Posts Tagged ‘Maserati 4CM’

Freddy McEvoy, aka ‘Suicide Freddy’ and ‘Tiger’ to the babes he charmed, was a ladies man, adventurer and friend of fellow Australian and screen star Errol Flynn. He was an accomplished car racer, an Olympic medallist and World Champion on the ice, a sailor, gambler, suspected Nazi agent and a whole lot more…

Here the intrepid Australian is aboard his Maserati 6CM prior to the start of the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup, Roosevelt Raceway, Westbury, Long Island, New York on 12 October.

Frederick Joseph McEvoy was born in Melbourne’s inner southern suburb of St Kilda on February 12, 1907 and moved to England with his mother when he was 10. Educated at the famous Jesuit boarding school Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, his later professions seemingly included jewellery design, public relations consultant, yacht dealer and perhaps arms and contraband trader- he admitted later in life to being a rogue, swindler and a conman who used his intelligence and charm to mix with the upper echelons of society.

Said to have generously proportioned wedding-tackle by a number of his mounts, he reputedly also knew how to use said equipment. As a consequence of his looks, physical attributes and line of chat Freddy cut a swathe through the ladies with various sources crediting him as also running a team of gigolos who kept the bored ladies of the south of France entertained in a manner which put smiles permanently upon their faces.

Exactly how he ratcheted himself up the totem pole of life is not entirely clear but Freddy’s journey took him from partying with a young Errol Flynn in Melbourne/Sydney to wild times with the great and the good in England and onto the French Riviera in its golden years pre-war.

The Australian ‘Truth’ newspaper, the tabloid perhaps more aptly titled ‘Lies’, has it in 1948 that McEvoy was the scion of a prominent Sydney family who went abroad with his mother and brother as youngsters when she took them to Switzerland for the winter sports season. He soon became popular with the international sporting set and was well known for his bob-sledding prowess.

Another 1951 Truth report records that Freddy (Frederick signed his own name in short-form as Freddy not ‘Freddie’ as is practically the case in any reference source one views) was virtually unknown when he first hit Europe in the 1930’s. He was then in his early twenties and arrived with his widowed mother and ailing brother Theodore. ‘…Gradually the young man with the film star smile, bronzed figure and quick Irish-Australian turn of wit began to be noticed’.

Of the relationship with Flynn, Truth reports that Freddy and Errol were close friends back in the 1920’s in Melbourne when both worked with the Dalgety wool enterprises business- a huge national company at the time.

Whatever the case, Freddy figured out that easy money was to be made through the legs of the idle-rich becoming an adept lover, diver, boxer, racer, skier and bobsled competitor where he was a familiar sight at some of the more fashionable European resorts of the day ‘plying his trade’.

Max-Everist Phillips writes that ‘Bobsleigh competitors of the 1930’s prided themselves on three inter-related pursuits: dangerous sports, daring women and dubious money. McEvoy’s skills at the first facilitated his success with the second, who usually provided the third’…

Before the 1936 Winter Olympics, (above) where he was a member of the British team, McEvoy had proved his daring and speed as a tobogganist on the famous, dangerous Cresta Run at St Moritz, Switzerland- he was awarded the ‘Cresta Colours’ that year for his accomplishments.

Keen to compete at the highest level he would not have been eligible to represent Australia through the Australian Olympic Federation, as there was no State or National governing body for tobogganing or bobsleigh in Australia at the time- in fact there was no sport of skiing at the time to speak of!

Without wanting to give a dissertation on the development of skiing in Australia, the first moves on skis are thought to have been carried out by Norwegian gold-miners at Kiandra in the New South Wales Alps during the long winter of 1861. The first ski-lift was built near Mount Beauty in Victoria in 1936 but in simple terms the Alpine areas of Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales were not developed as ski-fields until post-war when European migrants, some of whom worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme (a massive post-war twenty year hydro-power generation and irrigation scheme- one of the ‘engineering wonders of the world) saw the potential of the Australian Alps and made formative investments at places like Thredbo and Perisher Valley. The sport itself did not boom until the seventies with baby boomers looking for activities a bit more sophisticated than those which were available to, or could be afforded by many of their parents.

‘It is quite likely that he (McEvoy) associated with British bobsledders in Switzerland and was, as a British subject, eligible to compete for the mother country. It would have been difficult for the British authorities to overlook his nomination or prowess’ the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Freddy was accorded the highest team honour by the British Olympic Committee to carry the British flag at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Games- that does amuse me, an Aussie carrying the flag for the Brits on such an august occasion!

Freddy, captain and steering, British 4 man bob, Garmisch Olympics 1936 (Getty)

Freddy and his team took the bronze medal with four runs down the treacherous bobsled course, finishing behind two Swiss combinations in front of a crowd of about 32,000 people. ‘Suicide Freddy’ was pipped for a medal in the two-man bob, finishing fourth with Garmisch-Partenkirchen well known for its bobsled run on which several men had died. Freddy wasn’t the only motor racer contesting events on the Olympic ice, GP racer Count ‘Tonino’ Brivio was eleventh in the the two-man bob and tenth in the four-man.

Bad weather limited training on the course before the Olympic race and crews had only two or three days’ practice on the fast and difficult run with ‘Britain fortunate to have an experienced and daring driver to steer both the four- and two-man bobs’, the British Teams post event report said.

One of the great bobsledders of the time, Bill Fiske of the US, wrote: ‘Freddie McEvoy has invented one of the most lethal toboggans ever seen on the run. He had a toboggan constructed of hollow ground runners…tremendously fast on a straight course but impossible to manoeuvre around corners…’

McEvoy proved after the 1936 Olympics that he was no flash in the pan. He was second in the Curzon Cup on Cresta in 1937, won the world two-man bob championship at Cortina, Italy in 1937 and the world four-man bob at St Moritz in the same year. He retained the four-man title in 1938 and was runner-up in 1939.

Clearly 1936 was a busy year for the enterprising Australian who was said to have won $25,000 playing backgammon in Monte Carlo and then spent the money the next day on a new Maserati.

In fact the 6CM Maser Voiturette he bought, chassis # 1535 was the first such machine to have been sold to a privateer, Maserati’s new Voiturette model first appeared in March 1936.

GP Picardie. #6 Carlo Trossi Maser 6CM, #2/#44/#14 B Bira, Earl Howe and Patrick Fairfield on ERA Type B, Type B and Type A (unattributed)

Freddy first entered his new six-cylinder, DOHC, supercharged 155bhp machine in the Grand Prix de Picardie held at Peronne in mid June 1936.

In a splendid display he was fourth in both his heat and in the final won by Dick Seaman’s Delage- in a year of dominance in Voiturette racing which carried the talented Englishman into the Mercedes Benz Grand Prix team.

John Medley wrote of the race ‘…On a scorching hot day the two heats saw the demise of Raymond Mays’ extremely quick ERA and also that of Arthur Dobson, with wins to Trossi and a surprisingly much slower Dick Seaman. Lehoux’ works ERA failed on the line in the final, which was led by Fairfield, an off-song Maserati of Trossi, and Bira’s ERA, before Bira moved past Trossi, with Seaman next until his steering (thought to have been damaged in an earlier Nurburgring incident) failed and the Delage hit a wall in the little village of Brie. The same corner in Brie momentarily claimed Fairfield’s ERA from a stern battle with Bira, so the little Siamese Prince won again from Fairfield and Lord Howe in ERA’s and McEvoy’s distant Maserati. There were no other finishers’.

Getting a little ahead of ourselves, Freddy’s Voiturette season commenced during the Monaco GP weekend, the Aussie contested the ‘Coupe Prince Rainier’ on Saturday 11 April in an earlier Maserati 4CM on the same weekend in which the new 6CM made its race debut.

McEvoy started from grid 14, with Earl Howe on pole in an ERA Type B and ran well until lap 43 when he spun on oil left by Zehender’s Maser 6CM and hit a wall damaging the cars fuel tank. This meeting was the first at which 6CM’s raced- Scuderia Torino entered a car for Rovere, with Zehender relieving him in the 6CM late in the race. McEvoy  ran as high as eighth, the race was won by B Bira in an ERA Type B who ‘…took the chequered flag to take the first victory of his career, winning possibly the most prestigious voiturette race of the year only 392 days after making his race debut in a Riley Imp at Brooklands’ according to kolumbus.f1.

Albi GP. #4 Marcel Lehoux ERA Type B, #8 Patrick Fairfield ERA Type B, #10 Bira again B Type ERA with #26 the nose of McEvoy’s Maser 6 CM (unattributed)

At the Albi GP in mid-July Freddy was ejected from his car in spectacular fashion during the first heat. The car caught fire after rolling across the straw bales opposite the pits, the car then burned furiously. Aggregate results of the two heats gave the win to Bira from Pierre Veyron and Hans Reusch in ERA Type B, Bugatti T51A and Maserati 4CS respectively.

The Coppa Ciano was held at Livorno in early August on a new course through the town rather than the usual mountain layout used hitherto, Trossi won in a works 6CM with Freddy eighth 2 minutes behind the leader.

Coppa Acerbo. #8 Dick Seaman Delage 15S8, #2 Carlo Trossi Maser 6CM and #22 Bira ERA Type B (unattributed)

On the daunting Pescara road circuit on the Adriatic Coast in mid-August he was a strong fourth in the Coppa Acerbo having started fifth on the grid with Seaman again taking a Delage win.

In a busy month, in late August, the Berne GP was conducted on the Bremgarten road course in Switzerland. Freddy was seventh from grid ten in a chassis MotorSport said  ‘…was the most dangerous Maserati, an independently sprung Maserati which should have done well’.

Freddy, far from the most experienced driver on these grids was clearly no dilettante behind the wheel however many attractions and distractions there were sitting seductively on his pit counter. It does make you wonder what McEvoy could have achieved had he focused on his racing, but such was his zest for living life to the full that this was never the case. Wine, women and song sounds pretty good to me all the same.

Marne GP 1936, the growth of French sportscar racing as a response to the success of the Nazi funded German teams is an interesting story in itself. #6 Rene Dreyfus and #8 Andre Marcel Talbot T150C split #12 Jean-Pierre Wimille Bugatti T57G- the similar Bugs of Robert Benoist and Pierre Veyron on the row behind. #34 and #26 the Michel Paris and Laury Schell Delahaye 135CS. The Paris car is the 135CS shortly thereafter imported to Australia and raced by John Snow- and to an AGP win at Leyburn, Queensland in John Crouch’s hands in 1949. McEvoy’s Jag 100SS way back in the pack (Keystone)

In the middle of the year on July 5 Freddy also contested the sportscar Marne GP at Reims in a 2.5 litre Jaguar SS100.

 He brought the ponderous beast home fifteenth overall and first in the 2-3 litre class, the patriotic MotorSport proclaiming an ‘S.S Wins A Continental Race’- they credit the race to Frank McEvoy, an error rather than another nickname. John Medley ‘…Fast Freddy McEvoy, almost lived up to his other nickname ‘Suicide Freddy’ as he grappled with its nose-heavy understeer which flicked to alarming oversteer on exit to every corner on the very fast Reims-Gueux Circuit. Playing what MotorSport called ‘a waiting game’ (when actually he was travelling as fast as he dared) a long way behind the winning Bugattis which were chased by Talbots and Delahayes, brave Freddy brought the car home for a class win…’

It would be intriguing to know exactly when McEvoy first raced, his cv included the blue-riband sportscar Mille Miglia in 1935, it was certainly the first major race he contested. In that classic test of driver and car he shared a Vittorio Jano designed Alfa Romeo 6C1750 with Ghersi, the pair failing to finish the race won by another memorable Alfa, the 8C 2900B raced by the Pintacuda/Della Stufa crew.

In October 1936 Freddy was well enough funded by his various enterprises and acquaintances to contest the Vanderbilt Cup Races on New York’s Long Island, representing Australia in the 6CM.

This was an amazing event held on a very expensive facility by the standards of the day built by the Vanderbilt family and several associates including Indy winner Eddie Rickenbacker. It seems the designers of the track, who lived on opposite sides of the country, failed to communicate so the track ‘comprised a single 3775 foot straightaway and sixteen completely unbanked corners, ten of which are best described as hairpins.’

A huge purse attracted some of Europe’s best teams, the race was a real endurance affair, 75 laps of a tight 4 mile road course circuit- 300 miles in total. Tazio Nuvolari won aboard an Alfa Romeo 12C-36 in 4 hours 32.44 from Jean-Pierre Wimille’s Bugatti T59 and Antonio Brizio’s Alfa 12C-36- in sixth place was Freddy proving his endurance on the hot day driving the 6CM, his time 4:57.24. Mind you, Carlo Felice-Trossi co-drove the 6CM, how many laps each of the intrepid pilots raced is undisclosed.

Freddy McEvoy with the Australian flag on the side of his Maser 6CM, Vanderbilt Cup 1936 (VDC)

 

Vanderbilt Cup start 1936, ID of cars welcome (VDC)

 

McEvoy Maser on one of the more open corners on a course dominated by tight corners (VDC)

McEvoy’s activities after 1936 are really beyond the scope of this article but he continued to compete at the highest levels of bobsleigh racing, this is covered at the end of the article.

In 1937 he won $10,000 for setting a record time between Paris and Nice of 9 hours 45 minutes in a Talbot-Lago T150C-SS coupe- he was the first person to do the trip from the capital to the Riviera in less than ten hours aboad the 4 litre, six-cylinder OHV, 170 bhp machine.

McEvoy’s personal note of thanks for the use of the Talbot makes clear the spelling of the short form of his name (unattributed)

As war broke out the Australian was reluctant to apply his undoubted bravery to the war effort and left Britain to continue his playboy lifestyle on the French Riviera and later New York and Hollywood. His fisticuffs it seems were limited to the odd scrap with husbands of ladies who were miffed by his attention to women who succumbed to his considerable charm.

Freddy shared a house with the by then notorious Errol Flynn in Hollywood and they enjoyed many adventures, including diving expeditions to Mexico. McEvoy was a key witness for Flynn in his infamous statutory rape case in 1942-43- this involved allegations of under-age sex by seventeen year Betty Hansen. Said events purportedly took place in McEvoy’s Bel Air home- his ‘no-nookie here matey’ protestations helped the actor get off the charges. Flynn credited McEvoy in assisting him recover from a growing dependency on opium by burning the actors stash of the drug, their friendship survived the fight which ensued when Flynn realised his drug syringes were ablaze in an adjoining room.

The actor, quoted in Mike Seth-Smith’s book on the Cresta Run, says: ‘I found that he complemented me. He was an athlete, a roisterer like myself, and he could be canny too, very. He had his eye for the main chance and bluntly told me he intended to marry wealth. With his physique and appearance and his charm and culture I didn’t doubt he could do this.’

Flynn and McEvoy at Monte Carlo in 1950 just prior to Flynn’s marriage to Patrice Wymore. Freddy was best man and Claude Stephanie Filatre, McEvoys third wife, the other witness (unattributed)

Suspected as spies in the 1930’s, the US authorities monitored the activities of both Flynn and McEvoy with the FBI eventually concluding Freddy was ‘an international pimp who is interested in his own well being and probably not engaged in activities detrimental to the interests of the country’. In the same period, 1944, it is said the hustler smuggled guns, jewellery and alcohol from Mexico City to California on his boat, as his second marriage did not yield much cash.

McEvoy scandalised high society and fascinated the readership of gossip columns in equal measure. ‘A debonair socialite, he courted infamy as one of Hollywood’s self-styled ‘Hellfire Club’ or ‘Three Musketeers’ along with Errol Flynn and Bruce Cabot of  ‘King Kong fame’ and was usually characterised by newspapers as a ‘handsome gigolo’ or ‘popular playboy’- the big ‘dame hunter’ married three times.

At one society party in Cannes, the already married McEvoy made a play for Woolworth’s heiress, Barbara Hutton, just divorced from Cary Grant. They never wed but lived together for a time at a ski resort Hutton bought in Franconia, New Hampshire. In a sidebar to this liasion, our intrepid racer was beaten up by some thugs who set up the initial meeting between McEvoy and Hutton after Freddie failed to pay the ‘facilitation fee’! I guess ‘Tinder’ always existed in one form or another whatever the technologies of the day.

Although he failed there, Freddy succeeded in wooing the heiress to an oil fortune, Beatrice Cartwright of the Pratt Family/Standard Oil in 1940. At 63, she was 30 years older than McEvoy and promised him a yacht and a million dollars. McEvoy got the yacht, the 65-tonne Black Swan, but the money never found its way into his bank account. He later married a second heiress, Irene Wrightsman, at 18 years old less than half his age but they drifted apart after Irene’s father removed her access to the families loot.

McEvoy’s third and final wife was Claude Stephanie Filatre, a French fashion model. They married in 1949 and made their home aboard a 104-foot ketch/schooner called Kangaroo or Black Joke depending upon the account you choose to reference- and there are plenty of conflicting accounts about many aspects of this mans life as I hope I have made clear.

The boat struck a reef off the Moroccan coast 60 miles from Casablanca during a storm off North Africa in 1951. There is some speculation that McEvoy was running arms or grog between his home port of Cannes and Tangiers. He made it to the shore and sought help unsuccessfully from a small settlement at Safi. Freddy returned to the floundering boat to rescue Filatre, but this time his luck ran out. McEvoy’s body, naked and scalped was in a lagoon/washed up on the beach on November 9, 1951 and his wife’s body the next day.

It transpires that one of the ships crew was wanted for murder of a prostitute in Berlin in 1945, that man, Manfred Lentner was later convicted of the murder in a Salzburg court in May 1954. Further, at the time of the ‘shipwreck’ British Intelligence had been tracking McEvoy as a suspected arms-dealer and smuggler of contraband between Tangiers and France- so to the very end of the racers story there was plenty of mystery and intrigue including fifteen thousand pounds worth of diamonds and whisky onboard the ship. A French court convened in Morocco found  a verdict of murder by persons unknown of McEvoy, Filatre, her maid and three sailors- no-one was ever charged.

Fast Freddy, at best an elite level sportsman and likeable scallywag but perhaps more accurately described as an outstanding sportsman and amoral crook and scumbag certainly did not die guessing about the possibilities of life- without doubt he lived it to the full.

Put more delicately ‘Sport was but one aspect, albeit perhaps the only honourable one, of his fourty-four years on earth. His reputation was variously as an unprincipled playboy, suspected spy, alleged smuggler, dubious adventurer and unhealthy close associate of one of Hollywood’s most iconic but least reputable stars. He was one of the few Australians about whom the standard phrase in obituaries, ‘he led life to the full’ is an understatement’ wrote Max Everest-Phillips.

 Maserati 6CM…

‘Voiturettes’, cars of smaller capacity than machines of the contemporary Grand Prix formula went back to the dawn of motor racing, but the class grew in importance with the introduction of the 750 kg formula. There had been no official capacity limit since 1926, although the Voiturette class was usually for cars of 1100cc. During the 1930’s the category was increasingly held for machines of 1500cc- it was attractive to smaller teams and privateers given the growing expense of GP racing. To that end Maserati introduced the 4CM-1500cc 4 cylinder in 1932, with the 6CM a response to the Riley based ERA’s pace, these first raced from 1934.

The 6CM chassis was the usual channel section of the day but heavily boxed as Maserati were beginning to realise the importance of chassis rigidity. Front suspension was similar to the very unsuccessful V8RI GP car with independent suspension by unequal length wishbones and friction dampers up the front. At the rear, a rigid axle was deployed suspended on semi-elliptic springs. The body of the car was similar to the V8RI with a cowled radiator and neat streamlining.

The Fiat parts bin provided quite a few bits including the steering box and gearbox. The ‘tranny was a 4 speeder designed for use in the Fiat Tipo 522 taxi and was considerably overstressed given the cab had a paltry 34bhp. There were plenty of gearbox dramas until Masers started to make their own ‘boxes. The rear axle was made by Isotta Fraschini.

The heart of the matter was a six-cylinder engine of 1493cc which had the cylinders cast in pairs, and twin overhead camshafts driven from the nose of the crank in established Maser practice. A single Weber carb, Roots type blower, Scintilla magneto and dry sump lubrication completed the key mechanical specifications. The neat little motor was claimed to produce 155bhp @ 6200 rpm early on which rose to circa 175bhp over time.

Cigarette card honouring the 1938 4-man bob world championship winning British team with Freddy up front

Freddy’s Alpine Career in Perspective…

Freddy was one of the great sportsmen of his era and in bobsleigh racing one of that discipline’s all-time greats.

He was a pioneer of a sport which was then very dangerous, the medal he won at Garmisch in the ’36 Olympics made him the first Australian to win a Winter Olympics medal albeit representing the mother-country, England.

Over the next three years captaining the British team and piloting the bobsleigh he won two world championships on the trot- in 1937 and 1938, that later year beating ‘the master race’ in front of their home crowd in Nazi Germany. He took silver the year after that.

In total he won three Gold and two silver World Championship medals in two different forms of the sport- the four and two man ‘bobs, and was the first ever competitor, (along with his partner in the two-man bob) to win gold in both events in the same year. He set one last course record in 1939, covering the 1554 metres of the Italian World Championships run at Cortina d’Ampezzo in a time of 1 minute 20.75 seconds. It was also in Cortina where he won his first World Championship gold in the two-man bob in 1937.

 It was only the outbreak of war which put an end to his short career- he was the only sportsman from Australia to receive a medal in any of the five founding sports of the Winter Olympics.

Max Everist-Phillip’s, Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Centre in Singapore in a 2015 ‘Numismatic Association of Australia’ article entitled ‘Bobsleigh in a Warm Climate: Pre-war Australian Identity on The Slide’ goes as far as to say that ‘…McEvoy’s 1938 bobsleigh triumph (World Championship Gold) in Nazi Germany represents not just an Australian achievement in an unusual sport from a different era. In the run up to World War 2, the success of the Australian-British team carried political significance. It marked a triumph for the democratic ideal over the Third Reich’s totalitarian ideology and the ‘master race’. Its win offered a psychological boost to the British Empire in the lead up to World War 2. Nazi propaganda sought to claim the German people trained in the body in the service of the state and so international sporting success supposedly demonstrated the might of the ‘new Germany’, thereby apparently justifying its claim for ‘Lebensraum’ and racial supremacy. The victory gripped the popular imagination increasingly interested in the sport’.

Spectators on a bend and the finishing section of the bobsleigh run, Garmisch, 1936 Olympics

Bibliography…

’Maserati: A Racing History’ Anthony Pritchard, ‘John Snow: Classic Motor Racer’ John Medley, kolumbus.f1, MotorSport magazine, Journal of The Numismatic Society of Australia article ‘Bobsleigh in a Warm Climate: Pre-War Australian Identity on The Slide’ by Max Everest-Phillips, barchetta.cc

 Photo Credits…

 Getty Images, vanderbiltcupraces.com

Tailpiece: Thank Your Lucky Stars…

Errol Flynn in the scene from ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ in which McEvoy, although unattributed in the credits, appears at right (unattributed)

Finito

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Douglas Walker)

Quintessential Australian racer/engineer Tom Sulman loads his Maserati 4CM after the 2nd ‘Lady Wigram Trophy’, Wigram Airbase, New Zealand 23 February 1952…

 Tom Sulman was born in Sydney on 25 December 1899 and died in a tragic accident at Mount Panorama, Bathurst on 30 March 1970 aboard one of his Lotus 11 Climax’. He was the grand old, gently spoken man of Australian motor racing- a racer to the core, he competed all of his life inclusive of elite levels internationally.

Like most of my articles this one was stimulated by finding some photographs, and as is usually the case, doing so whilst looking for something else!

The shots of Tom and his Maserati 4CM in New Zealand in 1951 were simply too good- so evocative of the period not to do something with. The trouble is that his racing career was so long it’s a huge job to do it justice especially with information not readily available, so treat this as summary of his wonderful life with a bit of focus on the Maser, itself a car with an interesting provenance.

Sulman was the son of UK born and later immensely prominent and influential Sydney architect Sir John Sulman. Tom grew up in a rambling home at Turramurra, on Sydney’s upper North Shore. Unlike his formidable father, whose competitive spirit he undoubtedly had, he commenced a career in automotive engineering, very much an industry of growth at the time. In 1923 he built his first racer, the ‘Sulman Simplex’, a road-going cyclecar, which he raced at Sydney’s Victoria Park that year.

Tom Sulman and Fay Taylor with the Sulman Singer at West Ham, London in 1936

During the 1930’s depression Tom travelled to England looking for work and soon established a motor engineering business. His early motor sport endeavours began in 1931 and involved conversion of a Morgan 3 wheeler to a 4 wheeler! so that he could race ‘a car’ on dirt, which was very popular at the time. Later he built a car with a motor-cycle twin-cylinder engine and a ‘vaguely Salmson chassis’ which he raced at the early Crystal Palace meetings and at Greenford.

In fact Tom was right there at the start of organised car-only dirt track racing on motorcycle speedway lines. Outside the reach of the RAC, the first UK race of this type was held on Good Friday 30 March 1934, at Crystal Palace.

There were three teams of three riders and a reserve with ‘New South Wales Champion’ Tommy Sulman captaining the Wimbledon Park team driving a ‘Bitza Special’! During this period he raced at tracks such as Greenford, Crystal Palace, Hackney, Lea Bridge and Wimbledon. To provide some sense of the scale and level of interest in speedway racing at the time there were over 25 tracks in the London extended area alone. In addition to his motor engineering Tom was a professional driver earning money from his race competition.

He was approached by a Singer agent off the back of his performances and growing reputation to build a similar sprint and hillclimb special to his own car using Singer components. Core mechanicals were a Singer Le Mans engine and G.N. chain transmission. When the car was completed, it became the ‘Sulman Singer Special’ after the Singer agent went ‘bust’ leaving Sulman with the car! It soon became clear after the commencement of dirt track racing that the cut down sportscars predominantly used were unsuited to the tight, deep cindered UK tracks with short straights. Tom built the Sulman Singer as a dual purpose machine, but its very short wheelbase was a function of the development work by trial and error he and other leading racers had done to create a car ideal for the dirt.

Sulman raced it regularly in the UK and once in Holland in 1936. On 4 August 1936 Tom contested the very first Midget World Championships at Hackney, in inner London.

The winner with 7 points from his heats was Cordy Milne of the US- Tom was 6th with 3 points, he was 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd in his three heats. Another Australian, Dicky Case was 2nd with 6 points. An interesting sidebar is that Case, a star motorcycle solo-rider was invited into the competition as a fill-in driver due to a lack competitors- and came close to winning the thing! The program does not disclose the chassis the various competitors used.

Into 1937 the Sulman became obsolete, along with most of the rest of the fields with the advent of the ‘Skirrow Specials’. These revolutionary cars built by Harry Skirrow in Cumbria had chain drive to both front and rear axles harnessing the 80bhp produced by their bespoke 990cc twin-cylinder JAP engines rather effectively. As a consequence, Tom built a 4WD car of his own in an attempt to more effectively compete- he crashed badly at Coventry in August/September 1937 and elected then to end his midget racing career. The Sulman Singer, which had been put to one side, was then pressed back into service, Tom raced it at various hillclimbs.

Bathurst 1950, Hell Corner lap 1. Ron Ward MG TC from Sulman in the  #47 ‘Singer then Ron Edgerton #37 MG TC and Gordon Stewart #46 MG Magna (AussieHomestead)

At the end of World War 2 Sulman returned to Australia by signing on as a flight engineer on an aircraft, his very cost-effective way to take the long, expensive 12000 mile journey home was as a crew member of a Lancaster Bomber converted to carry people rather than a lethal payload. The Sulman Singer followed by ship, the car travelled sans bodywork to avoid import duty being imposed upon it by the Fiscal Fiend- the Australian Taxation Office!

Tom first raced the car in Australia at Nowra on the NSW south coast in June 1947, the combination took a win in the under 1100cc scratch race. As a road racer it competed in contemporary events up to and including the Australian Grand Prix, then a handicap event. He was 5th at Bathurst in 1947 and also contested the 1948 AGP race at Point Cook in Melbourne’s outer west, the little car succumbing to the extreme March summer heat like so many others on that day.

Sulman eventually sold the car when he acquired the Maserati, it raced regularly in various hands in the 1950’s but by the 1960’s was mainly used in historic events. The car was sold to AP North, then later to Monty South and finally Ron Reid on 6 November 1965 to start a long relationship of sympatico between driver and owner.

Moustachioed Ron Reid, red ‘kerchief flapping in the breeze with a big smile upon his face was an icon of Australian Historic Racing in the car which still races, after Ron’s demise in 1999, in the hands of Mal Reid, Rons son. Whenever I see this wonderful machine in the paddock it always brings a smile to my face. Drivers and cars come and go, but the Sulman Singer remains a constant in Australian motor racing and would be a finalist for the ‘longest continuously raced’ car on the planet.

Sulman competed in other cars as well though, including an 1100cc HRG sports car. By the late 1950’s, Tom, who had a workshop in the now very trendy inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, had added to his stable the Maserati 4CM. This ex-Farina/Salvadori car, he bought from Australian resident Englishman David Chambers.

Sulman in the Maserati 4CM at Mt Druitt’s Hairpin, Sydney, date unknown (AussieHomestead)

Chassis # 1521, one of about twelve 1500cc 4CM’s, was first delivered to none other than Giuseppe Farina in August 1934, he won Voiturette races in it at Biella and Masaryk and then Modena and Turin. Gino Rovere, who probably owned the car when raced by Farina, raced it during 1935 and perhaps also Gigi Villoresi as part of Rovere’s ‘Scuderia Subalpina’. It then passed into the hands of several UK drivers including EK Rayson, Charles Mortimer and then formed an important part of the nascent racing career of Roy Salvadori post-war.

David Chambers acquired the car in England in 1949, raced it at Goodwood and then shipped it home and made his Australian debut at Rob Roy Hillclimb in outer Melbourne in 1950. Raced at Easter Bathurst 1950, the 500Kg, 1496cc, Roots-type supercharged, 4 cylinder 130bhp @ 6100 rpm car achieved 122mph through the traps on Conrod Straight in top- 4th gear in its Fiat derived gearbox.

New Zealand Hillclimb Championship 1951, winner in the Maser 4CM. Venue folks? (Walker)

Tom bought the car shortly after this meeting and campaigned it in both Australia and New Zealand over the next few years.

Among his New Zealand successes were the 1951 NZ Hillclimb Championship, on that tour he also contested circuit races- the Ohakea Trophy and Lady Wigram Trophy in March finishing 4th and taking fastest lap, and DNF at Wigram. NZ ‘heavy metal’ of the day included cars such as Les Moore’s Alfa Tipo B, Ronnie Moore’s Alfa 8C, Frank Shuter’s V8 Spl, Jack Tutton’s C Type, Ron Roycroft’s Jag XK120 and like Australia a swag of MG and Ford V8 powered specials as well as the early Coopers starting to appear.

Working on the engine of the Maser 4CM, NZ Hillclimb Championship 1951. Mechanical specifications as per text (Walker)

The Maser was period typical in having a channel section chassis, with rigid axle suspension at both ends and semi-elliptic springs front and rear. Sulman was unhappy with the cars handling so modified it by adding 3.5 inches into the front axle, increasing the front track from 3 foot 11.2 inches to about 4 feet 3.5 inches, widening the spring base and inverting the rear shackles. The rear track remained at 3 feet 11.2 inches. When completed he reported the car as extremely predictable and easier to handle.

During practice at Parramatta Park in January 1952 he nipped a brake coming into Rotunda Corner, spun, hit the kerb and rolled landing back on the Masers wheels. Damage was limited to a bent stub axle and minor body twisting. He repaired the car and returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud that summer of 1952, racing again at Wigram and Ohakea for 2nd off the front row and 4th.

Tom at Mount Panorama in the 4CM, date unknown- superb, rare colour shot (B Miles)

The car was shipped back to Australia in time for the April 1952 AGP at Mount Panorama- finishing 6th in the race won by Doug Whiteford’s Talbot Lago T26C taking the second of his three AGP wins.

Probably his best run in the thoroughbred single-seater was at Gnoo Blas, Orange, NSW in April 1953- his haul five race wins. Less happy was the car ‘chucking a rod’ through the block at Mount Druitt, Sydney in 1954.

Tom Sulman Aston DB3S, Doug Whiteford Maserati 300S and Bill Pitt Jaguar XKD on pole, Victorian Tourist Trophy, Albert Park 17 March 1957. Whiteford won the 100 mile racefrom Pitt, Tom DNF on lap 16 (unattributed)

Tom was invited to become a member of ‘The Kangaroo Stable’ which planned a long distance sportscar racing program in Europe in 1955 with three Aston Martin DB3S customer racers. At that point the Maser was sold, it remained in Australia into the mid-sixties but left the country many years ago, living on in historic racing.

He acquired DB3S ’103’ new from the Aston, Feltham factory, the car was registered in NSW as ‘OXE-473’ and raced it in England-the Goodwood 9 Hours and at Aintree during the British GP meeting sportscar events, Portugal- the Lisbon GP, France, with the best result a 2-3-4 finish for The Kangaroo Stable behind a Ferrari in the Hyeres 12 Hour in the Provence-Cote d’Azur region of France-Tom was third. His co-driver was none other than Jack Brabham, then in his first year of a long and rather successful racing career in Europe. The Kangaroo Stable’s racing plans were to a large extent scuttled by the ’55 Le Mans disaster and the cancellation of many events in Europe as a consequence that year.

Tom returned to Oz, with the Aston his mount for years. Sportscar racing was especially healthy in Australia at the time with a mix of XKC and XKD Jags, Maser 300S, Aston DB3S, Cooper Jaguar, the Ausca Holden Repco, a swag of Austin Healey 100S and various Climax engined Lotus 11 and 15’s thrilling large crowds. The customer Astons were front third of the field cars. When David McKay’s ex-works DB3S car- DB3S/9 arrived it was the class of the field. Other quicks of the time Bill Pitt’s D Type, Frank Gardner’s C and D Types, Doug Whiteford’s ex-works Maserati 300S and the Derek Jolly and Frank Matich Lotus 15 FPF’s when they appeared later in the decade. Tom’s best results aboard ‘103’ were 2nd , 4th and 4th in the South Pacific Sportscar Championship at Longford in 1958, 1959 and 1960. He was 5th in the hotly contested 1960 Australian Tourist Trophy at Longford won by Jolly’s Lotus 15.

Tom Sulman takes his Aston DB3S onto the Longford grid during the 1960 Australian Tourist Trophy weekend. Only Whiteford’s #10 Maser 300S of this group of cars (in addition to Tom) contested the championship event- this is perhaps a preliminary or practice (J Ellacott)

 

Gnoo Blas Orange 1960. Derek Jolly Lotus 15, Frank Matich Jag XKC, David Finch Jag XKD and on row 2 the Aston DB3S’ of Warren Bloomfield and #58 Tom Sulman. Date and results folks? (Aussie Homestead)

Tom took the car to New Zealand for their summer races in 1956 commencing with the NZ GP held at Ardmore, then Wigram, Dunedin, Ryal Bush and Ohakea, his best results in the two month stay were 6th and 7th at Ryal Bush and Ohakea.

At a time the Australian Grand Prix was still a Formula Libre race, with ‘outright’ sportscars regular entrants. Tom the took the Aston on the long trip, 3920 kilometres for you Europeans- you have to be keen!, from Sydney to Western Australia to contest the 1957 race held at Caversham in outer Perth. It was a long way to travel for a DNF, but many cars did not survive another AGP held in scorching hot Australian summer heat. Lex Davison took a famous, and fortunate win in that race co-driven by Bill Patterson. Fortunate in the sense that lap-timing confusion awarded the race to Lex rather than Stan Jones.

In addition to Jack Brabham driving the car, the Aston’s provenance was further enhanced when Stirling Moss took the wheel and gave a journalist the ride of his life during several practice laps at the 1961 Warwick Farm opening meeting.

Sulman, Lotus 11 Climax, Silverdale Hillclimb, NSW (Bruce Wells)

In the early 1960’s he bought a locally built Lynx Ford Formula Junior and in 1961 the first of two Lotus 11 Climax’.

Chassis ‘343’ was an S2 Le Mans spec car powered by several Coventry Climax FWA engines. The Aston was sold to Ron Thorp, it remained in Australia for some years before it too made its way to the UK. In 1963 he bought his other 11, a Climax FPF engined car, chassis ‘305/552’ which had originally been raced by Ron Flockhart and Roy Salvadori in the UK. This period is confusing for historians as it is not clear which car he raced where- and he raced them everywhere! At sprints, hillclimbs and circuit races.

Remember, by 1960, he was 61 and had been racing for the best part of 40 years. Tom’s racing was diverse though, he contested rallies, hillclimbs and sprints as well as circuit racing. His rally/reliability trial experience included the famous, legendary RedeX Round Australia Trials of the 1950’s including the first one in 1953 as a member of the Humber Super Snipe team. He entered touring car races too- as that aspect of the sport grew including the Mount Druitt 24 Hour race and the 1962 Bathurst Six Hour aboard a new-fangled Datsun Bluebird.

Tom in the ex-Abbott/Hamilton Porsche 904 Ford Cobra, Huntley Hillclimb, NSW 1 June 1969 (T Arts)

and again as above (Tony Arts)

Some of the cars he raced such as the ex-Alan Hamilton Ford Cobra powered Porsche 904 were very potent devices, he ran this car circa 1969. He contested the 1966 Surfers Paradise 12 Hour enduro as co-driver to Ron Thorp who by then was racing a booming AC Cobra, very much a crowd favourite, the duo won their class, that event won outright by Jackie Stewart and Andy Buchanan aboard the famous Scuderia Veloce Ferrari 250LM.

Lotus 11 Le Mans Climax FPF 1500, Lakeview Hillclimb, ACT date unknown (AussieHomestead)

In March 1970 Tom loaded the little Lotus 11 ‘343’ onto its trailer in Surry Hills and headed out of Sydney west towards the Bells Line of Road for the 200Km trip to Mount Panorama, goodness knows how many times he would have made that journey? He was off to the Easter Bathurst meeting, at that time there were two race meetings a year at the famous circuit, not just the annual touring car 500 miler.

Journalist Barry Lake recounts the events of Sulman’s final drive in the insignificant 6 lap ‘Sir Joseph Banks Trophy’ sportscar scratch race at Mount Panorama. ‘At the Easter Bathurst meeting on 30 March 1970 the quietly spoken Tom, now 70 years old and as keen to race as ever, moved slightly to the right and simultaneously slowed down between the two humps on Conrod Straight. Vincent Evans who was a short distance behind, could not avoid the impact of his left-front mudguard with the right rear bodywork of the Lotus 11 driven by Sulman. The Lotus 11 swerved to the left of the circuit (its inside) into the gravel on the verge and rolled into a locked (farmers) gateway, hitting the gatepost on the drivers side. Sulman’s head hit the post causing his instant death’.

‘Shortly before the accident there had been a ‘Tom Sulman Trophy’ race at Warwick Farm for historic cars to commemorate his very long racing career. At the age of 70, Sulman was one of the oldest racing drivers in activity at the time’ Lake’s tribute concludes.

It was a terrible case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and hitting the fencepost when it could just as easily have been open space. Australian motor racing was rocked by another fatal accident at Bathurst twelve months after the last, Bevan Gibson’s Elfin 400 Repco became airborne on one of Bathurst’s humps at the same meeting a year before.

Sulman had lived a good life, a long full one despite its untimely end. He was one of those fellows who put more into the sport than he took out, and loved it to its core. A racer through and through right to the very end.

Tom Sulman at Lowood, circa 1959 (R Wittig)

Bibliography…

Obituary written by Barry Lake published on ‘Motorsport Memorial’, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, ‘Maserati: A Racing History’ Anthony Pritchard, Derek Bridgett on ‘Midget Car Panorama’. MotorSport magazine December 1936, ‘Bugattis Did It Too’ article in ‘Loose Fillings’ December 2015

Photo Credits…

Douglas Walker Collection, Aussie Homestead, Simon Lewis, Bruce Wells, Ron Wittig, Bruce Miles, John Ellacott, Tony Arts

Tailpiece: Sulman aboard his remarkably adaptable Sulman Singer at Kennel Corner, Shelsey Walsh in 1938. A rare UK shot of the car…

(Simon Lewis)