Posts Tagged ‘Calder Raceway’

Calder Raceway underway in 1961, Pat Hawthorn’s Holden and Jim Houlahan’s Chev on site (Hawthorn Family

Pat Hawthorn’s team turn the first sods of soil to create Calder Raceway, 30km west of Melbourne later in 1961…

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the place. On one hand it’s the first place I drove a racing car – an Elfin 620B Formula Ford at the Jane-Gardner Race Driving School in mid 1975 – but on the other I’ve always thought the flat, featureless hot n’ dusty or freezin’ and wet joint a bit of a shit-hole. Gimme Sandown, the Island, Winton, Eastern Creek, Wakefield or Mallala.

But it’s close to Melbourne, I’ve probably done more laps there than anywhere else despite it being closed forever. While the layout has always been simple (Thunderdome challenges duly noted) the challenge of doing a great time are there given ya have so few corners to work with.

I thought Keilor farmer Jim Pascoe built it, then Bob Jane bought it in the early seventies, several years after Pascoe died. The Jane Estate still owns it, how wrong about the early days I was though.

Pat Hawthorn aboard his ex-works/Davison Aston Martin DBR4/250 3-litre F1/F Libre car at his servo in Clayton, on the corner of Thomas and Centre Roads. While there wouldn’t have been another Aston Martin resident in that part of the world, for some time, new AMs were retailed from a showroom in Springvale Road, Springvale – right ‘on’ the railway line near Sandown. A most unlikely place as well, the good residents of Toorak struggle to go further east than Glenferrie Road let alone Burke Road (Hawthorn)
The Spanos sportscar is an Elfin Streamliner Coupe, a car George owned all of his life, and still retained by his family I think
1962 meeting at Calder, advice welcome on whom is whom (O Campion)

It turns out that racer/garage proprietor Pat Hawthorn is the man we should all thank for the original entrepreneurship.

For some years Pat had a servo in Clayton. One of his regular customers, Jim Houlahan had land on the Calder Highway, he wondered if Pat would be interested in helping develop it for use as a wreckers yard.

Pat thought the location was ideal for a race track, a dream he had for a while. Soon a company was incorporated with funds provided by Melbourne bookie (bookmaker) John Corry and Jim Pascoe. His business interests spanned several fields including Drive-In-Theatres (very much a sixties and seventies thing) and race-horse training.

A simple layout to Pat’s design provided the track layout, a fundamental element of which was that spectators be able to see most of the action.

Australia had a shortage of racetracks from the beginning of time. With a global economy that was booming, a strongly growing Australian population thanks to post-war immigration, and plenty of young men with money in their pockets resulted in an epidemic of circuit construction. Within a short space of time circuits popped up across the country; Lakeside, Warwick Farm, Catalina Park, Oran Park, Hume Weir, Winton, Sandown, Calder and Mallala were all built over a span of four or so years.

I don’t propose to write the history of Calder, but rather to put on-the-record some wonderful pages of the late Pat Hawthorn’s scrap-book posted on Bob Williamson’s Australian Motor Racing Photographs Facebook page.

While Pat Hawthorn died some years ago, we have his son Russell Hawthorn to thank for sharing these invaluable records for preservation. Click here for a piece on the Aston Martin DBR4 Grand Prix cars, including Pat Hawthorn’s; Lex’ Aston Martin DBR4/250s… | primotipo…

Back Straight, one turns right at the end  (Hawthorn)

As the newspaper articles tell us, the star of the first meeting held on Sunday 14 January, 1962 – the public were invited to the rehearsal on 6 January (a freebie I wonder?) – was Bib Stillwell who had wins in both his Cooper T53 Climax Formula Libre single-seater and Cooper Monaco sportscar.

A quick glance at the results shows many of the names-of-the-day supported the opening meeting including Stan Jones, Jon Leighton, Jack Hunnam, Brian Sampson, Ian McDonald, Harry Forde, Norm Beechey, Bill and Bob Jane, John Ampt, John Roxburgh and Bob Page.

Pat Hawthorn receiving a trophy at Calder from the then Victorian Government Minster for Sport. The man in the suit behind the microphone is Jim Pascoe- both part-owners and directors at the time, date uncertain (Hawthorn Family)

Before too long the ownership of the business changed from the syndicate of businessman to Jim Pascoe solo. While Warwick Farm and Sandown were the blue-blood Tasman Cup venues, shorter tracks like Oran Park and Calder also thrived. Calder held a round of the Australian Touring Car Championship for the first time in 1969, that was symbolic of the venue’s rise in the tracks-of-Oz pecking order.

Geoghegan, Moffat, Jane and Thomson (?) at Calder in late 1969

Peter Brock and 1970 Australian Rally Champion, Bob Watson during a 1970 Calder rallycross event. HDT LC Holden Torana GTR XU1 and works-Renault R10 Gordini (I Smith)

Look at that crowd! Bryan Thomson’s Chev Camaro SS outside Allan Moffat’s immortal Trans Am Mustang as they blast onto the main straight in 1970 (R Davies)

Kevin Bartlett’s Lola T300 Chev during one of the Repco Birthday meetings in 1972. ‘Grandstand dreaming’ as per text below (I Smith)

Later, when Bob Jane bought the place it was subjected to constant change, development and improvement.

I can remember going to a meeting as a teenager with my father in the early seventies. At one stage Bob was standing at the very top of the new, but not quite opened grandstand at the start of the main straight, he was staring into the distance, all alone and dreaming of what might be. Perhaps he had aspirations of the Thunderdome even then?

At various times the venue hosted many international rock concerts (I couldn’t think of a worse place to see a band) and became a wonderful rallycross track, you could see all of the action, such was the compact nature of the place.

For decades the place was the capital of drag racing in Victoria, if not Australia. To see a pair of Top-Fuel dragsters do five-second (or whatever it was) passes is indelibly etched in my mind, that evening is the only day of race spectating where I felt I ‘tasted’ the cars. It was such a visceral, tactile assault on all of ‘yer senses.

Alan Jones on the way to winning the 1980 AGP at Calder, Williams FW07 Ford (unattributed)
Niki Lauda, Ralt RT4 Ford BDA (and below) during the 1984 AGP won by Keke Rosberg in a similar car (C Jewell)

Recent drag racing action, advice as to chassis/drivers/date welcome (calderparkdragracing.com.au)

Whilst Calder never held an F1 AGP, as Bob hoped, the 1980 Formula Libre AGP at Calder, and the 1981 to 1984 Formula Pacific AGPs were important steps in the direction Adelaide eventually seized.

I always thought ‘If only Bob owned Phillip Island instead of Calder’ his great acts of promotion could have played out on a vastly more impressive stage, but hey let’s be thankful for a venue so close to home.

It must be fifteen years since I last had a gallop there, in the last VHRR’s Summer Test Days they ran annually. I’m a regular traveller up the Calder Highway, it’s sad to drive past that huge wasted resource and think of the clusterfuck of family and CAMS disputation dramas that stopped the joint dead in its tracks, pun intended.

Mind you, the tom-toms are rattling a little at the moment, it might not be all over, after-all…

‘Rockarena’ at Calder in November 1977. Fleetwood Mac headlined and were supported by Santana, Little River Band, Kevin Borich Express and Creation (jpjaudio.com.au)

Etcetera…

I love improvisation, it seems CAMS didn’t have a Track Licence form so they adapted a Competitor Licence and issued that to Pat and his partners – ‘Calder Motor Raceway Pty. Ltd’, that registered address is at Kew Junction, a drop kick from Bib Stillwells’ then Holden dealership.

Bob Jane in his period of ownership tried plenty of great ideas as a promoter, but a race between Pat Hawthorn’s Aston and a trotter is very much on the innovative side!

Credits…

Pat Hawthorn Collection via Russell Hawthorn, Chris Jewell, Ian Smith, Ollie Campion, Robert Davies, jpjaudio.com.au, calderparkdragracing.com.au

Tailpiece…

Finito…

Max Stewart with John Walker at right, Calder 1972. Repco-Holden V8, then circa 490bhp powered Elfin MR5 and Matich A50 (S Gall)

During 1972, then Australian automotive parts manufacturing and retailing colossus, Repco Ltd celebrated its half century.

Yes folks, that means the now foreign owned 400 store retailer of automotive bits and pieces made by others is a centenarian in 2022! They have some exciting things planned for next year, I won’t rain on their parade by sharing the bits I’m aware of.

Time flies all too fast, as a young teenager I attended two of the five Repco Birthday Series F5000 championship meetings run at Calder between March and December ‘72 as part of those celebrations.

The man who was ‘sposed to win the Repco Birthday Series, F Matich Esq. Bi-winged Matich A50 Repco-Holden, Calder 1972 (S Gall)

At that stage Repco had been out of F1 for four years, the 3-litre V8 Repco Brabham Engines program had yielded two GP world constructors and drivers championships for Brabham Cars (Motor Racing Developments Ltd), Repco Brabham Engines Pty. Ltd, Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme in 1966-1967.

Repco’s cost effective means of maintaining a racing presence after pulling the F1 pin was a partnership with General Motors Holdens to build F5000 engines using GMH’ then ‘spankers 308 V8 as a base, from 1969 to 1974.

Phil Irving and Brian Heard did mighty fine jobs, their Repco-Holden V8 engine design won AGPs, NZ GPs, many Tasman rounds, several Gold Stars and countless sports-sedan and sportscar races.

The interloper: KB in his sinfully sexy and oh-so-fast Lola T300 Chev at Calder in 1972 (I Smith)

It was therefore a pain-in-the-tit when Kevin Bartlett’s Chev powered Lola T300 rained on Repco’s parade in their home state by winning a ‘72 championship the grand plan of which involved a Repco-Holden engined victory!

It wasn’t all bad, Frank Matich, in the Repco sponsored Matich A50 Repco-Holden won that years Gold Star, but KB’s two Birthday Series round wins gave him a nine point advantage over FM. Conversely, Bartlett was 12 points short of Matich in the Australian Drivers Championship, the Gold Star.

Repco’s race heritage goes all the way back. In 1935 they were sponsors of engineering substance, rather than just cash…not that cash is to be scoffed at (B King Collection)

In recent times Repco have returned to racing as series sponsors of the Bathurst maxi-taxis. In the forty years they were involved as OE and aftermarket suppliers to the motor industry, and constructors of cars (Maybachs, Repco Record), race engines, components and equipment from the mid-1930s to 1974 Repco’s involvement was supreme.

Still, the comparison is unfair. We once had an automotive industry in this country until it was sodomised to a standstill by a troika (sic) of incompetent, greedy fuckwits bereft of commonsense or a single-cell of vision; management, government and organised labour.

Gees he was a big, lanky prick wasn’t he? The capped Marvellous Maxwell Stewart partially obscured by mutton-chopped Bryan Thomson or Garrie Cooper (? who-izzit?) in the BP compound at Calder in 1972. Elfin MR5 Repco, not Max’ favourite car (S Gall)

Etcetera…

(T Johns Collection)

More on the use of Repco pistons and rings in 1935. This time fitted to Les Murphy’s MG P-Type during the ‘1935 Centenary 300’ held at Phillip Island in January.

(S Gall)

Warwick Brown proved he had the ability to handle these demanding 5-litre roller skates in 1972 having jumped out of a Cosworth FVC powered McLaren M4A – McLaren M10B Chev heading into Calder’s main straight in 1972.

(S Gall)

Graham ‘Lugsy’ Adams – then mechanic and later rather handy driver and F5000 constructor – does his best to focus on the Calder job at hand. Is that the future, and still current Mrs Brown looking thoroughly wonderful behind an M10B shortly to become Bryan Thomson’s Volksrolet?

Credits…

Stephen Gall, Bob King Collection, Ian Smith, Tony Johns Collection, Barry Edmunds

Tailpiece…

(B Edmunds)

John Harvey in one of the very few appearances of Bob Jane’s Bowin P8 Repco-Holden F5000 at Calder in 1972 – Surfers Paradise and Warwick Farm were the others as far as I can see.

Bowin bias hereby declared…here I go. Again.

This beautiful, small, light, compact, ingenious, variable-rate suspension F5000 never got the run it deserved. Supposedly Janey put it to one side because Castrol wanted him to focus on his taxis rather than his real cars.

Then Leffo bought it in mid-1974, sans Repco-Holden V8, to replace the P8 chassis he boofed at Amaroo and then stuffed up the installation of a Chev V8 into a chassis for which it was never designed, creating a car as stiff as a centenarians todger, with handling reflective thereof…

John Joyce’s P8 Repco design is a great Oz F5000 mighta-been, not that mighta-beens count for SFA in motor racing!

Finito…

(Auto Action)

Jack Brabham’s last win (I think) was the Formula Ford Race of Champions at Calder on August 15, 1971.

30,000 Melburnian’s turned up to see our just-retired World Champ beat a classy field of past and present Oz champions including Kevin Bartlett, Frank Matich, Bib Stillwell, Alan Hamilton, Bob Jane, Leo Geoghegan and Allan Moffat. Click here for pieces on the meeting, here; Calder Formula Ford ‘Race of Champions’ August 1971… | primotipo… and here; Jack’s Bowin, again… | primotipo…

The sight of Teddy Whitten interviewing Black Jack on the victory dais gave me a chuckle. Whitten (RIP) is a legendary Melburnian, one of our most decorated of all VFL/AFL footballers. While he had the gift-of-the-gab, his motor racing knowledge could fit easily on a postage stamp so his banter with Jack for the punters at the circuit and on Channel Seven would have been amusing.

(Allan Moffat, Wren FF)

Moffat is a touring car icon of similar stature to Teddy, but he hadn’t competed in single seaters for a few years, see here; Allan Moffat, Single-Seater racer… | primotipo…

He enjoyed the Formula Ford foray, brief as it was, commenting in his Auto Action column; “My car – Morley Ford Wren went like a charm. I enjoyed the change in handling and the beautiful response you get. There’s no doubt that these cars teach you quickly and teach you well.”

“Sitting out there in the open with the front wheels bobbing a few inches away and the track disappearing alongside is a really thrilling experience. Formula Ford just has to be the way for the young drivers,” was great endorsement from Moff during FF’s second full season in Oz.

If those who would change FF fuck-off and leave things well alone we should have the category for another 50-years. When it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Credits…

Auto Action, Sydney Morning Herald

Tailpiece…

(SMH)

The great EJ Whitten, wearing his beloved Big V, Victorian state side jumper, during training for a state carnival game in 1963.

Finito…

(D Lupton)

Rocky Tresise’ Lotus 18 Ford with Mike Ide’s Riley Special behind during an Australian Motor Sports Club meeting at Calder circa 1964.

Every now and again Melbourne enthusiast/racer/Brabham historian Denis Lupton sends me a great colour shot or two, these are his latest, grazia Denis.

Rocky commenced racing his road-going MGA, progressing to this Lotus, chassis ’18-J-797′ in January 1963. The car was one of a batch of three imported by Sydney’s Paul Samuels in 1960. The car was featured on the Lotus stand at the Melbourne Motor Show in April 1961 before being acquired by Jack Hunnam who was very quick in it. He scored first in class results in the 1962 Sandown Cup and Victorian Road Race Championships.

Tresise raced it throughout 1963, his best result on his climb to a Tasman 2.5 drive with Lex Davison’s Ecurie Australie was fifth in the Victorian Road Racing Championship. The sad Rocky story is here; https://primotipo.com/2016/05/20/bruce-lex-and-rockys-cooper-t62-climax/

Three likely Melbourne lads- Rocky Tresise, MGA with Tim Schenken’s Austin A30 on the outside and Allan Moffat’s Triumph TR3A at Calder on February 24, 1963 (M Carr)

Tim Schenken was the next purchaser, racing the outdated machine to many firsts before he sold it a year or so later to jump a ship to the UK and international racing success.

The car passed through Don Baker, Bob Minogue and two others hands before its arrival in historic racing with Gavin Sala in 1972. Kim Shearn has owned it for a couple of decades.

The other Calder Lotus 18 shot is ‘three of the five Birchwood race school cars, four were green, the spare in the workshop was white.’ I know little about Jon Leighton’s operation, it would be great to speak to a graduate or former employee to flesh this out.

(D Lupton)

Credits…

Denis Lupton, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Mychael Carr via Graham White

Finito…