Posts Tagged ‘Tony Gaze’

(unattributed)

Tony Gaze during a pitstop for plugs, HWM Alta 2 litre s/c, chassis ’52/107′ during the New Zealand Grand Prix, Ardmore January 1954…

Hersham & Walton Motors (HWM) came to prominence in the immediate postwar years. Based in New Zealand Avenue, Walton, where the business still is today as an Aston Martin dealership- the company was a partnership between two great motor racing enthusiasts – driver George Abecassis and engineer John Heath.

George made his name aboard a single-seater Alta pre-war. When racing resumed post conflict both Abecassis and Heath campaigned a variety of Alta single-seaters and sportscars. John Heath developed Alta-based sports-prototype cars in 1948-49 and since George Abecassis had been racing his postwar GP Alta internationally with success – the pair planned a team of dual-purpose Formula 2/sports-racing cars to campaign at home and abroad in 1950.

The duo were adept talent-spotters recruiting along the way Stirling Moss, Lance Macklin and little later Peter Collins.

In 1950 the new HWM works team of three, or four HWM-Alta ‘F2’ cars were entered in a hectic program of racing, the team was well organised and its cars competitive with all but the best Continental factory machines.

HWM’s mechanics, including such later prominent names as Alf Francis and Rex Woodgate were capable and dedicated to putting the cars on the grid. They worked horrendous hours, transporting the cars from race to race in epic journeys overcoming all odds.

George Abecassis, leaning on the fuel tank and John Heath at left with one of the single-seaters coming together at Walton, which one I wonder? (unattributed)

 

Men of the moment- HWM’s John Heath and George Abecassis Alta ‘GP1’ and Alta’s Geoffrey Taylor at Goodwood on 18 April 1949. George was 6th in the Richmond Trophy won by Reg Parnell’s Maserati 4CLT (S Lewis Collection)

 

Lance Macklin, HWM Alta F2, Crystal Palace Coronation Cup May 1953. Fourth in the race won by Tony Rolt’s Connaught A Type. Doug Nye attributes the sexy bodies of the HWM’s to Leacroft of Egham (Getty)

In a hand to mouth, time honoured existence, start, prize and trade-bonus money from one weekend’s racing financed the next, under Heath’s technical direction and leadership HWM built a fleet of Formula 2 single-seater team cars for 1951, followed by developed variants into 1952-53.

In face of Ferrari, Maserati, Connaught, Cooper-Bristol and others HWM results deteriorated as time passed, 1951 being the teams best season, but in 1952 Lance Macklin and Tony Rolt drove their HWM Alta’s home first and second in the prestigious BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone. The cars held together for two hours and won from the Emmanuel de Graffenreid Plate-Maserati 4CLT/48 and Rudy Fischer’s Ferrari 500.

The chassis campaigned in New Zealand was originally built as an F2 car in 1952 powered by an unsupercharged 2-litre 4-cylinder Alta engine and was later re-equipped with a supercharged GP Alta motor specifically for Formula Libre racing in New Zealand in 1954.

In 1952 HWM entered cars for George Abecassis, Peter Collins, Macklin, Stirling Moss, Paul Frere, Roger Laurent, Yves Giraud-Cabantous, Duncan Hamilton, Johnny Claes and Dries van der Lof- many of these drivers gained good start money in their home-country GP’s.

Lance, the ‘playboy’ son of Sir Noel Macklin was said to be the most stylish and glamorous British racing driver of that period, team-mate Stirling Moss credits him with having taught the new boy “an enormous amount, not just about racing, but also about how to enjoy life in general…”.

Chassis ‘52/107’ was predominantly the car raced by Macklin in 1952 and 1953.

Bonham’s spiel about ’52/107′ before its June 2016 sale relates that ‘Lance Macklin was relaxed about which car he drove – too relaxed according to George Abecassis. Each of the drivers had specific and often different requirements which extended to tyre pressures, final-drive ratios, seat position, they were not readily adjustable- bolted down, steering wheels etc. Macklin retained the pre-selector gearbox for the early part of 1953 as opposed to the ‘C’ Type Moss box adopted on the other cars.’

‘There is evidence of this on chassis ’52/107′ not seen on ’52/112′ the sister car. Macklin also had his logo ‘LM’ painted on the side of his car at some time in 1953. Finally the mechanics recorded plug types, pressures and gearing race by race for future use…Heath and Abecassis only appeared briefly for practice/racing and returned to the UK without corporate records. ‘52/107′ has the mechanics’ notes, scribbled in hand in a school note book, the car is recorded as Macklin’s car in several books and was confirmed personally by Tony Gaze as ’52/107′.

Tony Gaze in ’52/107′ in England date unknown but 1990’s perhaps (unattributed)

 

Macklin ’52/107′ date and circuit in the UK unknown (unattributed)

Macklin contested 1952 championship grands prix at Bremgarten, Spa, Silverstone, Zandvoort and Monza for a best of eighth, and six or seven non-championship races the best of which was the splendid BRDC International Trophy win at Silverstone in May.

He had a shocker of a run in 1953 starting six GP’s- his only finish was at Zandvoort where he was fifteenth, the run of DNF’s due to engine and clutch failures occurred at Spa, Reims, Silverstone, Bremgarten and Monza.

Macklin also contested a similar number of non-championship races as in 1952, his best was third at the Circuit de Lac in Aix-les-Bains and two fourths at Crystal Palace in the Coronation Trophy and Crystal Palace Trophy.

The ‘winningest’ cars in British non-championship 2 litre F2 races in 1953 were Connaught A Types and later in the year Cooper T23 Bristols.

It seems George Abecassis sent the ‘52/107’/Gaze combination to New Zealand out of simple commercial expediency.

He had the ex-Joe Kelly Alta ‘GP3′ sitting in the workshop- this car contested the 1950 and 1951 British GP’s, his view was that the supercharged 1.5 litre, four cylinder engine would form the basis of a good Formula Libre car when mated with one of his F2 chassis’.

Similarly the ‘GP3’ chassis fitted with a Jaguar engine was also saleable, in addition Macklin was moving to sportscars and George was frustrated with him.

On top of all of that, critically, the writing was on the wall for HWM and several other teams needing a competitive engine for the new F1 commencing on 1 January 1954.

The 2½ litre Climax ‘Godiva’ FPE V8 engine was not being proceeded with, Coventry Climax famously ‘took fright’ upon reading of the claimed outputs of their Continental rivals, and Alta’s Geoff Taylor had contracted exclusively with Connaught for the provision of his 2½-litre, DOHC four cylinder engine.

Commercially therefore, without a suitable F1 engine, sportscars made the greatest sense and so it was that HWM  made good money out of converting both HWM and Alta single-seaters into sportscars powered by Jaguar engines.

HWM never to let an opportunity to pass, proceeded with their plan albeit the 1.5 litre supercharged engine was upgraded by Taylor to 2-litres using the same bore and stroke as the 2 litre F2 units to improve reliability and power whilst simultaneously ensuring commonality of parts- bearings, pistons, rings and the rest for operators of the car in the colonies- a new crank was obtained from Laystall to suit.

Aussie fighter-ace Tony Gaze was chosen as the driver given his strong performances in his Alta, HWM and other cars since the war- his brief from George was a simple one, win a couple of races including the NZ GP if possible and then sell the car before returning back to Europe.

Looks major ‘dunnit- Macklin (or Peter Collins?) and the mechanics- perhaps pointing is Tony Rudd left in profile is Tony Gaze and ‘head to head’ alongside Tony is John Heath with ’52/107′ (unattributed)

 

Joe Kelly’s Alta ‘GP3’ during the 1950 British GP weekend at Silverstone- Geoffrey Taylor in the suit. Q19 and DNF, the race won by Nino Farina’s Alfa Romeo 158 (unattributed)

 

Tom Clark, I think, in ’52/107′ Levin, New Zealand circa 1956 (BV Davis)

In New Zealand in January/February 1954, Gaze drove it to third in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore behind Stan Jones, Maybach 1 and Ken Wharton’s BRM P15.

It was a pretty competitive field which included the Wharton BRM,  Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari 125, Jack Brabham and Horace Gould in Cooper T23 Bristols, Lex Davison’s ex-Gaze HWM Jaguar and others.

Gaze’ race was a great mighta-been.

He relates in ‘Almost Unknown’, Stewart Wilson’s biography of the great Australian, that Shell, his contracted fuel supplier did not have any of the required brew on raceday so he started the race with what fuel was left in the car after practice to at least obtain his start money payment.

When the flag dropped he tootled around, knowing he had sufficient juice for half the race at best, but the car was running on only three cylinders, a plug change rectified that. A lucky break was teammate Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari 125 (shortly to become Dick Cobden’s car) clutch failing which allowed Tony’s mechanics to siphon the fuel from the V12 2 litre Ferrari  and pop it into the Alta.

Tony sped up, he still didn’t have enough juice to finish, passing Wharton’s BRM which had its own problems- at this point he was gaining three seconds a lap on Stan Jones’ Maybach. Then the car ran out of fuel on lap 92, as Tony coasted into the pits with the engine dead a fuel churn appeared- ‘borrowed’ from BRM. Topped up, with mechanics Peter Manton and Alan Ashton totally spent after pushing the car the length of the pitlane before it fired, third place was Gaze’s. Tony’s regret to the end of his life was that the race was his had Shell fulfilled their contractual obligations. The two-hundred pounds paid in compensation was no substitute for an NZ GP win…

In the month long gap between Ardmore and Wigram Tony and Peter contested the 24 Hour race held at Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west on 31 January- they led by an enormous margin in Peter’s C Type Jaguar only to have a suspension failure when the car hit an enormous hole on track- it was repaired but failed again later in the race. They restarted the car and limped over the line to win the sportscar class- seven of twenty-two starters finished led by the Jaguar XK120 driven by Doris Anderson, Charlie Whatmore and Bill Pitt- well known racers to Australian readers.

Back in New Zealand and off to Christchurch on the South Island for the Lady Wigram Trophy on 6 February, he was second behind the Whitehead Ferrari after Peter ignored Dunlop’s advice and completed the race without a tyre change on the abrasive track- they were ‘well shredded’ but it was a winning if somewhat risky ‘racers’ decision.

At the end of Tony’s tour- successfully completing the second part of his assignment, he sold the Alta to Sybil Lupp for John Horton to drive.

Gaze had a great taste of racing in New Zealand and returned again the following year, he and Peter Whitehead raced a pair of Ferrari 500/625’s, Tony’s chassis ‘005’ famously the ex-Ascari 1952/3 World Championship winning car, it was not the only chassis the Italian used but the ‘winningest’.

Horton raced ’52/107′ from February 1954 until February 1956- in which his best results were two second places, setting fastest lap both times at the February 1954 Hamilton Trophy at Mairehau and the April 1956 NZ Championship Road Race on the Dunedin ‘Wharf’ road circuit.

In the January 1955 NZ GP, back at Ardmore, Horton struck trouble and was classified fifteenth- Bira won that year in a Maserati 250F from the Whitehead and Gaze Ferraris in second and third places.

Other than the NZ GP meeting it seems Horton did not race the car throughout 1955, nor was the machine entered in the 1956 NZ GP, but he ran at Dunedin- tenth and in the South Island Championship Road Race at Mairehau, finishing second on handicap. Onto the Southland Road Race at Ryal Bush he qualified a very good fifth on this challenging road course but only completed 9 of the 41 laps- Whitehead won.

The last meeting that summer was the Ohakea Trophy held at the airfield of the same name on 3 March, Horton didn’t enter but the race was won by (later Sir) Tom Clark who was clearly impressed with the Alta having raced against it for a while in his pre-war Maserati 8CM- he acquired it from Sybil Lupp shortly thereafter.

Sybil Lupp susses her HWM Alta on the evening before the 1955 NZ GP at Ardmore, its said there was a possibility she would drive the car, but John Horton raced it. Car #77 is also ex-Gaze- Lex Davison’s HWM Jaguar, the 1954 Australian GP winner started life as Tony’s 1952 Alta engined F2 machine. Car #3 is Reg Hunt’s just arrived in the Antipodes Maserati 2.5 litre A6GCM (CAN)

 

Tom Clark, Ardmore NZ GP 1957 (T McGrath)

 

Ron Tucker, Ransley Riley DNF, Tom Clark HWM Alta 6th and Bob Gibbons Jaguar D Type DNF during the 1957 Southland Road Race at Ryal Bush. Peter Whitehead won this race from Reg Parnell in identical Ferrari 555’s powered by 750 Monza engines (J Manhire)

Tom Clark, of Crown Lynn Potteries fame, began his stint with it by setting FTD at Whangarei hillclimb before finishing second at Levin in October 1956.

Clark shipped the car to Australia for the ‘Olympic’ Australian GP at Albert Park that December– finishing eleventh following various delays having run strongly early on in a world class field, Stirling Moss won in a works Maserati 250F.

Ninth place followed in the January 1957 NZ GP at Ardmore, Reg Parnell, Ferrari 555 Super Squalo triumphed that day.

Tom raced the car at Wigram DNF, Dunedin DNF, Ryal Bush where he was sixth and in much the same way that he had had a good look up close at the Alta decided the Ferrari 555’s were the go so acquired the Whitehead car, racing it to its first win at the South Island Championship Road Race meeting at Mairehau the weekend after Ryal Bush.

For sale, Johnny Buza was the purchaser.

He practiced at Ardmore for the 1958 GP, as the photograph (in Etcetera below) shows but appears as a DNA in the sergent.com results. He entered Dunedin and Teretonga but failed to take the start on both occasions. With plenty of mid-engined Coopers on the scene the older of the front-engined cars were finding the going tougher- the Alta didn’t race throughout 1959 or 1960.

Jim Boyd – more famous for his aero-engined Lycoming Special, raced the HWM throughout 1961- at Ardmore, Wigram, Dunedin, Teretonga and Waimate,  failing to qualify for the NZ GP but otherwise finishing the events with a best of eighth at Waimate towards the season’s end.

In 1962 it was driven by Lindsay Gough to win a beach race at New Brighton. J.G. Alexander also appeared in the car while Lindsay Gough raced it into 1963, although I can see no records of his events, by that stage though it was a ‘club car’ rather than a machine contesting the national level events reported upon by Bruce Sergent’s site.

By 1980 the car had been acquired by Russell Duell in New Zealand before passing to Colin Giltrap in 1989, the car has been in the United Kingdon since 1997.

Jim Boyd during the 1961 Dunedin Road Race, HWM Alta. Allan Dick wrote ‘This car was never really competitive in NZ but by 1961 it was very much a tail-ender, but Boyd competed for many years in a variety of old, outdated cars, finally striking it good with the Lycoming, followed by the Stanton Corvette and finally a Lola T70’ (CAN)

 

Etcetera…

 

(autopics)

Stirling Moss goes around the outside of Tom Clark during the December 1956 AGP at Albert Park. Maserati 250F and HWM Alta, Moss won from teammate Jean Behra.

 

(CAN)

Cracker of a shot- the kid with a proprietorial hand on the car is perhaps indicating ‘my dads car!’ During John Horton’s ownership probably at Cleland hillclimb perhaps. Input welcome!

Typical Kiwi/Oz kids of the period wearing their school ‘jumpers’ (jerseys) on the weekend.

 

(CAN)

Johnny Buza at Ardmore during the 1958 Ardmore NZ GP weekend. He is listed as a DNA but it seems he practiced at least- by then the old gal is getting a bit long in the tooth given the increasingly international nature of the Australasian Summer International grids.

 

Gaze and Davison driver profiles from the 1954 NZ GP race program (S Dalton)

 

(unattributed)

Cockpit of one of the 2 litre F2 Alta’s.

Doug Nye relates the story of Stirling Moss pitching out of his car a fire extinguisher which had come loose from its mount in the cockpit, when he reported this to John Heath back in the paddock the thrifty team owner promptly despatched his young star back in the direction of the track to find said expensive item…

 

(Motorsport)

These HWM Jaguar’s were and are attractive, fast racing cars.

Here George Abecassis in his DB3S inspired ‘025′ ‘XPE 2’ at Goodwood, circa 1955.

‘Abecassis himself sketched out the bodies of each HWM and, for the second generation HWM-Jaguars in 1955 he designed a neat functional new body. Two works cars were built: George’s was registered XPE2 and the second, for John Heath, took over the HWM1 number plate. It was in this car that John Heath decided to enter the 1956 Mille Miglia…In driving rain he lost control near Ravenna and the car hit a fence and turned over. A few days later Heath died from his injuries.’

David Abecassis on hwmastonmartin.co.uk continues, ‘That sadly, was more or less the end of HWM which still promised so much. Abecassis did build up one more chassis as a dramatically styled road-going coupe, but he gave up racing to concentrate on his burgeoning garage business. Today, HWM, still in its original premises on Walton-on-Thames thrives as a prestigious dealer in Aston Martins and other desirable and exotic road machinery.’

In an apt tribute to the role HWM played in the march of British motor racing post war Abecassis concluded, ‘Like all good racing cars, however, the handful of HWMs that came out of this courageous little team lived on, and most of them have never stopped being campaigned. Today they are cherished by their handful of lucky owners as important, and very effective, historic racing cars. Britain’s all-conquering motor racing industry owes a great debt to those pioneering European forays of John Heath and George Abecassis.’

Indeed!

 

John Heath and a mechanic work on one of the 2 litre Alta engines- Weber fed, during the 1953 British GP weekend at Silverstone (unattributed)

Alta Engine’s…

This summary of the Alta engine’s design is a trancuated version of Doug Nye’s piece in ‘History of The Grand Prix Car’.

Geoffrey Taylor’s twin cam, four cylinder design had a bath shape bottom end casting whose sides rose to provide cooling water jacketing.

The cylinders were formed in a separate Meehanite iron casting which fitted tightly into the crankcase bath. Crankcase rigidity was enhanced by box sections within its side walls and by horizontal cross-bolts positioning the main bearing caps.

Circumferential grooves were machined into the top of the cylinder-bore casting which matched grooves machined into the face of the alloy head- in assembly these matching grooves would clamp Wills pressure ring seals to create a joint which was water and gas tight.

The head was secured by thru bolts positioned by the tall outer crankcase casting, it carried two overhead cams operating two valves per cylinder via rocking fingers, valves were inclined at an included angle of 68 degrees- combustion chambers were hemispherical. Cam drive was by chain off a sprocket on the three main bearing crank. The Roots type supercharger, of Alta manufacture was driven off the crank nose drawing fuel from an SU carb delivering a maximum of 22psi.

In 1.5 litre supercharged form the engine was square- a bore and stroke of 78mm- 1480cc and was good for 7000 rpm using Specialloid pistons and a Nitralloy crank.

The basic  architecture was retained for the 2 litre normally aspirated F2 engines- the HWM engines of 1950 were fed by twin SU carbs burning a methanol/benzol/petrol mix. The 2 litre motors had a bore and stroke of 83.5 x 90mm- 1970cc and were claimed to give 130bhp @ 5500rpm.

Tony Gaze had twin Webers adapted to his engine when he ran at Monza in 1951- his lead was followed on other Alta motors.

For 1953 new type cranks were adopted, HWM’s engines that year were Alta based but the heads were HWM’s own design with gear driven cam drives rather than chain- the head, camshafts, rear-gear drive and other moving parts were made by HWM or its subcontractors.

Bonham’s piece noted the following, ‘There are major differences between the Alta GP and Formula 2 engines. The GP engine was dry-sumped with the crankcase going right down to the bottom of the motor with what is virtually a flat plate bolted to the base, whereas the F2 engine has a wet sump with the crankcase split in half along the centreline of the main bearings. There is a deep pan beneath the engine. The GP engine has a different crank which is extended at the front to drive the blowers- the ancillary drives for magneto(s) and oil pump(s) are also completely different.

The engine in ’52/107’ is marked ‘GP3’ in two places which is compatible with Joe Kelly’s ‘GP3’ as are the two blowers which were unique to ‘GP3’, it is thought the whole unit came from chassis ‘GP3’.

Photo Credits…

Getty Images, Bruce V Davis, John Manhire, Simon Lewis Collection, Allan Dick’s Classic Auto News, Motorsport, autopics.com

Bibliography…

Bonhams ’52/107′ sale material 2016, ‘History of The Grand Prix Car’ Doug Nye, ‘Almost Unknown’ Stewart Wilson, sergent.com, hwmastonmartin.co.uk, Terry McGrath Collection

Tailpiece: Lance Macklin, HWM Alta ‘52/107’ on the way to a win in the BRDC International Trophy, Silverstone 1952…

(Getty)

George Abecassis, on HW Motors letterhead wrote a letter to the cars then owner, which said in part: “I have often wondered what happened to the supercharged HWM which we sent to New Zealand, because it was undoubtedly the most exciting and fastest HWM that we ever made.’

‘It was one of the 1952 two-litre team cars and we fitted it with a two-stage supercharged unit especially for the Tasman series of races, and we lent it to Tony Gaze on the condition that he sold it for us in New Zealand, which he succeeded in doing’.

He concluded: ‘If ever you should get tired of the car, I would always be pleased to buy it back from you! I think it was the best car we ever made…’

Finito…

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- then the Parnell Aston DP155 and an Aston DB3S (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…

(LAT)

The ill at ease David McKay / Tony Gaze Aston Martin DB3S receives some TLC on the Sussex Downs- Goodwood Nine Hour 20 August 1955…

The car survived an earlier collision but distributor problems triggered its retirement after completing 219 of the 309 race laps won by the Peter Walker/Dennis Poore DB3S.

I wrote about the Kangaroo Stable Astons and the DB3S a while back. Click here; https://primotipo.com/2017/09/28/david-mckays-aston-martin-db3ss/

and here; https://primotipo.com/2017/10/31/yes-frank-i-love-it-magnificent-in-fact/

The event was run for the third and final time in 1955 with Aston Martin achieving a perfect three out of three victories.

The Walker/Poore DB3S crossed the finish line at midnight a lap clear of the Jaguar D Type of Ninian Sanderson and Desmond Titterington with the Peter Collins/Tony Brooks DB3S a further three laps in arrears. The event was a tragic one in that Mike Keen died from his injuries after his Cooper Bristol rolled at Fordwater.

(LAT)

They are off!

3 pm on Saturday afternoon, on pole is the Hawthorn/de Portago works Ferrari 750 Monza with Hawthorn quick off the mark, then the three factory Aston Martin DB3S- Walker/Poore, Collins/Brooks third, and Parnell/Salvadori, DNF. Car #7 is the Jonnere/Wharton Ferrari 750 Monza, DNF. Hawthorn’s car retired after an accident having completed 219 laps.

Credit…

LAT, racingsportscars.com

Finito…

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, Lobethal Museum

Stephen Dalton for the research and AMS article

Tailpiece: Bess at Rest…

(Lobethal Museum)

Black Bess at roadside during the 1948 ‘South Australian 100’ meeting at Lobethal.

After setting the pace Whitefoed was out after completing three laps, the race won by fellow Victorian, Jim Gullan’s Ballot Oldsmobile.

Finito…

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 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- permission was not forthcoming from the relevant authority

So the Balcombe meeting occurred as more of a sprint event 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 in the years which followed. Winner of the 1954 New Zealand GP in Jones’ hands. Recreated by John Sheppard in the eighties (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 were 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 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- perhaps the ‘need for speed’ stretch was the straight road from Mornington 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 is 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 Lex was still four years away from his first AGP win, he 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’- chassis #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 Victoria’s 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  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.

The Little Alfa 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 for the 1951 AGP, 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…