Posts Tagged ‘Leo Geoghegan’

Geoghegans were the Australian importers and distributors of Lotus cars from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies when Jim Smith’s Peter Manton Motors in Melbourne stepped up to the plate

The brothers Geoghegan are no doubt well known to most primotipo readers by now, even you international mob. Between them they had ‘Taxis’ or Touring Cars and Open-Wheeler racing covered in Australia. Ian or ‘Pete’ Geoghegan was a multiple national champion aboard cars with a roof and Leo was similarly a champion on many occasions in the more rarefied and refined single-seater world, not always in Lotuses mind you.

Whilst the Lotus Racing halo internationally was huge in the mid-sixties for all of the obvious reasons the Geoghegan connection must have polished the Lotus brand considerably in this part of the world too. Who wouldn’t want to buy a car from them and then have it serviced there? Why, if you were lucky during February, you might even time your trip to have the Webers of your Elan tickled with the visit of Team Lotus who based themselves in the Paramatta Road, Haberfield dealership for the Warwick Farm Tasman weekend.

(Dalton)

The Lotus franchise in Australia is a bit of a ‘hot spud’ really- no one has distributed the things for a long time.

Not even those who were multi-franchise dealers and therefore had the earnings of other marques with greater volumes to support the lower financial contributions of what has always been a very niche brand in Australia, the brothers Geoghegan probably the longest of the dealers.

Some well known motor racing names have been involved in flogging the wonderful but idiosynchratic cars down the decades.

Alec Strachan was the original importer, he was based at Waitara, Sydney and negotiated the rights with Chapman off the back of purchase of a Lotus 6-the first of Chapman’s machines in Australia. Then Derek Jolly with his impeccable racing and engineering connections to Chapman himself took over, but that was never going to really work, Adelaide is a long way from the main East Coast markets especially back then. Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Hobart had tiny population for such a niche product.

Performance Automobiles sold a few in Hobart, John Roxburgh in Melbourne and Dick Thurston at Pitstop Motors on the Nepean Highway, Brighton way, moved a few when I was a teenager. At the same time Lance Dixon sold plenty of used ones, many times I rode by bike from North Balwyn to Doncaster to dream about a red Europa or Elan. The Zagame Group in Melbourne have the rights these days.

Whad’ll she do mister? Leo Geoghegan’s ex-Clark Lotus 39 Repco sitting forlornly on the 253 Parramatta Road lot in 1970. Leo raced the car finally, having acquired it from Team Lotus after the 1966 Tasman Series, in the 1970 Tasman, then it was put to one side to sell whilst Leo raced to Gold Star victory in a new Lotus 59 powered by a Waggott 2 litre DOHC, 4 valve injected engine (Fistonic)

These photos by Milan Fistonic capture the late-sixties flavour of the Geoghegan’s dealership in Sydney’s Parramatta Road, ‘Auto Alley’.

The shots are very much dated as being late 1970 the year in which Leo stopped racing his evergreen ex-Clark Lotus 39 Repco V8. There it is, the 1969 JAF Japanese Grand Prix winner sitting on the used car lot just waiting for a punter with the necessary readies. Click here to read my article about this wonderful car; https://primotipo.com/2016/02/12/jim-clark-and-leo-geoghegans-lotus-39/

It was not an easy car to move at the time with F5000 in the process of becoming the new ANF1, to replace the 2.5 litre Tasman Formula. The nutbags at CAMS made F5000 cars eligible to contest the 1970 Tasman Series but not the domestic 1970 Gold Star- that title was won by Leo G in the Lotus 39’s replacement, a brand new Lotus 59B to which he bolted a superb circa 275bhp 2 litre Waggott engine built not too far from the dealership. The 39 fell into the very best of hands, John Dawson-Damer, who did a brilliant job restoring it to its original, ex-works 2.5 litre Coventry Climax FPF engine form. It’s still in Australia, happily!

It seems fitting to provide some period written flavour to accompany the photos. To do so I have reproduced the wonderful recollections of ‘DanTra2858’ he contributed to ‘The Nostalgia Forum’, Daniel worked for the brothers Geoghegan right at that time, the late sixties. I’ve positioned his thoughts around several different headings to preserve some semblance of flow.

(Dalton)

On assembling Lotuses in Australia.

The cars arrived by ship from Hethel ‘CKD’ or in Completely Knocked Down form… ‘…1969, also working there at the time was Barry Lake (racer and very well known racing journalist) and Wally Willmott (for many years Bruce McLaren’s right hand in the nascent years of BM Motor Racing in the UK) Service Manager was Bob Everitt.

With a little help to remove a Europa from its crate and the motor/gearbox and diff assemby, it took me about 10 hours to assemble a car ready for registration.

There were some long days assembling the cars mainly due to the clutch plates attaching themself to the flywheel. Of course this did not show up until the installation of the motor/gearbox into the car on initial start up, sometimes it could be rectified by starting the car in gear but not always. Then out with the motor/gearbox as that was easier then split, fix the problem then put it all back together again, good days!

When Lotus cars were imported…they came in a open frame wooden crate with the car wrapped in plastic sheeting, that was the full extent of protection (during the long voyage from England) The motor/gearbox assembly was in a wooden box complete with the suspension, tailshaft , diff and wheels. Each crate/box had identification numbers on them to match the motor to body, so the first thing to do was match up the components to assemble a car.

When this was done the body crate was opened, plastic wrapping removed and using 2 trolley jacks the body was moved into the workshop and placed on modified jack stands. Then the motor box was opened and all suspension parts/wheels were removed and taken into the workshop ready for assembly, by this this time it was time to stop work for morning tea!

Now refreshed it was time to fit the suspension and wheels so the car was now a roller which made it easier to work on. When assembling the rear suspension the diff, drive shafts, Hillman Imp rubber doughnuts etc were all fitted. Now for lunch.

So with a full belly it was time to bring in the motor/gearbox, tailshaft and fit them into the car, along with the exhaust system. When this assembly was bolted in, cooling hoses, electrics and other parts were fitted. Then it was time to present to this ‘new arrival’ its first full meal of lubricants including brake fluid, so we then bleed the brakes. By this time it was about 4 in the afternoon so a cuppa was in order, then back to work.

Now that the car was fully assembled the work really started. Re-check that all previously assembled parts were correctly assembled and all bolts/nuts were tight, oil levels were correct and that there were no leaks in the brake hydraulic system and fluid was at correct levels. Next I checked that the clutch operated correctly and if not then one of two steps were taken to rectify the adhesion of the clutch plate to the flywheel/pressure plate. If there was no trouble with the clutch it was time to connect the battery and start the motor, let it warm up, check for fluid leaks and bleed the heater system in the cabin of the car by slackening the bleed screw on top of the heater core remembering to tighten it after all the air was bled off. If there was clutch trouble the first thing we did was to start the car while in gear, this usually caused the clutch plate to release then operate correctly. If not then it was out with the motor/gearbox assy to fix the problem then pop it back into the car- this would add 3 hours to the assembly time.

If all went well it was now about 6 pm but still the to-do list list included wheel alignment, checking that all lights operated correctly and that all of the electrics worked. Then tyre pressures were set with a final check for leaking fluids. By this time it was about 8pm and another 12 hour day was complete leaving the road test for first thing the next day- that also included cleaning up wood crates and plastic wrapping. Then onto normal service work with another assembly starting the next day. Well folks that is how it was done at Geoghegans I may have missed a few steps somewhere along the way, it is a long time from 1969…you have the picture’.

Plenty of lonely S2 Europa’s in 1970 (Fistonic)

On The Hot Sellers of the Lotus range…

‘The sales section always required stock on the floor that covered the Lotus range excluding Super 7’s. (Not sure why they were not imported to Australia, Chapman didn’t do the deal with Graham Nearn at Caterham cars to take over the rights to build 7’s until 1971 from memory, so Lotus Components were certainly still building them in the late sixties)

The slowest moving car was the Elan Plus 2 so every time one was sold we would assemble another but that did not happen often, the most popular was the Elan Coupe followed by the Europa, we would assemble 2 or 3 a week depending on sales of the model.

I found the Europa quicker to assemble than the Elan. My first experience driving a Europa along Paramatta Road (a main artery into and out of Sydney, in the days before freeways it was the ’normal’ way to go between Melbourne and Sydney so there was plenty of local and interstate traffic inclusive of large semi-trailers) was just straight out frightening especially when a double decker bus pulled up alongside me while waiting for the traffic lights to change to green. Sitting in the Europa I found myself looking up at the centre of its wheels with the bus towering over me, a feeling of vulnerability quickly came over me.’

Tried and true technique of naked ladies to get us blokes to scan the pages of a brochure in a thorough manner. Lotus Elite brochure , must be US issue, way too racy for 1960 Australia (Dalton)

On Painful Customers…

‘Pete Geoghegan did not come down to the service section much at all…on one of those times he was showing off on a motor bike, doing wheel stands in the lube bay then the 6 foot dash from the lube bay through our parts area into the Lotus workshop then back again with the biggest smile I have ever seen on a guy that has just achieved what no-one else has done.

One Elan FHC I do remember very well. Its owner arrived at our service area unannounced while we were having morning tea wanting something fixed right away, I told him that I would look at it as soon as I finished my coffee but that was the wrong answer for this guy.

He then spoke to Bob Everett, the Service Manager and was told by him that I would look after his car as soon as I had finished my coffee, this slowed him down a bit but he kept on looking to his watch. So I finished my coffee quickly…went into the service bay held out my hand and introduced myself, without a blink he shook my hand introduced himself told me what the problem was, I fixed it in 10 minutes and he was on his way, oh his name…Warwick Brown, I serviced his Elan from then on…’(In 1969 20 year old WB would have just been starting his racing career in a little Brabham owned by Pat Burke- who was still his patron when he won the Tasman Championship in 1975 aboard a Lola T332 Chev F5000)

Photographer Milan Fistonic with an eye for Plus 2 Elans (Fistonic)

Lotus equals ‘Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious’…

‘Whilst at Geoghegans I only worked on one Elite, was very impressed by the construction of the car as a full mono-fibreglass enclosure setup…it was on sale in the yard so it would have been a quick mechanical check up prior to the car going on sale. The main thing that had to be done, as with all fibreglass Lotus’ was to make sure that the electrical earth set up was not corrupted by corrosion on the body to chassis alloy mounting bobbins in the body. That was number one check on all Lotuses even new ones. The alloy bobbins on the Elite are for suspension mounting, but there again steel bolts into alloy bobbins, which means corrosion of the bobbin which have been known to become loose in their fibreglass enclosure- meaning fibreglass repairs.

Lotus Elans were bad for water leaks at the top of the A-pillar and in the boot. We tried re-gluing the door sealing at the top of the A-pillar but all to no avail as the inside plastic section of the seal kept on pulling it down leaving a small opening at the top where the seal assembly transferred to the horizontal. The final Geoghegan factory fix was to push the seal assembly up as hard as you could into the top of the A-pillar while your offsider drilled a one eighth inch hole through the vinyl inside section of the seal and into the fiberglass body, then insert a pop rivet and pull it home and there was a permanent fix with nothing but happy customers. By the way we didn’t leave the pop rivet just plain silver so it would show, we concealed it by painting it with a black texta.

For me the hardest thing while working at Geoghegans was learning how to spell their name, Smith or Brown would have been much easier!’…

Photo Credits…

Milan Fistonic

Bibliography…

DanTran2858, The Nostalgia Forum, Stephen Dalton Collection

 

 

 

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This fantastic advertorial shot is of Frank Matich’s Brabham BT7A Climax and Leo Geoghegan’s Lotus 27 Ford at Sandown in April 1964…

The magazine is the much loved and lamented ‘Australian Motor Sports’, the cover its June 1964 issue. The caption reads ‘…picture taken on the main straight up from the Dunlop Bridge, that’s the Dunlop R6 tread pattern photographer David Parker has caught so clearly on Frank’s car, at the April Sandown meeting’.

The 19 April meeting featured the Victorian Sportscar Championship which Matich won in the Total Team Lotus 19B Climax, the weekend for the team made almost complete by Geoghegan’s Lotus 27 victory in the ‘Victorian Trophy’, that year limited to 1.5 litre cars. Matich retired the Brabham with gearbox problems in the 15 lap racing car feature for ‘Tasman’ cars whilst in the lead, the race was won by Lex Davison’s Brabham BT4 Climax.

At the time the French oil company had aggressively entered the Australian retail market. Formation and promotion of this team, launched in July 1962, was an important part of their marketing and positioning strategy.

Total supported the Matich and Geoghegan team cars of Frank, Leo and brother Ian Geoghegan. Both Frank and Leo I have written about in detail, clink on the links below to read about them.

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Ian or ‘Pete’ Geoghegan’s Lotus 23 Ford, Leo G’s Lotus 27 Ford and Frank Matich’s Lotus 19B Climax at Oran Park, NSW in 1965 (Rod MacKenzie)

Credits…

AMS, David Parker, Rod MacKenzie Collection

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The spare Lotus 48 Ford FVA, chassis 48-2 during the Eifelrennen Euro F2 round in the Nurburgring pitlane on 24 April…

Oliver’s Lotus Components entered Lotus 41B was the most successful of the Lotus works entries, he finished 11th. The Team Lotus duo of Graham Hill were 15th with Clark retiring with fuel metering unit failure. The latter two drove Lotus 48 Ford FVA’s, Oliver’s car was an update of Lotus’ 1966 contender. Jochen Rindt won the race in a Brabham BT23 FVA.

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Oliver on his way to 4th place and first F2 home during the Oulton Park Spring Trophy. His Lotus 41B was behind the Brabham Repco’s of Jack and Denny Hulme, and the Honda RA273 of John Surtees. 15 April 1967 (Brian Watson)

Oliver raced for the Charles Lucas factory Lotus F3 team in the second half of 1966, driving a Brabham BT18 Ford and Lotus 41 Ford finishing third in the Les Leston British F3 Championship, Harry Stiller won it from Chris Lambert.

For 1967 Oliver contested the British F2 Championship, finishing 5th, as well as many Euro F2 rounds, for 1968 he was a member of the ‘works’ F2 team racing Lotus 48’s together with Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

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Lotus Team compound during the 25 June 1967 Reims GP weekend. The white car is Ollies Lotus 41B 7th. Jim Clark is talking to Jackie beside his car #8 Lotus 48 DNF, the car under the cover is the spare carrying #8. Hill is talking to the mechanics next to his chassis, 2nd. The race was won by ‘F2 King’, Rindt in a Brabham BT23 FVA (unattributed)

Then, in the worst of circumstances he ascended to the F1 team upon Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim on 7 April during the second round of the 1968 Euro F2 Championship.

Oliver was 5th in the championship won that year by Henri Pescarolo’s Matra MS5 Ford, Rindt the dominant driver, as ever, in the category but ineligible for the title as a graded driver.

Olivers first Gold Leaf Team Lotus F1 race was the Monaco Grand Prix in which he qualified his Lotus 49B Ford 13th but was out on the first lap after colliding with Bruce McLaren.

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Oliver Q10 in the Dutch dunes where the Lotus 49B made its victorious debut in Clark’s hands the year before. He was non-classified having done insufficient laps. Jackie Stewart won in a Matra MS10 Ford (unattributed)

In a character building year, he had a monster accident at during French GP practice when the cars rear wing support failed-pinging the fence of a chateau on an amazing 125mph trip thru the Rouen countryside. He was able to walk away but the car was hors ‘d combat, so that was his meeting.

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Oliver reflecting on life after a wild, wild, wingless ride thru rural France. Whilst his mechanic reflects on the long night ahead (sic) Jackie is sussing out his DG300 box and rear suspension which is 50 metres back up the road from whence he came (unattributed)

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The chateau gates Oliver hit are to the right past the Lotus 49’s rear end (unattributed)

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Chapman, Hill and Oliver during the tough 1968 season (unattributed)

His best result from a year in which Graham Hills tour de force of leadership gave him and the team world titles was Q2 in his home race at Brands Hatch, the race won by Jo Sifferts Rob Walker Lotus 49B, and 3rd in the season ending Mexican GP, Hill was the winner of that race.

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Oliver DNF gearbox after qualifying 2nd, ahead of Jo Siffert 1st both in Lotus 49B’s, Chris Amon 2nd, Ferrari 312, the last car in the group Surtees Honda RA301 5th (Getty)

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Oliver leads Pedro Rodriguez BRM P133, 3rd and 4th in the 1968 Mexican GP, 3 November. Hill won from Bruce McLaren (unattributed)

For 1969 Jackie was off to BRM, Jochen Rindt took his Lotus seat for 1969 in an ‘all star’ team with Hill. It was a tough year in  1969 as BRM had  ‘lost their way’ in a design sense, the P133/138/139 uncompetitive, better was to come  in 1970 with the Tony Southgate designed P153.

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Oliver, BRM P133 Monaco GP 1969 , Q13 and DNF with an accident of lap 1. Hill won in a Lotus 49B Ford (Schlegelmilch)

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Jack Oliver giving his brand new BRM P153 V12 plenty during the season opening South African GP weeeknd at Kyalami in March 1970. Car looks gorgeous without its Yardley branding! Brabham won in a Brabham BT33 Ford, Oliver DNF with gearbox dramas (unattributed)

Chapman waxed and waned between monocoques and space frame chassis for his ‘small bore’, production single-seaters throughout the 1960’s…

Whilst the marketing advantage of a you-beaut monocoque ‘just like Jim Clark’s Lotus 25’ was clear, equally the relative cost of repair of a spaceframe, especially in the field, a long way from the Norfolk was something which wasn’t lost on a lot of customers. Local garagiste ‘Louis the Torch’ may have been able to fix bent RF corner tubes, but he was less likely to be able to assist with curved sheet metal/aluminium complexities…

Statistically the most successful FJ/F3/F2/FB cars of the 1960’s were Ron Tauranac’s spaceframe Brabhams which were built to a consistent design philosophy throughout.

The cars were simple, strong, fast and forgiving straight outta the box. The latter because Jacks ‘finely tuned arse’ in testing contributed the ex-factory suspension settings which could be relied upon as a competitive, starting position by customers. Plenty of championships were won by not straying too far from them.

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Jim Clark, Pau GP, 25 April 1965, victorious in his Lotus 35 Cosworth Ford SCA from Richard Attwood’s Lola T60 and Jochen Rindt’s Brabham BT16, both also SCA powered (unattributed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pau GP, ’65 JC ponders setup changes on his monocoque Lotus 25 inspired 35 (unattributed)

 

 

 

 

Lotus Components 1965 F2/3 car was the monocoque 35, a modified version of the 1964 32, with Clark winning plenty of races in the car including the  Trophee de France, the Scot won 3 of the 4 rounds.

Aussie John Joyce (later the designer of magnificent Bowin racing cars when he returned to Australia) with assistance from Dave Baldwin were briefed to build a spaceframe F3/F2 frame for 1966 designated the 41. The Lotus brains trust were having second thoughts about monocoque chassis suitability in the junior classes. Issues were cost, weight and utility and expense of repair. The 41 was raced from 1966 to 1968 and whilst a good car didn’t have the factory support needed to further develop it, the exception the Lotus Components 41 raced by Oliver. The chassis was also raced in the US FB class.

The works Lotus F2 car for 1967, the first year of the 1.6 litre F2, the Lotus 48 was a monocoque, the car Oliver raced was the customer 41B, a spaceframe.

Both cars were comprehensively blown off by Tauranac’s Brabham BT23 which had some mighty fine pilots; aces like Rindt, but also coming drivers who extracted all the performance the car had to offer. The Matra F2’s, the MS5 and MS7 were also fairly tidy, fast (monocoque) devices…

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Leo Geoghegan, Australian Gold Star Champion in a Lotus 59 Waggott 2 litre in 1970. Here at Oran Park, Sydney that year (oldracephotos.com)

Chapman’s 1969 F3/F2 car, the Dave Baldwin designed 59 was a spaceframe. Its successor, the final Lotus production racing cars produced in volumes, the 1970 69 was a spaceframe for FF/F3 (spaceframe chassis are mandated in FF) and a monocoque for F2. Go figure!? Mind you, the 59 and 69 were very effective, successful tools whatever the variant.

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Jochen Rindt doing his thing in his Lotus 69 FVA during the Crystal Palace Euro F2 round, the ‘London Trophy’ on 25 May 1970. Jochen’s car DNF battery lead, Jackie Stewart’s John Coombs Brabham BT30 FVA won the race. The 69, a monocoque, was a mighty fine car in the hands of the works and customers, competitive into 1971 (unattributed)

These Lotus chassis changes are only of arcane interest over the decade I guess. Perhaps the reasons for the choices were simply the opinions and preferences of the individual designer who worked on each cars design or layout, not that I am suggesting Chapman ever lacked clarity about direction or objectives in terms of giving design direction!

In terms of the general specifications of F2 cars of the early 1.6 litre Formula, those and that of the engine de jour, the Ford Cosworth FVA 1.6 litre unit are well covered in my article on the Lotus 48, click here to read it, there is no point repeating it all;

https://primotipo.com/?s=lotus+48

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Lynn Oliver, Monaco 1968. Husband Jackie and Bruce McLaren collided on the first lap, both DNF. Car is Lotus 49B Ford, Graham Hill’s sister car won (Schlegelmilch)

Credits…

Rainer Schlegelmilch, Brian Watson, oldracephotos.com, Getty Images

Tailpiece: Ollie’s Lotus 48 aerobatics at Klostertal during the ’67 German GP weekend, he was the F2 category winner…

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In a great performance Jackie was 5th in a Lotus 48, the race won by Denny Hulme’s Brabham BT24 Repco (Schlegelmilch)

 

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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)

 

 

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(Vintage Racecar)

Leo Geoghegan slices his venerable Lotus 39 Repco into the Warwick Farm Esses, Tasman Series, 15 February 1970…

Terrific shot, the focus is on the driver, the rest of the car blurred giving the impression of speed, something Geoghegan had in abundance.

Leo ‘made his name’ in this car, he was a front-runner from the time he bought it off Team Lotus at the end of the ’66 Tasman Series; Jim Clark was third in it, until the time it was put aside to make way for his Lotus 59 Waggott later in 1970.

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Faster! Deep in thought on chassis changes with his very hot mechanic, AGP practice 10 February 1963. Lotus 20 FJ 1.5 Ford 9th just behind Frank Matich in the quickest of the 1.5’s. Winner Brabham in a BT4 Climax 2.7 (David Mist)

Geoghegan had a long background in Lotus single-seaters after he graduated from sedans and sportscars in the team his father, Tom founded. Starting with an 18FJ in 1961 he progressed through 20, 20B, 22, 27 and then a 32, which, when fitted with a 1.5 Ford Lotus Twin cam engine gave him two 2nd placings in 1965 Gold Star events. He stepped up to the ‘big time’ with the Tasman Lotus 39.

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Leo G on his way to 8th in the little Lotus 32 Ford/Lotus 1.5, ‘Warwick Farm 100’ Tasman Series, 14 February 1965 (Bruce Wells/The Roaring Season)

The ‘old girl’ Lotus 39 was frustrating in many ways, its unreliability, like other Repco Tasman users, was notorious, but it gave him the critical 6 points at Symmons Plains in March 1970 before he switched to his new Lotus 59 Waggott. This won him the Gold Star he coveted and deserved…by 6 points from Max Stewart’s similarly powered Mildren. Max’s Gold Star turn would come for the first time in 1971.

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Easter Bathurst Meeting, 15 March 1970, thru ‘The Dipper’. Lotus 39 Repco (Jeff Nield/autopics.com.au)

Lotus 39 ‘R12’….

The Lotus 25/33 series of cars are amongst motor racing’s most famous, the Lotus 25 the first ‘modern monocoque’, Jim Clark took the 1963 and 1965 World Championships’ in Loti’ 25 and 33 respectively.

The 39 is one of this series of cars and like Jack Brabham’s 1966 championship winning BT19 chassis was built for the stillborn Coventry Climax FWMW Flat-16 engine.

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Coventry Climax FWMW 1.5 litre Flat-16 engine of 1964/5 (unattributed)

The story of this amazing engine is an article in itself; in a nutshell CC’s Wally Hassan and Peter Windsor-Smith were convinced the best route to more power was higher revs (than their FWMV V8) a ‘multi’ was chosen partially due to Harry Mundy’s exposure to the BRM Type 15 supercharged V16 in the dawn of the fifties. Design commenced in 1963, the prototype was on the test bench in 1964.

Torsional problems of the crank were major issues, the engine also failed to deliver more power than the 4 valve versions of the FWMV, which themselves took a bit of development to better the FWMV 2 valve outputs. Then the 1.5 litre GP formula ended and Jaguar took over Coventry Climax; that combination of factors ended CC’s pivotal role as a successful supplier of racing engines for better than a decade.

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Graham Hill’s BRM P261 leads Clark’s Lotus 39 Climax and Jack Brabham’s Brabham BT11A Climax off Long Bridge, THAT post in front of GH’s LF wheel marks the apex…Wonderful Longford 1966 (autopics.com.au)

Colin Chapman needed a mount for Jim Clark to defend his Tasman title, he won it in 1965 with a Lotus 32B Climax, the unused 39 sitting in the corner of the Team Lotus workshop was ideal.

He tasked designer Maurice Phillippe to modify the engine bay of the car to accept a Coventry Climax 2.5 litre FPF engine. The 39 was different from its siblings in that the ‘D-shaped’ side pontoons of the chassis were ‘chopped off’ at the bulkhead aft of the drivers seat and a tubular steel subframe substituted to carry the CC Flat-16. Changes were made to the frame to accommodate the FPF.

The 39 side pods also had a more pronounced belly than the 25/33 to ensure sufficient fuel could be carried, having lost capacity by hacking the ‘rear horns’ off the tub on each side. The suspension of ‘R12’ was pure Lotus 33 and was period typical; top rockers actuating inboard coil spring/damper units and lower wishbones and at the rear inverted lower wishbones, single top link and two radius rods for fore and aft location. Adjustable roll bars front and rear as well of course. Steering by rack and pinion and outboard disc brakes on all wheels.

Chapman bought two Climax engines from Bruce McLaren who didn’t contest the Tasman in ’66, he was too busy building cars for his F1 and CanAm programs having just left Coopers.

The 39 was soon on its way to the Antipodes for its race debut in the NZGP at Pukekohe on January 8 1966.

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AGP, Lakeside 20 February 1966. Clark 3rd behind Hill’s BRM P261 and Frank Gardner’s Brabham BT11A Climax (autopics)

By 1966 the Tasman game had largely moved beyond the old FPF; Brabham debuted his Repco Brabham RB620 V8 engine and BRM modified its F1 P56/60 V8 engines to 1930cc, Jackie Stewart took the title in a P261 with 4 wins from Hill’s 2 with Clark and Attwood (BRM) 1 win apiece.

Clark had a tough start to his 1966 Tasman campaign partially because Colin Chapman switched his Lotus tyre contract from Dunlop to Firestone not long before the Tasman commenced. The tyres had been developed by Bruce McLaren, he had used them for over a year and they were competitive but the 39 had to be adapted to them.

In addition Clark had a run of misfortunes which also reduced testing time; an abortive race at Pukekohe (gearbox) no practice at either Wigram (oil leak and engine replacement/accident when Gardner’s Brabham brakes failed) or Levin (snapped radius rod in practice/2nd). At Teretonga the cars speed was shown with a heat win from Stewart. He was moving away from Jackie in the final only to go out with a spin on dropped oil on lap 3.

In Australia he took a win at Warwick Farm, always a happy hunting ground for Clark. Graham Hill won the AGP at Lakeside from Gardner and Clark. He was 2nd to Stewart’s speedy BRM at Sandown and was 7th at Longford, he had carburetion problems in practice and a plug lead came off in the race requiring a stop and dropping him to the back of the field. Stewart was again the victor, with Jim finishing third in the series behind the BRM duo.

Clark had an amazing 1965 season winning the Tasman Series, Indy 500 and the World Drivers Championship, his start to 1966 was not quite so good, a portent of a tougher year!

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Superb Clark portrait by Lindsay Ross. Lotus 39 Climax, Longford 1966. He was 7th after a troubled run, Stewart’s BRM taking the win. Note the cars ‘aero screen’ and truncated monocoque which ends at the drivers bulkhead (oldracephotos)

Geoghegans’ were the Australian Lotus importer so a deal was done to buy the car…

John Sheppard is a legendary mechanic/engineer/car builder and team manager with some of Australia’s greatest cars in his CV; the Geoghegan’s cars, Bob Jane’s Repco Torana, Laurie O’Neills Pete Geoghegan driven Holden Monaro and the Holden Dealer Team amongst an extensive and ongoing career of car construction and team management. Early in his career he was appointed as chief mechanic to the Geoghegans.  Tom took a liking to his work preparing the Youl brothers Cooper, the Tasmanian team were using the Geoghegan’s Sydney workshop at the time. John’s first event with the team was preparing Leo’s car for the Australian Formula Junior Championship at Warwick Farm in September 1963, which he won in his Lotus 22 Ford. He shares some of his recollections about his time with the Geoghegan’s throughout this article.

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John Sheppard in the 39 Repco cockpit circa 1967, hat is the Mickey Mouse Club! (John Sheppard)

Essentially 1966 was a learning year for Leo in the big cars in the domestic Gold Star Championship. His limited campaign excluded the Mallala and Sandown rounds, 2nd to Spencer Martins Brabham BT11A at Surfers Paradise his best result. A duff wheel bearing was the cause of a DNF at Lakeside, he didn’t start both the Symmons Plains and Warwick Farm rounds with Coventry Climax engine problems.

Sheppard recalls; ‘The Lotus 39 was a great car although the engine problems we had were a function of very tired engines, the blocks were cracked so it was a problem keeping them running in that first year. When we took over the car they had a strange set-up to deal with the vibrations of the big Climax-four, they put rubber o-rings between the cylinder head and inlet manifold letting them flop around, and i mean flop around so Jim had problems with throttle control. We easily fixed this with a more conventional set-up of putting the o-rings between the inlet manifold and carbs’.

‘We didn’t have problems with the Firestones but i recall Leo, having fiddled around with set-ups based on tyre temps and the like at an early tyre test embarrassing the Firestone guys a bit when his ‘seat of the pants’ set-up changes gave immediate results. Leo was quick in the car straight away, i asked Bob Jane to get his driver (Spencer Martin) to stop baulking mine at Warwick Farm and Bob of course telling me to piss-orf…’

Fifth in the Australian Grand Prix ’67 Tasman Round at Warwick Farm and 2nd the following weekend behind Clarks Lotus 33 Climax FWMV 2 litre V8 at Sandown was indicative of speed and better Coventry Climax reliability.

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Geoghegan’s Lotus 39 sharing the AMR 1968 cover with Chris Amon’s Ferrari Dino 246T. 39 here with ‘740 Series’ Repco V8 and quite the prettiest thing with its carefully, thoughtfully aerodynamic rear bodywork developed for it by John Sheppard. Knock on wheels, Castrol color scheme just gorgeous with the speed if not always reliability to match

In 1967 Sheppard and his team did a beautiful job converting the car to a 2.5 litre Repco ‘640 Series’, ‘exhaust between the Vee’ spec engine in April. They created quite the most beautiful sixties single seater. OK, maybe Gurney’s Eagle T1G gives it a run for its money! The FPF developed around 235bhp, the ‘640’ 275bhp@8500rpm.

Sheppard; ‘It was an easy decision to go with the Repco, our Climaxes were old and tired and Repco were keen to do business with everyone. It wasn’t the biggest saga to adapt the Repco V8, we made new chassis tubes to accommodate the wider engine and used the original Hewland HD5 gearbox. The suspension geometry wasn’t touched, in fact it wasn’t the whole time i worked on the car (to the end of 1968) which shows the bloke who designed and built it knew what he was about. As tyres evolved we still got the results by simply getting the best from the tyres making set-up changes based around getting tyre temps even across the tread. Basic but important stuff.’

‘The chassis and bodywork, we made a nice rear cowling or engine cover, was done by Alan Standfield who worked out of his fathers ‘Supreme Mousetraps’ factory out near Mascot. (near Sydney Airport) It was all a bit bizarre but he did good work in grotty conditions with loads of noisy machines making springs and sawdust from the ‘trap bases all over the place!’

Leo took his first Gold Star round win at Sandown in September, Sheppo recalls; ‘Early in the Repco piece i said to Frank Hallam (GM Repco) ‘you should be nicer to us because we will win the first Gold Star race for you, he turned and walked away. I had great delight in walking up to him and telling him ‘I told you so’ when we took that Sandown win which was Repco’s first Gold Star win too’

The Climax FPF engined Brabham BT11A’s were superbly driven by Spencer Martin and Kevin Bartlett and just had the legs and reliability to pip the more powerful Repco engined cars of Greg Cusack, Geoghegan and John Harvey that year. Martin took the title.

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On the end of a tow rope as was the case all too often. Here its a Coventry Climax engine failure; the FPF popped back into the car after early 1967 Repco frustrations for the final WF Gold Star round, DNF with overheating (Peter Windsor)

Leo was so miffed by the lack of reliability of the Repco that his team popped the Climax back into the car for the final Gold Star round, the Hordern Trophy’ at Warwick Farm, not finishing that race either, the Climax overheated.

Sheppard; ‘We didn’t have a good run with the Repco’s early in the piece. The 640 Series Repco, the Olds block engine chucked its oil out of the crankcase, the scavenging arrangements were poor, the stiffener plate was ‘out in the breeze’, oil sat on that and got thrown around. Leo said the engine was hard to drive as there was little power below 6500-7000rpm. The 700 Series blocks were better but in many ways by then the opposition had caught up with the Cosworth and Ferrari Dino engines competing in the Tasman. The engine was a clever design though, you could take the heads off without disturbing the timing chest and vice-versa, i give Repco ten out of ten for the way they went about things.’

For the 1968 Tasman Series all local Repco clients engines were updated to the latest specifications with 700 Series blocks.

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Leo’s 39 chases Richard Attwood’s BRM P126 at Surfers Paradise 1968. Great butt shot of both cars and a contrast of the beautifully faired Lotus and messy, bulky BRM V12. Neat packaging of the 1967 World Championship winning ‘740 Series’ V8 clear (here in 2.5 not 3 litre form). ‘Between the Vee’ exhausts easy for the chassis designer, no complex plumbing issues of pipes and tubes or an ‘ally tub. Trumpets for Lucas fuel injection and Bosch distributor cap clear also between the Vee. Car uses the same Hewland HD5 gearbox as it did with the Cov Climax FPF engine. Diaphragm to which ‘everything’ attached also clear at the very back of the chassis. Suspension at rear period typical; single upper link, inverted lower wishbone, 2 radius rods forwards for location and coil spring/damper unit with an adjustable roll-bar (Brian McInerney)

Into 1968 the Tasman Series got even tougher as the International Teams brought 2.5 litre variants of their current GP machines; the Lotus 49 DFW and the BRM P126 V12. The Mildren Team acquired a one-off Brabham BT23D powered by a 2.5 litre version of Alfa Romeo’s Tipo 33 sports car engine and Ferrari brought 2 2.4 litre Dino V6’s, the 246T.

Geoghegan, as in the prior year did only the Australian rounds; his 4th at Surfers on the same lap as the new Lotus 49’s in his 3 year old car his best result.

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Who is the Belle of the Ball? Geoghegan’s Lotus 39 Repco DNF beside Brabhams Brabham BT23E Repco 7th , Rodriguez BRM P126 6th in a P261 with Clarks Lotus 49 1st. Warwick Farm practice, Tasman 1968 (The Tasman Cup)

He lost an oil line at Warwick Farm, finished 7th at Sandown, both events won by Jim Clark’s dominant Lotus 49 and elected not to start the final, very wet Logford round given the lack of a suitable tyre for the treacherous circuit.

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Hill, Gardner, Geoghegan and further back Kevin Bartlett squabble over 2nd place on lap 2 of the Surfers ’68 Tasman round, Clark is up the road. Lotus 49 DFW, Brabham BT23D Alfa, Lotus 39 Repco and Brabham BT11A Climax (Rod MacKenzie)

Kevin Bartlett was the class of the Gold Star fields in 1968 winning the title by 10 points in the Brabham Frank Gardner drove in the Tasman. Geoghegan’s old Lotus was still fast; he took pole at Sandown and Mallala and won the race but otherwise the car lacked the consistency and speed to win the title.

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Geoghegan Catalina Park, Blue Mountains, NSW 1968 (Paul Hobson)

Chris Amon took the 1969 Tasman in his superbly driven and prepared Ferrari Dino 246T from Jochen Rindt, Lotus 49 DFW Piers Courage, Brabham BT24 DFW and Derek Bell’s Dino 246T.

Geoghegan, still driving the ‘old lady’ contested the full series; 5th at Pukekohe in the series opening NZGP behind the four drivers above, 4th at Levin, he missed the final NZ, Teretonga round.

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Leo’s Lotus 39 Repco ‘730 Series’ NZGP paddock, Pukekohe 4 January 1969. 5th in the race won by Amon’s Ferrari Dino 246T (Habu/The Roaring Season)

Straight to Queensland he was a splendid 3rd in the AGP at Lakeside behind Amon and Bell. He was 5th in his home, Warwick Farm race and had fuel tank problems in the final Sandown round.

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Lakeside in the AGP; 4/5 year old car 3rd at Lakeside behind the Ferrari 246T’s of Amon and Bell (Rod MacKenzie)

Seventh in the series, the highest placed local was a superb result for a small team running a 4 year old car against GP Teams running their latest car.

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Leo running wings at the Warwick Farm Tasman round on 9 February 1969. Sydney the teams home base. With very low angle of attack mind you. He chose not to run them at the fast Tasman final round at Sandown the following week. He was 5th in the ‘pissin wet race won by Jochen Rindt’s Lotus 49B Ford DFW, therefore this dry day is practice (Dick Simpson)

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Sandown Tasman practice, 15 February 1969. Running head of Alfie Costanzo’s McLaren M4A FVA. Leo DNS with a fuel tank leak, Alf DNF engine (Rod MacKenzie Collection)

For the 1969 Gold Star Series the 39 was more competitive than in ’68 being  fitted with the latest Repco’730 Series’, crossflow head V8 used in the Tasman, this gave 290bhp@8600rpm. The car was now running wings and whilst less aesthetically pleasing than its earlier form was fast.

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Symmons Plains Gold Star 3 March 1969. Leo was 2nd to Kevin Bartlett’s Mildren Alfa (right)  (Ellis French)

Interesting shots at Symmons Plains, Tasmania 3 March 1969 above and below. Both the 39 and Kevin Bartlett’s Mildren Alfa ‘Yellow Submarine’ sporting the hi-wings de-rigeur for the previous 12 months and soon to be outlawed over the Monaco GP weekend a month or so hence. My two favourite ‘Australian’ open-wheelers of the 1960’s albeit not in their most aesthtically pleasing form. Bartlett won the round with Leo second.

Repco ‘730 Series’ Repco V8, notice the steel ‘A-Frame’ to brace the wing supports referred to in the text and wider rear wheels but same sized fronts compared with earlier shots. Tyre widths increased dramatically from cars build in 1965 to 1970.

Locating stays for the 39 rear wing beefier than most, the failure of these in a whole swag of cars, notably the two Lotus 49’s of Rindt and Hill during the 1969 at Montjuich Park, Spanish GP the catalyst for the CSI to mandate changes to wings.

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Symmons Plains Gold Star 1969, Geoghegan’s Lotus 39 Repco, KB’s Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’ Alfa behind (Ellis French)

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Bathurst Gold Star round 7 April 1969; Max Stewart Mildren Waggott, Niel Allen McLaren M4A Ford FVA and Geoghegan’s Lotus 39 Repco on pole. Brabham won in his BT31 Repco from the back of the grid with the front row all DNF. An accident took out Stewart and Allen, Leo had a gearbox problem (Wayne McKay)

Kevin Bartlett took the Gold Star championship again using the Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’, initially Alfa Romeo V8 engined and later in the year in Waggott TC4 valve form. This engine developed by Sydney engineer Merv Waggott is a story in itself, it won Gold Stars for Bartlett, Geoghegan and Stewart in 1969-71 beating 2.5’s and in 1971 F5000’s to the title.

Leo was 2nd with 20 points to Kevins 33 and had reliability but perhaps not the ultimate speed, seconds at Symmons Plains and Mallala Gold Star season highlights for the old beast.

The 39’s day finally arrived 4.5 years after it was built; Geoghegan won the 1969 JAF Japanese Grand Prix in the Lotus from Roly Levis Brabham BT23C FVA and Sohei Kato’s Mitsubishi Colt F2-C 1.6. I covered this great win in an article about Leo last year, click here for the link; https://primotipo.com/2015/03/02/leo-geoghegan-australian-driving-champion-rip/

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By 1970 F5000 was adopted as the new Tasman Formula albeit 2.5 litre Tasman cars were also eligible, the smaller cars gave the big V8’s ‘plenty of curry’ in that first year with Graeme Lawrence winning in Chris Amon’s victorious 1969 Ferrari 246T ‘008’. Bartlett took the Warwick Farm round in the 2 litre Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’, another small-car win..

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Tractable these Repco’s! Chugging thru the 1970 Sandown paddock. Nice shot showing the 33 style tub, fuel filler in front of dash bulkhead and late ’69-70 wing (Jeff Scriven Collection)

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Same day as above with Leo in the red hat alongside his mount. Hard to see but front suspension is top rocker, lower wishbone and inboard spring/damper actuated by rocker (Jeff Scriven Collection)

Geoghegan raced the Australian rounds only for 7th at Surfers and Warwick Farm, he was DNF at the Sandown final round.

Into the domestic 1970 season Leo raced the car in the first Gold Star round at Symmons Plains, here below he shares the front row of the grid with John Harvey’s red Brabham BT23E Repco and Kevin Bartlett’s Mildren Waggott ‘Yellow Submarine’. KB’s absence racing in the US for much of the year took out a tough adversary in 1970.

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Gold Star round 1 1970. Symmons Plains 2 March 1970. John Harvey won in his #2 Brabham BT23E Repco from Leo obscured this side and Bartlett’s #5 Mildren Waggott (autopics.com)

The last significant meeting in which the 39 raced was the March Easter Bathurst meeting in which Niel Allen’s McLaren M10B Chev F5000 car set a lap record which stood for decades. ‘Outright’ open-wheelers have not raced at Mount Panorama given the speeds of the cars and inherently dan gerous nature of the circuit as it was then. And still is, despite huge improvements in circuit safety.

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Easter Bathurst 1970, contrast this shot with the hi-wings from the year before above. John Harvey’s #4 Bob Jane Brabham BT23E Repco ‘830 Series’ Repco V8, Leo’s 39 Repco ‘730 Series’ V8 and Niel Allen’s obscured McLaren M10 B Chev F5000 (Rod MacKenzie Collection)

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Leo in the new Lotus 59 Waggott, Warwick Farm’s Pit Straight 1971 (oldracephotos/Schell)

Whilst the 1970 Tasman series was run to F5000 the Gold Star Series in an interesting piece of CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motorsport) decision making driven by politics was run to the 2.5 Tasman Formula.

From Leo’s perspective the path was clear; the circa 275bhp 2 litre Waggott engine was powerful, light, reliable and better still would bolt straight into the back of the Dave Baldwin designed F3/F2 Lotus 59. As the Lotus importer, the core of the Geoghegan’s business road cars of course, his preference was a Lotus which could win the title, his F5000 options were a domestic season away.

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The Geoghegan’s cars; Leo’s and Pete’s Touring cars were always beautifully presented, giving the sponsors great exposure. Here the 59 Waggott, in Castrol colors. As beautifully integrated a package as the 39 Repco in its ‘740 Series’ Repco days. Oran Park Gold Star round, 27 June 1970 (Lynton Hemer)

The 59 already had a successful season of racing in Europe with Emerson Fittipaldi taking the 1969 British F3 title and Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill winners in European F2 events; 4 rounds for Jochen and 1 for Graham. In essence the engine and chassis were a proven package.

And so it proved to be; Leo took wins at Warwick Farm and Mallala and seconds at Oran Park and Symmons Plains when the ‘old lady’ 39 held together and scored 6 valuable points…

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Leo G during tyhe driver parade before the 27 June Oran Park 1970 Gold Star round won by Max Stewart (Lynton Hemer)

Leo Geoghegan’s Later Open-Wheeler Career…

This article was to have been a ‘quickie’ around the few shots at the start  but as usual i have  ‘rabbited on’.

The article isn’t intended to be a Leo G whole of career one, the focus was the Lotus 39. Leo raced the Lotus 59 Waggott on into 1971, that chassis is still in Australia, i will write about it separately.

Geoghegan was a factory driver for Chrysler, as covered in the other article link provided earlier, he developed and raced Valiant Pacers and Chargers for the Tonsley Park, Adelaide based company in the incredibly popular Series Production (showroom stock essentially) races which proliferated, like a disease, in Australia in the late 1960’s, the growth of ‘Taxi Racing’ in Oz remains undiminished and omnipotent.

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Leo at Oran Park, ‘works’ Grace Bros sponsored Birrana 274 Hart Ford 1974. Jewels of things, fast ones. Aluminium monocoque chassis, Hart Ford 416B injected, often ‘ally blocked, Twin-Cam circa 205bhp, Hewland FT200 5 speed ‘box (oldracephotos.com/Peter Schell)

But Leo was a ‘died in the wool open-wheeler man’ and accepted a works drive with Adelaide’s nascent Birrana Engineering; Malcolm Ramsay and engineer Tony Alcock built some fabulous cars in three short years which turned upside down the local single-seater market, the jewel like cars winning the Australian F2 Championship from 1973-1976.

Leo took two of the titles in 1973 and 1974, finally retiring from single-seaters at the end of 1974. He went out with a bang though. The 1974 AF2 Championship was one of the most closely contested and competitive openwheeler championships in Australia ever. ‘Van Heusen’ shirts tipped in good sponsorship and established F5000 aces and young thrusters made for some sensational racing. But wily Leo, at 38 still very fast took the title by 4 points from Aussie International Bob Muir in another Birrana.

Birrana Cars is a story for another time.

John Sheppard on Leo as a driver; ‘He was incredibly fast, as good as anyone he competed against capable of just not keeping up with but beating world champions. Leo in a way kept to himself, Pete was more ‘one of the boys’ so Leo and i didn’t discuss his career aspirations but he got a lot of satisfaction from racing with the drivers that he did; world class drivers. He was very precise, Pete would throw around what he was given, Leo used the same bit of road lap after lap, very consistent, precise and fast’.

R12 in Modern Times…

Leo focussed on the 59 but gave Formula Vee ace Bernie Haehnle a test of the 39 in the wet, at Amaroo Park in May 1970. With predictable results, poor Bernie took the left-rear corner off the car. The difference from a 40bhp Rennmax FV to 280bhp Tasman car in the wet would have been marked!

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Leo G, 1970 Gold Star champion in his old car later in the year at Warwick Farm. 22 November. Lotus 39 Repco (Dick Simpson/oldracephotos.com)

The car was tidied up visually, Leo gave it a run at Warwick Farm late in the year in its original color scheme but still running a Repco engine, it was then offered for sale. The Repco engines on loan were returned to Melbourne and those owned by the Geoghegans sold. Australia’s sports-racing car fields were the beneficiaries of a surplus of ‘cheap’ 2.5 litre Repco V8’s; two Elfin 360’s and  two Rennmax’s  specifically.

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Darryl Pearsall’s Lotus 39 Ford Twin-Cam ‘R12’ in the Winton, Victoria paddock in 1973/4 (oldracephotos.com)

The long racing life of R12 continued on for a year or so as an AF2 car, Darryl Pearsall the new owner. F2 then was a 1.6 litre, 2 valve class effectively mandating the Lotus/Ford Twin Cam. The car was fitted with a Twin-Cam and when sold was purchased by John Dawson-Damer for his superb collection of Lotus’s in 1976.

The car was restored to its original Coventry Climax FPF engined form and fortunately when sold after JDD’s death and realisation of some of his collection remained in Australia, fitting given the cars Australian history. It lives in Tasmania loved to bits by a lifelong Jim Clark fan, Chas Kelly.

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Lotus 39 Climax ‘R12’ at the Longford Revival Meeting in April 2011. Restored but not over-restored, a balance we tend to get right in this country! (Ellis French)

Etcetera…

Clark Lotus 39.

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Longford front row 1966. #1 Clark’s Lotus 39 Climax and the two BRM P261’s of Hill #2 and Stewart beside the fence (Ellis French)

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Clark and mechanics looking typically relaxed during the Tasman. Here at Warwick Farm with R12. February 1966 (unattributed)

Click on this link for a lovely story related to the photo above about the ’66 Tasman.

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/45668

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Geoghegan 39.

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Leo G portrait circa 1963. Colors on helmet ‘Team Total’, the French oil company a strong supporter of motor racing in Australia at the time. Lotus 22 or 27 (Ray Berghouse)

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Sandown Park paddock, Tasman ’67. Leo finished 2nd to Clark’s Lotus 33 Climax FWMV 2 litre V8 in ‘The Sandown Cup’. Nice shot shows the car in its Coventry Climax FPF engined/Castrol Racing colors. This is 26 February 1967, the Repco V8 was installed that April (Mike Feisst/The Roaring Season)

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This is a nice shot of the 39 of the Repco 740 Series V8 installation, Surfers Tasman round in February 1968. Cooper S is that of top touring car driver John French (Rod MacKenzie)

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These days the crowds are all over the ‘Taxis’, in the days of yore the focus was where it should be, on fast open-wheelers! Sandown paddock, am guessing Tasman Meeting 1969 (Jeff Morrall)

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Leo’s Lotus dips under brakes for Creek Corner at the end of Hume Straight in 1970 (Lynton Hemer)

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Lotus 39 business end in its Repco ‘740 Series’ 2.5 V8 days. 275bhp@8500rpm, the engine weighed 345lbs/157Kg. Gearbox Hewland HD5. Note Repco logo on LH cam cover, Smiths tacho drive on the RH cam cover. Lucas fuel injection, Bosch distributor between the Vee. 1967/8 (John Stanley)

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Bibliography…

Thanks very much to John Sheppard for his time and recollections

Graham Howard and Ors ‘History of The Australian GP’, oldracingcars.com

Photo Credits…

Vintage Racecar, oldracephotos.com, Peter Schell, Dick Simpson, Bruce Wells, Habu, Mike Feisst/The Roaring Season, Lynton Hemer, Rod MacKenzie, Ellis French, John Stanley, Paul Hobson, Wayne McKay, Jeff Scriven Collection, Ray Berghouse, David Mist, John Sheppard, Brian McInerney, Jeff Nield/autopics.com.au, Tony Loxley ‘Tasman Cup’, Peter Windsor

Tailpiece: Leo takes Miss Queensland for a squirt around Lakeside in the family Lotus 23 Ford. Brother ‘Pete’ raced this car, not certain of the date, but 1965’ish…

39 babe

 

rcn surfers 1968

We all have our favourite local motoring and motor racing publications...

When I was a youngster here in Australia it was ‘Sports Car World’ for fast road cars, the monthly letter from noted NZ born but global motoring journo, Eoin Young on the European and American racing scene was not to be missed nor the column of Romsey Quints, a crusty curmudgeon who wrote about ye olde days.

And for racing it was ‘Racing Car News’ supplemented by the global giant ‘Autosport’ which required a tram trip into the big smoke as it wasn’t carried by my local newsagent.

RCN was the bible tho.

It was national, maybe a bit Sydney centric, edited and owned by Max Stahl, an ex-racer who knew everybody from clubbies to visiting World Champions in Australia annually for the Tasman Series. It was chock full of local to global news and events with ‘Stringers’ all over the place making its coverage remarkable at the time.

Delivery of information digitally takes the sense of excitement out of the visits to the newsagent eagerly anticipating these monthly publications arrival instore…having said that the ‘democratisation of the media’ means even ‘Schleppers’ like me can ‘have a go’.

There was not a page of RCN to be missed from Stahls’ editorial upfront to the classifieds up ze back, the paintings by David Atkinson, Colin Anderson and others reason alone to buy the thing.

This cover by David Atkinson captures the action of the 11 February 1968 Tasman Series Round at Surfers Paradise. It depicts Graham Hills’ Lotus 49 DFW leading Leo Geoghegans’ ex Clark Lotus 39 Repco from the Piers Courage McLaren M4A FVA around the ‘Repco Hill’ section of the circuit.

Clark won the race from teammate Hill, Courage in second, a great performance on this power circuit in the little 1.6 litre Ford FVA engined M4A and Leo G, first local home in third place.

RCN survived into the ’80’s but was never the same after Stahl sold it, somehow the thing lost its soul…these days there are print and digital Australian ‘publications’ but none are as good as Racing Car News…

clark and amon surfers

Stunning Roderick MacKenzie shot of Clarks’ Lotus 49 leading Chris Amons Ferrari 246T, Surfers Tasman 1968. Clark won, Amon DNF with an engine failure. Tweed Ranges in the background. Clark won the series and Amon returned in 1969 winning the it in a Dino. (Roderick MacKenzie)

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Leo Geoghegans Lotus 39 Repco ‘740’ Series 2.5 V8 being given a big push, John Sheppard at the wheel and Geoff Smedley at left. ‘Castrol’ colors, Repco installation replacing the Climax FPF 4 cylinder engine lead by Sheppard creating just about the best looking 60’s single seater ever, this is not the cars best angle however! (wolseley680)

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Surfers dummy grid. Hill #5 loaded up, the Lotus behind awaits Clark. You can just see the #11 nose of Rodriguez BRM P126 (10th) a Ferrari nose amongst the crowd and the nose, far right of the Courage McLaren. (wolseley680)

Tasman 1968 Highlights…

Photo Credits…

Roderick MacKenzie http://www.rodmackenziecollection.com/ , wolseley680

Finito…

jaf gp 1969

Leo Geoghegan victorious in the 1969 JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) Grand Prix. Lotus 39 Repco.

One of Australia’s racing greats of the 1960’s and early 70’s, Leo Geoghegan died of cancer aged 78 on 1 March…

Leo won the Australian GT Championship in 1960, (Lotus Elite) the Australian Formula Junior Championship in 1963 (Lotus 22 ) the Australian Drivers Championship, the coveted Gold Star in 1970 in Lotus 59 Waggott and the AF2 Championship in Birranas’ 273 and 274 in 1973 and 1974.

Internationally he won the JAF Japanese Grand Prix in his Lotus 39 Repco in 1969. It was in this car, raced by Jim Clark in the 1966 Tasman Series in which Leo stepped into the premier 2.5 litre ‘Tasman’ class, initially Coventry Climax powered and later with Repco V8’s that Leo more than held his own against the visiting Internationals in what was progressively an older car.

The Geoghegans’ held the Lotus franchise in Australia for many years, it was in a new Lotus 59 powered by one of Merv Waggotts’ 2 litre DOHC engines in which Leo finally won the Gold Star in 1970 after years of plugging away in the evergreen ’39.

leo g wf

Hamming it up for photographer Bruce Wells at Warwick Farm, before the ‘WF 100’ Tasman round February 1966. (Bruce Wells)

Leo and his brother Ian or ‘Pete’ were crowd favourites throughout the 60’s in particular, Leo mainly in open wheelers and Pete in Touring Cars in which he was 5 times Australian Champion.

Most of you outside Australia (85% of you by the way) won’t be aware of the Geoghegans’, this lovely period movie by Castrol ‘The Racing Geoghegans’ positions them nicely into the pantheon of Australian Racing in their day.

 

Leo was concentrating more on Touring Cars as the lead tester/driver for Chrysler into the early ’70’s in their Valiant Pacer/Charger ‘Series Production’ program but returned to open wheelers when offered the ‘works drive’ by Birrana’s Malcolm Ramsay, these jewel like cars a story in themselves, in AF2 in 1973 and in 1974.

The 1974 AF2 series was one of the most competitive domestic Australian open wheeler championships ever (series sponsorship attracted both the top up and comers and F5000 stars) Leo winning the title against the very best…to watch him in these cars, I didn’t get to see him in his Tasman days, was to see a bloke at the top of his game, a very smooth, precise line driver and aggressive with it. His battles with Bob Muir in another Birrana in ’74 spring to mind especially a very soggy Calder. A magic driver for sure.

leo g lotus 32

Leo in the ‘Warwick Farm 100′ Tasman round February 1966. He finished 7th in the 1.5 litre Ford/Lotus engined Lotus 32. Race won by Jim Clarks’ Lotus 39 Climax, the car Leo acquired at the end of the series. (Bruce Wells)

Ray Bell ‘in period’ journalist with ‘Racing Car News’ had this to say about Leos’ commitment and precision, writing in ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ in 2002.

‘It’s time to look at Leo a little more closely. Maybe at Warwick Farm, his real home circuit and in the Lotus 59, equipped with a nice toey Waggott TC4V engine and good enough to win him the Gold Star… let’s wander over to Homestead Corner… the cars are whistling through, taking that line that clips the two apexes and is so important for their speed down Hume Straight.

Lap after lap, Leo is precise and fast. But look there, on the outside edge of the circuit, where he drifts to between the apexes… see the white line, and then the drop of two inches or so where the bitumen’s been laid over an old entry road? Watch Leo’s rear tyre as he drifts out there…

The wheel had only a couple of inches on the white line… the rest of the tyre was hanging out there with two inches between the tread and the bitumen… two inches from disaster at that speed… every lap!’

One of the greats. RIP.

leo fuji speedway

Leo G in the racesuit, Fuji paddock JAF GP 1969. Lotus 39 Repco. Engine here is Repco ‘830 Series’ 2.5 Tasman V8, the ‘ultimate version’ of the Tasman Repcos’ , circa 295bhp@9000rpm. Packaging of this later Repco engine not as ‘neat and cohesive’ as the exhaust between the Vee ‘740 Series’ pictured below. (Unattributed)

lotus 59

Leo in the Lotus 59 Waggott at WF approaching the ‘Northern Crossing’. AGP November 1970. 3rd in the 2 litre Lotus behind the winning Frank Matich McLaren M10B Repco F5000 and Graeme Lawrence’2.4 litre  Ferrari Dino 246T. (Rod Mackenzie Collection)

lotus 39 stanley

Quintessential combination for many years, Leo G and Lotus 39 Repco…1969. (John Stanley)

leo g

Wonderful portrait of Leo G by Rod MacKenzie in 1970. (Rod MacKenzie Collection)

Tailpiece…

Wonderful ‘Alec Mildren Racing’ film about the 1969 JAF GP won by Leo Geoghegan and contested by several Australians including the Mildren Racing pair, Kevin Bartlett and Max Stewart.

Etcetera…

lotus 32 hordern trophy

Black helmet and black T-Shirt…Leo G Lotus 32 Ford 1.5, Hordern Trophy, Warwick Farm December 1964. This was a huge win, the little 1.5 beating the big 2.5 Climax engined Tasman cars in this ‘Gold Star’ round. (Richard Austin)

leo and jackie wf

Leo G (left) & Jackie Stewart Warwick Farm Tasman round February 1967. JYS won the race in his BRM P261, Leo 5th and holding the trophy for first local resident home in his Lotus 32 Ford 1.5. (Dale Harvey)

leo wf tasman 1967

Leo, Lotus 39 Climax heading for 5th place during the 1967 ‘Warwick Farm 100’ Tasman round, Kevin Bartlett? perhaps behind, Brabham BT11A Climax 6th. (Unattributed)

geoghegans surfers 1968

Leo and Pete Geoghegan won the Surfers Paradise 6 Hour in 1968 in the Scuderia Veloce Ferrari 250LM

mr annual

Leo G in his Lotus 39 Repco & Chris Amon Ferrari Dino 246T on the cover of MRA 1968. In this form the car was about as good as a 60’s open-wheeler looked. The conversion from Coventry Climax 2.5 FPF to Repco ‘740 Series’ 2.5 Tasman V8 was done by Geoghegans’ crew lead by John Sheppard, the marriage between chassis and engine superbly executed.

leo and max jaf gp

Leo Geoghegan leading his compatriot Max Stewart during the 1969 JAF GP. Lotus 39 Repco 2.5 & Mildren Waggott 1.6. Race was F Libre. (Unattributed)

lotus 59 wf

Leo campaigned this Lotus 59 Waggott in 1970 and 1971, winning the Gold Star in the 265bhp 4 cylinder, DOHC injected four valve engined car in 1970. Here at Warwick Farm (lyntonh)

leo charger 1971 wf

Geoghegan manhandling his Chrysler Valiant RT Charger around Warwick Farm in October 1971. These cars were powered by 265cid in line 6 cylinder OHV, triple Weber 45DCOE engines…together with the Ford Falcon GTHO and Holden Torana GTR XU1 comprised a much loved period of Touring Car racing in Australia. Shortcomings of the Charger were its 3 speed ‘box, 4 speeder from 72’ and under-developed relative to the opposition. Leo G chief test driver/developer and lead driver for Chrysler, cars built at a long since closed factory in Tonsley Park, Adelaide. (Jeff Nield)

leo and enno birrana 273

Leo Geoghegan and Enno Buesselmann, Sandown 1973. Both Birrana 273 Hart Ford T/cam. (autopics)

Photo and Other Credits…

Bruce Wells, theroaringseason.com, lyntonh, Dale Harvey, autopics.com.au, John Stanley, Rod MacKenzie Collection

The Nostalgia Forum, RayBell, Motor Racing Annual