Posts Tagged ‘Ryal Bush’

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…