Posts Tagged ‘Birrana 273 Ford’

(unattributed)

Peter Brock in his Birrana 272 Ford at Winton in 1973…

Brocky was very hot property in 1973 having seized the public spotlight with the last solo Bathurst win aboard his Holden Dealer Team Torana GTR XU1 in October 1972. Every young bloke in Australia wanted to emulate him, and many women wanted to shag him including Miss Australia as it transpired!

Brock, on the way to winning the 1972 Bathurst 500, Holden LJ Torana GTR-XU1, Murray’s Corner (Getty)

Purists were delighted when he bought 272-002, Tony Alcock’s first monocoque Birrana, to contest the Australian F2 Championship, but sadly he didn’t race the car for long, soon returning to the touring car ranks.

John Goss in Birrana #1- the F71 Formula Ford at Oran Park in September 1971. JG gave McLeod Ford value- he raced an HO, his self-built Tornado Ford sports racer and the Birrana that year! (L Hemer)

Tony Alcock’s first Birrana, the F71 Formula Ford was built in Sydney and initially raced by one of Brock’s touring car sparring partners, John Goss. Then Tony returned to his Adelaide home town and started to build Birrana’s in numbers in partnership with Malcolm Ramsay- in 1972 building two F72 Formula Fords and 272-002. Their first ANF2 car was raced by Ramsay, dual Australian F2 champion Henk Woelders and Gold Star champion Leo Geoghegan before being sold to Brock.

Brock Birrana 272 Ford, Oran Park 1973, note the ‘Isuzu-GM’ decal. Car powered by an injected Lotus-Ford twin-cam but not the ‘ducks guts’ 205 bhp Hart 416B twin-cam which came into F2 in big numbers from that year (unattributed)

Brock, Birrana 272 Ford, Hume Weir, 22 April 1973 (R Davies)

PB raced it at Hume Weir, Winton and Oran Park to get his hand in prior to the start of the 1973 F2 Championship which commenced at Hume Weir in June.

Brock was 2nd to that years champion Leo Geoghegan at Oran Park on 5 August and then 6th at Amaroo on 19 August, in a Birrana 273, chassis 273-008. He updated to the best car of the season, Geoghegan galloping to the title with wins in every round but one. Its not clear exactly how many meetings Brock did in the two cars but he certainly raced the 272 at Hume Weir, Winton, Calder and Oran Park and the 273 at Oran Park and Amaroo Park.

Brock, Birrana 273 Ford, Oran Park 5 August 1973- he was 2nd in the AF2 championship round that day to Geoghegan’s ‘works’ 273 (autopics)

Running the Lotus Ford twin-cam engine was said to be a commercial barrier to the continuation of Brock’s F2 program given his Holden Dealer Team contract, but perhaps the reality of running his own car again with the assistance of his dad was just all too hard compared with being a works driver with all of its benefits. It was such a shame, Brock’s sublime skills deserved to be deployed in racing cars as well as the tourers of all sorts in which he excelled.

Brock in the famous self built with mates Austin A30 Holden sports sedan with which he started racing and wowed everyone, Hume Weir circa 1969 (unattributed)

Brock’s talent was clear from the start aboard his Holden engined Austin A30- his aptitude very quickly accepted once others drove that car, none of those who raced it or track-tested it could work out how he did the times he did- not Ross Bond, Peter Wherrett or Rob Luck. The little rocket was a mix of lightweight Austin stripped shell, highly modified Holden 179 6 cylinder ‘red motor’ giving circa 200 bhp using triple 2 inch SU carbs, Holden three, and later four speed ‘box, rear axle assembly wheel to wheel with a Holden front end and Triumph Herald steering rack with disc front brakes and drum rears.

In the crude but fast HDT Torana XU1 Repco Holden F5000 V8 engined ‘The Beast’ sports sedan, Calder circa 1975 (unattributed)

During the early-mid seventies glory F5000 years it always seemed to me the union between Holden and Repco would see him aboard a big, powerful single-seater car at some point, but the closest that ever came to fruition was the Repco Holden F5000 V8 engined Torana sports-sedan ‘The Beast’, which was not exactly what I had in mind at all. Still, what was in that for Holden or Repco I guess? Holden sold sedans not racing cars, so they hardly needed PB racing one of those dangerous things and Repco’s works F5000 driver was Frank Matich. A guest drive in a Matich would have been nice all the same…

In the Bill Patterson Group 5 BMW CSL 3.5 litre at Le Mans in 1976 with Brian Muir. Q48 and DNF with gearbox problems, the race won by the Ickx/Van Lennep Porsche 936 prototype, the best placed Group 5 entry was the 4th placed Schurti/Stommelen Porsche 935  (unattributed)

Marshall/Brock first in class and second overall in the 1977 Spa 24 Hour, Vauxhall Firenza Magnum 2300, 23 July 1977. The Joosen/Andruet BMW 530i won (unattributed)

Steps in the right direction were his international drives at Le Mans in 1976 aboard a Bill Patterson supported BMW 3.5 CSL Group 5 machine paired with Aussie International Brian Muir. Now that would have been a career to emulate in terms of a mix of sedans and sportscars based in the UK?

Spa in a works Vauxhall Firenza Magnum 2300 paired with Gerry Marshall yielded an amazing second outright in the 24 Hour classic in 1977.

Brock’s status as one of the best Touring Car Drivers of them all was confirmed by MotorSport in 2005 who rated him the greatest in an article contributed to by an array of global commentators of the top-20 of all time.

Brock in the Bob Jane Porsche 956 during the Silverstone 1000 Km on 13 May 1984, 21st sharing with Larry Perkins from Q11. Mass/Ickx won in a works 956. The team did Silverstone as a warm-up event pre Le Mans (unattributed)

The Bob Jane supported attempt on the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Brock partnered by Larry Perkins in a customer Porsche 956 captured all of our imaginations and to me was exactly where that pair belonged and deserved to be. Sadly the warm-up Silverstone 1000 Km and Le Mans was as far as it went. At Le Mans they retired after an LP mistake during the night.

Rallycross at Calder circa 1971- HDT supercharged ‘LC’ GTR XU1- this car earlier in its life doubled as a sports sedan on the circuits as well as in the dirt and mud (autopics)

1979 round Australia Repco Reliability Trial- winner with Matt Philip and Noel Richards in an HDT 6-cylinder Commodore (unattributed)

If only Brock had raced the 1974 Australian F2 Championship in a good car amidst one of the best grids of any single-seater championship in Australia ever- with success his career direction may have encompassed racing cars as well as tourers, rallycross, rallies.

Not half versatile was he?

About to clip the Dandy Road grass at Sandown, HDT Torana SLR5000 V8, Sandown 250 enduro 1974. He was 10th in the race won by Moffat’s Ford Falcon XB GT Hardtop (unattributed)

Birrana Cars Feature…

https://primotipo.com/2016/04/29/birrana-cars-and-the-1973-singapore-gp/

Photo and Other Credits…

autopics.com.au, Robert Davies, Lynton Hemer, Getty Images, tentenths.com

Tailpiece: Outta my way big guy. Sydney during the PR build up to Le Mans 1984, Porsche 956 chassis ‘110’…

Finito…

 

jane

(Bryan Liersch)

Bob Jane leading his champion driver, Spencer Martin onto the Hume Weir dummy grid for his first race in ‘Bob’s baby’, his Elfin 400 Repco 4.4 V8, June Queens Birthday weekend 1967…

Martin was by then the reigning national Gold Star Champion. In fact he was half way through a year in which he won his second title on the trot, and then having achieved his motor racing aims retired from the sport at elite level’.

#85 in the background is the ex-Bib Stillwell, Tony Osborne owned Cooper Monaco Olds V8 driven by Ian Cook.

Click here for an interesting article on Spencer; https://primotipo.com/?s=spencer+martin

The inspiration for this article are a number of great shots of the Hume Weir circuit near the mighty Murray River and border of New South Wales and Victoria. The circuit, closed in 1977 won’t be on the radar of international enthusiasts although Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori raced there during the Australian International races in the summer of ’61.

Brabham 1961, Cooper T53 Climax (C McQuellin)

 

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Jack Brabham wins the ‘Craven A International’ in his Cooper T53 Climax in March 1961, love the ‘Fergy’ in the background, Hume Weir  (unattributed)

 

JB post one of his wins with booty, ours is a parched brown land (C McQuellin)

I knew the circuit, i just missed racing there, it was closed by 1979 when in bought my first Formula Vee, was built in a disused quarry which provided construction stone and gravel material to build the Hume Dam, particularly its retaining wall. Although a Victorian i am a Thredbo skier, a legacy of 9 years working in Sydney and for years summer and winter have driven from Melbourne along the stretch of road from Ebden to Tallangatta with Lake Hume to my left. From Khancoban where the Alpine Way starts is a phenomenal drive to Thredbo Village. This drive, in fact the whole journey from Albury through Corryong, Khancoban, Geehi and Dead Horse Gap to Thredbo is one of Australia’s great drives.

Watch the ‘coppers’ though they police it furiously, the area near Scammells Lookout, a must stop, is an area to stick to the limits in particular!

For years i have driven for miles with Hume Dam on my left and wondered about the Hume Weir project and researched it, some old shots i found are too good not to share.

So, this masterpiece comprises a piece about the building of the Hume Dam, the birth of its Hume Weir Circuit ‘love-child’, the history and some shots of the circuit and a bit about Bob Jane’s Elfin 400 the photos of which at Hume Weir inspired the article.

For my international friends, the ‘where the hell is he talking about?’ question is addressed by the map below, ‘Hume Weir Circuit’ is in red, the road to Thredbo is also there.

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1960’s aerial shot of Hume Weir circuit, dam and dam wall. At the bottom of the shot is ‘Scrub Corner’, the tightest hairpin in the country, then heading ‘up’ is the ‘Back Straight’ into the combination of corners called ‘The Loop’, then left (going down the page again) into ‘The Esses’ past the pit entry and onto the ‘Front Straight’, the start/finish line is at the start of which (Dallinger)

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Dean Street, Albury 1920’s (Dallinger)

Australia is the driest continent on the planet, as a consequence there have been some major infrastructure projects since Federation in 1901 to provide water for irrigation of crops and/or power. The Hume Dam is one, on much bigger scales are the Ord River Scheme in WA and most impressively and significantly the post-war Snowy Mountains Scheme in NSW.

Travelling the roads mentioned above gives some insights into the ‘Snowy the scale of this nation building post-war project, its one of the civil engineering wonders of the world, can only be experienced on the ground, its un-Australian not to experience it at some point in your life!

Explorers Hume and Hovell trekked through the area in 1824, Albury was first settled by Europeans in the 1840’s.

As early as 1863, it was clear that water management was needed to ease the boom and bust flows of the rivers. Lochs and weirs were advocated but when representatives of the three colonies impacted, NSW, Victoria and South Australia met in Melbourne, the talks came to nothing. Not much different to today really, when the Premiers meet. Difficulties with border customs, bridge and punt tolls, along with self interest made necessary compromises between the parties impossible.

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Albury/Bethanga Bridge construction 1920’s (Dallinger)

After Federation (when the colonies joined to form a country) in 1901 a more global view of national priorities was capable of being made and after consideration of 25 sites the present one was chosen.

The factual material which follows is a truncated version of a paper by Joe Wooding for the ‘Albury & District Historical Society’ on construction of Hume Dam.

To build a reservoir, lots of land is needed, in this case, prime river frontage. 15,582 acres in NSW  and 87,268 in Victoria. Not everyone was pleased with the compensation offered, the lawyers were happy though as the courts were ‘chockers’ with disputes for over a decade.

Construction commenced in November 1919, soon tent cities sprang up on both sides of the river. More permanent buildings were soon erected. On the Victorian side, the hamlet of Mitta Junction, became known as Ebden Weir and the site for operations.The higher ground in NSW was called Hume Weir, started from nothing. In 1920, the title Hume Weir was officially bestowed on the whole project in honour of the explorer.
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Relatively early works, 1920’s (Dallinger)

Massive amounts of infrastructure were needed. I must admit to always being amazed at what was built with the equipment available in earlier times. (noting the Pyramids scale of achievement!)
A metalled road from the main road at Wirlinga, now Old Sydney Road was built to the site. A Hume Weir rail siding was established from which vast amounts of stores, equipment and cement were conveyed to the NSW work site by a fleet of 10 solid rubber tyred Thornycroft motor lorries. In Victoria, a branch from the Wodonga to Cudgewa rail line was laid to Mitta Junction. A road bridge to link the two villages spanned the Murray just below the work site.
Two quarries were established. The one in Victoria provided earth fill and clay for the embankment and later the site for the Hume Weir circuit. Originally, 2 steam locos were used to haul trucks along the earthen bank, 8 were added later. The rail tracks were constantly re-laid as the bank grew. Two steam grab cranes were used in early excavation work at the quarry. Two ‘navvies’ were deployed, steam cranes which ran on the rail system. Much of this equipment was brought from Nagambie and Eildon. Over 500 horses were  used to haul monkey-tailed scoops and drays.
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Horses still had a role despite modern construction techniques of the day (Dallinger)

In NSW the stone quarry is on Hawksview Hill. Four steam locos and numerous trucks were brought from Burrinjuck. The rail system was extensive, rails ran to and from the quarry and the Bethanga Bridge site. Rail was also used inside the coffer dam to service the spillway foundation excavations.

Steam power was widely used, some of the machinery was extraordinary. In NSW two huge cement mixers capable of producing 900 cubic yards per day were operated. The crusher was a 30 ton Hadfield made in Sheffield, England. It was unloaded at the weir rail siding and with great difficulty, transported to the quarry by 2 large steam traction engines.
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(unattributed)

A flying fox spanned the river from east to west with a large steel cable 400m long. The cables were attached in such a way allowing coverage of almost the entire work site. 300 tons of concrete blocks were used as ballast on the mobile pylon. A trolley was attached to the cable, enabling loads of up to 10 tons to be placed almost anywhere on the work site. The Bucyrus steam shovel was capable of lifting 3½ cubic yards and the only machine on site using caterpillar tracks.
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(Dallinger)

‘The process of using crushed rock rather than smooth river gravel and adding large rock individually, produces ‘cyclopean concrete’. A 750mm wide concave rubberized conveyor belt carried the concrete, which could be retrieved at any point, by concrete shutes, for placement at the work site. Belts were pressure cleaned for their return journey. The huge rocks, some weighing up to 10 tons, called ‘plums,’ were cleaned with a high pressure hose before being individually craned into the wet concrete. Some were completely buried, but many were left half exposed to ‘key in’ the next batch of concrete. Steel reinforcing was only used near the top of the spillway. The structure is about 17% rock. At its base, the wall is 32m thick and double that if you take in the dissipater wall’.

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Dam wall 1927, looking at the Murray upstream (unattributed)

‘As well as road works in the villages, other amenities were provided. Residences, barracks, stores, recreation halls, a post office and police presence were established. Electricity was installed for lighting only and turned off at 11pm. A Church of England was transported in. A casualty ward, a doctor with a phone and car were provided. Dances and pictures, obviously silent, as ‘talkies’ were not seen in Albury until 1928. The school had 66 pupils in 1921. The baker, milkman, greengrocer and butcher called regularly as did the ice man. Sport attracted many of course’.

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Dam wall work progression (unattributed)

Manual labour was harsh with a 48 hour week, later reduced to 44 hours. Picks, shovels and
bare hands were often the only method of filling drays. Returned soldiers from the Great War
were given preference for employment, followed by married men. Estimated numbers of
workmen employed varies greatly with about 1000 cited. At the peak of construction around 1927, numbers given were Victoria 355, NSW 650, Bethanga Bridge 89. With a large workforce and dangerous working conditions, accidents were a reality, with total fatalities estimated at 6-9 people.
The Weir was officially opened by the Governor-General, Lord Gowrie, on November 21 1936
 ‘by closing an electric valve control circuit which released the water through two giant needle valves…the greatest irrigation work in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the most important in the world. It cost £5,550,000 to construct, and is located nine miles from Albury’ The Albury Banner’ said.
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Dam opening ceremony in 1936 (Dallinger)

In 1957, the Power Station was completed with 2 turbines now capable of producing 58 Mw which is not large in the electricity industry. As a comparison, Albury’s peak demand for summe of 2013 was 110 Mw.

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The 1960s saw a large increase in the weir’s pondage necessitating additional works on the
dam. One aspect was to open the old stone quarry and supply thousands of tons of granite to
stabilize the clay bank of the earthen wall.
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Wirlinga…

Hume Weir wasn’t the first circuit in the Albury area, Wirlinga was.

A public roads layout of 6.79K, roughly rectangular shape using Thurgoona, St Johns and Bowna Roads as well as the Riverina Highway was used. 14km  from the centre of Albury, the track was used several times before WW2. Rather than get lost in that tangent now, tempting though it is, we will come back to Wirlinga another time.

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Car #22 is Alf Barrett’s Morris Bullnose Spl. #3 Tim Joshua’s Frazer Nash TT Replica, #4 Hope Bartlett’s MG Q Type,  #6 Jack Phillips winning Ford V8 Spl, Wirlinga 1938 (Dallinger)

The 150 mile ‘Interstate Grand Prix’ (called the ‘Albury Grand Prix’ in the Sydney Morning Herald report of the 1939 race) was run on 19 March 1938. The ‘Albury and Interstate Gold Cup’ was run on 12 June 1939. Both handicap races were won by local Wangaratta boy, Jack Phillips Ford V8 Spl. The track wasn’t used post war.

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The lower pic shows Les Murphy in the O’Dea MG P Type from Colin Dunne’s similar car and George Bonser’s Terraplane Spl, help wanted in relation to the cars in the upper shot  Wirlinga 1938 (Dallinger)

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‘Sydney Morning Herald’ 13 June 1939

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Typically parched Australian summer, 1970’s. Hume Weir wall middle right and Great Dividing Range clear  (unattributed)

Hume Weir Circuit…

Hume Weir was enormously popular in the immediate area, in fact depending upon the year the locals were served by Tarrawingee, Winton outside Benalla and the ‘Weir.

When the circuit was leased from the Hume Dam authority by the Albury and District Car Club the members initially established an unsurfaced layout which was first raced on 2 November 1959. It was lengthened to 1.1 miles during the year, first used sealed for the Christmas meeting on December 12 1959.

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Cars race at one of the earlier meetings on the original dirt layout, Hume Weir 1959 (unattributed)

The financial support of Gold Star champion Len Lukey’s and his ‘Lukey Mufflers’ business allowed the amenities to be improved sufficiently to hold the 1961 international event. The ‘weir only got the gig, historian Stephen Dalton records as negotiations with PIARC to use Phillip Island fell over.

The 1961 program comprised an ambitious 21 events held on the Sunday and Monday 12 and 13 March, they were mainly short races with the feature ‘Craven A International’s 20 lappers on each day.

The meeting was contested by Brabham, Salvadori, Bib Stillwell, Bill Patterson, Austin Miller and Jon Leighton. It wasn’t a big field; Moss had long since left the country, as had the BRM drivers Hill, Gurney and Ron Flockhart and his Cooper.

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This shot shows the two sections of the track separated by a narrow strip of concrete, March 1961 meeting perhaps (unattributed)

Brabham.

The Internationals that summer were raced at Warwick Farm, Ballarat Airfield in Victoria and Longford and won by Moss Lotus 18 Climax, Gurney BRM P48 and Roy Salvadori’s Cooper T51 Climax respectively.

The Longford meeting was on March 5, Brabham and Salvadori travelled back to Melbourne from Tasmania, the Coopers were towed up the Hume Highway, the main Melbourne/Sydney artery to contest the ‘Craven A Internatioanals’ at Hume Weir on 12 and 13 March. No doubt it gave Jack an opportunity to catch up with his family in Sydney.

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Brabham’s Cooper T53 Climax out front of its Albury digs, Gabriel Motors.  (Border Mail)

It was all fairly casual, Jack’s car was accompanied by his mechanic and a driver for the towcar, an FC Holden Station Wagon which was maintained at a local Esso servo/workshop.

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Brabham’s Cooper T53 during his victorious March 1961 weekend (unattributed)

Jack won the race on the Sunday by just 0.9 sec from Patterson, the reigning Gold Star champion and Bib Stillwell’s Cooper T51’s in his T53.’The last 3 laps saw the leaders in the esses together and the crowd was wild with excitement as it was still anybody’s race but Jack Brabham showed championship form and held off the challenge to win’ said the Border Mails report.

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(Border Mail)

 

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Austin Miller’s distinctive yellow Cooper T51 Climax perhaps chasing Jon Leighton’s Cooper T45 and Roy Salvadori’s T51 during the Sunday race in which they were 4/5/6th (unattributed)

 

Roy Salvadori sussing the size of the cheque- ‘Can you make it in pounds sterling matey?’ (C McQuellin)

 

Brabham, Cooper T53 Climax (unattributed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brabham from Salvadori- Cooper T53 from T51 (unattributed)

 

Salvadori, Cooper T51 (unattributed)

On Monday ‘Brabham streeted the field in the international cup race and set a lap record of 51.2 seconds, a time equated to 147kmh’. ‘Twas again a Cooper 1-3, JB winning from Stillwell and Jon Leighton in Cooper T51 and T45 respectively.

With that both internationals jumped on a plane for the UK, their first event the Lombank Trophy at Snetterton which Jack won in his Cooper T53, Roy was 5th in a similar car.

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Brabham T53 just in front of Patterson T51 in Sunday’s race closing stages (unattributed)

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(Border Mail)

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The short nature of the circuit perhaps mitigated against its use for championship events having said that it hosted a round of the Australian F2 Championship from 1973-76 with later multiple Gold Star winner Alfredo Costanzo setting the all-time lap record in a Birrana 274 Hart 1.6 F2 car on 15 June 1975. In 1976 the circuit also held a round of the Australian Sports Car Championship, fundamentally though it is a circuit which is fondly remembered by club racers of both bikes and cars and spectators of course.

The circuit was essentially ‘killed-off’ by CAMS with ever increasing and more difficult safety requirements which the owner/promoters couldn’t afford. There was a section where the cars passed each other separated by a concrete wall which was of particular concern.

The last race meeting was held on 27 March 1977 although the track was used as part of the Alpine Rally which was run out of Bright, not too far away. Every now and again a ‘comp sec’ of a car club convinced CAMS to issue a permit for a ‘sprint event’ but essentially another circuit was lost, a real shame as the usual causes; noise in a built up area or urban encroachment which simply made the entreaties of property developers irresistible to circuit owners didn’t apply in this rural area.

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(Dallinger)

The photo above nicely juxtaposes the Dam with the circuit which is clear to see above the dam wall in the middle of the picture, plenty of water about in this shot! At present it is as dry as!

Molina Monza Holden Spl.

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You get a sense of just what a magnificent natural ampitheatre the circuit was, most of but not all of the circuit could be seen from one place. This is the Molina Monza Holden Spl, the shot isn’t dated so not sure who the driver is. The car’s specifications are outlined in this article amongst other Oz cars; https://primotipo.com/2015/05/13/shifting-gear-design-innovation-and-the-australian-car-exhibition-national-gallery-of-victoria-by-stephen-dalton-mark-bisset/

Perkins.

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(Dick Simpson)

Larry Perkins in the ‘boonies’ at ‘Scrub Corner’ on 28 December 1969 early in his career, car is characteristically a Perkins Vee. He is looking for a marshall to help him back to terra firma.

He was in F1 in a private Ensign nee Boro in 1975. This is early days tho, his early break was to get one of Bib Stillwell’s Elfin 600FF seats in 1971 taking the ‘Driver to Europe’ series. He stayed in Oz for ’72 and raced an Elfin 600B/E Ford to win the national F2 title. He then took Garrie Cooper’s first Elfin 620FF to the Formula Ford Festival at Snetterton at the end of the year, contesting the Festival with a few other Aussies and then stayed in the UK. F3 in 1973 and the rest is history…

Brock.

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Peter Brock ahead of Lynn Brown’s Cooper S, these are ‘Sports Sedans’, anything goes sedans with Brock and Brown two of the sports finest pracitioners of the art. Brocky is young and made his Holden ‘Red’ 6 cylinder engined A30 sing, his performances in it resulted in Harry Firth, fine judge of talent picking him up as a Holden Dealer Team driver. Brock took his first Bathurst win in 1972.

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Brock, Birrana 273 Ford, Hume Weir 22 April 1973 (Robert Davies)

‘Peter Perfect’ only did one fullish season in single-seaters in this ex-works Birrana 272 Ford, its the very first of Tony Alcock’s monocoque cars. A good car but it didn’t have a Hart Ford engine, and the competition was hot in 1973-5 in F2, Brocky quickly went back to Holdens. A great pity, a natural driver of great smoothness, finesse and throttle control; oh to have seen Brock in a Repco Holden engined F5000 in the 1970’s!

Hansford.

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(P Hall)

Greg Hansford blasts onto the main straight 1977. Kawasaki KR750 water-cooled 2 stroke.

Beechey.

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(Bowdens)

Beechey changed from Holden to Ford running this ex-works Series Production Ford Falcon GTHO Ph3 with some cash from Ford in 1972. Here he is in April, DNF with clutch failure. Ford apparently then changed their minds wanting Norm to return the car and money they paid him, Norm telling them unsurprisingly to ‘jam it’.

Bartlett.

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(Bruce Wells)

Kevin Bartlett in polo-shirt at the wheel of the works Lynx BMC, the Curl-Curl  kid was on his way! Lotus 20 behind i think. Year anyone?

Bikes.

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(John Small)

Jim Budd and Roger Hayes Team Avon Kawasaki’s lead the 1 hour production race at the ‘weir in November 1977. Third is Jeff Parkin and then Alan Hales both on Suzuki’s. Hot work in the heat.

Jane.

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(oldracephotos.com)

Bob giving his factory Shelby built Mustang Trans-Am plenty during the 1970 Christmas ‘Weir meeting. His new Chevy Camaro 427 cannot be too far away, Norm Beechey took the 1970 ATCC in his Holden Monaro GTS350 but Jano won it in 1971/2 in the same car with a 427 in ’71 and ‘tiddly’ 350 small block in 1972.

jane torana

(Dick Simpson)

Bob was back with another new toy in 1971, one of his finest, the John Sheppard built Holden Torana into which was slotted one of the 4.4 litre SOHC ‘620 Series’ Repco V8’s once fitted to the Elfin 400 pictured below. CAMS didn’t allow it to compete with the wing for long, check out the Vees in the Weir ‘form up’ or dummy grid area in the background. This car was mainly raced by John Harvey, in ’71 Bob focused on the Camaro and winning the ATCC. The car is still around albeit Chev engined and in need of restoration.

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(oldracephotos.com)

Bob Jane didn’t race his Elfin 400 too much, it was mainly driven by his drivers; Spencer Martin, Ian Cook and Bevan Gibson. Here in early 1968 at Hume Weir Jane is ahead of a Lotus 11, Meyers Manx beach buggy! and, is it an Elva Courier. These big Elfins are sensational cars, i wrote a long article about them a while back, click here to read it;

https://primotipo.com/2015/05/28/elfin-400traco-olds-frank-matich-niel-allen-and-garrie-cooper/

400 rear

It’s interesting to see racing cars in the context of their day to gauge the impact they had on people, how ‘other worldly’ and fast they looked. Seeing them at historic race meetings is not the way the populace saw them at the time.

This shot does that in spades and the fair citizens of Conmurra Avenue, Edwardstown, an Adelaide suburb had seen plenty of cars leave the Elfin factory in their street. This one clearly captured their attention all the same.

That WOW! factor we all still experience at the sight of something really special, mind you, these days it’s usually the ‘WOW! Ugly as a Hatful of Arseholes’ impact rather than ‘WOW! Beautiful’. Such is the impact of cad-cam and the aerodynamicists ‘art’ on free flowing curvaceous forms.

The Mini 850 and Holden ‘EH’ on the typically Aussie outer suburban street nicely juxtapose the body of Elfins first ‘big-banger’ sports car with contemporary ‘roadies’ of the day.

WOW! indeed.

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Elfin built four Elfin 400’s, all with different engines, the first completed was the Frank Matich Elfin 400/ Traco Olds featured in the article link above.

This car is about to be delivered to Bob Jane Racing in Melbourne in early 1967 in time for the sports car events which were a part of each years Tasman rounds.

It’s the first 4.4litre Repco ‘620 Series’ V8 fitted to a car, the engine developed in parallel with the 1966 Championship winning 3 litre variant of the same engine, victorious in Jack Brabhams hands that year.

In fact it is the first customer Repco engine sold, the first fitted to a sports car and the first fitted to a car built in Australia, Brabhams were built in the UK. So, significant in Repco’s’ history.

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The SOHC 2 valve, Olds block, Lucas injected engine produced around 400bhp@8000rpm, enough in Australia, but not elsewhere in the world at the time, where big Chevs were dominant. In 1965/66 the Lola T70 was the ‘ducks guts’ in Group 7 sports car racing but the McLaren M6A appeared in 1967, from that moment the record books were attacked by the McLaren steamroller until the end of 1971 when Porsche ‘rained on their parade’ with the 917/10 and 917/30 turbo’ cars.

As stated above this car was raced by Jane himself, Ian Cook and Bevan Gibson. Unfortunately it was the car in which Bevan flipped on Conrod Straight, Bathurst at the Easter 1969 meeting, killing the promising young driver instantly.

Frank Matich was dominant in his range of sports cars in Australia into 1967, pickings at championship level were slim when FM was present. Matich’s Elfin 400 Traco Olds delivered its promise and his own SR3’s were almost identical in terms of chassis to the Elfin 400 if not the body.

The ex-Jane 400 is now restored and owned by Elfins’ Bill Hemming.

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Hamilton Porsche 906 Spyder, Spencer Martin Elfin 400 Repco and Bevan Gibson Lotus 15 Climax, Hume Weir, Queens Birthday weekend 1967. Somewhat poignant shot given Bevan is to die in the car beside him 2 years later. Gibson made the families Lotus 15 Climax absolutely sing, it was his drives in this old car which earned him the Bob Jane drive (Bryan Liersch)

Bibliography…

Joe Wooding ‘Albury & District Historical Society’ paper on construction of Hume Weir

‘Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’ John Blanden and Barry Catford, Elfin Sports Cars Facebook page

Photo Credits…

Bryan Liersch, Bob Mills Collection, Dick Simpson, John Small, oldracephotos.com, Bowdens, Bruce Wells Collection, Robert Davies, Bowdens, Christopher McQuellin, Phil Hall

John J Dallinger’s stunning collection of Albury photographs

Tailpieces: Family, fun day out at the Weir…

hum humpy

(unattributed)

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Hume Weir humpy Holden mayhem (Dick Simpson)

 

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Birrana Engineering chief Malcolm Ramsay in his Birrana 273 ‘010’ Ford Hart during the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix, the last until the F1 era commenced in 2008…

I have been meaning to write about Birrana’s jewels of cars for a while. I tripped over this shot of Ramsay researching the Leo Geoghegan Lotus 39 article a while back, Leo was Birrana’s works driver from mid-’72 to the end of 1974.

This article started as a ‘quickie’ stimulated by the shot above, but segued into a longer piece when I found heaps of photos of the ’73 Singapore GP in the Singapore Government Archives. Too good to waste, low-res shots but still great to circulate. Bonuses were finding an existing article about the pre-F1 Singapore GP history and a contemporary ’73 race report. The basis of something interesting. Bewdy!

I need to a write a bit about Birrana Cars too though.

I don’t for Australian readers but that’s only 15% of you. So I have written what should be treated as ‘An Introduction to Birranas’, Part 2 ‘Birrana In Detail’ to come soon. Hopefully there is enough to explain how important the cars were to those who haven’t heard of the marque whilst being clear to Birrana enthusiasts, and there are plenty of us in Oz, that there is more to come.

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The photos above and below are ‘compare and contrasts’; top of Leo G in his 274 at Oran Park, the bottom of Bob Muir in his 273/4 at Symmons Plains, Tasmania. Bob’s car is 273 ‘009’ with 274 nose and rear wing. Compare with ‘standard spec’ 273 shots in the Singapore GP 1973 part of this article (unattributed)

Leo won the Australian F2 Championship in 1973/4 with a 273 and then 274 model cars, powered by 1.6 litre Brian Hart Ford ‘416B’ injected 205/210bhp variants of the venerable Lotus/Ford twin-cam four cylinder engine first used in the Elan in 1963.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford ‘009’, Symmons Plains 22 September 1974. Bob took the win from RayWinter’s Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ Ford and Sonny Rajah’s March 712M/732 Ford (unattributed)

The F3/F2 Birrana’s were typical, orthodox aluminium monocoque chassis, outboard suspension cars of the period but built to a very high standard of design, construction and finish with particularly careful attention to aerodynamics. ‘Boxes were Hewland Mk9/FT200 for ANF3/2 use respectively.

Twenty-one cars were built, (FF 4, F3 4, F2 11, F Atlantic 1 and Speedway! 1) the first car was the F71 FF built in Sydney by Alcock before he joined forces with Ramsay in Adelaide, their home town. The last ‘A78’ Ramsay built for his own use in 1978 after the factory had closed in terms of ‘volume production’.

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Graeme Lawrence’ Rothmans March 76B alongside the very last built ‘Golden Churn’ sponsored Birrana A78. Graeme is the guy far right of his car and Ramsay the dude in the beard behind his. Selangor GP, Batu Tiga circuit 24 September 1978. Nose of Steve Millen’s Chevron behind. F Pac race, all cars Ford Cosworth BDD 1.6 powered. Of interest to Birrana historians; car was entirely new based on 273 tub design with forward braced roll bars as required then by FIA regs, and upper body panel, 274 nose with bottom lip added, bigger than 72-4 rear wing, no rear engine cover; the 272 and 273 did not have rear covers the 374/274’s did (Choong H Fu)

The pick of the cars, given driver feedback seems to be the 273, although the evolved 274 was built in larger numbers and won F2 titles for Leo G ‘015’ in ’74 and Geoff Brabham ‘018’ in 1975.

Visually though the F3 374 was a gorgeous bit of kit…if not as successful as the ‘works’ Cheetah Mk5/6 Toyota’s of ‘The Two Brians’ Shead and Sampson. Shead built the cars in his Mordialloc shop and Sambo the engines in his ‘Motor Improvements’ emporium in St Kilda Road, Elsternwick. All three of the 374’s were fitted initially with Sambo’s (ANF3 1300cc) Corolla based engines.

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Dean Hosking in the John Blanden owned 374 Toyota ahead of the similar Lew Wade owned, Paul King driven car at Adelaide International in August 1974. Little jewels of things  (Robert Davies)

Our ‘Racers Retreat’, click on the link atop the page for earlier articles, Peter Brennan was the mechanic on Paul Kings ‘Lew Wade Fiat’ owned Birrana 374 in 1974.

‘Lew had sponsored Paul King in an Elfin F Vee for a couple of years in Victoria, he was a really quick driver, so Lew decided to take the step up and buy an F3 car for Paul. He was a Fiat dealer in Cheltenham (in Melbourne’s bayside south), he figured the way to beat Sambo and Shead was a different chassis and a race prepped Fiat 128SL SOHC engine. The car was then new, the engine more advanced than the pushrod Corolla and he could cross-promote the sales of his Fiats.

Soon boatloads of lire were being sent to ‘Luigi The Unbelievable’ in Italy, when the engine finally arrived, late of course, we put it on the Challenge Motors dyno, it barely pulled 110bhp, not enough to pull the top off a rice-custard, the MI Corollas made a genuine 130/135bhp, even the customer engines’.

‘Lew had been serving it up to the Brians, who were both closeby in bayside Melbourne about how the Fiat engine would give them a belting and then had to eat big doses of humble pie and buy one of their donks!’

‘The day came to pick up the Birrana, so Paul and i were despatched to Adelaide in Lew’s big, lumbering Chev Impala and trailer. I don’t remember much about the factory other than it was small. Back in Melbourne, we soon had the thing plumbed and completed, Paul tested it at Calder and was immediately ‘on the pace’, he was a very quick driver but beating the Cheetah twins was another matter.’

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A little bit of biffo in this 1974 Calder combined F3/FF race. As best as i can work out its Peter (brother of Larry) Perkins Elfin 620 from Paul King’s Birrana 374, with 2 Elfin 620’s outside him, one ‘yumping’. #68 is a Wren FF with another FF beside him and on the very outside you can just make out the light covered rear engine cowl of Dean Hosking’s 374 (unattributed)

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Paul King’s 374 ahead of Brians Shead and Sampson in this Winton promotional poster circa 1974/5 (Paul King Collection)

In those days FF’s and F3’s often raced together, there was no national F3 Championship, the quicker F3’s raced against the F2’s in their championship races (which from 73-75 in particular was well supported, comparative car specs; FF 1600 circa 105bhp, no wings or slicks. F3 1300 SOHC or OHV circa 135bhp wings, slicks, 5 speed box. F2 1600 DOHC 2 valve circa 205bhp, wings, slicks, 5 speed box)

‘The car itself was beautifully built and engineered, the only problem we had during that year was leaking fuel tanks, we had to take the car back to the factory to have them re-sealed, its before the days of bag-tanks in these cars. The car was easy to work on, the Toyota engine was bullet proof, and the Hewland Mk9, which was also new gave no problems with only 135bhp tearing away at it.'(these boxes sometimes fitted to 205bhp Ford Cosworth BDD engines, not particularly reliable all the time mind!)

The Mk5 Cheetah was a top car in both the hands of the ‘factory’ drivers and also as a customer car ‘the Birrana was a better engineered and finished car’ but Shead and Sambo had evolved the cars over the years into very quick devices and both of them were experienced, fast competitive drivers. Sampson won the Bathurst 1000 with Peter Brock in 1975 and only stopped racing, in his mid-seventies, in the last few years.

‘Whilst Paul was an F3 front runner Lew started to lose interest when he wasn’t winning all the time, Pauls marriage was also going down the blurter, the car was sold and that was that. Paul drifted from the scene and Lew crashed his Tiger Moth and killed himself some years later’.

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Bruce Allison’s 274 ‘017’ in the Lakeside pits, the Queenslander was 3rd in his home race,during the 1974 AF2 Championship, an 8 race series in 5 states. Workmanship and finish of these cars absolutely world class (Allison)

All of the F2 Birrana’s were fitted initially with Lotus/Ford/Hart twin-cams built by a raft of preparation outfits. During the period we are looking at Peter Nightingale was the designated factory engine and gearbox bloke, he also prepared, from memory (always dangerous) Geoff Brabham’s 274 ‘018’ in his ’75 AF2 Championship winning year so that makes Peter the most successful ‘Hart fettler’ of the day. He still looks after a few cars in his Adelaide home town.

Later, various of the F3/2 cars were fitted with a variety of 1.6 litre SOHC engines when the ANF2 rules were stupidly changed.

Some of the F2 cars had the Ford Cosworth 1.6 litre BDD’s later fitted for F Atlantic/Pacific. The Birranas were too long in the tooth as F Pacs in the mid/late ‘70’s in NZ when they adopted the class, but Bob Muir was competitive in the UK in mildly updated 273’s in 1975.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford BDD, Mallory Park, British F Atlantic Championship, Bank Holiday meeting August 1975 (Alan Cox)

The 273 derived European 2 litre F2 Ford BDG engined ‘Minos’ was a slug and optimistic in the extreme given the competitiveness of that class at the time with factory BMW and Renault V6 engines in March/Martini/Alpine chassis. More about ‘Minos’ in the later Birrana article.

One chassis was raced late in its life with a Waggott 2 litre DOHC 4 valve engine, which is the car I would personally like to own! However I am getting ahead of myself and starting to write the article I said at the outset I would do at another time. So, back a step.

By the middle of 1974 Ramsay and Tony Alcock his designer/partner in Birrana, decided it wasn’t commercially feasible to build cars profitably as they wanted to in Oz.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 BDD ‘009’ at Mallory Park 24 August 1975, DNF with fuel surge, Jim Crawford’s Chevron B29 won. Later GP drivers Gunnar Nilsson and Tony Brise were also in this race (Alan Cox)

Tony travelled to the UK and initially ran the two Bob and Marj Brown owned 273’s for Aussie Bob Muir in the 1975 British F Atlantic Championship before he joined Graham Hills team. Unfortunately he was on ‘that flight’ which ended tragically at Elstree Airport, the whole team perished on that sad trip in difficult conditions.

Ramsay then focussed on his engineering business servicing the mining industry in Adelaide, where all but the first Birrana was built.

He very successfully applied his organisational and management skills by getting back involved in motor racing and winning multiple Gold Stars for other drivers in the Formula Holden era. His stable included Mark Webber, Paul Stokell, Jason Bright, Simon Wills and Rick Kelly. In addition, for a time he ‘turned to the dark side’ and ran V8 Supercars.

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Geoff Brabham at Oran Park in his 274 ‘018’ the last built car originally sold to Neil Rear in WA but bought only slightly ‘shop soiled’ by the Brabham family for Geoff’s second full season in racing, he raced a Bowin P6F successfully in the Australian FF Championship in 1974. Brabham comfortably won the ’75 AF2 title but Alfredo Costanzo in Leo Geoghegan’s ’74 championship winning chassis kept him honest, Brabham’s the better prepared car. Their was no championship AF2 round at OP in 1975, so not sure when this is, clearly a Friday tho, only a few folks in attendance! Brabs was off to British F3 in ’76 (oldracephotos.com)

Without thinking too hard about it, the rollcall of drivers who ‘parked their arses’ in Birranas in the short period the cars were built is impressive…

Later Bathurst and AGP winner John Goss raced F71, Alcock’s first car, an FF whilst he was making his name in the McLeod Ford GTHO Falcon in 1971. Jumping from the nimble, responsive FF into the ‘big powerful barge’ of a Falcon at the same meeting must have been a challenge. And test of versatility. JG was one of a relatively small number of Aussies who were awesomely quick in both ‘taxis’ and single-seaters. Frank Gardner, Kevin Bartlett, John Bowe, Mark Skaife and Craid Lowndes spring readily to mind as some of the others. Click on the link at the bottom of this article to read about ‘Gossy’.

Andrew Miedecke, Richard Carter and Gary Brabham, the latter long after the car was built, (1982) raced F73, a superb FF built for Miedecke’s ’73 national ‘Driver to Europe’ championship FF assault. Carter won the ’76 DTE series in this chassis, Birrana’s only Australian FF Championship victory.

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Bucolic Winton, Central Victoria, FF action in 1978. Steve Moody’s Birrana F72 from Gerry Witenden’s F71-the first Birrana built. Then, i think, obscured David Earle’s Elfin and Ron Barnacle’s (or Don Bretland’s maybe?) Van Diemen RF77. Lots of sideways action, Aussie FF’s raced on Bridgestone RD102 road-radials in this period which made them wild to drive having driven my share of laps at the time! A funny bi-product of this was that older chassis, which were designed around radials when the class first started, came to the fore. Witenden, a terrific bloke from Goulburn way, came within a point of winning the ’78 title in this 7 year old Birrana. He went to the UK too, did a few FF2000 races, maybe with Delta if any Brit enthusiasts remember him. Steve Moody is still around historic FF, Barnacle also won an Oz FF title (unattributed)

Drivers of the Birrana F2’s included Leo G, Bob Muir, Bruce Allison, Alfredo Costanzo and touring car ace Peter Brock who did his only single-seater season in 272 ‘006’ in 1973.

Allison very much showed ‘he had what it takes’ in 274 ‘017’ in the very competitive 1974 ANF2 Championship. He jumped up to F5000 in an ex-Bartlett, well sorted Lola T332 Chev in ’75, ‘rattling the established F5000 order’ as the category’s ‘enfant terrible’ in much the same way Warwick Brown did in ’72.

Bruce recalls the Birrana and that ’74 season with a lot of fondness; ‘I’d started racing an Escort Twin-Cam against the best of the guys in Series Production and realised how hard it would be to get an ‘equal car’ so we decided to buy an open-wheeler. Dad organised an Elfin 600FF from Garrie Cooper, the car we got was one that was coming back from South Africa or something, it hadn’t been paid for. Picking it up from the Brisbane docks is not something we looked forward to but a few slabs of beer my dad had brought along did the trick, we were soon on our way!’

‘I did well in that at Surfers and Lakeside then we got Garries 600D F2 (this car is pictured later in this article) which was a good car. Dad got Ivan Tighe to drive its first meeting at Oran Park, but he crashed it, not a big one, it was soon repaired and away we went but by that time the category was getting more competitive. A few people said we should get a Bowin P6 which looked sensational, we painted that car in the black ‘Hobby & Toyland’, Dads business’s colors. It had rising rate suspension but it was an absolute pig. We couldn’t get our heads around the thing, i know John Leffler and Bob Skelton did but i got rid of it after only about 6 months. In fact i boofed the car at Surfers after we had sold it and had to take a big chunk off the price.’

Birrana 274 at Lakeside

Bruce Allison hustles his 274 ‘017’ around, fast, demanding Lakeside, Qld, rear engine cover removed in deference to the summer heat.He was 3rd, the race won by Ray Winter’ old but fast Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ from Geoghegans 274. Bruce’ results got more consistent and better as the season wore on (Allison)

‘By then it was clear we had to have a Birrana to run with the top guys. Dad did a deal with Malcolm Ramsay, both he and Tony (Alcock) were great to deal with and gave us all the help we needed that year. The car handled well, was forgiving and put its power down nicely. We had good engines, Harts which i think Ivan Tighe looked after, the car itself was maintained in a Hobby & Toyland workshop at Castles Road’.

‘I was 20, very brash and thought i was unbeatable. Leo was smooth, quick and had all of our measure, the grids were great, there were always 6 or 7 blokes scrapping at the front. For outright speed though Bob Muir was an absolute demon in that car. It was the previous years 273, but updated. Bob and Marj Brown who owned the car were wealthy Adelaide people who had a business which made oven glass, heated windscreens and the like. For a ‘part timer’ Bob was bloody good, he went to the UK with the Browns of course’

‘I was never the greatest at setting a car up, Peter Molloy (the very experienced engineer who looked after Bruce in his F5000 years) always rated my speed though and i did get quicker and more consistent that year as the season rolled along and proved it with my results. It was time to move up. The Birrana was important as it proved i could cut it in a competitive car, the 274 was the first of those i had’.

Bruce was soon off to European and US success with annual summer visits back to Oz to remind us of his skill. He won the Grovewood Award and raced in the British national F1 Series but didn’t get the ‘real’ F1 seat his talent and results warranted.

(Bruce lost most of the photos of his career in a fire some years back, these are the only two he has of the Birrana for example, if any of you have photos of Bruce in any of his cars, you are prepared to share with him please email them to me at mark@bisset.com.au and i will forward them on, Mark)

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Bob Muir’s Rennmax Ford ahead of Garrie Cooper’s Elfin 600D Ford (the car Bruce Allison raced after Garrie) and a March 722 during the 1972 Singapore GP. Help welcome as to which corner and driver of the March (NAS)

Bob Muir was a seasoned professional by the time he jumped into the Brown family’s 273’s in 1974. Bob and fellow Sydney motor trader Geoghegan had an almighty battle for the AF2 title that year. If 1973 had an element of ‘cruise and collect’ for Leo, ’74 was the exact opposite with fields of depth rarely seen in Australian single-seater racing outside FF. The F2 grids that year had all of the local aces racing ‘down’ from F5000 in F2 as well as all of the ‘comingmen’ contesting a well sponsored series.

Bob had done two years in F5000 in 1972 and 1973, the latter in the US L&M Championship before jumping into the Browns cars after the first couple of ’74 rounds. After his Oz F2 season he then raced the 273’s in F Atlantic spec in the UK in 1975. After the F2 ‘Mino’s nee Birrana ‘bombed’ he was impressively fast in a Ford BDX engined Chevron B35 Derek Kneller built and prepared for the team. In ’76 he was 37 though, if only he was in Europe 10 years before. Like so many competitors of his period, his business funded his racing for much of his career, he wasn’t a ‘spoon-fed’ prat of the type we see so often today.

I digress, as usual. Suffice it to say, plenty of great steerers were attracted to Birrana’s. More of the above in ‘Birrana 2’.

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The official party prior to the 1964 Malaysian GP at the Thomson Road circuit

Keying ‘1973 Singapore GP’ to Google inevitably led to lots of tangents and some good information to go with these shots which are a bit scrappy, but still worth circulating and are from the Singapore Government archives

The balance of this article is a heavily truncated ‘cut and shut’ with a reasonable addition of my own words of two articles; one written by Eli Solomon in the March 2006 edition of MotorSport and the other a race report by (the) Peter Collins published in Australia’s ‘Racing Car News’ and posted on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ by ex-RCN journalist Ray Bell.

Eli has his own magazine, ‘Rewind’ which has great South East Asia current and historical content. You can either subscribe (pay) or access some of his material via Facebook, just click ‘Rewind’ into the FB search engine.

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Not long after the start of the 60 lap 1964 Malaysian bike GP. Thomson Road circuit, #79 Shershall from Perry, Sang and Dingle (MCI)

The first Singapore Grand Prix was the 1961 ‘Orient Year Grand Prix’, held on a stretch of Upper Thomson Road.

In 1962 the race was renamed the Malaysian GP, until Singapore gained independence in 1965. Singapore ran its own event from ’66 while Malaysia held two events, one around the Singapore race near Easter, called the ‘Malaysian GP’ and another in September labelled the ‘Selangor GP’.

The racing season in Asia began at Macau in November, moved to Australia and New Zealand with the Tasman Cup, and returned to South East Asia with back-to-back races in Singapore, Johore, Selangor and Penang, followed by Japan.

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Food vendors 1971 Thomson Road circuit style (NAS)

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Alfa GTA, Albert Poon? winning the 1971 Touring Car race, start/finish is on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

From 1966 to 1973 the Singapore Grand Prix became the main racing event on the local calendar each Easter. The 3.023-mile street circuit was a challenge, its narrow 24ft width offered little run-off area in a sport that was increasingly seeing faster speeds.

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(Gel Motorsport)

Australian Vern Schuppan and British-born Hong Kong man John Macdonald both loved it. Never one to mince his words, Macdonald describes the track:

‘Flowing? In places, but hairpins were not exactly flowing. Dangerous? In those days no more so than expected and certainly safer by far than Macau. Monsoon drains? Yes. Bus stops? One after that lovely curve on the straight and a few lamp posts. None of these things got in the way and I did not go looking for them!’

The start-finish line was on the main straight, on a normal day the two lane black-top served as a major trunk road, on the right were fruit plantations and on the left new housing estates and industrial parks.

The bend halfway down the straight was ‘The Hump’, this had a false apex which sat on the turn-in that lifted cars off the road; it was this section that Frank Matich got wrong during 1970 practice, his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 hit a bus stop and was out for the weekend.

After ‘The Hump’ was ‘Sembawang Circus’ or ‘The Hairpin’, dangerous as cars approached it ‘flat’ until it was ‘chicaned’ in 1969 to preserve spectators generally and Singapores Cabinet sitting in VIP stands!

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Garrie Cooper Elfin 600D Ford ahead of Vern Schuppan’s March 722 on ‘the Thomson Mile’, 1972 GP (NAS)

‘The Esses’ comprised several sections; ‘The Snakes’, four bends, then ‘Devils’ a rounded off v-bend which caught many out, then ‘Long Loop’, a right hander.

Then came ‘Peak Bend’, where TV and radio stations located themselves. The circuit then went down right to ‘Range Hairpin’ and then ‘Signal Pits with pit entry after ‘Range Hairpin’.

Then it was left onto ‘The Thomson Mile’ a fast undulating one mile stretch on what was then the start of Nee Soon Road and back to the start/finish line, a lap was circa 24 gear changes dependent upon type of car and ‘box of course.

It was not until 1968 that Australian constructors started to venture to South-East Asia. Garrie Cooper of Elfin Cars won the Grand Prix that year in his very first Elfin 600, powered by a Ford Twin Cam. ‘Nobody had ever heard of Elfins,’ said Aussie racer/constructor Frank Matich.

Cooper had also suggested that the Singapore GP be confined to racing cars, for qualifying times to limit the number of entrants and for a reduction in the number of laps from 60 to 50. Subsequent years saw the main race run as two heats of 20 and 40 laps over different days.

Local racers were increasingly sidelined by foreigners, 1967 the last year a local won the GP. In 1969 Kiwi Graeme Lawrence won in his McLaren-FVA M4A amid some very powerful machinery including Cooper’s Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8, which the locals thought was an F1 car.

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Mal Ramsay in the Thomson Rd paddock 1970. Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8 4th place in the race won by Graeme Lawrence’s Ferrari 246T (Rewind)

For the 1970 race Matich arrived in ‘Rothmans’ team livery with his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 that had recently won the NZ GP, while the Australian Alec Mildren ‘juggernaut’ consisted of Kevin Bartlett in his Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’ (the Alfa V8-powered  Len Bailey designed, Alan Mann Racing built monocoque racer which Frank Gardner debuted in the ’69 Tasman Series and was then handed over to KB upon Gardner’s return to Europe and in which KB won the ’69 Macau GP and Australian Gold Star Series).

Max Stewart raced the 2-litre Rennmax Mildren-Waggott, and Malcolm Ramsay the ex-Cooper Elfin 600C Repco. Mildren was there to supervise, as was Merv Waggott, designer/builder of the Waggott engines. Not to be outdone, Poon had the ex-Piers Courage Brabham-FVA BT30. While Matich wrecked his M10 in practice doing 160mph on the Thomson Straight, Lawrence went on to take his first win in Singapore in the ex-Amon Ferrari Dino 246T in which he also won the 1970 Tasman Series.

Lawrence made it two out of two in 1971 with his Brabham-FVC BT29 against formidable competition.

The big change was that the single-seaters now had to follow Australian F2/Formula B rules to ensure decent sized fields. So FVAs and BDAs were out. The new rules meant that single-seater racing would become the domain of the professional and semi-professional.

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Stewart’s Mildren Waggott from Geoghegan’s, Graeme Lawrence owned, Brabham Ford in the 1972 GP  here on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

Max Stewart arrived in the Mildren-Waggott in 1972 — not only would it be the first time he finished a race in Asia, he would win it as well. By that stage the Mildren Tean had disbanded but Max bought his car off Mildren and promptly ‘nicked’ the ’71 Gold Star by a point with consistent performances from close mate Bartlett who won twice, Max took one race, but was more consistent in the 2 litre DOHC, 4 valve Waggott engine car than  KB’s McLaren M10B Chev.

By 1972 the carnival had grown to 15 events, there were 430 competitor entries from around the globe, 146 ‘bikes and 284 cars.

The 1972 Singapore GP field included Bartlett, Schuppan and Macdonald, who had the ex-Rondel Racing Graham Hill Brabham BT36. Sonny Rajah raced the ex-Ronnie Peterson March 712M. Rajah was the local hero and looked the part with his long hair and Zapata moustache.

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Sonny Rajah in the ex Petersen March 712M Euro F2 champ car, 4th in the ’72 Singapore GP (NAS)

But to gain admittance into a country where long hair was associated with drugs, he had resorted to using a short-hair wig! A fellow competitor once remarked: ‘He had brilliant car control but someone other than bullshit artists had to take him in hand! Natural talent and character to boot. Rajah was a very popular addition to the 1974 Australian F2 series when he raced the updated March that year.

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Singapore’s last pre-F1 GP was held in 1973 and was won by Schuppan in a March-Ford 722 (above)…

Schuppan vividly remembers the monsoon drains on the circuit: ‘It was a fast, flowing circuit, a lovely race track. No one talked about lack of run-off area because we were so young then.’ Of Schuppan, Macdonald said: ‘Vern, of course, got to the top but probably never reached the absolute top because he’s too darned straightforward, nice, honest and all those other good things that come up all too rarely.’

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John MacDonald’s new Brabham BT40 Ford ahead Steve Millen’s Elden Formula Fords(NAS)

Macdonald was another favourite and had a brand new Brabham BT40 delivered to him in Singapore ahead of the race. Macdonald said the BT40 was a ‘magic car with a big ‘but…’ The team had a terrible time of it with fuel pick-up problems. A letter to Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham’s owner, resulted in a PR reply to say he was behind them all the way! Once sorted, the car was a prolific winner in Asia.

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Lawrence’ Surtees ahead of Kiwi Steve Millen’s Elden Mk8 FF. Millen later a champion F Pac driver (NAS)

Schuppan, Kiwi Kenny Smith and Sonny Rajah were in March 722’s. Vern’s car was interesting in that the March had been modified by Canadian aerodynamicist Denis Falconer who developed a package of changes from Robin Herd’s original design. There were 5 (!) body configurations depending upon circuit type. The car also had a narrow track suspension set-up for faster circuits.

Graeme Lawrence raced the Surtees TS15 which first broke cover in that summers Tasman Series powered by a 2 litre Ford Cosworth BDG. Ramsay ‘010’ and Geoghegan ‘007’ were Birrana 273 mounted. Poon had a Brabham similar to MacDonald’s.

Tony Stewart’s Paul England owned ‘Dolphin’, a Brabham BT30 or 36 copy was powered by one of Englands very powerful twin-cams. Jack Godbehear built mighty-fine FF and F2 engines re-building many of the Hart 416B’s which were plentiful in Oz as the 1.6 litre AF2 flourished from 1972-5. (the ANF2 1.6 litre twin cam, 2 valve formula applied from 1971 to 1977 which cost effectively, and sensibly mandated variants of the Lotus/Ford t/c engine)

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Tony Stewart in the Paul England owned Dolphin Ford a Brabham BT30/36 replica. Both John Leffler and Andrew Miedecke had one-off drives of this car in Australia (NAS)

Max Stewart’s Rennmax, twin-cam powered was faster than it had been with the more powerful Alfa GTAm engine the year before. Chain was in a Lotus 69, Bussell a Palliser WDB4, Wiano a GRD 272.

The cars had, by the way, come from Selangor where they had run in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Macdonald had won this from Canadian Brian Robertson and Poon, all drove BT40s. The Selangor GP was held later in the year.

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Jan Bussell’s Palliser WDB4 Ford (NAS)

Starting Grid…

V Schuppan (1:57.3)______G Lawrence (1:57.1)
K Smith (1:59.1________L Geoghegan (1:57.8)
M Ramsay (1:59.5)______J Macdonald (1:59.1)
A Stewart (2:01.5)________M Stewart (2:01.3)
A Poon (2:04.0)____________S Rajah (2:02.6)
P Chain (2:07.5)_____________M Hall (2:04.0)
H Wiano (2:08.9)__________J Bussell (2:07.6)

Further back were: Kiyoshi Misaka (BT36 Toyota), Steve Millen (Elden FF), Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B ), John Green (Chevron B20), Dave Hayward (Hawke FF) and Chong Boon Seng (Brabham BT30) a very slow 2:49.1.

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Geoghegan’s Birrana 273, Leo set the all-time lap record in his catch-up drive; 1.54.9 (NAS)

The Race…

Leo Geoghegan passed early leader Lawrence on the sixth lap. Schuppan’s March was third at this stage, but was under pressure from Ramsay, then Macdonald clear of Tony Stewart, Smith, Max Stewart and Rajah.

For fifteen laps Geoghegan’s Birrana 273 stormed away, but then had to pit when the engine began to stutter. The master switch on the roll-over bar had failed, it was shorted out to enable him to continue.

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Geoghegan ahead of Lawrence in their great dice early in the race (NAS)

At the same time, Schuppan showered Ramsay’s 273 with rocks when he ran wide on a fast corner. One rock punctured the fuel tank, Ramsay’s car trailed flames for a couple of laps and then stopped. Another report of this incident had it; ‘Malcolm soldiered on until the pain of the petrol burning his balls forced him to retire.’ So, Ramsay’s retirement was due to either a burning car or burning balls!

And while Geoghegan was heading for the pits, Lawrence’s Surtees lost the use of its mechanical fuel pump, and whether this slowed him as he switched on the electric one or it meant the engine lost power, the net result was that Schuppan’s March swept into the lead.

Geoghegan’s return saw the lap record (Bartlett’s from 1970’s preliminary race) under threat as he carved his way through the backmarkers trying to regain as much of the two laps he lost as possible. He had to pit again later, but the record was his and he completed 41 laps for ninth place. Leo was razor sharp, his Birrana beautifully set-up given the intensity of the competition at home.

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Kiwi star Ken Smith, in his youth. In his 70’s he is still a formidable F5000 pedaller! March 722 Ford, note the differences in his standard spec body and Schuppan’s modified 722 (NAS)

Rajah’s March was out at 25 laps with the battery dragging behind the car and Smith, March, struck problems to lose contact with the Stewarts, big Max passing young Tony as this happened for fourth. Tony Stewart, now there is a lost talent! If memory serves he raced a Birrana 273 for a while before leaving the sport and later making his fortune in ‘Car City’ on Ringwood’s Maroondah Highway in Melbourne’s outer east.

Both leaders had problems. Schuppan’s airbox was falling off, but that wasn’t as bad as the battery losing charge in Lawrence’s car and causing his engine to run roughly. The race ran out like this.

Results (50 laps – 150 miles)

1. Singapore Airlines: Vern Schuppan (March Hart 722) 1h 38:58.3 (1:56.8)
2. Singapore Airlines: Graeme Lawrence (Surtees TS15) 1h 39:36.8
3. Cathay Pacific Air: John Macdonald (Brabham BT40 Hart) 49 laps
4. Singapore Airlines: Max Stewart (Rennmax England t/c) 49 laps
5. Paul England Engineering: Tony Stewart (Dolphin England t/c) 49 laps
6. Air New Zealand: Ken Smith (March 722 Hart) 47 laps
7. Team Rothmans: Jan Bussell (Palliser BRM t/c) 47 laps
8. Air New Zealand: Steve Millen (Elden Mk 8) 43 laps
9. Grace Bros Race Team: Leo Geoghegan (Birrana 273 Hart t/c) 41 laps
10. Camel Melinda: Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B) 40 laps

Fastest lap and new outright record: Geoghegan, 1:54.9.

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A gaggle of cars in the ’72 GP passes a group of flaggies doing their best to say out of the tropical heat, car at the rear perhaps Leo Geoghegan’s Brabham (NAS)

The demise of racing in Singapore was somewhat sudden given the level of publicity and government backing the race received. The social and economic issues (the oil shock and terrifyingly rapid infrastructure growth) that the country was facing may have contributed to this.

The government claimed that the GP promoted dangerous driving in its citizens, these were the very successful times of the ‘paternalistic democratically elected despot’ Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The government acknowledged it would be impossible to implement adequate safety measures for the Thomson Road circuit. Although a permanent track was proposed which  included an all-sports complex, this never materialised.

Over time the view of the government eased with the Malaysian GP at Sepang growing in stature, the ban on motor racing was reconsidered and dropped in 2005.

The Macau Grand Prix, of course, thrived through this period, but after 13 years 1973 was the end for Singapore’s big race’, until the F1 era of course, a story for another time.

Etcetera…

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Field before the start of the 1971 bike GP, help welcome on competitors/bikes. What a wild, fast, narrow place! (NAS)

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Kiwi, Geoff Perry winning the bike GP on a Suzuki 500 (NAS)

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’73 Touring car race, help with cars/drivers welcome! (NAS)

Bibliography…

Eli Solomon Singapore GP article in MotorSport March 2006, Peter Collins race report published in ‘Racing Car News’, oldracingcars.com

Photo and Other Credits…

A very big thanks to Peter Brennan and Bruce Allison for their recollections

National Archive of Singapore, Bruce Allison Collection, oldracephotos.com, Alan Cox, Rewind Magazine, MCI, Choong H Fong, Robert Davies, Paul King Collection

Tailpiece: Kiwi Geoff Perry hustles his Suzuki 500 thru ‘The Snakes’ on the way to ’72 GP victory, the exciting perils of 50 Thomson Circuit laps evident…

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(NAS)