Posts Tagged ‘Vern Schuppan’

The only ugly Elfin body ever built wasn’t constructed in Conmurra Avenue, Edwardstown in Adelaide but by Vern Schuppan’s crew in the US, or was it?…

Here Vern is on the way to ninth place in his Elfin MR8A-C Chev during the Road Atlanta Can-Am round on 14 May 1978, the race won by Alan Jones far effective Lola T333CS Chev.

There were some fairly vestigial conversions of F5000’s to single-seat Can-Am cars in that post 1976 period but Schuppan’s must be one of the most thinly disguised of them all?!

By way of comparison, below, is Elfin MR8B-C Chev ‘8783’ F5000 at Sandown Park in Februay 1978, a far prettier, ‘more resolved’ design in terms of its body. In a mixed weekend Vern put his Ansett Team Elfin car on pole but then blew an engine after 5 laps of the Sandown Park Cup, the race won by Warwick Brown’s Team VDS Lola T333CS Can-Am car converted to T332C F5000 specs. Amusing that, a Can-Am Lola reverting to F5000 spec rather than the other way around.

(Ian Smith)

Schuppan first tested an Elfin MR8 at Adelaide International raceway several days after winning the 1976 Australian Rothmans International Series in Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing Lola T332 Chev. Together with Garrie Cooper they sorted the car which Vern raced in Australia throughout 1976 as his international commitments allowed.

Despite not being a fan of the SCCA’s decision to cease F5000 at the end of 1976 in favour of a single-seat 5 litre Can-Am class- in search of the unlimited Can-Am’s spectator appeal as the sanctioning body and the circuit promoters were, Vern decided to compete in 1977.

Schuppan at Riverside with ‘8772’ dressed in its original aluminium John Webb bodywork, the shape of which will be somewhat familiar to Elfin MS7 Repco enthusiasts (L Roberts)

 

Garrie Cooper races the John Webb bodied Elfin MS7 Repco Holden F5000 engined sportscar for the first time at Adelaide International in August 1974. Likeness to the Can-Am MR8 clear (R Davies)

Rather than buy a Lola T333 or the T332CS conversion kit to turn a T332 F5000 into a T332 Can-Am machine he decided to take an Elfin MR8 to the ‘states.

Elfin’s renowned sheet metal worker and body builder John Webb, together with Garrie Cooper built an all enveloping aluminium body based on that Garrie had used in his one-off MS7 Repco Holden sportscar which first raced in 1974.

The body was fitted to Elfin MR8A-C chassis ‘8772’ which Vern first raced as part of Ansett Team Elfin in the 1977 Australian Rothmans Series. He was 5th with an overheating engine, 7th after a tyre deflation and change, DNF pushrod, DNF oil leak at Oran Park, Surfers Paradise, Sandown and Adelaide International respectively.

That car Elfin MR8 ‘8772’ was despatched by sea to the US with the Can-Am body built in Edwardstown, using Garrie’s MR8 as the ‘slave’ upon which it was formed. When completed it was shipped across the Pacific and fitted and fettled to suit Vern’s car, slightly different in shape to GC’s.

Due to Vern’s Surtees F1 commitments and loss of his Can-Am sponsor he delayed the debut of the Elfin until the October 1977 end of season Riverside round.

The Adelaide driver qualified the new machine a good ninth- the team having only the three practice days to do all their sorting. He finished 22nd, 5 laps short of race and series winner Patrick Tambay’s Lola T333CS Chev after sustaining body damage.

Love the Brian Byrt Ford sponsorship- he shared Dick Johnson’s Falcon GT at Bathurst so supported didn’t he. MR8A-C Riverside 1977

 

Heading into 1978 the team planned a full assault on the title won by Alan Jones in the Carl Haas Lola T333CS Chev.

Perhaps the nearly two second gap between Vern and pole-man Jones at the opening round at Road Atlanta was indicative of the year to come. Schuppan was 5th and finished 9th with Jones first- the first five cars were Lolas.

At Charlotte in May he was 5th but Vern thought the car ‘wasn’t strong or light enough. We broke the rear suspension at Charlotte and had K&A Engineering in Adelaide design a new suspension and I had a lighter fibreglass body built. Still we were not as fast as the Lola’.

The ‘Elfin bible’ says that ‘Vern commissioned John Webb to fabricate lightweight bodywork…He despatched the panels to the USA where they were added to the basic MR8-C open wheeler body…’ I wonder if the (other) Webb bodywork is the ‘cycle-guard configuration’ or the more substantial final Can-Am body the car used in 1979? Or both.

The team missed Mid Ohio, Mont Tremblant and Watkins Glen before reappearing at Road America in late July- Vern was sixth having qualified ninth. Jones again won from Warwick Brown and Al Unser, both in Lola T333CS.

Schuppan, Road America 1978 (D Hutson)

The interim bodywork (interim in the sense it was the second of three bodies used on the Can-Am configuration of the car) of the car was developed by Boxx and his team in the US- whilst it was undeniably light it gave away much in both drag and downforce as other teams evolved their Lolas.

Off to Canada later in August Vern qualified and finished sixth at Mosport, this time with roughly 2.5 seconds between Vern and Jones on pole. Alan won from fellow Aussie Warwick Brown’s Team VDS Lola T333CS and similarly mounted Al Holbert.

Schuppan, Mosport 1978 (zoompics.com)

At the celebrated Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres in Quebec Vern qualified fourth and finished seventh. Elliot Forbes-Robinson won for a change in the Spyder NF-10 Chev.

Mosport 1978 (unattributed)

In the two end of season October California races Vern was Q7 and DNF at Laguna Seca- a week later he qualified fifth but failed to finish after popping an engine at Riverside.

Riverside 1978

Jones won the championship taking five wins from the nine races he contested- all from pole. Warwick Brown was second and Al Holbert third, all of the guys aboard Lola T333CS.

The 1979 season started at Road Atlanta in May, with Vern missing that event, Charlotte, Mosport and Mid Ohio before making the race debut of the car with its new, all-enveloping, fibreglass bodywork at Watkins Glen in early July.

Schuppan, Elfin MR8A-C Chev, Watkins Glen 1979

He was six seconds shy of Keke Rosberg’s Spyder NF-11 Chev on pole but in a race of attrition finished a gritty third behind Keke and Geoff Lees VDS Lola T333CS Chev.

Road America 1979 (G Snyder)

Road America, Wisconsin, 22 July 1979, Vern was 5th in the race won by Jacky Ickx in the Haas-Hall Lola T333CS Chev from Geoff Lees T333 and Al Holbert’s Hogan HR-001 Chev.

At Brainerd Vern qualified tenth but popped an engine after completing 19 laps, Ickx won.

Vern chases Bobby Rahal’s Prophet Chev in the MR8A-C Riverside 1979 (C Nally)

Schuppan missed Trois-Rivieres but raced both the California season-enders.

He was Q9 and seventh at Laguna Seca with Bobby Rahal taking the win in his Prophet Chev. For the season ending Riverside meeting on 23 October- his last Can-Am race in the Elfin, Vern finished where he started in terms of the outright speed of the car, he was about two seconds off pole- Keke Rosberg’s Spyder NF-11 Chev on this occasion. He finished five laps down with mechanical problems, Jacky Ickx’ Lola T333 was the victor of both the race, and with five wins, the series.

‘8772’ in the Riverside paddock. Aluminium monocoque chassis and 525bhp AAR 5 litre, injected Chevy clear. Schuppan rated the MR8 F5000 a better car than a T332 Lola- not that the Can-Am variant was quicker! (G LaRue)

In an effort to become more competitive in the 1980 Can-Am Vern acquired two F1 McLaren M26’s with a view to having Howden Ganley’s Tiga Cars convert them into Can-Am machines, but then changed tack buying a bespoke Tiga CA80 instead.

The car, based on Tigas’s F2, ‘F280’ appeared in the last two rounds of the season at Laguna Seca and at Riverside (below) with the plucky Aussie unable to qualify the cars in the top-ten. He was classified sixteenth at Laguna after a water leak, completing only 37 laps and fourteenth after an engine failure on lap 41 at Riverside- after that the car was not raced again.

Vern, Tiga CA-80 Chev, Budweiser GP, Riverside 1980 (unattributed)

The McLaren’s were on-sold to Porsche Cars Australia chief Alan Hamilton.

In Alf Costanzo’s hands one of the Tiga converted ‘ground effect’ M26 Chevs became the ‘jet of the field’ in the dying days of F5000 in Australia.

Vern leaving Turn 6 during the very smoggy 1979 Riverside meeting (G LaRue)

But the Elfin Can-Am adventure was over, perhaps the results of the under-funded and resourced little team were unsurprising against the bigger teams at the head of the field.

‘8772’ survived the ravages of its ‘in period’ racing fairly well, and was ultimately converted back to F5000 specifications. It’s owned by Bill Hemming and can usually be seen on display at his Elfin Heritage Centre in Melbourne.

Schuppan, Riverside 1979 (K Oblinger)

Credits…

Larry Roberts, Glenn Snyder, David Hutson, Gerry LaRue, Ian Smith, Robert Davies, Wayne Ellwood, John McCollister, Chris Nally, Lynn Haddock, oldracingcars.com, ‘Australia’s Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’ John Blanden and Barry Catford, Kurt Oblinger

Tailpiece: Schuppan, Riverside 1979…

Finito…

(Advertiser)

Well, not quite! Vern Schuppan is 21 in this shot, he has just won a South Australian Kart title, its 1965…

The young South Aussie may have been a late starter, he hadn’t raced cars in Australia when he convinced his young wife they should ‘have a crack at motor racing in the UK’ for two years with $A5,000 in his pocket. His career trajectory once he arrived was meteoric though.

In 1969 he raced an Alexis and Macon Formula Fords. After some promising Merlyn performances in the five race, four circuit Brazilian Torneio Formula Ford series in 1970, he was picked up by Palliser for the rest of the year in the UK.

Other later F1 drivers on that 1970 Brazilian tour included Ian Ashley, Val Musetti and Tom Belso as well as the leaders of the Brazilian contingent Emerson and Wilson Fittipaldi. Emerson won the series from Ashley, Ray Allen and Wilson Fittipaldi.

Vern in the Mallory Park paddock on 6 November 1969, Macon MR7 Formula Ford (N Quicke)

Into Formula Atlantic with Palliser in 1971 he took the very first British ‘Yellow Pages’ championship with five wins aboard Palliser WDB3 and WDB4 chassis powered by BRM modified Lotus/Ford twin-cam engines rather than the new Ford BDA motor.

Via the BRM engine connection he came to the attention of Louis Stanley who gave him some BRM drives in 1972 aboard a P153 and P160. He also did some testing with Tyrrell.

He well and truly strutted his stuff in F5000, Indycars and Sportscars, a 1983 Le Mans Porsche 956 win together with Hurley Haywood and Al Holbert no less, but never really got his bum into a decent GP car.

A story for another time.

Vern on the cover of the Mallory 24 October ’71 meeting program. Perhaps the shot is on the day of his Brands win on 12 September. Palliser WDB4 Ford t/c F Atlantic

Credits…

Adelaide Advertiser, Norman Quicke/Getty

Tailpiece: An Oulton touch of the opposites…

Vern showing fine delicacy of throttle control aboard a two year old BRM P153 during his first F1 race, the 29 May 1972 Oulton Park Gold Cup. Q6 and 5th behind Hulme, Fittipaldi, Schenken and Redman. Not bad! (unattributed)

 

imageGarrie Cooper’s Elfin 600D Ford leads Vern Schuppan’s March 722 Ford through the fast swoops of the challenging Thomson Road circuit and into the hot, dense, green, steamy forests of the island city state during the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix…

Vern was 2nd in his March 722, a good result as he boofed the car early in the 30 March-2 April race weekend. ‘I crashed in qualifying when something broke in the rear suspension – the car was absolutely brand new. Luckily I hadn’t hit anything too solid and so we were able to cobble something together and I started from the back’. This chassis was the same one which, with modifications by Brian Falconer, he raced to victory in Singapore in 1973. Garrie didn’t finish the ’72 race he won in the very first Elfin 600 in 1968. I wrote an article a while back about the 1973 race, the last until the modern era, click here to read it;

https://primotipo.com/2016/04/29/birrana-cars-and-the-1973-singapore-gp/

max-from-leo

Winner of the ’72 Singapore GP Max Stewart’s Mildren Waggott Ford with Leo Geoghegan’s Brabham Brabham BT30 Ford right up his chuff and Bob Muir’s yellow Rennmax BN3 Ford in the distance (AOS)

I remember as a kid thinking Asia was a very exotic place…

Australia had, believe it or not, ‘The White Australia Policy’ (progressively dismantled from 1949-73) which kept non-whiteys, Asians included out of the joint, so back then you didn’t see ‘em on the streets. The place was bland, populated as it was by lotsa similar looking Anglos. Thankfully all that is a thing of the long distant past. People from countries to our immediate north have added hugely to the wonderful, disparate melting pot of race, creed and color we have enjoyed here, especially post World War 2.

To me as a kid though, Asia was exotic, different, but not far away like Europe. I read with great interest of the success of Kevin Bartlett in Macau and Leo Geoghegan at Fuji in 1969 when i flicked through the 1970 ‘Australian Motor Racing Annual’, my first road-racing magazine purchase, and marvelled at the circuits.

Two decades later, in 1989-91 I was regularly in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore on business. Even though I had it in my mind then to walk as much of the Thomson Road Circuit as I could, I never did make the easy 12 kilometre excursion from central Singapore to do so, it was always too hot to walk the place. Dammit!, its such a wild looking track…

image

Garrie Cooper, Elfin 600D Ford ‘7012’, Singapore GP 1972 (AOS)

Cooper was a popular Singapore visitor having won the race in 1968 in the very first Elfin 600 built. Garrie’s 1972 Singapore car is to me the ‘definitive ultimate’ Elfin 600; chassis 600D ‘7012’ was built as Cooper’s own, works, 2.5 litre Tasman Formula car powered by the ‘definitive’ Repco Tasman engine, the gorgeous little ‘830 Series’, SOHC, 2 valve, Lucas injected ‘short block’ V8. Mind you, in that form it didn’t have the ‘fugly’ Tyrrell type nosecone it wears here.

image

Garrie Cooper during the 28 June 1970 Gold Star round at Oran Park, 3rd in Elfin 600D Repco ‘7012’. Max Stewart won in the Mildren Waggott from Leo Geoghegan’s similarly engined car, Leo won the Gold Star that year (oldracephotos.com)

The Tasman 2.5 Formula was over as Australia’s ANF1 at the end of 1970 so the Repco in ‘7012’s frame was removed and fitted into an Elfin 360 sportscar. An injected Lotus/Ford twin-cam was then inserted into the spaceframe chassis for ANF2 racing. And for events in South East Asia which changed to a ‘twin-cam, 2 valve’ formula, effectively mandating the venerable, wonderful Lotus/Ford engine which was a mainstay of motor racing globally for the best part of 20 years.

image

Cooper leads the rest of the 1968 GP grid on lap 1 into the Thomson Mile chicane, Elfin 600 Ford. Advice on following car ID’s gratefully accepted (AOS)

I’m in the middle of drafting an article on the Repco engined Elfin 600’s at the moment, all three of them, so will leave that topic for now. ‘7012’ was bought by Col Allison for his lad Bruce at the end of Garrie’s Asian tour, the speedy Queenslander was showing promise in a 600FF back home, steering ‘7012’ around Lakeside and Surfers Paradise was another step in Bruce’s rise to prominence and success overseas.

image

Lovely side profile shot of Max Stewart and his winning Mildren in 1972 (AOS)

The winner of the 1972 GP was Max Stewart who took his final big win in the Mildren Waggott which had given him so much success over the years.

The big, ultimately fast, country-boy from Orange in New South Wales literally knew every nut and bolt in this long-lived cars frame. His most recent success in it was the 1971 Australian Gold Star series when he ‘nicked’ the title from his great mate Kevin Bartlett. KB’s F5000 McLaren M10B Chev had the speed in the first year the Gold Star was run to F5000, but Max had enough speed, better handling and much more reliability from his Waggott 2 litre, DOHC, 4 valve, circa 275bhp motor.

image

Stewart from Geoghegan in the Circus Hairpin (AOS)

Max was racing an F5000 Elfin MR5 Repco in 1972 Tasman and Gold Star events, but no doubt victorious transition back to the little Mildren was as easy and sweet as a ‘booty call’ with a recent girlfriend!

image


Max accepts his trophy. Neat scoreboard; #6 Stewart Mildren Ford, #129 Schuppan March 722 Ford, #7 Muir Rennmax BN3 Ford and #1 Rajah March 712M Ford (AOS)

max-plaudits

MS garlanded in the victorious Mildren Waggott. For this race it was fitted with 1.6 litre Lotus/Ford twin cam on Webers rather than the Waggott DOHC, 4 valve, injected engines of 1600/1860/2000cc capacity with which the car mainly raced over its long life. Brabham magnesium uprights clear in shot, interesting are the rubber bushed type spherical joints used. This very successful car was restored by Greg Smith in Elwood, Melbourne some years back with further work done in more recent times by Max Pearson who owns and keeps it, and Max’ 1972 Elfin MR5 Repco F5000, in amazingly fine fettle. Both are familiar cars to historic racing enthusiasts in Oz (AOS)

Missing from the ’72 Singapore GP grid was three times (1969-71) winner, Kiwi champion Graeme Lawrence who had an horrific shunt during the opening lap of the 1972 New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe in January which destroyed his brand new Lola T300, badly injured himself and killed Bryan Falloon, whose Rennmax/Stanton Porsche, Graeme collided with.

image

Geoghegan, Brabham BT30 (AOS)

One of Lawrence’s many Australian friends Leo Geoghegan raced Graeme’s Brabham BT30, the 1970 Australian Gold Star champion finished 5th in the unfamiliar, but oh-so-forgiving Ron Tauranac designed chassis.

image

Leo Geoghegan in Graeme Lawrence’s Brabham BT30 Ford, advice gratefully received on what part of the circuit many of these photos are, and a race report if anyone has one (AOS)

Ostensibly retired from open-wheeler competition, Leo was lured back in 1972 by Birrana Engineering boss Malcolm Ramsay, Malcolm a South East Asia regular competitor. The exploits of these two are well covered in the ’73 Singapore GP article referenced above.

image

Vern tested the BRM P153B, the P153 the Bourne concerns 1970 challenger, during Belgian GP practice at Nivelles in 1972, the car was raced by Helmut Marko to 10th. Emerson Fittipaldi won in a Lotus 72D Ford (unattributed)

Vern would see a lot of his countrymen in the years to come in F5000 competition but it was the first time he had raced against Cooper, Stewart, Geoghegan, Muir, Bartlett and Kiwi, Lawrence.

Schuppan left South Australia’s Flinders Ranges town, Booleroo Centre, with some karting experience in Australia and via Formula Ford success in the UK, won the first British F Atlantic title in 1971 in a works Palliser.

He was very much a coming-man at the time of the Singapore GP, having a BRM contract in his pocket for 1972. BRM had more drivers than hot dinners that season, the Aussies only races were the non-championship May, Oulton Park ‘Gold Cup’ and October, Brands Hatch ‘Victory Race’ in which he finished 4th and 5th respectively.

Despite that, he impressed BRM boss Lou Stanley enough and signed a contract to drive alongside temporary Ferrari escapee Clay Regazzoni in 1973. Stanley’s hiring of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda’s schillings sidelined him. ‘I knew that I had to be in F1 with a good team by the time I was 30 – and so I thought I’d cracked it. But when I arrived back in Australia for Christmas and picked up a Daily Express at the airport, there it was: Lauda Signs for BRM. I attended races with the team and did a lot of testing, something I always enjoyed – but it was a disappointment’ said Vern in a recent MotorSport interview.

image

Sonny Rajah (above) was a Malaysian character who won a lot of friends in Australia in 1974 when he contested our Van Heusen Australian F2 Championship. He used the same March chassis, the ex-Ronnie Petersen Euro F2 Championship winning 712M, he drove to 4th place in Singapore, the misfiring March finishing between Schuppan and Geoghegan.

image

Muir from Cooper and Schuppan at Circus Hairpin (AOS)

Rennmax BN3 Ford; Kevin Bartlett and Bob Muir…

Amongst the most numerous cars from one marque were Rennmax BN3’s, these cars raced by Stewart (nee Mildren) as well as his F5000 buddies Kevin Bartlett and Bob ‘Skinny’ Muir.

Regular readers may recall that these cars were built by Sydney’s Bob Britton on the Brabham BT23 jig he created to repair Denny Hulme’s works BT23 damaged in New Zealand during the ’68 Tasman Series.

Bob Muir’s car was, I think, Ken Goodwin’s chassis raced by Bob in Australia during 1971, notably at the Hordern Trophy meeting at Warwick Farm. Muir had a very competitive run in Singapore finishing 3rd in the yellow car.

KB leased Sydney driver Doug Heasman’s car and recalls the weekend well‘…unfortunately I had a DNF result after an off, due to slight damage to the suspension. Fire marshalls had inexplicably placed a fire hose across the road on a blind corner to douse a crashed car, I bounced off the road when the wheels hit it. There was no flag signal of the situation at the flag point before, which caused the problem’ recalled KB recently.

image

Kevin Bartlett typically sideways, Rennmax BN3 Ford (AOS)

As to the Thomson Road circuit he related that ‘I quite liked the layout as a real road circuit. It had jungle like bush in many parts, with huge drainage ditches to one side in many places and virtually nil runoffs, certainly it was a challenging place. I remember leading for all but the last few laps one year (1970) from Graeme Lawrence’s Ferrari (ex-Amon 1969 Tasman winning Ferrari Dino 246T in which Graeme also won the 1970 Tasman) with a DNF in the Mildren Alfa V8 ‘Yellow Sub’ the car in which KB won the 1969 Macau Grand Prix and Australian Gold Star Series.

image

Kevin Bartlett and Graeme Lawrence on the front row of the grid for the 1970 Singapore GP, start/finish straight relatively narrow. KB #5 in Alec Mildren’s Len Bailey designed, Alan Mann Racing built Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’ Alfa Romeo, here in its ‘definitive’ Alfa Tipo 33 2.5 litre V8 form, as it was originally designed. It was quicker when fitted with the 2 litre Waggott but always ‘sexier’ with the Alfa engine, for me it defines everything that was great about the Tasman 2.5 Formula. GL is in his equally lustworthy, and victorious, ex-Amon Ferrari 246T. #66 is Albert Poon’s Brabham BT30 FVA, the car alongside, I think is John McDonald’s Brabham BT23 FVA (AOS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image

Bartlett leads the field on lap 1 of the 1970 GP into the Thomson Road chicane, Graeme Lawrence is almost obscured he is so close to KB’s FT200 Hewland. Then its Stewart in the Mildren Waggott #6 and McDonald’s Brabham BT23 FVA #16 and the rest. Bartlett won the preliminary 20 lapper on Friday and led the 40 lap GP, in a very spirited close race with Lawrence until lap 37 when a valve spring in the little V8 broke, dropping an inlet valve, KB recalls. The field was small, only 10 cars due to mechanical mishaps in the preliminary, 12 cars took to the grid in the GP but 2 crashed on the warm up lap! so 10 started (AOS)

 

 

 

 

 

image

Muir ahead of Bartlett’s red Rennmax BN3 on the Thomson Mile with John McDonald’s ex-Rondel Racing white Brabham BT36 Ford. Back home these two Sydneysiders raced Lola T300’s in the domestic Gold Star Series with Muir immediately on the pace when he started racing F5000 during the ’72 Australian Tasman rounds. KB was the driver who well and truly served it up to Matich when he took delivery of his T300 during the ’72 Gold Star, which Frank won in his A50 Repco (AOS)

image

Cooper in his brand new Elfin at the Circus Hairpin, Singapore GP 1968. Great looking cars, the only marginal change to the body, which made the things even sweeter was a ‘wedgier’ element or shape to the radiator cowl, you can see it in the shot above of Cooper’s 600D Repco at Oran Park up above earlier in the article (AOS)

Singapore GP 1968, Garrie Cooper and Elfin 600 ‘6801’…

Garrie’s win in the Elfin 600 prototype ‘6801’ was pretty handy commercially for the likable, talented South Aussie and his band of gifted artisans at Edwardstown, an inner south-western Adelaide suburb.

Elfin 600’s won in FF, F3, F2 and ANF1; no other car in Australia (the world?) ever had that ‘bandwidth’.

Critically the car was built in relatively large numbers and exported providing valuable cashflow, the lifeblood of any business especially a small one financed, as they are typically in Oz, by a mortgage over the business owners home. 600’s were built from 1968-72 and were cars which helped launched a swag of careers not least Larry Perkins who won Australian titles in FF and F2 aboard a 600FF and 600B/E. The following, less successful model, the 620/2/3, were evolutions of the 600 spaceframe design and also sold well.

image

‘6801’ in the Thomson Road paddock 1968, mechanical details as per text. The caption notes driver and shortly Elfin 600 customer Henkie Iriawan seated at far left with the car being fettled by the Elfin boys and Loh Yap Ting in white. So impressed was Iriawan that he bought ‘6801’ at the end of the race meeting, and later a 600B to which he fitted a Ford FVA engine. Local ‘shops who looked after the visiting teams were Federated Motors and Borneo Motors, both the preferred facilities (AOS)

Cooper and his team finished ‘6801’, raced it at Calder in Victoria in March and then shipped it to South East Asia. These shots show the beautifully fabricated steel spaceframe chassis, Lotus/Ford Weber fed, DOHC engine, a good 1600 twinc good for circa 170bhp at the time. Gearbox here is a Hewland HD5, production cars usually used Hewland Mk8/9 or FT200 dependent upon application.

The cars first race on its Asian tour was the Selangor GP at Shah Alam, Malaysia on the 6/7 April weekend, Garrie didn’t complete his heat with a broken crown wheel and pinion.

In the Singapore GP, Allan Grice had the gearbox problem, the case of the ex-Mildren/Gardner/Bartlett Brabham BT11A’s Hewland ‘box split causing the end of a good dice between Cooper and Grice. Jan Bussell’s Brabham BT14 Ford was 2nd and Steve Holland’s Lotus 47 Ford sportscar, the event was run to Formula Libre, was 3rd.

‘6801’ was still giving a good account of itself in ANF2 in 1973/4 in Paul Hamilton’s hands amongst all the modern Birrana, March and Bowin monocoques and is still raced by him in historic racing. It always brings a smile to my face whenever I see the little red, immaculate machine given its Elfin historic significance.

image

Cooper accelerates out of Circus Hairpin on the way to his ’68 GP win. He is ahead of Allan Grice, later Australian Touring Car ace in a Brabham BT11A Climax and Albert Poon’s Brabham BT21 Alfa. Garrie led from lap 5, Poon retired on lap 10 with a damaged wheel (AOS)

Etcetera…

cooper-nose

(AOS)

Cooper (above) in the 600D Ford ‘7012’, Singapore 1972. He really did make a beautiful car as ‘ugly as a hat full of arseholes’ didn’t he?, no doubt it was effective though. Tyrrell started this F1 trend at the ’71 French GP.

These Elfin 600D experiments flowed directly into the modified noses of the MR5 F5000 cars which Cooper fitted to his, and John McCormack’s car during the Australian Tasman rounds in 1972. See photo below. Those noses became ‘definitive spec’ on MR5’s and the subsequent MR6 F5000. It was only at the very end of the MR5’s long life that Garrie tried a ‘chisel nose’ and side rads on his MR5 when he was assessing the body shape and profiles to be fitted to his 1976 MR8 F5000, a very successful series of cars.

cooper-mr5

(Hemer)

This 1972 Oran Park shot above shows the MR5 ‘before and after’; John Walker’s car in front with the original 1971 blade front wing and Cooper’s car further back with the ‘Tyrrell’ type nose, both MR5’s are Repco powered. That’s Max Stewart’s Mildren Waggott’s nose shoved up John’s clacker by the way. Interesting that he was racing the little 2 litre car rather than his MR5 at this meeting. What meeting is it folks, its not a Gold Star round, one of you Sydneysiders will know?

leo-nose

(AOS)

Leo has had an argument with the local geography and lost, ‘sorry Graeme, it was like this…’, no damage to the rest of the little BT30 mind you.

Bibliography…

MotorSport ‘The Forgotten Singapore Grands Prix’ by Paul Fearnley September 2016, The Nostalgia Forum, Kevin Bartlett

Photo Credits…

National Archive of Singapore (AOS), Lynton Hemer

Tailpiece: Cooper accepts the plaudits of the crowd and the victors garland in 1968, neat rear cowl of the  Elfin 600 clear and a feature on all the production cars…

image

(AOS)

 

 

sing mal

Birrana Engineering chief Malcolm Ramsay in his Birrana 273 ‘010’ Ford Hart during the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix, the last until the F1 era commenced in 2008…

I have been meaning to write about Birrana’s jewels of cars for a while. I tripped over this shot of Ramsay researching the Leo Geoghegan Lotus 39 article a while back, Leo was Birrana’s works driver from mid-’72 to the end of 1974.

This article started as a ‘quickie’ stimulated by the shot above, but segued into a longer piece when I found heaps of photos of the ’73 Singapore GP in the Singapore Government Archives. Too good to waste, low-res shots but still great to circulate. Bonuses were finding an existing article about the pre-F1 Singapore GP history and a contemporary ’73 race report. The basis of something interesting. Bewdy!

I need to a write a bit about Birrana Cars too though.

I don’t for Australian readers but that’s only 15% of you. So I have written what should be treated as ‘An Introduction to Birranas’, Part 2 ‘Birrana In Detail’ to come soon. Hopefully there is enough to explain how important the cars were to those who haven’t heard of the marque whilst being clear to Birrana enthusiasts, and there are plenty of us in Oz, that there is more to come.

sing leo amaroo

The photos above and below are ‘compare and contrasts’; top of Leo G in his 274 at Oran Park, the bottom of Bob Muir in his 273/4 at Symmons Plains, Tasmania. Bob’s car is 273 ‘009’ with 274 nose and rear wing. Compare with ‘standard spec’ 273 shots in the Singapore GP 1973 part of this article (unattributed)

Leo won the Australian F2 Championship in 1973/4 with a 273 and then 274 model cars, powered by 1.6 litre Brian Hart Ford ‘416B’ injected 205/210bhp variants of the venerable Lotus/Ford twin-cam four cylinder engine first used in the Elan in 1963.

bir muir

Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford ‘009’, Symmons Plains 22 September 1974. Bob took the win from RayWinter’s Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ Ford and Sonny Rajah’s March 712M/732 Ford (unattributed)

The F3/F2 Birrana’s were typical, orthodox aluminium monocoque chassis, outboard suspension cars of the period but built to a very high standard of design, construction and finish with particularly careful attention to aerodynamics. ‘Boxes were Hewland Mk9/FT200 for ANF3/2 use respectively.

Twenty-one cars were built, (FF 4, F3 4, F2 11, F Atlantic 1 and Speedway! 1) the first car was the F71 FF built in Sydney by Alcock before he joined forces with Ramsay in Adelaide, their home town. The last ‘A78’ Ramsay built for his own use in 1978 after the factory had closed in terms of ‘volume production’.

sing a78

Graeme Lawrence’ Rothmans March 76B alongside the very last built ‘Golden Churn’ sponsored Birrana A78. Graeme is the guy far right of his car and Ramsay the dude in the beard behind his. Selangor GP, Batu Tiga circuit 24 September 1978. Nose of Steve Millen’s Chevron behind. F Pac race, all cars Ford Cosworth BDD 1.6 powered. Of interest to Birrana historians; car was entirely new based on 273 tub design with forward braced roll bars as required then by FIA regs, and upper body panel, 274 nose with bottom lip added, bigger than 72-4 rear wing, no rear engine cover; the 272 and 273 did not have rear covers the 374/274’s did (Choong H Fu)

The pick of the cars, given driver feedback seems to be the 273, although the evolved 274 was built in larger numbers and won F2 titles for Leo G ‘015’ in ’74 and Geoff Brabham ‘018’ in 1975.

Visually though the F3 374 was a gorgeous bit of kit…if not as successful as the ‘works’ Cheetah Mk5/6 Toyota’s of ‘The Two Brians’ Shead and Sampson. Shead built the cars in his Mordialloc shop and Sambo the engines in his ‘Motor Improvements’ emporium in St Kilda Road, Elsternwick. All three of the 374’s were fitted initially with Sambo’s (ANF3 1300cc) Corolla based engines.

bir hosking

Dean Hosking in the John Blanden owned 374 Toyota ahead of the similar Lew Wade owned, Paul King driven car at Adelaide International in August 1974. Little jewels of things  (Robert Davies)

Our ‘Racers Retreat’, click on the link atop the page for earlier articles, Peter Brennan was the mechanic on Paul Kings ‘Lew Wade Fiat’ owned Birrana 374 in 1974.

‘Lew had sponsored Paul King in an Elfin F Vee for a couple of years in Victoria, he was a really quick driver, so Lew decided to take the step up and buy an F3 car for Paul. He was a Fiat dealer in Cheltenham (in Melbourne’s bayside south), he figured the way to beat Sambo and Shead was a different chassis and a race prepped Fiat 128SL SOHC engine. The car was then new, the engine more advanced than the pushrod Corolla and he could cross-promote the sales of his Fiats.

Soon boatloads of lire were being sent to ‘Luigi The Unbelievable’ in Italy, when the engine finally arrived, late of course, we put it on the Challenge Motors dyno, it barely pulled 110bhp, not enough to pull the top off a rice-custard, the MI Corollas made a genuine 130/135bhp, even the customer engines’.

‘Lew had been serving it up to the Brians, who were both closeby in bayside Melbourne about how the Fiat engine would give them a belting and then had to eat big doses of humble pie and buy one of their donks!’

‘The day came to pick up the Birrana, so Paul and i were despatched to Adelaide in Lew’s big, lumbering Chev Impala and trailer. I don’t remember much about the factory other than it was small. Back in Melbourne, we soon had the thing plumbed and completed, Paul tested it at Calder and was immediately ‘on the pace’, he was a very quick driver but beating the Cheetah twins was another matter.’

bir 374

A little bit of biffo in this 1974 Calder combined F3/FF race. As best as i can work out its Peter (brother of Larry) Perkins Elfin 620 from Paul King’s Birrana 374, with 2 Elfin 620’s outside him, one ‘yumping’. #68 is a Wren FF with another FF beside him and on the very outside you can just make out the light covered rear engine cowl of Dean Hosking’s 374 (unattributed)

image

Paul King’s 374 ahead of Brians Shead and Sampson in this Winton promotional poster circa 1974/5 (Paul King Collection)

In those days FF’s and F3’s often raced together, there was no national F3 Championship, the quicker F3’s raced against the F2’s in their championship races (which from 73-75 in particular was well supported, comparative car specs; FF 1600 circa 105bhp, no wings or slicks. F3 1300 SOHC or OHV circa 135bhp wings, slicks, 5 speed box. F2 1600 DOHC 2 valve circa 205bhp, wings, slicks, 5 speed box)

‘The car itself was beautifully built and engineered, the only problem we had during that year was leaking fuel tanks, we had to take the car back to the factory to have them re-sealed, its before the days of bag-tanks in these cars. The car was easy to work on, the Toyota engine was bullet proof, and the Hewland Mk9, which was also new gave no problems with only 135bhp tearing away at it.'(these boxes sometimes fitted to 205bhp Ford Cosworth BDD engines, not particularly reliable all the time mind!)

The Mk5 Cheetah was a top car in both the hands of the ‘factory’ drivers and also as a customer car ‘the Birrana was a better engineered and finished car’ but Shead and Sambo had evolved the cars over the years into very quick devices and both of them were experienced, fast competitive drivers. Sampson won the Bathurst 1000 with Peter Brock in 1975 and only stopped racing, in his mid-seventies, in the last few years.

‘Whilst Paul was an F3 front runner Lew started to lose interest when he wasn’t winning all the time, Pauls marriage was also going down the blurter, the car was sold and that was that. Paul drifted from the scene and Lew crashed his Tiger Moth and killed himself some years later’.

Allison895_017

Bruce Allison’s 274 ‘017’ in the Lakeside pits, the Queenslander was 3rd in his home race,during the 1974 AF2 Championship, an 8 race series in 5 states. Workmanship and finish of these cars absolutely world class (Allison)

All of the F2 Birrana’s were fitted initially with Lotus/Ford/Hart twin-cams built by a raft of preparation outfits. During the period we are looking at Peter Nightingale was the designated factory engine and gearbox bloke, he also prepared, from memory (always dangerous) Geoff Brabham’s 274 ‘018’ in his ’75 AF2 Championship winning year so that makes Peter the most successful ‘Hart fettler’ of the day. He still looks after a few cars in his Adelaide home town.

Later, various of the F3/2 cars were fitted with a variety of 1.6 litre SOHC engines when the ANF2 rules were stupidly changed.

Some of the F2 cars had the Ford Cosworth 1.6 litre BDD’s later fitted for F Atlantic/Pacific. The Birranas were too long in the tooth as F Pacs in the mid/late ‘70’s in NZ when they adopted the class, but Bob Muir was competitive in the UK in mildly updated 273’s in 1975.

bir muir uk

Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford BDD, Mallory Park, British F Atlantic Championship, Bank Holiday meeting August 1975 (Alan Cox)

The 273 derived European 2 litre F2 Ford BDG engined ‘Minos’ was a slug and optimistic in the extreme given the competitiveness of that class at the time with factory BMW and Renault V6 engines in March/Martini/Alpine chassis. More about ‘Minos’ in the later Birrana article.

One chassis was raced late in its life with a Waggott 2 litre DOHC 4 valve engine, which is the car I would personally like to own! However I am getting ahead of myself and starting to write the article I said at the outset I would do at another time. So, back a step.

By the middle of 1974 Ramsay and Tony Alcock his designer/partner in Birrana, decided it wasn’t commercially feasible to build cars profitably as they wanted to in Oz.

bir muir 2

Bob Muir, Birrana 273 BDD ‘009’ at Mallory Park 24 August 1975, DNF with fuel surge, Jim Crawford’s Chevron B29 won. Later GP drivers Gunnar Nilsson and Tony Brise were also in this race (Alan Cox)

Tony travelled to the UK and initially ran the two Bob and Marj Brown owned 273’s for Aussie Bob Muir in the 1975 British F Atlantic Championship before he joined Graham Hills team. Unfortunately he was on ‘that flight’ which ended tragically at Elstree Airport, the whole team perished on that sad trip in difficult conditions.

Ramsay then focussed on his engineering business servicing the mining industry in Adelaide, where all but the first Birrana was built.

He very successfully applied his organisational and management skills by getting back involved in motor racing and winning multiple Gold Stars for other drivers in the Formula Holden era. His stable included Mark Webber, Paul Stokell, Jason Bright, Simon Wills and Rick Kelly. In addition, for a time he ‘turned to the dark side’ and ran V8 Supercars.

6687_T_GBrab_75-med

Geoff Brabham at Oran Park in his 274 ‘018’ the last built car originally sold to Neil Rear in WA but bought only slightly ‘shop soiled’ by the Brabham family for Geoff’s second full season in racing, he raced a Bowin P6F successfully in the Australian FF Championship in 1974. Brabham comfortably won the ’75 AF2 title but Alfredo Costanzo in Leo Geoghegan’s ’74 championship winning chassis kept him honest, Brabham’s the better prepared car. Their was no championship AF2 round at OP in 1975, so not sure when this is, clearly a Friday tho, only a few folks in attendance! Brabs was off to British F3 in ’76 (oldracephotos.com)

Without thinking too hard about it, the rollcall of drivers who ‘parked their arses’ in Birranas in the short period the cars were built is impressive…

Later Bathurst and AGP winner John Goss raced F71, Alcock’s first car, an FF whilst he was making his name in the McLeod Ford GTHO Falcon in 1971. Jumping from the nimble, responsive FF into the ‘big powerful barge’ of a Falcon at the same meeting must have been a challenge. And test of versatility. JG was one of a relatively small number of Aussies who were awesomely quick in both ‘taxis’ and single-seaters. Frank Gardner, Kevin Bartlett, John Bowe, Mark Skaife and Craid Lowndes spring readily to mind as some of the others. Click on the link at the bottom of this article to read about ‘Gossy’.

Andrew Miedecke, Richard Carter and Gary Brabham, the latter long after the car was built, (1982) raced F73, a superb FF built for Miedecke’s ’73 national ‘Driver to Europe’ championship FF assault. Carter won the ’76 DTE series in this chassis, Birrana’s only Australian FF Championship victory.

bir winton

Bucolic Winton, Central Victoria, FF action in 1978. Steve Moody’s Birrana F72 from Gerry Witenden’s F71-the first Birrana built. Then, i think, obscured David Earle’s Elfin and Ron Barnacle’s (or Don Bretland’s maybe?) Van Diemen RF77. Lots of sideways action, Aussie FF’s raced on Bridgestone RD102 road-radials in this period which made them wild to drive having driven my share of laps at the time! A funny bi-product of this was that older chassis, which were designed around radials when the class first started, came to the fore. Witenden, a terrific bloke from Goulburn way, came within a point of winning the ’78 title in this 7 year old Birrana. He went to the UK too, did a few FF2000 races, maybe with Delta if any Brit enthusiasts remember him. Steve Moody is still around historic FF, Barnacle also won an Oz FF title (unattributed)

Drivers of the Birrana F2’s included Leo G, Bob Muir, Bruce Allison, Alfredo Costanzo and touring car ace Peter Brock who did his only single-seater season in 272 ‘006’ in 1973.

Allison very much showed ‘he had what it takes’ in 274 ‘017’ in the very competitive 1974 ANF2 Championship. He jumped up to F5000 in an ex-Bartlett, well sorted Lola T332 Chev in ’75, ‘rattling the established F5000 order’ as the category’s ‘enfant terrible’ in much the same way Warwick Brown did in ’72.

Bruce recalls the Birrana and that ’74 season with a lot of fondness; ‘I’d started racing an Escort Twin-Cam against the best of the guys in Series Production and realised how hard it would be to get an ‘equal car’ so we decided to buy an open-wheeler. Dad organised an Elfin 600FF from Garrie Cooper, the car we got was one that was coming back from South Africa or something, it hadn’t been paid for. Picking it up from the Brisbane docks is not something we looked forward to but a few slabs of beer my dad had brought along did the trick, we were soon on our way!’

‘I did well in that at Surfers and Lakeside then we got Garries 600D F2 (this car is pictured later in this article) which was a good car. Dad got Ivan Tighe to drive its first meeting at Oran Park, but he crashed it, not a big one, it was soon repaired and away we went but by that time the category was getting more competitive. A few people said we should get a Bowin P6 which looked sensational, we painted that car in the black ‘Hobby & Toyland’, Dads business’s colors. It had rising rate suspension but it was an absolute pig. We couldn’t get our heads around the thing, i know John Leffler and Bob Skelton did but i got rid of it after only about 6 months. In fact i boofed the car at Surfers after we had sold it and had to take a big chunk off the price.’

Birrana 274 at Lakeside

Bruce Allison hustles his 274 ‘017’ around, fast, demanding Lakeside, Qld, rear engine cover removed in deference to the summer heat.He was 3rd, the race won by Ray Winter’ old but fast Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ from Geoghegans 274. Bruce’ results got more consistent and better as the season wore on (Allison)

‘By then it was clear we had to have a Birrana to run with the top guys. Dad did a deal with Malcolm Ramsay, both he and Tony (Alcock) were great to deal with and gave us all the help we needed that year. The car handled well, was forgiving and put its power down nicely. We had good engines, Harts which i think Ivan Tighe looked after, the car itself was maintained in a Hobby & Toyland workshop at Castles Road’.

‘I was 20, very brash and thought i was unbeatable. Leo was smooth, quick and had all of our measure, the grids were great, there were always 6 or 7 blokes scrapping at the front. For outright speed though Bob Muir was an absolute demon in that car. It was the previous years 273, but updated. Bob and Marj Brown who owned the car were wealthy Adelaide people who had a business which made oven glass, heated windscreens and the like. For a ‘part timer’ Bob was bloody good, he went to the UK with the Browns of course’

‘I was never the greatest at setting a car up, Peter Molloy (the very experienced engineer who looked after Bruce in his F5000 years) always rated my speed though and i did get quicker and more consistent that year as the season rolled along and proved it with my results. It was time to move up. The Birrana was important as it proved i could cut it in a competitive car, the 274 was the first of those i had’.

Bruce was soon off to European and US success with annual summer visits back to Oz to remind us of his skill. He won the Grovewood Award and raced in the British national F1 Series but didn’t get the ‘real’ F1 seat his talent and results warranted.

(Bruce lost most of the photos of his career in a fire some years back, these are the only two he has of the Birrana for example, if any of you have photos of Bruce in any of his cars, you are prepared to share with him please email them to me at mark@bisset.com.au and i will forward them on, Mark)

sing muir

Bob Muir’s Rennmax Ford ahead of Garrie Cooper’s Elfin 600D Ford (the car Bruce Allison raced after Garrie) and a March 722 during the 1972 Singapore GP. Help welcome as to which corner and driver of the March (NAS)

Bob Muir was a seasoned professional by the time he jumped into the Brown family’s 273’s in 1974. Bob and fellow Sydney motor trader Geoghegan had an almighty battle for the AF2 title that year. If 1973 had an element of ‘cruise and collect’ for Leo, ’74 was the exact opposite with fields of depth rarely seen in Australian single-seater racing outside FF. The F2 grids that year had all of the local aces racing ‘down’ from F5000 in F2 as well as all of the ‘comingmen’ contesting a well sponsored series.

Bob had done two years in F5000 in 1972 and 1973, the latter in the US L&M Championship before jumping into the Browns cars after the first couple of ’74 rounds. After his Oz F2 season he then raced the 273’s in F Atlantic spec in the UK in 1975. After the F2 ‘Mino’s nee Birrana ‘bombed’ he was impressively fast in a Ford BDX engined Chevron B35 Derek Kneller built and prepared for the team. In ’76 he was 37 though, if only he was in Europe 10 years before. Like so many competitors of his period, his business funded his racing for much of his career, he wasn’t a ‘spoon-fed’ prat of the type we see so often today.

I digress, as usual. Suffice it to say, plenty of great steerers were attracted to Birrana’s. More of the above in ‘Birrana 2’.

sing official

The official party prior to the 1964 Malaysian GP at the Thomson Road circuit

Keying ‘1973 Singapore GP’ to Google inevitably led to lots of tangents and some good information to go with these shots which are a bit scrappy, but still worth circulating and are from the Singapore Government archives

The balance of this article is a heavily truncated ‘cut and shut’ with a reasonable addition of my own words of two articles; one written by Eli Solomon in the March 2006 edition of MotorSport and the other a race report by (the) Peter Collins published in Australia’s ‘Racing Car News’ and posted on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ by ex-RCN journalist Ray Bell.

Eli has his own magazine, ‘Rewind’ which has great South East Asia current and historical content. You can either subscribe (pay) or access some of his material via Facebook, just click ‘Rewind’ into the FB search engine.

bikes

Not long after the start of the 60 lap 1964 Malaysian bike GP. Thomson Road circuit, #79 Shershall from Perry, Sang and Dingle (MCI)

The first Singapore Grand Prix was the 1961 ‘Orient Year Grand Prix’, held on a stretch of Upper Thomson Road.

In 1962 the race was renamed the Malaysian GP, until Singapore gained independence in 1965. Singapore ran its own event from ’66 while Malaysia held two events, one around the Singapore race near Easter, called the ‘Malaysian GP’ and another in September labelled the ‘Selangor GP’.

The racing season in Asia began at Macau in November, moved to Australia and New Zealand with the Tasman Cup, and returned to South East Asia with back-to-back races in Singapore, Johore, Selangor and Penang, followed by Japan.

sing food stand

Food vendors 1971 Thomson Road circuit style (NAS)

sing gta

Alfa GTA, Albert Poon? winning the 1971 Touring Car race, start/finish is on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

From 1966 to 1973 the Singapore Grand Prix became the main racing event on the local calendar each Easter. The 3.023-mile street circuit was a challenge, its narrow 24ft width offered little run-off area in a sport that was increasingly seeing faster speeds.

sing circuit

(Gel Motorsport)

Australian Vern Schuppan and British-born Hong Kong man John Macdonald both loved it. Never one to mince his words, Macdonald describes the track:

‘Flowing? In places, but hairpins were not exactly flowing. Dangerous? In those days no more so than expected and certainly safer by far than Macau. Monsoon drains? Yes. Bus stops? One after that lovely curve on the straight and a few lamp posts. None of these things got in the way and I did not go looking for them!’

The start-finish line was on the main straight, on a normal day the two lane black-top served as a major trunk road, on the right were fruit plantations and on the left new housing estates and industrial parks.

The bend halfway down the straight was ‘The Hump’, this had a false apex which sat on the turn-in that lifted cars off the road; it was this section that Frank Matich got wrong during 1970 practice, his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 hit a bus stop and was out for the weekend.

After ‘The Hump’ was ‘Sembawang Circus’ or ‘The Hairpin’, dangerous as cars approached it ‘flat’ until it was ‘chicaned’ in 1969 to preserve spectators generally and Singapores Cabinet sitting in VIP stands!

sing cooper

Garrie Cooper Elfin 600D Ford ahead of Vern Schuppan’s March 722 on ‘the Thomson Mile’, 1972 GP (NAS)

‘The Esses’ comprised several sections; ‘The Snakes’, four bends, then ‘Devils’ a rounded off v-bend which caught many out, then ‘Long Loop’, a right hander.

Then came ‘Peak Bend’, where TV and radio stations located themselves. The circuit then went down right to ‘Range Hairpin’ and then ‘Signal Pits with pit entry after ‘Range Hairpin’.

Then it was left onto ‘The Thomson Mile’ a fast undulating one mile stretch on what was then the start of Nee Soon Road and back to the start/finish line, a lap was circa 24 gear changes dependent upon type of car and ‘box of course.

It was not until 1968 that Australian constructors started to venture to South-East Asia. Garrie Cooper of Elfin Cars won the Grand Prix that year in his very first Elfin 600, powered by a Ford Twin Cam. ‘Nobody had ever heard of Elfins,’ said Aussie racer/constructor Frank Matich.

Cooper had also suggested that the Singapore GP be confined to racing cars, for qualifying times to limit the number of entrants and for a reduction in the number of laps from 60 to 50. Subsequent years saw the main race run as two heats of 20 and 40 laps over different days.

Local racers were increasingly sidelined by foreigners, 1967 the last year a local won the GP. In 1969 Kiwi Graeme Lawrence won in his McLaren-FVA M4A amid some very powerful machinery including Cooper’s Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8, which the locals thought was an F1 car.

sing 600

Mal Ramsay in the Thomson Rd paddock 1970. Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8 4th place in the race won by Graeme Lawrence’s Ferrari 246T (Rewind)

For the 1970 race Matich arrived in ‘Rothmans’ team livery with his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 that had recently won the NZ GP, while the Australian Alec Mildren ‘juggernaut’ consisted of Kevin Bartlett in his Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’ (the Alfa V8-powered  Len Bailey designed, Alan Mann Racing built monocoque racer which Frank Gardner debuted in the ’69 Tasman Series and was then handed over to KB upon Gardner’s return to Europe and in which KB won the ’69 Macau GP and Australian Gold Star Series).

Max Stewart raced the 2-litre Rennmax Mildren-Waggott, and Malcolm Ramsay the ex-Cooper Elfin 600C Repco. Mildren was there to supervise, as was Merv Waggott, designer/builder of the Waggott engines. Not to be outdone, Poon had the ex-Piers Courage Brabham-FVA BT30. While Matich wrecked his M10 in practice doing 160mph on the Thomson Straight, Lawrence went on to take his first win in Singapore in the ex-Amon Ferrari Dino 246T in which he also won the 1970 Tasman Series.

Lawrence made it two out of two in 1971 with his Brabham-FVC BT29 against formidable competition.

The big change was that the single-seaters now had to follow Australian F2/Formula B rules to ensure decent sized fields. So FVAs and BDAs were out. The new rules meant that single-seater racing would become the domain of the professional and semi-professional.

sing max

Stewart’s Mildren Waggott from Geoghegan’s, Graeme Lawrence owned, Brabham Ford in the 1972 GP  here on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

Max Stewart arrived in the Mildren-Waggott in 1972 — not only would it be the first time he finished a race in Asia, he would win it as well. By that stage the Mildren Tean had disbanded but Max bought his car off Mildren and promptly ‘nicked’ the ’71 Gold Star by a point with consistent performances from close mate Bartlett who won twice, Max took one race, but was more consistent in the 2 litre DOHC, 4 valve Waggott engine car than  KB’s McLaren M10B Chev.

By 1972 the carnival had grown to 15 events, there were 430 competitor entries from around the globe, 146 ‘bikes and 284 cars.

The 1972 Singapore GP field included Bartlett, Schuppan and Macdonald, who had the ex-Rondel Racing Graham Hill Brabham BT36. Sonny Rajah raced the ex-Ronnie Peterson March 712M. Rajah was the local hero and looked the part with his long hair and Zapata moustache.

sing sonny

Sonny Rajah in the ex Petersen March 712M Euro F2 champ car, 4th in the ’72 Singapore GP (NAS)

But to gain admittance into a country where long hair was associated with drugs, he had resorted to using a short-hair wig! A fellow competitor once remarked: ‘He had brilliant car control but someone other than bullshit artists had to take him in hand! Natural talent and character to boot. Rajah was a very popular addition to the 1974 Australian F2 series when he raced the updated March that year.

sing vern

Singapore’s last pre-F1 GP was held in 1973 and was won by Schuppan in a March-Ford 722 (above)…

Schuppan vividly remembers the monsoon drains on the circuit: ‘It was a fast, flowing circuit, a lovely race track. No one talked about lack of run-off area because we were so young then.’ Of Schuppan, Macdonald said: ‘Vern, of course, got to the top but probably never reached the absolute top because he’s too darned straightforward, nice, honest and all those other good things that come up all too rarely.’

mac

John MacDonald’s new Brabham BT40 Ford ahead Steve Millen’s Elden Formula Fords(NAS)

Macdonald was another favourite and had a brand new Brabham BT40 delivered to him in Singapore ahead of the race. Macdonald said the BT40 was a ‘magic car with a big ‘but…’ The team had a terrible time of it with fuel pick-up problems. A letter to Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham’s owner, resulted in a PR reply to say he was behind them all the way! Once sorted, the car was a prolific winner in Asia.

sing gra

Lawrence’ Surtees ahead of Kiwi Steve Millen’s Elden Mk8 FF. Millen later a champion F Pac driver (NAS)

Schuppan, Kiwi Kenny Smith and Sonny Rajah were in March 722’s. Vern’s car was interesting in that the March had been modified by Canadian aerodynamicist Denis Falconer who developed a package of changes from Robin Herd’s original design. There were 5 (!) body configurations depending upon circuit type. The car also had a narrow track suspension set-up for faster circuits.

Graeme Lawrence raced the Surtees TS15 which first broke cover in that summers Tasman Series powered by a 2 litre Ford Cosworth BDG. Ramsay ‘010’ and Geoghegan ‘007’ were Birrana 273 mounted. Poon had a Brabham similar to MacDonald’s.

Tony Stewart’s Paul England owned ‘Dolphin’, a Brabham BT30 or 36 copy was powered by one of Englands very powerful twin-cams. Jack Godbehear built mighty-fine FF and F2 engines re-building many of the Hart 416B’s which were plentiful in Oz as the 1.6 litre AF2 flourished from 1972-5. (the ANF2 1.6 litre twin cam, 2 valve formula applied from 1971 to 1977 which cost effectively, and sensibly mandated variants of the Lotus/Ford t/c engine)

sing stew

Tony Stewart in the Paul England owned Dolphin Ford a Brabham BT30/36 replica. Both John Leffler and Andrew Miedecke had one-off drives of this car in Australia (NAS)

Max Stewart’s Rennmax, twin-cam powered was faster than it had been with the more powerful Alfa GTAm engine the year before. Chain was in a Lotus 69, Bussell a Palliser WDB4, Wiano a GRD 272.

The cars had, by the way, come from Selangor where they had run in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Macdonald had won this from Canadian Brian Robertson and Poon, all drove BT40s. The Selangor GP was held later in the year.

buss

Jan Bussell’s Palliser WDB4 Ford (NAS)

Starting Grid…

V Schuppan (1:57.3)______G Lawrence (1:57.1)
K Smith (1:59.1________L Geoghegan (1:57.8)
M Ramsay (1:59.5)______J Macdonald (1:59.1)
A Stewart (2:01.5)________M Stewart (2:01.3)
A Poon (2:04.0)____________S Rajah (2:02.6)
P Chain (2:07.5)_____________M Hall (2:04.0)
H Wiano (2:08.9)__________J Bussell (2:07.6)

Further back were: Kiyoshi Misaka (BT36 Toyota), Steve Millen (Elden FF), Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B ), John Green (Chevron B20), Dave Hayward (Hawke FF) and Chong Boon Seng (Brabham BT30) a very slow 2:49.1.

sing leu 2

Geoghegan’s Birrana 273, Leo set the all-time lap record in his catch-up drive; 1.54.9 (NAS)

The Race…

Leo Geoghegan passed early leader Lawrence on the sixth lap. Schuppan’s March was third at this stage, but was under pressure from Ramsay, then Macdonald clear of Tony Stewart, Smith, Max Stewart and Rajah.

For fifteen laps Geoghegan’s Birrana 273 stormed away, but then had to pit when the engine began to stutter. The master switch on the roll-over bar had failed, it was shorted out to enable him to continue.

image

Geoghegan ahead of Lawrence in their great dice early in the race (NAS)

At the same time, Schuppan showered Ramsay’s 273 with rocks when he ran wide on a fast corner. One rock punctured the fuel tank, Ramsay’s car trailed flames for a couple of laps and then stopped. Another report of this incident had it; ‘Malcolm soldiered on until the pain of the petrol burning his balls forced him to retire.’ So, Ramsay’s retirement was due to either a burning car or burning balls!

And while Geoghegan was heading for the pits, Lawrence’s Surtees lost the use of its mechanical fuel pump, and whether this slowed him as he switched on the electric one or it meant the engine lost power, the net result was that Schuppan’s March swept into the lead.

Geoghegan’s return saw the lap record (Bartlett’s from 1970’s preliminary race) under threat as he carved his way through the backmarkers trying to regain as much of the two laps he lost as possible. He had to pit again later, but the record was his and he completed 41 laps for ninth place. Leo was razor sharp, his Birrana beautifully set-up given the intensity of the competition at home.

smith

Kiwi star Ken Smith, in his youth. In his 70’s he is still a formidable F5000 pedaller! March 722 Ford, note the differences in his standard spec body and Schuppan’s modified 722 (NAS)

Rajah’s March was out at 25 laps with the battery dragging behind the car and Smith, March, struck problems to lose contact with the Stewarts, big Max passing young Tony as this happened for fourth. Tony Stewart, now there is a lost talent! If memory serves he raced a Birrana 273 for a while before leaving the sport and later making his fortune in ‘Car City’ on Ringwood’s Maroondah Highway in Melbourne’s outer east.

Both leaders had problems. Schuppan’s airbox was falling off, but that wasn’t as bad as the battery losing charge in Lawrence’s car and causing his engine to run roughly. The race ran out like this.

Results (50 laps – 150 miles)

1. Singapore Airlines: Vern Schuppan (March Hart 722) 1h 38:58.3 (1:56.8)
2. Singapore Airlines: Graeme Lawrence (Surtees TS15) 1h 39:36.8
3. Cathay Pacific Air: John Macdonald (Brabham BT40 Hart) 49 laps
4. Singapore Airlines: Max Stewart (Rennmax England t/c) 49 laps
5. Paul England Engineering: Tony Stewart (Dolphin England t/c) 49 laps
6. Air New Zealand: Ken Smith (March 722 Hart) 47 laps
7. Team Rothmans: Jan Bussell (Palliser BRM t/c) 47 laps
8. Air New Zealand: Steve Millen (Elden Mk 8) 43 laps
9. Grace Bros Race Team: Leo Geoghegan (Birrana 273 Hart t/c) 41 laps
10. Camel Melinda: Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B) 40 laps

Fastest lap and new outright record: Geoghegan, 1:54.9.

sing rear

A gaggle of cars in the ’72 GP passes a group of flaggies doing their best to say out of the tropical heat, car at the rear perhaps Leo Geoghegan’s Brabham (NAS)

The demise of racing in Singapore was somewhat sudden given the level of publicity and government backing the race received. The social and economic issues (the oil shock and terrifyingly rapid infrastructure growth) that the country was facing may have contributed to this.

The government claimed that the GP promoted dangerous driving in its citizens, these were the very successful times of the ‘paternalistic democratically elected despot’ Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The government acknowledged it would be impossible to implement adequate safety measures for the Thomson Road circuit. Although a permanent track was proposed which  included an all-sports complex, this never materialised.

Over time the view of the government eased with the Malaysian GP at Sepang growing in stature, the ban on motor racing was reconsidered and dropped in 2005.

The Macau Grand Prix, of course, thrived through this period, but after 13 years 1973 was the end for Singapore’s big race’, until the F1 era of course, a story for another time.

Etcetera…

sing bike

Field before the start of the 1971 bike GP, help welcome on competitors/bikes. What a wild, fast, narrow place! (NAS)

sing perry

Kiwi, Geoff Perry winning the bike GP on a Suzuki 500 (NAS)

sing bmw

’73 Touring car race, help with cars/drivers welcome! (NAS)

Bibliography…

Eli Solomon Singapore GP article in MotorSport March 2006, Peter Collins race report published in ‘Racing Car News’, oldracingcars.com

Photo and Other Credits…

A very big thanks to Peter Brennan and Bruce Allison for their recollections

National Archive of Singapore, Bruce Allison Collection, oldracephotos.com, Alan Cox, Rewind Magazine, MCI, Choong H Fong, Robert Davies, Paul King Collection

Tailpiece: Kiwi Geoff Perry hustles his Suzuki 500 thru ‘The Snakes’ on the way to ’72 GP victory, the exciting perils of 50 Thomson Circuit laps evident…

geoff

(NAS)

 

 

hunt wintoin 2

Ian Smiths’ wonderful shot shows James Hunt balancing his Elfin MR8B Chev on the turn into the Winton Esses, 29 October 1978, his final race win. Winton ‘Rose City 10000’. (Ian Smith/ autopics.com.au)

James Hunt wins the ‘Rose City 1000’ at Winton Raceway, Benalla, Victoria, Australia in October 1978…

hunt and friends

James Hunt was a hit with the spectators, media, and the Elfin Team, a professional in every respect. ‘Kojak’, McLaren mechanic Ray Grant to Hunts’ right. Winton paddock. (oldracephotos.com)

Racing in Australia…

Hunt enjoyed his interlude in Australia, he was frustrated with his McLaren M26 in F1, McLaren having lost their ‘design mojo’, the Colin Chapman/Peter Wright ground effects Lotus 78 and 79 dominating the 1977 and 1978 seasons. Mario Andretti easily won the World Drivers Championship in 1978, Hunt finished thirteenth, and failed to complete races on nine occasions.

spanish gp

In search of grip, downforce…the ground effect Lotus 79 got something for nothing whilst everybody else played catch-up in 1977-8. Hunt in his bi-winged McLaren M26 Ford, Spanish GP 1978. Andrettis’ Lotus 79 won from pole, James a lap down in 6th place (pinterest)

James joined Wolf for 1979, optimistic that his old mate and designer from the Hesketh days, Harvey Postlethwaite could ‘produce the good’s, but frustrated with the nature of ground effect cars generally, and the lack of competitiveness of the Wolf WR9 specifically, retired from racing at Monaco.

So, we were lucky to see the first recent World Champion in Australia at all, his late 1978 Winton victory, in fact his last race win of any kind!

The whole exercise was bizarre really, the Winton event an annual stand alone race outside the ‘Gold Star’ the then prestigious series to decide Australia’s Champion Driver, the Australian National Championship Formula at the time was Formula 5000, for single seaters powered by 500BHP production based V8’s.

‘Kenlaw Promotions’ Ken Campbell, together with the Benalla Auto Club, the Winton promoter, secured Hunt for $30000, half paid up front and half after he raced plus expenses, a lot of money at the time. Elfin were to be paid $10000 for supply of the car ‘end to end’, that is prepared and maintained at the circuit.

A huge amount of publicity was generated by Hunts presence in Australia, attendances at the circuit on the weekend, of around 15000 people on raceday reflective of interest in both his driving talent and flamboyant tabloid lifestyle. He arrived ‘pissed’ but still handled the media upon arrival with aplomb! Hunts’ entourage included his brother Peter, his McLaren mechanic Ray Grant, and a friend.

The car was entirely prepared by the Elfin crew, lead by Peter Fowler, based at racer Bryan Thomsons’ workshop in nearby Shepparton…Hunt arrived in Australia after the season ending Canadian GP, no doubt the experience in country Victoria was a reminder of his English Club Racing roots!

John Lanyon in the ‘Elfin Bible’ (‘Australia’s Elfin Sports And Racing Cars’ by John Blanden & Barry Catford) outlines in detail how professional and easy Hunt was to deal with, treating the car, team and Garrie Cooper with a great deal of respect..

Elfin MR8 Chev…

cooper race debut

Garrie Cooper debuting the brand new Elfin MR8 Chev # ‘8761’ at the Sandown round of the ‘Rothmans Series’, February 1976. Chisel nose and relative size of the car a contrast to the smaller MR5/6. No airbox at this stage, side deformable structure nicely integrated into side, rearward mounted radiators. Car beautifully finished and detailed, suspension all nickel plated and gleaming in the Summer sun…

Elfin were Australia’s foremost manufacturer of racing cars, Garrie Coopers small concern in Edwardstown, South Australia producing well over 250 cars and over 20 different models from the late 1950’s, until the late 1980’s after his death. The company still produces road sports cars.

The MR8 incorporated all of the knowledge Cooper accumulated in building ‘big bangers’ ; the 400, ME5, and MS7 V8 Sports Racers and particularly the MR5 and MR6 F5000 cars.

Elfin built 4 MR5 Repco Holden engined cars; ‘works cars’ for Cooper and John McCormack and customer cars for Max Stewart and John Walker. The MR6 was bespoke for McCormack, and designed around the light, aluminium Repco Leyland ‘P76′ V8.

Consistent and dogged development of McCormacks MR5 and MR6, by both Elfin and McCormacks’ own team based ‘around the corner’ from the Elfin factory, the MR6 once fitted with a Repco Holden engine, produced race and championship winning cars.

But the bar was raised with the Lola T330/332, so Cooper needed to produce something special for 1976.

Garrie considered using Repco Holdens again but Repco had long withdrawn from racing so the cost and ongoing development of the small block Chev made that the sensible choice, his first car powered by an ex-Bob Muir Peter Molloy ‘prepped Chev.

The chassis was a conventional aluminium monocoque made of 16 and 18 gauge aluminium, with tubular steel sub frames used front and rear and a roll bar braced fore and aft.

Familiar Elfin rear suspension practice was followed with twin radius rods, twin parallel lower links, single top link, and coil spring dampers. Front suspension was by wishbones top and bottom, again using coil spring damper units, alloy Konis front and rear, and adjustable roll bars front and rear.

rear end

MR8 # ‘8761’  rear suspension. Complex fabrications supports conventional set up of single top link, twin parallel lower links, twin radius rods , and combined coil spring damper (Koni) units, stood up vertically as was the trend of the day. Battery mounted at rear in ‘single post’ rear wing support (Peter Brennan Collection)

Front and rear track was 1625mm, similar to the T330/2, and the wheelbase 2640mm, 30mm longer than the MR5.

A special Elfin casting replaced the standard Hewland DG300 gearbox item and incorporated mounts for both the rear wing and attachment points for the rear suspension subframe.

Brakes were Lockheed and steering Elfins own rack & pinion.

The aerodynamics of the great looking car were a departure from the full-width ‘Tyrrell Nose’ of the MR5/6 to the chisel nose setup Cooper had experimented with on his MR5B.

Three MR8’s were built, one each  in 1976, 77′ and ’78 the cars raced by  champion drivers including Vern Schuppan, John Bowe, Larry Perkins, Bruce Allison, Didier Pironi, and of course Hunt…

Garrie Cooper also raced the cars, his unique contribution as designer/builder/driver critical in keeping the cars competitive throughout this long period.

Hunts car was the Reg Orr owned MR8B Chev, chassis # 8783, the last of the MR8’s built.

The very last Elfin F5000, the only bespoke ground effect Fornula 5000 car built in the world, perhaps the very last F5000 car built in the world, the MR9 Chev is a story for another time…

front suspensin 2

Front suspension conventional unequal length upper and lower wishbones, coil spring/ damper unit and adjustable roll bar. Cast magnesium Elfin uprights front and rear. Car built by the same team but to my mind the MR8 was built to a higher standard of finish than MR5/6 (Peter Brennan Collection)

The 1978 ‘Rose City 10000’…

On the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the meeting the car was adjusted to suit Hunt; seat, pedals, steering, gear shift and a small lever added to the belts to aid exit.

He covered six laps on Thursday but the circuit was dirty and wet Friday, so Hunts first serious drive of the car was on Saturday.

Garrie Coopers diary records as follows ‘ James was very impressive right from the start being very smooth and precise and getting the power on noticeably earlier than the others. Right throughout practice fine adjustments were made to the car to balance it as required. He was always adamant when he pulled into the pits that he see the times he recorded and those of his nearest rivals . After making an adjustment he would go out and improve on his time. This continued through the practice sessions until he finished up putting a string of low 55 second laps…however he seemed to pace himself to the opposition and could have gone quicker again. At no time did he appear ragged or put a wheel off the bitumen…’

Hunt told the local media the Elfin was ‘ A lot better than the Eagle I drove. (He raced an eagle for Dan Gurney in 1974) It seems a good car, it is very forgiving and drives a lot easier. It’s good to have a competitive car for a change. It’s a nice feeling!’ referring to his hapless 1978 season.

Hunt was on pole with a 55 second lap, John McCormack next on 55.7, the race was easily won by Hunt with Alfie Costanzo second around 40 seconds behind in his Lola T332. Mac was credited with the fastest lap, Hunt pacing himself and taking it easy on the car. John Lanyon recalls ‘There was no wear and tear on the car at all. Nothing at all. You would think he hadn’t taken it off the truck. That’s both after practice and the race. he brought the car back in beautiful condition.’

Whilst Hunt was paid, the race was a financial disaster for the Benalla Auto Club and Elfin who were only paid $1000 of the $10000 contracted…still, Barry Catford observed in his book that the win was the fillip the team needed for 1979 after a tough season including Garrie Coopers horrible, but lucky escape from the accident caused by his wing mount failure at Sandown shortly before Hunts’ visit.

hunt close up

How Good Was the Elfin MR8 ?…

Its interesting to speculate about how good the MR8 was in relation to its ‘competitor set’ ; the Lola T332 (first model 1974), Lola T400 (1975), Chevron B37 (1976) , Lola T430(1976), Matich A53 (1974) etc.

Two drivers raced the Elfin and other F5000’s, Vern Schuppan and Bruce Allison.

There are various quotes in the ‘Elfin Bible’ of Schuppan comparing the MR8 favourably with the Lola T332 but later in life he seems to have changed his view.

Despite buying an MR8 to use as a Single-Seater Can Am car, having raced both the Lola T332 and MR8, Schuppan rated the Lola T332 the better car, which begs the question, why buy the Elfin if you thought the Lola the better car?

In any event Vern observes’…The Lola T332 was certainly significantly better than the Elfin MR8, Gurneys Eagle, the Trojan T101 0r the Chevron B28’s. The Chevron I raced was quite tired and also a bit flexible but not in a good way’ Schuppan wrote in Wolfgang Klopfers book, ‘Formula 5000 in NZ & Australia Race by Race’.

He continued, ‘The Lola T332 was a wonderful car, it was quick everywhere, I believe it handled well because it was rather flexible…It was a bit like a big go-kart, and although the flex wasn’t designed into it, it, coupled with quite long rear suspension travel , helped to soak up the weight of the Chevrolet engine. This seemed to give the car an advantage in both slow and fast corners. It didn’t always look quick in slow corners…it just put the power down so well without a lot of sliding around or oversteer. It was excellent too, in the wet.’

image

Vern Schuppan in his MR8, chassis # ‘8772’ in Single-Seat Can Am configuration, Road America, Wisconsin 1979. Vern was 5th in the race won by Jacky Ickx Lola T333CS (Glenn Snyder)

Bruce Allison’s F5000 CV started with his ex-Bartlett T332 straight out of  an ANF2 Birrana 274, he took to the 5 litre cars like a ‘duck to water’ and instantly became the ‘enfant terrible’ of the F5000 grid in Australia in 1975, guided, prepared and advised by the great Peter Molloy, as Warwick Brown and Niel Allen had been before him.

Bruce raced the ex-VDS Chevron B37 in both the UK, winning the prestigious Grovewood Award in 1977, and in Australia. He raced an F5000 March for Theodore Racing as teammate to Alan Jones, and also the MR8, once, after he had retired for the first time!

‘I hadn’t raced since my last race in the UK, I got a call from John Lanyon, of Elfins’ to bolster the numbers at Calder in early 1982. I duly practiced on the Friday and raced the car on the weekend finishing in the top 5, I don’t remember exactly where. (Looking at the Elfin book, Bruce finished second to John Wrights’ LolaT400, just in front of Garrie Cooper in the Elfin MR9 and took the fastest race lap) It was such a long time, five years, since I had raced a 5 litre car, I raced a March 781 F1 car in the Shellsport Championship in the UK, that I can’t really make comparisons of the MR8 to the other cars.’

‘I had a lot of success with the Lola, but in the UK the B37 was the quickest of the F5000 and F1 cars running the Shellsport Series that year, and I didn’t finish the season. The Chevron was quicker I believe, through the faster corners, the T332 quicker both through the slower stuff and in a straight line. Overall the Lola had the edge.’

‘In the Theodore Team in the US in 1976 i was number two to AJ (Alan Jones), so AJ got the T332, the March 76A allocated to me, it was a shocker of a car, although it was good in the wet, AJ won a race in it late in the season in wet conditions, when he raced it having boofed the Lola. With the benefit of hindsight I would have been better taking my T332 to the US, it was such a well-sorted car, Molloy Chev and all, I would have been far more competitive…’

Bruce was generous with his time and anecdotes but I’ll save those for an article on the one off, gorgeous Chevron B37 itself.

Peter Brennan has raced and restored an Elfin MR5, MR8, Matich A50, and recently the Lola T330 we have covered in ‘Racers Retreat’. I asked him about the construction of the MR8 relative to the other cars…’The tub on the MR8 is much stronger than the T330/332. It has a good forward roll-hoop, the Lola got that only when it was mandated. The Lola is weak from the drivers knees forward’.

‘The T330 was light, mine is 620Kg, my MR8 was 684 Kg, the T332 will be closer to the MR8 in weight with its deformable side structures, oil lines forward, bigger radiators and heavier bodywork, which in some cars is all-enveloping’.

‘The Lola was much better built than the Elfin in the driveline, spindles, uprights, radius rods etc’.

Race-winner though the MR8 was, their is little doubt, no revelation here!, that the Lola T330/332 was the F5000 of the era, the greatest F5000 car ever, as well as one of the most successful single-seaters of any class in any era of racing history.

image

Bruce Allison in the Reg Orr owned Elfin MR8, chassis # ‘8783’ at Calder , February 1982, nose of the Cooper ground effect Elfin MR9 Chev alongside…This is the same car James Hunt drove to victory at Winton in 1976 and in which John Bowe had  much success. (Velocity Retro)

Wolf WR9 and Hunts short 1979 Season…

Hunt started 1979 with plenty of optimism and hope but ground effects was a ‘black-art’, designers and engineers learning what aerodynamic shapes of sidepod worked and coping with the sorts of loads the aluminium monocoques of the day struggled with.

Narrow chassis’ to accomodate ground effect tunnels created torsional rigidity problems not encountered by designers to that point. Even Colin Chapman lost his way…the wingless Lotus 80 was a flop, the class of the 1979 field the Williams FW07, the best ‘refined Lotus 79 copy’ of the year, albeit Ferrari won the title as a consequence of the FW07’s late arrival…

Postlethwaites Wolf WR9 was unsuccessful. James ‘pulled the pin’ on a short but stellar GP career in Monaco, opening the door to Keke Rosbergs’ first ‘good drive’, one door closes and another opens…In Hunts case his wonderful partnership with Murray Walker as broadcasters of the BBC GP coverage commenced.

Few of us will forget the Hunt magic and charisma on display at Wonderful Winton all those years ago, and yes, by all accounts the Hunt Touring Group partied hard at the end of the meeting!

wolf

James Hunts’ Wolf WR9 Ford in his last Grand Prix, Monaco 1979. DNF with transmission failure on lap 4, the car was not Harvey Postlethwaites’ most successful design. (pinterest)

Etcetera…

front

MR8 ‘8761’ : cars used chisel nose unlike the earlier MR5/6. Roll hoop provides driver protection and chassis bracing, mandated from 1975 season. Car alongside is the ex Brown/ Costanzo Lola T430 then owned by Bob Minogue (Peter Brennan Collection)

side profile

MR8 pictured is the Ex-Cooper chassis # ‘8761’ then owned by Peter Brennan. Nice profile shot shows beautifully integrated body, deformable structure, the MR8 equal if not faster than any of its imported contemporaries from 1976 to the classes end in Australia in 1982…(Peter Brennan Collection)

motor

‘Motor’ Magazine Australia track test of the MR8 in early 1979. Racer Sue Ransom tested the car with Vern Schuppan doing the timed runs; 0-100kmh 2.9 sec, 0-160 4.9 sec, 0-240 10 sec. Standing 400 metres 9.75 sec. Top speed geared for Adelaide International Raceway 275kmh.     (Peter Brennan Collection)

rose city 10000 poster

Credits…

Ian Smith, autopics.com.au, oldracephotos.com, Glenn Snyder RJS Collection, Pinterest, Peter Brennan Collection

‘Australias Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’ John Blanden & Barry Catford

‘Formula 5000 in NZ and Australia Race by Race’ Wolfgang Klopfer

Many thanks to both Peter Brennan and Bruce Allison for their contributions to this article

Other F5000 Articles…

Frank Matich and his cars.

https://primotipo.com/2015/09/11/frank-matich-matich-f5000-cars-etcetera/

Shadow DN6B Dodge.

https://primotipo.com/2015/10/07/shadow-dn6b-dodge-road-america-f5000-1976/

Finito…