Posts Tagged ‘Birrana Cars’

Birrana 274 Hart-Ford ANF2 cars at MG Corner, Phillip Island in late 1974: Bruce Allison inside Leo Geoghegan – Oz F2 Champ in Birranas in 1973-4 (Auto Action Archive)

Modern enthusiasts probably know of Birrana Racing as an outfit which won multiple Gold Stars running Reynard Formula Holdens. But for some of us, the most exciting period of Malcolm Ramsay’s lifetime passionate commitment to motor racing was the 1971-1974’ish period when he and his business partner, Tony Alcock, and their small crew at Logan Street, Adelaide built 20 or so jewels of championship winning FF, F3, F2 and Formula Atlantic single seaters. Oh yes, there was a VW powered mid-engined speedway Speedcar too, which rather shows they were not lacking innovation!

At the end of 1974, they ceased volume production, building racing cars simply wasn’t profitable. Mal constructed a few more racers in the ensuing years. Tony Alcock, the designer/fabricator, ran Bob Muir in British Formula Atlantic in 1975. Adelaide entrepreneurs Bob and Marj Brown took their two updated Birrana 273s to England for a season. Bob did well with several thirds and a fourth place in the two year old car among hotshots like Tony Brise, Jim Crawford, Brian Henton and Gunnar Nilsson.

Like Tony Brise, Tony Alcock joined Graham Hill’s Embassy Racing F1 team. Similarly, he was at the fateful Embassy Hill GH2 Ford Paul Ricard test on November 29, and subsequent Piper Aztec flight back to Elstree Airfield, England. Graham Hill crashed the aircraft in thick fog at Arkley Golf Club killing all aboard; Alcock, Hill, Brise, designer Andy Smallman and mechanic Terry Richards.

It was a monumental tragedy, to say the least.

What might have been for all of them, not least Tony Alcock? During 1974 he wrote a regular Auto Action column. This May piece is about Birrana’s design process. I found it interesting, and reproduce it for that reason, and also to put on electronic record the members of Birrana Cars during that golden 1972-1974 era.

“I always liken designers, fabricators and mechanics as the racing equivalent of a TV production team. We know that the actors get most of the recognition, but of course the truth of the matter is that without the script writer, producer, director, film crew and so on, then the actor would be nowhere. Now although the modern race driver is an important part of the final product, it is the men behind him, the fabricators, welders, machinists, fibreglass men, painters, platers etc who make up the initial 80% of the total effort.”

“It is our job, Malcolm Ramsay and myself, at Birrana Cars to assemble all these tradesmen in the correct sequence to present a product such as the 2/374 range of cars. Basically, our respective roles are something like this.”

Tony Alcock circa 1974. Anybody got a better shot? (unattributed)
1974 Oz FF Driver to Europe Series, Tin Shed, Calder: Andrew Miedecke, Birrana F73, Peter Finlay, Palliser WDF2 – not long back from success in this car in the UK/Europe – and the nose of Paul Bernasconi’s Mawer 004 (Geoff Selton)

“Starting with the previous years car, we decide on the areas which we feel need improvement and together with experiments which we have tried in some form or another during the year, we begin to formulate some sort of basic outline for our new model. At this stage I usually work at home so that the work can be achieved without interruption enabling the car to be drawn up as quickly as possible.”

“Whilst I do most of the basic design work, I reckon that two heads are better than one, so there is constant communication between Mal and myself. At the same time as the drawings start coming through, he is organising a supply of raw materials, radiator suppliers, rack and pinon assemblies, pattern makers etc.”

“From the basic chassis drawings, which comprise an overall side and top elevation, there are detailed ones of each bulkhead and suspension pickups, rear frames, suspension systems, body shape etc. From these more detailed drawings, Brian Farquhar, our welder, constructs the chassis and suspension jigs and from these the bulkheads and wishbones. Mike Lobanof machines the chassis and suspension bushes, discs, wheels, castings and so on. John Porter, our ‘March-immigre’ specialises in detail fabrication such as wing brackets, radius arms, parallel link brackets, headers, tanks, etc. I usually fold-up the tubs and Mal and I both attack the body mock-up prior to him doing the moulds. Our other man, Peter Nightingale, can usually be found stripping and rebuilding our existing cars as well as maintaining our Hart engines and Hewland gearboxes.”

“All of this is an over-simplification of the effort and just plain hard-yakka, which often means an all-nighter or two, but it is the general scene, which goes on at Elfin or Bowin or many other manufacturers.”

“As you can see it really isn’t very exciting or glamorous, all this back-room work, but to us it’s all worth it as the frustrations and heartaches suddenly vanish when our sparkling new creation is wheeled out to the start line ready for its first race.”

Sandown ANF3 race 1974, Shell Corner: Paul King and Dean Hosking in Birrana 374 Toyotas ahead of the Brian Sampson and Brian Shead Cheetah Mk5 Toyotas (Auto Action Archive)

Credits…

Tony Alcock in his Auto Action column, May 17, 1974. Thanks to Bruce Williams, Auto Action publisher/owner, Geoff Selton

Finito…