Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Wylie’

Arthur Wylie, Javelin Spl/Wylie Javelin, Rob Roy, date uncertain, possibly 1952 (L Sims)

Bruce Polain, a prominent Australian historic-racer, historian and restorer wrote this tongue in cheek piece about how Arthur Wylie’s radical Javelin Special/Wylie Javelin could have changed the face of motor racing history. Bruce’s full ‘bio’ is later in this article…

‘In addition to my personal motor sport participation, I had for some years been a contributor to the motorsport media and one of the monthly contributions I made actually took over from an old acquaintance, Mike Kable who had moved to a full-time position with the Murdoch Press.  My new task was to assemble ‘Spotlight’ for the first magazine of its type in the country – ‘Australian Motor Sports’. Initially edited and published by Arthur Wylie, a well known driver and enthusiast, it is a collector’s item these days.

I also took photographs such as this cover shot of Ray Kenny driving Barry Collerson’s Lago Talbot T26C at Castlereagh Airstrip.

 

 Spotlight was fun as I made it my business to collate about forty snippets of information for each monthly edition of the magazine.  This meant my phone was often busy as I chased up the same number of informants.

 

My association with both Jowetts and Arthur Wylie was the catalyst that created an interest by me to purchase a racing car built by Arthur some fourteen years prior with support from the importers of Jowett. It used a Jowett Javelin engine that was supercharged but it was far more innovative than that, as the construction placed the engine behind the driver.  This was in the period when the only other post war race cars with a rear engine, used motor cycle engines. However, while the Wylie project was quite different to local thoughts, it was not in contravention to that permitted within Grand Prix car rules.  Furthermore, the rules at the time allowed engines up to 4500cc normally aspirated.  Or if supercharged, the engine capacity was limited to 1500cc – this latter was the concept that Wylie used. As it eventuated I purchased the supercharged Wylie Javelin in March 1963 and retained ownership until September 1997 and during that period it was actively used with many successes.

Bruce Polain with Arthur Wylie in his creation at Amaroo Park in 1976 (Polain)

 

However, it was at the 1988 Australian Bi-Centennial Meeting at Oran Park where the s/c 1500cc Wylie Javelin, built in 1950, had its first encounter with a Grand Prix Ferrari with an engine capacity of 4500cc. The latter being the actual car that won the British GP in 1951 when driven by the Argentinian driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez and it was still coloured in French Blue, as it was when raced by Louis Rosier in 1952.

 

It brings to mind the ‘wotif’ or ‘if only’ situation.

 

 

For instance, in Australia, during 1950 we had Wylie, an experienced race driver/engineer building a most innovative rear engined car that would likely fit the specifications for the Grand Prix Cars of the period but the car did not leave Australia as neither the thought nor the finance was considered.

 

Therefore, while the ‘if only’ situation of an Aussie Special contesting the 1951 British GP was never an issue, the possibility of such a contest could now be staged at Oran Park some 37 years later as both the subject cars were entered. On one hand we had the GP winning Ferrari in the capable hands of its current owner, Gavin Bain of N.Z. who expended huge effort creating a beautiful restoration which included repurchasing back from Australia the original V12 engine where it served time in Ernie Nunn’s record breaking speedboat – after Frank Wallbank of Auburn had remanufactured a new crankshaft and 12 con-rods. On the other hand the Wylie Javelin had also been well prepared for this event.

 

What an opportunity to revisit the past?

 

On the day, and in in a series of races for quite a number of historic cars, there was also ‘a race within the race’ – that of the Ferrari and the Wylie Javelin.  In short, a re-run of the ‘wotif’ British GP of 1951.

The day was incredibly hot – so I drained the radiator water and replaced it with 100% coolant.  Plus, each time we returned to our pit, my sons-in-law crew (Mark Woolven and Craig Middleton) had buckets of water to pour over the radiator to obviate after boiling – and it worked.  Despite the conditions the WJ ran like a clock. The two cars met on four occasions and in the first instance the Ferrari was in the lead – however then the Wylie Javelin increased its pace and for all starts the W.J finished narrowly ahead of the Ferrari. Such a result begs conjecture as to what would have been the case if, in 1951, Arthur and the Wylie Javelin had somehow made it to the British GP – would the rear engined revolution have started earlier?

 

Actually, because of limited funds the Javelin was not raced in the early years, but was hill-climbed successfully.  However, it did appear in the 1953 AGP at Albert Park and ran in sixth position until a spin resulted in the loss of three places, which position it held to the end.

Polain from Bain at Oran Park in 1988 (Polain)

 

We know that years later, Jack Brabham driving a rear engine Cooper finished sixth in the 1957 Monaco which signified a change, later confirmed by Stirling Moss in a similar car winning the 1958 Grand Prix in Argentina.   Clearly, Arthur Wylie was well ahead of his time. Sadly, neither the Wylie nor the Ferrari are likely to meet again as both cars have been sold – The Ferrari to England and the Wylie to South Australia where it sees little active use – its current role is as a display feature at a winery.

 

There was another car at this meeting that I had previously owned – the Maybach 3 (or 4 dependent upon who you talk to), photo below.  It was also a dominant car being powered with a 400 hp Chevrolet V8 and had achieved many successes in days gone by and had come from West Australia to compete.  Lucky for us the circuit did not suit the Maybach’s gearing and once again the W.J. prevailed…

 

(Max Stahl)

 

Bruce Polain…

 

Bruce Polain was a month old when his father carried him across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on opening day. His first involvement with motor sport was visiting Foleys Hill aged 16years 10months while on his ‘L’s, he first raced at Mount Druitt in his MGTC – when racing was only up and down the strip. After Mount Druitt was extended, he was part of the Daniel/Spring/Polain entry in the 1954 24 hour race where they won the open (sports) category.

 

Immediately thereafter he left for the UK season as spanner for Mike Anthony in Mk6 Lotus – Mike was number three and Colin Chapman drove the leading team car.  This was in the days when Chapman had a day job and Lotus was operating out of a single car garage at the back of his father’s pub. He attended the UK meetings with the Lotus and all the F1 meetings, plus the Le Mans 24 hour and Rheims 12 hour on a Harley Davidson.

 

After arrival back in Australia in 1955 he joined Manly Warringah Sports Car Club holding numerous committee positions and promoted regular Foley’s Hill events, 24 hour trials plus probably the most successful Schofields Race Meeting.  He inaugurated the Mona Vale Sprint and represented the club at CAMS State Council. He was appointed CAMS Noise Panel Chairman and awarded life membership by MWSCC.

He raced a Jowett Javelin at Bathurst 1957 plus innumerable club events which generated his interest in the Jowett based Wylie Javelin, which he purchased in 1963 in very sad condition. After being rebuilt over the years much work resulted in many successes- example Geelong 13.2  Silverdale 39.16. He eventually sold the unique car in 1997.

 

Into the eighties Bruce created and then ran on multiple occasions the ‘Seaforth GP’ which took racing cars to the streets of Seaforth (on Sydney’s North Shore) for three 2.35 km laps. It was an amazing promotion with free entry for driver’s and spectators and always plenty of media coverage on all four local TV networks.

 

As Stephen Dalton observed in contributing this – ‘appropriate to combine AMS and the Wylie Javelin as one’. Indeed! Photograph is of Arthur lined up for the 18 July 1953 Fishermans Bend quarter-mile sprints (S Dalton)

 

Apart from salvaging the Wylie Javelin from destruction Bruce purchased the ex-Paul England Ausca chassis/body then sourced wheels, Repco Grey engine/gearbox and diff to bring the car back to life, winning at Amaroo in its first appearance. He purchased the ex-Barry Garner Rennmax in bits and again rebuilt it, as well as a Ginetta GT4, began the process for the Thompson Ford and also campaigned a very early Mallock U2. In 1983 he purchased one of Australia’s great racing cars, the Repco Research built Maybach 3 from Lance Dixon. The car was substantially reconfigured by Ern Seeliger after Stan Jones and Repco put it to one side with Stan’s purchase of a Maserati 250F- Ern replaced the Maybach six with a Chevrolet small-block V8, De Dion rear suspension and other changes. In Bruce’s ownership  its handling problems were solved with the intention of racing it in the UK in partnership with Arnold Glass where Arnold then living – however the Poms would not accept Maybach’s heritage so the car was sold.

 

In addition to the ‘Spotlight’ snippets in Australian Motor Sport he has contributed race and vehicle reports to Sports Car World, Racing Car News and other magazines – and with the knowledge gained from this pursuit plus the time spent on CAMS State Council has expended much effort on bringing to to CAMS attention many of its deficiencies.  In the interim he was the major contributor to the concept of (non-CAMS) ‘GEAR’ and awarded a life membership. GEAR has now been successfully extended to Queensland.

 

When CAMS closed Catalina Park, Bruce was somewhat disenchanted so formed ‘Friends of Historic Catalina’ $40 entry. John Large, then President of  CAMS was one of the early members) and spent funds on fence repairs, trimming undergrowth and patching tar- then (courtesy of the Navy, another story) painted the Armco battleship grey, the DSR were so impressed they renewed the licence without consulting CAMS (another story). The circuit was then used for lap dashes for another ten years. When the period for review came, CAMS (although invited, another story) did not officially turn up and that is why the circuit was closed. These days the circuit’s closure is said to be due to indigenous or noise reasons but Bruce claims that is incorrect, as at the time it was just the normal 10-year reassessment, as required under the Local Government Act, that applies to many council operations. That years later, council assigned the area to an Aboriginal Group was not the issue at the time- that latter decision was merely to devolve themselves of the responsibility of maintenance which automatically occurred whilst there was income from motorsport.

 

Professionally he has served decades as a shipping traffic manager, property developer, grazier and executive accommodation operator.  Married since 1960 to Tilli – one son and three daughters – Currently writing his memoirs which may put a new slant on CAMS History given that the current CEO rejects consultation.

 

Javelin Special Technical Specifications…

As reported in-period in MotorSport

 

 

Changes to the cars specifications from the above include a Marshall M200 supercharger, replacement of the Norton gearbox with a close ratio Jowett box which drove through a Ford differential with open driveshafts,. Early in the cars life the swing axles were replaced by a De Dion rear end and torsion bars donated by a Javelin.

 

(ACCM)

Bruce with plenty of interest (above) at a race meeting in the mid-nineties. Inherent design brilliance clear- mid-engine, Jowett low flat-four aluminium crankcase, cast iron head 1486cc, OHV, two-valve engine, its only the supercharger which makes the motor look ‘big’. Ron Reid’s Sulman Singer trailer in the background an ever-present member of the Oz historic scene for decades (still is, the car is now in his sons hands)

(ACCM)

Grainy photograph above shows SU carb at top-left, supercharger and inlet manifold. Standard Javelin heads were modified to allow the exhausts to exit to the rear.

(ACCM)

Photo above included to show the cars wonderful lines- and a great overhead shot of the suspension. You can see the De Dion tube, exposed axles and twin radius rods. At the front you can see the transverse leaf spring. Twin-fuel tanks, one each side of the driver, whopping big steering wheel and left hand change for the four speed Javelin close-ratio gearbox.

(ACCM)

Three little shots above.

To the left shows the chain drive from the crank to blower. In the middle a clearer one of the front suspension which comprises top transverse leaf spring, lower wishbones and co-axial shocks. Front radiator is clear as is the ‘semi’-spaceframe chassis. The far right shot is rear suspension detail- to the right the De Dion tube and to the left the open driveshafts/axles from the Ford differential.

In terms of the rear suspension, Bruce comments; ‘The torsion bar rear end was very clever- the two torsion bars (one either side) run alongside the chassis tubes with the ride height adjustment at the end- all of it was ex-Javelin and standard. As built it would have been fine on those rough circuits but for the later hot-mix variety I softened the suspension with positive results. I took a couple of leaves out of the front transverse spring and ground about thirty thou off the two rear torsion bars- it worked fine’.

The two two photos below ‘bring it all together’.

The first shows the chassis devoid of bodywork and the two side fuel tanks. It shows the two main chassis tubes and additional structural elements, can we call it a ‘semi-spaceframe’?

(SCW)

 

(SCW)

The other shot above reveals the key mechanical components and their justaposition- Jowett engine and four speed gearbox with the shortest of prop-shafts joining a Ford differential. Open axles and De Dion tube with two forward radius rods each side. Neat, clever, simple.

 

Arthur Wylie and his (and brother Ken’s) Javelin Special, with Wylie looking suitably nautical- I wonder what yacht club it is, in the 1953 AGP Albert Park paddock. Note attention to detail of the new car with its neat little grille and bonnet badge.

 

‘In Period’ Race Record of the Wylie Javelin…

 

The ‘Javelin Special’ appeared on Jowett agent ‘Liberty Motors’ stand at the 1951 Melbourne Motor Show.

Motor Manual reported that ‘One of the most interesting exhibits at the show…was the first pubic appearance of the Javelin racing car designed by leading driver Arthur Wylie. The little rear-engine car took pride of place on the stand and was painted vivid yellow’.

Wylie was dealing with a few health issues as the car was completed, as a consequence the Javelin’s competition debut was delayed- Stephen Dalton’s research shows he entered three races at the October ’51 Bathurst meeting, listing two different engine capacities, 1499cc and 1501cc to get under and over 1500cc, but did not appear, the reason given was ‘driver with a ricked back’.

The car finally appeared at the Rob Roy Hillclimb, Melbourne Cup Day meeting on 6 November 1951.

He set a time of 27.42 seconds in the first of three runs throughout the day, on one of his runs AMS notes he spun at ‘Tin Shed’ and went across the Spillway backwards whilst feeling the limits of his new car. I wonder if his concerns about the suitability of the swing-axle rear suspension started then?!

During that notable meeting Jack Brabham won his first road-racing Australian title- the 1951 Australian Hillclimb Championship driving his ‘Twin Special Speedcar’ dirt track midget, which, with the addition of front brakes satisfied the scrutineers of its eligibility.

Jack Brabham at Rob Roy during his November 1951 Australian Hillclimb Championship winning meeting ‘Twin Special Speedcar’ (L Sims)

In November 1951 Arthur contested the Victoria Trophy at the LCCA’s Ballarat Airfield meeting, he struggled during the 17 lap handicap race as ‘all his gears had left him except for top’.

He took a class win at Rob Roy in March 1952 and on the  Templestowe Hill that June.

In November 1953, by then with the De Dion tube rear suspension fitted, he took the Under 1500cc record at Rob Roy in the Australian Hillclimb Championship- and was third outright.

Arthur Wylie, Javelin Spl, Rob Roy 1954 (Polain)

That same month Arthur and his brother Ken entered the revolutionary little car in the first Australian Grand Prix held at Albert Park on 21 November. It was the circuit’s first meeting, and notable as the first AGP held in a major population centre or city.

Graham Howard’s ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ records that the ‘Most opportunistic start of the field had been made by Wylie’s yellow Javelin, a very accelerative little car, and he strung together a series of openings to be sixth (momentarily fifth) as the field swept through the very fast corners on the opposite side of the lake- and then on the quick left hand kink outside the football ground he lost it and had to wait for most of the field to go past before he could rejoin’.

Lex Davison’s new HWM Jaguar passes the spinning Arthur Wylie on lap 1 of the 1953 AGP, Albert Park (SCW)

Both Wylies drove the car, they managed to finish ninth overall despite a slipping clutch. Bruce observes that the car then had no baffle behind the radiator and in such a long race both brothers suffered from heat exhaustion as a consequence.

The sophisticated nature of the car (below) and it’s unusual appearance drew crowds of people eager to have a look at the Javelin’s secrets, developed as it was by a talented young local.

Sensational 1953 AGP Albert Park paddock shot from the Dacre Stubbs archive. Stunning engine detail inclusive of SU carb, Marshall blower, water header tank, clutch linkage atop Javelin gearbox- and bottom right, one of the two main chassis longerons. Workmanship and attention to detail clear (Dacre Stubbs)

 

Ken Wylie, Javelin Spl ahead of Jack Brabham, Cooper T23 Bristol, Victoria Trophy, Fishermans Bend 1954 (SLV)

Stan Jones ran the car when offered it by the Wylies when his own Cooper failed at Templestowe, Jones took the car to a class record of 61.51 seconds.

At Fishermans Bend in March 1954 (photo above) Ken Wylie contested the Victoria Trophy finishing third behind Stan’s Maybach and Jack Brabham’s Cooper T23 Bristol. In a strong performance Wylie was in second from lap 23 and appeared set to finish in that slot until slowed by tyre wear allowing Jack ahead.

Wheels have it that Arthur drove the car to 3rd in the 1954 Victoria Trophy but it was brother Ken Wylie at the wheel that day

The following week Rob Roy succumbed to the little cars speed, Wylie set a class record with a race report recording that ‘this car is a very consistent performer and shows a clean pair of wheels to many of the larger racing machines in the longer road events’.

The brothers took the car to Orange at Easter 1954 contesting a series of races at Gnoo Blas- second in a 22 mile handicap and victory in the Redex 45 mile scratch race at an average speed of 95mph a good yield for the weekend. The Javelin was recorded at 132mph using a 3.3:1 rear axle.

Arthur Wylie and his steed at Gnoo Blas in 1954 (aussiehomesteadracing)

Wylie advertised the car in his Australian Motor Sports magazine in August 1954 and after listing its successes his ad said ‘contrary to what the armchair experts may say, the car has never blown a head-gasket, run bearings or broken piston rings etc. The car has the original motor’.

The little racer was bought by Arthur Griffiths of Toowoomba who air-freighted the car and trailer from Essendon Airport in outer Melbourne to Brisbane- the trailer was cut in half to fit into the aircraft and then welded back together again upon arrival in Queensland!

Leyburn was close by to Griffiths, success in September 1954 was achieved with a scratch race victory ahead of Rex Taylor’s ex-Whiteford Talbot-Lago T26C. Later in the day Griffiths won in front of Ken Richardson’s Cooper JAP.

Like practically every other racing car in Queensland, Griffiths entered the Javelin in the 1954 Australian Grand Prix held at Southport on the Gold Coast.

Motor Manual reported that ‘Arthur Griffiths…was one of Queensland’s main hopes in the race. For the first two thirds of the race he fought a continuous duel with Doug Whiteford (Black Bess Ford V8 Spl) but within a lap of Whiteford’s withdrawal the Javelin blew a cylinder head gasket forcing him out of the race’, he was in third place at the time. Lex Davison won this dramatic race in an HWM Jaguar.

I wrote about the 1954 AGP at Southport a while back, click here to read about it;

https://primotipo.com/2018/03/01/1954-australian-grand-prix-southport-qld/

Arthur Griffiths, Javelin Spl during the 1954 AGP (Polain)

 

Flat out during the AGP (E Hayes)

It was about this time the car obtained the name ‘Wylie Javelin’, which was thought to more appropriate after the car moved from Wylie ownership although its nickname amongst the racing fraternity was ‘The Goanna’ given the similarities in physical appearance of the reptile and car!

In March Griffiths raised the flying quarter class record at Leyburn from 112.7mph to 117mph but during the June meeting a rear axle failure caused a considerable rebuild- he was leading Geordie Anderson’s  Jag XK120 at the time. The car then passed back to Arthur Wylie in Melbourne before he sold it to Don Gorringe who was the Jowett agent in The Apple Isle, Tasmania.

Gorringe’s first meeting in the little machine was under the Wylie’s supervision- he contested the support events at the 25 November 1956 Tourist Trophy meeting at Albert Park, the wonderful photo below shows the car in the capacious park’s paddock.

(G McKaige)

 

Don Gorringe, Baskerville 1958 (Gorringe Family)

Gorringe had much success with the car and as a notable businessman about Hobart it was not uncommon for Don to drive the racer on the road, it was a quiet place after all!

(Gorringe Family)

I have written about the Tasmanian Youl brothers previously. The young graziers were making their way in motor racing, John was looking for the next step up from his Porsche 356 and in April 1958 acquired the Wylie Javelin racing it at all of the local venues.

He won races inclusive of setting a lap record at Baskerville, won a state hillclimb championship, took the Penguin Hill record- perhaps during the March 1959 meeting which he won, and finished third in the Australian Hillclimb Championship held at the Queens Domain, Hobart in November 1959- Bruce Walton in the Walton Cooper took the win that day, the second of six ‘on the trot’ championships Bruce won.

Youl completely rebuilt the car and commented at the time that it was the best handling machine he had ever driven. After he bought a Cooper T51 Climax to step into national competition the car lay idle for a while but was eventually taken to Victoria by John Sheppard on John Youl’s behalf- and was then sold to Victorian, Bob Punch.

When Punch offered it for sale, frustrated with its reliability, he was considering fitment of a Peugeot engine, it was at this point Bruce Polain came in- the little car was lucky Jowett enthusiast Polain came onto the scene then. The car was never cut and shut or butchered with other mechanicals in an effort to keep it competitive with more modern machines.

The racer continued to live an active life with Bruce a much loved member of the historic scene. It appeared at the first ‘All-Historic’ meeting at Amaroo Park in 1976 with John Youl as guest-driver in the Grand Parade.

In 1984 the Wylie Javelin toured New Zealand and continued to race all over Australia upon its return. In 1997 Bruce sold it, since then, sadly, the car has seen more sedentary use, somehow not right for such a significant and always raced machine…

Don Gorringe at the end of a race at Baskerville ahead of Stan Allen Fiat 1400 Spl with John Youl in the distance aboard the red Porsche 356 (oldracephotos)

Etcetera…

Stephen Dalton very kindly sent through this article on the new car from the June 1951 issue of Australian Motor Sports- before the car had first raced.

 

 

 

There is more- Sports Car World article…

Bruce has found an article about his car way back in 1966, it may be a bit challenging in parts to read but is included for completeness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Wylie and AMS Snippets…

‘The pages relate to the 27-28 January 1979 Amaroo Historics meeting, with the Wylies guests for the meeting. A nice insight into Arthur and AMS’ wrote Stephen Dalton.

(S Dalton)

 

(S Dalton)

 

‘A tribute to Arthur Wylie’ 1990 Amaroo Historics Program cover in the style of AMS…

 

(S Dalton)

Credits/Bibliography

Bruce Polain, Australian Motor Sports, (ACCM) Australian Classic Car Monthly October 1996, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Eric Hayes, George McKaige, oldracephotos.com.au, Max Stahl, Leon Sims Collection, Gorringe Family Collection, Martin Stubbs and Dacre Stubbs Archive, Stephen Dalton and his collection, Sports Car World

 

Tailpiece: John Youl, Wylie Javelin, Queens Domain, Tasmania, November 1959…

(oldracephotos)

Finito…

Arch Tuckett’s Henderson engined Midget out front of the workshop where it was probably built-off William Street, Woolloomooloo, inner Sydney in 1934…

The first race meeting in Australia for what became known as Midgets took place at Olympic Park, Melbourne in the summer of  1934, on 15th December. A motley crew of racers attacked the cinder track that evening, including Arch Tuckett.

Also on the grid were Bill Allen, who brought the sport to Australia, George Beavis, Barney Dentry, Charlie Spurgeon, Bill Thompson, Cec Warren, P Bouker, Lance Burgess, Fred Curtis, Arthur Higgs, Les Gough, Bruce Leckie, G Malone, J Farmley, A Shaw and Bob Finlay who was Australia’s first Midget champion.

Although there had been car racing on oval track venues around Melbourne such as the 1 mile Richmond Racecourse in Melbourne’s inner east and the bayside Aspendale track since about 1913- it was not Midget racing but events between larger dimensioned light cars ‘somewhat akin’ to American Championship Cars.

The ‘Big Cars’ at Wentworth Park in November 1933. L>R Fred Braitling 1924 Alvis s/c, Charlie Spurgeon Fronty Ford Spl and Don Shorten Rajo Ford Spl. This is the race meeting referred to below in the text (S Hood)

In Sydney an organisation known as the ‘Dirt Track Car Racing Club’ (DTCRC) ran speedway meetings at Granville Showgrounds from 1932 and made an impression on the Sydney oval track scene. These cars were bigger machines including Rajo and Fronty Fords, Overland Miller and Morris Specials. They were putting on a good show at Granville but were a dismal failure as a spectacle when tried on the shorter Wentworth Speedway quarter mile in November 1933.

A year later several of the leading drivers of the DTCRC including Bruce Leckie, Charlie Spurgeon and Arch Tuckett gathered in Melbourne with the rest of the pioneering members of ‘The Midget Car Drivers Association of Australia’ to commence the new sport at Olympic Park.

Wentworth Park, Glebe. Midget race during the 1935/6 season L>R Arthur Wylie, speedway racer, constructor, road racer and ‘Australian Motor Sports’ magazine founder/publisher, Archie Tuckett and Sam Aggett. No chassis/engine details sadly. I worked in Glebe for 12 months- is that big building still there? (VS)

The first race meeting for Midgets in New South Wales was at Wentworth Park in Wattle Street, Glebe on 5 October 1935.

Sixteen drivers contested scratch races for A and B grade drivers, triangular match races and 5 lap handicap events. The first race of the afternoon was the A Grade 5 lap scratch won by none other than Arch Tuckett who led home Bruce Leckie and four times Australian Grand Prix winner Bill Thompson in a time of 1 minute 52.5 seconds. So, ‘our’ Archie won the first Midget race in NSW.

All the Midget Drivers Association competitors were well known guys from the ranks of road racing (such as Dentry, Thompson, Warren) former motorcycle and sidecar riders from the old concrete saucer Maroubra days and dirt track speedway sidecar riders who would all be unfamiliar with Midget car racing.

(S Hood)

Tuckett’s car looks so immaculate I suspect its just completed, perhaps the workshop built the car in whole or in part. Little is known about the specification of it other than that it is powered by a Henderson four cylinder, air cooled motorcycle engine and is no-doubt based on established American practice of the day. Let me know if you can add details about the cars specifications.

I know that part of the world reasonably well, the design and branding consultancy I was a part of was located at 160 William Street for a few years, i’ve poked around many of the lanes between William Street and Woolloomooloo Bay. Using the evidence- part of a street name on the fence, and the number 252 in the other photo- I think the address may be 252 Dowling Street just off William Street. This fits with the caption together with Sam Hood’s photos on the State Library of New South Wales Flickr post of these amazingly clear, evocative shots. Wonderful aren’t they?

Arch Tuckett with the Midget he bought from Duane Carter after the 1937/8 Summer NZ Tour he contested. The chassis was built by the Technical Institute in Alameda California in 1935. Originally built with a Continental Star engine, here it is fitted with a modified A Model Ford unit (G McIsaac)

As to Tuckett himself, variously said to be from Queensland and Victoria, he built the car pictured himself and raced it to Queensland and Victorian State Championship wins.

He travelled to New Zealand to contest the first Midget races there, contesting events held at Western Springs Stadium in the summer of 1937/8 in Auckland.

At the end of that tour he bought the ‘Alemite Lubricant Special’, a professionally built, Continental Star engined racer from Duane Carter, one of five Americans on that tour. He raced that chassis very successfully in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales before emigrating to New Zealand in 1940, subsequently enlisting in the RNZAF.

The car featured in this article, his first Midget, was sold to Kiwi ‘Pee-Wee’ Anderson.

The Alemite car exists, restored in NZ, it would be interesting to know what became of the Woolloomooloo built car! Similarly what became of Arch?…

Wonderful cover of the Olympic Park, Midget racing meeting program, 14 March 1936 (D Zeunert Collection)

Etcetera: Motor Racing at Olympic Park, Melbourne…

The current site of ‘AAMI Park’, one of Victoria’s premier football and rugby Stadiums, is situated within the city’s leading sports precinct nestled between the Yarra River and Melbourne Park, the site has served a myriad of purposes including motorsport. This section of the article is of arcane interest to Victorians only I suspect. But it was interesting to me just how many iterations of motorsport there were in an area many of us know so well. The piece is a truncated version of the AAMI Park site history.

Bound by nature

‘Prior to European settlement of Melbourne in 1834, the Yarra River Valley was inhabited by the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. The area has always been idyllic for recreational pursuits. Surveyor-General Robert Hoddle surveyed Melbourne in 1837 and set the boundary for ‘Government Paddock’, an area that comprised the current Yarra and Melbourne & Olympic Parks. The lower reaches of the paddock near the Yarra (i.e. AAMI Park) were quite marshy, a chain of lagoons proving popular with duck shooters.

These riverside pastures of what was also called ‘Richmond Paddock’ became the first location for Melbourne’s Zoo. The Zoo area became the ‘Friendly Society’s Gardens’. The Combined Friendly Society used the land for athletic carnivals and social events. The Yarra constantly flooded until 1896 when the Board of Works realigned the river between the City and Richmond.

The League of Victorian Wheelmen completed a banked cycling track in 1897, which included a grandstand, bar and a range of amenities. Motocyclists also used the 32-35ft wide asphalt track which was enclosed by a picket fence. However, their machines became too fast and the track useless for racing purposes. As well as other cycling and running tracks (often flooded or swamp-like) the area was used for football, tennis, rugby union and women’s cricket either side of the century’s turn.

The ‘Amateur Sports Grounds’ basically consisted of two ovals – one rough and ready, the other encircled by the cycle track. On these fields were turf wickets for cricket, and two adjacent double tennis courts. Athletics was still a regular feature, the St Stephens Harriers using both ovals regularly.

In 1915 the Great War halted preliminary work on a private company’s £5000 motordrome, based on the popular yet extremely dangerous board tracks of the United States. Pioneered by Jack Prince, these banked tracks were capable of handling speeds up to 100mph, but overpowered motorbikes caused mayhem on a weekly basis.

Thrills ‘n spills at the ‘Drome

Melbourne Carnivals Pty Ltd developed and leased the site until the conclusion of World War II. Undeterred by carnage on similar tracks in America, dynamic and colourful local entrepreneur John Wren was a driving force (along with ace promoter Campbell) in reviving the previously shelved ‘Melbourne Motordrome’. Built over 18 months on the old cycle track, it opened on 13 December 1924 at a cost of around £30,000.

A campaign led by defunct newspaper, The Argus, condemned the appropriation of public space for commercial activities, however authorities maintained the land was still open to the community. From the venue’s inception official complaints about the noise levels arose – the ‘peace and tranquility’ of the nearby MCG test match disturbed, along with local residents. Criticism subsided as people attended all manner of entertainments such as wrestling. Few were keen to make an enemy of the powerful Wren in any case- he was one of those chaps who played right on the envelope of legal and bent activity in many areas.

The treacherous 629 yard concrete drome’s primary attraction was two lap ‘professional wheel racing’ events. Recruited by ace promoter Campbell, American star motorcyclists Jim Davis, Ralph Hepburn and Paul Anderson regularly thrilled crowds whilst Ron Hipwell was the local favourite. Crowds nearing 30,000 also thrilled to eclectic programs that featured sidecars, cycling, athletics and wrestling bouts. Some novelty events bordered on the farcical; racing ostriches were imported from South Australia in December 1926, but in what The Argus labelled ‘a complete fiasco’, the confused and terrified beasts (with cardboard cutout ‘jockeys’) wandered aimlessly, scampered in all directions, or simply stood stupefied. ‘Motor Push Ball’ was another bizarre affair, as were children being pulled by billy goats in two wheeler carts.

Tearing around at over 80 miles an hour with no brakes on the steep banks, it was little surprise that five riders lose their lives, the track earning the nicknames ‘Suicide Track’ and the ‘Murderdrome’. Due to instances of flying debris and that the vertical wall at the top was only half the height recommended by Jack Prince, the Motordrome’s innovative ‘saucer’ track featured ‘Danger – don’t lean over’ signs and additional strategically placed fencing. A red danger line half way up the daunting 48 degree bank acted as a guide for riders, however serious trouble often ensued when oil spilt on the track, riders ‘wobbled’, skid on the painted red line or tried to ride more than three abreast.

In one spectacular crash, Hipwell suffered concussion and assorted injuries (including his hip!) and never regained the form that saw him once defeat Davis in front of a full house. More tragic accidents saw Alec Staig, Allan Bunning, Charles Grigg, Reg Moloney and two teenage spectators lose their lives. Riders even contended with foolish attempts at sabotage; such as double sided tacks, or on one occasion, a five foot length of barbed wire that officials thankfully spotted. The final tragedy, local star Jimmy Wassell on 2 January 1932, appeared to be the last straw. Crowds declined and racing was restricted to slower side-cars in the final season.

Jumping aboard dirt track’s motorcycling’s wave of popularity in Britain, a new 494 yard track was added by 1928, enclosed by the ‘drome. Huxley and Van Praag were stars of these meetings. Cycling also became popular as the Great Depression took hold. The nature of this unique ‘velodrome’ lent itself to motor-paced feats such as Legendary cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman covering 100 miles in 90 minutes in 1930 and in a world famous performance, 1000 miles in 28hrs 55 mins. He also broke the world record for the dangerous five mile motor paced event. The Motordrome also hosted the historically significant Austral Wheelrace five times between 1923 and 1929.

The world’s richest professional footrace, ‘The Melbourne Thousand’ was established by Wren in 1928. The inaugural £500 winner’s prize went to South Melbourne star footballer Austin Robertson, the sprint last run in 1932. Other much hyped events such as the ‘World’s Championship’ sprint appeared on ‘sensationally historic’ athletic programs.

On 4 June 1932 the Motordrome became part of VFL/AFL history when Melbourne played the first of three VFL home games owing to the MCG undergoing resurfacing works. Melbourne lost all three games at the Motordrome.

Page of competitors, Midget events march 1936 (D Zeunert Collection)

Olympic Park Speedway

An untenable safety record, and declining financial viability, saw 20 charges of dynamite reduce the ‘Drome to rubble in 1932. The venue was reconstructed as the ‘Olympic Park’ sporting arena in 1933. Interestingly, this reference predated the ’56 Games. Said to better reflect the usage of the site than ‘Amateur Sports Grounds’, the name was prophetic, if not lacking in logic. Promoted successfully by Dick Lean Snr, popular midget speedcars debuted and were pioneered in Australia here in 1934 on a newly constructed dirt track around the sporting field.

Football returned on 30 March 1935 when a floodlit game between 1934 Grand Finalists Richmond and South Melbourne remarkably drew 25,000 spectators (causing Jack Dyer to walk to the ground, unable to get on the packed trams). The practice match was interspersed with midget car races in the breaks. Amid some controversy, around this timeWren almost closed a deal for Richmond to relocate to Olympic Park.

The Australian Imperial Force assumed control of Olympic Park in 1940, although with the permission of the Fuel Board one last speedway meeting was held on 1 April 1946 in aid of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Continued petrol rationing spelled the death knell for the speedway in the aftermath of WW2. The venue met with the wrecking ball in 1946 but few local residents lamented the demise of the noisy motorsports. Further deconstruction occurred inadvertently when a fire destroyed a large wooden grandstand in 1951.

Olympic Park lives up to its name

The welcome 1956 Olympic Games transformation began in 1951. A new sports arena at the southern end of the AAMI Park site hosted the field hockey preliminary rounds, subsequently known as the Eastern Sportsground or the No. 2 Oval. A 4400 seat, 333 metre long velodrome was also constructed, situated on the northern/Swan Street side at a cost of around £120,000. One of the fastest tracks in the world, it was made of reinforced concrete over a New Zealand pine base. Our cyclists won a gold and a bronze at the ’56 Games.

A couple of unidentified cyclists during the 1956 Olympics Velodrome, Olympic Park 3 December ’56

Entertaining the masses

The Victorian Amateur Football Association took up residence at the Eastern Sportsground in 1957, using the venue as its administration base and a weekly marquee game.

The Victorian Rugby Union competition used the Eastern sportsground, as did three Victorian Soccer Federation teams and even the Australian Equestrian Federation held twice yearly championships here. In one of Olympic Park’s more controversial moments, hundreds of protesters against the 1971 Springbok rugby tour clashed with mounted police armed with batons on 3 July. The demonstration was a forerunner to other protests around Australia and preceded Australia pulling out of its upcoming cricket tour of South Africa. Several court cases ensued with accusations of assault levelled towards, and against police. The game itself saw South Africa thrash Victoria 50-0.

A £50,000 investment by the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Association saw their relocation from Arden St. North Melbourne to a redeveloped Eastern Sportsground in 1962. On 20 August 6000 punters braved the cold for the first meeting. The velodrome was demolished in 1972, becoming a 800 space carpark, and the following year saw a new $6m 2200 seat grandstand built for greyhounds, soccer and rugby. The facilities pre-empted the dishlicker’s halcyon days which lasted until the 1980’s. Regular crowds of 5000 were also entertained by athletic races during the Monday night program, as well as promotions tied to Moomba, glamorous models and various celebrities.

A changing landscape

TThe Eastern Sportsground was upgraded with a synthetic pitch, practice running track and throwing area to coincide with the 1985 World Veterans Athletic Championship. As well as facilitating commercially viable sport and entertainment, Olympic Park Management’s other primary objective to increase the variety of sports. Consequently, hockey and American football utilised this field during winter, the latter playing their Victorian Championship on the ground in 1985-1993.

In November 1991, billowing smoke permeated through the greyhound track grandstand causing the evacuation of 2000 enthusiasts, moments after the last race. Forty firemen were dispatched to the blaze that began in a storeroom. The last race was run in February 1996 as 3000 punters sadly bid farewell, the club relocating to Broadmeadows.

The old Eastern Sportsground was reborn as Edwin Flack Field whereupon Collingwood used it as their training ground from 2004-06 – some irony given their legendary patron John Wren had built the Motordrome on the same patch of turf.

City of Melbourne folks- the area we are referring to is the modern white stadium and Olympic Park to its left beside the River Yarra- one can readily see that motor racing 1 km from a modern metropolis even in the 1940’s was a bit of a stretch! MCG right middle of shot as you cricket lovers, god help you, would know

State of the Art Stadium

Plans for the new stadium were originally conceived when Melbourne bid for a new Super 12 franchise. Upon being beaten by Perth, it didn’t take long for the plans to re-emerge. In April 2006, the Victorian Government announced a new 20,000-seat stadium would be built at Olympic Park to host Rugby League and Football. Melbourne Victory.

Construction commenced in late 2007 on the site of Edwin Flack Field- AAMI Park officially opened its doors on 7th May 2010, hosting the Rugby League ANZAC Test Match between Australia and New Zealand. The game attracted a near sell-out crowd of 29,442. As well as the Victory, Storm and Rebels; the Melbourne Demons Football Club (AFL) also have their training and administrative base at the venue, training on the adjacent sporting field.’

Built at a cost of $267.5 million, AAMI Stadium features a distinctive cutting-edge Bioframe design with a geodesic dome roof which substantially covers the seating area and is a great visual reference point when heading into town from the inner-East through South Yarra…

Bibliography…

australianspeedway.com, vintagespeedway.com, article by Ken Wylie, David Zeunert Collection

Photo Credits…

Sam Hood, State Library of New South Wales, Gordon McIsaac

Finito…

 

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Love these patinated CAMS Logbook shots of the Cooper MG with Greg Smith at the wheel in the mid-seventies. Top shot giving it plenty at Dandenong Rd, Sandown, the bottom ‘Tin Shed’ at Calder, both circuits in Victoria (Smith)

A warm welcome to Greg Smith, Australian racer/engineer who is writing ‘A Trilogy of Australian Specials’, on cars which captured his imagination, the first of which is the Cooper MG…

Greg is a gentleman (some would dispute that descriptor!) of a certain age, suffice to say he started competing before mufflers were mandatory and seat belts were worn at the drivers own discretion!

An historic racing engineer based in Bayside Melbourne, he has had a successful career restoring and preparing cars as diverse as a 1904 TT Maudslay to a 1967 Quad Cam Ford V8 Indycar. He lists his highlights as his years working on ERA’s and GP Bugattis, looking after a 6CM Maserati for a season and multiple preparation and management jobs at the Mille Miglia and Tour Auto modern classics.

Greg has competed at , been a mechanic at, or team manager at, over sixty different venues world-wide, but declares his enduring passion as front engined ‘Australian Specials’ and local tracks.

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Smithy fettling a Bug T57 3.3 litre straight 8, supercharged engine. It received a new crank and ancillaries in a comprehensive rebuild of both engine and car (Smith)

Definition: An ‘Australian Special’ is a racing or sports car, most commonly built by an impecunious owner/driver from gathered parts and assemblies, then engineered to reflect his own thoughts, abilities and intellectual property to the point where no two are alike and every one has its own hallmarks, eccentricities and foibles-unique vehicles indeed.

In this trilogy I’ll write about three cars which have passed through, or remain in my ownership.They have given me great pleasure during my 40 odd years involved in Historic Racing and, as you will see, are all front engined and constructed prior to 1960.

The Cooper MG…

This amazing ‘giant killer’ of a little car started out life as an example of that most mundane genre of racing vehicle, a factory production car!!

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Arthur Wylie, Cooper Mk4 Jap, Bathurst, Easter 1950 (Blanden)

It was delivered as a JAP 8/80 engined long wheel base Mark IV Cooper and was a very early example, maintaining the forged Fiat Topolino 500 lower wishbones. It was the factory demonstrator for Cooper Car Distributors in Melbourne, Australia and had some early success when lent to noted driver, Arthur Wylie. In 1952 it was sold to George Pearse of Sydney who ran it consistently for two years in its original form.

So far nothing ‘Special’ about it. George, a renowned tinkerer and engineer, had other ideas though.

The Cooper, although a light and sure footed mount, lacked the punch, power and acceleration of George’s previous car, a supercharged MG-TC square rigger which George retained.

Why not an amalgamate the cars and get the best of both worlds, he thought?

George un-bolted the J.A.Prestwich  power unit from the rear of the chassis, shoehorned his blown MG-TC motor and gearbox into the front of it and moved himself rearwards!! A Ford V8 diff with a pre-war American style Casales three pinion drop box on the front allowed the driver to sit low and took the power out to the original Cooper  drive and suspension.

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Diff as per text (Smith)

Brakes and wheels remained the same at 8” diameter and 15” diameter X 2 ½” wide respectively, the whole was clothed in a light weight alloy body of agricultural, but pleasing proportions.

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Great shot of the red Pearse Cooper at Mount Druitt, Sydney, 4 September 1955 (TR0003)

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Bathurst October 1955; The Cooper MG was a potent piece of work, like Dorcas full of good works, concealed by a bonnet bulge. It’s Cooper basis is evident. It lapped in 3:04.5, outed in the 50 miler when the carbon brush in the distributor disintegrated (Medley)

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Bathurst October 1955; The Bryden TA/TC Spl had blitzed its MG competitors at Easter only to be out-engineered by Pearse’s all independently sprung Cooper MG (Bernard Coward/Medley)

George debuted his new creation at Bathurst in October 1955 and lapped in 3:04.5, slower than the Cooper Bristols and the V12 OSCA, but still a contender on this oh-so-fast road circuit!

A ‘smack’ at the AGP circuit at Southport led to the sale of the car, in damaged form, to Sydney speedway exponent and Offenhauser guru Ray Revell. Ray set to and replaced the Cooper box chassis with a spaceframe of his own design whilst using all the remaining serviceable components and upgrading to a stronger Peugeot 203 alloy rack and pinion.

He had it back on song and entered for Bathurst in October 1956.

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Bathurst October 1956; Ex-Pearse Cooper MG rebuilt after it’s Southport accident now owned by speedway driver Ray Revell (Medley)

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October 1956 Bathurst; Under 1500cc scratch race; Col James #7 Barclay MG from #18 Revell Cooper MG, #15 John Ralston MG TC Spl, #88 Doug Chivas Lotus and Harvey Clift MG TC Spl into Hell Corner (Medley)

Now looking like a true ‘Special’ it was within seconds of the big ex-Bira OSCA  and the D type Jaguar.

Ray eventually moved on to an Offenhauser powered Fiat and sold the car to up and coming Queenslander Lionel Ayers who lengthened the nose and added a more Vanwall type screen. He also fitted a 1500cc XPEG engine with a steel crank, Italian Nardi conrods and a Laystall-Lucas alloy head. This was all fed by a new Marshall J100 blower set up to deliver 22lb boost.

Ayers had great success with the car and raced it on equal terms with Jaguar D Type, Lotus 12, Repco-Holden and Ferrari cars.

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Lionel Ayers, beautiful colour shot of the Cooper, note the longer nose, at Lowood, Queensland in 1959 (Davies)

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Lionel Ayers in the Cooper MG ahead of Curley Bryden’s Ferrari 125, Bathurst, 30 March 1959 (Ayers)

The car was fitted with the larger Cooper Bristol brakes and wheels when the donor car (the WM Cooper) got its disc brakes and wobbly wheels, and prior to its sale to Hugh Gilroy about 1962.

Don Webster was the next owner and he did a prosaic re-commissioning of the car, running it in an emasculated form with twin 1 ¼’’ SU’s. It was in this form I first saw the car at the inaugural ‘All Historic’ Lakeside meeting in 1978.

During after race festivities I asked if I could try it on for size and once I was in, I wasn’t getting out until a purchase was completed!!

Imagine my delight when it was delivered to my home 1200 miles away in Melbourne when it was discovered that the garbage bag in the driver’s seat contained all the original supercharger, manifolds and drive which had not even been mentioned during our negotiations! A complete restoration commenced immediately and the car took me, and subsequent owners, Ross Hodgson and Brian Gerrard to many victories in the ensuing days of historic racing in this country.

The car is still extant in slightly modified form but new owner, Graeme Louk, is enthusiastically returning it to its correct historic specification and recently had his first outing with it to great acclaim by all as it was 22 years since its last appearance.

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(Smith)

Driving Impressions…

From a handling perspective the car had early ‘Cooper flop’ side to side with negative/positive camber change but if you divorced that seeming death wish from your left brain and just drove the car, it handled very predictably. The 10″ brakes were superb and initial understeer could easily be overcome by power application.

The supercharged engines torque was adequate and with only 3 1/2″ rims running Dunlop 4.50-L- 15 tyres, wheelspin and grip had to be closely managed, not the least reason being the cost of tyres!

The best, and most memorable feature of the car was being able to go one gear deeper into a corner, and brake one marker later than cars it competed against. This delivered rewards time after time.

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(Smith)

Technical Appraisal/Specifications…

Chassis; a lightweight centrally disposed monoposto spaceframe front engine racing car.

Suspension; All independently sprung using transverse leaf springs centrally located on bolted towers of the early type but not modulated in roll by the later roller support system.

Front lower wishbones are Fiat Topolino. The top shocker points were relocated by me from under the spring in 1978, the original front sway bar is still fitted.

The rear lower wishbones are Fiat Topolino with the original light series 1100 Hardy Spicer shafts increased to 1300 series. The original style rear sway bar is fitted to the car.

Steering; 203 Peugeot rack and pinion

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(Smith)

Engine;

During my ownership 1360cc (previously, in period and now again, 1500cc) it was fitted with an iron head (previously ,in period, and now again an alloy head is fitted)

My last dyno sheet from 1978 says we achieved 142 BHP at 12 lb boost and 9.3:1 static compression but I think camshaft technology will have eclipsed that figure, although it was sparkling in the day.

‘In period’ the car ran stub exhausts but an extractor system and muffler are now fitted for modern competition.

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(Smith)

 

Transmission; The original Ford V8 diff and drop box were replaced by me with a Halibrand unit in 1978, the original is still in my possession

The original panels include the tail, sides, bonnet and the later model fibreglass nose. A driver roll over bar and seat belts have been fitted.

Checkout this wonderful YouTube footage of Gnoo Blas, Orange, NSW…

Look carefully in the first two minutes of the footage for Pearse’s elegant, red, Cooper MG #18 which appears quite a few times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK7zXyWexr0

 Bibliography…

‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’, Turton & Armstrong , John Medley

‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ , Turton & Armstrong, John B.Blanden

Lionel Ayers, public domain article, TR0003, Stephen Dalton, Robert Davies

Authors archive-Greg Smith

Finito: Next article in this series soon features Wal Anderson’s 1957 Repco-Lotus-Holden sports-racer…