Posts Tagged ‘Peter Whitehead’

Dunedin 1956 (T Selfe)

The Aston Martin DP155 single seater is surely one of the great marques lesser known models, here at Dunedin, New Zealand in February 1956…

It is significant too as one of the seminal steps in AM’s occasional quest to get into Grand Prix racing. The DBR4/250 cars were tested later in 1957 although not actually raced by Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby until 1959 by which time the mid-engine revolution was underway and by the seasons end ‘complete’. The Cooper T51 Climax delivered bigtime on the earlier promise of its predecessors.

I chuckled when I first saw Tony Selfe’s wonderful photo as the most successful individual GP chassis of all time- Tony Gaze’s ex-Alberto Ascari Ferrari 500 chassis ‘5’ is alongside its stablemate Peter Whitehead’s car and one of the least known GP cars of all time in far-away New Zealand! Not that its fair to call DP155 anything more than the test hack it most assuredly was.

There are not a huge number of photos of DP155 extant, whilst not super sharp the shot is useful to be able to further appreciate Frank Feeley’s body design within the constraints of the wide DB3S sportscar chassis upon which it was based and way up high seating position atop the driveshaft.

But lets go back to the start.

The project dates to the early 1950s when Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd first contemplated construction of a Grand Prix car, the first step was intended to be an F2 machine.

The intention was to mate a variant of the 2.6 litre LB6 engine with a DB3 sportscar chassis. An early prototype was assembled in the winter of 1951/2 using a mildly-tuned 2-litre version of the engine, however, Technical Director Prof Dr Robert Eberan von Eberhorst rejected the idea and the car was quickly dismantled and forgotten.

HWM’s John Heath showed interest in the ‘tuned down’ engine for his F2 cars but David Brown knocked that notion on its head.

The CSI announced a new 2.5 litre Formula 1 to which World Championship Grands Prix would be run from January 1 1954- a replacement for the 2 litre ‘F2’ formula of 1952-1953 during which the Ferrari 500’s in works and privateer hands had been dominant.

In Autumn 1953 Aston Martin contemplated F1 once more, but as a low priority, busy as they were with their sportscar programs which made great sense from product development and marketing perspectives.

The project was given the classification ‘DP155’, the car, allocated chassis number DP155-1, comprised a DB3S chassis frame ‘in narrower single seat form’ powered by a 2493cc (83×76.mm) version of the Willie Watson-designed 2.9-litre Aston Martin engine. Doug Nye cites works mechanics John King and Richard Green amongst those involved in the build, whilst Aston Martin’s legendary stylist, Frank Feeley, designed the bodywork.

John Wyer estimated an engine output of circa 180 bhp on alcohol fuel at the time- well short of the Tipo 625 Ferrari and Maserati 250F which developed at least 200 bhp in early 1954.

The twin-plug DB3S engines of 1955/6 developed about 210/215 bhp but by this time the F1 opposition were at 240/250 bhp so ‘it seemed a futile exercise for Aston Martin, whose sports-racing cars were notoriously and persistently underpowered, to contemplate building a Formula 1 car powered by a derivative of these engines’ wrote Anthony Pritchard.

The car was put to one side in the workshop as sportscar programs were prioritised. Click here for articles on the DB3S; https://primotipo.com/2017/09/28/david-mckays-aston-martin-db3ss/, and; https://primotipo.com/2017/10/31/yes-frank-i-love-it-magnificent-in-fact/

Reg Parnell testing DP155 at Silverstone (or is it Chalgrove?) fitted with 3 litre supercharged engine (RAC2)

The DP155 2.5 litre engine was subsequently installed in works Aston Martin DB3S sports-racing car chassis ‘5’, which Reg Parnell drove to good effect in that year’s British Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park- he was third behind Archie Scott-Brown’s Lister Bristol and Ken McAlpine’s Connaught ALSR.

This prompted contemporary rumours that Aston Martin was considering an entry into Grand Prix competition. Such stories were denied but the belief that this was the case intensified when Aston Martin confirmed that Reg Parnell would race a DB3S-based single-seater car in New Zealand during the first months of 1956.

Reg had identified far-away New Zealand races as offering very useful motor racing earnings during the northern hemisphere winter, perhaps in conversation with Peter Whitehead and Tony Gaze who were ‘veterans’ of the trip south to the Land of The Long White Cloud having raced there the two years before in their matched Ferrari 500’s.

The prototype DP155 was dusted off with its original drum-braked 1953 chassis and  fitted with the supercharged 3-litre engine Parnell had used with co-driver Roy Salvadori at Le Mans in 1954.

The supercharged engine then exploded while being tested by Reg at Chalgrove so DP155 was shipped ‘down under’ with a normally aspirated 2493cc engine ‘fitted with special camshafts, connecting rods and pistons’.

The British contingent to New Zealand comprised Stirling Moss, Maserati 250F, the two-amigos Peter Whitehead and Tony Gaze with their Ferrari 750S engined Ferrari 500’s, Leslie Marr’s Connaught B Type Jaguar and Parnell’s Aston Martin.

Sir Leslie Marr (still alive at 97 years of age) is a landscape painter of some considerable note, it was in the formative stages of his evolution as a painter- an interest and capability he explored whilst an RAF Technician during the war, that he also raced cars, contesting amongst other events the 1954 and 1955 British Grands Prix.

Kids Jist Wanna Have Fun. In the Wellington backstreets, just unloaded off a ship and about to be sent by rail to Auckland, Ardmore. L>R Gaze HWM Jag, Whitehead Cooper Jag, McKay Aston DB3S and Moss Maserati 250F (CAN)

 

The first race of the tour was the Third New Zealand International Grand Prix at Ardmore Airfield, 25 km south-east of Auckland, in the north of NZ’s North Island.

Senior Kiwi motoring journalist Allan Dick wrote a very concise, interesting piece on the development of racing in NZ post-war in his ‘Classic Auto News’, i am going to use elements of that into this article as the history and most of the venues will be unfamiliar to many.

‘As far as can be ascertained, prewar “racing” had been confined to beaches with only one “circuit” race- the 1932 Prosperity Grand Prix run on a road circuit in the Auckland suburb of Orakei- very much a one off.’

‘While there had been motorsport and car clubs before WW2, it was when peace returned that the sport got organised…It had its roots in Dunedin, when, in 1947, Percy and Sybil Lupp and Harry Hedges formed the Otago Sports Car Club…then Harry went south and was one of the prime movers in creation of the Southland Car Club.’

‘With new clubs joining with the old it was decided to form a national umbrella body, which became the Association of New Zealand Car Clubs- the ANZCC…now MotorSport NZ.’

Allan continues, ‘With the new structure, getting circuit racing going became a priority…with no permanent racing circuit in NZ. In 1948 the Canterbury Car Club was determined to hold a race meeting…on the outskirts of Christchurch. The authorities would not approve the road closure…a deputation including Pat Hoare approached the government and approval was given for the use of Wigram Air Force base…it became a regular annual feature for decades.’

‘Inspired by this, the Manuwatu Car Club got the use of the Ohakea Air Force base and staged the first NZ GP there in 1950. In 1951 public roads were closed in Christchurch for the running of a meeting at Mairehau…so…proper circuit motor racing was now well and truly established, but these were temporary airfield or road circuits.’

‘For 1953, Mairehau, Wigram and Ohakea were joined by a fourth- a genuine inner city, “round the houses” meeting near the wharves in Dunedin.’

‘…any “international” aspect to these meetings had come from Australia, but in 1954 the whole motor racing scene shifted up several gears with the first truly international race meeting- the New Zealand International Grand Prix on the air force base at Ardmore…Now we had five race meetings annually- three airfield and two road circuits. Two in the North Island and three in the South.’

The 1954 meeting (and season) contestants included Ken Wharton’s BRM P15 V16, Peter Whitehead, Ferrari 125, Tony Gaze, HWM Alta and a swag of Australians including Stan Jones in Maybach 1, Jack Brabham, Cooper T23 Bristol, Lex Davison’s, ex-Moss/Gaze HWM but fitted with a Jaguar XK engine instead of the F2 Alta unit and others in addition to locals.

Wigram Trophy 1954. Ken Wharton in the extraordinary BRM P15 on pole beside Peter Whitehead, Ferrari 125, Tony Gaze, HWM Alta and Fred Zambucka, Maserati 8CM. Whitehead won from Gaze and Wharton (LibNZ)

The first NZ GP at Ohakea was won by John McMillan, Jackson Ford V8 Spl in 1950, the other two events prior to 1956 were at Ardmore in 1954 and 1955 and won by Stan Jones, Maybach 1 and Bira, Maserati 250F

And so it was that our 1956 visitors looked forward to a summer of great racing with the Moss Maserati a huge drawcard and NZ GP race favourite off the back of Bira’s 250F win twelve months before.

Shipping problems with the Moss car, the two Ferrari’s and Marr’s Connaught- which were sent to Wellington rather than Auckland did not get things off to a good start. The Connaught was deep in its ships hold and had to be flown to Auckland on the eve of the race, hurriedly assembled and run without being properly prepared.

For the other visitors it was missing spares and wheels that were the issues but all was made good by the time of the race.

Moss, Whitehead and Parnell all took 2 seconds off Ken Wharton’s two year old BRM T15 V16 lap record in practice with Moss taking pole from Whitehead, Gaze, Brabham, Cooper T40 Bristol (the car in which he started his championship career during the 1955 British GP- and in which he won the Australian GP at Port Wakefield later in 1955), Ron Roycroft, Bugatti T35A Jaguar and Parnell.

Ardmore 1956 grid. Moss, Whitehead and Gaze #4 up front. Row 2 is the Roycroft Bugatti T35A Jaguar, #6 Parnell, Cooper T38 Jag, Syd Jensen, Cooper Mk9 Norton and Tom Clark, Maserati 8CM on the outside. Frank Kleinig is in the light coloured Norman Hamilton owned Porsche 550 Spyder and probably David McKay’s Aston Martin DB3S beside Kleinig and perhaps Alec Mildren’s Cooper T23 Bristol this side of the Aston (unattributed)

 

Tony Gaze Ferrari 500 chasing Leslie Marr Connaught B Type Jaguar at Ardmore during the 1956 NZ GP (Ardmore)

Reg had a fraught start to his weekend in that DP155 threw a connecting rod during the second day of practice. He was well and truly up the creek sans paddle without a spare engine but via the good graces of Peter Whitehead raced his Cooper T38 Jaguar in the race, a most sporting gesture (and the car Stan Jones acquired that summer). Click here to read about the car; https://primotipo.com/2019/03/05/mount-tarrengower-hillclimb/

Gaze led for some of the first lap but then Moss romped away for the balance of the 200 mile journey- he had lapped the field by the end of his thirty-third tour. Some late race excitement was provided when a broken fuel lead sprayed fuel into his cockpit but even after a pitstop to top up the cars fuel he won by three-quarters of a minute from Gaze, Whitehead, Marr and Parnell. Brabham didn’t start with gearbox failure- it split as he was warming it up in the paddock.

All the fun of the fair, 1957 Wigram start. The splash of colour on the front row is Ron Roycroft’s blue Ferrari 375 and the red Ferrari 555’s of Peter Whitehead, who won, and Reg Parnell. The green car on the front row left is Brabham’s Cooper T41 Climax (unattributed)

 

Reg Parnell, DP155 at Wigram (RAC1)

 

The circus then gathered at Christchurch in the north-east of the South Island for ‘The Lady Wigram Trophy’ held at the RNZAF Airbase 7km from the city on 21 January 1956.

The crew in Feltham ensured a new 2922cc engine was flown out to allow installation in DP155 in time for practice.

Moss had returned to Europe after Ardmore but his 250F was put to good use by Ross Jensen and later John Mansel for the ensuing five years or so.

NZ was to be a happy hunting ground for the Brit who won the countries premier race in 1956, 1959 aboard a Cooper T45 Climax and again in 1962 in Rob Walker’s Lotus 21 Climax not too long before his career ending Goodwood accident.

DP155 finished a distant fourth in the 71 lap Trophy race- up front Peter Whitehead was over 5 minutes ahead of the Aston hybrid- he won from pole ahead of Tony Gaze and Marr. Leslie was 1m 35secs adrift of the winning Ferrari with Syd Jensen the first NZ’er home in his Cooper Mk9 Norton 530cc.

Gaze Ferrari at the Dunedin Wharves- David McKay’s Aston DB3S at left (CAN)

 

Dunedin heat start- Gaze Ferrari left, the Arnold Stafford Cooper Mk9 Norton in the middle on pole and Roycroft’s Bugatti T35A Jag at right on the second row (unattributed)

 

Vroom-vroooom-vrooooooom. I can hear the sharp, staccato bark of the 3 litre four as Tony Gaze warms up 500/5 at Dunedin. Uncertain of the car behind but it’s an Aston DB3S a bit further back (unattributed)

 

Syd Jensen, Cooper Mk9 Norton on pole for the feature race alongside Gaze’ Ferrari 500 (TA Thompson)

From there the circus travelled south, still on the South Island to the Otago Harbour city of Dunedin for the ‘NZ Championship Road Race’ on 28 January.

The event of 120 km was 44 laps of 2.74 km around the Dunedin ‘Wharf’ Circuit. Not everyone liked the place as the surface was rough and tough and included a section with a gravel surface.

Syd Jensen’s nimble, fast, Cooper Mk9 Norton started from pole with Gaze and Arnold Stafford in a similar Cooper on the outside of the front row. Marr, Parnell and Whitehead were back on row 3- Kiwis Ron Roycroft Bugatti T35A Jaguar 3442cc, Ron Frost, Cooper Mk9 Norton and Tom Clark, Maserati 8CM were on row 2.

Jensen set the crowd afire in the little Cooper harrying the bigger cars finishing third overall and setting the fastest lap of the race.

Gaze won from Parnell, Jensen, Whitehead and Tom Clark. Marr started the race, did one lap to get his staring money and then retired, not impressed with the place at all, with the other overseas drivers complaining that they were unused to driving on a metalled surface where some sections of the track were unsealed.

 

Parnell head down, bum up whilst Peter and Tony contemplate a post loading cool bevvy. Aston DP155/1 in all of its glory nicely juxtaposed by the industrial surrounds (T Selfe)

Immediately after the Dunedin race these amazing photographs were taken by Tony Selfe of Parnell, Whitehead and Gaze loading their exotic racers onto a low-load railway truck for transport to the next round they were to contest at Ryal Bush, 20 km north of Invercargill, at the very south of the South Island.

Parnell is still ‘suited up’ in his racing kit, the intrepid competitors in the DIY style of the day have helped Tony sip the victory champagne or beer and then taken their machines straight to the adjoining railyards for the Dunedin-Invercargill trip. That chain looks a very butch way to attach the light, alloy Ferrari to the flat rail-car.

Next up is Whitehead’s Ferrari- Peter steering, Tony rear left and Reg at right (T Selfe)

The visitors missed the 4 February South Island Championship at Mairehau but were at Ryal Bush the week later, 4 February for the First ‘Southland Road Race’, a 240 km race- 41 laps of a 5.87 km road course.

Back to Allan Dick’s history lesson on the evolution of NZ circuits.

‘To the farthest south, Invercargill motor racing enthusiasts looked north, and, as one of the founding members of the ANZCC felt it was their duty to join the motor racing scene and they eyed a vacant bit of land on the outskirts of Invercargill on which to build a permanent circuit, but they lacked funds.’

‘But 1956 was Southland’s Centennial Year so it was decided to hold a race meeting on a road circuit to get the sport established and help raise funds. Unlike their Dunedin cousins, the Southlanders opted for a country circuit rather than a city one after plans to close roads around Queens Park failed…they moved into the country and closed three roads around the small settlement of Ryal Bush which included a section of the main road to Queenstown.’

Whitehead was on pole from Marr, Gaze, Clark and John Horton in an HWM Alta 1960cc s/c (ex-works/Gaze) whilst Reg was back on row 3 in the Aston on the stretch of road being used for racing for the first time.

Dick describes the place as ‘…the Reims of NZ- three long straights with three tight corners and high speeds…But unlike Reims, Ryal Bush was narrow and lined with lamp-posts, hedges, ditches, drains and fences. Average speeds were around 150km/h, making it the fastest circuit in New Zealand.’

Given the vast European experience of Whitehead, Gaze and Parnell they should have felt right at home!

(CAN)

Allan writes of the photo above, ‘Photographs of this era are rare. Photographs from Ryal Bush are even more rare. The starters flag has just dropped and the cars are away with a very clear indication of just how narrow the roads were…take your time and drink in the details.’

‘Car #3 is the Ferrari of Peter Whitehead and the Streamliner is Leslie Marr’s Connaught. Car #4 on the second row is Tony Gaze and the antique looking car is Tom Clark in the pre-war Maserati 8CM. Clark had picked and chosen his races this season. Behind Clark is John Horton in the HWM Alta and alongside him is Frank Shuter in the Edelbrock Special.’

‘Also in the photograph can be seen the white Austin Healey 100S of Ross Jensen, the black 100S of Bernie Gillier and the Bugatti Jaguar of Ron Roycroft.’

‘I think it may well have been the start of a heat as there were several other cars entered that aren’t there- including Parnell in the Aston Martin, the Australian Aston Martins (Tom Sulman and David McKay), Pat Hoare’s 4CLT Maserati, Bill Crosbie’s local special and Bruce Monk in the advanced JBM Ford.’

Peter Whitehead won in 1 hour 35 minutes from Gaze, Parnell, Roycroft and Frank Shuter, Cadillac Spl V8 5200cc. Marr retired after an accident on the first lap.

The meeting was a huge success with plenty of money made, preliminary work began on what became Teretonga, its first meeting was in November 1957.

Peter Whitehead, perhaps, in front of Leslie Marr, Connaught at Ryal Bush in 1956- note the row of haybales in front of the wire farm fence and extensive crowd (Southland Times)

 

Parnell in NZ 1956, Aston DP155 circuit unknown (S Dalton)

 

Ryal Bush entry list

Peter Whitehead was complimentary about the meeting in an interview with ‘The Southland Times’, quipping ‘We’ll be back next year- if they will have us’- he was too, he won the race in his Ferrari 555 from Parnell’s similar machine.

Peter had some suggestions about how to improve things, these extended to shifting the pits to a slower section of road and that the corners be concreted, apart from that he ‘spoke highly of the race, its organisation and the favourable report he was going to give to the Royal Automobile Club in London.’

The visitors missed the season ending Ohakea Trophy at the airfield of the same name on 3 March, shipping their cars back to Europe- not so Tony Gaze mind you, he sold both the HWM Jaguar sports and the Ferrari 500 to Lex Davison who would also do rather well in the years to come with the ex-Ascari chassis- the 1956 and 1957 Australian Grands Prix amongst its many victories.

Before leaving New Zealand the visitors indulged in some deep sea fishing out of The Bay of Islands for a week before heading home. ‘Whitehead is headed for South Africa, and two important international races, including the South African Grand Prix at Johannesburg- he won the event last year. (he won the 24 March Rand GP in March 1956 too aboard the Ferrari 500) Mr Parnell’s next important engagement is the 12 Hour Sebring race in the United States’ the report concluded.

Parnell continued as a works-Aston Martin driver with DP155/1 put in a corner of the Feltham race shop until sold to ‘inveterate specials builder’ and entrant of the RRA (Richardson Racing Automobiles) Specials, Geoff Richardson, fitted it with a 2.5 litre single-plug engine.

Richardson told Anthony Pritchard ‘I paid about 900 pounds for it and it proved a great source of annoyance to me because John Wyer guaranteed when I bought it that it gave 190bhp. I put the engine on my test bed and got 145/146bhp. Wyer had a twin-plug engine but he wouldn’t sell it to me, I never spoke to him again. I made up a 2483cc Jaguar XK engine for it and got nearly 200bhp on pump fuel.’

Geoff Richardson in DP155/RRA Spl at Snetterton in 1957 (Autosport)

 

DP155/RRA Special circa 1961 at left and in the early 1970’s at right. Note RRA badge on grille at left, wider wheels and tyres at right (AMOC Register/HAR)

Richardson only raced the car twice before buying an ex-works Connaught B Type and therefore decided to sell it.

At the request of David Gossage, the new owner, Richardson rebuilt it in 1957 as a sportscar fitted with the body from the Lord O’Neill DB3S/105- modified at the front of the with a simple oval radiator intake. It was registered UK ‘UUY504’.

Gossage sold it to a hotelier, Greville Edwards, who had a bad accident in it in which his girlfriend was killed.

Richardson then re-acquired the car and built a replacement chassis using ‘main tubes supplied by Aston Martin’ said Geoff- and further modified it in the rebuild by replacing the torsion bar rear suspension with coil/spring damper units and fitted the de Dion axle with a Watts linkage in place of the sliding guide. Also ftted was a Salisbury ‘slippery diff. He modified the nose to make it more aerodynamic and finessed a 3 litre crank into a 2.4 litre Jag XK block to give a capacity of about 3.2 litres.

Geoff and his wife ran it in a few sprints and on the road before its sale in 1973. Richard Bell restored the car to original DB3S shape and built a twin-plug engine of correct spec. The car passed through a couple of sets of hands before being modified to 1955 team car configuration by Roos Engineering in Berne.

The last reported owner is in Tennessee…whilst the line of provenance is clearish the car in the US is quite different to the one Parnell, Gaze and Whitehead loaded onto a train on that gloomy Dunedin evening in February 1956!

DP155 via RRA via DB3S/105 body in 1988 and referred to as chassis 131-DB135 registered UUY504

 

Etcetera…

 

Reg Parnell in Peter Whitehead’s Cooper T38 Jaguar at Ardmore during the 1956 NZ GP (sergent.com)

 

Ryal Bush program signed by Whitehead, Marr, Gaze and Parnell.

 

Gaze’s Ferrari 500 in the Dunedin railyards 1956 (T Selfe)

 

Tom Clark’s Maserati 8CM, Dunedin 1956 (CAN)

Photo and Reference Credits…

Tony Selfe, ‘Aston Martin: A Racing History’ Anthony Pritchard, Allan Dick and ‘Classic Auto News’ July 2016 post on Ryal Bush, ‘Hissing Cobra’ by Mattijs Diepraam and Felix Muelas on 8WForix, ‘The History of The Grand Prix Car’ Doug Nye, sergent.com, Aston Martin DP155 thread on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’, Stephen Dalton Collection, Aston Martin Owners Club, The Southland Times, TA Thompson, astonuts.free.fr, Graham Woods Collection

Tailpieces…

(T Selfe)

A crop of the opening shot, Aston Martin DP155 being washed at Dunedin in February 1956, maybe one of you proficient in Photoshop can sharpen it up a bit.

Its just a footnote in motor racing history, but quite an interesting one all the same. It is a shame it lost its single-seater identity, what interest it would create had it survived in ‘original’ specification today.

And below, Reg at Wigram.

(unattributed)

Finito…

(M Wiliams)

Lex Davison boots his Tasman Formula ex-Bruce McLaren Cooper T62 Climax off the line at Mount Tarrengower Hillclimb, Maldon, in Victoria’s Goldfields, 25 October 1964…

Davo just loved to compete- anywhere and everywhere. Apart from his four AGP wins he was adept on the dirt in Redex Round Australia Trials competition and in the hills. He won the Australian Hillclimb Championship thrice on the trot from 1955-1957 at Toowoomba, Bathurst and Albany respectively, in all cases aboard the Cooper Mk4 Vincent/Irving.

(M Williams)

This non-championship event was an easy one for the great man. Toorak to Maldon is a nice 150 km drive up the Calder Highway so would have represented a nice weekend away with the car and no doubt a few of his kids.

Having said that Tarrengower is still a very fast, dangerous place especially with a car of the performance envelope of Davo’s GP machine. This T62 chassis was Bruce McLaren’s 1962 Caversham AGP winner before its sale to Lex, and is a car I’ve written a feature about, click here to read it; https://primotipo.com/2016/05/20/bruce-lex-and-rockys-cooper-t62-climax/

The internet gives and gives in terms of photos seeing the light of day after decades hidden in boxes. This wonderful batch were taken by a friend of Max Williams, he posted them on Bob Williamson’s amazing Facebook ‘Old Motor Racing Photographs-Australia’ page. In amongst hundreds of recycled touring car photos are some jewels, including this lot!

(M Williams)

Bob King attended that day, it was ‘..the second hillclimb of the new era, the venue revived by the Vintage Sports Car Club of Victoria, with the event held on 25 October 1964’.

‘Graeme Thomson raced the ex-Whiteford Talbot Lago T26C but ‘Doug was there and advanced the magneto by about half a turn and then did an electric run. In those days the finish was right at the top, and having finished my run i was privileged to see Whiteford sideways across the finish line at about 100 mph. Davo was pretty exciting also taking the FTD with a 50.34 seconds run’.

(M Williams)

Ron Simmonds picked the ex-Whitehead/Jones/Phillips Cooper T38 Jaguar (above) as probably driven by John Ampt at Monks Corner, Templestowe Hillclimb, again in Victoria.

Enthusiast Les Hughes said of the car ‘One of three, the first and shown without body at the Paris Show. It was bought by Peter Whitehead and raced by he and his brother Graham at Le Mans and Dundrod in 1955. He sold it to Jones in New Zealand who made his Australian race debut in it at Albert Park’.

Pictured is the car below at Le Mans ‘…coming through The Esses and about to be passed by the ill-fated Pierre Levegh (Mercedes Benz 300SLR) who would die on this lap. The Cooper Jag retired’.

 

Another Templestowe shot below , the corner at the end of Banana Straight, the wide loop hairpin onto The Shelf which then led up to The Wall.

Who is it and what is it though?

( M Williams)

Credits…

Max Williams, Bob King, Les Hughes, Ron Simmonds

Tailpiece: MGA coming out of The Hole at Templestowe heading down to Barons Corner…

(M Williams)

Finito…

(Kiama)

I wrote an article about beach racing at Gerringong Beach near Kiama on the New South Wales Illawarra Coast a while back…

The article focused on a race meeting in May 1930, I had too many photos for that piece, the purpose of this article is to share them here.

They cover a diversity of Gerringong related topics- the May 1930 meeting, three land speed record attempts and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith. The history of Gerringong Beach aka Gerringong Speedway is in that earlier article, click here to read it; https://primotipo.com/2018/10/26/gerringong-beach-races-1930-bill-thompson/

I’ve no idea who the driver or car above is but just love the silhouette of machine and driver against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Its taken during the May 1930 meeting as the ‘track’ fights a losing battle with the tide.

(Kiama)

The photo above is of Seven Mile Beach and the little Gerroa settlement, it gives a sense of just how relatively quiet a place Gerringong was at the time. Gerroa River mouth at Gerringong.

Don Harkness and ‘Wizard’ Smith on Gerringong Beach in December 1929 (Fairfax)

 

Don Harkness: Minerva Hispano Suiza Australian LSR October 1925…

Upon leaving school Don Harkness became an apprentice in general engineering, aged 20 he was employed by JC Hilliers at Drummonye Sydney, by 1922 Harkness and Hillier Pty. Ltd. was formed.

Don developed an interest in motor racing and imported a Willys Overland which was highly modified- ‘Whitey’ as the car was nicknamed won over 50 races at venues as diverse as the Maroubra concrete saucer speedway, the Penrith dirt speedway and on the beach at Gerringong.

Harkness aboard the Overland ‘Whitey’ date and place unknown (DHA)

An offer of a fifty pound trophy to the first person to exceed 100 mph in Australia over the measured mile by the Daily Guardian newspaper led to Harkness’ use of FR Colbert’s  Minerva chassis powered by a Hispano aero V8 engine- the car below won the trophy on 17 October 1925 at a speed of 108 mph.

(unattributed)

Anzac Rolls Royce: Wizard Smith and Don Harkness, Australian Land Speed Record December 1929…

‘The run was made under the worst of conditions seen for years with danger hidden in every sand hole. The car at one stage reached a speed of 142 mph and with such ease as make both Smith and Harkness confident of an ultimate speed of 175 mph’ the Sunday Times reported.

Don Harkness was approached by Norman Leslie ‘Wizard’ Smith and the former Lord Mayor of Sydney, Jack Mostyn to design and build a car to attempt the Australasian one mile and ten mile records.

The proud Harkness & Hiller workforce of artisans with the Anzac Rolls Royce, Parramatta Road, Five Dock, Sydney in November 1929 (DHA)

 

Smith and Harkness in an early test of the Anzac Rolls Royce with one and a bit wheels off the deck. Mention is made of a test run at Richmond, NSW, I wonder if that is the place, late 1929 (unattributed)

The result was the ‘Anzac’, a Cadillac chassis into which was inserted a Rolls Royce aero engine- as one does.

The liaison between Australian Speed Ace Smith- of intercity and circuit racing fame and financier Mostyn came about by chance when Smith came to Mostyn’s aid with a car breakdown. A series of discussions resulted in a determination to initially take Australasian Records and then with a second, more powerful machine, to take on the world.

Harkness was well known for his engineering and driving prowess to Wizard- Harkness had an amazing track record by then in both automotive and aero engineering which is a great story in itself, so it was a natural he turn to the Harkness and Hillier concern to design and build the first car, christened ‘Anzac’ in memory of the Australians and New Zealanders who lost their lives in the Great War.

The basis of Harkness’ design was a modified and strengthened Cadillac chassis- ‘Harkness chose a Cadillac and found the stock material so good, that he retained the frame, the (3 speed) gearbox assembly, the wheels, final drive, radiator and strengthened the steering by fitting a special chrome steel drag link in one piece’.

The Cadillac chassis details are unclear, but in 1928/9 they were made in two wheelbases- 140 and 152 inches, the former the standard and the latter the ‘semi-commercial’ lenghth for hearses and ambulance use, both had the same track of 56/58 inches front/rear. The standard engine was a 341cid side-valve, cast iron V8, the gearbox was a 3 speeder, brakes mechanical and rear axle fully floating with spiral bevel drive.

The frame was reinforced where necessary with special supports carrying the longer, lighter Rolls engine. New gears were cut from higher grade steel, then finished in the Harkness shop. ‘An overdrive gearbox was used to step up the revolutions of the wheels- the final drive ratio was 1.5:1. A new flywheel housing (bellhousing) was designed, patterned and cast, together with a new gearbox assembly. (this of course contradicts the earlier sentence- I suspect what happened is that new, stronger gears were cut and fitted to both the  Cadillac ‘box and diff)

Wheels were ‘ordinary stock 33 by 5 inch high pressure cords’, ‘on the trial run at Richmond they stood up to 121 mph’ with race tyres to be used in New Zealand with its higher expected speeds.

The Wizard of Anzac (Fairfax)

The beast was about 20 feet long, had a wheelbase of 11 feet and a track of 4 feet 8 inches.

The motor (variously described as both an Eagle series 8 and 9) was the last in a line which first saw use in 1915- the 320-360 bhp, SOHC, twin-plug, 20 litre, 60 degree, twin Claudel-Hobson carbed  V12 engine was acquired as war surplus from the RAAF.

Harkness modified it to be able to run at higher revs of 3000 rpm rather than the usual 1800-2200 rpm. The engine had a bore / stroke of 4 1/2 / 6 1/2 inches – 1239 CID or 20.32 litres.

The car was constructed in the Harkness and Hillier, Parramatta Road, Five Dock, Sydney workshops with local firm Prophets making the ‘streamlined’ body, which no doubt in style was a nod in the direction of other LSR cars in existence at the time.

The LSR in 1929 was held by Henry Segrave’s 930 hp Napier Lion engined ‘Golden Arrow’ at 231.362 mph- well out of reach of Anzac’s maxima of circa 175 mph- but the machine was still good for local record hunting and as a ‘proof of concept’ to build the next car designed to achieve the world record.

The radiator was at the front, the cockpit cowled around the driver ‘who was insulated from engine heat, flames and fumes’ by steel bulkheads and flooring. The mechanic was left well in the breeze, the body then tapered in towards the rear and had a neat stabilising tail at the very back. The fuel tank was aft of the driver and the oil tank behind the rear axle. The car no doubt looked stunning in its gold, lacquer paint.

The Australasian Record attempt was to take place at the Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand in early 1930, but first the car had an Australian Record to set, and needed to prove it was fit for purpose before being shipped ‘across the ditch’ (Tasman Sea) from Australia to New Zealand.

Anzac was taken by trailer from Five Dock to Gerringong where the team set up camp in late November 1929.

‘Conditions were so bad on the Saturday that Smith postponed his attempt but were even worse on Sunday. Heavy seas had pounded the beach for days and water rose as far back as the trees, 200 yards from the normal waterline. This had the effect of bringing thousands of tons of loosely, badly-knit sand on to the part of the beach used for racing. The line was covered with seaweed and ruts and hollows along the course and made the driving dangerous.

On the Sunday, the Wizard and Harkness looked over the beach at dead low tide and decided to give the car a trial. There was but a tiny stretch of the surface good enough for racing, just about three quarters of a mile long’.

 

All set- Don Harkness has one last check of the engine- hard plugs now fitted to the Rolls V12- time for the off, Gerringong Beach December 1929 (Fairfax)

 

After being carefully made ready the Rolls engine was fitted with soft plugs for a warm-up run of the engine after which 24 race, or hard plugs were fitted. The car was fuelled, checked over for the umpteenth time and then Smith and Harkness jumped aboard.

‘The final quarter mile was marked off, and the car took a run of only 800 yards before entering the timing strip. “From the start we accelerated to 110 mph where we hit the starting line” said Wizard. “Just before we did nearly 3000 revs in second gear, and I changed a few yards in front of the line. We were doing just about 110 mph then, and in the next few yards I could feel her winding up. She surprised me. I’m convinced Don has built me the fastest car in Australia. The old bus will beat all the Wapitis that overflew. I’ll guarantee that she has more speed than anything else in Australia, or a plane”.

Don Harkness is more than pleased. He is delighted for the car has done more than he expected, and that more with so little effort that he doesn’t think of what it will ultimately achieve.’

Harkness said ‘After Sunday’s run…I’ll guarantee 150 mph in New Zealand and we’ll get her moving at 175 mph when we will have the very best of conditions and the car has the power, Norman will do the rest’

The team created an Australian record at Gerringong of 128.571 mph (206.909 kph). Harkness reported that with the gear ratios fitted the car was capable of the following speeds/rpm;

1000 rpm 63 mph, 1500 rpm 94.5 mph, 1800 rpm 113.4 mph, 2100 rpm 151.2 mph, 3000 rpm 188 mph, 3200 rpm 200.6 mph

 

Harkness on this side of the car is leaning well forward- I wonder if that is due to his seat or trying to get a better fix on the perilous nature of the beach?

 

Both set back in their seats in this shot, quite a functional handsome weapon

 

Suppliers cited as providing components for the car were AH Prophet, the body, Vacuum Oil Co the fuel and lubricant- ‘Plume Spirit’ and Mobiloil B.

EA Marr provided the Firestone tyres with Harry Taylor of Advanx Ltd having them ‘treated and scientifically trimmed and balanced for speed’. WT Adams of Motor Ignition Ltd supplied an ‘Ajax’ battery to start the giant motor and F Reed supplied Personne-Reed double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers.

‘The beautiful finish in gold’, was supplied by Bergers Ltd, using the famous ‘Opex’ lacquer. John McGrath Ltd, agents for Cadillac provided the chassis.

Taken to the Ninety Mile  (Kaitaia) Beach Smith and Harkness achieved a two-way average of 144.037 mph on 11 January 1930. Days later they attempted the 10 Mile Average achieving a one way speed of 148.637 mph- better than the record then held by Leon Duray’s Voisin of 135.333 mph and were told that because of the distance a return run was not necessary. This was subsequently established to be not the case with the record being unrecognised given the lack of a return run and the antiquated equipment used to time it.

Anzac never ran again- Smith became preoccupied with the Fred H Stewart Enterprise, a new Harkness/Smith 1450 hp LSR machine, which is a sad story of the breakdown in the relationship of the two men for another time…

 

(Fairfax)

May 1930 ‘Fifty Mile Championship’ Race Meeting…

It was a very soggy raceday for both the racers and the specators, only about 300 hardy well rugged up spectators turned up to see Bill Thompson win the ‘Fifty Mile Handicap’ feature race in his Bugatti T37A, a car he had used to win the Australian Grand Prix not so long before.

The grid above comprises two Chryslers to the left- the #72 E Patterson and HJ Beith Chrysler Sports with Charlie East’s Bugatti T37 on the right.

(SMH)

E Patterson’s 4 litre Chrysler on the turn around the flags which mark out each end of the course. Fine touring cars in their day.

(Kiama)

The light weight of this Austin 7 Gordon England Brooklands Super Sport made rescue from the rising waters a good deal easier than more conventional and heavier machines!

Young filly aboard one of the Bugatti T37’s, Thomson’s T37A I suspect (SMH)

The race meetings were as much social, society occasions as they were motor racing so there were never any shortage of ladies about. The May meeting is well served by photographs given the presence of a staff photographer from the Fairfax/Sydney Morning Herald.

(SMH)

 

Lea-Francis was entered by Mrs JAS Jones and raced by RG Potts in the 50 Mile Handicap.

 

(SMH)

 

(SMH)

Speaking of Mrs Jones, here she is with riding mechanic aboard her rather peachy Alfa Romeo 6C1750 Zagato, one of Vittorio Jano’s finest, I wrote a feature about this wonderful machine a while back.

https://primotipo.com/2018/02/15/mrs-jas-jones-alfa-6c-1750-ss-zagato/

She didn’t have a great meeting after winging’ a mechanic who strayed into her path having crossed the finishing line in one of the events- breaking his leg.

(SMH)

In amongst all the fun there was some serious motor racing for the top-liners of the day.

Three time Australian Grand Prix winner- and just back from Phillip Island having won the 1930 race, Bill Thomson raced the same Bugatti T37A and won the feature event of the weekend, the Fifty Mile Handicap.

In the photo below his mechanic is readying his mount- that is a Light Car Club of Victoria badge on the radiator.

(SMH)

Thomson was every schoolboys idol of the day as this photograph below shows- the look of adoration and joy on the little, capped dudes face is priceless. No doubt Bill has just won the feature event.

(SMH)

Simply amazing shot below of Bill’s T37A passing a Chrysler at speed- this photograph is the cover shot of Kent Patrick’s biography on the great man, a work I must acquire.

(SMH)

The impressive line up of cars before the Fifty Mile Handicap race includes, from the left, the Percy Hunter driven JAS Jones owned Alfa 6C1750 Zagato, the obscured Bill Thomson Bugatti T37A and two Chrysler 4 litre machines of E Patterson and #72/14 Herb Beith.

Any idea what the car below is folks, I thought for a bit it might have been Charlie East’s Bugatti T37 ‘37104’ in the paddock, or more specifically, on the beach- but it isn’t!  Any clues?

You can see from the gaggle of cars below going around one of the markers which defines  one of the extremities of the ‘track’ that the tide is rapidly marching in. No idea of the cars, assistance invited.

(SMH)

The masked avenger below appears to be another lady racer but I’ve no idea as to name or mount. Evocative shot, the mask is protection from the sea gales and sand but reminds me of the first use of Nomex masks circa 1967.

And I thought wet Winton in May can be a pain in the arse!

(SMH)

Definitely time for a few bevvies by this stage of the day. Car make and model?

(SMH)

 

(Kiama)

Kingsford-Smith: Australia-New Zealand Flight 1933…

Charles Kingsford-Smith used the beach at Gerringong to fly to New Zealand, above the ‘Southern Cross’ has just landed.

Seven Mile Beach was used as the runway for the first commercial flight between Australia and New Zealand.

The historic journey by legendary pilot Air Commodore (and later) Sir Charles Kingsford Smith took place in the early hours of January 11 1933, he landed more than fourteen hours later at New Plymouth on New Zealand’s North Island.

Gerringong Beach was chosen, for this, his second flight across the Tasman, because of its length which allowed plenty of distance to get the heavily laden plane off the deck- on board was 660 gallons of fuel and 30 gallons of oil as well as a crew of four.

 

Look at that crowd! (SMH)

 

Hauling the plane clear of the rising tide (SMH)

 

In position, being fuelled and made ready (SMH)

 

(unattributed)

 

‘The Daily News’ Perth 11 January 1933

The famous aviators flight log describes the trip as a joyriding tour, his crew comprised co-piot and navigator PG ‘Bill’ Taylor, wireless operator John Stannery and SE Nelson, secretary of the New Zealand and New Plymouth Aero Clubs.

The aircraft was flown down from Mascot Airfield, Sydney on January 10 averaging 115 mph for the trip. Once on the ground the plane was pronounced fit and the engines were covered to prevent ingestion of air blown sand, it was refuelled with chamois leather providing the filter!

Flares were lit early on the beach to mark a runway with several thousand people making the trip from Sydney to witness the historic 2.50 am takeoff- turning on their headlights to provide the aviators with extra illumination. The motorists were requested to keep their headlights on for 15 minutes after departure with Smith firing some rockets or flares to signal all was well once the ‘Old Bus’- the Fokker Trimotor VH-USU ‘Southern Cross’ was aloft.

‘Smithy’s last flight was aboard a Lockheed Altair which disappeared in the dark, tropical heat off Burma in November 1935.

Australian Minister of Defence handing over the ‘Southern Cross’ to Kingsford-Smith at Richmond RAAF base, New South Wales in 1935 (MAAS)

 

Peter Whitehead ERA R10B: LSR attempt 10 November 1938…

Peter Whitehead raced his ERA R10B extensively around Australia in 1938 most notably winning the Australian Grand Prix at Bathurst over the Easter long weekend and the Australian Hillclimb Championship at Rob Roy in outer Melbourne’s Christmas Hills later in the year.

https://primotipo.com/2015/04/16/peter-whitehead-in-australia-era-r10b-1938/

(The Sun)

He found time for a little record-breaking though- his attempt on the Australian Mile started with a 133 mph pass at Gerringong but on the return leg a piston failed bringing an early end to his day. \

Here ‘the boys’ are hauling the car off the beach through thick sand.

(The Sun)

 

Credits…

‘Kiama’ – kiama.nsw.gov, monumentsaustralia.org.au, ‘Sunday Times’ 8 December 1929 and various other newspapers via Trove, ‘MAAS’- Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, ‘DHA’- Don Harkness Archive, The Sun, Fairfax/Sydney Morning Herald

Tailpiece That May 1930 meeting really was soggy…

(Kiama)

These dudes have well and truly lost the battle with the Pacific Ocean tide! It is a competitors car too, #18 in an earlier shot.

Finito…

image

(Sydney Morning Herald)

I wrote a long article about Peter Whitehead’s successful 1938 ‘Australian Tour’ which culminated in his ERA R10B, Bathurst, AGP win on 18 April, here he is enjoying a ‘cleanser’ at the races duration, click here to read it;

https://primotipo.com/2015/04/16/peter-whitehead-in-australia-era-r10b-1938/

This piece is a ‘photographic update’ of the earlier tome. It’s interesting the way photos sometimes ‘pop up’, in this case as a result of someone clearing out a house and finding a cache of photos of a man who was clearly a Whitehead fan ‘in period’.

Most of the shots were posted on an antiquarian website with a blog devoted to identifying unknown objects, via that medium they found the primotipo article above. Go figure the ways of this internet world! The photo’s existence 80 years later is indicative of just how much general press interest there was in Whitehead’s visit with the ‘fastest car to come to Australia’ at the time .

I received the assistance of a ‘panel of expert mates’ to ID the shots, many thanks to racers/fettlers/historians/enthusiasts John Medley, Patrick Ryan and Greg Smith for their ‘smarts’! Mind you there was not a unanimous view on all of the shots, opinions from others welcome.

ERA Australia Shots…

PW either during the 1938 AGP, Bathurst or at Rob Roy, Christmas Hills, Victoria. Whitehead ran with number 1 at both events, won both and set course records. Bathurst expert Medley says its Mount Panorama and Melburnian Rob Roy regular Pat Ryan’s vote is for the Clintons Road, Christmas Hills short ‘climb.

As you will see Whitehead is sans any form of head protection, not even the vestigial ‘cotton bonnet’ of the day; mad given Bathurst’s surface.

image

(Sydney Morning Herald)

The next 3 shots are of Whitehead going down the long Conrod Straight ahead of (ID Stephen Dalton) Barney Dentry’s #14 Riley. It would have been pretty wild, flat out in that ERA without helmet atop the gravel surface pinging past the gum-trees close by at around 150mph.

image

image

(Dave Sullivan Album)

image

Two shots ago but cropped closer to the cars; Whitehead and Dentry down Conrod (Dave Sullivan Album)

Refuelling R10B with fuel and topping up the radiator at Bathurst. Crew member Kenneth Maxwell at left.

image

(Sydney Morning Herald)

UK ERA R10B shots…

Start of the 1937 Donington GP, 2 October 1937 won by Bernd Rosemeyers #5 Auto Union Type C from the #3 von Brauchitsch and #1 Caracciola Mercedes W125’s

image

#2 Lang DNF gets the jump at the start in his W125 Benz from #4 MB Seaman DNF, #1 MB Caracciola #5 AU Rosemeyer and #3 von Brauchitsch MB on the outside. The next group comprises the 2 AU’s of Hasse 5th and Muller 4th. #8 are the Mays and #16 Whitehead ERA B Types both DNF (The Autocar)

The next photo is of Peter Whitehead leading Dick Seaman’s famous Delage at Donington during the Junior Car Club 200 Mile race and Andre Cup on 29 August, Seaman won the event in 15S8 Delage from the earl Howe and D Briault/Keith Evans ERA B Types.

The race was contested by a mix of 1500cc Voiturettes and Grand Prix cars; mainly Alfa Tipo B/Monza and Bugatti T51’s.

image

(The Autocar)

The Walker/Whitehead ERA leads the Seaman Delage at Donington in 1936, date unknown.

image

(The Autocar)

Hector Dobb’s Riley leads the Whitehead/Walker ERA R10B at Brooklands.

image

The Walker/Whitehead ERA ahead of a Bugatti, MG K3, MG NE at Brooklands

image

Credits…

Thanks again to John Medley, Patrick Ryan and Greg Smith for your period knowledge

Dave Dempsey and antiquers.com, Dave Warner Album on ‘The Nostalgia Form’ via Terry Walker

Tailpiece: ERA ‘Peter Partners’ Walker left, and Whitehead celebrating a race win, by Walker perhaps? at Donington in 1936…

image

(The Autocar)

 

 

whitehead agp 1938

(John Blanden Collection)

Peter Whitehead kicks the tail of ERA R10B out on the dirt surfaced Mount Panorama circuit, Bathurst AGP 1938…

It was said in those far away pre-synthetic fabric days that Australia ‘rode on the sheeps back’, 120 million of the critters roamed Australia in 1938, we clothed the world, with 50% of the wool clip sold to the United Kingdom.

Peter Whitehead was a member of a wealthy Bradford family with extensive interests in the textile industry including Australia. The family company, ‘W & J Whitehead’ were worsted wool spinners making yarn for products ranging from clothing to furniture. Whitehead lived on a farm near Reading, ‘Motorwork’ of Chalfront St Peter was the base for his racing activities.

He was despatched to the Colonies in 1938 to help expand the family empire, his ‘tour’ creating enormous press and public interest as, in addition to his ‘sheep shears’ he brought with him ERA R10B the ‘fastest car in Australia’.

During his visit he ran the car at every opportunity in addition to his well known victory in the 1938 Australian Grand Prix at Bathurst including several attempts on the Australian Land Speed Record.

whithead and crew bathurst

Whitehead and his crew at Bathurst. Nice cockpit detail of R10B. ‘Altho Whitehead dominated the AGP in terms of speed and equipment, he had to drive hard all the way , and vastly impressed onlookers with his style. He was allowed to drive bareheaded so he might better listen to his engine’. (History of the AGP G Howard)

Whitehead, born in Yorkshire on 12 November 1914, started racing in a Riley progressing to an Alta and soon the ERA, acquired new from Raymond Mays and Humphrey Cooks’ concern in 1936. Peter was a ‘wealthy amateur’ but also a fast world class driver, a lifelong enthusiast who won Le Mans in a ‘C Type’ Jaguar in 1951 in a long, varied career in sports cars and single seaters.

His life was cut short by a 1958 Tour de France crash, he was a passenger in a Jaguar Mk1 driven by his half-brother Graham.

But back to the start…he commenced racing a Riley, quickly progressing he finished third in the Limerick GP, a Formula Libre race, which was the first major result for Geoffrey Taylor’s Alta firm.

In 1936 he finished third in the Donington Grand Prix, sharing his ERA, with his driving partner in the car throughout, Peter Walker.

During the war he joined the RAF as a pilot. Once the war was over he was back racing, taking his ERA to second place in the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man in the summer of 1947. Later that year he raced at Lausanne as well. In 1948 he survived a plane crash at London’s Croydon Aerodrome being seriously injured. He had been preparing to fly to Milan to arrange the purchase of a Ferrari 125.

In 1949, after convincing Enzo Ferrari to sell him the car, he became the first Ferrari F1 privateer. With the green painted 125, he won the Czech GP, becoming the first Briton to win a major race abroad since Seaman. He almost won the French GP as well but gearbox problems pushed him back to third.

51 le mans win

Victory at Le Mans in 1951 with Peter Walker, Jaguar XKC. (Unattributed)

In 1950 he won the Jersey Road Race and the Ulster Trophy at Dundrod and achieved a career highlight at Le Mans in 1951 sharing the winning Jaguar ‘C Type’ with Peter Walker.

He continued to race and win in Formula 2 events across Europe in 1951 and 1952 with an Alta, a Cooper-Alta and his Ferrari.In 1953 he shared victory with Stirling Moss in the Reims 12 Hour in a C-Type Jaguar winning the race again the following year in a D Type, sharing with Ken Wharton, the ‘D’s  first win.

1950 italian gp

Whitehead 7th in the Italian GP, Monza 1950. Ferrari 125. (Unattributed)

In 1953 he won the French 12 Hours of Hyeres and added Ferrari single-seater victories in the Lady Wigram Trophy in New Zealand and in the Rand GP in South Africa.

He returned to Australia in 1956 contesting the ‘Olympic Grand Prix’ at Albert Park finishing 3rd in his Ferrari Super Squalo in the race won by Stirling Moss’ works Maserati 250F.

At Le Mans in 1958 he shared the second-placed Aston Martin DBR1 with his half-brother Graham then, a couple of months later, Peter lost his life during the Tour de France. Their Jaguar, with Graham at the wheel, crashed over a bridge parapet into a ravine, injuring Graham and killing Peter.

whitehead era

Lovely Portrait of a happy driver, Peter Whitehead. Car, Alta? date and place unknown. (Unattributed)

ERA logo

shepherd ERA drawing

This is not R10B…or even a ‘B Type’, its actually a ‘C Type’, ignore the Porsche type front IFS and pretend its the beam axle of the A/B Types…otherwise the overall look is captured, too nice a drawing by Bob Shepherd of ‘Australian Motor Sports’ not to use i reckon!…(Bob Shepherd)

ERA R10B…

ERA was founded by Humphrey Cook, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon on November 6 1933 and established in Bourne, Lincolnshire next to Eastgate House, Mays family home.

Their ambition was to build a team of single seaters capable of upholding British prestige in European racing. Given the cost of Grand Prix racing, they focussed on the smaller voiturette, 1500cc supercharged class, the Formula 2 of the day.

Humphrey Cook financed the operation. Peter Berthon was responsible for the overall design of the cars, while Raymond Mays became its principal driver, he had most recently raced the ‘White Riley’, the success of which inspired Cook to back its creators in founding ERA.

It’s said the first design drawing by Reid Railtons’ assistant Ralph Beauchamp was dated 23 October, before ERA was formally incorporated.
The chassis, a channel section frame, was designed by Railton who had also successfully designed the Bluebird Land Speed Record cars for Malcolm Campbell. The frame was built by Thomson & Taylor at Brooklands.

The wheelbase was 96 inches, the front and rear track 52.5 and 48 inches respectively.

Panel-beating brothers George and Jack Gray hand crafted the bodywork, to a design credited to a Mr Piercy who had previously designed ‘Bluebird’s body.

r10 b warming up 90 mile

Peter Whitehead warming up the engine and transmission of R10B before his unsuccessful attempt on the Australian Land Speed record on the 90 Mile Beach, Victoria in September 1938. (EH Price)

Suspension front and rear (A & B types, the works team raced the ‘A Type’ in 1934/5, the ‘B Type’ had a slightly revised chassis and more reliable engine) comprised ‘H Section’ live axles forged by Hadfields, sprung by semi-elliptic leaf springs, dampers were Hartford friction type.

The engine was based on the well proven Riley 6-cylinder unit, modified in a number of significant ways. A stronger forged crankshaft with a large centre Hyatt roller bearing, 3 main bearings in all, was made and an entirely new aluminium cylinder head designed. The engine used a bespoke supercharger designed by Murray Jamieson which was fed by a single SU carburettor. One plug per cylinder was ‘sparked’ by a Lucas magneto.

The ERA engine was designed in three capacities; a base 1488cc, 1088cc and 1980cc. It ran on methanol, in its 1500cc form it produced circa 220-240 bhp with in excess of 275 bhp in 2000cc form.

The cars were fitted with Wilson four-speed pre-selector gearboxes, Girling mechanical brakes and 16X5.25 inch tyres, total dry weight was 2016 pounds.

The unveiling of ERA, ‘R1A’  took place at Brooklands on 22 May 1934. After initial handling problems, which required a number of modifications, ERA had a winning formula. By the end of the year ERAs had scored notable victories against many more established marques.

R10B was built to Peters’ order in 1936 with a capacity of 1.5 litres. The price quoted was 1500 pounds. R10B remained 1.5 litres in capacity until Whitehead fitted a 2 litre engine and two-stage blower in 1949, but for the period we are covering was a ‘standard’ spec 1.5 litre ‘B Type’ ERA.

era engine 90 mile

Super-charged 1.5 litre inline 6 cylinder, cast iron block, alloy head Riley based engine of R10B at the 90 Mile Beach, Victoria in September 1938. Steering column and box, throttle linkage, magneto, super-charger, engine rocker cover detail and chassis rails all visible. (EH Price)

ERA cutaway

Cutaway drawing nicely shows the key elements of the very successful design. (DMJ Illustration)

England to Australia…

maroubra circuit

Maroubra Speedway: Sydney, NSW April 1938…

Its not recorded from whence the Whitehead crew set sail in England but the first event for the car in the Southern Hemisphere was the Australian Grand Prix held at the new Mount Panorama circuit on the weekend of Easter Sunday 18 April 1938

That Whitehead tested his ERA or ‘ran in his engine’ on what remained of the Maroubra Speedways’ concrete bowl whilst in Australia does not seem to be in doubt. Perhaps it was prior to travelling to Mount Panorama. This is plausible if the car was shipped from the UK to Sydney, docking at King Streets ‘Hungry Mile’, infamous as the place where thousands of unemployed labourers sought a days work in the long years of the depression or Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont.

To test the car with the resources of the Sydney ‘fettlers’ closeby makes ‘racers sense’ after the ERA’s long voyage. The other possible time of the Maroubra test was perhaps after the failure of a piston and the engines rebuild or replacement after the cars failed Australian Land Speed attempt at Gerringong Beach, NSW on November 10. That seems to have been the cars last event in Australia, R10B needed to be race ready for the 2 events in South Africa Whitehead contested in January 1939 on the way back to the UK.

Maroubra is a Sydney Southern Beaches suburb adjoining internationally known Bondi.

speedwayandroadracehistory describe the history of ‘Olympia (Maroubra) Speedway’ as follows…’The paved bowl Maroubra Speedway opened on the 5th of December 1925. It had the reputation as Australia’s most notorious ‘Killer Track’

‘Situated South of Sydney in a natural hollow in the Maroubra sandhills, it was an ideal area for the track as the natural landscape lent itself to a huge saving on the cost of earthworks and the large population of Sydney was just down the road. Once the track was completed claims of up to 70,000 spectators spectators were made. The track was that steep through the turns that it was impossible to walk up the track face.’

‘Snakes were a major problem as they would come out during the heat of the day to soak up the suns rays on the race track, a bit of a worry with no protection from another cars wheels flicking up a Dugite snake into the open cockpit’. Hmm, yep!

‘Five competitors would loose their lives in just two years during the 1920’s, In 1927 the great Phil Garlick driving his super-charged Alvis, blew a tyre and rode over the top edge of the race track, hitting a light pole and died instantly.’

Plagued with problems the short 5/6th of a mile venue closed in 1927, long gone were those two years of large crowds looking on in amazement at the motorcycle racers reaching speeds of up to 100mph side by side on the big banked oval.

Less sensationally, Graham Howard in an article for ‘Motor Racing Australia’ remarked on the bravery of the promoters in building a facility unlike any in Australia before, the short concrete track having curves of 16 degrees and dizzying 48 degrees elevation built by contractors with no expereince in anything like it.

Crowds never matched any more than one third of the 60000-90000 estimated on the opening day, many spectators avoided paying for the entertainment on offer by making use of the local surrounding sandhills which attracted the investors in the first place. The original entrepreneurs went bust in 1926, subsequent management tried night racing for both cars and ‘bikes. The danger of the place caused competitor entries to decline, all the racer fatalities occurred on the same section of track after the north-east curve.

Maroubras’ last race meeting was held in November 1934, the original crown lease was assumed by the Housing Commission, by 1951 construction of dwellings had commenced and by 1961 the area was occupied by 4000 people. Sydneysiders can check out the area bounded by Anzac Pde, Malabar Rd and Fitzgerald Avenue as the site of actions of derring-do in the 1920’s…

I’ve not uncovered any photographs of Whitehead at Maroubra but have chosen a couple of period photos’ to provide the flavour of the place.

hope on banking

This shot of Hope Bartletts’ Bugatti Brescia chosen to show the steepness of the concrete bowl. 22 December 1926. (Unattributed)

marourbra ballot and bugatti

Harry Cooper Ballot and Hope Bartlett, one of the stars of the day, Bugatti Brescia. Big crowd, date uncertain. (Unattributed)

bathurst map

Whitehead timed his stay in Australia around the AGP, held that year at Bathurst, Easter in April…

The daunting circuit was newly built and had a gravel surface. Whilst Whiteheads’ ERA was the most advanced, new car in the race, the AGP was held to Formula Libre and handicapped until 1953 due to the paucity of equivalently competitive cars, the sport very much an amateur activity at the time.

John Medley wrote the 1938 Chapter of Graham Howard’s magnificent ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’, Medley records…’The new circuit over Bald Hills near Bathurst was the sene of the 150 Mile AGP…The first ‘real’ AGP outside Victoria, it drew the largest field so far, 39 entries, it continued the trend towards larger engines, it had a multi-state entry (and 2 from the UK), it produced the first overseas winner of an AGP, and was run on the only one of the great traditional old circuits to survive to the present day’.

agp pre start

AGP field awaits the start, R10B in shot. (History of The AGP G Howard)

The ERA dominated the entry list, the car had been raced by both Whitehead and Peter Walker, having finished 3rd in the 1936 Donington GP, the 1936 Nuffield Trophy, the 1937 Junior Car Club 200 Mile event at Donington and the 1937 Empire Trophy also at the Leicestershire circuit.

Medley reports the quickest Australian cars entered were the McIntyre owned, Frank Kleinig driven ‘Kleinig Special’ an 8 cylinder Terraplane powered car based on an MG ‘L Type’ Magna chassis (the development of this amazing car over 15 years is a story in itself). Tom Peters was entered in the Ford V8 powered Bugatti T37A which won both the 1930 and 1932 AGP’s at Phillip Island in Bill Thompsons’ hands.

Colin Dunne entered an ex-Bira MG K3, Jim Fagan another K3, ex-Birkin/Don/Hall, and Lyster Jackson the final K3 ex-Hall.

Fellow Englishman Alan Sinclair joined Whitehead racing an ex-Winterbottom Alta 1100…’The Alta an infrequent starter in Australia, being a temperamental beast-apparently like its owner who had a lively time whilst in Australia. The Alta non-started at Bathurst too, but that may have had something to do with Sinclair spending the previous Friday night in the cells on sundry drunk and disorderly charges’ Howard reports.

Other entries included Tim Joshuas’ Meadows engined Frazer Nash, the ‘Mrs Jones owned’ Alfa Romeo 1750SS to be driven by future AGP winner John Barraclough, George Martins’ BMW 328,(this 328 won the 1948 AGP in Frank Pratts’ hands) Barney Dentry in the Riley which won the 1932 Brooklands 500 Mile Race, Dentry having competed in all but one AGP.

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Limit man Ron Uffindells Austin 7 is away. AGP start 1938. (John Blanden Collection)

The importance of Australian Specials at the time is highlighted by the entry of George Bonsers and Harry Beiths’ Terraplane Spl’s. Wangarattas’ Jack Phillips’ entered his Ford V8 Spl, so too were Queenslander Charlie Whatmore and Arncliffe, Sydney garage proprietor Fred Foss similarly mounted.

Shanghai born Bob Lea Wright was remakable chracter, a WW1 fighter pilot, national swimming champion and a good boxer who rose to the rank of Major during WW2 in the Service Corps. He too was in a Terraplane Spl as was Bowral, NSW, Hudson/Terraplane Dealer Les Burrows.

Alf Barrett, about whom i wrote not so long ago entered his Morris Bullnose Spl for Colin Anderson and the ex-Jack Day 1927 supercharged Lombard AL3 for himself.

New MG ‘T’s were entered for John Crouch, Alan Crago and R Kerr stripped of ‘guards and lights as was the 1934 Riley Imp of George Thame.

On the face of it the ERA was easily the fastest car in the race but the AGP was a handicap, anything can and did happen over the years the event was held to the F Libre/Handical format.

John Medley reported that ‘ Despite the bitterly cold morning over 30000 spectators thronged all parts of the circuit…After a grand parade, the limit marker, Ron Uffindells’ Austin 7 was away on its long journey. Over the next half hour the rest of the field left the line, scratch marker Whitehead leaving a blanket over the ERA radiator until the last moment’.

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34 minutes after limitman Uffindells Austin 7 set off Whitehead is away, past the St Johns Ambulance. Grey, cold Easter Bathurst day. (History of The AGP G Howard)

‘Already by the time of Whiteheads’ raucous departure there had been pitstops and retirements’; Thames Riley Imp broke its crank, Barretts Lombard was out with either magneto trouble or run bearings but Alf was impressed by the ERA, the purchase of an Alfa Monza via Thomson and Taylor shortly thereafter the result of a desire to get a competitive, reliable car. Les Murphy lost time with a long stop and Frank Kleinig retired after throwing a fan-belt.

‘So through the dust and ruts and the flying stones Uffindell lead with Anderson and Pike in pusuit…the battling MG ‘T’s were next from Crouch, Keir…further back Burrows Terraplane, the McKellar V8 but already Whitehead was looking the likely winner, lapping faster than expected’.

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Shot shows the challenges of high speeds on the narrow, dirt surface of  Conrod Straight, perhaps the Dentry Riley behind Whiteheads ERA. The Esses/Forrests Elbow in the distance. (Dave Sullivan Album)

On lap 20 Peter pitted for oil, fuel and water, by then the Norman Aubin Ford V8 Spl, Williamson Chrysler, Joshua Frazer Nash and Weir  MG had retired.

‘According to the ‘Bathurst Advocate’…this intrepid Englishman apparently does not know the meaning of fear. Once or twice his car slid badly and began to waltz about on the road but he just smiled unconcernedly and set it racing on a perfect course again with the utmost simplicity’.

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The Crago/Sherwood stripped MG T Type lead at the half way mark. Here he is at the top of Mountain Straight turning into Quarry. Bathurst countryside as far as the eye can see. (Bob King Collection)

At the 100 Mile mark the Crago MG driven now by John Sherwood lead Uffindell by a minute, Crouch and Burrows side by side across the line in third and fourth. ‘But the writing was on the wall-either Whitehead or Burrows would win’.

‘The race continued with the corners badly rutted and increasingly dangerous. The Foss Ford V8 Spl, Pike and Beasley Singers and Fagans noisy megaphoned MG K3 also fell out and the Burton Alvis in a race punctured by incidents spun again at the Esses’.

burton alvis

Paul Burton was a WW2 test pilot. His 1482cc supercharged FWD Alvis was ‘driven with enterprise’, the car survives today. (John Blanden Collection)

‘On lap 30 Burrows lead by 8s from Sherwood with Whitehead in 6th place and 3m40s behind…rapid calculations suggested that Burrows might beat the black ERA home-but it was not to be; a disappointed Burrows slowed, the Terraplane sounding woolly, and Whitehead, despite a windscreen broken by a flying stone 5 laps from the end, passed him during lap 35 to forge away. Burrows maintained his distance ahead of Sherwood in the Crago MG’.

Whitehead received the chequered flag from Whatmore and Sherwood. Many pitcrews disagreed with the official results, after protests the placings were; Whitehead in R10B, Les Burrows in the Terraplane Spl, Crago in MG T, T Peters in the MacKellar Spl s/c, John Crouch MG T and Jack Phillips, Ford V8 Spl.

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Beiths’ 3455cc straight 8 Terraplane Spl leads Kerrs’ 3621cc V8 Ford Spl. Kerrs’ passenger working hard! Australian Specials the essence of this race for so long. Hell Corner, the run onto Mountain Straight. (Wheels magazine)

Medley…’Whitehead received a tremendous ovation at the finish and afterwards was surrounded by a huge crowd. Dusty, dirty and deaf in a dark blue shirt, spotted tie and grey slacks, mug of beer in hand, he praised the circuit, fellow competitors, and the race itself: ‘I think it is a really fine track. It has the fast corners and the slow corners and a long straight that enables cars to make up lost time…when tar paving is carried out it will be hard to better it…some nasty bumps appeared down the Mount during the latter part of the race’. He said he had not been troubled by spectators walking on the track!

In the best traditions of motor racing Whitehead and Sinclair lead the celebrations; Jim Leech in the Light Car Club of Australia History ‘ …at the prize presentation His Worship The Mayor had just finished his address to the multitudes and was on the point of handing the winners trophy to Whitehead when he was squarely hit on the head by a large cauliflower. This being followed by a shower of similar vegetables resulting is His Worship, his 2 daughters and other Coucillors retiring in disordered haste’.

John Medley, ‘The sporting newspaper ‘The Referee’ had earlier predicted that ‘Englishmen Whitehead and Sinclair will add tone to the event’…

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Peter Whitehead takes the chequered flag in Pit Straight in cold, dusty conditions, love the salute of the bloke on the right! (Frank Wetton in ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ by John Medley)

Land Speed Record Attempt: Canberra, ACT June…

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Amazing photo of Peter Whitehead fettling R10B in between runs, first hand accounts suggest he would have attained the record had the timing equipment done its thing. Canberra in June is bloody cold! hence the cardboard, by the look of it, blind to assist in retaining some water temperature. (Ted Hood)

The Canberra Speed Trials were annual events conducted during the 1920’s and 1930’s featuring standing start and flying start time trials along a rural road which is now Northbourne Avenue, literally Canberras’ main street. I can find little reference to these events but the photos in Ted Hoods’ Collection in the State Library of NSW make up for the paucity of information otherwise.

Racer Arthur Rizzo, in an article about his Rizzo Riley Spl said of Whiteheads attempt ‘1938 saw us in Canberra to watch the attempts on the Australian records. Peter Whiteheads’ ERA sounded terrific and was hand timed to around 150mph.’ (the timing gear refused to record his time)

‘Later the same year we saw the ERA at Bathurst on a circuit that was all dirt. We were at the top of Conrod looking up at The Esses and i remember the ERA coming down into Forrests Elbow in the deep wheel tracks, the fixed crank handle digging into the mound between the tyre tracks and making a noise like a machine gun’.

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Tiny crowd, at least from this angle watching the record attempts. Its a hazy shot but its Whitehead on one of his runs. Road now Northbourne Ave, a main Canberra artery. (Ted Hood)

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Whitehead in Canberra. Nice detail shot of forged ‘H Section’ beam axle, Hartford friction dampers, finned brake drum, fixed crank handle which received a serious workout on Bathursts’ late race rutted surface! (Ted Hood)

rob roy descrip

After the AGP the ERA journeyed from Central New South Wales to the outskirts of Melbourne to contest the Australian Hillclimb Championship at ‘Rob Roy’ in the Christmas Hills on 13 June…

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R10B Rob Roy, June 1938. (Leon Sims/ MGCC)

Peter needed to run in some engine parts so did part of the journey in R10B from Canberra on the Hume Highway, the main road between Melbourne and Sydney! It’s hard to imagine Lewis Hamilton doing something similar in his ‘Benz whilst he was in Oz for the 2015 AGP. Mind you, according to one report the ERA was locked up for a bit due to this escapade.

Such were those wonderful far away days.

Rob Roy is still in use, it’s a short climb and was then, as so many of our venues were, unsealed until the following year.

The ‘Melbourne Argus’ reported that 3500 people attended the pretty little hamlet and watched Whitehead clip 3.94 seconds off the previous record , his best time was 31.48 seconds winning both the Australian and Victorian Hillclimb Titles from Jack Phillips Ford V8 Spl and Arthur Terdichs’ Bugatti T37.

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Rob Roy, Christmas Hills panorama in 1947, looking down to the start. Not that much different today, its still rural despite being (longish) commuting distance from Melbourne. (George Thomas)

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Whitehead at Rob Roy, Victoria. (MG Car Club)

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Peter Whitehead battles an unfavourable tide. 90 Mile Beach September 1938. The relatively narrow patch left for the ERA of ‘solid’ sand is clear between the soft sand and the shallows. (EH Price)

Land Speed Record Attempt: 90 Mile Beach, Woodside, Victoria Sunday 4 September…

The ‘Perth Sunday Times’ expected the Australian record of 92mph to be surpassed at the 90 Mile Beach, as the name suggests, a long expanse of coast at Woodside near Yarram 210 kilometres from Melbourne. The attempt was made under the auspices and control of the Australian Automobile Association and a top speed of over 120 mph was expected over the 4 miles of pristine beach chosen for the attempts of Whitehead and others.

‘The Adelaide Mail’ in its pre-event report described Whitehead ‘as a pleasant young Yorkshireman, a shock headed wool buyer and amateur racing motorist’.

Whitehead was quoted as saying ‘ The car can do it if the conditions are good…You just sit there and tread on the gas, and hold tight to the wheel. On a good test run particularly, it is not the driver that counts but the engine. The ERA is good class here, but in England she is pretty slow. At the beach on Sunday i am not going to be a Segrave or a Campbell!! So do not be disappointed’.

90 mile beach crowd

Crowd scene at the 90 Mile Beach near Woodside, Victoria, September 1938. 6000 people a large number at this remote location far from any City of substantial size. (EH Price)

That 6000 people ‘conveyed by nearly 2000 motor vehicles ‘attended the event at the time is remarkable given the distance from Melbourne, the small local population and the lack of public transport to access the then relatively remote location.

‘The Melbourne Argus’ reported that the attempts were stymied by a strong south easterly wind which prevented the usual fall of the tide. After Whitehead achieved 118.8 mph in the ERA waves washed over the track preventing any further serious attempts. As Peters ‘ speed was in one direction, the rules requiring a two way average a new record was not recognised, the existing record set in Canberra some years before, by Bill Thompsons’ Bugatti, at 112.5mph remained. The report noted that Thompson was an interested onlooker.

paer article 90 mile beach

‘The Sunday Times’ Perth 4/11/38.

I love the terminology of the day ‘…the crowd began to throng the sand hummocks along the picturesque track many hours before the events were timed to begin. Trials were impossible owing to the tide. When Whitehead warmed his engine up for the first run at 2pm officials expressed keen disappointment at the failure of the tide to fall to within 20 yards of the usual mark’

‘With only a few yards of wet sand between the flags and the waves on the four mile course, Whitehead pluckily started up so as not to disappoint the crowd. He was obstructed by water in his first run however, and although he averaged 118.8 mph in his next run, his car plunged through the lip of a wave, tearing away the apparatus for cooling the brakes, ripping off the oil filler cap, and partially flooding the crankcase with salt water. He maintained control but it was evident that he had no chance of putting the record up to 135mph which was his hope’.

90 mile warmup

Whitehead gently warms up the cars engine and Wilson pre-selector ‘box prior to a 90 Mile Beach run. The shot shows the ‘packaging’ of car and driver in the day. Collar and tie a nice touch! (EH Price)

Officials decided to allow other drivers some runs whilst Whitehead attempted repairs but the day was abandoned ‘ with waves lapping the tent containing the electric timing apparatus and washing completely over the finishing point…there was a rush to get cars off the beach before the tide rose further’.

In an indictment of the morals of the men of the day ‘The Argus’ on the same page breathlessly reported that ’55 men were arrested in Flinders Lane, Melbourne having been in a ‘common gaming house’, punting on the horses not allowed off course at the time!

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Surfs not really up. Whitehead thwarted by bad luck, weather conditions, engine or timing gear failure at all 4 of his attempts on the Australian Land Speed Record in 1938. (EH Price)

 

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Peter Whitehead winning the feature event at Aspendale Speedway, Melbourne, Victoria in October 1938. ERA R10B. He also set the lap record. (EH Price)

Aspendale Speedway: Melbourne, Victoria 1 October…

That Whitehead would run the car everywhere was shown again when he contested a ‘feature race’ at Aspendale Speedway in October. The venue was conceived as a horse racing track by James Crooke in 1891 but incorporated a track for ‘new fangled automobiles’ from 1906.

In fact one of the very first races in Australia was contested at the venue that year.

aspendale 1906

Aspendale is a suburb 25 Km from Albert Park, also on Port Phillip Bay, which you can see from the AGP telecasts. When built the facility was on Melbourne’s fringe but growing urban encroachment meant the track was subsumed for housing, the venue used for motor racing into the 1940’s.

‘The Argus’ reported ‘The success of Peter Whitehead, the English racing car driver was a feature of the motor races conducted at the Aspendale Speedway on Saturday by the Light Car Club of Australia. Whitehead displayed the amazing acceleration and power of the car on the straights, especially the back stretch where he attained about 100 miles an hour. In the invitation race of 10 laps he completed 1 lap in 43.45 seconds at 82.79 mph. This established a lap record for the track.’

Whitehead won the feature from R Curlewis, MG and P Chain, Frazer Nash.

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Other unidentified competitors at Aspendale Speedway during the 1938 meeting at which R10B competed. (EH Price)

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Peter all loaded up and ready to go, Parramatta Park. His was one of a couple of practice accidents which gave ‘the coppers the wobbles’ and caused the events cancellation. (Unattributed)

Parramatta Park Grand Prix: Sydney 5 November…

It was the first time such an event was to be held in Sydney, a Grand Prix in Parramatta Park, an inner city suburb 25 kilometres from Sydneys’ centre. The event, conducted by the NSW Light Car Club and Empire Speedways was to be held on 5 November 1938, the finale of a series of events as part of Parramatta’s 150th Anniversary celebrations.

Interest from drivers and the public was enormous. Twenty five entries were received including Whitehead, Frank Kleinig, Les Burrows and Hope Bartlett. Jack Saywell’s Alfa Romeo and John Snow’s Delahaye, two of the fastest cars to have been brought into Australia were also set to oppose each other at the Parramatta Park track, described as being ideal with a good straight and challenging corners.

A grandstand with a capacity for 1100 spectators was built at the start-finish line, one thousand reserve tickets had been sold and about 50,000 people were expected to turn up to watch the event, which comprised 3 20 lap heats and a 50 lap final.

parra park map

Leading up to the race the safety of the track was reviewed, Graham Howard reported ‘some corners had been protected with sandbag walls, and spectator fences erected and at police request resited further back from the road. In practice Whitehead hit a sandbag wall, more worrying was Reeds’ collision with an off course tree after the steering jammed in his Willys 77′

Peter Arfanis wrote ‘However, all the excitement of the event was transformed to astonishment then fury by 5.30pm Friday 4 November. At the eleventh hour Police Commissioner Mr. MacKay decided to ban the race. The decision immediately caused an outcry with the Mayor of Parramatta, Alderman Irwin, calling for a public inquiry into the decision. Crowds had begun gathering on race day unaware that the race had been cancelled. It was a major disappointment for the people of Parramatta.

The organisers were adamant that the race should continue and placed a fresh application for the race to be held on the following Saturday. Organisers were prepared to protect the public by erecting a ‘stout wire-meshed safety fence’ at any point that the police felt it necessary.

The police stood firm stating that the track with its difficult bends would have been dangerous to both the public and the participants’.

Graham Howard in his article in ‘Motor Racing Australia’ about the circuit speculated, i suspect accurately, that the ‘twitchiness’ of the authorities about circuit safety was probably a consequence of the death of spectators at the privately owned Penrith Speedway (in Sydneys outer west) 5 months earlier. ‘Not on my watch etc!’

In practice Whitehead lapped the track in 1m 4.5 seconds ahead of Frank Kleinig (Hudson Spl) 1:7.6 and Jack Saywells’ Alfa P3 1:9.0, the circuit 1.1 miles long. Several events were run post war; Stan Jones did 1.01 in Maybach 1 in 1952 and Jack Brabham 59.5 in his Cooper T23 Bristol in 1954 with no quicker car beating his time at the final meeting in the Park in 1955.

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Land Speed Record Attempt: 7 Mile Beach, Gerringong, NSW 10 November…

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Not Whiteheads’ ERA… but a group from 16 November 1929 to give the flavour of the place…L>R; Studebaker 8, Chrysler with outside exhausts, W Thompson Bugatti T37A and Hope Bartlett Bugatti T43. (MC Hinder, Sydney Morning Herald)

‘Seven Mile Beach’ became known as the Gerringong Speedway, it was a popular outing to attend the races, and was the scene of a significant event in  Australian motor sport history when the 100 miles per hour barrier was broken.

There were regular races throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Around 2000 spectators were present at the Royal Automobile Club speed trials in March 1925, hoping to see the 100m/h barrier broken. Don Harkness did so on October 7, 1925.  His official speed was 107.75mph in a Hispano-Suiza V8 powered Minerva.

The crowds were excited by the car racing and land speed trials on Seven Mile Beach but in 1933 an entirely new era of transport began there. Local cars used their headlights to provide extra illumination for the first commercial flight between Australia and New Zealand. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith used Seven Mile Beach as the runway for this flight between Australia and New Zealand and several thousand people came to watch the 2:30am take off.

The Canberra Times reported on 11 November 1938 of another attempt at the Australian LSR which continued to elude Peter ‘An attempt to establish an Australian Land Speed record by the English racing driver, Peter Whitehead on the Seven Mile Beach at Gerringong, yesterday failed at 132 mph when a piston broke.’

It would be interesting to know who rebuilt the engine in Oz, or perhaps he had a spare, probably did given the professionalism involved.

Whitehead Returned to the UK…

I’ve not been able to ascertain exactly when Whitehead shipped R10B back to England, he travelled via South Africa on the way home. R10B contested 2 races, DNF with piston failure in the 5th South African GP at East London on 2 January 1939, the race was won by Luigi Villoresi in a Maserati 6CM.

On January 14 he raced in the Grosvenor GP at Capetown again suffering piston failure, Franco Cortese won in another 6CM.

His 3rd place in the Nuffield Trophy at Donington Park on 10 June 1939, the race won by Biras’ ERA R12C,  appears to be his last success in the car before it was laid up for the long years of the War…

Peter returned to Australia to race post war as recorded earlier, he was a welcome visitor but few racers have made the impact Whitehead and R10B did throughout 1938…

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R10B Returns to Oz in 1978…

1978 was the 50th anniversary of the first AGP held on the dusty public roads of Phillip Island in 1928, fittingly there was a fantastic weekend of celebrations to recognise what is one of the oldest continuous Grands’ Prix in the world. A championship event only since 1985 granted, but a GP with a long history all the same.

I was a young university student at the time and camped there for the weekend, the Phillip Island circuit had not long since been reopened, in addition to the re-enactment runs on the public roads there was a fantastic weekend of historic competition bringing together many of the cars which contested the event, including the 1938 victor, R10B.

At the time the cars custodian was Joel Finn, he provided a great demonstration of the sight and sound of these fabulous cars.

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R10B returns to Oz again in 2015…

The current custodian of the car Paddins Dowling raced in the Phillip Island Classic in 2015, Stephen Dalton took these shots of the car.

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era 1

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Etcetera Whitehead in Oz…

1948 Bathurst programme ERA

From the 1948 Bathurst program via Stephen Dalton

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The ERA at the 90 Mile Beach , Victoria in September 1938. (Stephen Dalton Collection)

agp 1956

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‘The Mail’ Adelaide

Etcetera Whitehead…

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Whitehead warms up the engine and transmission of his ERA ‘E Type’ in the pits of the 1947 Jersey International Road Race. Charlie White standing beside the cockpit. 8th on the grid, DNF on lap 1 ‘cracked tank’. Race won by Reg Parnells’ Maserati 4CL. (adam@forgham.com)

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1950 JCC Jersey Road Race ‘Jersey GP’. Whitehead Ferrari 125 victorious. His half-brother Graham was 7th in good ‘ole R10B, then 14 years old. 9 July 1950. (George Thomas)

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Whiteheads’ (pants tucked into his socks) Ferrari 125 alongside #11 Bob Gerards’ ERA R14B, 4th. Jersey Road Race 1950. Lord Freddy March sitting on the shooting stick. (Doug Nye-The GP Library)

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Peter Whitehead races to victory in his Ferrari 125 # ’10-C’. Ulster Trophy, Dundrod, 12 August 1950. (Unattributed)

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Whitehead #17 Ferrari 125 on the Silverstone grid alongside Giuseppe Farinas’ Alfa 158, 3rd and 1st respectively in the final. BRDC International Trophy, 26 August 1950. (Unattributed)

le mans 1951

L>R The 1951 LeMans winning #20 Whitehead/Walker Jaguar XK120C Type beside the # 23 Biondetti/Johnson DNF oil pump and #22 Moss/Fairman DNF oil pressure, cars. (Autosport)

Bibliography…

John Medley’s 1938 Chapter in Graham Howard’s  ‘History of The AGP’. Howard’s ‘Motor racing Australia’ article on ‘Closed Circuit-Maroubra Speedway’, Arthur Rizzo interview via Ray Bell TNF, Illawarra Shire website, Parramatta City website/ Peter Arfanis, ‘Closed Circuit:Parramatta Park’ article by Graham Howard in ‘Motor Racing Australia’ magazine, Whitehead career summary historicracing.com, vintagespeedway.com, ERA Club, The Nostalgia Forum

‘The Mail’ Adelaide 3/9/38, ‘The Argus’ Melbourne 5/9/38, 14/6/38, 3/10/38, ‘Sunday Times’ Perth 4/9/38, ‘The Canberra Times’ 11/11/38, Sydney Morning Herald 4/11/38

Research Assistance…

Stephen Dalton, enthusiast/historian for the advice, photos, sourcing some of the references, and ‘post posting’ errors detection!

Photo Credits…

Ted Hood, John Blanden Collection, Bob King Collection, Graham Howard ‘History of The Australian GP’, State Library of NSW, Leon Sims/MG Car Club, Stephen Dalton, Bob Shepherd, DMJ Illustration, Dave Sullivan Album, The GP Library, Autosport, Wheels magazine, Frank Wetton, John Medley ‘Bathurst: The Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’

Martin Stubbs of the Dacre Stubbs Collection for securing the use of the 90 Mile Beach and Aspendale Speedway images of the late EH Price from the Collection of John Hazelden. Thanks Martin and John for the use of these rare images.

Finito…