Posts Tagged ‘Charlie East’

(I Liddell)

Earl Davey-Milne lines up his Bugatti Type 37 Chev ‘37104’ at Alexandra, Victorian Quarter Mile Sprint Championship, 24 November 1963…

The car started life as a 1926 model Type 37 four-cylinder Grand Prix Bugatti car which raced on New South Wales speedways and in several Phillip Island Australian Grands Prix before being fitted with a Hudson straight-eight engine- and later a 283 CID Chev V8 after Earl blew the Hudson motor at this very event in 1957.

The Alexandra Branch of the Victorian Sporting Car Club ran meetings here, near Eildon Weir for about a decade. Alex, 130 kilometres north-east of Melbourne is well known to skiers as a gateway town to Victoria’s high country and to the boating set who use Lake Eildon. It is otherwise a quiet farming community and home to around 2600 people.

(C Hyams)

Colin Hyams, Jaguar E Type and Norm Beechey’s Chev Impala 409, which was also shared by Dick Thurston on the day.

Colin ruefully recalled that ‘the meeting was the morning after the assassination of JFK.’ The President’s death at the hands of assailants unknown was on 22 November 1963, which makes the ’63 meeting date Sunday 24 November.

(C Hyams)

 

Bugatti T37 ‘37104’…

Whilst the Brescia and Type 30 were widely used in Australian motorsport ‘…it is the Type 37 that is indelibly linked in the older enthusiasts mind with Bugatti racing success here’ wrote Bob King.

‘The association is entirely justified as these 4 cylinder versions of the Grand Prix Bugatti were to win three of the first five Australian Grands Prix with a further victory falling to the visually identical Type 39 of Carl Junker’.

‘It is fortunate and remarkable that these splendid cars had such a high survival rate’ including the much raced ‘37104’.

The car was the fourth T37 built according to King and came to Australia to the order of Russell Taylor who, together with former Australian multiple Olympic medallist swimmer, Frank Beaurepaire, had an international tyre business ‘Advanx Tyres’ based in Sydney.

Whilst owned by Taylor the car was raced for him by Charlie East who had made a name for himself as a tuning wizard whilst apprenticed to, and employed by Phizackerley’s in 1904 at the same time as AV Turner, who later held the Sydney Bugatti franchise.

East evolved from tuning the cars to running in car trials, funding provided by his car hire business- his career in track racing followed.

Charlie East and ‘37104’ outside Advanx headquarters in Sydney with one of his many trophies. Note the road registration, what a supreme road car the Type 37 was, is! (B King)

 

Charlie East at Gerringong Beach, on the New South Wales South Coast circa 1930 (B King)

 

East with a pair of T37’s place unknown. East is leaning against ‘37104’, registered ‘1903’, a plate he used on several cars- the other T37 is Bill Thompson’s 1929 AGP entry ‘37209’. East tuned Thompson’s 1930 AGP winning Type 37A ‘37358’ (B King)

East’s battles with Hope Bartlett in his Bugatti Brescia become a major spectator drawcard for the venue. Charlie had many successes there although Bob notes that by 1927 ‘the handicappers seemed to have the measure of him’. The car was also raced at Penrith- East won the October 1930 ‘World Championship’ for under 1500cc cars on dirt, at Gerringong Beach and in New Zealand during 1929- by that stage owned by East who acquired it from Taylor for the modest sum of 150 pounds. Mates rates indeed!

Whilst East could earn 75 pounds a night at Maroubra, ‘he tired of hurtling around the track and started entering grass hillclimbs with his wife as passenger. He established records at Robertson, Prospect and Kurrajong…’ wrote King.

He sold the car for 500 pounds to Keith Macmeikin of Malvern, Melbourne in in 1933 with King rebutting claims made for a Sydney-Melbourne record time claimed by racer Cec Warren and Clive Smith during the delivery drive south.

The duo claimed a time of 11 hours and 10 minutes for the 575 mile journey ‘but a time of 10 hours 5 minutes had already been recorded by Don Robertson’s Graham Paige in 1930. Nor was it a Light Car Class record which was then held by Jack Clements and Wal Warneford with a Type 30 in 10 hours 53 minutes’ King wrote.

‘37104’ the Sydney-Melbourne record holder, not! Photo believed taken in the rear yard of Sporting Cars, City Road, Melbourne (B King)

The much used racer contested AGP’s at Phillip Island in the hands of Cec Warren in 1933, DNF big-end bolt, JO McCutcheon in 1934, DNF with oiled plugs after making a dash back to Melbourne on the night before the race due to engine trouble in practice.

McCutcheon raced the car quite a lot at the Island including the 1935 AGP where big-end failure intervened. ‘…the car was still highly fancied, being fourth car off in the twelve minute bracket…it’s disappointing performances in the Australian Grand Prix came to an end’ wrote Bob.

It does make you wonder why Taylor and East did not contest some of the earliest AGP’s given Charlie’s skill and the national nature of the Advanx Tyres business and resultant promotional opportunities of any success they may have had.

The Macmeikin clan with the car- Trevor third from the right, Andy at the wheel, place unknown- (A Macmeikin via B King)

David Macmeikin, who bought the car from his brother in 1934, hill climbed it at Rob Roy in 1938, selling to Jim McDonnell of East Kew in July 1939.

He contested the Interstate Cup or Grand Prix at Albury in 1940, one of the last racing events held in Australia in wartime- the motor blew, Jim died of injuries during the conflict.

(B King)

Ron Edgerton was the next owner, buying the car in 1941- the racer was still in Victoria, Glen Iris, here he is at the wheel, probably during Nar Nar Goon Speed Trials at the local racecourse. Who is alongside him I wonder?

There were a number of meetings organised by the Light Car Club of Australia, and other car clubs on a grass course outside the little village in the thirties and forties.

Nar Nar Goon is an aboriginal expression meaning ‘native bear’ and is on the Gippsland railway line 65 kilometres east of Melbourne.

(B King)

Edgerton at Rob Roy Hillclimb in outer Melbourne’s Christmas Hills with ‘37104’ still, seemingly Bugatti engined, perhaps one of you Rob Roy experts can tell us the probable date of this meeting. By the end of its competitive career the car would have been able to ascend the climb on its own given the number of times it raced there.

There is an article to be written on ‘Racing Ron’ given the truly vast number of racing and high performance cars the man owned in a lifetime of competition. I’ve a list somewhere!

Not the least of his racers is the ex-Alf Barrett Alfa Romeo Monza I wrote about some years ago which Ron sold to Earl Davey-Milne in 1951- another car the family retains albeit in unrestored, but complete, original state.

 

(B King)

A damp, soggy road event for the occupants- Edgerton and passenger probably during a Melbourne-Geelong Road speed trial- note the missing headlight.

‘Geelong Road’ events official- run ‘just off the Geelong Road (where exactly?) were run by the Australian Motor Sports Club and unofficial events went on for decades, most of us of a certain age may have done a top-speed run in a car or two in the very early hours of the morning along the Geelong Road whilst Mr Plod was hopefully tucked up in his Werribee bed!

I would love to know what is going on here! It’s Aspendale Speedway in Melbourne’s bayside- probably a promotional ‘race’ to extol the virtues of the ‘Males Gas Producer’- so we are immediately before or perhaps just after the start of WW2. What are the other two cars with Edgerton’s T37?- Ron McCallum thinks the big car is possibly an American ‘REO’ and Bob King suggests the open tourer is a Terraplane? From 1938 to 1940 these gas producers cost between 45 to 70 pounds per unit at a time the new price of small Austin was 250 pounds and a big Buick 525 pounds- these ‘Producer Gas’ units were a response to wartime petrol rationing. For those with a technical interest in the topic, see the fascinating article link at this pieces duration (B King)

After the engine was blown again during speed trials in Tooronga Park, opposite Scotch College, Hawthorn, Melborne Edgerton fitted a Hudson eight cylinder motor having failed in attempts to weld the delicate Bug block which had distorted from extensive competition use and previous repairs.

William Sinclair of St Kilda owned it in 1941-1942, nothing is known of his use of the old stager.

Speedway racer ‘Stud’ Beasley, who, together with father Arthur or ‘Pop’, and brother Alf were the ‘first family’ of speedway racing into the late fifties- then acquired the car in 1942, fitting the Willys ‘Winfield’ speedcar motor from his Midget after the Hudson continually boiled using the standard Bugatti radiator. It would be intriguing to know where Beasley raced the car.

Bugatti T37 Hudson, note the Ford radiator and ‘Davey Milne Special’ badge (Dacre Stubbs)

 

Note the chrome ‘up and over’ exhausts, fuel tanks are ex-Liberator bomber as are the seats, cable brakes still fitted (Dacre Stubbs)

Davey-Milne bought it in January 1943, sans Willys motor and soon re-fitted the Hudson 8 which was fed by Amal carburettors, mating it to a Lancia Lambda gearbox. It would be interesting to know the artisans who worked on the car.

The car was always notable for its immaculate preparation and presentation, first appearing- as it always did, in chassis only form at a Cape Schanck Hillclimb on the Victorian Mornington Peninsula in September 1946 where it set fastest time of the day. The car then competed regularly at hillclimbs and sprints well into the early seventies.

At the 1957 Alexandra meeting Earl had completed a 16 second pass only to have two connecting rods protrude through the side of the Hudson block in a most un-welcome fashion. Whilst the Hudson 8 was a cost-effective ‘specials’ motor a decade before the equivalent then was the small-block Chev V8 which had not so long before made its appearance in the Corvette.

(Dacre Stubbs)

After fitting the Chev V8 the car recorded a standing quarter time of 12.06 seconds which won him the Victorian Sprint Championship at Alex in 1964.

Other significant performances at the time were a class win during the Australian Hillclimb Championship at Silverdale, New South Wales and the Horsham, Victoria, Speed Trials in 1963 at 12 seconds.

Note that after fitting the Chev engine, Bob King wrote that the Bugatti steering box was replaced with one from an Alvis 12/50 due to lack of space.

Charlie East had reset the front axle to suit the particular needs of Maroubra’s banking in the twenties with Cec Warren replacing that original fitment with a hollow axle in 1933. Earl’s sprint demands bent that axle under braking at Geelong’s Eastern Beach Sprints in 1965- a Type 35C unit was fitted in 1966.

King notes ‘37104’s gearbox is now fitted to ‘37145’ and the sump of the original engine, number ’15’, is in Dean Smoker’s Type 37A replica.

(Dacre Stubbs)

In Chev engined form the car achieved 25 fastest times of the day from 34 starts- not bad in 1970 for a car which started its life at Molsheim in 1926.

The photographs above are of the car outside its Toorak home, the sight of Earl squirting the car around Melbourne’s most twee suburb startling the local squires and matrons would have been amusing. I am reliably informed that these occasional Toorak test sessions still take place, I must ask Troy Davey-Milne for an invitation to one of these early morning pre-Rob Roy blasts!

The fuel tanks started life as water tanks in a Liberator Bomber, the not particularly comfy looking seats are from the same source.

Eastern Beach, Geelong- best time there 13 seconds, on that occasion bested only by Lex Davison’s Formula Libre Brabham BT4 Climax 2.7 FPF, 1964? (Dacre Stubbs)

 

We have lift off. Earl grabs second gear at Geelong‘s Eastern Beach in 1964 (Davey-Milne)

 

An Earl fried tyre and wire wheel detail (B King)

 

Calder 1970, note the Bugatti badge on the dash (B King)

The car is a most significant Australian racer in its various forms with a continuous competition history from 1926 to the early-seventies. Earl is still alive, the Davey-Milne’s still own the car, I’ve a feeling it’s last outing was during the 2000 AGP meeting at Albert Park when Lindon D-M gave it a gallop- an awesome sight it was too!

Etcetera: 1964 Alexandra Sprint Meeting Program Excerpts…

 

 

Bibliography…

‘Bugattis in Australasia’ Bob King, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Ron Simmonds, Dick Denvil

Wartime ‘Producer Gas’ powered cars…

http://www.consuleng.com.au/Producer%20Gas%20&%20the%20Aussie%20Motorist%201939-45.pdf

Photo and Research Credits…

Ian Liddell, Davey-Milne Collection, Dacre-Stubbs Archive, Colin Hyams Collection via Stephen Dalton, Graham Edney Collection, Bob King Collection

Whereizzit?…

The sprint site stretch of road will only be of interest to we Victorians I guess.

Dick Denvil picks up the locale, ‘The track was a leftover piece of road created when the Eildon Weir pondage dam wall was put in.’

‘It was the continuation of the original road straight north-east towards the cross bridge into Eildon (from the bottom left corner- the side road which ends at a T-intersection and which then ran on to Bourke Street) The main road as seen above, then moved east away from the Goulburn River course to higher ground.’

Dick Simmonds lived in the area for a while, ‘You can still see part of the track which is now on a private property just past Thornton going towards Eildon…I looked at running a revival meeting, the owners of the land were ok, but the O,H & S issues got in the way of it…if only!?’

Dick concludes ‘The honour boards of the Victorian Sporting Car Club Alexandra Branch are in a building used by the Lapidiary Club within the Alexandra Railway Yards’ if you are passing by and want to have a look.

Tailpiece: Rob Roy, 24 July 1960…

(G Edney)

Lets finish as we started, with a rare colour photograph of this marvellous Australian Special- the first competition outing of the Bugatti in its Chev engined form- note the dual rear wheels.

Earl won his class that cool Victorian day with a run of 29.73 seconds from a Lancia-Austin on 30.41 secs.

Finito…

Start of the 50 Mile Handicap heats: Hunter in the Mrs Jones owned Alfa 6C1750 at left, Thompson’s obscured Bugatti T37A and two six-cylinder 4077cc Chryslers of E Patterson and #72/14 HJ Beith (Fairfax)

Bill Thompson’s Bugatti T37A swept all before him at Gerringong Beach on 10 May 1930…

Sydney’s finest was very much the form driver of the meeting, in fact many would say he was Australia’s best driver pre-War. He had not long before won the 1930 Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island during the 24 March weekend- it was one of his three wins in Australia’s premier event. Bill was also coming off the back of record times at Penrith Speedway and at Kurrajong Hillclimb that season.

Gerringong is 130 Km south of Sydney on the Illawarra Coast, then as now it is a popular holiday destination. Throughout the 1920’s the relatively deserted Seven Mile Beach, between Black Head and Beecroft Head was a place where members of the Royal Automobile Club raced their cars, far enough from Sydney and the long cold stare of the law. These occasions were as much society events as they were motor racing ones.

The Smith/Harkness Anzac Rolls Royce arrives at Gerringong in December 1929 (Kiama Tourist)

Gerringong was very much in the public mind at the time as Norman ‘Wizard’ Smith had set an Australian Land Speed Record testing his Rolls Royce engined ‘Anzac’, at 128.571 miles per hour only months before on 1 December 1929. Wizard and his exploits, and the skill of Don Harkness, a racer himself, and his company which built ‘Anzac’ is a story for another time.

The beach had been the site of horse racing since the 1860’s but the noble beasts ‘could not compete with the speed and excitement of the motor’, mind you the take up of motor vehicles in Australia is indicated by the October holidays in 1919 when there was record volumes of motor traffic through the town, in just two hours, 12 vehicles were counted driving through Fern Street.

The weather on the 10th of May was awful for racing, with rain the night before and drizzle prevailing for most of the day from the 11.40am start of the meeting- only 300 hardy souls watched the race action.

The sand was wet, to the extent that all competitors of the first event had to be pushed out of the sand, into which they had sunk before the race started! The conditions became more difficult for the organisers, the Sydney Bicycle and Motor Club, as the programs timeline grew in inverse proportion to the usable width of beach- which was down to two cars  by the end of the days proceedings. ‘Another five minutes’, a club official said and ‘the tide would have beaten us’.

The ‘Sydney Referee’ report made note of the other difficulties as soft and slippery sand at the turn posts, drizzling rain and some ‘competitors whose race tactics, were, to say the least of it, unsafe’.

Thompson and a young admirer after his Gerringong win (Fairfax)

Thompson’s win of the feature event, the ’50 Mile Handicap’ for cars under 2000cc was described as a ‘great win’, a ‘fine individual effort’ ‘even though there have been better races held in Australia’.

Thomson won the race in the Bugatti T37A in which he was victorious at the AGP in the month before, chassis ‘37358’, which is still in Australia in the process of restoration. See my article at the end of this one on the 2015 Melbourne ‘Motorclassica’ for some information about that car.

Thomson won in 39 mins 4 secs from the CN Jackson MG Midget 847cc s/c, HG Potts Lea Francis 1496cc s/c. Other starters in the final were Charlie East’s Bugatti T37A, RR Hawkes Austin 7 Sports 748cc, N Hodge Morris Minor 847cc and the JAS Jones owned Alfa 6C1750 SS s/c driven by A Hunter, DNF due to splashing through a wave whilst on course. It is not clear if the other cars completed the distance.

The engine of Thonpson’s T37A is fettled before the off (Fairfax)

 

In other races, Charlie East won the final of the Four Miles Over 1000cc from the JO Sherwood Chrysler and J Aubrey Jones also in a Chrysler. There were three heats in all- won by Bill Thomson’s Bug, John Sherwood’s Chrysler and E Patterson’s Chrysler.

The Eight Miles Club Championship final was won by Thomson, the heats won by HJ Beith Chrysler Sports and Thomson’s Bugatti. Maroubra legend, Hope Bartlett in a Bugatti, did a very quick first lap in heat 1 but forgot the second lap! No pitboards were in use at Gerringong it seems.

The Handicap for Closed Cars was won by J Aubrey Jones Chrysler and the Handicap for cars under 1000cc was taken by the N Hodge Morris Minor.

Thomson said that such was the narrow course- it hardly gave him enough width to clear oncoming cars, that he was about to pull out. ‘It was the hardest event I’ve been in, much worse than the the Phillip Island race’, the ‘Island was famous for the challenging nature of its gravel roads, dust and undulations.

After the conclusion of the meeting Bill Thomson hoped to beat the Gerringong Flying 1 Mile record of 33 3/5 of a second set by Don Harkness in a Hispano Suiza in 1923 but failed to get there given the conditions, his 36 4/5 seconds not as good as he had hoped having changed into top gear a little too early with a head wind doing the rest of the damage to his time.

Another grid this time with two Chryslers to the left, #72 the E Patterson and HJ Beith Chrysler Sports, Charlie East Bugatti T37A to right (Kiama Tourist)

The only major incident of the day occurred when Mrs JAS Jones ‘winged’ one of the Chrysler mechanics (below) when competitors in the second heat of the over 1000cc Four Mile Handicap passed the finishing post and turned too quickly, and spectators pressed forward. Jones, in last place arrived at race speed and had to swerve several times to avoid cars and bystanders. She almost got through but struck Curley, breaking his leg.

(Fairfax)

The ‘Referee’ concluded its report of the meeting by saying ‘All things considered it was a successful meeting. But the supervision left a lot to be desired. It was this fault, plus stupidity on the part of certain competitors, that led to a serious accident. After crossing the finishing line several of the competing cars turned back towards the oncoming cars and one even swung out suddenly across their path. Thereafter the officials made their presence felt. But one subsequent offender should have been severely cautioned’.

Mrs JAS Jones aboard her Alfa 6C1750- a much respected racer and car. Raced by many latterly into the fifties Flathead Ford V8 powered inclusive of an AGP and still in Oz (Fairfax)

Motor Car Racing in Australia in 1930…

I wrote an article a while ago about Penrith Speedway and a championship meeting held there in 1930, click on this link to read it, not least for some context on the state of car racing, especially road racing at the time in Australia.

https://primotipo.com/2017/06/08/penriths-world-championship-race-1930/

Here are some snippets from that article, but do read the whole thing if you have not.

The Australian Grand Prix was held for the first time on an oval dirt layout around the showgrounds at Goulburn, New South Wales in 1927. The 1928 AGP, ‘The 100 Miles Road Race’ at Phillip Island, the first proper race in Australia on a road, run on a large, rectangular, gravel course was more indicative than Goulburn of the direction Australian racing would take and was indeed the race which started the tradition of road racing in Australia.

Gerringong Corners- two of them, one at end end of the beach, tide issues clear! (Fairfax)

At the time Australian motor racing was largely amateur, a ‘run what you brung’ approach prevailed with most competing cars driven to and from the track. The sport evolved from hillclimbs, sprints and races on horse-tracks, the province of the gentry pre-War, to hillclimbs at Waterfall Gully, Kurrajong, Mount Coot-tha and Belgrave, beach racing at Gerringong and Sellicks Beaches to venues such as the clay pans of Lake Perkolilli in Western Australia, and the Aspendale, Maroubra and Penrith Speedways.

John Medley wrote that ‘it was some time before other groups followed (the Light Car Club of Victoria’s Phillip Island) road racing direction, preferring the simpler expedient of running trials with speed sections included (rather like modern rallies) or contests on simple dirt speedways- both of these being more easily controlled by the organisers and also less accessible to the long arm of the law. One consequence was that their was very much a casual air to the whole occasion, with ‘chop picnics, family gatherings and exuberant overnight parties.’

E Patterson’s 4 litre Chrysler, desolate nature of the area at the time clear, Gerringong 1930 (Fairfax

I have not used the term speedway racing as the ‘forked road’ the sport took in later years had not yet occurred, competitors entered a variety of events as above. In addition solo intercity record-breaking attempts were important with Graham Howard recording that ‘…intercity records…were the most consistent form of competitive motoring in Australia until the late 1920’s, and produced our first household-name drivers…’ In fact the police made illegal the ‘Intercity Record Breaking’ in 1930 with Wizard Smith a household name as a result of these exploits.

A lot would change in terms of road-racing between 1930 and the war- ‘Round the Houses Racing’ in towns became common in Western Australia at places like Albany, Bunbury and Goomalling. Australian Grands Prix were held at Victor Harbor and Lobethal in South Australia and most importantly the Mount Panorama Scenic Drive, at Bathurst- which doubled as a racetrack, opened in March 1938- the 1938 Australian Grand Prix was held there on that weekend. By the war the foundations for car road racing in Australia were well and truly established, something which could not be said in May 1930.

Professor Neville Burkitt’s Mercedes Benz SS- came close to colliding with Bill Thompson’s Bug, or more particularly his Bugatti Thompson was driving!, in his heat (Fairfax)

Bill Thomson and his Bugatti T37A…

https://primotipo.com/2017/06/08/penriths-world-championship-race-1930/

Bibliography…

Sydney Morning Herald 6 May 1930, Sydney Sun 10 & 11 May 1930, Sydney Evening News 10 May 1930, ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ John Medley, kiama.nsw.gov.au

Photo Credits…

Fairfax

Tailpiece: Thompson’s Bug blowing off a Chrysler, Gerringong Beach 1930…

Finito…

The finalists are off to a flying start in the 6 October 1930 ‘World Championship’ for under 1500cc cars on dirt, Penrith Speedway, Sydney…

The glass plate negative, wonderful monochrome photograph creates such an evocative feel apart from the scene itself. From the outside is John Sherwood’s cumbersome looking Lea Francis O-Type, then the Sam Aggett and Charlie East driven Bugatti T37’s and on the inside Tom Lord’s, Geoff Lowe owned Austin 7 Brooklands. On the very inside verge is Jack Field’s supercharged Lea Francis S-Type Hyper tourer slowing having paced the competitors for a lap before the championships 3 lap journey, East was the winner in his Bugatti.

Event and Competitors…

A record entry of 79 cars was received for the meeting. The winner of the feature event, Charlie East, described as an ‘old hand track and competition driver’, was proclaimed World Champion for cars under 1500cc on dirt tracks.

The 6 entries for this 3 lap race were all rather local notwithstanding the grandiose title of the Light Car Club of New South Wales promoted event, not that there is anything new in promoters ‘puff’ to put bums on seats!

The Nepean Times reported that the race was ‘No mere crow attracting stunt, but a legitimate worlds championship event’. The ‘International Racing Organisation…specified certain electrical timing apparatus, this to be controlled by officials sanctioned by the leading motor body of the state’. The event was supervised by the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport was not formed until the 1950’s.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted Mr TF Lord’s supercharged Austin 7 Brooklands was a new car with Messrs Charlie East and Sam Aggett entering 1496cc (T37) Bugatti’s. Tom Sulman had a career which went all the way from the early 1920’s in the UK to his unfortunate death in a Lotus 11 Climax at Bathurst in 1970, was entered in a 1096cc Salmson.

John Sherwood was a luminary as a driver, businessman, motoring and motorsport administrator down the decades, he entered a 1496cc Meadows 4ED twin-carb powered Lea Francis O-Type. Sherwood was the driving force of the NSW Light Car Club as well as the key individual who created the Mount Panorama track at Bathurst. From a pioneering motoring family, he was a formidable competitor and later, as a Director of Empire Speedways, was a big contributor to the growth of Speedway Racing in Australia.

WH Northam was the final entry in another 748cc Austin, a combination which had many wins at Penrith and who later raced to 6th place in the 1932 Australian Grand Prix aboard this car. Bill Northam had an extraordinary life of achievement in commerce, sport and as a charity fund raiser. Long after he stopped motor racing he took up yachting in his mid-forties making the Australian Olympic Team and winning the Gold Medal in the 5.5 metre class at the Tokyo 1964 games. He was knighted in 1976 and died, aged 83, in 1988.

Other races on the ‘Eight Hour Day’ Monday public holiday card were an all powers handicap over 5 miles, a handicap for under 850cc cars over 3 miles, a four mile scratch race and finally the NSW LCC handicap over 3 miles.

The Championship Race…

Four starters took the flag with Sulman and Northam knocked out in eliminations conducted over 1 lap, a mile, with each car having a flying start. Aggett was the fastest qualifier at 66.91 mph from East, Lord, Sherwood, Sulman and Northam the slowest on 60mph.

The racers were given a rolling start behind JA Fields Lea Francis, then East immediately took the lead in his Bugatti from Lord’s Austin, then Aggett’s Type 37 and Sherwood’s Lea Francis ‘handicapped by a cumbersome body’, ‘Sherwood’s Lea Francis could not be opened up except in the back stretch’ in 4th. East drew away to a lead he never relinquished, and led Aggett by 100 yards from Lord. East’s lead stabilised at about 400 yards from Aggett, who was handicapped by an oiled plug, Lord was 100 yards further back and then Sherwood last.

In the final quarter of a mile Lord and his little supercharged Austin seized an opening through the dust, coming alongside Aggett’s Bugatti in 2nd. ‘Aggett swung a trifle wide on the last turn onto the home stretch, and, straightening up, cut down to the inner edge of the racing course. The two cars touched with the Austin spinning wildly. ‘Lord’s car spun on its side, dragging the driver, who was half out, and half in the Austin. Lord sustained abrasions to his legs and face. Charlie East one of the Maroubra stars, won in a time of 2 minutes 33 seconds at 70.58 mph by 100 yards with a wheel, literally, between Aggett and Lord in 2nd and 3rd. Sherwood’s Lea Francis was last car home.

The excitement was far from over though. ‘With Lord in the hands of the ambulance people, the stewards took prompt action. They disqualified Aggett and ‘sent him out’ (banned him from competition) for six months’. ‘The Referee’s’ report of the race then pointed out the unfairness of this process which was so speedy, their was no call for full evidence and Aggett appealed. I’m uncertain of the response of officialdom to this request.

Aggett and Lord make contact, the accident attributed to the Bugatti T37 driver rather than Lord aboard the tipping Austin 7 Brooklands (Fairfax)

John Sherwood’s Lea Francis  won the final of the open class ‘Widgery Cup’ Handicap, the ‘Clyde Battery Cup’ handicap for cars under 850cc final was won by CB Tye’s Austin 748cc and the All Powers Scratch Race final by CO Spurgeon’s Rajo Ford with the Club Handicap for under 2000cc cars won also by Tye’s Austin. In a day of interesting racing a special match race between Captain Hammond’s Gypsy Moth aircraft was won by the plane over J McCutcheon’s Morris Midget by a few lengths, the distance a flying mile, pun intended!

Penrith held the international spotlight for a week during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the town is 50Km west of Sydney on the Nepean River, it was the site of the whitewater rafting and rowing competitions. But the hype about the Penrith 1930 World Championship race inclusive of its title were not indicative of the events true local nature.

The competitors were all from New South Wales, a notable absentee was Bill Thompson, three time winner of the Australian Grand Prix and in sparkling form in 1930. Earlier in the year he won his first AGP at Phillip Island and had swept the board in the same AGP winning Bugatti T37A during the Gerringong Beach racing carnival on NSW’s Illawarra Coast in May. Thompson was reported to be entered at Penrith but did not race, his entry was received ‘out of time’ and so was refused. Talk about a promoter putting due process in front of ‘the show’! ‘The Referee’ report noted the ‘the field was unworthy of a world championship. Without entries from Thompson, Drake-Richmond and Terdich, to mention but three of the missing cracks, the field was not even truly representative of Australia’. Both Harold Drake-Richmond and Terdich were Victorian stars, Arthur winner of the 1929 AGP at Phillip Island aboard a Bugatti Type 37A.

Charlie East, all smiles aboard the winning Bugatti T37, Penrith, October 1930 (Sydney Morning Herald)

Not that the quality of the final lacked talent in the context of Australian Motor racing, very much nascent at the time…

The Australian Grand Prix was held for the first time on an oval dirt layout around the showgrounds at Goulburn, New South Wales in 1927. The 1928 AGP, ‘The 100 Miles Road Race’ at Phillip Island, the first proper race in Australia on a road, run on a large, rectangular, gravel course was more indicative than Goulburn of the direction Australian racing would take and was indeed the race which started the tradition of road racing in Australia.

At the time Australian motor racing was largely amateur, a ‘run what you brung’ approach prevailed with most competing cars driven to and from the track. The sport evolved from hillclimbs, sprints and races on horse-tracks, the province of the gentry pre-War, to hillclimbs at Waterfall Gully, Kurrajong, Mount Coot-tha and Belgrave, beach racing at Gerringong and Sellicks to venues such as Aspendale, Maroubra and Penrith Speedways. Racing on Sydney’s banked, concrete  Maroubra Speedway track was very professional. Maroubra was owned by a commercial enterprise, not a car club, there was prize money to be won, the approach of the top competitors was consistent with that- the importation of cars and preparation thereof with a view to commercial success prevailed.

Some brave kids watching a competing car at Kurrajong Hillclimb, 75Km northwest of Sydney in the lower slopes of the Blue Mountains, October 1920, the competitor has the two outside wheels in the dirt on turn in! Hillclimbs were incredibly popular forms of motorsport in Australia at the time either as stand alone events or as part of trials which were events mixing navigation and speed events, usually sprints and hillclimbs. Between 1915 and 1926 there were at least 50! different hillclimb venues used across the country (Michael Terry)

John Medley wrote that ‘it was some time before other groups followed (the Light Car Club of Victoria’s Phillip Island) road racing direction, preferring the simpler expedient of running trials with speed sections included (rather like modern rallies) or contests on simple dirt speedways- both of these being more easily controlled by the organisers and also less accessible to the long arm of the law. One consequence was that their was very much a casual air to the whole occasion, with ‘chop picnics, family gatherings and exuberant overnight parties.’

I have not used the term speedway racing as the ‘forked road’ the sport took in later years had not yet occurred, competitors contested a variety of events as above. In addition solo intercity record-breaking attempts were also important with Graham Howard recording that ‘…intercity records…were the most consistent form of competitive motoring in Australia until the late 1920’s, and produced our first household-name drivers…’

A little snippet in the ‘Nepean Times’ article is a reminder of the important co-existence, with the motorcycle dudes the leaders, of ‘bikes and cars racing at the same meetings. The article notes that the Penrith meeting was ‘the only all car one in New South Wales for about five years’. It is also reported in terms of contemporary competitor numbers (79) that the meeting had ‘a record entry for a car race meeting for any part of Australia’. Also amusing, the ‘Times notes ‘Women are barred, (from entering the championship race) which means that Mrs J.A.S Jones will not be driving her supercharged Alfa Romeo. (6C1750) But it is hoped this fine car will race even with a mere male at the wheel’!!

Stunning image by of WE Hart in his Bristol Boxkite biplane in 1912. A Parramatta dentist, Hart bought the Boxkite (frame number 10) from Joseph Hammond, demonstration pilot of the British & Colonial Aeroplane Co and became Australia’s first qualified pilot on 5 December 1911 (SLNSW)

Penrith Speedway ‘was formerly the first recognised airfield in Australia situated in Belmore Park and is now the village of Thornton’ wrote Peter Finlay, former racer and aviation writer. ‘William Ewart Hart was the first Australian to fly from there in 1911 in his Bristol Boxkite after demonstration flights by JJ Hammond in the Bristol. Hart established a flying school there before moving to Hart Common, now RAAF Richmond. Races between cars and aircraft were held at the speedway. Frank Kleinig Snr was a regular competitor and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith operated the ‘Southern Cross’ from the field at times. There is a spectacular memorial featuring a stylised Bristol Boxkite at the entrance to the oval’, Peter wrote.

The first car race meeting was held over the April 1924 Easter weekend- the track morphed through lap distances of 1 mile 80 yards to the 1 mile course used in 1930. The track was touted by international competitors who raced there as ‘The Worlds Greatest Dirt Track’ but its life was relatively short-lived. The Commonwealth Defence Department compulsorily acquired the land in 1941 and the circuit was consumed in that process.

RG Potts racing the Mrs JAS Jones owned Lea Francis on Gerringong’s Seven Mile Beach, 50 Mile Handicap on 10 May 1930. You can just see the pole at left which Potts is turning around to head back the other way on this beach near Kiama, 130 kilometres to Sydney’s south. There was no road racing in NSW at the time so racers did ‘the lot’- sprints, the hillclimbs which were often part of the trials conducted by local car clubs, the speedway at Penrith, and here upon Gerringong Beach. Sellicks Beach on Adelaide’s Fleurieu Peninsula was also used by ‘bikes and cars to race (Fairfax)

The six ‘World Championship’ entrants were all experienced New South Wales competitors with Sherwood and Sulman later entrants in Australian Grands’ Prix. Sherwood’s car appears to be a Lea Francis ‘Hyper’, a competition variant of the marque successful in the UK at the time and powered by a supercharged 1496cc 4 cylinder engine.

I can find no details of Sulman’s Salmson and am keen to hear from any of who may know about his car. Tom Sulman is revered in Australia as a doyen of racers who simply never stopped until the sport eventually took his life. I was at Winton a fortnight ago and looked again at the Sulman Singer, the amazing self-constructed dirt car Tom built and raced in England in the 1920’s before his return to Australia. It was a constant in Australian motor racing in both contemporary circuit events, and later from the mid-seventies, in historic racing when driven by Ron Reid. Upon his death not so long ago, his sons continue to race a car which must have done more racing miles than any other on the planet!.

Somewhat bizarre is that the ex-Charlie East Bugatti T37, chassis  ‘37104’ sits in Earl Davey-Milne’s garage in Toorak, Melbourne one kilometre from where I am writing this article right now! Chassis ‘37104’ was the fourth T37 built and shipped to Sydney’s  Russell Taylor, the prosperous owner of the Advanx Tyre company. It was raced for him by Charlie East, a driver whose stature was growing at the time. East was a Maroubra regular, one of its stars having first raced there in 1926 and subsequently lapping at over 96mph and on one occasion his lap was timed at over 116mph. Davey-Milne bought the car in 1943, it remains in the Chev Corvette V8 engined, open chassis form Earl rebuilt it to in the late 1950’s. East didn’t race the car in an AGP but ‘37104’ was raced in the 1933/4/5 events at the ‘Island driven by Cec Warren in 1933 and John McCutcheon in ‘34/5.

It isn’t clear if either or both the East and Aggett Bugatti T37’s were normally aspirated or to T37A, supercharged specifications. I can find no references as to which particular Bugatti Aggett raced and am keen to hear from any Bugatistes who can help with the identity and specification of the car and the drivers background. Similarly, whilst Lord’s Austin 7 is reported to be of blown Brooklands specification I have no details of the Northam Austin 7. All details again gratefully received. These snippets of history are all interesting i think!

In this case the photo which inspired the research and the resultant article popped up on that internet thingy when I was messing around looking for shots of Bill Thompson after reader Rob Bartholomaeus corrected the caption of an article I’d written about Thompson and his Bug T37A. Its funny how one thing can lead to another!…

Intercity record breaking was a popular form of solo road competition in Australia until outlawed in 1935 due to accidents. Here is the 25.5hp Th.Schneider with Arthur Barnes at the wheel and mechanic Bill McCulloch alongside- they have just taken the Broken Hill, NSW to Adelaide, SA record covering the 533 kilometres of unmade roads in 8 hours 3 minutes. The car is parked out front of Booth’s Garage, 411 King William Street in Adelaide’s CBD. 12 August 1925 (WS Smith)

YouTube Footage of Penrith…

Makes clear the speed and danger of the place! I looked at the film enthralled but the danger was readily apparent before discovering other footage of a multiple fatality when a car crashed into spectators in 1938. When ‘shit happens’ at speed, without protective barriers, its all over in the blink of an eye. Racing entry tickets still have the ‘Motor Racing is Dangerous’ message to this day, and so it was for all, spectators included until not so long ago!

Etcetera: WE Hart, Bristol Boxkite, Penrith circa 1912…

(SLNSW)

WE Hart biography in brief; http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hart-william-ewart-bill-6592

Bibliography…

‘Nepean Times’ 27 September 1930, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ 30 September and 7 October 1930, ‘The Referee’ Sydney 8 October 1930

‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’, John Medley, ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard and Ors, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Peter Finlay

Photo Credits…

Fairfax, Sydney Morning Herald, State Library of South Australia, Sir Hudson Fysh, WS Smith, Michael Terry

Finito…