Posts Tagged ‘Tony Gaze’

Most Australian enthusiasts are aware of the Lex Davison, Stan Jones and Tony Gaze assault on the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally in the first Holden 48-215…

In doing some research on Tony Gaze recently I came upon this snippet from the great fighter ace in an Eoin Young interview published in the June 1997 issue of MotorSport- it made me smile given my abiding interest and respect for these three highly competitive racers, rivals and friends.

‘We had a good run.

Before the final test I think we were in sixth place and then we had an argument.

Stan wanted me to drive the final test because he felt I was better on ice than Lex (highly likely given the length of time TG lived in Europe compared to the other two), but Lex said he had put all the money into it and was determined to drive that final stage (which would have been exactly my view if in that position!)

That did it. Stan sulked.’

Gaze, Davison and Stan all smiles after the finish at Monaco (SMH)

‘He was navigating and I was braced in the back with the stopwatches. I suppose Stan might have been feeling car sick but he wouldn’t read out the markers and we finally came in 64th out of 100 finishers. It was probably a good thing because if we had done well they (the scrutineers) would have torn the car apart. On the way back we stopped off at Monza and our best lap average with three up and all of our luggage was 5 mph faster than a standard Holden’s top speed!’

GMH Australia were so delighted that they gave Stan and Lex a Holden each as a bonus but Gaze never received so much as a thank-you note.

The enterprise was an amazing one given the logistics of the time, the cost (4000 pounds- four times the cost of a new Holden then), lack of support from General Motors Holden and the lack of European rallying experience of the intrepid pilots whilst noting their stature as racing drivers.

Jones had never driven on the continent before. The February 1953 MotorSport reported the trio delighted the European press by saying that they had never seen snow before- whilst that may have been true  of Davison and Jones it would not have been the case for Gaze given his lengthy residence in the UK, a photo of him at Davos in Stewart Wilson’s biography of the man rather proves he was familiar with the white stuff!

Upon reflection, Jones grew up in Warrandyte and Lex lived at Lilydale, both places not too far from Mount Donna Buang where snow falls each year, so on balance we can conclude the above was PR bullshit!

Much was made at the time of the lack of rallying experience of all three but Davison and Jones had extensive trials experience- these events in an Australian context were typically of 100-200 miles duration, sometimes at night combining road navigation with sub-events which emphasised performance and car control.

In the all-rounder style of competition of the period keen racing types like Davison, Jones, Whiteford and Patterson contested trials, hillclimbs and circuit races. Indeed both Davison once, and Jones four times won the Light Car Club of Australia’s annual Cohen Trophy for best overall performance in the clubs trials.

‘Lex and Stan saw a lot of each other, since they were competing not only in the same trials but also the same hillclimbs and race meetings. The two were already great friends, and during 1952 this grew into an informal business relationship’ with Lex selling some cars through Stan’s car yards and splitting the profits with him Graham Howard wrote.

Peter Ward, friend and fettler of Lex’ cars engineered the two into sharing a Holden in the November 1952 Experts Trial, the pair finishing third with Ward navigating. Ward had proved the pair could co-exist in competition conditions- by mid 1952 Australian racer and AGP winner John Barraclough had secured two entries for the 1953 Monte- for himself and John Crouch and for Lex and Stan.

Tony, in the UK racing an Aston Martin DB3 that year, met Barraclough at London’s Steering Wheel Club and became the third member of the Lex/Stan crew. Gaze lodged all of the paperwork and later attended to getting the car through Customs.

Tony Gaze in his 2 litre F2/F1 ex-Moss HWM Alta during the 1952 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring- Q14 and DNF gearbox on lap 6 in the race won by Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari 500. Ascari’s car was acquired by Tony in 1954 and raced successfully by both Gaze and then later Davison to two AGP wins. The car above is the HWM referred to later in the text- acquired by Lex and re-engined by his team in Templestowe to Jag XK120 ‘C Type’ spec it won the 1954 AGP and is still extant in Australia in sportscar form in the hands of the Hough family (LAT)

Graham Howard in Davison’s biography wrote that by the time the final decision was made to compete there were just two weeks before the car had to loaded aboard a freighter sailing from Port Melbourne on 25 November!

The intrepid Melbourne duo acquired a 1952 Holden 48-215 with 6000 miles on the clock which had been nicely run in by their friend and Repco Research boss Charlie Dean. Dean was a racer and engineer- the constructor of the Maybachs which Stan owned and raced but prepared by Repco. Dean was paid 550 pounds by each of   Lex and Stan for the car.

With no interest or support from GMH (who had a waiting list for the cars at the time) the car was stripped, rebuilt and repainted in Dean’s home garage in Kew- not too far from Stan’s Superior Motors and Lex’s Paragon Shoes businesses in Abbotsford and Collingwood respectively.

Charlie was the ‘industry link man’ ‘…calling in many favours from many corners of the Melbourne motorsport world and the broader motor industry. Via his contacts through Repco, not only with Holden but also with component suppliers…A lot of people put in a lot of work into the sprint to get the Holden ready ready for Monte-Carlo- after all it was a marvellous adventure. But much more than that, it was a consciously Australian expedition into international territory, in the 1950’s spirit of optimism and confidence which led thousands of Australians overseas in search of fame and fortune’ wrote Graham Howard providing broader context outside motor racing itself.

The Monte Holden getting plenty of attention from Port Melbourne’s ‘wharfies’ at Station Pier. That’s Charlie Dean removing the Victorian ‘plates from the boot lid (Davison)

Some modifications to the cars were allowed by the organisers.

A Buick speedo which read in kilometres was dropped into the Holden binnacle, a ten gallon fuel tank was added, two driving lights were mounted on the bonnet and recessed fog lamps into the front guards below the headlights.

A heater-demister and windscreen washer was installed with the washer reservoir located next to the exhaust to keep it warm. An emergency electric fuel pump was mounted on the bulkhead with a change-over switch on the dash.

A ‘rug rail’ which ran between the B-Pillars behind the front seat back provided useful chassis stiffening.

Dean’s knowledge of the 2.2 litre, OHV, cast iron Holden six was pretty good by that stage- he fitted stronger con-rods, bigger ex-Buick valves ‘and an inlet manifold which had been carefully sliced in half, internally enlarged, then welded back together and returned to standard external appearance’ which gave a useful boost in power if not, perhaps (sic) in accordance with the letter of the rules.

By the time all of the luggage, spares, men and clobber was loaded up the six-cylinder sedan weighed 8 hundred-weight more than the 20 hundred-weight of the standard car.

Lex’ pride in Australia was clear in his post-event Australian Motor Sports magazine article; ‘It was considered that this car had to be an example of Australian workmanship, that nothing should be skimped, and no short cuts taken, as one of the main reasons for our making this journey was to endeavour to show that industrially, Australia has come of age, that we have an engineering industry, quite a capable one, and that we are no longer a country of aborigines and back country sheep herders’.

‘A kangaroo with Australia printed underneath was painted on either side of the bonnet and the word ‘Australia’ was printed on the bootlid in gold, given the new Registered Australian Racing Colours of green and gold’.

On January 1 1953 the car landed in the UK, whilst on the other side of the world Lex rolled his Alfa P3 at Port Wakefield, South Australia after a tyre failed- Lex was ok, discharged from hospital whilst Stan winning three races on the day aboard Maybach 1. On January 7 they were enroute to the UK.

In the meantime Tony Gaze had borrowed a Holden used as a development car by Lucas in the UK to get the feel of it. He then tested the rally car when it arrived and was suitable impressed with its performance despite the added weight relative to the standard machine. He diagnosed a better heating system was needed for the rear passenger and windscreen, this work was done.

Start of the event outside the Royal Automobile Club of Scotland, Blythswood Square, Glasgow (AGR)

(AGR)

Competitors came from over 20 different countries- they could choose to start from different cities in Europe including Glasgow, Stockholm, Oslo, Monte Carlo itself, Munich, Palermo and Lisbon.

The Holden began the rally in Glasgow on 20 January 1953- Glasgow cars travelled the 2100 mile route to Monte Carlo via Wales, London, Lilles, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Clermont Ferrand in The Alps.

The first 3 days were driven non-stop through thick fog. In the Alps on thee fourth night the crew ‘encountered a nightmare of falling snow and icy roads’, the Australians reported. MotorSport on the other hand described the conditions as generally kind.

Lex and Stan were completely unprepared for the driving conditions and soon the crew decided to abandon the sleeping roster to make use of Tony’s skill in fast driving in fog.

In any event only Lex could manage sleep on the back seat set up to allow someone to lie sideways.

As they encountered ice later in the journey ‘Lex was pleased with the handling of the Holden, and was confidently using the frozen snow on the outside of the corners to help the car around.’

During Stan’s stint in the ice, a truck they were overtaking veered out and hit the side of the car inches from Lex’ sleeping head but he continued in deep-sleep bliss.

The fog disappeared before dawn but still with plenty of ice about, the risk was a mistake close to the finish.

440 cars entered the event- of the 404 which started, 253 reached Monte Carlo without loss of points, including the Holden.

The event shot ‘everybody has seen’ but nobody knows where it is- intrigued to know the answer (Pinterest)

They drove unpenalised under the finish banner in Monaco and were’…escorted to a large marquee on the Boulevard where we were offered drinks, and we stood beside the sea-wall sipping brandy, blinking in the sun. We were terribly tired, and I noticed that Tony was fast asleep standing up leaning against the sea-wall’ Howard quoted Davison.

Then came an acceleration and braking test- with Stan at the wheel the car was equal 9th- with Stirling Moss in a Sunbeam Talbot. The quickest time was 21.9 seconds, the Holden Sedan showed good performance amongst the top group which comprised in order; an Allard, Porsche, Jaguar, Ford V8, Sunbeam Talbot, Riley and two more Jags.

Jones attacks the Monaco acceleration and braking test (Davison)

As a result of this test 98 cars qualified for a final, eliminating, regularity test- clearly this 46 mile run over the Col de Braus above Monaco was the event the subject of debate amongst the three racers.

Distances between the controls had been announced in advance- a set speed through the six controls was to be drawn early on the Sunday morning.

The experienced crews knew the regularity route the Australians did not, nor did they have a spare car as many others did to practise it. Late in the day they were able to do do one lap in a VW as passengers.

The troubles which Gaze reflected upon at the beginning of this piece were similar to those documented by Howard in Davison’s biography- ‘that Stan “went on strike”, and for at least part of the test could not be bothered calling out distances. It would have been a typically Stan Jones flare-up, gone as quickly as it arrived, because there were also sections of the test where Stan was sitting sideways and using his feet to hold Lex in place as the Holden hurried around the endless hairpin corners’.

By the end of the test the team were sure they had got several sections close to perfect and others very wrong.

The results were announced at 9 o’clock that night- 64th place, and much better than they had feared. The result was still admirable and polished both the reputations of the drivers and a car not exactly built with European conditions in mind.

(AGR)

The rally was won by the Maurice Gatsonides/Peter Worledge Ford Zephyr from the Ian and Pat Appleyard Jaguar Mk7 and Roger Marian/Jean Charmasson Panhard Dyna X86. Gatsonides had spent four weeks ‘holidays’ lapping the Col de Braus loop, in contrast to the Australians!

Picking up the speed of the Holden ‘People’ wrote ‘They had certainly not run out of steam, for immediately after the rally they took the Holden to Monza where its lap speed was 73 mph and its maximum 90 mph which was impressive as road tests of the day put the cars maximum at 81 mph…the checking from stem to stern that was carried out must have included some skilful tuning’.

Davison and his friends also visited Alfa Romeo whilst in Northern Italy ‘…where Guidotti, having many years before driven Lex’s Alfas, now drove the Holden. Bacciagaluppi, manager of the Monza motor racing circuit and one of Tony’s many European racing contacts, helped them to get the rally car onto the track, where, three up, they averaged a higher lap speed than the road-tested maximum for a standard Holden’.

(AGR)

They drove back through Switzerland to England, where Gaze shipped the car back to Australia with some of the spare parts for the ex-Moss/Gaze HWM Lex acquired prior to leaving Europe.

Davo put the HWM Jaguar to good use, winning the 1954 Australian Grand Prix in it at Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It was the first of Davo’s AGP wins- his good mate Jones had the race ‘in the bag’ before catastrophic chassis failure (welds) pitched Stanley through the local topography at a million miles an hour- it was a very lucky escape for him which totally destroyed Maybach 2.

‘Autosport published two photographs of the Holden, one showing it looking immaculate in Monte Carlo after the event, and commented “The Holden, although not a prize winner, impressed everyone with its performance. It has distinct possibilities as a rally car”.

As Gaze commented early on, GMH invited Lex and Stan (later to become Holden dealers as ‘Monte Carlo Motors on the corner of Punt and Swan Street, Richmond, Melbourne) to a luncheon at Fsihermans Bend (Holden HQ) where they were each given a new Holden FJ and a cheque to cover some of their outgoings- with Tony apparently forgotten.

There was enormous local press both during and after the event with Lex also doing extensive speeches and presesntations about the adventure to car clubs but mainly community groups upon their return. It was a very big deal indeed.

The Monte Holden’s competitive life extended into 1953 when Lex and Diana Davison- DD a very capable and experienced racer herself contested ‘The Sun’ Four Day Rally out of Melbourne, Lex won outright defeating 122 other cars in a new Holden shared with Peter Ward and Diana was second in the womens section of the event in the Monte car she shared with Pat Wilson.

The Monte Holden was used in several trials by Lex and Peter Ward including one in mid 1953 when Lex slid off the a hillside and knocked over a telephone pole- damage was mitigated by the aged rotten nature of the obstacle!

(Davison)

Peter Ward later bought it and used it on the road. ‘It had some vertical cracks in the firewall which puzzled the Holden engineers, but it gave no trouble, Peter drove it for eighteen months before selling the well travelled car for 750 pounds- it cost him 500.

I wonder what became of this car which really should have found its way into a GMH Collection!?

The first of the Redex Round Australia Trials commenced in 1953- a story for another time, no doubt Holden’s confidence in going into these events ‘boots and all’ was as a consequence of the trail-blazers- Davison, Jones and Gaze.

Etcetera…

Article on the Holden 48-215; https://primotipo.com/2018/12/06/general-motors-holden-formative/

(AGR)

Davo on the Monaco quayside. Without his drive and entrepreneurial skill, not to say resources, the assault would not have taken place- not that the other two fellas involved were exactly skint.

(AGR)

Tony Gaze would have been razor sharp in 1953- he raced his HWM Alta in both championship and non-championship events throughout Europe in 1952, his primary program in 1953 aboard an Aston DB3 sportscar. He started racing the Ferrari 500/625 so important in his and Lex’ career in 1954.

(AGR)

Credits…

‘Lex Davison: Larger Than Life’ Graham Howard, ‘Almost Unknown: Tony Gaze’ Stewart Wilson, ‘Me and My Holden: A Nostalgia Trip With The Early Holdens’ Don Loffler, ‘GMH People’, ‘AGR’- anygivenreason.com for many of the images, Pinterest, ‘SMH’ Sydney Morning Herald

Tailpiece: Port Melbourne to Monaco- after the finish…

(AGR)

Finito…

 

black bess woodside

(State Library of South Australia)

Doug Whiteford’s Ford V8 Spl ‘Black Bess’ leads the MG T Specials of I. Jackson and J. Martin  in the ‘Woodside Handicap’ on the Woodside, Adelaide Hills road circuit on 10 October 1949…

Whiteford commenced his racing career on motor bikes and prepared cars for others. He decided to convert an ex-Victorian Forestry Commission Ford ute which he bought for £67. Based entirely on parts salvaged from the utility, it was carefully rebuilt in an Albert Park, Melbourne back yard utilising sophisticated building materials including bed iron frames and panelling from the Footscray tip!, with the chassis lowered and a 2 seat body made.

A coat of black paint provided its name.

John Blanden reported that Bess ran for the first time at Albert Park on 15 December 1939, it’s first meeting was at Lobethal, SA on New Years Day 1940. The car popped an engine at Wirlinga, Albury, having boiled at Lobethal as well and was placed into storage during the War, Doug enlisted.

When Whiteford returned from service a Mercury engine was fitted, initially standard, it was progressively modified, benefitting from US Hot Rod experience. From 1946-52 the car was one of the fastest in the country as it was continually developed, winning 29 races from 40 starts, the statistics vary with the source, inclusive of the 1950 AGP win at Nuriootpa.

Doug Whiteford and Bess at Rob Roy Hillclimb in Melbourne’s Christmas Hills, early 1950’s SLV)

 

Graham Howard wrote in his summary of Bess in his ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’…‘Whitefords’ successes with Black Bess came as a direct result of his fanatical devotion to preparing, modifying and maintaining the car, which was complemented by his outstanding driving ability. Progressively, Whiteford changed the braking system of the race car from mechanical to hydraulic operation, added telescopic shock absorbers, bored out the engine, fitted twin carburettors, a Scintilla Vertex magneto and high compression cylinder heads. A modified camshaft was imported from America, the cooling system was improved to stop overheating, brake fade was reduced by fabricating special air scoops and the steering gear was reworked to provide a faster response for racing.

Clocked at Bathurst exceeding 210kmh Black Bess was now a formidable and reliable race car, nobody was really surprised when Whiteford won the 1950 AGP at Nuriootpa…’

bess engine

Ford Mercury V8; 84.1 bore X 95.2 mm stroke, 4236cc. Sidevalves, 2 vp cylinder, 95 Kw@4500rpm. Ford 3 speed gearbox. (G Howard ‘History of The AGP’)

As imported racing cars appeared in greater numbers Bess became steadily obsolete, Doug started to drive a Lago Talbot T26C owned by Geelongs’ Tom Hawkes in 1951 eventually buying the car and winning the 1952 Bathurst and 1953 Albert Park AGP’s in it.

Whiteford retained the car, it appeared occasionally in his hands and sometimes others, having sold the Lago he drove it in the 1954 AGP at Southport on Queenslands’ Gold Coast. ‘Bess’ raced in 3rd for many laps, amazing given its age and the improved quality of the field, engine maladies eventually caused its retirement in the race won by Lex Davisons’ HWM Jaguar.

‘Bess was sold to Granton Harrison who raced it in both Victoria and South Australia and then passed through many hands deteriorating progressively. After many years in the wilderness, ‘Bess’ was tracked down by Greg Veitch and sold to the very same Granton Harrison who raced it years before…and was restored before her debut in the 1977 ‘City Of Sydney Trophy.’

The car is still very much a part of the local historic racing scene.

bess

‘Bess’ in the Woodside paddock, the formal fashion of the day in evidence. Bolt on wire wheels, 1934 Ford mechanical brakes converted to hydraulic operation. Weight 991kg. (State Library of SA)

‘Woodside Handicap’…

Woodside is a village 40 kilometres from Adelaide. The race, as so many in Australia were at the time, was a handicap, 12 laps, 36 miles in total. In this day and age of a lot of ‘one make racing’, diversity of cars and their differential performance and the need for handicaps to ‘make a race of it’ seems odd. But in the immediate post-war years when money was tight and racing cars scarce across a big continent, it was necessarily the approach.

‘Australian Motor Sports’ report of the event has Whiteford lapping very fast as one of the limit men, finishing 2nd, and Jackson, the car behind Whiteford above ‘…lost his brakes at the Pines and had to extricate his car from the strawbales costing him a lap’. The race was won by the MGTC of W Smith, Whiteford 2nd and D Harvey in another MGTC 3rd…MG’s and MG Spl’s the lifeblood of Australian racing for so long and a good future story in itself.

Of some interest for those who read my article on Stan Jones a while back. https://primotipo.com/2014/12/26/stan-jones-australian-and-new-zealand-grand-prix-and-gold-star-winner/ . Stanley made his road racing course (as against circuit) debut in his new HRG ‘Bathurst’ 1500 at this meeting, this car perhaps convincing Jones he had the makings of a future champion…Stan, relatively inexperienced diced with Tony Gaze’ similar HRG for much of the race. Gaze was 4th, Stan DNF with steering dramas.

bess woodsise

Whiteford Ford V8 Spl, ‘Black Bess’. Derived from a Ford Ute, simple beam front axle located by trailing radius rods, transverse leaf spring, telescopic shock absorbers. Rear suspension live rear axle located by leading radius rods and torque tube, transverse leaf spring and telescopic shock absorbers. Doug was a talented driver and fettler, the car continually evolved over a decade or so, this car was indecently fast and gave many more exotic imports a hard time…Whiteford raced this car to a 1950 AGP win and then the more aristocratic Talbot Lago for his ’52 and ’53 AGP wins. (State Library of SA)

bess cockpit

‘Bess’ restored cockpit. (G Howard ‘History of The AGP’)

bess

Black Bess at a recent Australian GP at Albert Park. Car a regular historic event attendee. (Falcadore)

Photo and Other Credits…

State Library of South Australia/Victoria, John Blanden ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’, Graham Howard ‘History of The Australian GP’, Falcadore

Stephen Dalton for the research and AMS article

lex balcombe

Lex Davison’s ‘Little Alfa’ leads Lyndon Duckett’s Bugatti Type 35 Anzani, the brand new body of the Alfa gleaming in the Winter Sun, Balcombe Army Camp, Victoria, Australia 12 June 1950…

The ‘race meeting’ at Balcombe was a small but historically significant part of Australian Motor Racing history…this wonderful shot is from the Dacre Stubbs Collection.

Balcombe paddock with Lyndon Duckett’s Bugatti T35 Anzani and the Davison Little Alfa in foreground (G McKaige)

It goes something like this, as reported in Barry Greens fine book ‘Glory Days’ which records the history of Albert Park in the 1950’s.

The army were keen to raise some money for their canteen fund and asked the Light Car Club of Australia (LCCA) to run a race meeting using the grounds of their camp. The race meeting was a financial success, but key to the creation of a circuit was closure and use of a section of the Nepean Highway, the main road between Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. This permission was not forthcoming by the relevant authority

So the Balcombe meeting occurred as more of a sprint meeting, given track limitations, with two cars on the track at a time and a series of eliminations on the day to determine the winners of the various classes.

Charlie Dean in Maybach 1- handsome and fast beast that it was, sold to Stan Jones a year or so later but maintained and developed by Charlie and his boys at Repco Research in Brunswick. Winner of the 1954 New Zealand GP in Jones’ hands. Recreated by John Sheppard (G McKaige)

‘The Royal Australian Signals Corp Sprint’ for under 1500cc, ‘The Survey Corps Sports Sprint’ for over 1500cc and ‘Balcombe Apprentice School Trophy’ for outright cars. Catchy names indeed.

Doug Whiteford won the outright final in his 1950 Australian Grand Prix Winning Ford V8 Spl, ‘Black Bess’, from Bill Patterson’s supercharged MG TC and Stan Jones HRG. All three were subsequently Australian Champions and AGP winners.

Reg Hunt’s Hunt JAP ‘Flying Bedstead’ Spl, it’s engine installation pictured below. By 1955 he had raced 500’s for a year in the UK and was one of the fastest combinations back in Australia aboard a Maserati A6GCM- stiff not to win the AGP that year at Port Wakefield (G McKaige)

 

(G McKaige)

The historically significant bit is that when Bill Leech, lifelong competitor, car collector and LCCA President at the time discussed the meeting and its shortcomings as a circuit, sans Nepean Highway with the Commander of Army Southern Command, he was asked ‘what can we use as an alternative’? Whereupon Leech replied ‘what about here?’. Here being Albert Park where Southern Command were then based…and the rest as they say is history and covered a while ago in another post.

https://primotipo.com/2014/10/01/1956-argus-trophy-albert-park-reg-hunt-and-lex-davison-maserati-250f-and-a6gcm-ferrari-tipo-500/

 

Hobart Mercury 14 June 1950

 

In an amusing end to the weekend the Hobart ‘Mercury’ reported that the Melbourne Traffic Police Chief described many motorists returning from Balcombe as ‘reckless road-hogs’- harsh language indeed.

‘Many of them drove like whirlwinds’ in attempts to emulate the skilled drivers with several booked for speeding at 75 miles an hour. The racers themselves were spared the blame, with perhaps the need for speed the stretch from Mornington and along past Sunnyside to Mount Eliza?  I guess Pt Nepean Road is what we now know as the Nepean Highway.

 

Little Alfa aroca concourse

‘Little Alfa’ engine bay at AROCA Spettacolo, 2014. (M Bisset)

Balcombe will be well known to Melburnians of a certain age…

It was towards the top of the hill on the Nepean Highway as you leave Mornington and enter Mount Martha and these days is the site of a school, Balcombe Grammar and housing. The last army training units left the area in 1983.

For international readers Mount Martha, of which Balcombe is a part are on the shore of Port Phillip Bay, the vast expanse of water one can see in the distance on the AGP telecasts from Albert Park. The Mornington Peninsula, both it’s beaches and wineries are worthy additions to your tourist agenda when you visit!

The US Marines also played a part in construction of the circuit being credited with building both Uralla Road through the camp and Range Road locally to access a rifle range.

As World War 2 approached countries globally prepared for the inevitable, the 4th Division of the Australian Army were located at a camp in Balcombe on 209 acres of land compulsorily acquired from local landowners to defend Port Phillip and the Morninton Peninsula.

 

Tony Gaze, Alta Sports (G McKaige)

 

Derek Jolly, Austin 7 Spl over from Adelaide- road registered, I wonder if he drove his racer across? (G McKaige)

The army presence had a huge local impact, at the time their were 104 houses in Mt Martha- by mid 1940 over 3000 militia soldiers of the 4th division trainees were located at four temporary campsites between the Nepean Highway and the coast just south of Bay Road.

Press reports at the time the camp was built said it was the most pleasant site for an army camp in the country, a point not lost on the ‘Army Brass’ one suspects, the Peninsula then as now a popular summer playground.

The 1st US Marine Division, relieved from the strategically critical Coral Sea campaign at Guadalcanal, arrived in 1942 and used Balcombe Camp as a rehabilitation centre.

It became headquarters for the 1st Division of the USMC in 1942, the corp trained in the area including carrying out beach landing exercises using the ship ‘HMAS Manoora’.

Post war the Army Apprentices School was located there until 1983, and once, just once, it was used as a race track!

 

Davison ‘Little Alfa’…

duckett and davison rob roy 1946

Lyndon Duckett and Lex Davison, right, with their collections of cars at Rob Roy Hillclimb, Christmas Hills, Melbourne 1946. L>R. Ducketts’ 1908 Isotta Fraschini, Bug T35 powered by an R1 Anzani DOHC engine, and Davisons’ ‘Little Alfa’, in 2 seater form as first modified by Barney Dentry, Mercedes SSK. (Culture Victoria)

Lex Davison was one of Australia’s greatest drivers, the winner of four Australian Grands’ Prix and father and grandfather of two generations of racing drivers, grandsons Will and Alex are V8 Supercar Drivers, and James an Indycar racer competing currently in Australia and the US respectively.

In 1950 he was still four years away from his first AGP win, competed in everything everywhere, and had just acquired an Alfa P3 in a progression which would take him to be a consistent front runner in the decade to come.

‘Little Alfa’ started life as a Tipo 6C 1500 ‘Normale’, #0111522 was imported by Lex’ father in 1928 in chassis form as a road car. The original fabric body by Martin and King was replaced with a steel body built by Terdichs’ in 1945, both Melbourne firms.

Lex took over the car after the death of his father, Barney Dentry, a top driver of the day himself, stripped it and Kellow Falkiner built a two-seater body.

lex davo little alfa 11 th rob roy

Always an exciting driver, Davo contests the 11th Rob Roy 1946. This wonderful shot by George Thomas shows the lines of the car to good effect after its first evolution from Tourer to Racer. (George Thomas)

 

lex cape schanck

Lex slightly! sideways at the second hairpin Cape Schanck Hillclimb on Victorias’ Mornington Peninsula in 1946. ‘Little Alfa’ here in ‘evolution 2’ not its final spec. (Cars and Drivers #1)

 

Little Alfa, Balcombe 1950 (G McKaige)

John Blanden records that the car became well known over the following years and was set aside when Davison acquired a Mercedes SSK. Dentry again ministered to the car and before it was completed the P3 arrived from the UK…as a consequence the 6C1500 car became henceforth the ‘Little Alfa’.

Dentry shortened the chassis, lightened the brakes, replaced the rear axle with one from a 1750 SS Alfa, fitted a Rootes cabin mounted blower and moved the engine back 6 inches.

The chassis was then taken to renowned race body-builder Bob Baker who constructed a derivative but distinctive aluminium single-seater body with a pointed tail.

The cars first outing was at Balcombe as recorded above, coming second in its semi-final. The Alfa didn’t race much, the P3 was the front line car until the AGP winning HWM Jag was acquired/built later.

It was retained by the Davison family and moved from property to property before finally being restored by Nick Langford’s restoration business in Castlemaine. It made its debut in December 1979.

 

little alfa amaroo

Lex’ son Chris driving in the car, with daughter Claire, post restoration, Amaroo Park Historics 1986. (Gordon Graham)

Little Alfa’ was run in historic events by Diana Davison, Lex’ widow and quite a driver in her own right, son Chris and WW2 Spitfire Ace and post war racer Tony Gaze, who married Diana in 1977…Chris, a very quick Formula Ford racer in period and historic competitor now recalls with great fondness the car…

‘It was a massive honour for me to drive ‘Little Alfa’. The car was purchased by my grandfather in 1928 and used as the family car until his death in 1942. It was only then that Lex got hold of it and started racing it. Of course this is the same car that Lex and Di drove to Bathurst for their honeymoon and also became one of his first racing cars. But he only did a handful of races in it. I am not sure that it was going to be competitive and he got the opportunity to purchase the P3, or ‘Big Alfa’ as it was known in our house. This is why the cars were known as the ‘Little Alfa’ and the ‘Big Alfa’.

‘In terms of actually driving it, i am taller and broader than average so it was a real squeeze to fit in. We took out the seat and I sat on the floor on an old sheep skin. The first thing you notice is that it has an accelerator pedal in between the brake and the clutch, and this does take some time to get used to. With no actual fuel pump, you must ‘pump up’ the air pressure in the fuel tank with a dash mounted pump and if you get busy around the circuit its easy to forget to do this and next thing the engine starts to die from lack of fuel. The alcohol fuel used to cause problems with the supercharger freezing up, so it was very important to get the fuel mixture right’.

‘Being a tight fit in the car, I used to feel the chassis rails flex whenever I went around a corner or hit a bump.With no seat belts or roll bar, driving the car flat out up the back straight at Sandown was one of the most dangerous things I have done in motorsport, especially as I was virtually held in the car by a low piece of bodywork and hanging onto the steering wheel for grim life’.

‘The term ‘brakes’ could be described as an overstatement, ‘restrainers’ more accurate. The car weighed 1500kgs and with a blown 1500cc engine on alcohol, you picked up quite a bit of pace down the long straights. I did give the fence a whack at Sandown once when I arrived at the end of the old pit straight and had ZERO brakes. The mechanic had forgotten to adjust the length of the brake cable and the shoes were barely even touching the brake drums’.

‘The best the car ever drove was at the 1986 Amaroo Historic Meeting, i could actually get some attitude and drift going. Frank Gardner spoke to me after one of the races, he had been standing right on the start of the pit apron, where you would aim the car at the turn in point for the corner onto the straight. He commented that seeing the car in a full drift coming straight toward where he was standing sure got his attention!’

‘The biggest problem I had at that meeting was once I really got the car going well, the speed up the straight and through the kink was such that both front wheels vibrated very badly, which was a real concern when you were so close to the old quarry wall. In the wet the car was a nightmare with levels of understeer that could only be described MASSIVE. With very old tyres and little adjustment on the car, I used to use the handbrake on turn in to try and get the rear end to generate some changes of direction. But I walked a fine line and really had to get the timing right, requiring a flick into the corner, quick pull on the handbrake to get the rear to slide and power on to keep up some attitude. If you got it slightly wrong it was back to uncontrollable understeer and all I could see from the cockpit was a VERY long red bonnet and two front tyres wasting their time with massive levels of lock’.

‘It was fabulous to see Mum and Tony on the circuit in the ‘Little Alfa’ but Mum did find it difficult to drive. So we ‘retired’ the car after the 1986 Amaroo meeting satisfied that we had actually seen the car fire a shot in anger’.

davo amaroo 86 little alfa

Chris and Claire Davison in the ‘Little Alfa’ at the 1986 Amaroo Park meeting Chris speaks about in the text. These days Claire is a mum, she, husband Johnny and Chris race a team of 3 Reynard FF’s in Australian Historic Racing. Lex’ ‘Ecurie Australie’ races on…(Chris Davison)

http://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/geelong/well-read/cover-story/7082-motorsport-bloodline/?nav=Y2F0X2lkLzIyNg==

‘Little Alfa’ remained in the Davison family until sold some years ago but thankfully remains in Australia in the hands of a caring Alfista, the car has an entirely Australian history since it’s departure from Italy in 1928.

Chris Davison…’I know that all of our family are delighted to see Trevor Montgomery now driving the car at most of the historic race meetings in the south. I feel that he understands and respects our family’s connection to this unique car and unique piece of Australian motorsport history’.

gaze nd davisons rob roy

Paddock scene from gentler more relaxed times, Tony Gaze, Diana Davison and Lex, Rob Roy Hillclimb 1950. (Dacre Stubbs Collection)

 

little alfa sandown 2009

‘Little Alfa’ current custodian Trevor Montgomery and Chris Davison at Sandown Historics November 2009…looking as pristine as it did in 1950. (Chris Davison)

 

Etcetera- Balcombe…

(G McKaige)

Derek Jolly’s Austin 7 Spl, he later won the 1960 Australian Tourist Trophy- a decade hence aboard an ex-works Lotus 15 Climax. I wrote about he and his cars a while back.

 

(G McKaige)

 

(G McKaige)

Love these these two shots above of Lyndon Duckett and George McKaige preparing the Anzani Bugatti before the event on a frosty Melbourne day in ‘Duckett’s Lane’- Towers Lane behind Duckett’s Towers Road, Toorak home. Road car is a Rover P3.

(G McKaige)

 

(G McKaige)

MG K3 and engine above- here unsupercharged.

Credits…

Chris Davison, many thanks for the recollections of driving the car and photos from the family collection

John Blanden ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’, Barry Green ‘Glory Days’, ‘Cars and Drivers’ magazine, Dacre Stubbs Collection, Culture Victoria, George Thomas, Gordon Graham, Hobart Mercury 14 June 1950, George McKaige via his son Chester

(G McKaige)

Tailpiece: The New and the Old…

The Keith Martin (John Medley thinks) Cooper Mk IV JAP 1000- which must have looked ‘other worldly’ to the good citizens of the Peninsula in 1950.

The modern as tomorrow Cooper is nicely juxtaposed with Doug Whiteford’s self-built #4 pre-war ‘Black Bess’ Ford V8 Special which won that years AGP at Lobethal six months before- and on the day at Balcombe. There were no Coopers at Lobethal but two made the long trip to Narrogin, down south of Perth in 1951, Martin’s car and a later MkV driven by John Crouch.

#1 is Tony Gaze’s Alta and to its right Maybach with the bonnet covered- there was plenty of life in the front-engined cars at that stage of course, but the mid-engined era was underway from that little factory in Surbiton.

Finito…