Posts Tagged ‘Lex Davison’

(K Drage)

Falls mainly on Warwick Farm, at least at its first open meeting it did, 18 December 1960…

Sydneysiders heap plenty of shite on Melburnians given our ‘four seasons in one day’ weather which does present its challenges to the ladies every now and again. Whilst I am a Mexican (Victorian) I am a Sydneysider by inclination having lived ‘in the guts’ of the place for nine wonderful years, in Observatory Hill/Millers Point. As a local when it does rain up there it can be sub-tropical in its intensity, it absolutely chucks it down in Cairns like fashion, as it did during the ‘Farms opening meeting- all of it.

Making like a duck in Kevin Drage’s opening shot is Derek Jolly, the wealthy Penfolds Wines heir’s equipe of Jaguar XK 140 Coupe and ex-works Lotus 15 Climax is behind him. Not sure how he fared in the Sportscar events, click hear for a feature I wrote about him and the Lotus a little while back;

https://primotipo.com/2017/11/09/dereks-deccas-and-lotus-15s/

(K Drage)

The photo above in the form-up area is #9 Bill Patterson’s Cooper T51 Climax FPF 2.2, #21 Doug Whiteford’s Bib Stillwell owned Cooper T51 FPF 2 litre, then Stillwell’s red Cooper T51 Climax FPF 2.5 and Austin Miller’s yellow Cooper T51 Climax FPF 2.2. Bill didn’t start the ‘Warwick Farm Trophy’ feature race so this is the lineup for the preliminary or before the Victorian Holden dealer pulled the pin.

The ‘Warwick Farm Trophy’ was watched by 12,020 soggy spectators and was won by Bib Stillwell’s T51 2.5 from John Youl’s 2.2 litre variant, then Austin Miller and Lex Davison’s big-bellowing six-cylinder Aston Martin DBR4/250 3 litre. In the following four years, when held in glorious weather, Warwick Farm attracted between 23,000 and 36,021 (1962) to its annual International Meetings- strong numbers to see the F1 stars of the day. It was most unfortunate to have such poor weather for the circuits first big meeting but it was not at all a portent of what was to come for ‘Gods Little Acre of Motor Racing’ for the next thirteen years.

Stillwell’s Rice Trailer behind Lex, the ‘Ringwood’ Rice is Patto’s (K Drage)

Lex’ Aston, chassis DBR4/250 number ‘4’ was powered by a 3 litre Aston DBR1 sportscar engine- Astons won the 1959 Le Mans and Manufacturers Championship with these wonderful cars.

Lex popped the front-engined car on pole- he came sooo close to winning the 1960 Australian Grand Prix at Lowood in it from Alec Mildren’s terribly clever Cooper T51 Maserati in June. Then Davo ‘crossed the fence to the dark side’ and raced a Cooper T51 to a somewhat lucky win in the ’61 AGP at Mallala.

Must get around to doing an article about these Aston’s in Australia, were there two or three?…

(J Ellacott)

John Ellacott’s grid shot above comprises Patterson, Davison and Whiteford (red), then Miller and Stillwell (red) . On row three is John Youl Cooper T51 FPF 2.2, Stan Jones blue Cooper T51 Climax FPF 2.3 and Jon Leighton Cooper T45 Climax FPF 2 litre (this side) A row further back Arnold Glass sits on his lonesome in a Cooper T51 Maserati 250S 2.5 then there is John Roxburgh Cooper T45 Climax FPF 2 litre, Noel Hall Cooper T51 Climax FPF 2.2 and Jack Robinson’s Jaguar Spl XK120 3.4 litre and at the rear Alwyn Rose in the Dalro Jaguar 2 XK120 3.4 litre. As I said earlier the results I have say Patterson did not start so perhaps we lost him on the warm-up lap

David McKay’s Morgan Plus 4 #71 in the Sportscar race which he wins…

(J Ellacott)

Love this anecdote sent to me by journalist Ray Bell- ‘The first race ever at Warwick Farm was for sportscars and you have that pic of the Austin Healey leading McKay in the Morgan off the grid.

McKay dogged the Healey driven by Bob Cutler, until Cutler spun. McKay won, Cutler came in second. Later in the pits McKay went up to him and said, “You were never going to win that race, boy!”. And Cutler asked why.

“See his here” McKay said, pointing to the tiny service sticker on the window of the Healey (you know the ones, oil change due at x miles, with the oil brand or the servo name on it), “That’s advertising, I would have protested!”

Some people’.

For international readers, advertising as it also was in Europe, was banned on racing cars at the time.

Photo Credits…

Kevin Drage, John Ellacott

Special Thanks…

Ray Bell

Tailpiece…I don’t wanna get my feet wet! Derek Jolly, Lotus 15 Climax and ‘plug box contemplating a day for the ducks, and a damp practice session…

(K Drage)

Finito…

 

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(K Harris)

The Northern Territory entered Jaguar Mk7 of B Kingston and a Holden 48-215 line up for fuel at Bonds Chalet, Alice Springs during the 1953 Redex Round Australia Trial on 9/10 September…

It’s a quintessential Alice Springs scene, the red-brown parched soil and mid-green eucalypts framed in the distance by the MacDonell Ranges. Most of us of a certain age attended Primary Schools with artwork by Albert Namatjira, in these hues, hanging on the classroom walls.

Adelaide based Bonds Bus Tours provided ‘Parc Ferme’ and refuelling facilities for the rally in Alice Springs. These amazing photos were taken by a longtime employee, Kevin Harris. Rolled gold they are too, even though they are of the cars at rest, with one exception.

The post-war pent-up demand for entertainment, in those much simpler times was massive. Bouyed by an economy which was starting to boom, Australians turned out in their thousands to watch the progress of the 187 participants in the 1953 Redex Round Australia Trial.

In part it was because most roads west of Adelaide were challenging to say the least. The fact that the rules provided that cars were largely unmodified meant that the average man in the street could see how his car, or the one he aspired to own went created some interest. Cars were stock other than for underbody protection, carburettor, exhaust, lighting and instrument modifications.

Many of Australia’s better racing drivers competed, not that they were all household names by any stretch, but many were by the end of the decade in part due to their trial exploits in the years to come. The media, by the standards of the day provided massive coverage also fuelling the fire of public interest.

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Stan Jones Holden 48-215 and O Yates Austin A40 Atlantic, Stan a tough nut purpose built for an endurance event like this, even if his press-on style was not (K Harris)

Fifty thousand people lined the streets of Sydney from the start at the Sydney Showgrounds at Centennial Park on 30 August and lined the route through the major cities the circus traversed. Whilst the event was styled as a reliability trial it was effectively a race as we shall see. So there were plenty of acts of derring do and accidents aplenty.

Name drivers included ‘Gelignite Jack ‘Murray, the ‘Preston Holden Team’ of Holden 48-215’s driven by Lex Davison, Stan Jones and Charlie Dean. David McKay and ‘Curley’ Brydon ran Austin A40’s and Jack Brabham a Holden 48-215. Norman (father of Alan) Hamilton, the Porsche importer entered a 356, Frank Kleinig a Morris Minor. Jack Davey ran a Ford Customline- the popular radio show host broadcast on local radio stations along the route and had a can of hairspray in the glovebox to look his best at all times. Bill McLachlan ran a Customline, Don Gorringe a Jowett Javelin, Peter Antill, a trials ace raced a Plymouth with Eddie Perkins in a Rover 75, Laurie Whitehead ran a Citroen and John Crouch a Peugeot 203, Ken Tubman another.

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Norman Hamilton, Porsche 356, I wonder if this car still exists? (unattributed)

The entry included all of the above as well as an Allard, Vauxhall Velox, Mercedes 200D diesels, MG TD’s, De Soto, Humber Super Snipes and a swag of big, strong 1948 Ford V8’s. In addition were Peugeot 203, Jaguar Mk7, Chrysler Airflow, Hudson Terraplane, Ford Anglia, Zephyr and Consul, Singer 9, Simca, Vanguard, Hillman, Riley and so on!

It isn’t my plan to cover the trial in detail but rather to showcase the Kevin Harris  photographs taken during the Alice Springs stopover on September 9 and 19 1953. A summary of the trial, a heavily truncated version of a couple of other articles follows.

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B Gurdon Austin A40 and Lex Davison Holden 48-215- the ever versatile Victorian racer/businessman was quick in anything or any sort of event from Trials to GP cars (K Harris)

Ted Hoy’s Chrysler Airflow, car #1 later to play a critical part in the result of the event, was the first to leave the showgrounds at 2pm, the last to travel along Driver Avenue was a Queenslander, Miss J. Hill aboard a Renault 750 at 11.33pm.

150,000 people lined the streets through Sydney’s northern suburbs to Hornsby to watch the start of this amazing 6500 mile adventure, the second longest event of this type in the world at the time. The first breakdown was a Jaguar Mk7 which died near the Hawkesbury River only 52 Km from the start!

The leaders averaged about 50 mph (80 km/h) up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane, with mechanical failure taking points from some of the novices. The first bad accident happened near Gin Gin, when Patience/Binks hospitalised themselves after rolling their Ford V8 down an embankment.

The field didn’t strike unsealed roads until after clearing Rockhampton. The challenges began with corrugations, culverts, cattlegrids, washaways, dry creek beds and everything else the vast brown land could throw at them. McLachlan, one of the favourites, lost two hours 15 minutes with water pump failure on his Customline, but still made the Mackay control on time.

In 24 hours’ rest at Townsville, the organisers counted 177 cars in control with 128 clean-sheeters.

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The Antill Chrysler Plymouth, no idea where (unattributed)

At this point the trial stopped being a rally and became a road race.

Word went thru the field that the organisers had decided that if several crews reached Sydney without loss of points, their times on the TownsvilleMt. lsa and Alice SpringsAdelaide sections would decide the winner. They were given 16 hours to cover the 609 miles (980 km) from Townsville to lsa. It was ‘game on’ amongst the racers.

Peter Antill’s Plymouth was fastest with an incredible 13:22. The first car to reach Mt. Isa was Possum Kipling’s, 14 hours 12 minutes after leaving Townsville. He had to get the control officials out of bed, he was so early!

Behind him was a nightmare of crashed cars, irate police and horror stories. Half the field was spread across most of Queensland. Bill McLachlan was directed wrongly in the middle of the night and drove 136 miles (219 km) off course before getting back on the right road, only to hit a cattle grid that had been de-guttered by the field. Stan Jones hit the same grid.

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Bonds Alice Springs vista ( K Harris)

Bill Murray rolled his Plymouth, Hamilton’s Porsche hit a kangaroo and deranged its front suspension, driving the rest of the way into the Isa on the undertray. The last car, Anderson in a Skoda, staggered into town after a 24 hour 44 minute trip following a trail of wreckage

The next stage over bitumen to Darwin, was 1098 miles (1760 km) the average set at 44 mph (71 km/h). Antill hit a galah (indigenous bird) which took out his windscreen, his car already had a cracked chassis.

McLachlan had broken his Customline’s diff housing, but the medium-sized cars, like the Holden of Kipling, who was second into Darwin, and the Rover of Perkins, 3rd into control, were in good shape.

‘Wheels’ magazine in its report of the trial wrote: ‘The myth that the only car suited for Australian conditions was the large American vehicle had been exploded’.

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‘Parc ferme’ #114 Charlie Deans Holden 48-215, the master engineer taking time away from his Repco Research/Maybach race preparation duties but no doubt keeping some kind of eye on his driver S Jones Esq in one of the other ‘works’ Holdens. Stan very much one of the quickest guys in Australia at the time and stiff not to win the Australian Grand Prix in Maybach 1 that November with mechanical problems ( K Harris)

From Darwin 132 cars set out for an easy drive down the bitumen to Alice Springs  for servicing and repairs at Tennant Creek, then on to the Alice.

At Alice Springs the field stopped at Bonds facilities as shown in the photographs. The cars were scheduled in from 8.51am on Saturday the 9th, and out, commencing 12.01am on the 10th.

Of the 41 clean-sheeters who departed Darwin, 38 were there when the field lined up for 368 miles (592 km) of desert to Kingoonya.

This stretch was considered impossible to cover in less than 48 hours- the organisers had set a time of 15 hours 10 minutes. In addition the field were given only one hour’s rest at Kingoonya before despatch for the 424 mile (682 km) run to Adelaide, an an average of 42 mph (68 km/h).

Lex Davison arrived in Kingoonya in an unbelievable 13 hours 39 minutes. Second was Possum Kipling in another Holden in 14:10. Tom Sulman, prominent racer, was fastest in his Humber Super Snipe when he emerged from the desert and drove south to Adelaide.

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Magic scene, the Cusso framed between the truck wotizzit? and old Shell bowsers. Driver is S Levy, NSW (K Harris)

By Adelaide there were 11 clean-sheeters. Crews had to be lifted from their cars after up to 60 hours at the wheel without a break!

 The road had decimated the field, who limped in with hair-raising tales of tying up rear suspensions with tyre chains, living underground at the opal mining settlement of Coober Pedy, jamming coir matting into a broken front end to keep going and crew members going crazy from the dust and heat.

The field of 11 clean-sheeters who left Adelaide faced only bitumen roads through to the finish in Sydney via Melbourne. They were Davison, Kipling and Davies in Holdens, Perkins (Rover), Tubman (Peugeot), Sulman, Ken Robinson and Jack Masling (Humber Snipe), Antill (Plymouth), Nelson (Vanguard) and David McKay (Austin A40).

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HR Smith, Pug 203 from WA, no idea where the crossing is (unattributed)

The journey was easier given the sealed roads and by this stage the police were very stroppy ‘about the crazy high speeds’. As a consequence the organisers threw in a special section or stage to help break up the field.

An 11-mile (17.7 km) stock route was chosen between Marulan and Bowral in NSW, part of a 30-miles (48 km) long elimination section which included a flooded river crossing, Paddy’s River. It was a metre deep with several cars being washed downstream.

Some drivers stopped and fitted protection in front of the radiator before entering the water, but the winner of the event, Ken Tubman was one who elected to drive right through. He stalled, but the 203’s engine restarted.

The Paddy’s River crossing and the strange action of Hoy, the man who had retired his Airflow at Mount Isa, got bogged, with the whole field held up for at least 30 minutes. The drivers naturally tried anything to get around him and save points.

No-one is quite sure what happened to whom or who set up the stage. The contest was so tight it took five hours for the Australian Sporting Car Club to work out that 37 year old Ken Tubman and his navigator, John Marshall won in their Peugeot 203 by 25 seconds from the Robinson Humber Super Snipe- 25 seconds after 10,500 kilometres of murderous country!

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Ken Tubman and John Marshall take the chequered flag in Sydney. Results not announced until some 5 hours later. Peugeot 203 (unattributed)

In one of those ‘Win On Sunday, Sell on Monday’ moments the victory caused a sales rush on Peugeots- every new Pug in the country was sold within a week.

The first Redex Trial went down in the annals of Australian automotive history as one of the harshest long-distance events ever run. It had everything- characters, heroes, bravery, stupidity, crashes, ingenuity and mayhem!

Off the back of its 1953 success, 31 203’s were entered in the 1954 Redex, that year won by Jack Murray’s Ford. Ken Tubman competed in rallies well into his sixties winning a re-run of the trial from ‘Gelignite Jack’ Murray in 1974. He also took part in a 1983 anniversary re-run in a Peugeot 505. He died at his Maitland, NSW home in May 1993.

Bibliography…

Redex.ru, Unique Cars and Parts

Photo Credits…

Kevin Harris

Tailpiece: End where we started with the Kingston Jag Mk7, here  lifting its skirts as it leaves Alice Springs…

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(Telegraph)

The highest paid Dunlop tyre fitter in the world attends to the needs of his Lotus 32B Climax, Warwick Farm, 1965…

Its practice prior to the ‘Warwick Farm 100’ so Jim Clark assists Ray Parsons in between on-circuit sessions on the Friday or Saturday before the race.

Its Frank Matich zipping by in his Brabham BT7A Climax, he was quick too, off pole and led Clark and Graham Hill for much of the first lap. He was 3rd, five seconds behind Brabham in 2nd with Jim a minute up the road from Jack in an emphatic victory.

Roy Billington, Brabham’s chief mechanic is the black clad dude to the left of Jim. In the white helmet is the tall, lanky frame of Frank Gardner and beside him his Alec Mildren Racing Brabham BT11A Climax. A DNF for Frank that weekend with Coventry Climax engine dramas on lap 25.

(Telegraph)

In the photo above Roy Billington is tending Jack’s BT11A, its Jim’s Lotus behind. The tall fellow to the right, in the cloth cap is, I think Lex Davison- Lex retired on lap 3 with a busted steering wheel in his Brabham BT4, an odd failure for a driver of considerable deftness and touch.

‘Topless’ behind Lex is Jim Clark talking to Warwick Farm boss, Geoff Sykes- to the left near the pit counter is again Frank Gardner.

Its all happening, as I say…the first six home were Clark, Brabham and Matich, then Bib Stillwell, Brabham BT11A, Graham Hill similarly mounted in the Scuderia Veloce entered machine and then Kiwi Jim Palmer in his BT7A.

Credits…

Daily Telegraph, oldracingcars.com, Bruce Wells on The Roaring Season

Tailpiece: Jim and Lotus 32B Climax on the hop…

(Bruce Wells/TRS)

He is entering The Esses and has clearly given someone or something a ‘tap’, the nose of the Lotus is slightly bruised. I’ve written about this car, click here for the link; https://primotipo.com/2017/11/02/levin-international-new-zealand-1965/

Finito…

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(John Ellacott)

Lex Davison #4 lights up his Dunlops with Bib Stillwell and David McKay on the front row of the ‘Victorian Trophy’ grid, Calder Raceway on 13 March 1963…

They finished in this order, Lex’ ex-McLaren Cooper T62 the winner from the Stillwell and McKay Brabham BT4 Climaxes. David’s was a ‘little’ 2.5 litre FPF, the other two were toting big ‘Indy’ 2.7 litre engines.

In a season of consistency Stillwell won his second Gold Star, Taswegian John Youl won at Warwick Farm and Mallala, Davo won at Calder, Bathurst and Sandown but only Sandown was a championship round so the Melbourne motor dealer took the second of 4 Gold Stars on the trot, 1962-1965.

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Calder Victorian Trophy grid 1963 from the front, Davo, Stillwell and McKay (John Ellacott)

Tale of the Cooper T62 #’CTA/BM/2’…

It’s a sad tale too. This car was successful, winning races in the hands of both Bruce Mclaren for whom it was built and for Lex Davison who raced it next. But for those around the car there was much tragedy, so its an interesting tale if not a happy one. Rocky Tresise died at its wheel, not much has been written about the young Melburnian, Davo’s protégé. The point of the article is largely to right that a little, if you can add more to Rocky’s story I am interested to hear from you to flesh it out further.

Perth hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1962…

The Lord Mayor, like so many before and after him globally saw the games as a way of putting his city on the map and expediting the development of much needed infrastructure.

The event was tiny by the standards of Commonwealth and Olympic games today; 35 countries sent 863 athletes to compete in 9 sports but the event was huge in the context of the cities small population of around 500,000 people.

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The games were the first to have an athletes village, till then competitors had been housed in hotels and billeted in private homes. As a fan of Perth’s City Beach I was astounded to learn the area was largely bushland until 65 acres were developed for the village in advance of the games. Now it’s a great place to live beachside and an easy train ride into town.

At the time the Australian Grand Prix didn’t have a permanent home, the event was rotated around the countries six states. This was good and bad.

Good in the sense that spectators/competitors had a chance to see/participate in their home race every few years but bad in the sense that no one circuit owner/promoter could set up ‘infrastructure’ knowing they had one or two big events they could plan their revenues and therefore capital outlays around. This ‘sharing arrangement’ applied until the first F1 AGP in Adelaide in 1985, which became Albert Park when the nasty Victorians ‘nicked the race’ from SA.

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Perth circa 1964 (unattributed)

It made good sense to have the AGP in Perth at the time of the games to get along a decent crowd of locals and overseas visitors.

The ‘Games, held from 22 November-1 December were noted for ‘heat, dust and glory’. The opening ceremony was 105 degrees fahrenheit, (40.5 centigrade) the heat continued throughout the competition. The army were pressed into service ferrying constant supplies of water to parched competitors.

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The 18 November 1962 AGP was held at Caversham, an ex-military airfield circuit in Perth’s Swan Valley, 20 km north-east of the city centre and was also scorching hot.

The circuit hosted two AGP’s in 1962 and 1957, that race was won somewhat controversially by Lex Davison’s Ferrari 500/625, co-driven by Bill Patterson, again in scorching heat. To this day many pundits believe the race was won by Stan Jones Maser 250F who took the chequered flag but subsequently the win was given to his great friend and Melbourne rival after ‘lap countbacks’ and protests

In order to secure some world class competitors Brabham and McLaren were paid to attend, both brought cars intended to compete in the Antipodean summer internationals which traditionally commenced in New Zealand early in the new year.

The Brabham BT4 and Cooper T62 were variants of the respective marques 1962 F1 cars, the BT3 and T60, both powered in that application by the Coventry Climax 1.5 litre FWMV V8.

For ‘Tasman’ use, actually Formula Libre at the time, both cars were fitted with 2.7 litre Coventry Climax FPF 4 cylinder engines, CC’s 2.5 litre very successful 1959/60 World Championship winning engine taken out to 2.7 litres. These ‘Indy’ engines were originally developed for Jack’s first Cooper mounted Indianapolis appearance in the Memorial Day classic.

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Brabham and Stillwell take to the Caversham track, AGP weekend 1962. Brabham BT4 and Cooper T53 (Terry Walker)

‘The History of The Australian Grand Prix’ relevant chapter was written by Graham Howard. He records that Jack and Bruce started the race very evenly matched; Jack ‘popped’ his 2.7 Climax in practice, Bruce lent him his 2.5 spare, indicative of the great friendship between two guys who were also fierce competitors particularly on ‘their home turf’ during the annual Tasman races.

For McLaren’s part, Bruce had his Cooper handling beautifully having tested the car at Goodwood prior to his trip but then John Cooper grabbed the springs fitted to it for Monza F1 use leaving Bruce with a skittish, twitchier chassis than was his optimum.

So, Bruce had a bit more ‘puff’ than Jack, the alcohol fuelled 2.7 FPF giving around 260bhp to Jack’s 230 but Jack had the sweeter handling car- the scene was set for a fascinating contest.

Whilst the entry was ‘skinny’ the race promised to be a close one and so it was.

Other entries included the Coopers of Davison T53, John Youl T55, Bib Stillwell T53 and Bill Patterson, the latter somewhat hamstrung by driving an older T51.

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Stillwells Cooper T53 cruising the Caversham paddock (oldracephotos.com)

Local enthusiasts who raced were Syd Negus’ Cooper T23 Holden, E Edwards TS Spl and Jeff Dunkerton’s Lotus 7.

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Small field shown in this start shot, fortunately the torrid duel between Brabham and McLaren made up for the paucity of competitors. Brabham then dark green Coopers, Patterson’s white one, Davo’s red Cooper and similar colored BRM P48 Olds of Arnold Glass, then the front engined Cooper T23 Holden of Negus, green TS Spl of Ted Edwards and finally the green Lotus Super 7 of Jeff Dunkerton, the last sports car to start an AGP. Note the State Governor’s Roller in the foreground (Lyn Morgan/Terry Walker)

The race only had 10 starters, Perth is a long way from the east coast where most of the Gold Star contenders were based. The balance of the field was made up of WA competitors. Indicative of the change in the nature of AGP fields is that this race was the last for a front engined car (the appearance of the Ferguson in 1963 excepted), the last for an air-cooled and Holden engined cars.

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Brabham’s brand new BT4 Climax at Caversham, this car the first of many very successful ‘Intercontinental’ Brabhams; the Coventry Climax powered BT4/7A/11A won a lot of races in Australasia (Milton McCutcheon)

Even though the field was small the race settled into an absorbing battle between McLaren and Brabham at the front. The thrust and parry continued for over 40 laps, the gap varying between 2 and 8 seconds as attack and counter-attack was staged.

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Lex with a big smile for the cameras! Cooper T53 Climax 2.7 ‘Lowline’ . The T53 was the works only ’60 GP car and sold to customers for ’61 (oldracephotos.com)

The race went on with Jack unable to get past Bruce but opportunity arose when Bruce ran wide lapping Arnold Glass for the second time.

Jack focused on Bruce, Glass took his line for the next corner, he and Brabhamcollided, the latter racing an ex-Scarab aluminium Buick V8 powered BRM P48. Arnold finished but JB was out on lap 50 leaving Bruce to take a popular win.

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McLaren takes the plaudits of the crowd on his victory lap, Caversham 1962 (Terry Walker)

Youl was 2nd after an interesting battle with Stillwell 3rd, 4 seconds behind, Patterson 4th, then Glass in the BRM and Negus the first of the locals in the Cooper T23 Holden.

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McLaren takes the plaudits of the crowd and the Governor, McLaren manager/journalist Eoin Young is the ‘blood nut’ in glasses behind the governor (Terry Walker)

With that Bruce and Jack returned to Europe for the finish of the season and then returned in January to race the cars in the annual Australasian summer series of races.

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Bruce McLaren shows racer/journo/team owner David McKay his new T62 toy, McKay could not race having damaged his ex-McLaren Cooper T55, famously demolishing a marshalls ‘dunny’ after an off into Warwick Farm’s infield. Front wishbone suspension, Alford & Alder uprights, big oil reservoir for the CC FPF and aluminium side fuel tanks all clear (Peter Longley/Terry Walker)

Cooper T62 Climax…

The Cooper was conventional for its day the T60 F1 chassis was laid out by Owen Maddocks after discussion with Bruce and John Cooper.

The T62 was built on the T60 jig by Tommy Atkins team at his Chessington ‘shop, Harry Pearce and Wally Willmott did the work. The rear frame was designed to take a P56 BRM 1.5 litre V8, the plan was for Bruce to drive it in non-championship F1 races Cooper themselves were not interested to contest.

When the engine was late, Atkins shelved the project and instead modified its frame to accept a 2.7 litre ‘Indy’ Coventry Climax FPF engine and Colotti T32 5 speed transaxle for ‘Tasman’ use.

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Bruce and David again, rear frame detail and big 58DCO Weber fed 2.7 litre CC FPF engine, circa 260bhp on alcohol (Terry Walker)

Suspension was upper and lower wishbones and coil spring/shocks at the front and rear. There were adjustable roll bars front and rear, rack and pinion steering and disc brakes all round clamped by Girling BR/AR calipers front/rear. Wheel diameter was 15 inches.

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#10 McLaren Cooper T62, Tony Maggs Lola Mk4 and Davison Cooper T53 on the ’63 Longford grid preliminary race (Ellis French)

McLaren raced the car that summer in the Antipodean Internationals

He took Kiwi wins at Wigram and Teretonga in January and then Sandown and Longford in Oz.

He was third at Warwick Farm and retired at Pukekohe, Levin and Lakeside. Bruce then sold the car, which had won five of its nine starts to Lex and headed back to Europe.

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1963 AGP at Warwick Farm 10 February 1963; #2 Surtees Lola Mk4a 2nd #5 David McKay Brabham BT4 4th #10 McLaren Cooper T62 3rd, Brabham won the race in his BT4 (Howard)

1963 Internationals and Gold Star…

As stated in the first paragraphs of this article, Bib Stillwell won the second of his four Gold Stars with consistent performances in his Brabham BT4 all year. Lex showed plenty of speed in the T62 winning the Victorian Trophy at Calder and Bathurst 100 but neither were Gold Star rounds that year. Sandown was another T62 win, a hometown one and a championship round in September.

Jack Brabham won the AGP at Warwick Farm, the race held on 10 February whilst the ‘Tasman’ drivers were in the country, a pattern which continued for years, making the race much harder, and prized, to win by locals. Bruce was 3rd in the T62 with John Surtees 2nd in his Lola Mk4A.

McLaren won, as stated in the T62 at Longford and Sandown before selling the car to Lex and John Youl took two great wins in his Geoff Smedley fettled Cooper T55 at Mallala and Warwick Farm, the final 2 races of the Gold Star championship.

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Davison with ‘Bathurst 100’ victory laurels 15 April 1963, the Cooper T62 looks superb, his cars always beautifully presented and prepared by Alan Ashton and the rest of the crew (John Ellacott)

 

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Lex T62 ahead of Stillwell’s Brabham BT4 during the Victorian Trophy, Calder 11 April 1963 (‘stan patterson’)

Lex had 1963 Gold Star speed if not reliability. In the ’64 Tasman Series, he contested  the Sandown, Warwick Farm and Longford rounds for DNF/8th/6th  in the T62.

Bruce returned to the Antipodes with a 2 car team in 1964, the so-called ‘first McLarens’ were Cooper T70’s designed by Bruce, albeit built in the Cooper ‘shop. Bruce took 3 wins, Brabham 3 as well in his new BT7A but greater consistency gave Bruce the title.

Denny Hulme was Jack’s teammate in the Brabham BT4 Jack used the previous year, the car Davison would later purchase at the series conclusion.Tim Mayer showed great speed and promise in the other T70 but sadly lost his life in an accident at Longford.

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oopsie! Lex having a moment in the T62 at Sandowns turn 1 or Shell Corner, in front is Frank Matich  and behind Jack Brabham both in Brabham BT7A Climaxes. AGP which Brabham won, 9 February 1964, the other two both DNF (Howard)

Lex joined the ‘circus’ for his home race, the AGP at Sandown on 9 February but was out with piston failure in the T62 on lap 29, Jack won the race.

Davo was 8th and 2nd local home behind Stillwell at Warwick Farm, Brabham again taking the win.

He didn’t contest the ‘Lakeside 99’ in Queensland but was 6th a little closer to home at Longford in early March, this time Graham Hill won in a Brabham, David McKay’s Scuderia Veloce BT4.

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Longford ‘South Pacific Trophy’ grid 2 March 1964; #2 Brabham BT7A, Hill in the red winning BT4 and Matich in the pale BT7A, then Stillwell on row 2 in the dark BT4 with Lex alongside in the red T62 and the rest (Geoff Smedley)

Lex started the ’64 Gold Star series in the Cooper but soon ‘got with the strength’ and bought one of Ron Tauranac’s ‘Intercontinental’ Brabhams, the marque pretty much had a stranglehold on the domestic competition from this point for the next few years. From 1963-68 to be precise.

coop and brab

Cooper T62 (right) and new Brabham BT4 with Davison team engineer Alan Ashton’s Ford Mainline ute towcar. ‘The BT4 was JB’s works car then Denny Hulme’s winning the AGP and Tasman Champs then to Davo and later John McCormack’s first ANF1 car. This is the BT4’s first run at Calder by Davison still in factory colors, after this meeting ’twas painted red (Terry Walker/Denis Lupton)

Stillwell again won the Gold Star, his well developed and beautifully prepared Brabham BT4, the national championship now run to the Tasman 2.5 litre formula.

He was more than quick enough to take the title with a win at Lakeside and strong placings elsewhere including an excellent 2nd to Brabham at Sandown in the AGP contested by the internationals on 4 February.

Lex won at Mallala in his new Brabham BT4 with Rocky Tresise finishing third at Warwick Farm in Lex’ Cooper T62, the nearly 1 hour race great preparation for the internationals Tresise was to contest that summer. The quicker 2.5’s of Matich and Stillwell didn’t finish the race but Rocky finished in front of Lex who was 4th. Leo Geoghegan and Greg Cusack were 1st and 2nd in Ford/Lotus 1.5 powered Lotus 32 and Elfin FJ respectively

Rocky Tresise…

Davo raced the Brabham from the 13 September Lakeside round giving Rocky Tresise, an up-and-comer and neighbour some races in the now second-string T62 during 1964.

Rocky’s first exposure to motor racing was as a 15 year old Melbourne Grammar schoolboy attending a Fishermans Bend meeting in 1958 with a mate whose family knew David McKay. The Scuderia Veloce chief was racing his Aston DB3S at the meeting.

Tresise was hooked ‘the noise, the smell and the excitement really got me in and from then on I bought every motor magazine I could get to try to learn more about motor racing’ he said in an AMS article about him in June 1964.

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Rocky Tresise in 1964 aged 21 (AMS)

Rocky worked as a ‘servo’ pump attendant and on a farm in his school holidays to get together sufficient money to buy a car when he turned 18, his MGA contested 52 races at Sandown and Calder in 1962 having started in sprints and hillclimbs.

In 1961 the Davisons moved to Clendon Road, Toorak, one of the best streets in Melbourne, the Tresise family were the neighbours.

Chris Davison, Lex’ son and a racer himself recalls; ‘We grew up at Killara Park, the farm at Lilydale my grandfather established, dad used to commute into Collingwood each day where the shoe factory was. (Paragon Shoes) As we got older and needed to be closer to Burke Hall (Xavier Junior School) in Kew dad bought a house at 81 Clendon Road, Toorak just over the road from St Johns Toorak’.

‘Rocky had obviously heard via the grapevine we were moving in and on the very first night, the first night as we sat down to dinner there was a helluva racket, an engine being blipped and revved next door. Dad said ‘what the hell is that?’ and went next door to investigate, so they literally met the first night we moved into Clendon Road! Rocky’s furious blipping and revving of the engine was to let dad know there was a racer next door’

‘Rocky was a terrific bloke, i was 13/14 and liked him a lot. I often travelled with he and his girlfriend Robyn Atherton between race meetings. Rocky’s dad died some years back and Lex quickly became someone Rocky looked up to. A bit of a father figure and as time went on dad spoke of Rocky as his protege. Dad was famous for his Dame Nellie Melba (Australian opera singer) like retirements and comebacks but he knew his time to retire wasn’t too far off. The one of these i remember most was during one of the Albert Park meetings when we had Stirling Moss staying with us, we spent the whole weekend on a boat in the middle of Albert Park Lake so dad wouldn’t be tempted to get involved!’.

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Tresise scoots thru The Esses in the Triumph 2000 Mk1 he shared with Lex at Bathurst in 1964 (autopics)

Rocky, having gained useful experience, but not winning any races in his stock car, realised he would not be competitive without extensive and expensive modifications to the MGA.

RT had met Jack Hunnam racing a Morris 850 in the same team during the 1962 Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island, Hunnam sold Rocky his Lotus 18 Ford FJ, Hunnam was moving up to an Elfin.

The MG was sold, his road car an A Model Ford, his goal of an open-wheeler the important next step was a choice made with Davo’s advice. Rocky’s first race in the car was at Calder in January 1963, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory touching wheels with another and having it aviate over the top of his Lotus.

In another race a rear suspension failure resulted in a spin, these mechanical problems were typical of his 1963 but he worked hard at night at Hunnams to better prepare the car whilst Lex assisted with advice on race craft, lines and so on. His first success, a 3rd in the 1963 Australian FJ championship. Tim Schenken later bought the Lotus which was an important part of his ascension.

After that success Rocky managed 4 wins and a 2nd from 5 starts in FJ events. By this stage he was working fulltime as a hardware salesman for the family business. Chris Davison did some research and identified WP Tresise & Co Pty. Ltd. with outlets in Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Lower Malvern Road, East Malvern as the family company.

On April 9 1964 Tresise (real name Rodney) was given the ultimate 21st birthday present when Lex gave him an Ecurie Australie pocket emblem as a welcome to the team, he was to drive the Cooper T62 at the 19 April Victorian Trophy Sandown meeting.

‘Dad wasn’t an easy bloke, he was a stickler and a tough disciplinarian so he would have had Rocky under a tight rein and insisting on him doing as he was asked. The famous occasion was when Rocky ran off at the bottom of Conrod at Bathurst during the 500 and arrived back at the pits…’what about getting the car son!’ was dads response!’

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During lunchtime on the Friday before the April Victorian Trophy meeting Lex drove the circuit with Rocky in his DB4 Aston. They stopped at various points to discuss lines, gear change and braking points and then played ‘follow the leader’, Lex in the Brabham, Rocky the Cooper.

Tresise got his times down to mid 14’s, the lap record then was Brabham/McLaren’s 1:8.1. Tresise  ‘I thought I’d be frightened of the car, but I wasn’t. Even when it’s sitting still you know it’s tremendously fast, everything is so functional but the biggest thing about it is it’s fantastic acceleration’ he quipped.

Spencer Martin was having his second start in the Scuderia Veloce Brabham Climax both of the young drivers performed well albeit Rocky fluffed a gear off the grid causing engine failure later in the race.

In the 15 lap feature he was last into Shell Corner, having botched a change but got his times down to the mid 12’s, up to 5th by lap 4 and on lap 10 3rd behind Stillwell and Lex after Frank Matich retired from the lead. On lap 13 the engine popped but 1:12.3 was good after only half an hour behind the wheel of what was one of the fastest single-seaters on the planet at the time. These 2.7 litre FPF Climax engined cars were quicker than the 1.5 litre F1’s of the day.

Lex Davison had this to say of Tresise in his AMS column; ‘…he has had over 60 starts. This is more than Bib Stillwell, Bill Patterson, Doug Whiteford, Stan Jones or myself had in our first 10 years of racing. His driving has improved gradually and after the usual errors of youth, over-confidence and inexperience he has developed a businesslike and earnest approach to driving racing cars’.

During 1964 Davison and Tresise shared a Triumph 2000 in the Bathurst 500 finishing 8th in class D, the race was won by the Bob Jane/Harry Firth Ford Cortina Mk1 GT.

In November 1964 Tresise borrowed Ian Kaufman’s ex-works Frank Matich driven Elfin for the Victorian 1500cc Championship, the final of five rounds of the Lucas/Davison Trophy Series. Rocky was 4th outright and won the 1100cc class in the race taking out the 1100cc championship, the car prepared by Lou Russo ‘in such good shape that some of the 1500cc cars couldn’t get near it’, the Australian Motor Sports race report said.

Hunnam won the series from Leo Geoghegan’s Lotus 27, Tresise was 5th in the pitscore and Lex presented Geoghegan and Rocky their trophies. Interestingly AMS records Alan Jones racing Stan’s Cooper T51 Climax in a special handicap race ‘Alan handled the big car well to come 2nd’ to Bib Stillwell’s Cooper Monaco Buick.

Ecurie Australie December 1964

Ecurie Australie in the Warwick Farm paddock during the Hordern Trophy weekend, December 1964. L>R Jon Davo, Lou Russo, Lex, Alan Ashton, Rocky, Peter Davo and Warwick Cumming, Brabham BT4 left and Cooper T62 right (Chris Davison Collection)

As stated earlier Tresise contested the ‘Hordern Trophy’ at Warwick Farm over the weekend of 5/6 December 1964.

Rocky finished third in the Cooper T62, the nearly 1 hour race great preparation for the internationals Tresise was to contest that summer. The quicker 2.5’s of Matich and Stillwell didn’t finish the race but Rocky finished in front of Lex who was 4th. Leo Geoghegan and Greg Cusack were 1st and 2nd in Ford/Lotus 1.5 powered Lotus 32 and Elfin FJ respectively.

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Rocky in the T62 at Warwick Farm during the ‘Hordern Trophy’ 1964 (Bruce Wells)

 

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He may not have been the youngest driver in the field but Davo could still make a car dance; here left on the front row in Brabham BT4 alongside Clark’s Lotus 32B and Hills Brabham BT11A, NZGP Pukekohe 1965 (Jack Brabham with Doug Nye)

1965 Tasman Series…

The ’65 Tasman was won convincingly by Jim Clark’s Lotus 32B Climax, who started his amazing 1965 season with a bang. That year he won the Tasman, Indy and his second F1 World Championship.

Lex raced his Brabham BT4 in the season opening NZ GP at Pukekohe starting off the front row and proving their was very much still ‘life in the old dog’ starting alongside Hill and Clark and ahead of all the rest including Brabham, Gardner, McLaren, Phil Hill and others. It was an amazing performance which deserved better than a DNF with overheating on lap 33.

He chose not to race the remaining Kiwi rounds, shipping the car back to Oz, direct to Sydney where Ecurie Australie, Lex in BT4 and Rocky in T62 contested the ‘Warwick Farm 100’ on 14 February.

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Rocky has the Cooper T62 on tippy-toes as he finesses the big,powerful car around the technically challenging ‘Farm circuit 14 February 1965 (Bruce Wells)

Clark won the race, Rocky was 9th, 3 laps behind Clark with Lex withdrawing on lap 3 with a broken steering wheel, not the first time that had happened to him! Rocky’s was a good performance, he was behind the 1.5’s of Roly Levis and Leo Geoghegan but he still lacked miles in the car.

wf roc and bib

Tresise ahead of Bib Stillwell during the Tasman ‘Warwick Farm 100’, Cooper T62 and Brabham BT11A, Bib first resident local home in 4th 14 Feb 1965 (Bruce Wells)

Racing in this company and finishing was a fillip to his confidence. It was only his third meeting in the car. The top 6 were Clark, Brabham, Matich, Stillwell, Hill G and Jim Palmer, drivers of vast experience and calibre…

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Lex in the Brabham BT4 at Warwick Farm during his last race, a broken steering wheel the cause. Thats the Ecurie Australie badge to the right of the mirror. He died at Sandown 6 days later (Bruce Wells)

Sandown Tasman Meeting, 20 February 1965…

The teams then pointed their trucks south down the Hume Highway, from Sydneys western outskirts horse racing venue to Melbournes eastern outskirts horse racing facility, Sandown Park.

During that tragic weekend Lex Davison died when his Brabham left the circuit on a Saturday practice session in an undemanding part of the track, the gentle right hand kink on the back straight, he went over a culvert and hit the horse racing perimeter fence coming to rest some distance further on in the circuit infield.

Chris Davison, a racer himself; ‘Dad had done a few ‘Nellie Melba’s’, retired and come back. He’d had some warnings about his heart from the doctor. What is probable is that something happened to his heart, maybe not an attack as such but he may have momentarily blacked out, the car following him, Glynn Scott, said the car turned inexplicably left and we lost him as a consequence of the collision itself. Days later his badly damaged helmet was delivered home to Clendon Road by a couple of policemen, I’m still not sure where it is now after all these years’.

I don’t propose to go into this further, the salient facts above are sufficient.

The result was that one of Australian motor racings greatest, a titan since the 1940’s was lost.

Rocky’s Cooper was of course, withdrawn from the meeting.

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Chris Davison; ‘I really like this photo with all the Davo clan and a young Rocky. Taken at the Vic Trophy Race at Calder in 1963. That’s me wearing Dad’s cap and Richard with Rocky at the back wheel’ Cooper T62 (autopics)

The impact of Davison’s death cannot be overstated in Melbourne at the time…

Lex was a four time AGP and the inaugural Gold Star title winner, a well known sportsman in a city obsessed with sport. He was a successful, respected businessman, Paragon Shoes, the business his father started was an employer of a large number of people. A good looking athletic bloke, his wife Diana was an attractive woman so they cut a fine figure as a couple in Melbourne at a time it was small. It was big, very sad news for the broader populace let alone the Davison family and extended network.

Enthusiasts of a particular age remember what they were doing when they heard the news on 20 February 1965, it was one of ‘those’ events in ones lifetime.

Aussie GP driver Tim Schenken, a Melburnian provided a personal perspective in a MotorSport interview ‘…in 1964 Rocky Tresise was selling his Lotus 18 because he was joining Lex Davison’s team. I borrowed the money from my dad to get it. Now I was in a proper racing car started attracting a bit of attention at Calder, Winton, Tarrawingee and Sandown…’

‘Then out of the blue Lex Davison called. He was a major figure of course and a real hero of mine. He told me he was going to retire and Rocky Tresise was going to take over his big single-seaters. He’d watched me in the Lotus 18 and wanted to put me in his Elfin. (Lex had paid a deposit on a new Elfin 100 ‘Mono’ 1.5 Ford) It was unbelievable for me’. Barely a week after Lex’ conversation with Tim, Lex died at Sandown and then Rocky the weekend after that at Longford.

‘Because of Lex’s status in Australia, there were hundreds of people at his funeral in Melbourne’s St Patricks Cathedral including Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. I’d never been to a funeral before and it was dreadful. On the coffin was a chequered flag his helmet and gloves. I didn’t know anyone, I just hung around on the edge of it, very muddled about it all’.

‘It was terrible, Lex and Rocky dying on consecutive weekends. It just stunned everybody. The thing was the weekend after Rocky’s crash I was due to run for the first time under the Ecurie Australie banner at Calder in my Lotus 18. The newspapers got hold of it and were speculating about whether it would be three fatal crashes in 3 weekends. I went to see Diana Davison and she pleaded with me not to race at Calder. I was under a lot of pressure not to drive; I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents about it but all I wanted to do was to go racing. I was a very confused boy’, Tim raced the Lotus at Calder entered in his own name, the transmission broke on the startline.

Matich Rocky Tresize Warwick farm 1964

Frank Matich, left and Rocky at Warwick Farm during the Hordern Trophy meeting in December 1964 (autopics)

Australian Grand Prix, Longford 1 March 1965…

Chris Davison ‘Longford was usually one of ‘my’ races as a kid so i knew the place well. A few days after dads funeral which was huge, it was like a State funeral so many people attended, the city was brought to a standstill, i was still numb just trying as a kid to absorb what had happened. It was like looking outside watching people going about their daily lives and wondering why they didn’t see what you are going through, that things weren’t the same at all’.

‘Rocky and dads team; Alan Ashton, Lou Russo and Warwick Cumming came to the house to see the family and find out if they should race the car the following weekend at Longford. To go or not to go was the call we had to make. Over all these years when this question comes up i ask people what you would do, what would you have decided was the right thing? Most say ‘race on in Lex’s honor’ which is of course what we decided’.

And so the scene was set. Ecurie Australie crossed Bass Straight on the overnight ‘Princess of Tasmania’ voyage. After berthing in Devonport the team took the short drive to Longford, a picturesque village 25km from Launceston, Tasmania’s ‘northern capital’ in the Apple Isles northern midlands.

The race was always held on a long weekend and was well supported by non-motor racing type Taswegians as a major sporting event on their calendar, over 30000 attended the ’65 event.

This 1964 documentary footage captures the essence of the place and its inherent dangers in a modestly powered sedan, let alone a GP car, click here to see and enjoy it;

Overseas visitors to Oz doing a ‘motor racing tour’ should include Longford amongst your ‘must visit’ circuits. Other circuits/ex-circuits whilst itinerary planning are Phillip Island and Albert Park in Victoria, Mount Panorama at Bathurst NSW, and the Lobethal and Nuriootpa road courses in SA’s Barossa Valley. Lobethal is amazing. Checkout the Adelaide GP street circuit whilst you are in town of course.

longford rocky

Middle of the grid before the ‘Examiner Trophy’ preliminary race. Stillwell #6 Brabham BT11A, Matich BT7A and Frank Gardner in the yellow Mildren BT11A with Rocky in the red Cooper T62 in the row behind (Stephen Dalton)

Rocky hadn’t raced on the demanding, dangerous, fast, over 100mph average speed and technical road circuit before. Lex wasn’t there to guide him. Its intriguing to know who looked after him in terms of getting his head around the circuit and his approach to it that weekend with all of the tragedy of the week before at the forefront of his mind. He was a very brave young fella of great character to race.

He practiced and started the preliminary race ‘The Examiner Road Racing Championship’ without incident. Bruce won from Jack and Graham Hill, Rocky was 10th.

He had misgivings about contesting the main race ‘The South Pacific Trophy’ on the Monday though.

‘Racing Car News’ and ‘History of The Australian GP’ journalist Ray Bell recalled on The Nostalgia Forum in 2015 ‘Rocky did have some serious misgivings about driving in the race. He’d been talking to (Tasmanian racer) Lynn Archer earlier in the day. Lynn told him if he didn’t feel like driving he should tell the team and pack the car away, but it was his decision and nobody else could make it for him’.

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The Ecurie Australie Cooper T62 is pushed onto the grid for its last fateful race in Rocky’s hands 1 March 1965 (oldracephotos.com)

 

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Start of the AGP Longford 1965. Graham Hill BT11A on the right gets away well with Brabham BT11A in the middle and winner McLaren Cooper T79 at left. #8 is Clark’s Lotus 32B, #7 Gardner’s Brabham BT11A, #11 is Phil Hills Cooper T70, #3 Matich BT7A and Stillwell alongside Frank in the dark BT11A, Tresise in #12 T62 is to Bibs left with Bob Jane in the light colored Elfin Mono Ford 1.5 beside and behind Rocky #15 is Jack Hobden’s Cooper T51 and #9 Bill Patterson’s light coloured Cooper T51 (Howard)

In terms of the Grand Prix itself, Bell summarised it thus; ‘ It was a stinking hot day, we saw the greatest race I ever saw. A contest that had four World Champions (Phil and Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark) and a multi-times second placegetter (not to mention Tasman Champion, Bruce McLaren) at each others throats for the whole distance…Phil Hill had his last open-wheeler race, it was more than that to him. It was the best race he ever drove in his opinion and when I reflect on what I saw that day it certainly was a great drive’.

longford map

The road narrows beyond Mountford Corner as the cars pass the end of the pits which is where the accident ocurred. You can see from the start shot above how wide the circuit is in that start/finish/pits area of the track

Rocky‘…had trouble all weekend getting first gear out of Mountford. The first time he got it right (that is selected and used 1st gear from the tight corner) was at the end of that first lap, then he came boiling out of the hairpin passing 1.5 cars one after the other. Tragically that’s why he ran out of room (where the circuit narrows). I’d met Robin d’ Abrera just a few weeks earlier, he was with Peter Bakalor whom I’d known for a year or two. He was really enjoying being with the other photographers and following this important series for Autosport.’

‘So for Anthony Davison, the family representative that day, a young man, (17)  after running across to the crash site and learning of Rocky’s death, he had that to deal with before, an hour or so later, having to present the new trophy named in his fathers honour to Bruce McLaren’ the race winner in his Cooper T79. Jack was next, 3 seconds behind in his BT11A and Phil Hill a further second back in Bruce’ Cooper T70.

longford bruce

Bruce McLaren won the tragic ’65 AGP in a great drive, Cooper T79 Climax. Two motorcyclists also perished at Longford that weekend, an incredibly black one for the sport (Howard)

The Davison family ordeal was far from over though, Bell; ‘The night of the race Anthony, Peter and Jon (Davison) flew back to Essendon Airport, Melbourne and went straight to the Tresise home. There Rocky’s older brother and sister were waiting to hear what happened to their brother. The older brother asked Jon (a decade later a leading F5000 racer) ‘He kept his foot down when he should have backed off’ said Jon. It was that simple. The road has narrowed as he ranged alongside Glynn Scott (Lotus 27 Ford 1.5), with two wheels in the dirt the car lost traction, skewed sideways and started the crazy flight that took the lives of Rocky and Robin d’Abrera’.

Chris Davison; ‘I didnt go to Tasmania that year in all the circumstances of course but i can still recall arriving home from rowing practice on the Monday evening (of the South Pacific Trophy in which Tresise died) and a friend of the family giving me the news about Rocky’s accident. I was devastated, the team, dad, Rocky dead. It was just too much for a kid to absorb, tragic on so many levels. Rocky had two other brothers, one was an army officer, David, Ian the other brother was at the races decades later when David Purley raced here in the LEC sponsored Lola T330 F5000, he had some sort of connection with that company. Rocky was special, he was kind and generous to me, gave me space that was sometimes hard to get with my older brothers dominating the space’.

As to the future of the Tresise family little is known, Chris; ‘Rocky’s mother was Val Tresise, she married some years after Rocky was killed…a man from Western Victoria, or Penola in South Australia, i think his name was Arch de Garris. Rocky’s fiancé was Robyn Atherton and sadly I have no idea what happened to Robyn after Rocky was killed. I guess I was too young to really understand what was happening in those difficult years after both Lex and Rocky were killed, and by the time I was 17, I just wanted to get on with my own life, so I went bush as a jackaroo at Hay and lost contact with many people. The person who was all knowledgeable on these matters was my mother and sadly she has taken all this knowledge with her’.

Anything i say at this point would be trite or superfluous. I am very thankful to Chris for discussing and sharing his recollections of this quite extraordinary fortnight in the lives of the Davison and  Tresise families.

The remains of the Ecurie Australie Brabham and Cooper were advertised and bought by Victorian racer Wally Mitchell who used some of the components to build the ‘RM1 Climax’ sportscar.

Mitchell crashed the car at Symmons Plains on 12 March 1967 suffering burns which claimed him, he died on 18 April, to make the story even more macabre.

Prior to his demise historian Stephen Dalton advises his uncle, John Dalton had done a deal with Mitchell to acquire the T62 bits, these components passed to John after delicate discussions with his distraught widow.

Dalton; ‘I remember it under my uncles house at Olinda during the September school holidays of 1978, I was earning some money tidying things up to put more MG stuff under there! I was 13 and didn’t know the sad history of the car at the time’.

‘The car remained a crumpled wreck until the mid to late eighties when a new chassis was built by Charlie Singleton, the car was displayed in chassis form at one of Paul Sabine’s Classic Car Shows in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Things went pear shaped financially and John sold it in the early 1990’s. By the time it was displayed Roger James had ownership and perhaps Richard Bendell was involved. I think Gary Dubois built the body for it’.

The car was sold to the ‘States in the early 1990’s and has been sold a couple of times since when I saw it at Sandown Historics in 2014, but I’m not sure who owns it’, but it seems the car is now owned by an American enthusiast.

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Bruce McLaren winning the 1962 AGP at Caversham in the Cooper T62 Climax (oldracephotos.com)

The Cursed Car?…

Its a fact that a whole swag of people closely associated with the Cooper T62 died before their time, not just the obvious four; McLaren, Davison, Tresise and Wally Mitchell. Later owners or part owners John Dalton and Roger James died early, so too Paul Higgins a respected Melbourne journalist ‘attached’ to the Davison team who was murdered along with his wife in gruesome circumstances twenty years ago.

The above are facts not the stuff of a fictional thriller. For those of us a little superstitious the reality is that some cars shouldn’t be rebuilt, but buried. Perhaps this is one such car…

Etcetera…

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Cooper T62 upon completion at an early Goodwood test in late 1962 prior to shipment to Fremantle, WA (Mike Lawrence)

 

McLaren in the Lakeside paddock in early 1963, Tony Shelly behind (B Williamson)

 

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Alan Ashton aboard Lex’ T62 at Mallala, Gold Star round 14 October 1963. Behind is Stillwell’s Cooper Monaco and Pat Hawthorn’s Aston Martin DBR4, blue #16 is Mel McEwin’s Elfin FJ Ford. John Youl won this race in a Cooper T55 (Kevin Drage)

 

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Credits and Bibliography…

Chris Davison who was very generous with his time and insights into a very difficult part of his life as a young teenager

‘History of The AGP’ by Graham Howard and Ors in particular the 1962 and 1965 chapters written by Howard and Des White

‘The Nostalgia Forum’ threads in relation to Lex and Rocky in particular the contributions/insights of Ray Bell and Stephen Dalton

‘Australian Motor Sports’ June 1964 issue, the Melbourne ‘Age’ newspaper 20 February 1965

‘MotorSport’ interview with Tim Schenken

Stephen Dalton Collection, Chris Davison Collection John Ellacott, Terry Walker, oldracephotos.com, Milton McCutcheon, Peter Longley, Ellis French, Geoff Smedley, Ron Lambert Collection, Denis Lupton, Geoff Smedley, autopics.com.au, Murray Lord, Bob Williamson

Tailpiece: Davo in the best of company: Graham Hill’s Brabham BT4, Davison’s Cooper T62 and the white nose of Jim Palmer’s Cooper T53 Climax, Longford 1964

coop lex

(Ron Lambert Collection)

Finito…

lex davo rob roy

This fine George Thomas shot of Lex Davisons’ Alfa Romeo P3 ‘50003’ is undated but is in the mid-fifties, its become exposed over time which adds to its patina and drama of the occasion…

This wonderful Grand Prix car had to ‘sing for its supper’ in Australia, events were few and far between in the early post-war years. Davison was a keen competitor who raced his cars far and wide in trials, rallies, circuit races and hillclimbs like this one at the ‘Christmas Hills’ in Melbourne’s outer east.

The venue is still used by the MG Car Club, perhaps one of their historians can help date the shot.

Photo Credit…

George Thomas

bib

Bib Stillwell’s new fangled Cooper T43 Climax leads Stan Jones olde world Maserati 250F off Long Bridge towards Newry Corner, Longford 3 March 1958…

Ted Gray’s Lou Abraham’s owned Australian Special, ‘Tornado 2 Chev’ took the win in ‘The Longford Trophy’. There was life in front engined cars yet, Jones took the 1959 Australian Grand Prix at Longford in his fabulous Maserati, albeit assisted by the absence of 2.5 litre Climax engined Coopers, that would change soon enough.

Stillwell was still learning his craft, his time at the top came in the sixties with four Australian championships ‘on the trot’ from 1962 to 1965…

Introduction…

As usual photo’s have stimulated the article, this time a great series of shots Lindsay Ross of oldracephotos.com posted on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ of the Tasmanian event. The fact that Tornado won this and other races makes the car one of the great Australian Specials up there with the Charlie Dean/Stan Jones/Repco Maybach and the crazy-innovative Chamberlain brothers built Chamberlain 8.

I didn’t so much see the Tornado as hear it for the first time. I was at Sandown in the 1970’s and heard what i thought was an F5000 on circuit, in fact it was Tornado, small block, injected Chev V8 powered. I made a bee-line for the car in the paddock and marvelled at the smarts behind its construction and the ‘balls of steel’ of the fella who raced it in period.

Other tangents in this article are the Tornado’s pilot, Ted Gray about whom little has been written, the 1958 Gold Star series and AGP which he deserved to, should the planets have been better aligned, won!

stns car fettled

(Walkem Collection)

Otto Stone, leaning over the Maser’s engine and John Sawyer fettle Stan Jones’ 250F in the Longford paddock. Jones’ performances in the car improved once Stone started preparing it. By 1958 they understood the Italian stallion’s nuances and Stan’s driving was a little more of a ‘percentage game’ than a ‘win or bust’ approach. Dividends were Gold Star victory in 1958 and AGP win in 1959.

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Arnold Glass in his ex-works/Reg Parnell Ferrari 555 Super Squalo. He was 3rd ahead of Doug Whiteford and Len Lukey. The bucolic pleasures and ever-present dangers of Longford readily apparent (oldracephotos.com)

The entry for the third round of the Australian Drivers ‘Gold Star’ Championship race was one of great depth for the day and reflected competitor interest in Longford, allocated a round of the championship for the first time that year…

Arnold Glass had raced his Super Squalo since November 1957, having bought the car off John McMillan who raced it for a short time when sold to him by Reg Parnell. The car was an ex-works 1955 555 Super Squalo. I wrote about it a while back, click here to read the article; https://primotipo.com/2015/08/25/arnold-glass-ferrari-555-super-squalo-bathurst-1958/

miller and patterson

Austin Millers Cooper T41Climax FWB 1.5 Climax ahead of Bill Patterson’s Cooper T39 Climax (oldracephotos.com)

Coopers were starting to arrive in Australia in numbers, the transition from front engined Grand Prix cars and Australian Specials to ‘reasonably priced’ mid-engined cars, the first of which were Coopers was underway.

Jack Brabham won the first mid-engined AGP victory with his Cooper T40 Bristol at Port Wakefield in 1955, but that was a lucky win and flattered to deceive, at the time anyway.

By March 1958 Stirling Moss had won Cooper’s first World Championship GP win in Argentina, by the end of the year the ‘paradigm shift’ was pretty clear, despite the lack of a 2.5 litre Coventry Climax engine.

doug and arnold

Whiteford, Maserati 300S #4 and Glass, Ferrari 555 Super Squalo in the Longford form-up area (Walkem Collection)

Doug Whiteford’s ex-works Maser 300S was an outright contender in Formula Libre championship events in Australia when he first bought it after the 1956 Olympic GP meeting, won by Stirling Moss in a 250F, at Albert Park. Despite Doug’s artistry behind the wheel, he was still one of the countries best drivers, the Maser was finding the going tough with so many fast single-seaters around by 1958.

Arnold Glass was not of the same calibre or experience as Whiteford but drove the Ferrari well and shone in 1959 when he acquired the ex-Hunt/Stillwell 250F, which was a more forgiving and faster car.

Lou Abraham’s Melbourne built Tornado Chev was one of the greatest of Australian Specials of the 1950’s. The big V8 engined, ladder frame chassis car, capably driven by Ted Gray was easily capable of taking the Gold Star and the AGP at Bathurst in 1958 with more luck and reliability. It was to be a mixed but successful Tasmanian weekend for the team.

The 1958 Longford Trophy…

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Ted Gray in the victorious, big, blue, booming Tornado 2 Chev, bellowing its way thru the beautiful Tasmanian countryside. Longford 1958 (oldracephotos)

The thrill of seeing some fast cars from the mainland attracted circa 40000 raceday spectators despite the possibility of rain.

Ted Gray was in bed with ‘flu, so Geelong’s Tom Hawkes did a few laps in the Tornado. Things got worse for the team in early practice on raceday when the cars gearbox failed. With the aid of  Hawkes and a Ford truck gearbox from a wreckers yard, Lou Abrahams and his crew replaced the unit in time to record a nominal practice time at the rear of a sports car race. Alec Mildren damaged his Cooper in a preliminary race so only 6 cars faced the starter for the 54 mile Longford Trophy race, if the race lacked quantity of starters it certainly had quality.

Bib Stillwell’s new Cooper Climax got the jump from Stan Jones’ Maser 250F, Gray’s Tornado, Arnold Glass’ Ferrari, Len Lukey’s Cooper Bristol and Doug Whiteford’s Maserati.

jones 2

Stan Jones, Maserati 250F, Longford 1958. Shot taken in practice, car bearing the scars of an attack on the local real estate or another car by Stanley (oldracephotos.com)

With 3 laps completed Stillwell held a small lead from fellow Melbourne motor trader Jones, the rest within 250 metres of each other. Stillwell retired with pinion trouble, Jones simultaneously lost the 250F’s 3rd gear. The Tornado took the lead on lap 4 from Jones, Glass, Whiteford then Lukey.

Gray extended his lead over Jones but was being progressively splattered with oil from the errant ‘box. He pressed on when the taste! of the oil made him aware the problem was the gearbox not the engine. Gray had also lost 1st and 2nd gears but the torque of the big Chev V8 was still an effective combination relative to Jones who was short 3rd, the Maser DOHC 6 cylinder engine less able to ‘plug the torque gaps’ than the Chevy.

Jones tried to chase Gray down but the Tornado took the win several seconds from Stan, the big, wonderful Chev engined Special clocked 147.5 mph over the measured mile. Glass was 3rd, 8 seconds behind Jones then Whiteford and Lukey, less than 30 seconds separated the 5 cars after 54 miles.

Stan Jones won the Gold Star in 1958 with wins at Fishermans Bend and Phillip Island in Victoria and seconds at Orange, NSW, Longford and Lowood, the Queensland airfield circuit.

tornado AMS PW

Ted Gray in Tornado 2 Ford ahead of Stan Jones Maser 250F, Port Wakefield, South Australia  (Stephen Dalton Collection)

Lou Abraham’s Melbourne built Tornado’s were two of the great Australian Specials of the 1950’s...

The Tornado was no ‘flash in the pan’ it was built by a couple of wily racers and their team who knew their way around racing cars and V8’s. There were two cars, three really, the short life of Tornado 1 led to Tornado 2 but before both was a highly modified Alta V8.

Wangaratta, Victorian driver Ted Gray first came to prominence well before the war, when as a young motor apprentice he contested the events won by Peter Whitehead’s ERA R10B at Aspendale Speedway in Melbourne on 1 October 1938. Whilst Whitehead won the day and took the lap record, Gray nearly matched him in his motor cycle engined midget.

He almost did it again 2 months later coming close to Whiteheads ERA times at Rob Roy hillclimb in outer Melbourne, again driving the Alan Male owned midget. Alan Male’s career started as a salesman for the Fisher Norton agency in Melbourne, shortly thereafter starting a used car business which provided both the cashflow to pursue his racing passion and the means to promote his business.

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Ted Gray on the left and Colin Best on the last lap of a Speedcar event at Aspendale Speedway, Melbourne in 1939. Details of chassis’ and engines unknown  (vintagespeedway.com)

Gray also contested the January 30 1939 Rob Roy meeting when Frank Kleinig became the first driver to break 30 seconds in the famed Kleinig Hudson, perhaps the most famous of all Australian Specials, if not the most famous then certainly the longest lived.

As War loomed Gray raced one of the last pre-war Australian motor races at Wirlinga, Albury, on 17 June 1940. ‘The Male Special’ was the ex Alan Sinclair Alta 1100 fitted with a Ford V8, Alf Barrett was the scratch man but Gray was not giving the exotic GP Alfa Romeo Monza too much. Barrett won the 6 lap preliminary with Gray in 2nd, both failed in the 25 and 75 Mile Events.

There was the occasional event during the war years. In his book Jim Gullan recalls a three heat match race to raise money for charity between Gray in the Male Spl/Alta V8 and Jim’s Ballot Ford V8 at Aspendale Speedway; Ted won the first heat, Gullan the second and Ted by half a wheel the third ‘…we were lapping the dirt track at 80mph in one long sideways drift, it was exciting!’ Gullan recalled.

Gray set FTD at an early postwar Greensborough Hillclimb.

He contested the 100 Mile NSW Grand Prix at Bathurst in 1946 in the ex-Mrs Jones (Alfa 6C 1750SS) Alfa Ford V8, Gray 2nd to Kleinig in the over 1500cc handicap and 4th in the 100 Miler, Alf Najar’s MG TB Spl the victor.

Gray received a lot of publicity when he recorded a 73mph average in the Alfa V8 from Wangaratta to Melbourne to win a bet in 1946! These days there is a dual lane freeway from Albury to Melbourne but that was not the case post war, Ted would have been flying to do that time! No doubt he was well familiar with the Hume Highway, his home and motor dealership business were in Wang but at least one account records him having an engineering shop in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, now vibrant as the city’s ‘Chinatown’.

gray alta

Ted Gray in the Alta Ford V8, Fishermans Bend March 1954. 4th in the Victorian Trophy . This car still exists, restored by Graham Lowe to its original form in the mid ’80’s (SLV)

Around 1948 Gray re-acquired the Male Spl/Alta V8 he raced pre-war and fitted a Ford Mercury side-valve V8 which was fitted with a locally made OHV conversion by Lou Abrahams.

The car first ran in this form at Fishermans Bend in October 1952 and was competitive enough to place 4th in the 1954 Victoria Trophy at FB. The capacity of the chassis to handle the engines power had been reached so Gray and Abrahams decided to build a new car ‘The Tornado’ the name the same as those Lou applied to his boats.

gray 2

Another shot of the Abrahams/Gray #8 Alta V8 at the ‘Victoria Trophy’ meeting at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne on 22 March 1954. #3 is Lex Davison’s HWM Jag, winner of that years AGP at Southport, Queensland, and Jack Brabham in a Cooper Bristol (SLV)

Gray was obviously a talented, fast driver with mechanical sympathy, he often drove cars owned by others throughout his career.

The engine out of the Alta 1100 referred to above was built into a special by speedway racer Bill Reynolds in Melbourne. He built a neat ladder frame chassis and transverse spring suspension front and rear car. Passed into Bill Dutton’s hands, Gray raced it for him from late 1949, more often than not the Alta engine problematic.

ted gray bathurst

Gray in the Alta 1100 Spl at Bathurst in 1950, LF tyre off the deck (Historic Racing Cars in Aust)

Lou Abrahams, a wealthy but unassuming man started racing dinghy yachts in his teens but transferred his sporting inclinations to cars and speed boats, before later returning to yachts, his first Sydney/Hobart victory came in 1983 but that was all in the future.

In the fifties his ‘Louisco’ plastics and packaging business provided the cashflow for mechanical pursuits. Ian Mayberry whose father and uncle worked on Tornado recalls that Lou’s father owned the George Hotel in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Lou also had a screenprinting, fabrics and plastics business named Colortex Fabrics in Murrumbeena which he later sold to Nylex Ltd, becoming a board member of that large public company in the process.

lou abrahams

Lou Abrahams towards the end of his life, he died in February 2014 at 88. Cruising Yacht Club, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. He won Sydney-Hobart twice in 1983 and 1989, sailed it 44 (times, 43 consecutively, a record. He also sailed 7 ‘Fastnets, the biennial classic off Britain and Ireland  (unattributed)

 

fishos start

Flavour of the era. Love this Fishermans Bend shot; ‘Victoria Trophy’ meeting February 1958 with the front engined cars of Gray, Tornado 2 Chev and Jones Maserati 250F up the front. Policeman and his horse oblivious to the cacophony, note the ‘safety’ fence. Industrial heartland of western Melbourne in the background (Geoff Green)

Gray built the Tornado 1 chassis from formed box sections of sheet steel, the structure had boxed side and cross members and specially made cross-members front and rear to which the suspension was attached.

Ian Mayberry doesn’t recall how Lou, Ted and his uncle, Bill Mayberry met but the three of them were the teams core. Lou basically did the engines and between Ted and Bill they built the chassis and body and maintained the car.

Some of the bodywork was built at the panel business owned by Ians father Jack, who painted the cars and Bill, located at 248 East Boundary Road, East Bentleigh, a southern Melbourne suburb. Ted Grays workshop Ian believes at that stage, was in Coburg or Carlton, both inner Northern Melbourne suburbs. This workshop looked after retail customers but was also where the car was built and maintained.

Independent suspension was used front and rear; the front comprised a transverse leaf spring low down with upper control arms and shockers from a Peugeot. At the rear a transverse leaf spring was again used on top of Holden lower control arms.

tornado front end

Tornado 1 front suspension detail; Peugeot upper control arms and shocks, transverse leaf spring at the bottom. Brakes Chev drums with Mustang aircraft internals ‘They worked very well at Orange’ said AMS, but perhaps not so well at Bathurst later in the year! (AMS)

Lancia stub axles were grafted onto the Peugeot steering knuckles to take advantage of the centre lock wire wheels, steering was Peugeot rack and pinion.

Fabricated hubs were used at the back using Lancia splined hubs and wheels with Monroe Wylie telescopic shocks. The bridge type structure at the back housed a Halibrand quick change final drive, brought back from the States by Lou with various engine goodies. Dodge universals were used on the rear drive shafts.

tornado rear sus 2

Tornado 1 rear end; suspension by top transverse leaf spring and Holden wishbone below, diff a quick change Halibrand with Ford V8 crownwheel, brake drums Chev with P51 Mustang fighter mechanisms, note rear and 2 side fuel tanks, also crossply road tyres upon which the car is being raced, the car chewed its tyres, races lost as a consequence! (AMS)

Brake drums were Chev 11.5 diameter and 2 inches wide, the operating mechanism from a Mustang fighter aircraft and had ‘one cylinder operating a one piece self energising single shoe to each wheel. Ted figures they stopped 5 tons or so of P51 Mustang, so they should stop the Tornado…’

tornado engine

Tornado Ford Mercury based engine. Block cast iron, heads bespoke aluminium designed by Lou Abrahams. Shot of OHV gear and central ‘plugs, pump for Hilborn-Travers fuel injection at the engines front (AMS)

The engine was Abrahams responsibility and was unique as the first in Australia to use fuel-injection.

The Ford Mercury V8 was bored and stroked to over 5 litres, the most innovative element it’s locally cast aluminium, OHV heads designed by Abrahams to replace the side-valve originals. They featured hemispherical combustion chambers with valves; 1 7/8 inches inlet and 1 5/8 inches exhaust in size, inclined at an included angle of around 90 degrees operated by rockers from standard cam followers. ‘Plugs were centrally placed, the whole lot topped by attractive aluminium rocker covers which could be seen, seductively, through the bonnet sides.

Each exhaust port had its own pipe, the inlet ports had a cast light alloy stub incorporating an air butterfly and spray nozzle from the Hilborn Travers fuel injection system. A Scintilla magneto provided the spark with the water pump and clutch standard. Drive was via a standard Mercury gearbox with a close ratio gearset imported from the US.

tornado engine

Engine of Tornado 1 Ford on its Gnoo Blas debut at Orange, NSW in January 1955. Ford Mercury side-valve block with bespoke aluminium heads designed by Lou Abrahams in Melbourne . ‘Louab’ fuel injection Hilborn-Travers based. Nice lookin’ thing innit?  (oldracephotos.com/Devine)

 

Ted Gray and Tornado 1 Ford at Gnoo Blas, January 1955 (K Devine)

The frames to take the body were of round steel and ‘are part of the chassis’ ; one in front supported the radiator, there was another at the firewall and ‘another which carries the kitchen type Laminex instrument panel’ (!) and one behind the seat.

Pedals are pendant the brake master cylinders mounted into a beefy ‘top hat section arch’ under the scuttle. Instruments comprised tach, oil and fuel pressure, oil and water temperature and a push-pull switch for the magneto. Fuel was carried in three tanks, one in the tail and one either side of the driver.

tornado orange debut

Tornado 1 Ford on its debut at Gnoo Blas, Orange, January 1955 ‘…first outing last month showed that it will be a very impressive car in the very near future’ Note engine exposed thru bonnet (AMS)

When completed Tornado 1 Ford made its debut, painted white at Gnoo Blas, Orange in January 1955 where its potential was clear despite various teething problems. Back in Victoria in February the car retired from the 50 Mile Victoria Trophy held at Fishermans Bend with grabbing brakes, prophetic as things turned out, Lex Davison took the win in his HWM Jaguar. At Albert Park for the Argus Trophy in March, the big V8 placed 3rd in a heat and 5th in the final, Doug Whiteford the winner in his Lago Talbot T26.

Off to Bathurst in October for the NSW Road racing Championship and disaster.

Gray, running 4th in the ‘Group A’ race ‘was running neck and neck with Robinson’s Jaguar Spl…Down the straight for the last time and the white Tornado either locked a brake or touched Robinson’s rear wheel, sliding horribly out of control for over 150 yards before hitting a bank and a tree on the left, bits spraying down the road. Miraculously, a very lucky Ted Gray survived, receiving multiple fractures and severe shock but Tornado was a write-off. Rebuilt, its great days were yet to come’ said John Medley in his ‘Bathurst Bible’.

tornado bathurst

John Medley; ‘ Until seeing Garrie Cooper’s 1978 AGP accident (in an Elfin MR8 Chev F5000 at Sandown) i hadn’t seen one worse. In the overcast from up on Griffin’s Mount, all one could see was white bits flung down the road, rolling and bounding. Ted Gray wore white overalls and helmet. That he actually stepped out before collapsing is incredible’ (Bernard Coward photo in ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ by John Medley)

The two partners decided not to rebuild the rooted car but rather use what they could in Tornado 2, Abrahams incorporating all they had learned from the previous cars completed the reconstruction of the car with Bill Mayberry and other artisans whilst Gray was in hospital, recovery took 6 months.

Tornado 2 had a ladder frame steel chassis with 3 inch wide side members and incorpated most of the suspension and steering parts from Tornado 1 including the Peugeot steering, Lancia stub axle and Holden suspension components. The Halibrand diff, Ford engine and ‘box were also transferred from the old to the new. The P51 Mustang braking system was removed and replaced by a conventional drums all round setup built by Patons Brakes in Melbourne, eventually a Repco subsidiary.

Gray’s involuntary racing vacation was around 6 months, Abrahams and his team did an amazing job building the replacement so fast; the blue painted fibre glass bodied car made its debut in the hands of multiple Australian Hillclimb Champion, Bruce Walton at Albert Park in March 1956.

Walton performed well despite teething problems, an appearance at the Geelong Sprints resulted in a standing quarter mile of 15.1 seconds. The car was continuously modified throughout 1956 to get it running fast and reliably, the ‘high maintenance’ constantly cracking fibreglass body replaced by an aluminium one late in the year of the same shape.

Gray contested the 1956 AGP meeting at Albert Park won by Moss’s works Maserati 250F but the beast only lasted 15 laps before retirement. Its future competitiveness was underlined at the opening Phillip Island meeting in December 1956 with 2 wins on the very fast open circuit suited to the cars power and strong handling.

Tornado 2’s 1957 season commenced at Fishermans Bend in February, a tyre failed whilst holding 2nd place.

At Albert Park for The Victoria Trophy’ meeting on 24 March, 3rd behind Davison and Jones in Ferrari 500/625 and Maserati 250F a good result but retirement followed in the championship race, a Gold Star round that year, the first year for the prestigious annual award for Australia’s Champion driver.

gray albert park

On the Albert Park grid alongside Bob Jane’s Maserati 300S. Here Tornado 2 with low cut body sides and Ford engined (autopics.com/Peter D’Abbs)

The car failed to score any Gold Star points and later in the year a Chev Corvette 283 cid V8 engine replaced the faithful Ford/Abrahams V8.

Despite the ongoing development of the Ford Mercury based engine with its trick Abrahams head the lighter, over-square, OHV in standard form, small block Chev was the way to go with plenty of parts to improve the engines performance readily available in the US. The engine was sourced using contacts of Abrahams and Jack Mayberry at Holden.

tornado chev engine

Tornado 2 with Chev engine, bespoke rocker covers as with the Ford engine. Hilborn-Travers injection incorporated in specification, Vertex magneto clear. Circa 380 bhp claimed (Merv Bunyan Collection)

With Commonwealth Oil Refineries (soon to be BP) sponsored Australian Speed Records scheduled at Coonabarabran in central NSW on 28 September the small team had only a week to adapt the Chev to the Ford ‘box, fit the fuel injection system and fettle the thing into running order. The car was unloaded from its trailer on the long 620 mile tow from Melbourne to Coonabararan, over 200 miles was covered to run the engine in and refine its tune on public roads!

BP had chosen cars and drivers to attempt the various records which were held on a 4 mile stretch of road linking Coonabarabran with Coonamble via Baradine. The sealed aggregate surface was good and allowed high speeds but it was only 18 feet wide and had a pronounced crown.

Run off to the sides was limited by white posts, to the east by trees, to the west a railway line and a string of telegraph poles. Additional hazards were small dirt tracks to give farm access and a dirt road near the railway line both of which provided plenty of dust…a bend at each end of the 4 miles limited run-in and braking and slowing down.

Such attempts were best held in the cool of the morning for optimum engine performance but media needs meant they were held later in the day when the wind was gusting so no motorcycle attempts were made.

The Tornado was fitted with a 3:1 final drive ratio and 19 inch wheels with 5.25 inch wide tyres, Ted was aiming for over 160mph but magneto dramas limited revs to 5300rpm. The team lowered the ratio to 2.8:1 to reduce revs, achieving 157.53mph on the Sunday to take the outright record from Davison’s Ferrari 500/625, the very same chassis ‘005’ with which Alberto Ascari won his 1952/3 world championships, which was quicker the day before.

Tornado 2 created a sensation at 157.5 mph, the big, spectacular blue car thundering and bellowing across the plains on the long, flat public roads.

Straight to Bathurst from Coonabarabran for the NSW Road Racing Championships on 6 October, two years after the demise of Tornado 1. The cars aluminium fuel tank split, thefuel leak the cause of its retirement. The metal fatigue was overcome by sheathing the ‘ally tank in 1/2 inch thick fibreglass.

A week later at Fishermans Bend was more successful, Gray taking a strong win

1958 Gold Star Season…

tornado

Tornado Chev in the Bathurst paddock, AGP meeting 1958. Its derivative of the best GP cars of its day but has a beauty all of its own. Bill Mayberry built the Tornado bodies (Kevin Drage)

Whilst of ‘plebian origin’ in comparison to its main competitors for the 1958 Australian Drivers Championship; Davison’s and Arnold Glass Ferrari 500/625 and 555 Super Squalo, Stan Jones and Doug Whiteford’s 250F and 300S Maserati’s and the Mildren, Lukey, Miller, Hawkes Coopers of front and mid-engined inclination. Tornado 2 was much more than the sum of its parts and had consistently shown championship winning speed if not reliability.

Perhaps one of the great injustices of ‘motor racing’s world of mighta beens’ is Tornado 2’s failure to win the Gold Star in 1958 just when it neeeded to as the mid engined tide came in.

It was not until 1971 that an Australian built car won the AGP and Gold Star, that honor going to Frank Matich in his Matich A50 Repco at Warwick Farm in late 1971.

The 1958 Gold Star comprised 9 meetings in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland; a big program of travel in the days when the continent was the same size as now without todays road  network!

1958 Season/Gold Star Series…

gnoo blas

Tornado 2 at rest, Gnoo Blas, 1958 (Ian McKay Collection)

South Pacific Trophy, Gnoo Blas, Orange NSW 27 January.

Gray chased Brabham’s Cooper in 2nd, set the first 100mph lap of the circuit and retired with a misfire, Brabham won the race from Jones Maser and then set-off for his European season.

tornado fishos

Handsome beastie that it is! Tornado 2 Chev in the Fisherman’s Bend paddock February 1958. Spectators cars Jag Mk7 ? and Holden FB (Geoff Green)

Victoria Trophy, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, Victoria 23 February.

‘The Carnival of Motor Racing’ was a combined car and motorcycle meeting.  Jones won a close race from pole. Gray qualified 2nd and ran 2nd until he had throttle linkage problems, he returned to the race but later retired. Jones won from Glass’ Ferrari and Whiteford’s Lago.

fishos first lap

First lap at Fishermans Bend, the flat industrial landscape clear in this shot. The big front engined cars of Glass and Jones with Gray obscured on the outside lead the pack (Geoff Green)

Longford Trophy, Tasmania 3 March.

Covered at this articles’ outset. A win for Gray’s Tornado after practice dramas.

fishos 3

Tornado 2 Chev, Fishermans Bend, February 1958. Good front suspension shot showing the Peugeot top wishbone/shock and transverse lower leaf spring (Geoff Green)

South Australian Trophy Race, Port Wakefield, South Australia 5 April.

Jones led the race until his radiator was blocked by straw from a haybale he attacked, Lukey’s Cooper Bristol won from Austin Miller’s Cooper. Gray didn’t enter.

tornado lowood

Gray kept the lead at Lowwod on 15 June for most of the race but slowed towards the end when the ‘breaker strips’ on his rear tyres started to show, allowing Mildren to take the lead (AMS)

Queensland Road Racing Championship, Lowood, Queensland 15 June.

Jones led until problems with the Masers rear end caused its retirement. Gray led Mildren’s Cooper until Tornado’s tyres started to shred towards the races end, Gray’s easing gave Mildren the win from the Tornado and Lukey’s Cooper Bristol.

The Tornado turned the tables on Mildrens Cooper the following day at Gnoo Blas, Orange when Gray won the ‘Canoblas Trophy’ a 55 mile race with the Cooper 2nd, the event contested by 17 cars. Tornado was timed at 153mph and Mildrens 2 litre Cooper T43 Climax at 145mph.

The dedication of competitors at the time is absolute; it was an 825 mile all night drive from Lowood to Orange. ‘The Canberra Times’ reported ‘The Queensland Grand Prix finished at 4.30pm…each in private cars towing the racing cars, they left Lowwod at 5.30pm and travelling in company most of the way arrived at Orange at about 8am.

‘They then prepared their cars, practiced…started a 4 lap scratch race at noon and the Canoblas Trophy at 2.30pm…’

It wasn’t too far for Alec to then drive back to Canberra, where his business was then but Ted had a 325mile drive from Orange to Wangaratta to be at work on Tuesday, before towing Tornado back to Lowood again in late August, 875 miles, or a bit like driving from London to Rome without the autoroutes.

Lowood Trophy Race, Queensland 31 August.

Jones led from Gray and eventually took him on the oil soaked track but this time the Tornado had diff problems . Mildren’s Cooper passed Jones, taking the win from Victorians Jones and Lukey.

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Finish of the VRRC Race at Fishermans Bend, October 1958. Gray won in the ‘red nosed’ Tornado, yellow car Austin Miller’s Cooper T41 Climax and Ern Seeliger’s blue Maybach 4 Chev (David Van Dal)

Victorian Road Racing Championships, Fishermans Bend 18 October.

The championship was not part of the Gold Star in 1958 and a week before the AGP at Bathurst so was perhaps a risky event to contest but it was an excellent one for the team, Gray won the race from Len Lukey’s Cooper Bristol with Austin Miller’s Cooper T41 Climax third

vrrc 2

41 year old Ted Gray getting the trophy and plaudits of the crowd. VRRC champ, Fishermans Bend 1958. Bill Mayberry in moustache and stocky Lou Abrahams in red  (Kevin Drage)

agp grid

Bathurst, 23 October 1958 grid; A preliminary race i suspect as the grid is not as for the AGP itself #12 Davison Ferrari 500/625, white nosed Ferrari Super Squalo of Kiwi Tom Clark with Tornado on the outside of row 1. Row 2 L>R Mildren’s Cooper T43 Climax, Merv Neil Cooper T45 Climax and Curley Brydon’s Ferrari Chev, the Jones Maser is obscured by Neil’s Cooper against the fence on row 3. Red clad Tornado crew looking on (David Van Dal)

Gray was on pole from Jones, Davison returning to racing in his unsold Ferrari 500/625, Neil’s Cooper T45 and Lukey’s Cooper Bristol.

Jones led Davison from the start, Ted’s strategy was to start with a light fuel load build a lead and stop later in the race for fuel. He soon passed Jones and Davo, the three cars ran spectacularly nose to tail for the next 12 laps.

bathurst nose to tail

Jones 250F leads Tornado across the top of Mount Panorama during their great dice (Alan Stewart Collection)

On lap 19 he made his stop but only had a lead of 10-12 seconds, then his stop was cocked up, taking another 25 seconds before setting off in chase.

On the first lap out he achieved the fastest standing lap of Mount Panorama ever, he was too fast though, boofing the fence at Skyline, damaging Tornado’s steering and suspension, the car retired 2 laps later.

He had led for 20 of 24 laps and set the fastest ever speed of 155.17mph recorded on ConRod Straight.

Jones led Davo for another 2 laps, until breasting the first hump on Conrod the 250F dropped a valve after 7 laps of clutchless gear changes.

Davison eased his pace, over 2 minutes ahead of Ern Seeliger in Maybach 4 Chev and Tom Hawke’s Cooper T23 Repco Holden.

It was one of the greatest AGP’s ever.

tornado melbourne

The new and old; Brabham’s Cooper T45 Climax 2 litre leads Ted’s Tornado and Jones Maser 250F on lap lap 2 of the ’58 Melbourne GP at Albert Park. Moss’ winning Cooper T45 is further up the road  (AMS)

Melbourne Grand Prix, Albert Park, Victoria 23 November.

Moss and Brabham disappeared into the distance in their 2 litre Cooper Climaxes, Gray retired whilst fastest local, Jones also withdrew with falling oil pressure, Whiteford, Stillwell Maser 250F and Len Lukey took the remaining Gold Star points.

Philip Island Trophy Race, Victoria 26 December.

Jones won the race and Gold Star in his GP Maser from pole, Mildren and Roxburgh were 2nd and 3rd in Cooper Climaxes. Gray didn’t enter and Stan Jones won the Gold Star he deserved.

1959 and Beyond…

Tornado was barely raced in 1959 which was a pity as Jones Maser 250F won the AGP at Longford early in the year and Gray finished 2nd to Stillwell’s Cooper at Bathurst in pouring rain for the NSW Road Racing Championship in October, Mildren’s Cooper was 3rd; there was life in the front engined cars still.

Perhaps with more reliability in 1959 after all the learnings of the hard year in 1958 the wonderful, big blue V8 could have prevailed but as the great Frank Gardner said ‘IF Yer Auntie Had Balls She’d be Yer Uncle’… Ifs, buts and maybe’s mean nothing in sport. But the speculation is fun!

Lou and Ted raced the car in the 1960 New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore on January 9. An interesting idea but they were on a hiding to nothing with the plethora of Cooper’s racing in Australasia by then. Brabham won from McLaren and Bib Stillwell all in Coopers. Tornado retired after 5 laps with magneto dramas.

bz gp

First lap of the 1960 NZGP, Ardmore, College Corner; #47 Bruce McLarens Cooper T45, #7 Moss Cooper T51 #4 Brabham Cooper T51 #18 David Piper Lotus 16 Climax, Gray in Tornado is at the rear of this shot on the outside of a Cooper, light colored band on the nose. 14 of the cars which started were front-engined so Ted was far from alone and with an engine not the largest in this F Libre race (sergent.com)

 

Symmons Plains March 1961. Mel McEwin in Tornado from Lex Sternberg Whiteford Climax and Bob Wright, Mercury V8 Spl (HRCCT)

Upon its return to Australia Tornado was sold to South Aussie, Mel McEwin who contested both the 1960 and 1961 Australian Grands’ Prix in it but the car was by now, like all other front-engined cars being blown off by 2.5 Litre FPF engined Coopers. The 2495cc variant of the FPF engine was now fairly common in ‘The Colonies’; scarcity in this part of the world gave the front engined cars a slightly longer front line racing life than would otherwise have been the case.

In the 1965/6 the car passed to ex-Cooper racer John McDonald as a ‘fun car’ after his frontline career finished but he had a massive accident in it at Calder ‘breaking the car in half’.

In the early 70’s the car was restored by McDonald in Canberra making its Historic Racing debut at Hume Weir, Albury on Boxing Day 1976.

The big, bellowing, blue Tornado has been an occasional starlet at historic events for decades, sold to Frank Moore, it has been a part of his collection of Australian Specials/Cars since 1999.

tornado cover

After this articles publication David Rapley, Australian Racer, Historian, Author and Restorer got in touch with his insights on Tornado, a car he fettles in Melbourne for its Queensland owner Frank Moore…

‘I was delighted to read your work on ‘The Tornado’ as Teddy Tornado is a great friend of mine having spent a lot of time with me in recent years. My comments/contribution is only of a very minor technical nature but I felt your work so good that I wanted to add it.

When Frank gave the me the car with a broken con-rod from an outing at the Melbourne GP it was in a very bad state. After inspection we concluded that the whole car had to be dismantled, crack tested and properly reassembled. Frank insisted that nothing should be repainted or anything done to modernise it-a welcome attitude after the over restored cars we mainly see these days at Historic meetings’.

‘The front suspension was a mess with badly cracked stub axles and pivot/king pins and steering arms. (I use these parts still for show and tell to ‘try’ and educate old car people in the danger of not crack testing-sadly largely a waste of time!) These were originals covered in weld, the stubs themselves being I believe Itala not Lancia.

The brakes on the car-front are single leading shoe with two wheel cylinders per side of Aero origin I believe War Hawk but could well be Mustang and clearly date back to Tornado 1. The drums are locally made and may be Patons only contribution as the rear brakes are A90 Austin or Healey. I have not found any period photo’s to date when they were fitted but looking at how they were mounted I would guess from the first building of Tornado 2′.

‘It is obvious that the rear transmission support box and lower wishbones were used straight from the earlier car but with a top wishbone added, the transverse spring only providing now suspension’.

‘We went to great lengths to find a 1958 correct block and Corvette heads but sadly this engine was sabotaged at a subsequent Melbourne GP by someone pouring steel shot down the inlet trumpets of the Hilborn injection in the supposedly secure display tent. The current engine has a correct block but they are getting very difficult to find’.

‘An interesting aside-after the car was wrecked at Calder the front suspension was sold off to a Hot Rodder; Richard Bendell was horrified, bought it back and gave it to McDonald to repair the car.

Pleased to report Teddy still has all his original aluminum body now much battered and cracked and as much as possibly all of its bitz and bobbs’.

tornado agp

Ellis French’s wonderful atmospheric shot of Ted Gray gridding Tornado 2 up for the 1959 AGP at Longford. DNF on lap 4 with a run main bearing, #5 is Len Lukey’s Cooper T45 Climax 2 litre 2nd . Lukey took the Gold Star title that year, at 12 rounds the longest ever (Ellis French)

Where Does Ted Gray and Tornado Fit in The Pantheon of Australian Motor Racing?…

There is not a lot published about Ted Gray. He was born in Wangaratta 140 miles from Melbourne its rich grazing country. Well known to Aussie racers, Wang is close to Winton Raceway.

Born in 1917 he was apprenticed as a motor mechanic and commencing racing career on Speedway’s the most popular and common branch of the sport in the 1930’s. He finished 2nd in the 1938/9 Victorian Speedcar Championship to George Beavis in a match race at Olympic Park, Melbourne.

He continued race on speedway’s into the late 1940’s whilst also road racing and had a massive accident at Maribyrnong Speedway in Melbourne’s west in December 1947. In a classic ‘interlocked wheels speedway prang’ Gray was thrown from his somersaulting car sustaining spinal injuries and extensive lacerations, recovering in the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

So his 1955 Tornado 1 Bathurst crash was not his first ‘Big One’. Clearly he was one tough nut as his speed after the Bathurst prang, he had a six month ‘holiday’ after it remember, was if anything faster after the prang than before it. These country boys are hard men.

In terms of his business, he was a partner in the local Ford Dealership in Wang. He also had workshops in Melbourne’s CBD and later Carlton or Coburg. It was in the latter that Ian recalls another bad accident in the early sixties when Gray’s legs were broken in a workshop accident in which he was pinned to a wall by an errant car.

The Australian Motor Sports Review Annual in 1958/9 rated a quartet of drivers ‘representing the ultimate performances in the 14 years since the war; Doug Whiteford, Lex Davison both triple AGP winners at the time (Davo later won a fourth) Len Lukey 1959 Gold star winner and Ted Gray.

Of Gray the review had this to say;

‘Ted Gray has been driving Lou Abraham’s Tornado since the car first raced. Winner of the Longford Trophy in 1958 and numerous other races his main claim to distinction is as Australia’s fastest recorded driver. In the Tornado at Coonabarabran, NSW in 1957, Gray recorded a new ‘Class C’ Australian record of 157.53mph, the fastest yet achieved in Australia.’

Quite how Stan Jones was overlooked in the quartet is beyond me. I wasn’t there at the time but Stan had won a lot of races including the NZ GP in 1954 by 1958, personally I would have popped him in front of Gray and Lukey.

None of which is to take anything from Ted Gray who was a vastly experienced and very fast driver. Further, he was one of that engineer/driver breed who had the skill to design, build, race, interpret the beasts needs and modify their steed further to make it competitive. Maybe Larry Perkins was the last Australian of Gray’s ilk?

I’m not sure when Ted Gray died and am interested to hear from anyone who can add more to his story.

That the small, clever, experienced and adequately funded team from Melbourne took on the best of European Grand Prix cars at the time was a great achievement. Its just a shame they don’t have the ’58 AGP and Gold Star to reflect Tornado’s speed…

tornado crew

The Tornado 2 Chev crew in 1958, circuit unknown. L>R Ted Gray, Lou Abrahams and Bill Mayberry in red (AMS Annual 1958/9)

Bibliography…

Special thanks to Ian Mayberry for his recollections and David Rapley for his comments on the car in modern times.

John Blanden ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’, Stephen Dalton Collection, Australian Motor Sports July 1956, The Canberra Times 18 June 1958, John Medley ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ and ‘John Snow: Classic Motor Racer’, Australian Motor Sports 1958 and 1959 annuals, Graham Howard Ed ‘The History of The AGP’, Stephen Dalton Collection, James Gullan ‘As Long as It Has Wheels’

Photo Credits…

oldracephotos.com stunning archive, thanks to Lindsay Ross, Walkem Collection, vintagespeedway.com, Ian McKay Collection, Kevin Drage, Geoff Green, David Van Dal, Alan Stewart Collection, sergent.com, Ken Devine Collection, Historic Racing Car Club of Tasmania

Tailpiece: One of the greatest ever AGP’s, Bathurst October 1958. Jones 250F, Gray Tornado and Davison Fazz 500/625 at it ‘hammer and tongs’ on a circuit to test the skillful and the brave…

stan bathurst

(AMS Annual)

Finito…

davo stobie pole

(State Library of South Australia)

At the daunting Barossa Valley Lobethal road circuit in January, 1948, Lex Davison, having borrowed the ‘Missus new MG TC had his first major crash. He went for the ‘wrong side’ to pass Gavin Sandford-Morgan’s MG and ran off the road, destroying this innocent ‘Stobie Pole’, the TC but fortunately not himself…

This is the story of Davisons MG TC Spl chassis #TC.0825 and more briefly the importance of MG as a marque to motor racing in Australia until the dawn of the sixties.

davo mg

Woodside 1949.Here the car is in its early supercharged form, suspension standard but for ‘Telecontrol’ shocks, finned brake drums and air scoops. (State Library of South Australia)

Diana Davison/Gaze recounts the story in Graham Howard’s biography of Lex…‘While he waited for the Alfa (Alfa Romeo P3/Tipo B Monoposto) to arrive, Lex entered the TC for the New Year’s meeting on the formidable 8.65 mile Lobethal public road circuit. He drove it over from Melbourne accompanied by Peter Ward and Lyndon Duckett in an old 6cylinder Vauxhall.

During practice they went off the road, slewed down the sloping grass verge, somersaulted, then hit a Stobie pole so hard the steel pole was bent into the shape of a question mark. The violence of the accident bent the MG’s chassis and tore off the driver’s door, the bonnet and the outer scuttle panelling. The alloy seat was bent, the rim of the steering wheel was broken away from the spokes, a front wheel smashed and its tyre gone. Lex had a chipped bone on one knee.

Naturally, I was dreadfully upset at losing the MG, as I had never owned a car before, but it had gradually disappeared from my hands. We had both driven it at Rob Roy, where Lex had coached me from the passenger’s seat, then Lex raced it at Nar Nar Goon grass track and I had competed at the final Killara Park Sprints – dashing back to the house between runs to check on baby Anthony, who usually travelled in the car in a wooden cradle fitted behind the seats.

I was just grateful that Lex wasn’t too badly injured’.

Chris Davison, Diana’s son recently recalled ‘ The story goes that mum was getting tired of being left out, so Lex bought her the MG to ensure she was part of the team. Motor racing then bacame a real family affair. Smart move Lex!! When my daughter Claire drove at RobRoy for the first time she took this photo to remind her of the family history at Rob Roy’.

diana davo

Diana Davison in the MG Spl at Rob Roy, year unknown. (Davison Family Collection)

The TC reappeared as a bare chassis for Rob Roy and Nar Nar Goon at the end of 1948, with Lex and Reg Nutt driving. DD; ‘By the following March the Head Brothers had created a narrow 2-seat shell with shapely cycle guards. It had nice upholstery and was painted red, and I think they christened it ‘Mum’s Racer,’ and they fitted it out with a small leather pocket for my compact and lipstick’.

‘Several times the car lowered the ladies’ record at Rob Roy, including once with the supercharger fitted, and that record stood for some time. Lex raced it widely and Bib Stillwell contested events at Woodside in 1949. Our last entry for the car was with Ian Mountain driving at the Grand Prix at Albert Park in 1953.’

DD

Here Diana Davison at Rob Roy in 1946, in what appears to be an Austin 7 Spl. Happy to take advice on the car. DD an immensely talented, popular and respected member of the Australian racing community for all of her life. ‘Australia’s First Lady of Motor Racing’. (George Thomas)

MG and Motor Racing in Australia…

I have written about Lex Davison’s cars on primotipo before, he was a winner of the Australian Grand Prix four times, winner of the inaugural Australian Drivers Championship, the ‘Gold Star’ in 1957 and was the father and grandfather of two generations of champion racers. His premature death in 1965 meant he never saw the achievements of his scions.

MG is surely the most significant marque in Australian Motor Racing before 1960?

The cars won the Australian Grand Prix four times; Les Murphy’s P Type at Phillip Island in 1935 and the famous 1937 race at Victor Harbour actually held in December 1936.  Alan Tomlinson’s legendary, clever and brave drive at Lobethal 1939 in his supercharged TA Spl and Bill Murray, TC Spl at Bathurst in 1947. MG were always contenders in the AGP as the race was run to Formula Libre rules and handicapped until the early fifties, so whilst not usually the quickest entries, the handicaps gave everyone a chance.

Mind you, in the right circumstances the cars were outright contenders, Frank Kleinig’s ‘Kleinig Hudson’ which used an MG Magna chassis started from scratch in the 1949 AGP at Leyburn, Queensland. In that race he was advantaged by the withdrawal of a swag of Victorian topliners who didn’t enter in a political protest, but the Kleinig Hudson was always an outright contender, albeit an unreliable one driven as it was by a mechanically talented if not entirely sympathetic driver.

In fact the last MG placing in an AGP, well into the mid-engined era appears to be Noel Barnes 10th place in his TC Spl in the 1960 event at Lowood, Queensland, the race won by Alec Mildren’s Cooper T51 Maserati. Three TC’s started the race, all from the back of the grid.

AGP wins is not the real contribution MG made though, that was more around ‘mass’ participation. The cars were affordable, accessible and ‘tunable’, a way to view them is the Formula Vee or Formula Ford of the period. The cars gave so many drivers a start, whether it was local hillclimbs and sprints, circuit racing or the elite levels of the sport, such as they were in Australia between the wars and through to 1960.

fishermans bend 1951 davison jp read

Lex Davison in the MG TC Spl Fishermans Bend 1949. (VHRR P Read)

Rebuild and Specifications of  ‘TC.0825’…

Back to Lex’ Spl. Davison gave the car to Reg Nut in Melbourne to rebuild the chassis which was largely standard but fitted with brake torque cables from the frame to the tops of the king pins, aluminium cooling fins on the brake drums and air scoops to the backing plates.

The 3 main bearing, cast iron, 4 cylinder, pushrod OHV, ubiquitous ‘XPAG’ engine was fitted with domed pistons giving a compression ratio of 12:1. The ports were opened, ports and combustion chambers polished. Valves were from a Jaguar, bigger than the biggest in the MG ‘catalogues’, cam followers and valve gear modified, lightened and polished as were the crank and rods.

Capacity was standard, wider bearings used by widening the crankshaft journals, a bigger 2 1/4 gallon sump was fitted and an aluminium oil cooler fitted underneath the radiator.

Bigger 1 1/2 inch SU carbs fed the thirsty little engine, spark was provided by a Lucas NV4 magneto, albeit the wiring for a coil and distributor setup was retained to allow changeover if required.

Head Brothers in Murrumbeena, a Southern Melbourne suburb, built an attractive sports car body with road equipment, the front and rear guards easily removed depending on the nature of the competition event.

Heads used a strong but light framework from square section seamless tubing, then covered it with pre-formed panels of light aluminium sheet, attached by wrapping their edges over the tube frame. The grille was hand made by light tubing, the one piece bonnet retained by leather straps.

The fuel tank Lex ‘knocked off’ from his newly acquired Cooper, the 10 gallon aluminium tank lives inside the MG’s low tail, it’s quick-action cap exposed outside the body.

The car was beautifully finished and trimmed. Instruments comprised Smiths tach, oil pressure and oil and water temperature gauges.

16 inch wheels were used, 5 inches wide at the front and 5.5 or 6 inches wide at the rear, shocks were ‘Telecontrols’. Gear ratios and ‘box were standard but a lower 4.875 rear axle ratio was used as the ‘best compromise’ for events contested.

mg front

Picture of the very neat, fast for its time, road/track sports racer. Here in unsupercharged form. Head Bros of Melbourne built the body, lights and guards easily removable front and rear. (AMS)

Davison TC Spl Competition Record…

The car contested it’s first Rob Roy Hillclimb in 1948, driven by Reg Nut, Lex then ran it at Nar-Nar-Goon in both events the car was successful.

It next raced, after the Heads’ body was fitted and a supercharger at Fishermans Bend in 1949. It raced at Woodside, SA later in the year before the supercharger was removed ‘as it’s bonnet hump was thought unsightly’. (Makes no sense to me as a reason to remove it but ’tis what the contemporary reports say).

The car then raced successfully throughout 1950 in unblown form and in 1951 the MG returned to South Australia, racing at both the Gawler Airstrip and Woodside road circuit. Diana Davison also raced the car very competitively in hillclimbs, retaining her Ladies Record at Rob Roy.

Lex’ racing focus was primarily his Alfa Romeo P3/Tipo B Monoposto, the 2.9 litre car arrived in Australia in early 1948, the MG wasn’t being used much, it’s last race when owned by the Davisons’ the 1953 Australian Grand Prix meeting when it was raced for them by Ian Mountain.

The car rapidly passed through the hands of several owners, it was rolled without causing much damage in 1960 at Phillip Island. Historic Events started in the sixties, the car used then by John Fitzpatrick and others. It was bought by Reg Bowran in 1970, but has appeared only occasionally since.

mg cockpit

Simple cockpit layout, array of Smiths instruments. (AMS)

The Davison TC had a major accident early in its life which resulted in it’s rebirth as a competition car but by the standards of Australian MG Specials this car, touted by the Davisons’ in the early Fifties as ‘the fastest unblown TC in Australia’ (David McKay would have contested this claim, his ex-Brydon ‘TC.3306’ the other contender for that title at the time, but the cars never decided the contest) has had a remarkably easy and little raced life!

More importantly it typifies the type of MG Spl which provided the backbone of Australian Motor Racing for decades…

mg tail

Butt shot, scan of an old magazine so a bit scratchy. (AMS)

Etcetera…

chris and claire

In a nice bit of Davison Family and Rob Roy symmetry Diana Davison’s granddaughter Claire, here pictured with father Chris Davison, won the ‘Diana Davison Gaze Trophy’ for Ladies FTD at Rob Roy in 2014. Car a Reynard Formula Ford. (Davison Family Collection)

Bibliography…
Australian Motor Sports Magazine April 1952 (AMS), ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, ‘Lex Davison Larger Than Life’ Graham Howard, Chris Davison

Photo Credits…

State Library of South Australia, Davison Family Collection