraft-style unit mounted high up on the cars scuttle.

The C4R’s race debut was at Bridgehampton early in 1952. For thirteen laps Phil Walters led, then a tail-pipe came loose and he was black-flagged. It was a minor disappointment but the team’s spirits were lifted for Le Mans.

Cunningham entered a spyder for himself and Bill Spears, another for John Fitch and George Rice, while Phil Walters and Duane Carter handled the coupé. By Saturday night, Carter had stuck his car in the sand, and Fitch and Rice had retired with valve problems. But they had been quick, and Briggs Cunningham drove solo in the remaining car for nearly 20 hours before letting Spear cruise home fourth. It was an amazing, gritty performance by the American sportsman.

The following year, 1953, a new streamlined Cunningham, the C5 raced, the winning Jag D’s top speed reaching 154mph on Mulsanne. The Coventry team’s Dunlop disc brakes were the difference between the cars. The C5 was third, the C4R spyder seventh, and the coupé tenth.

‘Smiley grille’ C5R Le Mans 1953- 3rd place driven by Phil Waters and John Fitch (unattributed)

 

#1 Briggs Cunningham/John Gordon-Bennett C4R Chrysler, Le Mans 1954

Strong progress was being made on chassis, aerodynamics and engine by both Cunningham and Chrysler, but Briggs’ personal desire to win Le Mans was tempting him from Detroit to Maranello.

A string of national and international successes in the States ought to have been supremely satisfying, since the blue and white cars were beating the twin-cam Europeans handsomely there. Best of all was a hard-fought win against the works Aston Martin team at Sebring in 1953.

Two of the new DB3Ss, crewed by Reg Parnell/George Abecassis and Peter Collins/Geoff Duke, traded positions with Fitch and Walters from the start. After Duke collided with another car, the other Aston couldn’t close the small gap- at the end of 12 hours racing the Cunningham scored by 3 1/2-minutes’, the car won from the Parnell/Abecassis Aston Martin DB3 with the Johnston/Wilder Jaguar C Type in third.

And so, lets look at the 1954 Le Mans classic.

Jaguar raced three new works Jaguar D-Types driven by Peter Walker and Stirling Moss, Peter Whitehead and Ken Wharton and Duncan Hamilton paired with Tony Rolt- the winning combination aboard a C Type the year before.

(unattributed)

Jaguar HQ before the off- its all happening.

The #12 Moss/Walker car DNF brakes 12th hour, #15 Whitehead/Wharton D Type DNF ‘box 13th hour and the #16 Laurent/Swaters Ecurie Francorchamps C Type 4th place- see the spare bonnet for the C upstairs. The un-numbered car is a spare or the #14 Hamilton/Rolt car.

Some immaculately attired Porsche technicians and 550 RS 1500 Spyders. #40 von Frankenberg/Glockler DNF engine in the first hour, #39 the 12th placed Claes/Stasse car and #47 14th Arkus-Duntov/Olivier machine (unattributed)

Ferrari, Maserati and Osca entered cars, Ferrari’s challenger was the V12 375 Plus to be driven by Umberto Maglioli and Paolo Marzotto/Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant/Robert Manzon.

At the endurance racing seasons opening round, Sebring on 7 March the Lloyd/Moss Osca MT4 1450 triumphed over the might of the Aston Martin and Ferrari teams. Now Briggs wanted a Ferrari engine for Le Mans!

To achieve this he needed to buy a car, so John Fitch and Phil Walters accordingly arrived at Le Mans with the 375MM pictured on the quayside above.

The new Cunningham C6 was not ready, the fast but unstable C5 had been destroyed at Reims the year before, so the two C4R spiders were again entered as well as the Ferrari. The C4R Spyders were driven by Bill Spear and Sherwood Johnston with Briggs and John Gordon-Bennett in the other car.

The Cunningham page from the 1954 Le Mans program (S Dalton Collection)

 

(unattributed)

The pre-start Le Mans panorama with the #54 BG Le Mans Renault of Brevil/Py 18th, #51 DB HBR Renault Louis DNF and #55 Monopole X84 of Hemard/Flahault thirteenth in focus. Amazing just how well these sub-one litre buzz-boxes place.

(unattributed)

The cars were lined up in order of engine capacity from largest to smallest- the 5482cc Cunninghams at the head of the queue- above the two C4R’s of Cunningham/Gordon-Bennett and Spear/Johnston and the three works Ferrari 375 Plus of Maglioli/Marzotto, Gonzalez/Trintignant and Manzon/Rosier.

The sprint has begun above.

The # 2 Spear/Johnston C4R and #6 Walters/Fitch Cunningham Ferrari 375MM from the #14 Rolt/Hamilton D Type (unattributed)

The 375’s of González/Trintignant, Manzon/Rosier and Maglioli/Marzotto led almost from the start, but Moss kept the D-Type in touch with them and Rolt was not too far behind. In its early stages the race looked like a 10 lap sprint rather than a 24 hour grind. At the end of the first hour, González led with Moss, the best placed Jag in third.

(unattributed)

Merde! or words to that effect.

The beached Chinetti Ferrari 375 Berlinetta of Rubirosa/Baggio, DNF after 5 laps, not a great return on a significant investment.

Three finishers on a damp track, so its early Sunday. Porsche 550 Spyder of Arkus-Duntov/Olivier 14th from the 2nd placed Jag of Hamilton/Rolt and 3rd placed C4R Chrysler of Spear/Johnston (unattributed)

Problems with blocked fuel filters delayed the Jags during the third hour. As darkness descended González and Trintignant led, the 375 Plus Ferrari of Maglioli and Marzotto had dropped out with transmission failure.

A large number of cars had fallen out of the race during the initial hours. By the seventh hour the number of retirements increased including the Shelby/Frere Aston DB3S and the Behra/Simon Gordini T24S.

Eric Thompson ponders his next move to get the Lagonda DP115 moving. The third placed Spear/Johnston C4R Chrysler rumbles past en-route to its finish (Getty)

The Lagonda was out during the seventh hour as well, having completed 25 or 26 laps after which Eric Thompson spun into the bank at the Esses. I wrote an article about this car and incident a while back, click here to read it; https://primotipo.com/2016/08/12/dyer-want-the-good-news-first/

So too, seven hours in, Ian Stewart rolled his Aston Martin DB3S on the fast stretch between Arnage and White House corners, destroying it with Stewart severely injuring his arm.

The slinky, aerodynamic, XK engined D-types steadily moved up the field. By midnight Whitehead and Wharton were second, two laps behind the leading Ferrari. Manzon/Rosier were third, ahead of Rolt and Hamilton, with the Aston Martins of Parnell/Salvadori and Collins/Bira completing the top six.

(unattributed)

The #9 Talbot-Lago T26GS above of Rosier/Megrat DNF,  ahead of the eighth placed Bristol 450 of Wisdom/Fairman.

In an amazing team performance the three Bristol 450’s finished seventh, eighth and ninth. Seventh were Wilson/Mayes and ninth Keen/Line. I’m not sure who that is beside the road, Eric Thompson perhaps.

Moss from the Monopole X84 Panhard of Hemard/Flahault with the parked Thompson Lagonda still sitting in The Esses (unattributed)

Early on Sunday morning, Walker/Whitehead and Rosier/Manzon retired, both the Jaguar and Ferrari had shagged gearboxes. The Moss/Walker D succumbed to braking problems on Saturday evening. By the time dawn arrived the battle at the front was between a car from Coventry and Maranello apiece.

What’s more, as the clouds built up and rain became a threat, the Ferrari power advantage would be negated by the conditions- by breakfast it was raining heavily. González and Trintignant could afford to ease back a bit but any problems would place them into peril, as the rain intensified, the remaining Hamilton/Rolt D-type applied the pressure with nothing to lose.

(LAT)

The works Reg Parnell/Roy Salvadori supercharged Aston Martin DB3S ahead of the winning works Ferrari 375 Plus of Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant. The Aston retired during the twenty-first hour with head gasket failure.

Later race wet pits top for the Rolt/Hamilton D Type (unattributed)

The two Brits, Rolt and Hamilton threw caution to the wind and raced their D-type hard. On one lap Rolt glanced the bank out of Arnage and stopped for a bout of impromptu aluminium panel beating. He had been forced off line by a slower car.

The rain eased, allowing the Ferrari to put its horses to the road and use its power to better effect but the Jag kept on coming, the rain intensified again and the Jaguar drivers began to close the gap further.

With two hours to run, González and Trintignant were still nearly two laps ahead of the Jag, with ninety minutes to run Trintignant brought the Ferrari in for a routine stop. González took over, but the big V12 refused to fire. Gonzalez jumped out whilst the mechanics fumbled with the plugs.

Rolt was now in sight, the Englishman intent on stopping for new goggles, but his crew waved him on now that the XKD was on the same lap as the leader

Gonzalez in the victorious Ferrari 375 Plus (unattributed)

The Scuderia Ferrari mechanics fiddled beneath the bonnet, they knew the engine was strong given its perfect state prior to the stop. The car sat for seven minutes, then suddenly burst back to life, González jumped aboard and accelerated away barely ninety seconds ahead of the chasing Rolt, but now his V12 sounded less healthy than it had before.

With thunder and lightning assaulting the circuit and an hour to run, Rolt handed over to Hamilton for the final stint.

In a fierce sprint to the finish, Hamilton cut the lead down to 1 minute 26 seconds, but as the track began to dry for the last few laps, González sped away to win by just under three minutes.

4pm- Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant the winners after completing 302 laps or 4061 Km (MotorSport)

González and Trintignant had driven their Ferrari 375 Plus to victory, covering a distance of 2,523.486 miles over 302 laps, averaging 105.145 mph. Rolt and Hamilton were second in their very hard worked D-Type, one lap behind at the finish. Third were the American Cunningham duo of Bill Spear and Sherwood Johnston on 283 laps 19 laps (over 157 miles) behind the winners.

Three years before, in the 1951 British Grand Prix González scored Scuderia Ferrari’s first Championship F1 victory in a Ferrari 375 at Silverstone, in his last appearance at La Sarthe he won Scuderia Ferrari’s first Le Mans, a unique Ferrari double. The Lord Selsdon entered 166M took the first Ferrari victory at Le Mans in 1949 when he and Luigi Chinetti won the race having covered 235 laps in the 2 litre V12 engine car.

In terms of the overall performance of the two outright contenders the Jaguars were faster due to a much more slippery shape (Moss was timed at 154.44 mph/278kph), but the Ferrari was said to have superior acceleration and brakes, which is counter-intuitive given the new-fangled discs fitted to the Jags.

Whilst finishing third and fifth, the Cunninghams were unable to match the pace of the leaders, giving Briggs and his team plenty to focus on for 1955. None of the Astons lasted the distance and of course Jaguar would be back, and Mercedes Benz…

Cover of the 1954 Le Mans booklet put together by the staff of ‘Motor’

 

Etcetera Le Mans 1954…

 

(unattributed)

Jaguar works cars all lined up all ready to rock and roll.

The Moss/Walker, Hamilton/Rolt and Whitehead/Wharton D Types with the Laurent/Swaters C Type at the rear.

(unattributed)

Moss, lightning fast always from these run and jump starts, en-route to the #12 XKD, #14 crewed by Hamilton/Rolt and #8 is the supercharged Aston Martin DB3S raced by Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori- DNF after 222 laps in the twenty-first hour with head gasket failure.

(L Klemantaski)

The Eric Thompson/Dennis Poore Lagonda DP115 4.5 litre V12 heading towards White House early in the race- a famous Louis Klemantaski photograph, before its fateful spin in The Esses.

Thompson, after his lose, manoeuvres the car to a safer position below, before working out how to get it back to the pits.

 

(unattributed)

OKV 1. Duncan Hamilton aboard the works second placed D Type, by the look of the car its early in the race before nightfall. The machine was well and truly tested to its limits by its intrepid pilots especially in the final stages of the race.

(unattributed)

The twelfth placed Claes/Stasse Porsche 550 Spyder leads the 3 litre Aston Martin DB2/4 Vignale of Colas/da Silva Ramos which retired with gearbox failure in the fourteenth hour. None of the six Aston Martins or Lagonda which started the event finished it.

(unattributed)

Moss chasing the works Maglioli/Marzotto Ferrari 375 Plus early in the race- the beached Chinetti entered 375 MM in the background. The works 5 litre car retired with gearbox trouble in the eighth hour

Spin.

Even if you don’t win there is a clever marketing angle to be communicated- Jaguar press ad 1954.

And yes, the results do rather tend to speak for themselves!

Happy Scuderia Ferrari crew gather around the winning 4954cc V12 375 Plus of Gonzalez/Trintignant. Car looks rather good, I suspect this is before the off.

Dockside at Le Havre, ship is the ‘Mauretania’

Briggs Cunningham and his team staged a campaign of military scale, organisation and precision- the only thing missing was the kitchen sink and a car with just a smidge more speed.

What a marvellous Le Mans it would have been to witness in 1954?

Bibliography…

Briggs Cunningham website- briggscunningham.com, MotorSport magazine, Wikipedia, Team Dan, F2Index, thanks to ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ boys work on the ‘Then and Now’ thread for great work in identifying the dockside and travelling photograph locations

Credits…

Getty Images, Louis Klemantaski, Tom Sangen, briggscunningham.com, Bob Tronolone Collection, Bernard Cahier, LAT, MotorSport, Stephen Dalton Collection

Tailpieces…

Apart from anything else Briggs Cunninham was a sportsman who just loved to compete.

Here he looks forward to his week in France, dockside with his family and team.

(B Cahier)

Finito…

(LAT)

The ill at ease David McKay / Tony Gaze Aston Martin DB3S receives some TLC on the Sussex Downs- Goodwood Nine Hour 20 August 1955…

The car survived an earlier collision but distributor problems triggered its retirement after completing 219 of the 309 race laps won by the Peter Walker/Dennis Poore DB3S.

I wrote about the Kangaroo Stable Astons and the DB3S a while back. Click here; https://primotipo.com/2017/09/28/david-mckays-aston-martin-db3ss/

and here; https://primotipo.com/2017/10/31/yes-frank-i-love-it-magnificent-in-fact/

The event was run for the third and final time in 1955 with Aston Martin achieving a perfect three out of three victories.

The Walker/Poore DB3S crossed the finish line at midnight a lap clear of the Jaguar D Type of Ninian Sanderson and Desmond Titterington with the Peter Collins/Tony Brooks DB3S a further three laps in arrears. The event was a tragic one in that Mike Keen died from his injuries after his Cooper Bristol rolled at Fordwater.

(LAT)

They are off!

3 pm on Saturday afternoon, on pole is the Hawthorn/de Portago works Ferrari 750 Monza with Hawthorn quick off the mark, then the three factory Aston Martin DB3S- Walker/Poore, Collins/Brooks third, and Parnell/Salvadori, DNF. Car #7 is the Jonnere/Wharton Ferrari 750 Monza, DNF. Hawthorn’s car retired after an accident having completed 219 laps.

Credit…

LAT, racingsportscars.com

Finito…