Posts Tagged ‘1955 South Pacific Championship Gnoo Blas’

Dick Cobden’s Ferrari 125 being pushed through the Gnoo Blas paddock- that’s lanky, slim Jack Brabham with helmet on behind (F Pearse)

The natural or established order of Australian motor racing was shaken up and greatly changed by events over the summer of 1955…

The Ardmore, New Zealand Grand Prix in January was won by Prince Bira’s Maserati 250F from Peter Whitehead and Tony Gaze in their matching Ferrari 500/625 3 litre, four cylinder hybrids, Jack Brabham’s Cooper T23 Bristol and Reg Hunt’s new Maserati 250F engined A6GCM, fifth.

Other Australians who made the trip but failed to finish were Stan Coffey, Cooper T20 Bristol, Lex Davison, HWM Jaguar and Dick Cobden in the Ferrari 125 V12 s/c he acquired from Peter Whitehead after the NZ GP the year before.

Lex Davison being chased by Bira and Tony Gaze at Ardmore, 1955 NZ GP. HWM Jaguar, Maserati 250F and Ferrari 500/625 (thechicaneblog.com)

 

(CAN)

A group of the front running cars at Ardmore in ‘Phil Neill’s showroom a day or two before the race.’

Bira’s 250F and Gaze Ferrari 500 in front with Whitehead’s #2 similar 500, #3 is Reg Hunt’s Maserati A6GCM, #77 Lex Davison’s HWM Jaguar, #9 George Palmer’s Mercury powered Palmer Spl, #6 Cobden’s Ferrari 125 and hidden, unfortunately, in the corner Bira’s ‘second-string’ Maserati 4CLT Osca V12 with a Ford Consul providing marvellous context!

 

Tony Gaze warms up his 3 litre Ferrari four with plenty of admiring Kiwis by the Dunedin wharves, Ferrari 500/625, January 1955. Reg Parnell’s Aston Martin DP155 is behind and then an Aston Martin DB3S (unattributed)

 

By the end of the Ardmore weekend, Brabham, buoyed by his speed and his mind filled with ambition, ideas of opportunity and success paid bonuses from trade suppliers in the UK by the visiting RAC’s Dean Delamont- had determined to sell his Cooper and chance his luck in the UK.

Dick Cobden, another of the fast-men in Australia- his dices with Brabham during 1954 had drawn fans to meetings from far and wide, also planned a racing holiday in England in between continuing his stockbroking career in a London brokers office.

‘He was accompanied by mechanic Fred Pearse and the fascinating, frustrating Ferrari (125), and enjoyed some mobile spectating…Cobden hoped to collect the D Type he had ordered, but long delays led to him cancelling the order, and the overseas trip was effectively his farewell to motor racing’ Graham Howard wrote.

Fred Pearse attending to Cobden’s Ferrari 125 (F Pearse)

 

Pat Ratliff and Tony Gaze with Gaze’s Ferrari 500/625- the oh-so-famous ex-Alberto Ascari 1952 and 1953 World Championship winning chassis- one of the ‘winningest’ if not the most, GP cars ever (F Pearse)

But first the travelling circus headed by sea to Sydney and then by road west to the Gnoo Blas road circuit at Orange for the ‘South Pacific Championship’ international held on 31 January. Bira, Whitehead and Gaze then planned to race their cars in South Africa.

Whilst Brabham and Cobden contested Gnoo Blas, Hunt and Davison, Lex the winner of the 1954 Southport AGP did not- Hunt was short of some critical parts for his A6GCM whilst Lex did not make the trip.

Hunt’s pace had always been apparent in Australia and in the year he raced a Cooper 500 in the UK and Europe- with the purchase of  the A6GCM he vaulted over the top of everyone in Australia- the speed of car and driver was THE combination of 1955.

Whilst Lex’ HWM Jag was fast, it wasn’t fast enough nor, despite ongoing development was it sufficiently reliable, it did of course hold together at Southport some months before, the 1954 AGP win was the first of Lex’ four victories in Australia’s premier event.

Davison no doubt showed more than passing interest in his good mate Gaze’s Ferrari 500 in the early months of 1955- a purchase he would consummate later in the summer of 1955-1956 and as a consequence set the standard- along with the local 250F’s of Hunt and Jones and Ted Gray’s bellowing V8 Tornado 2 Ford/Chev in the coming years.

Gaze #4 and Whitehead Ferrari’s getting a tickle- car behind is Bira’s Maserati 250F and at the rear the Broadbent/Haig Hurst Bentley (F Pearse)

In Orange the ‘star cars’ were garaged in a workshop where several of these photographs were taken. The images by Fred Pearse, kindly circulated on social media by Peter Reynell who cared for Fred in his final years, take ones breath away.

Bob Pritchett makes mention in his AMS report of the race, of the OSCA being looked after at Lapham’s Garage in Orange, Mr Lapham was the Chairman of the Orange ‘Cherry Blossom Car Racing Committee’ which staged the event along with the Australian Sporting Car Club. Laphams is most likely the venue of the garage shots.

Tony Gaze Ferrari 500 (F Pearse)

 

Ratliff and Gaze (F Pearse)

Thirty-nine cars entered the 100 mile South Pacific Championship, there were also events for sport and touring cars, a purse of two-thousand five hundred pounds was offered for the feature race, very good money at the time.

The entry included Kiwis Fred Zambucka in the Maserati 8CM he raced in the ’54 AGP and John McMillan’s Alfa Romeo Tipo B- both pre-war machines which were at that stage a little too long in the tooth to be a threat, the race was a scratch event, even if, in a nod to the past, handicap placings would also be awarded.

Jack Murray, Allard Cadillac, Ted Gray aboard Tornado 1 Ford was fitted with the Lou Abrahams developed fuel injection setup for the first time. Tom Sulman had rebuilt his Maserati 4CM after a blow up at Gnoo Blas’ last meeting with parts flown specially from Italy to Sydney. Curly Brydon’s supercharged MG T single-seater special was one of the fastest in the country. Albury’s Jack Seaton entered a Maserati, Jack Robinson his Jaguar Special and Stan Jones had Maybach, a Cooper JAP and his Lancia GT entered- in the end Stan raced only the Lancia .

A special practice session was laid on before breakfast on the Sunday for the benefit of Bira, Gaze and Whitehead but it wasn’t of much benefit to the member of the Thai Royal Family when his Maserati 250F threw a rod after only 3 laps of practice, the car had done some miles in New Zealand, was rather tatty and overdue for a rebuild- this was the precursor to the tragedy which followed involving Iain Mountain and his very clever Mountain Peugeot Special the following day.

Practice itself started after breakfast and continued with breaks through until 5.30pm. No appearances were made by Hunt, Zambucka, Davison, the Jones Cooper 1100, James Barclay Special, the Moy MG Magnette Holden or the Peek MG Q Type.

Both Gordon Greig and Sydney’s Bill Reynolds appeared at the wheel of the Alfa Tipo B Alvis which Greig had only just acquired from Ash Marshall. Cobden’s Ferrari was spewing oil out of its breathers, Gaze’s had clutch and magneto problems and Bira’s crew had work to do on the exotic V12 OSCA’s oil scavenge pumps, so there would be no shortage of midnight oil poured in Lapham’s workshops.

Alf Harvey, ex-Bira Maserati 4CLT Osca V12 aka Osca V12 from Dick Cobden’s Ferrari 125 at Gnoo Blas during the 1956 South Pacific Trophy – Can’t find a shot of Bira in the car the year before (Gnoo Blas)

 

The ill fated Ian Mountain aboard his neat Peugeot Special, Sulman’s Maserati behind (K Devine)

 

Brabham’s Cooper T23 Bristol

 

Raceday started at 10.20 am with the ‘KLG Handicap’ for closed cars under 1100cc won by R Long’s Fiat 1100. The 5 lapper for Sports and Closed cars was taken by Jack Myers Holden, was he the ‘King of The Holdens’ at that stage?

Bira’s spare car was his OSCA V12- a marriage of a 4.5 litre, circa 300 bhp OSCA V12 with his old Maserati 4CLT/48 chassis, as noted earlier his crew had been trying to adequately prepare the car the evening before the race.

In the preliminary 5 lap ‘Gnoo-Blas Handicap for Racing Cars’ event it too suffered a major mechanical failure- a scavenge pump, the motor dumped its oil all over the road with Iain Mountain, who was following closely, lost control on the oil, left the road and crashed through a barbed wire fence at Connaghans Corner killing himself and 26 year old Ballan, Victoria, spectator James Young. Several spectators were injured, two of them were admitted to hospital- all were standing in restricted areas.

The MotorSport account is the one above, the Australian Motor Sports report of the race attributes the accident to driver error ‘Ian had been cautious about the corner on which he came to grief and it could be that he was off line to avoid stones thrown up by Curly Brydon’s car, which he was chasing; Curly actually saw him behind, and slowed down, having discussed the corner with Ian and knowing how he felt about it…’

Whatever the case it was a tragic motor racing incident, the ‘lotsa-money superb preparation of car’ Bira days were long gone. Poor Mountain, 26, had only married four months prior to the 1954 AGP weekend at Southport and had only been racing the beautifully built car from its first appearance at Fishermans Bend in early 1954.

Jack Robinson’s Jaguar Special won the race in which Mountain died, the South Pacific Championship for Closed Cars and another similarly titled 14 lap 50 mile race were won by Les Cosh’ Aston Martin DB2 and Bill Kelly’s Jaguar XK120 respectively.

South Pacific Championship…

The main event was delayed by 50 minutes for obvious reasons, with some indecision about the grid- it was to be 4-3-4, then decided to be 3-2-3 given the narrow road and ended up being 3-2-4. What follows is a summary of the AMS race report.

As the flag quivered before dropping, Jack Murray shot his Allard Cadillac between Gaze and Whitehead and led the field out of sight of the hill crest; Gaze somehow managed to get his clutch operational enough for the getaway and almost as soon as the last sound of the last cars had died, Jack Brabham flashed past the pits, his Cooper Bristol a good fifty yards ahead of Whitehead’s Ferrari, then Murray, Gaze, Cobden, and MacMillan in close quarters.

Gaze was past Murray in the next lap, but Cobden’s Ferrari was smoking and retired after 2 laps at Muttons Corner with a cylinder full of water and a bent rod which was shades of the last Orange meeting.

Brabham (K Devine)

 

Murray, Allard Cadillac (K Devine)

 

Tom Sulman, Maserati 4CM

Brabham’s lead was shortlived, it was not many laps before Whitehead was past the Cooper Bristol- but he drew away slowly indeed and, on the fast sweep and slow right angle corner, Brabham was very visibly fastest of any car in the race, drifting the sweep beautifully with all four wheels leaning outwards, braking late and going through Muttons Corner as clean as a knife…

Gaze, hampered by not having a fully operational clutch and only one effective magneto, was not as happy as he could have been.

For some laps there was a good duel between MacMillan in the Alfa Tipo B and Greig in the Alfa Tipo B Alvis, the two red cars looking very impressive as they came around in close company. Jack Robinson and Joe Murray went at it for most of the race, the Jaguar just ahead until towards the finish when he stopped briefly at the pits and lost two laps.

Curly Brydon, always quick and neat, kept hard on Tom Sulman’s hammer, and Bill Wilcox went very well in his green Ford Special until it went bad over a space of 3 laps or so and he retired. Noel Barnes had the ex-Ron Ward MG Special sounding very sweet and healthy even though he was lapped several times by the faster cars.

Finally, the sun well down on the Western horizon, Peter came around grinning and without his crash hat and we knew the race was finished. As Brabham was less than a minute behind at the end he naturally won the handicap, Peter had fastest lap in 2:21.

Peter Whitehead Ferrari 500/625, won from Brabham, Cooper T23 Bristol, Gaze, Ferrari 500/625, Jack Murray Allard Cadillac, Tom Sulman Maserati, Curly Brydon MG Spl, G Greig Alfa Tipo B Alvis

Whitehead’s top speed was 149 mph, Gaze 147, Brabham 136, Sulman 110 and Brydon’s 115mph.

Cobden about to go out, Sulman readies his Maserati (K Devine)

 

One of the Ferrari 500s at Laphams (F Pearse)

Snippets by AMS’ Bob Pritchett…

‘The 3 litre motors of Gaze and Whitehead have a bore and stroke of 104 x 90 mm and the inlet valve is open for, wait for it, 330 degrees of the revolution…I saw Gaze’s motor stripped later; the valves are simply tremendous, and the pistons are like outsized salmon tins with bumps on them, rods like a short length of RSJ and the five bearing crankshaft a beautiful piece of work’.

Big Muvvas: Weber sand cast 58 DCO’s (F Pearse)

Hunt didn’t race but was present in person ‘…With no Maserati, marooned in Melbourne with a broken back plate. He tried to borrow one of Bira’s spares but received the rather discouraging reply, that he could have them all and the car for 4000 sterling. Slightly different to the Australian approach- Tony Gaze did the race with a magneto coil out of Cobden’s Ferrari for instance.’

Bira’s Maserati 250F (F Pearse)

‘I reaped some sort of macabre delight out of watching the Clerk of Course Daimler steaming around festooned with advertising matter during the wrangle about slogans on cars which resulted in Coffey’s dramatic retirement on the (start)line, masking tape all over Murray’s Allard Cadillac, funny little blobs of green paint on Brabham’s Cooper Bristol and such.’

Stan Coffey’s Cooper Bristol, after a stoush with CAMS about advertising he did not take the start, I see Clive Adams prepared the car. Cobden Ferrari 125 at rear (K Devine)

Etcetera…

(K Devine)

Jack Robinson being push-started in his Jag Special whilst alongside Tom Sulman fettles his Maserati, photo below of Robinson’s Jag XK engine.

(K Devine)

 

#2 Whitehead, Ferrari 500 #4 Gaze’s similar car and #1 Bira’s 250F (F Pearse)

 

Tom Sulman, Maserati 4CM

Bibliography…

MotorSport May 2006 article by Jim Scaysbrook, Australian Motor Sports February 1955 race report by Bob Pritchett

Photo Credits…

Fred Pearse Collection, Ken Devine Collection, Stephen Dalton Collection, Allan Dick’s ‘Classic Auto News’, Australian Motor Heritage Foundation, Russell Hawthorn, Doug Chivas Collection

(D Chivas)

Postscript…

Brabham left for the UK in mid-March 1955 after a function held at Jack’s parents home in Hurstville attended by over 100 guests including the Mayor and Mayoress- at that stage he was expected to be away for six months.

It turned out to be rather longer than that of course, the great Australian finally retired from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1970 having been a front runner that season inclusive of one GP win which but for poor luck should have been three- competive to the very end of his long career.

He couldn’t stay away from racing for too long though, by August 1971 he was back in the seat of the Jack Brabham Ford sponsored Bowin P4X Formula Ford and won the ‘Race of Champions’ at Calder from Frank Matich, Kevin Bartlett, Bib Stillwell, Alan Hamilton, Allan Moffat and others.

I think it was his last ever real ‘race win’, 1978 Sandown demo with JM Fangio duly noted?…

(R Hawthorn)

Tailpiece: Smorgasbord of ‘Big Red Cars’…

Whitehead, Cobden, Gaze and Bira, not that his 250F was red (F Pearse)

Finito…