On a Sunday Drive
An early morning drive towards Katoomba was dramatically revised!
I bought a TR3 early in 1961, having previously owned a MGTF and a Hillman convertible. My curiosity and desire to be a racing drive was with me since childhood and rekindled in high school after reading Stirling Moss’s first book, and his appearance in Australia for the Olympic year (1956) G.P.
The sports cars I’d owned were fun to drive, but the idea of motor racing was still a bit of a dream. However, on an early Sunday morning drive whilst stopped at lights on the corner of Parramatta Road and Church Street Parramatta, I saw a table-top truck carrying a red Morgan, with numbers emblazoned on its doors.
Traffic being what it was in those days, I was able to do a u-turn, and pulled up alongside. I asked the driver where he was headed: “To the new Warwick Farm circuit” he replied. I followed him. No sooner had we arrived than the heavens opened up and set the tone for the rest of the day. The red Morgan complete with full wet-weather gear was driven by David McKay, but unfortunately the memory is a lot like old drum brakes – fading, so how he finished in the field is forgotten. This was all pretty exciting to someone whose knowledge of racing cars and racetracks was mainly from magazines, but it stirred a memory – the Morgan name was familiar to me and had been so since the age of eight or nine!
On the mantelpiece, over the fireplace in our lounge room, were several trophies won by my mum’s brothers who were professional golfers, but completely overshadowed by these trophies was a small cup, bearing my dad’s name!
In answer to my query about his solitary trophy, he told me he had won it in a hillclimb. He had competed in a bullnose Morris, in Morris Car Club events such as hillclimbs, gymkhanas and sprints.
“Yes son, I shaved the head and fitted twin SU carburettors, but the cars that were unbeatable in those days were three wheeled Morgans.”
The name was stored in the abyss of my young mind, and it wasn’t until that Warwick Farm morning that I was seeing my first Morgan in the flesh, so to speak,….albeit with an extra wheel! I was also able to see in action, Coopers, Lotuses, Barry Collerson’s Lago Talbot, and an assortment of Healeys, MGTC’s through to MGA’s, and Triumph TR3’s and 2’s (my marque).
It is interesting to reflect on the foresight of Samuel Hordern (of Anthony Horden retail stores) a mover and shaker involved with the Warwick Farm horseracing fraternity, who was able to convince the board to incorporate a world class 2.2 mile motor racing venue within the confines of the horse racing property.
A girlfriend of mine introduced me to her boss Frank Walters, who owned and raced the So-Cal Special (this car is still racing in historics), and because of my interest in motor racing, and my desire to compete, he encouraged me to join his car club the North Shore Sporting Car Club. I lived on the south side – but the farther one had to drive in those days the more fun.
Apart from club membership, all that was needed to race was a helmet, a fire extinguisher, and a CAMS provisional licence (no test apart from a check-up at the local GP’s).
My mother was vehemently opposed to motor racing, although she had partnered my father in trials and gymkhanas during the early years of their marriage. A compromise had to be brokered: I was limited to sprints (quarter miles) and hillclimbs.
Although the debut Warwick Farm meeting was held in dismal weather, the first international meeting took place on a scorching hot summer’s day, attracting 105,000 race fans, eager to see the cream of Europe’s F1 - Brabham, Moss, Hill, Clark, Bandini, Salvadori, Rodriguez, Mc.Laren, Surtees, Hulme.
By mid-day the temperature was rising well into the 90’s (32 C), and the track temperature, reportedly, was 1360F (550C). Stirling Moss demonstrated his mastery by winning convincingly, his laid back driving position clearly visible through the open body of his Lotus 18, the side-panels of which had been removed for extra cooling for the driver.
I didn’t have a full competition licence so Frank Walters drove my TR at this international meeting. The wear and tear on the car was well worth it for the opportunity of having access to the pits all weekend (my girlfriend was an unabashed “groupie” in the Moss camp).
There was a marked contrast between the international meetings through the 60’s and today’s F1. The International teams – Cooper, Ferrari, Lotus, BRM, and the more “professional” local drivers, such as Arnold Glass (BRM), Bib Stillwell (Cooper Climax), etc. – had the extravagance of a marquee and an enclosed transporter.
The Tasman Series had a carnival atmosphere to it, with the drivers wandering around the pits in shorts and t-shirts, all readily accessible to anyone who cared to engage them in conversation. I was able to talk at length to Stirling Moss, John Surtees, etc., etc.
Whether this reflected the norm on the European grand prix circuit, I don’t know, but the mood was certainly relaxed even though the racing very was serious.
INTO THE CARS
Hillclimbs instantly uncovered the weaknesses of the TR3a—extreme rear wheel lift, no synchro on first and an inherent weakness in the gearbox, I replaced 3 clusters in the time I had the car. Generally my class at these events was won by the better handling MGA’s or the odd Morgan or Healey.
At 21 (1962) I started to circuit race the TR. It was lowered, fitted with competition springs and shocks and a 3/4” front sway bar, and the head ported and polished by Nota Engineering, a Ken Waggot camshaft and a set of extractors from SAH in Bedfordshire (UK), and the engine ultimately brought up to the TR4’s capacity of 2138c.c.s after a rod pushed a hole through the block…$$$!
My first race took place at the Hume Weir circuit near Albury. This was far enough away not to cause me any embarrassment in the event of a less than acceptable showing. My friend Greg and I shared the long drive from Sydney – we left after I finished work at 10pm and drove through the night, arriving in Albury as the sun rose!
I went through the scrutineering without problems and waited for my practice session. At this stage the waiting was starting to increase my anxiety, maybe motor-racing wasn’t for me. The cars practicing out on the circuit seemed to be going far faster and much too close to one another for my liking.
So it was a very tentative TR driver who followed his fellow competitors onto the track for the practice session. As a three striper it was important to look like I could get around the circuit without hindering others and drive safely, thereby getting the first of the three required signatures from the stewards. After a few laps I overcame my anxiety - it was no way as daunting once I was out on the circuit. With all of us travelling at more or less the same speed, the proximity of the other cars posed no more difficulty than one would experience negotiating heavy city traffic, especially for me, as I was mostly being overtaken!
My confidence grew, but after a few more laps I managed to spin at the hairpin… a sobering experience for this P plater….. be happy with qualifying 4th…. 4th from the bottom that is! The race was without incident and I placed 24 out of 25, and got a signature! The next two races to secure my full licence were uneventful, with consistent finishes at the rear of the field.
To paraphrase my piano teacher: - “practice makes perfect” and as the frequency of races increased I certainly wasn’t perfect, but had improved my placings to be finishing in the top six, but never better than 4th.The main competitors were Ross Bond, John Marchiori and Fred Gibson in MGAs, Doug Chivas, Doug MacArthur and Jim Sullivan in Sprites, Pedro Owens AH6 and the Morgans of Ken Ward, Mike Champion, Alby Sedaitas and Ron Gulson, plus the little plastic rocket, Wal Donnely’s Turner.
My TR, at one stage, had the marque sports over 2000cc lap records at both Warwick Farm and Oran Park (which lasted some 12 months, until it was broken by Ross Bond’s Healey 3000), but I could never finish “in the money” i.e. first, second or third.
Over-confidence is never a plus in any form of competition, and when arrogance, an inflated ego, and the exuberance of youth are added ………………………
Ian Mc Kechnie, my friend and fellow TR3 racer lived at Gunning and was competing in a hillclimb organised by the Canberra Car Club. I had driven down on the day to spectate, arriving in the early afternoon.
Ian arranged for me to have a run up the hill, telling the organisers in effect “this bloke’s a gun from Sydney”. My ego was aided and abetted by Ian telling me... “you’ll be able to take the fast right–hander flat out”, which had me on the start line with an attitude of I’ll show these country hicks how a “good” driver does it!
It was a fast course on a closed back road near the ACT. The starter gives the nod and I’m off, up through the gears into third for the fast “you can take it flat out” corner. About half way through the corner, the car, going far too fast, goes into a fourwheel slide continuing sideways off the edge of the road, onto a small gravel section which then fell away at about 45 degrees, the TR became airborne as it rolled, doing a complete barrel roll before hitting a tree and falling about three foot down to the ground the right way up on all four wheels.
In the split second that all this took place I had visual and physical sensations playing in slow motion… the first was seeing the red coat belonging to my girlfriend falling from behind the seat, past me, then the sensation of being held by my lap belt while upside down, the sensation of pain as my back slammed into the back of the seat, and finally the silence and the realisation that I was winded but still alive and relatively intact. The TR was a little battered but remarkably able to be driven home after a little bodywork. In fact, the only injuries I sustained were bruised back and lungs, a deflated ego, and a lesson in humility.
Fred Gibson had bought an Élan and Ross Bond a Healey 6, so I figured it was time for an upgrade. The Lotus 7 and Elan were way above my budget, but a car that was finishing in the money was for sale.
Ken Ward had been running a series 1V, lightweight 4/4 Morgan with a 1650 -116e with twin 40 DCOE Webers! I purchased it, not even having driven it, and it was un-registered to boot! I had the choice of the 1650 or 1500 block and took the latter, factoring reliability into the equation. The car was registered for day-to-day transport and its first event was the 1965 International meeting at Warwick Farm.
THE FIRST MORGAN RACE
At practice, the car certainly responded better in every way to the TR and was extremely easy to drive.
Ken (Ward) had told me that 7000rpm was the limit and to my amazement at the end of Hume straight I was pulling 8000rpm! A quick calculation put this around 120mph which I thought was a little optimistic. Anyway, pole position was achieved so why should I question what the car tells me.
The race day in February was sunny and hot, and the big crowds heading to the farm caused a lot of competitors to arrive late at the circuit (including me).
The flag fell and I out accelerated Doug Chivas’s Sprite into the first corner and managed to stay in front for a few laps - his red Sprite was looming in my mirrors at every glance. Next thing he was past me and consolidating his first place. Doug had vast motor racing experience in a great variety of cars, including the Leaton Motors stable of a D-type Jaguar and a Lotus 15. He also drove an early Lotus 6(?) in the 50’s.
Following him up through the esses was great. Doug’s “ lines” through this difficult part of the circuit, which was walled with the ubiquitous Armco railing, were very skilful, - he used every inch of the track, almost “kissing” the Armco at the approach, apex and exit. I was a quick learner and was soon emulating these lines.…. suddenly he’s slowing and I’m back in front and first to the flag.
Doug had also arrived late to the meeting, and in the rush, forgot to top up his tank - he ran out of fuel two laps from the chequered flag! However, he set a new lap record during the race. Not bad I thought, a lucky 1st place and I hadn’t even put a spanner to the car!
At the next two meetings at Oran Park, I finished ahead of Doug – there was not much between us at this point in time, and we shared the outright marque sports record there @ 57.4 secs.
The return bout at Warwick Farm, (after Doug’s fuel incident), was to become another notch up the learning curve for me
I qualified on pole, under the existing lap record, Lyn McLeod’s Sprite was second on the grid and Doug third. The race saw me in the lead, comfortably ahead of Doug, who had moved into second soon after the start.
My car had a slight misfire on left turns, but it wasn’t affecting my lead at this time. On lap 5, I came up behind an MGB to lap it, and the overtaking up through the esses slowed me enough to allow Doug to get to about two car lengths behind coming across the causeway. Then down to Polo where I’m confronted with a marshall frantically waving the oil-on-track flag (yellow with red stripes) – Cautious Bill slows down, but daring Doug, throwing caution to the wind, whipped through to take the lead!
The Morgan’s “miss” became more acute, causing the car to run, intermittently, on three cylinders, and Doug’s lead increased – he won the race by 5 secs.
The “miss” was caused by an O ring dislodging between the weber and the manifold. New-style gaskets were fitted and at the July meeting at Warwick Farm, I hit my straps, winning convincingly and setting the outright Marque Sports record at 1.52.8 (this lasted some 18 months). I went on to win each of the subsequent races that I entered in this class.
I also ran the car in Sports Cars group B, which included the Élans of Neil Allen and Fred Gibson, and Wal Donnelly’s Turner. The quickest of these cars, Neil Allen’s lightweight Elan was lapping about 5 secs. a lap quicker than the Mog. If the car was to run competitively in this class it would need improvements such as a limited slip diff., wider wheels and a steel crank. Unfortunately these modifications never eventuated.
After my first race in the MOG, we attended to the tacho. problem. Ian Robinson Motors (Ian had an extremely quick TR2) was my sponsor and Ian agreed the 8000 rpm/120 mph was a little optimistic.
So after some computations and estimations of a realistic top speed down Hume Straight, we decided that perhaps the tacho was the guilty party, and sent it to Smiths Instrument who confirmed that an indicated 8000rpm was closer to 7000rpm!
Ken Ward had been running the MOG with the 1650 block, with 34 mm chokes in the Webers, and the 1500cc. motor with the 34mm chokes gave a fairly narrow power band.
After my third outing, we fitted 32mm chokes and a Cosworth A6 profile cam. Ian also did his magic on the head - he was particularly finicky about valve seat angles and seat widths. The carbies were re-jetted to suit these modifications. The power band didn’t improve much as the cam was “wilder” – but nevertheless, gave a little more power.
The car in that tune could just get under the 16sec barrier for the quarter mile at Castlereagh – by comparison, Frank Matich’s Lotus 19 did mid 13’s and my TR 17.9 secs.
The car was used on the road for day-to-day commuting, complete with Dunlop R6’s and loud exhaust. The two main problems were the alloy guards cracking where the sidelights attached and the Webers sucking in the “O”rings, the cause of the miss in race 4. A support bracket was made to limit the vibration at the joint and a short time later a combined gasket /integral “O”ring became available alleviating the problem completely.
Maintenance on the car consisted of replacing the big-end bearings after three meetings (about 40 miles or so). Vandervell bearings were the most reliable replacements and in 1965 cost 5 pounds a set. The chassis required the odd weld, brake pads when needed, and once an hydraulic brake line cracked. Apart from the above -- budget motor racing!
The car was driven to and from the circuits, the routine on arrival was: remove the windscreen, pump the tyres up to 34 psi. and stick the numbers on. It was either not legal or not “kosher” to drive on the road with numbers - I never found out, just followed the rest!!
The car was raced with a half- tonneau which only covered the parcel-shelf behind the seatback, leaving the passenger seat exposed. The seat squabs were inflatable, allowing a degree of adjustability for height and comfort. This caused an unusual phenomenon to occur, at around 85-90 mph. halfway down the straight at Oran Park or Warwick Farm - the passenger seat squab would levitate between the floor and the dash. I threw it in the footwell!!
The program on race days saw a big variety of cars and classes:
0 – 1100; 1100 – 1500; 1500 – 2000; and over 2000
The marque sports event included:
Sprites, MGA’s, Healeys, TRs, Morgans, Turners, TVRs, Alpines, Daimler SP250’s.
As ever the sedans were the crowd favourites. The modern day chariot races.
FJ Holdens, Mustangs, Camaros, Studebaker Larks, the Jags of Bob Jane , Ron Hodgson, Fiats, and of course the giant killing MINIs of Brian Foley , Peter Manton, and Laurie Stewart……the list goes on.
The difference, I believe, between then and now, was that although the crowd loved the sedans for the close racing and the odd coming-together, the drivers of the open wheelers competing for the CAMS Gold Star were acknowledged and respected as being the masters of the track! The likes of Geoghegen and Matich quite often finishing in front of the European drivers competing in the Tasman Series run in OZ and NZ.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the motor racing world is the continual development of the cars from year to year. Last season’s car being less competitive and a 3- year-old car being totally off the pace and treated like a poor relation.
Leaton Motors raced a Lotus 15 and a D-type Jaguar. both painted in the team yellow with a broad blue central stripe. This D-type sat in their Rockdale car yard for over six months with a sale price of 5000 pounds! (Conservatively worth over $300,000 today)
John Hall, a friend of mine who raced an FJ Holden, had the family Service Station and workshop at Kogarah, and just down the road on the Princes Highway, the Golden Fleece servo was owned by open wheel racer, Howard Revell, son of(?) speedway legend Ray Revell. On the forecourt of his servo sat a transverse leaf sprung 59 Cooper f2, no motor, but from memory with a differential/gearbox included
This car sat there with a chalk written “for sale” sign for what seemed like a decade. John and I would laugh, saying who would want to buy that old, uncompetitive car, its not even worth 100 pounds let alone the 400(pounds) he’s asking for it.---wrong,
I wish I had bought it, better than super!
THE TROUBLE WITH TYRES
From my first hillclimb, it was obvious that standard tyres were fine for the road, but were pretty average for competition. Dunlop RS5’s were fitted to Jags and other performance cars, so on the advice of the Dunlop dealer, I fitted them to the TR.
Once again great for the road and wet weather driving, but after my first real race they were ready for hanging on a boat as buffers!
Next choice was Pirelli Cinturatos, my first radial tyre, and a vast improvement on the RS5’s, but for someone in a hurry to go faster (on the track), race tyres were the obvious answer.
Pedro Owen (he raced a black Healey 6) had a tyre outlet at Brookvale and supplied road and race rubber and offered discounts to fellow car club members.
He suggested a set of Pirelli “Speed” race tyres, a cross-ply tyre with a tread pattern exactly the same as you see in photos of Alfa Romeo 158’s and Ferraris which were racing in the early 50’s. After a drive on my “test track”, the Royal National Park at Audley, I had the suspicion that probably these were from the 50’s and dumped on the Australian market! Pedro was pleased to get some colourful feedback on this rubber and graciously gave me a refund.
He then fitted a set of Goodyear Blue Streaks. These tyres were proving very successful on the sedans in appendix J. The tyre had a very square shoulder and a wide, flat tread with a W pattern cut into it. They were the first decent race tyres fitted to the TR, and lap times reflected the change I drove the TR day to day on these tyres, and when it rained it was almost impossible to apply any more power than that which you could wring out of a 2CV Citroen, the car either sitting still wheel spinning or fishtailing down the road until you lifted your foot off the go button.
I still have vivid memories of a Warwick Farm meeting – a wet one. I had qualified 4th on the grid (dry practice) my best ever qualifying in the TR. In pouring rain, the flag fell to a cautious field, and the skill I’d developed driving on wet suburban roads with these tyres allowed me to hold my place down Hume Straight, round the hairpin, then up through the esses to the first crossing, where I lost it. The car veered wildly to the left , wildly to the right, with me correcting, then over-correcting each of these wild slides until finally the car was back under control.
I looked in my rear-view mirror to a scene of utter chaos. The following drivers, in their efforts to avoid the demonic car in front, were scattering across the grass on either side of the hot-mix. Fortunately no collisions occurred and as a result of my gyrations I had opened up a gap on the rest of the field the length of Pit Straight.
That buffer allowed me to secure my best ever placing in the TR...[4th]
When I acquired the Morgan it was fitted with Dunlop R6 green spot racing rubber, equally well behaved on the road and track. There was no dot tyre regulation then - a tyre is a tyre is a tyre. Most of the competitors’ cars in my races were shod with these race tyres.
Pedro was still my tyre supplier and rang me one day saying he only had one set left of 5.50-15 R6’s. A factory dispute in the UK had tyre production down to a trickle. I bought this set and stored them for future use.
By the time of the 66 International at Warwick Farm, I had one race left in the old tyres, my stored set ready for the rest of that year. As it turned out, Dunlop race tyres had been unavailable for months due to the strike.
The car was presented and checked through with the note that two of the tyres would need to be replaced after practice and the car re-scrutineered Sunday am. For me not a problem! Come Sunday morning, I fronted the scrutineers, new R6’s fitted and ready to go.
A quick check and I’m told: “You can’t run with those tyres, they’ve been re-grooved”! In fact a few competitors had been caught with regrooved tyres due to the aforementioned shortage, but I was not guilty.
My emphatic reply stating the tyres were brand new, was dismissed with an even stronger retort that no compliance to race would be forthcoming.
I went to the Dunlop van, and, being an International meeting, spoke to the head of Dunlop racing from the UK who examined the tyres and then accompanied me to the scrutineers’ bay and indicated to the “errant” scrutineer that the tiny “feathers” that were visible deep in the tread were left there when the tyre mould was withdrawn from the tyre. Had the tyre suffered at the hands of the grooving iron, these feathers would be missing!
The scrutineer’s reply had us both gob smacked: “I don’t care what you say, I say these tyres are regrooved and that is my final word, the car cannot compete with those tyres fitted to the car!” I was shattered. I had qualified on pole under my own lap record, and barring mishaps, expected to win.
I approached the AARC’s John Stranger for advice on what I could do and it transpired that the only option was to lodge a formal protest to CAMS together with a 50 pound deposit. What a joke, the protest wouldn’t be heard until the Monday following the meeting, and to put things into perspective, at that time, a race entry was 5 pounds and a set of tyres 75 pounds! I would need a letter from the Dunlop rep, or his presence at the hearing – all too hard. I returned to the car, angry and dejected, chalked a 4-sale sign on the lap-time board and walked away from motor racing. I sold the car three or four months later to Geoghegens for around 1000 pounds. A little rash in retrospect!!!
John Hall, who’d continued racing (an FJ Holden, and a Studebaker Lark at the Bathurst 500), kept me in touch with the local motor sport scene, and around 1968 told me that my long-held marquee sports record at the “Farm, had finally been broken by a Triumph Spitfire. “Impossible John!”
After a few enquiries I found that it was an AMI factory entered Spitfire, driven by Brian Reed. It was fitted with homologated 8 port head, 40mm. webers and a Limited slip diff, all developed by Triumph for their Le Mans cars. Later Brian Samson took over as factory driver, taking the record even lower. On the strength of this Spitfire success, I built one to similar specs. and entered it in the 1969 International at the Farm, but didn’t race, because a chance to work and live in Hong Kong arose, and as newlyweds my wife and I thought it was an opportunity too good to miss. So the car remained in the garage for the next few years, and by the time I returned to Australia it was totally uncompetitive.
Motor racing had evolved greatly over those few years, so I sold the bits off the car and it became my wife’s temperamental transport for a couple of years, until it too was sold.