Posts Tagged ‘Riley 9 Brooklands’

Barney Dentry and unknown passenger aboard the Dentry modified Riley 9 Brooklands, giving the Bill Thompson Bugatti T37A a wide berth at Heaven Corner, Phillip Island 100, January 1, 1934. The Bugatti is about to spin, possibly distracted by the Riley’s change in trajectory, DNF valve, Barney was third (Dentry Family)

Melburnians Gordon Henry Scott ‘Barney’ and Bess Dentry were stalwarts of Australian motor racing from 1925 until the outbreak of World War 2 when the perils of both parents of two young boys (Charlie born 1929 and John 1933) racing together as driver and co-pilot-cum-mechanic became all too clear and untenable.

Bess and Barney Dentry reunited with Riley Brooklands during the 1978 Phillip Island 50 Year AGP celebrations (Dentry Family)
Bess and Barney with their ever-evolving Riley at Wirlinga, Albury in March 1938 (John Blanden claims Victor Harbor 1936) (Dentry Family)

Barney, a returned soldier, bought a St Omer of about 1920 vintage as his first car. Acquired without body, he assembled the machine during his courting-Bess Wheeler-days with various components including an 1100cc air-cooled 10hp Precision cyclical engine. The Senechal that followed as a roadie was progressively modified into a competitive racer.

Beanpole Barney and Ted Major during the Victorian Light Car Club’s 1928 100 Miles Road Race – aka 1928 AGP – at Phillip Island, Senechal (Dentry Family)
“A Riley Specialist. This is George Dentry, one of the best known and most successful competition drivers in Victoria. He has the fastest Riley in Australia. But he is not satisfied, he is working on a supercharger of his own design” (The Referee, March 13, 1931)
Barney, Senechal, on Wheelers Hill c-1927. Now an outer east Melbourne suburb of the same name – this road and hill is now a six-lane arterial (Dentry Family)

Wildwood Hillclimb and the 50-Mile Championship on the Aspendale Speedway, and Flinders Hillclimb in 1925 were the the cars first events; with first/FTD, second place and first in the 1100cc class and second outright the results. Bess won the ladies event at Flinders.

Outings at Aspendale in 1926 and Wheelers Hill in 1927 and 1928 were followed by an entry in the 100 Miles Road Race – later appropriated by the Victorian Light Car Club as an Australian Grand Prix, the first AGP having being run at Goulburn Racecourse in 1927 – at Phillip Island in March 1928. Bess was heavily pregnant with first son Charles at the time so Barney was co-driven by Ted Major to first in class and fifth overall. Captain Arthur Waite was victorious in his diminutive, quick and robust Austin 7 s/c.

Robert Marie Georges Senechal (5/5 1892 – 30/7 1985) was a French aviation pioneer, racing driver, industrialist and winner of the first RAC British Grand Prix at Brooklands in 1926 aboard a Delage.

At the end of the war, the heavily decorated Senechal directed the sale of French Government owned surplus stocks of cars and trucks, together with Pierre Delage, son of Delage founder Pierre Louis Delage. Senechal then evolved the Eclair cyclical manufacturer in which he was an investor, into carmaker Cyclecars Robert Senechal in Courbevoie, Paris in 1921.

Robert Senechal aboard one of his cars (BNF)

While continuing to race successfully – 1923 Champion of France, twice Bol d’Or winner, Spa 24-hour victor etc – he did a deal with Chenard & Walcker to produce his cars. 5000 were built in their Gennevilliers, Paris factory until 1929 when Senechal left the business to establish a successful Chenard & Walcker, Delage and Bugatti dealership in Paris.

By the 1924 Paris show the product range comprised cyclecars of 972cc and 1100cc in capacity, such power units provided by outside specialists, Ruby (mainly) Trains and Chapuis-Dornier. By 1928 the company built Chenard & Walcker voiturettes of 1100 and 1500cc capacity.

Barney’s notes on the specifications of his car are as follows, “1100cc ohv engine (which perhaps implies the car was originally fitted with a 972cc Ruby manufactured engine) first used at Wildwood in 1925. The car first used a fabric body, later a metal body and later still was fitted with a hood. Bore/stroke 58x100mm, max rpm 4900, 7:1 compression ratio, wet-cone clutch, three-speed and reverse gearbox, open tail shaft, no-diff. CWP straight-tooth, ratio 4:1 and Barney made a 4.25:1 unit for Aspendale. Rear brakes only were six-inch drums with a five-inch transmission brake. Steering was rack and pinion 1:1 ratio. Carburettor was a 30mm Solex with Bosch 60 electrics.”

Dentry Senechal engine bay circa 1924 (Dentry Family)
“Barney’s section of Duponts” c-1924 (Dentry Family)

During his Senechal phase, Barney was employed by LF Dupont Pty. Ltd at 26 Toorak Road, South Yarra, the agents for Senechal, Chenard & Walcker and Calcott, “a sturdy little English car.”

The Senechal became a regular drawcard at Aspendale throughout 1929, the speedway had by then had its concrete surface replaced “with the original white granite”, no doubt to create more action for the punters. Six meetings yielded 4 first, 2 second, 2 third and 1 fourth placing.

Barney and Bess contested an AGP for the first time together in 1929 when they were second in class and sixth overall in the 206 mile, 3 hour 51 mins race at Phillip Island won by Arthur Terdich’s Bugatti T37A. After 10 laps the Dentrys were in a group of six cars contesting the lead, John Blander wrote that “The best cornering was shown by Arthur Terdich who was now well clear in the lead, and by Barney Dentry who was driving the Senechal superbly, aided by his wife as mechanic.” The Great Southern Advocate reported that “Thousands of women showed great interest in the race, and greatly admired Mrs Dentry for accompanying her husband throughout in his Senechal car.”

Demonstrating its versatility – this ‘GP car’ was road-registered throughout its life – the couple entered the November 1929 Herald Rally and Reliability Trial where it was first in Class-B.

With purchase of a Riley Brooklands it was time to sell the faithful Senechal, Barney’s The Car November 15, 1929 ad invited “you speedsters and all who appreciate a first-class car, here’s the chance of a lifetime, get in touch with Barney today” at 22 Rankin’s Road, Newmarket. Do get in touch with me if you know what became of this significant car.

Barney and Bess aboard their Riley 9 Brooklands during the 1930 AGP weekend at Phillip Island. Somehow the photographer has managed to make the small Riley look like a big-banger! Shot is probably in the garage area behind the Isle of Wight Hotel in Cowes (R Brownrigg Collection)

For the balance of their racing careers the couple mainly – speedway midgets duly noted – raced this Riley 9 Brooklands, chassis number 8062, competing in the Australian Grand Prix almost every year until 1938.

The pair were seventh outright and first in class-B (1100cc) in 1930, where Jack Edwards was eighth outright and second in Class B aboard their old-faithful Senechal. Four Brooklands Rileys were entered with the Dentry car expected to be, and was, the quickest, but they also had dramas. While running second Barney collided with Howard Drake-Richmond’s Bugatti T37 in the heavy dust, then – still second outright – the Dentrys pitted with valve troubles, costing them five laps.

In 1931 the pair were fourth outright and again first in class-B off a handicap of 11 minutes, with only the five Bugattis behind the Riley at the start. Carl Junker’s Bugatti T39 won from Cyril Dickason’s Austin 7 and Howard Drake-Richmond’s Bugatti T37.

In 1932 they were tenth, last of the finishers off a handicap of six minutes, with only the Bugattis of Carl Junker and winner Bill Thompson behind them at the start. It was the first AGP appearance with Barney’s slinky aluminium body. Dentry modified the body of the Riley by replacement of the fabric standard coachwork with a light, slipper type aluminium body which placed Bess more behind, rather than beside Barney. Initially stub exhausts were used but these were replaced by a tuned length pipe which exited atop the passenger side rear wheel.

The Riley factory were so impressed with his performances they gave him one one of only six very special Ulster engines free of charge,” wrote Blanden. Unfortunately Barney had problems with enormous oil-feed problems. “Despite having obtained a response from England as to a likely cure to the problem it was not successful and he had a number of pitstops in an endeavour to lessen the trouble. Even with those Barney and his wife still finished tenth.” wrote Blanden.

Come 1933 they missed the race as Bess was ill, in fact it appears she was pregnant. “My wife has been my mechanic for eight years. When she drops out of the race, both the car and I do likewise,” Barney told the Barrier Miner.

“As a combination we do fairly well, but without her I would lose a certain amount of confidence. She is very cool and thinks hard during the race. I do nothing but keep the car on the road and get all I can out of the engine. Her job takes concentration, an alert brain and quick decisions. And she does it really well.”

Bess picks up the thread, “We have only had one accident, when we ran into a fence at Nar-nar-goon. I was thrown out but not hurt. It had no effect on my nerve, thankfully. A mechanic never looks ahead during a race. I watch the other cars, and touch my husband on the shoulder when one is overtaking us. With the left hand I work the fuel pump and I cast frequent glances at the gauges.”

“Along the track we have friends stationed, and I watch for their signals. The first 30-miles of this long race are the worst. Sometimes I wonder how I will manage to last the remaining 170. But the miles and minutes move so fast, there is so much to do and think about, that the end comes quickly.”

The handicapper had well and truly caught up with the Dentrys years before. In 1934, of 20 AGP starters, only three competitors had tougher handicaps, Cec Warren’s MG J2, Arthur Terdich’s Bugatti T37A and scratch-man Bill Thompson, MG K3. The Dentrys were unclassified, doing 29 of the 31 laps, but lost 14 1/2 minutes pitting to rectify a loose bonnet on their 20th lap. Bob Lea-Wright won aboard a Singer 9 from the flying Bill Thompson’s MG K3, and Jack Clements’ MG J2.

Later in the year, in a stellar field, the Dentrys led the field in the 230-Mile Victorian Centenary Grand Prix – the longest race held in Australia to that point – with three laps to go but the usually reliable Riley had fuel-air feed problems which lost them much time and again precluded the pair from taking their long-awaited first big-win. Mick Smith and Lin Terry won aboard a Ford V8.

1935 AGP collage – note the Dentry family at top left (The Referee)

For the last of the Phillip Island AGPs in April 1935 the bar was raised again, the Dentrys and Bill Williamson’s Riley Imp had handicaps of 8 minutes 47 sec with only Thompson’s MG K3 off scratch behind them. In a strong result they were fifth in the race won by Les Murphy’s MG P-Type, despite losing four minutes with a dead engine and taking to the Gentle Anne escape road.

Ron McCallum puts some of Dentry Riley reliability down to the fitment of a taller-geared back end from a Rugby. “He just welded the pinion to the Riley tailshaft. This would have saved him a lot of revs, aiding his incredible AGP reliability,” Ron said.

In May 1935 Dentry thrilled the Phillip Island crowds during the Jubilee meeting, “One of the most consistent of Victoria’s racing motorists, was the unluckiest man on the track. Although he recorded fastest time, and fastest lap with his Riley in the two events in which he competed, his handicap in each case was too great to allow him to reap the rewards of his superior skill and speed.”

In the 50 Mile Handicap he was second to Alf Barrett’s Morris Cowley Spl, it was Barrett’s first race at the island, “driving with superb judgement and cornering in a manner to earn the envy of veteran racers.” The Argus reported. It was very much a portent of what was to come from the wealthy, gifted Victorian who came to be regarded as one of Australia’s greats aboard an Alfa Romeo Monza immediately pre and post-war.

Riley on the hop at Victor Harbor in December 1936, 1936 AGP. The aluminium body was styled and made by Barney (Dentry Family)

On Boxing Day 1936 the South Australian Centenary Grand Prix was held, a race later appropriated as an AGP. The Dentrys were again fifth in this contest run on a rectangular 7.8-mile public road course between Victor Harbour and Port Elliott on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Les Murphy won again in his MG P-Type. That year the Riley was said to be equipped with an ex-George Eyston 1935 factory motor, but as John Medley wryly observed, the car “was perhaps never as quick as the handicappers expected.” Better was to come in the support Olympic 50-mile Handicap though, when the fast Dentry duo finally took the chequered flag from Lord Waleran in John Snow’s MG K3 and Les Burrows’ Hudson Eight Spl.

The first road-race in Victoria – the publicists of the day somehow forgot that Phillip Island is part of Victoria, separated from the mainland by only about 250 metres! – was the Benalla Centenary 100 mile race held on the outskirts of the north-eastern Victorian town in April. After a neck and neck struggle with Les Murphy’s P-type in front of a crowd of 20000 people, Barney and Bess had seemingly won, got the garland and the plaudits of the crowd but then lost the race after a lap-counting error. It was far from the first or last lap counting squabble in Australian major events, Vin Maloney won in an MG Magna from the Dentrys.

The happy couple at Benalla in 1936, another big-win opportunity which eluded the Riley duo (Dentry Family)

No AGP was held during 1937, but 1938 was a biggee with the opening of Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Prominent Brit Peter Whitehead spent the better part of a year in Australia mixing duties for the W & J Whitehead woollen mill enterprise and racing his ERA B-Type, R10B. Whitehead disappeared into the distance off scratch, winning by 1.5-minutes from Les Burrows. The Dentrys were 16th and last of the finishers off a handicap of 12-minutes, eight cars started behind them in the 30 car field.

And that, it seems was the end of the Dentry’s racing career. By then Charles Dentry would have been 8/9 and younger brother John 4/5 years old so the sensible thing to do was to quit while they were ahead. Ron McCallum recalls a race accident as the catalyst for retirement, but I can’t find an accident in which the couple were involved at this stage.

By 1939 the Dentry business premises were located at 2 Peel Street, Windsor on St Kilda Junction, where he positioned himself as a specialist Riley, MG and sportscar repairer.

Retirement from racing wasn’t a catalyst for sale of the Brooklands Riley which was retained until 1946, then sold to Ken Wylie. The car later passed through the hands of Bill Clymer and Bill Blewett before being acquired by Ron Brownrigg in 1964. He restored it amidst his own business commitments, the car first appeared at Phillip Island in 2005.

Barney’s services were much in demand given his success as a driver and motor engineer. Both the Senechal and Riley were continually modified throughout their lives, the Riley was Colette-supercharged for a while when used it in Aspendale Speedway competition. One example of his skills being deployed post-war was the mechanical work turning the Lex Davison owned Alfa Romeo 6C1500 ‘Little Alfa’ into its current monoposto specifications way back when.

‘St Omer’ at Hampton, Port Phillip Bay in 1948 (Dentry Family)

The couple lived at 3 Villeroy Street, Hampton from 1925, then 69 Holyrood Street, Hampton from 1937 to 1957 and finally at number 19 Coronet Grove, Beaumaris where Bess lived after Barney’s death in 1987, aged 88. Bess died in 2000, are either of the sons still with us?

Living bayside, during 1946-48 Barney built a motor-yacht the couple named ‘St Omer’ to a US design. Initially powered by an Essex four-cylinder car engine, later a JAP marine engine enabled a top-whack, need-for-speed 24mph.

The boat was sold to release capital to build new business premises on the southwest corner of Bay Road and George Street, Sandringham in 1957. Barney operated that motor service and repair operation until 1972 when he retired and sold the building, which still exists as a tyre sales business.

AGP 1931 collage, that’s Barney at the far left (The Referee)

Let’s not forget Barney and Bess Dentry, very competitive stalwarts of Australian motorsport in the pre-war era. Until doing my research I’d not realised just how much at the pointy-end they usually raced, with only luck and the handicapper between them and greater success.

I’m happy to add to this article if any of you can help flesh out the story.


(Dentry Family)

Barney Dentry and Bess Wheeler at Hampton Beach in 1924.

(Dentry Family)

The Dentry Senechal in its final form circa 1924. The diminutive machine is fitted with aluminium body, siren, ‘guards, hood, spare wheel and luggage carrier in the tail. “Total weight 8 1/2 CWT, 7 CWT in racing trim.”

(Dentry Family)

Barney perhaps giving some lucky bloke a joyride in the Dentry Riley circa 1932. Riley 9 Brooklands. Chassis 8062 was variously described in-period as a Brooklands Riley, Ulster Riley and Dentry Riley, all of which are correct depending upon the specs at the time.

Dentry Family)

The Bay Road Sandringham workshop built by Barney Dentry in 1957, in more recent times, and fondly remembered by older Melbourne bayside resident/enthusiasts.


Tony Johns Collection, Motorsport Memorial, Sandringham & District Historical Society via a David Zeunert tip-off, Barrier Miner March 11, 1933, Ron McCallum discussion with Bob King, BNF-Bibliotheque National de France, Ron Brownrigg Collection, John Medley in ‘The Australian Grand Prix:Fifty Year History’, ‘History of Australian Grand Prix 1928-1939’ John Blanden, Rob Bartholomaeus


(Dentry Family)

Bess Dentry aboard the Senechal with its brand new aluminium body, circa 1924.