“Extreme” Tojeiro-JAP for sale

Continuing our ‘extreme air-cooled’ theme, we hear that the
extraordinary ‘Tojeiro-JAP’ is up for sale but didn’t sell at Britain’s National
Exhibition Centre on Saturday November 11.

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The car was once on the Loose Fillings editor’s ‘bucket-list’. It was all-but tracked down some years ago but found its way into the hands of David Lee who did a remarkable job of a chassis-up restoration including the building of an engine.

All sorts of bright ideas were put forward for exploiting the 1096cc ‘Mk1’ all-alloy JAP V-twin when it was announced in late 1949 as a successor to the 1949 ‘dry-sump’ version of the pre-war total-loss ‘8/80’.* Coopers experimented with a transverse front-mounted engine coupled to a clutch and gearbox but that chassis is not known to have ever made it onto the road.

However, supposedly inspired by an Autocar article which had extolled the virtues of mating a Jowett Jupiter four-speed manual gearbox to the JAP Mk1 via a custom bell housing, Brian Lister took up the idea for a car to be built by John Tojeiro using a bell-housing that had been made to link the JAP to the Jowett box.

Brian was back at the family’s Cambridge engineering firm after a spell in the RAF and John had just set himself up outside Cambridge to make one-off cars. Brian’s first motorsport ventures in 1951 were with one of Cooper’s front-engined sports car but he wasn’t happy with it and commissioned a JAP-engined Tojerio, much along the lines of the Cooper prototype but with a much improved chassis.

This was John Tojeiro’s second chassis and it was the first out of his workshop in April 1952, but it carried a Lister chassis number BHL1. There was a Standard differential and Turner magnesium wheels and the whole thing is said (probably optimistically) to have weighed around 400kg, much as was claimed for the contemporary rear-engined Cooper single-seater. Whatever the weight really was, it was very light for what was technically a sports-car. Note, in the restoration photo by David Lee, below, the obvious stiffness compared with a Cooper.

TojChassisLister JAP 1 (1)(2)

Nicknamed ‘The Asteroid’ by Lister, and road-registered as KER 694, it was fearsomely quick when on-song according to the Lister story written by Robert Edwards. In its first season, 1951, Brian (above) doesn’t seem to have had a lot of success in coaxing the JAP’s performance out of it but amongst his Cambridge circle was demon lightweight (5ft tall) driver Archie Scott-Brown and tuner Don Moore.

Scott-Brown at the wheel in 1952 had no less than six first places in races (below) as well as driving his own Cooper-MG. But the Asteroid, more formally known as the Tojeiro-JAP, was really no sportscar and had to be towed to meetings rather than driven on the road which was then a serious nuisance. Archie repeated his runs of successes in 1952 but then Brian sold to the car to Peter Hughes who was living in Scotland.

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John Tojeiro, Archie Scott-Brown and Brian Lister each went on to greater things in motorsport while Hughes campaigned the car in races and hillclimbs north and south of the border. In 1954 he had five circuit wins, a fourth in an international race, and two best times of day at Bo’ness and Barbon hillclimbs as well as class records at Shelsley Walsh and Prescott.

He then acquired a big-twin JAP-engined Cooper and was killed while driving back from helping Ecurie Ecosse at Le Mans in 1956. We know for certain what happened to his Cooper – it was bought by David Roscoe and then was sold to Jimmy de Villiers in Rhodesia. By then, presumably, the Tojeiro had been sold.

It is said to have passed through the hands of GMG Oliver, Alistair Dent Hutton, Northern Sports Cars Ltd, Peter Jones, W Richard Heylings, John Pacey, Richard Procter, John Baker, Jeremy Wade, Jonathan Bradburn and Frank Gourlay before being bought by David Lee in 2009.

Still road registered, this car could be a real pain in the #### today but a lot more is known now about how to keep a big-twin JAP together and in the right hands it could provide as much excitement as it is possible to have on the road or the track.

A Scottish friend, Gavin Ross, who first told me about the car, remembers it like this, “I think of all my memories from those days long ago at Bo’ness, those of that car are the most vivid; it was certainly the car that made the biggest impact on me at the time. As DSJ used to say it had PRESENCE; in spades! It was sensational to watch in action, it was just so quick compared to the other runners in its class.” The Bo’ness photo below by Graham Gauld shows Peter Hughes at the entry to the ‘courtyard’.

TojeiroGauld

Loose Fillings’ founding editor Graham Howard encouraged its possible purchase saying, “You could see this car as the first move towards the emergence of totally impractical racing “sports cars” with pure-race engines and no real passenger space or luggage capacity”.

The editor is wondering if he may actually be lucky not to have bought the car, but he can’t help thinking wistfully of it as ‘one that got away’.

TW

POSTSCRIPT
*There never was a ‘Mk2’ JAP even though that is what the ‘Mk1’ is widely called today. Probably the terminology arises from the 1949 engine (which JAPs labelled ‘Dry Sump 8/80’) being incorrectly described sometime in the past as the Mk1.

For more on Tojeiros, see a fine book by Graham Gauld, “Toj: John Tojeiro and his cars” available from http://www.smrh.co.uk/acatalog/

For auction details see http://www.silverstoneauctions.com/1952-tojeiro-jap.

RACING ROUND THE RAMPARTS

“Round-the-houses” racing is a great tradition which is still practiced here and there with historic events in West Australia. In continental Europe it was once the way most motor racing was done, with meetings usually embracing both bikes and cars. Perhaps Pau and Monaco are the only survivors running to contemporary car formulae.

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Angouleme in western France was one of those towns where the annual races were an important part of the social and sporting calendar. Starting in 1939, the first main race 20170927_144622for grand prix cars was won by the great French hero Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo 308. Racing recommenced in 1947 and continued until the Le Mans tragedy year of 1955. In 1978 the meeting was revived as a historic event and has continued ever since.

The old town, of Romano-Gallic origins, occupies a fortified craggy plateau high above the surrounding country, and around the plateau are the remains of over 2km of ramparts after which the race is named. A mere 1.2 kilometres long, the course runs along the ramparts, plunges downhill between packed houses, streaks along the bottom of the fortified cliffs then zig-zags back up to the plateau again. It is tight, roughly surfaced and wholly unforgiving as far as run-off is concerned.  An ‘off’ generally means contact with a stone wall or armco.

This year saw the 39th running  of the modern ‘Circuit des Remparts’. Somehow or other the pits were created in the middle of the town next to the hotel de ville, armco was erected here and there, and entries for prewar cars up to 1500cc, 500cc cars, 1965-1974 GT cars, group B rally cars, Bugattis type 35, 37, 51 and 59, post 1974 GTs, pre-war racing cars over 1500cc and pre 1965 GTs were invited to race on Sunday 17 September 2017.

The first voitourette race was led, almost from start to finish, by Morgan ace (and old mate of Loose Fillings) Chas Reynolds who has, over the years, perfected a racing engine with speedway top-end bits on the robust 1323cc DTZ rail trolley motor. As you can imagine, the big-twin exhaust note reverberated splendidly though the tight streets of Angouleme and not a beat was missed.

The second race, being for 500cc cars, was for our air-cooled  brethren and it was pleasing to see that these days the once ubiquitous curved tube Cooper is being challenged by a wide variety of other makes and models.

For a start there were no less than 6 DB (Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet) cars which were initally built around a modified Dyna Panhard flat twin engine mounted ahead of the front driven wheels. There was an Arnott, a Staride, a Martin, an Effyh, the Waye special (late of Australia), a Revis, an RJ, a Cousy and several more-modern blow-ins such as a Vixen (1966) and a Boyer (1960). All were allegedly 500cc and why the latter two were there was a moot point.

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IMG_1567The flat-twin DBs are fierce looking creatures

Further inquiries on the Internet revealed that the ‘Boyer Racer 500’ was conceived about 1998 for a French formula. It had a Honda V-twin Transalp engine developing 50hp at 8000rpm, with a five-speed gearbox. Yet in the programme it is listed as 1960 which is patently not true. Whether the same may be said of the ‘1966’ Vixen VB1 I have not troubled to find out as it finished well down the field. Suffice to say it should be totally unacceptable to genuine historic 500 racers to have this sort of pretend car in the grid.

The race was to be over 23 laps, which was to be a bit much for some people fuel-wise, and they and others wanted a rolling start as they are now accustomed to. At a post-briefing conference it seemed to be agreed with the organisers that a shorter race with a rolling start would be run, but in the end it didn’t happen; indeed there were two standing starts from the grid – one for a parade lap and one for the race.

Being on holiday and not at work, Loose Fillings was not really keen enough to keep a lap chart, hadn’t done the usual homework in the paddock and found it impossible to question the blow-ins about their equipment and its dubious presence. Indeed the winning car simply wasn’t even in the paddock after the race although the driver turned up to stand on the podium.

As far as the race is concerned, some notes and results might suffice: Xavier Kingsland in his Norton engined Staride set a cracking pace and had a long dice with George Shackleton’s lovely Mark 11 Cooper which stopped on lap 12. Xavier was to finish on the same lap in second place behind the Boyer, while Oliver Rinaldi’s DB was 30 odd seconds adrift. Then followed Andy Raynor (Cooper Mk5) and Roy Hunt (Martin 500) with Martin Sheppard in the Effyn Brynfan Special. Yes, only one Cooper in the top six.

For Loose Fillings, a star attraction car-wise was the Waye JAP sold to England a few years back by Sydney’s Halliday family. It was bought last year by Simon Dedman from Essex who, over the winter, did a chassis-up rebuild including some new body panels. It looked splendid. After a few hillclimbs, this was Simon’s first race meeting as the French organisers seemed not to require a full race licence. He went well but fried his clutch after 14 laps, in which he was not alone.

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IMG_1486Simon Dedman has done a terrific job with the Australian Waye JAP

It was great stuff, the 500s looking and sounding terrific in amongst the limestone walls of the old town. The atmosphere was true round-the-houses racing. It was tight on space, sociable, friendly, competitive and apparently well organised. In other words, great fun and well worth the trip if only for the sights, noises, smells, food and drink.

Highly recommended/Four and a half stars.

POSTSCRIPT

Raymond Sommer won the 1950 F3 race in one of Harry Schell’s Coopers and here he is  superimposed on the unchanged but now full-colour townscape of Angouleme.

Angouleme

DAVID cyclecars, JAP engines and HURRICANES at Brooklands

DAVID cyclecars, JAP engines
and HURRICANES at
Brooklands

In Power Without Glory, my short history of JAP V-twin engines incorrectly said that the  picture (below) showed a Spanish David cyclecar with one of the 80 degree racing engines. In fact it would appear that it had an engine that JAP produced specifically for cyclecar use which was 90 degrees. It was in the 1914 catalogue (see below) and I have just had the privilege of seeing one of these engines courtesy of Dieter Mutschler, who has what must surely be the world’s greatest collection of JAP-engined motorcycles. The collection is accompanied by a superb archive and library which again has a strong emphasis on JAP material.

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Above: the David cyclecar with JAP 90 degree engine – probably a prototype.
Below: the 1914 catalogue entry.

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Above: this rare 90 degree cyclecar engine came from South Africa.

I can also advise that the photograph (below) of the  Hurricane with Lord Nuffield, in the chapter about WW2, was not at Brooklands as I had been told but was probably at the No.1 Civilian Repair Unit on the airfield adjacent to the Morris factory at Cowley.  Lord Nuffield was appointed Air Ministry Director General (Maintenance) by Air Minister Sir Kingsley Wood on 6th October 1939 and perhaps that was the occasion of the photograph?

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Terry Wright

HOW MANY KEN WHARTON
COOPERS WERE THERE?

There seem to be more ex Ken Wharton Coopers about than there are ex Stirling Moss Coopers, so the purpose of this post it to try to set the record straight, at least as far as that is possible with the limited information available today on Ken’s cars.

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Ken’s first appearance in a Mk4 Cooper, apparently new, was at Goodwood on 27 May 1950 with the BSA engine out of his hillclimb special. His first appearance with a twin JAP was at Shelsley Walsh on 10 June (Stilltime pic from Power Without Glory  above). It’s not known what happened to this car.

For 1951 he had one of the ‘lighter’ lower Mk4 Coopers, this one allegedly built or designated for Raymond Sommer but it is not clear why a 1950 car would have been readied for him – he  was killed on 10 September that year. He was anticipating ‘a little Cooper team’ for 1951 – as he wrote to a friend – why would he not have lined up a Mk5 for 1951?  The caption in the Autosport pic below is wrong, by the way –  the nominal capacity of the iron engine was 996cc.

XXXKen Wharton also had a Mk5 for 1951, Mk5-19-51, according to the factory records published by Doug Nye, and he raced this as a 500 through the year (see Autosport pic at Castle Combe below) then advertised it for sale in Autosport on 14 and 21 September.

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It has been claimed that he kept this car until it was sold by his father after his death in 1957, but this is simply improbable. First, it is unlikely that having advertised the car at least twice, it didn’t sell and was mothballed for the next  five years. Furthermore, I asked his race mechanic Bill Blythe, ‘Was there another Cooper stored at the workshop or at his home’, and he said there definitely wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t the car, seemingly a Mk7 which he used in 1956.

Whatever it’s history (which didn’t involve Ken’s hillclimb championships), the car survives and I believe it was last seen in public at a UK Coys auction in 2013. The following pic shows the car as it was previously owned for some years by Mike Sythes who sold it on but without the twin engine it had at the time.

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The next Wharton car emerged in 1956, probably first at a Bugatti Owners Club Prescott test day in April (see photo below). Comparing this with the Peter Bell owned Mk7 supercharged car that Michael Christie hillclimbed in 1955 (as well as his own 1107cc unsupercharged car), they are clearly identical in engine and other details.

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The proof copy of a  LAT photo below shows Michael Christie at Prescott on 9 May 1954. . The second picture is one of many showing Ken in what is, I believe, the same car which he ran through much of 1956.

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It isn’t known whether Ken owned this car or whether it remained in the ownership of Peter Bell. The plot thickens after Ken was killed in New Zealand on 12 January 1957. It has frequently been said that Tom Norton bought Ken’s cars from his father and there is no doubt he bought ERA R4D and the Mk4 Cooper; he used the Mk4 at Prescott on 4 May 1958 (see  below) and possibly only on this one occasion. He is understood to have sold this car then to Duncan Hollingsworth who sold it to Brian Eccles about 1959. Brian sold it to a Scandinavian buyer less engine about 1961. The engine and blower were fitted to Brian’s M11-14-57 which he now has again after it being in other hands for many years.

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But did Tom also buy Peter Bell car, as many have said, presumably because during 1959 and 1960 Tom appeared regularly in a car that was very similar? Well, no, in my view, because the Bell car had distinctively badged long front dampers (probably Girling) with bottom mounts below the wishbone tubes. The Norton car had shorter Armstrong type front dampers with the bottom mounting bolt above the bottom tubes (below).

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There are other minor differences but there is none so clear as the front damper set-up. It would be improbable that Norton modified the wishbones and dampers on his car from the set-up Ken Wharton had on the Bell car.  The following George Phillips picture, which shows George Boyle (who did a lot of Peter Bell’s mechanical work) on the right and Bill Blythe in the centre is the most detailed available of the front suspension. The set-up is clearly quite different to the Norton car.

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In all probability Tom Norton simply had a car that was very similar to the Bell car and it was this car which he campaigned through 1959 and 1960 and then sold to Wally Cuff who used it from 1961 onwards.

So to answer my own question, Ken Wharton definitely had three Coopers and may or may not have also owned the Peter Bell car, the fate of which is unknown for the moment. I do not know of it competing after Ken was killed, nor do I know of any car that can definitely be identified as it; it would be nice to know.

 Terry Wright

 

 

It’S AMAZING WHAT’S STILL OUT THERE … #2

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‘Stuff can turn up if you keep your eyes open”, Garry Simkin wrote in a recent Loose Fillings post, and the latest to do so is an amazing cache of fire-damaged Jack Brabham trophies that go right back to his earliest days on Sydney’s speedways.

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early presentationJack receives the Australian championship tray at Kilburn Speedway on 25 February 1949.

There is a cup which is clearly Jack’s first major trophy of all – the New South Wales Speedcar Championship 1948. There is a tray which records his win in the Australian 20 Lap Speedcar Championship of 1948-9 –  the presentation of that very tray, laden with cut-glass, is recorded by a photograph (above) that is on the jack-brabham-engines.com website. There are even ‘billycart’ and other racing trophies of sons David and Gary.

Another trophy had a marble base and was surmounted by a casting of what might be a Ferrari – for what success we do not know – but only the car survives. There are Indianapolis awards and others that are impossible to identify. There is a much cracked dish of the “Doghouse Club” which was founded in 1962 by a group of driver’s wives and girlfriends – including Betty Brabham –  to provide some much needed paddock social activities and facilities. In due course it raised millions for charity and is still going strong.

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As is well known, Jack started his motor racing career driving a speedway ‘midget’ or ‘speedcar’ which he then famously entered in a number of hillclimbs, taking the outright Australasian hillclimb title at Rob Roy, north of Melbourne, in 1951.

When Jack retired from racing and his role in Motor Racing Developments at the end of 1970, he returned to Australia and bought a farm north of Melbourne where his first wife Betty hoped that their boys could grow up far away from motorsport. A few years later the Brabhams moved to a much bigger spread – 4300 acres apparently – at Galore, west of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

Jacks’ memorabilia was still stored there after the farm was sold but then it was practically all lost in a fire in one of the out-buildings. At some stage remnants were recovered from the farm by people who worked there. There may have been other ‘finds’ – nobody really knows –  but this one has been brought to Sydney in search of a safe place of keeping.

Doug Nye, who knew Jack well, and has written extensively about him, has told Loose Fillings, “Blackie was not a bloke to get emotional about the past, or things connected with the past – but he did weaken when he described to me how he had lost a mass of stuff ‘in a fire at the farm’, I think during the late 1980s or early ‘90s.”

This set us wondering where the trophies fitted into Sir Jack’s biography, and in particular just when was Jack’s very first race?

The 1960 Jack Brabham’s Motor Racing Book doesn’t say, but the context puts it after August 1947. In a recording held in the National Library of Australia Jack says ‘late 1947’. In his book with Doug Nye, The Jack Brabham Story, he says of the Johnny Schonberg/Jack Brabham joint-venture to build the now famous JAP-engined midget number 28,  ‘Johnny drove for about half our first season but in the second half –  into 1948 – his wife persuaded him to stop racing’.

Schonberg Johnny # 28Above:  Johnny Schonberg in No.28 obviously when it was new and before it was signwritten and trimmed. The engine is a 996cc 8/80 JAP probably from one of the several Skirrows which came to Australia. Below: Jack poses for the camera on his first night at Cumberland Oval. Photos courtesy Brian Darby’s www.vintagespeedway.com

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Searching newspaper records and old programmes confirms that Jack’s first night at the Sydney Showground was 28 February 1948 when he was listed as ‘H. Brabham’, as he was the next Saturday too.

But of his first night at suburban Parramatta’s Cumberland Oval (where he would have had to qualify for the Showground) there seems to be no record that searches of various collections and archives, especially that of that of speedway historian Brian Darby, have been able to find.

The slender newspaper records aren’t a lot of help either but one report in The Sun tells us that No.28 first took to the track at Parramatta on Friday 5 December 1947. However online searches for other spellings such as “Schoneberg” brings us more from a paper called The Biz of Fairfield on 11 December 1947:

“Speedcar drivers appreciated the
change of weather conditions at Parra-
matta Speedway last Friday night, and
“turned on” a great show. The track was
very fast, and Johnny Schoneberg, ace
American driver, equalled the track re-
cord established by the late Jack Skelton.
….
“The 10-lap scratch race went to champion
S. Payne, who just lasted long
enough to win from Vickery, with Bra-
ham (sic) and E. Groom close up in 3rd and
4th place. We were pleased to welcome
Schoneberg back to the track, driving
his new car No. 28 … “

Although he must have been racing at Cumberland Oval there are no more newspaper reports of  Braham/Brabham until he is recorded as graduating to the Sydney Showground in February next year. From then on there is no stopping him. Schoneberg/Schonberg only makes occasional appearances in 1948 – apparently in  borrowed cars  – so his wife’s pressure to give up speedway can only have been partially successful.

The Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 22 November 1948 records Jack’s win in the New South Wales speedcar championship on the previous Saturday night. The Advertiser (Adelaide) of 26 February 1949 tells us that Jack Brabham won the Australian 20-lap speedcar championship at the Kilburn speedway ‘last night’. History also tells us that he won another Australian championship in Sydney a few weeks later!

Speedway program

So there we have it – Jack Brabham’s first race was at the Cumberland Oval, Parramatta on 5 December 1947. Someone must have a programme but otherwise nothing other than the briefest local newspaper report survives to mark that night.

Postscript
Taken about 5 years ago this photo shows Ron Tauranac (left), Jack Brabham (right) with No.28 and its owner Don Halliday (centre). Whenever Jack met up with No.28 he always would tell Don that it had “made his day” to see it again. He was clearly proud of the old warrior. Note the Tauranac cast wheel centres and the 1360cc engine that Jack eventually built with the only JAP bits being the rocker boxes.

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Trophy photographs courtesy Andrew Halliday

See also https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FLooseFillings%2Fposts%2F1378378935615895%3A0&width=500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘CLIMBED YOUR LAST HILL’

So concluded Camille, wife of the great Bruce Walton, 1-WaltonCooperLogo.jpgin a notice of his death in The Age of Melbourne this week.  Australian hillclimb champion for a Guinness Book of Records cited six years on the run from 1958-1963, Bruce was 90 and had been disabled for some years after a stroke.

After taking a science degree at the University of Adelaide, Bruce came to Melbourne in the early ‘fifties to take up a post in the laboratories of the new Gas and Fuel Corporation,  with which he stayed all of his working life. As some did then, he took a keen interest in the new 500 car movement, and set about building a Cooper likeness. He started by buying a pair of Ford 10 stub axles and after he ran out of room in his bed-sitter the project was moved to Ken Gayfer’s workshop in Coburg North (below). Bruce happened on an 8-80 twin JAP from a crashed Cooper and this was his brave choice of engine rather than a 500.

1-Top-1Under construction with the 8-80 JAP in Ken Gayfer’s workshop

The car, the Walton Special – later know as the Walton JAP –  made its first appearance at the Fishermens Bend records day on 18 July 1953,  but he didn’t finish a timed run. Then followed Templestowe, Rob Roy, Albert Park, Templestowe again and Altona, with the 8-80 JAP eventually being superseded by a more manageable and reliable 500 JAP

1-BruceWaltonRobRoy 001Fully rigged and flying at Rob Roy: Photo by Peter D’Abbs

The best performance to date had been at Templestowe with a second fastest-time-of-day – FTD – but with the 500 Bruce drove better and better. There was a third at Fishermens Bend races, a class win and third FTD at Collingrove, South Australia, a first at Altona, and class records at Rob Roy and Templestowe. The 8-80 went back in for 1956 – itswas later supercharged – and there followed class and meeting wins at hillclimbs around Australia including Newcastle for the NSW championship (first) and Bathurst for the Australian championship (second to Lex Davison).

1-Trevor_0004Chasing the NSW championship at King Edward Park,
Newcastle in 1956

With a supercharged 1100 JAP installed, Bruce finally beat the Davison car, which was tuned by Phil Irving, over the closely fought three rounds of the Victorian Hillclimb Championship in 1957. In the final round at Rob Roy on 5 November, if Lex made FTD then the title was his;  if Bruce made FTD it would be a tie and he would win the title only if he got the bonus point for a new hill record. Lex’ last run was a new record at 24.44sec; Bruce, who had been frantically replacing his over-stressed universals, made a final last dash of the day in … 24.4sec! With a new record the title was his and photographs show that nobody seemed more pleased than Lex himself.

1-waltonHepburn Springs, with the JAP supercharged

With more than a few factory racing cars to his name, Lex sometimes teased Bruce about his ‘home-built’ special. In 1958 Bruce took the bait and bought a Mk8 Cooper which had pressed him hard when he had been up to New South Wales to take the state championship. The Marshall-blown 1100 JAP was slotted into the new Cooper and the ‘Walton- Cooper’ was born, first appearing   at  Rob Roy on June 1, with a not very good time of 26.24sec. Disappointingly, the new car was nearly two seconds slower than the old one.

1-templestoweBruce tips the Walton Cooper into the first corner at Templestowe

It took months of work to find and cure the Cooper’s massive handling problems. Built for fast racing on (relatively) smooth English airfields, the Cooper just couldn’t handle the bumps that were the norm on Australian hills. When sticking  splines on the rear drive-shafts were diagnosed and replaced, Bruce was back at the top from the two Victoria rounds of the 1958 Australian Hill Climb Championship, beating Lex Davison’s Cooper at both.

1-silverdaleaIt was the beginning of a run of titles that earned Bruce his place in the (Australian) Guinness record book for the most successive Australian championships in any sport –  from 1958 to 1963. Of course he again won New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian state championships, his last meeting before retiring being the Victorian titles at Templestowe on 10 November 1963. It was his seventh in a row and his notes simply say “FTD 54.07 on melting surface. McEwin (Elfin) 56.64. Replaced cracked piston during the day”.

Bruce was absolutely committed to his car and to driving it –  just look at the pictures. He was very kind to the writer when he acquired and restored first one and then the second of Bruce’s cars; he would write long letters of advice enclosing data from his record books. At our last meeting at Rob Roy he looked wistfully at the Cooper and said to Camille, “Did I really own that?”

1-silverdalebigtreeAbsolute concentration at Silverdale, New South Wales

Maybe 50 years on now, going to see Bruce Walton is something people still remember from their younger days, as the late Peter Brock once recalled. As a  great champion, Bruce had many headlines and my favourite probably sums him up best  –
BRUCE WALTON: Maestro of the Hills.

Terry Wright

Postscript: the Walton Cooper is still competing today

Walton Cooper -  as restored 2004Photo by Katy Wright

 

 

 

OUT OF AFRICA

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I don’t know how it was in other places, but if you grew up in 1950’s Britain you couldn’t help be aware of the developing turmoil in central and southern Africa. These were the days when Union-Castle Line passenger ships, which regularly plied the route to and from the Cape, appeared on Christmas jig-saw puzzles and these sunnier lands were an attractive destination for would-be emigrants.

catleMoreBut things were rapidly going wrong, as the graphic newspaper headlines and stories about the Mau Mau troubles in Kenya illustrated from late 1952 until at least  1956. Further south, the problems in South Africa hardly entered this teenager’s consciousness, but doubtless had a lot to do with his father’s decision in the late ‘fifties not to take up a senior business posting in Johannesburg. How things might have been different?

This is not the place to go over the still-unfinished Southern Rhodesia story; but it is part of the background of Coopers in Africa that it was, from 1953, part of a dominion called, variously the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland or the Central African Federation, which consisted of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, respectively). This lasted until 1964 when Britain granted independence to Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia remained a British colony.

Cooper Jap Mk4 10.32 001

So why am I telling you this? The main reason is that Ivan Glasby, owner of the remains of Cooper 10-32-49 (above), has just died in Sydney. A charming man that I hardly knew, he spent much of a day some time ago taking me through his reminiscences of motorsport in Rhodesia. Ivan’s father, Eric, had a Morris and other BMC cars dealership in Bulawayo, and had been active in local motorsport, racing a Cooper Bristol and a Morris Minor during the 1950s.

Union CastleIvan was apprenticed to the family company and soon he was racing a Cooper Formula Junior but suffered a bad crash at the 1962 Natal Grand Prix which put him out of racing for some years. Eventually the Glasbys had a team of Minis with Ivan becoming Rhodesian saloon car champion, with a mere 970cc, in 1969. The photo, below, shows a wonderful mixed bag at Salisbury’s Marlborough circuit.

Meanwhile Southern Rhodesia had a ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ (UDI) and politically things went from bad to worse. Like most whites the Glasby’s left the country and they headed to Australia in the early nineteen-eighties, with Ivan’s father and mother settling in Tasmania and Ivan specializing in parts for, and work on his beloved Mini’s in Sydney. Brother Bruce was first in South Africa but is now back in Bulawayo.

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A wonderful mixed bag at Salisbury’s Marlborough circuit in 1961. Note the Cooper 1100 twin of Chris Underwood, probably Mk9-12-55. Hard to spot behind the ERA is Eric Glasby in his AC Bristol.

Getting any kind of asset out of what was now called Zimbabwe was a major problem and Ivan had tales to tell of dismantled cars being exported across the border to South Africa as ‘agricultural equipment’, a ruse that was well known to racers importing cars to Australia at one time. The Cooper Bristol, the Mini and another Cooper Mk5-6-51 were among many African cars or parts thereof that the Glasbys saved from decaying away in the bush.

There were, by my reckoning to date, at least eight Cooper singles and twins in South Africa and Rhodesia in the 1950’s. A number ended up beach racing on the Atlantic coast of South West Africa (now Namibia) at which point engines and chassis all got mixed up so it is hard to be certain what is what these days. Suffice to say most have been repatriated, with at least one other Cooper, Mk5-8-48 crossing the Pacific to Western Australia.

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Bob Gerrish, Cooper JAP, tackles the Menengai hillclimb in the Great African Rift Valley, Kenya. The caldera, top, is said to be the world’s largest.

Further north in Kenya, there was also a vibrant motorsport scene, with maybe four single-cylinder cars competing at one time or another. There is so far no record of any twins, although one car with an early, if brief, twin history, 5-8-48, is reported to have been there from 1965-1975. A  set of hillclimb photographs by Charles Trotter survive in Duncan Rabligliati’s collection and some were recently published in “The 500’ with reminiscences of Bob Gerrish who wrote that he bought a Cooper Mk5 from Victor Preston in 1960.

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A popular event was a hillclimb at Brackenhurst (above), about 10 miles from Nairobi, where there was a hotel with two access roads; one was a dirt service road which was closed for hillclimbs and the hotel was a perfect spot for washing down the days dust, of whichthere was plenty and an evening dinner and prize-giving. Bob ran the car with both 4-stud and 5-stud JAPs (the 5 stud being better on dirt, he says) for 10 years, competing in Mombasa (600 miles round trip on lousy roads), Kampala (800 miles), Nyeri, Nakura and Arusha. He won the East African Hill Climb Championship three times.

The car was sold when Bob retired from Kenya and I do not know where it now is but probably it is back in the UK. The photos published here, with thanks to Duncan Rabagliati, are a fine record of times gone.

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Bob Gerrish at Mwega hillclimb, Mombasa; Photos by Charles Trotter, Nairobi from the Duncan Rabagliati collection

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Terry Wright

POSTSCRIPT

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It’s amazing what’s still out there, says Garry Simkin

Not long after I had collected my ex-NZ Mk9 Cooper from Derry Greeneklee in September 2016, I had a phone call from Brian Simpson who drives Derry’s (other) Mk9 Cooper JAP. He had been surfing eBay for parts and had spied a pair of cast-magnesium front engine mounts to accept a long-stroke Manx Norton with the engine leaning back at 15 degrees as was a feature of the Mk9s and onward. As I intend to put this Cooper back to original with a Norton engine, and not having the appropriate mounts, I swung into action.

About a week later, and with all of $35 paid, the mounts arrived in the post. Further inquiries of the vendor in Melbourne saw me obtain spare front and rear Mk9 rims, as well as a Mk4 Cooper rear rim which is handy as I also run a Mk4 Cooper.

A little later, New Zealand friend Noel Martin-Smith, previously a Mk5 Cooper owner, was reading the usual out-of-date magazines that dentists have in the waiting room. In an old Beaded Wheels magazine was an ad for a magnesium ‘triangle’, the centre section that houses the inboard disc, rear drive -procket and axle flanges etc, to suit a Mk9 Cooper. Calls to the seller found it to be with Alan Kerr in Auckland, himself a former Cooper Mk6 owner. I have a perfectly good housing in my Mk9, but there is nothing like having spares, and with two Mk 9s in Melbourne, plus mine, it was too good an opportunity to led slide so grab it I did.

Fast forward to early March this year and yet another former Cooper owner, John Caffin from Melbourne calls me. Someone had contacted him with regard what was thought to be a combined oil-fuel tank for a Cooper – the one over the engine. I made contact with the seller and found it was something that his late brother had obtained, but the seller had no idea from whom his brother had obtained it. Photos sent showed it to be the real deal for a Mk4 Cooper, of no use to me as I had made one up many years ago in the course of restoring my Vincent – engined 10-41-50. It wasn’t the one that was originally on my car as there is no cutaway for the front Amal carb as on a Vincent twin. It’s not off John Gales Mk4, 10-42-50 as that’s on his car, always has been and was the one I used as a template for mine when it was in Dick Willis’s hands.

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labelThe tank bought by Garry Simkin

Using John Blanden’s book Historic Racing Cars in Australia as a starting point, we could surmise a few cars that it may well have come from. One, 10-26-49, first raced by Jack Saywell, is now owned by Andrew Halliday and is minus the original tank. Ivan Glasby has the remains of 10-31-49, and I will call and see if he has a tank. There is 13-28-49 , brought into Australia by a Tasmanian in 1958 and residing in Adelaide; I’m unsure of the status of the tank there. There is the ex-Ken Wylie car now owned by Rod Hoffman in Sydney, numbered 10-32-49; I’m unsure of tank status there but Kerry Smith is looking into that one.

It’s not from 10-53-50, the ex-Stan Jones car, which has been with Earl Davey-Milne since 1955.  A possibility is 10-54-50 which had a Hillman Minx engine fitted in the mid-1950s so an overhead tank wouldn’t have been of any use. Another ‘maybe’ is the JAP 8-80 engined car used by Arthur Wylie which had an MG supercharged engine fitted in the front in 1954. (serial number unknown). The last possibility is the ex Jack Brabham Cooper, (serial number unknown) which was initially fitted with an 1100 JAP twin; however Jack fitted a Vincent in it later, and one would assume that he would have needed to modify the tank to clear the front Amal, as per my Mk4 when Tony McAlpine fitted the Vincent twin.

In all likelihood we may never know from which car the tank was fitted to originally, but it just shows how stuff can turn up if you keep your eyes open.

GS

Brabham King Edward Park 1952Jack Brabham at King Edward Park hillclimb, Newcastle, New South Wales, presumably when he was running a 500 BSA with JAP head before he fitted a 1000 Vincent twin

10-53-50Stan Jones in 10-53-50 at Templestowe hillclimb, Victoria

Masterly Modern Interpretation

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Bob Britton and his Rennmaxes are well-known. They’ve won Australian National Championships, multitudes of races and taken the fight to the top. Even the air-cooled ones – the Mk 1 and Mk 2 Formula Vees.

Long before these came into being, though, Bob Britton was a paid-up member of the 500cc club in Sydney. In there with the likes of Bob Joass, Ron Tauranac and other famous names.

Working for a welding company, Bob did time at technical college learning his trade. And doodling in notepads with details of the 500cc race car he wanted to build … and couldn’t afford to.

He was to build Formula Juniors, Formula 2, Formula 3, ANF 1, ANF 11⁄2, Sports Racers and Tasman cars during his long career in engineering. His first car was actually a Formula 1. But today things are quieter for the near-80-year-old Bob and he just builds what he wants to build. Among his nicer creations is this 500cc car.

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Built in the old style with low cockpit sides, it takes advantage of modern technology with inboard suspension and Japanese mechanicals. It has sleek lines and alloy wheels, and that all-important extra – a starter motor. The Rennmax BN12’s major components are:
.  Suzuki 500cc twin engine (above)
.  VW Golf differential and driveshafts
.  Holden Gemini front uprights and brakes
.  Rennmax BN7 steering wheel
.  Koni dampers
.  Spaceframe chassis, fibreglass body

Story and pictures by Ray Bell

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New home for pulse-jet Cooper

There is a nice tale by Doug Nye in his Goodwood blog about noted designer Gordon Murray’s recent purchase of the ex Ian Garmey one-time pulse-jet-engined Mk5 Cooper car. It has been for sale in the UK for some time and was on display at the Cooper birthday at Prescott (below) where it looked splendid in fine condition with what looked like period leather trim.

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Doug’s blog, with some fine photos of the car when it was driven on display at Goodwood in June 1957 can be read at http://www.goodwood.com/grrc/columnists/doug-nye/2017/1/doug-nye-jet-engined-1951-cooperthe-jet-age-racing-car/. Doug has kindly allowed Loose Fillings the use of one of GP Library’s pics of Gordon at home with the Cooper (below).

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Wikipedia tells us that  Gordon moved from South Africa to England in 1969, and was offered a job at Brabham after meeting  Ron Tauranac. When Bernie Ecclestone took over the Brabham team, he appointed Murray Chief Designer. There Murray designed many Grand Prix cars, some of which were World Championship Grand Prix winners. These designs include the extraordinary BT46B, also known as “the Brabham fan car”, as well as the World Championship winning BT49 and BT52. Murray developed a reputation for an innovative approach to design, applied not only to car concepts and details but also to race strategy.

Between 1973 and 1985 Murray’s Brabhams scored 22 Grand Prix wins, finished 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship in 1975 and 1981, and gave Nelson Piquet Drivers’ Championships in 1981 and 1983. After leaving Brabham, Murray joined McLaren as Technical Director.  Over the period 1988–91 the McLaren team won four consecutive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships: Alain Prost won the Drivers’ Championship in 1989, Senna won further Drivers’ Championships in 1990 and 1991.

SIDNEY RUDGE MOVES ON

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We hear that the Sidney Rudge, comprehensively restored by one of its period drivers Bob Minogue, has been sold to Connor Ryan, son of a VHRR committee member and president of the Vintage Sports Car Club, Pat Ryan. In such hands it is guaranteed that the car will be well used and we look forward to seeing it in action soon. Bob, meanwhile,  shown above after recently starting up the car, now has a Delara F301 Dallara (the red one below) in its place. For more on the Sidney Vincent see  LooseFillings-26  TW

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MORE ON RALT I

In LooseFillings-48  and  LooseFillings-49 we wrote about the intriguing and innovative rear suspension and drive arrangement of the first RALT racing car. Tony Caldersmith, developing unpublished research of the late Graham Howard, wrote that one of the car’s special features was the very long effective radius of its rear suspension. Until now the absence of a photograph that confirmed this was a problem, but now one has emerged courtesy of Andrew Moore writing in the HSRCA’s Oily Rag Autumn 2016. Andrew had been sent the photo amongst many others by the late Frank Bouchier. One of these is a rare rear view of the RALT, probably 1954 and at Mt Druitt near Sydney, and it seems to confirm Graham’s and Tony’s account of the very long suspension arm radii of the car. Thanks Andrew.  TW

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HISTORICS’ 40TH ANNIVERSARY AT WAKEFIELD PARK

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Four air-cooled cars competed at Wakefield Park, NSW, on the weekend of 17-18 September in a race meeting organised to celebrate 40 years since the inaugural Australian all- historic meeting was  held at the now defunct Amaroo Park circuit.

Three of the original organisers of that milestone event, John Lackey, John Medley and Rob Rowe joined forces to get the 2016 event off the ground, in conjunction with Wakefield Park management.

Andrew Halliday had a good run in his Mk5 Cooper Norton, Graeme Snape brought the Cooper BMW out of mothballs, Brian Simpson came from Melbourne with the Mk9 Cooper JAP and from Queensland came Alan Morton with his Alba Triumph. Derry Greeneklee had planned on competing with his Mk6 Cooper JAP  but storm damage  in the Adelaide Hills blocked his way out.

A large number of motorcycles were welcomed to Wakefield Park. The first meeting was for cars and solo motorcycles but in 1977 sidecar outfits and three-wheelers joined the show.   It was a great weekend for air-cooled enthusiasts, so mark September 23 and 24 in your diary for a repeat in 2017.

GS

Top: Graham Snape in the Cooper-BMW –  a very successful New South Wales developed car.
Below: Alan Morton with his Alba Triumph.

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Cooper 70th Anniversary at Prescott

In 1946 the motorsport people who survived World War 2 must have been desperately impatient to make the most of the peace.

Excepting some motorcycle speedway, competition had come to a halt everywhere. The racing venues of Crystal Palace and Donington Park weren’t likely to be available for the foreseeable future, and Brooklands was to be lost for ever. Rationing was in full order. People were spread all over the world and waiting months, even years to be repatriated.

Wartime had seen unprecedented and widespread discussion and development of ideas about the future of motorsport. Bill Boddy led the debate in Motor Sport with editorials such as ‘The Sport After the War’. The ‘Rembrandts’ – brains-trusts which Rivers and Penny Fletcher organised regularly in London  – were popular forums. There was even a meeting of 100 club representatives in Birmingham in February 1944 to complain about the RAC, which Raymond Mays chaired.

In Bristol, a group called CAPA (Caesar, Aldridge, Price and Adrian Butler), which had organised unsanctioned racing before the war, was raring to go with the idea of a 500cc racing category. First floated by Joseph Lowry in Motor Sport of July 1941, the new class was adopted enthusiastically by the Vintage Sports Car Club, and in January 1946 it appealed for builders of cars to get in touch. The Bugatti Owners and the Midland Automobile Clubs also announced their support. Motor claimed that some 80 ‘500s’ were under construction.

The first post-war Prescott meeting on 19 May 1946 saw just two 500cc entrants in the up-to-750cc class. There was Clive Lones, one time Brooklands Morgan ace with an Austin Seven chassied special called ‘Tiger Kitten’, which had a front- mounted speedway JAP.  Most prescient was Colin Strang’s new car with a Vincent-HRD at the rear. Strang impressed everyone with his 59.05s best time which compared well with Raymond Mays’ 51.70s in ERA R4D. The margin was naturally greater at Shelsley Walsh on 1 June when the two 500s again impressed the massive crowd.

The pioneering 500s were joined at Prescott by John Cooper and Eric Brandon on 28 July in another new car. Motor Sport, which had rather sat on the fence regarding the 500cc idea, was most impressed by the ‘new Cooper Special’:

This car is a really fine effort, consisting of a dirt-track JAP engine, driving by chain to a Triumph gearbox, final drive being by another chain to a Fiat 500 front-end adapted to take a drive [at the rear] via neat little universal joints and splined shafts.

The front end, brakes and wheels are also 500, and the car carries a proper, well-faired body, a slot in the front conducting cooling air to the cylinder via a long tube …

This time Strang went up in 53.70s – in 22nd place out of a total of 75.  The Cooper/Brandon entry was beset by mechanical failures, and neither boys could get under 60 seconds, but history had been made. The first Cooper racing car had made its debut and motorsport was never to be quite the same again.

Thus Saturday 30 July 2016 saw the 70th anniversary of the Cooper racing car celebrated with a fabulous turnout at Prescott of competing and static Coopers. Organised by the Cooper Car Club and the Bugatti Owners Club with various classes for Coopers tacked on to a BOC members meeting, it was probably the nicest hillclimb this antipodes-based correspondent has ever been to.

The weather was perfect. Maybe as many as 2000 people turned up – a big crowd for a club meeting. There was one problem though and the Clerk of Course had to call a drivers’ meeting midway through practice to admonish the considerable number who were driving beyond their capabilities or not even using the right course. He put it nicely, of course, but a few ears may have been burning.There had been various ‘offs’, and more were to come, so by the lunch break there wasn’t enough time for the planned cavalcade of Coopers, which was great pity.

A nice appearance was a rebuild of one of the 1946/7 500cc prototypes, probably the second one built for Eric Brandon over the dreadful winter of 1946/7. One of the most historic of all Coopers, Harry Schell’s JAP twin-engined car, which he campaigned all over Europe in 1950 and 1951, was there from France where it has spent all its life. Simply listed as ‘Cooper Mk10’ was David Boshier-Jones’ 1958-60 British Hill Climb Championship winning 1098cc JAP-engined car. The writer’s serious knowledge of Coopers runs out about 1960 so he will say no more here except to mention the popular attendance of  Mike Cooper (son of John), Paddy Hopkirk (rally king) and John Rhodes (Mini racing legend).

For competition on the long course there were no less than 23 Coopers and such-like with 500cc engines, and first in 53.67s was the always hard-to-beat Steve Lawrence in his 1954 Mk8. Just behind was Peter de la Roche (53.81s) and then Mark Riley (53.93s) in the ex Murray Rainey Mk9.

The big-twin Coopers, generally 1098cc JAP, were lumped in with all racing Coopers up to 2000cc, and there were no less than 7 of them. Charles Reynolds, in an ex Wally Cuff car he has rescued from the clutches of the Donington Museum, beat everyone with his 51.33s which was close to BCD (Best Cooper of the Day). Next was Simon Frost who had restored the Harry Schell car for owner Gilbert Lenoir, at 53.24s. Only then came the Cooper Bristol of Julian Wilton on 54.39s.

Gillian Goldsmith (Cooper-Daimler) in the over 2000cc class was BCD at 49.46s. And yes, there were Minis too, but out of all of them only Julian Harber (1330cc Leyland Mini Clubman) at 49.81s managed to beat Charles Reynolds’ classic big-twin. Just two cars were entered as Cooper Sports, cars with George Cooper (no relation) in his lovely Cooper MG making 63.56s well ahead of David Morgan (85.17s) in the pre-war ‘Special Number One’.

Can’t wait for the 80th and meanwhile here are some paddock shots.

Terry Wright

From top to bottom: The cream car is the ex-Ian Garmey ‘pulse jet’ car (that’s the pulse jet engine on the right) which is currently for sale with a 500 JAP. Next, in red, is Brian Joliffe’s ex Wally Cuff Mk6 1098cc JAP. The green car is  Charles Reynolds with the Mk7 JAP twin he rescued from the clutches of the Donington Museum. In blue with pink trousers is Gilbert Lenoir, owner of the Harry Schell Mk4 twin who is inspecting the Tom Willoughby supercharged Mk7 which his father, “doc” had for many years.

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More Great Reviews

Book of the Month in Octane, ‘you must buy this book’ by John Medley in  Oily Rag, ‘the most fascinating motor racing book I’ve ever read: bar none’ by Ray Bell in Auto Action, now we hear it is to be Book of the Month in the May Classic and Sportscar; indeed Editor in Chief Mick Walsh says it is a candidate for RAC Book of the Year. Here’s Ray Bell’s
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Bugattis Did it Too

Continuing the Loose Fillings Blog about the
history of air-cooled racing cars …

IN 1948 THE COLOURFUL SPEEDWAY DRIVER Spike Rhiando had the idea of putting an 8/80 JAP V-twin engine in the back of his new Cooper. Little did he know what he was starting. With this brilliant combination of power and lightness, a number of drivers – and the novices Stirling Moss and Peter Collins – set out to do battle against the front-engined might of Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and others.

A number of development strands coalesced in the making of the Coopers and one of them first emerged in California way back before World War 1. We can even precisely pick the day because it was at a car race at Venice, near Los Angeles on 10 January 1914. There was another 20th century first there too – the debut before the movie camera of Charlie Chaplin’s famous Tramp.

The wholly improvised film was largely about a bewildered little tramp getting in the way of the racing cars. As a logical step up from ‘pushmobile’ or ‘soapbox’ racing, the races were for cars which boys (no girls are mentioned) had built and fitted with motorcycle or boat engines.

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Charlie Chaplin’s first appearance as The Tramp was at  race meeting in the streets of Venice, California in January 1914, Cars were boat and motorcycle-engined creations built by the boy drivers themselves.

Watching all this was 17 years old Harry Hartz who had been building a twin-cylinder motorcycle engined ‘roadster’. He quickly changed his plans and was soon the champion of this new class of racing for under 19s, which rapidly expanded through southern California. In his ‘twenties Hartz was to become one of the all- time Indianapolis ‘greats’, being placed in the top four no less than five times in the nineteen twenties and winning the American Automobile Championship in 1926.

Young Hartz wrote three articles in the magazine Motor Age in May 1917, which put the history and construction of what he called the ‘junior racing car’ on the record. While early races had been classified according to the number of cylinders, a new formula was soon adopted, said Hartz.

What he called ‘Class A’ had a front mounted engine ‘under the hood’. Drive was by chain or belt to a jackshaft and then by chain or belt to the rear wheels. Hartz’ first car, as used at Culver City, Los Angeles in 1914, had been one of these but he found that it wanted to tip over on turns. That was when he had the idea of the Class B outside engine location.

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4.Kids.HarryCar.jpgHarry Hartz, standing, shows how his racer works. The Indian V-twin engine was slung out on the left-hand side, like the example below at Tacoma, Washington in September 1914.

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‘Class B presents an entirely different view to the eye,’ said Hartz. The engine was placed on the left and outside the chassis, driving to a jackshaft or directly to the rear sprocket. Cars sometimes had three-speed gearboxes, but for racing, Hartz said, these were unnecessary.

With this type of car, Hartz said, he had won practically all the races run in the west; at Ascot recently he had run a mile in 54 seconds, which meant a speed of 80mph on the straights and 60mph on the turns.[2] He had a 75in wheelbase and 26 x 2¼in interchangeable wire wheels. Such a car would cost anything from $100 to $300. ‘Interest in the tiny cars is growing rapidly and it is believed that in the near future the sport will have grown so that it will rival motor car racing in the eye of the public,’ concluded Hartz.

After World War 1 these and other cars developed into what became known as ‘midget’ racing on short urban dirt tracks. In the mid-‘thirties, this spread like wildfire to the middle and eastern states of America, where it soon became one of the most popular spectator sports. Spot fires spread rapidly to Australia, South America and soon reached Britain, where there had already been tentative attempts at dirt-track racing.

Probably with an eye on the popularity of motorcycle speedway, on 23 June 1928 the Junior Car Club (JCC) had held what it described as ‘Britain’s first authorised dirt track car racing’ on a ½ mile trotting track at Greenford in Middlesex. The final was won by Archie Frazer-Nash. It didn’t lead to more than occasional events of the same kind, but motorcycle speedway promoters, always looking for novelties, sometimes had car races or record attempts during their meetings.

For example, Light Car and Cyclecar reported that on 1 November 1929, at Leicester’s Melton Road speedway before 10,000 spectators, H Brayshaw in an Alvis had won the mile scratch race. A Shipley had won the handicap in a Salmson. ‘There was a lot of excitement’, it said, when at Wembley Stadium on 1 October 1931 ‘HJ Aldington, Mrs Wisdom and RGJ Nash drove Frazer Nashes before a roaring multitude which seemed to number about half-a-million dirt track fans:

The idea was to set up a car lap record, upon which attempts will, no doubt, be made from time to time. At the end of the programme when the ordinary gladiators had done their stuff, the heartening whine of a supercharged car engine beat upon us in the packed stands, and out into the arena came Mrs. Wisdom and her venerable supercharged model which she and her husband have handled at Brooklands, Shelsley, in trials and everywhere else for some years.

There was a tremendous roar of welcome from thousands of throats as she put in a couple of preliminary laps and then as she shot across the line for her timed lap. Her broadsiding was spectacular and the crowd shouted its applause. The tail of the car swung in a great arc; once it thumped the fence, and a wave of dirt shot up from her rear wheels in the accepted manner. Her time was 24 seconds

The evening came to a close in a highly dramatic manner as Nash – who, having burst ‘The Terror’, had taken over Mrs Wisdom’s car – hurtled into one of the bends, with the bonnet of his car pointing at right angles to the line of travel, the dirt heaped up in front of his sliding wheels, the car tilted, hung poised for a breathless second, and then, while the crowd leapt to its feet, went right over against the fence. Happily no one was hurt, and crowds roared and cheered its relief. I have never seen such enthusiasm for a car event.

Eventually this activity came to the attention of the powers-that-be, the Competitions Committee of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC). It had given a bit of thought to the dirt track business back in 1928, when it had issued a permit to the Junior Car Club (JCC) for its racing at Greenford. It had also agreed to inspect a track at Audenshaw, near Manchester. Various other brief but inconclusive mentions can be found in the minutes.

On 19 September 1933 it was recorded that a request had been received for inspection of the track at Belle Vue speedway, Manchester, with a view to issuing permits. The committee agreed to carry out an inspection and then, on 11 December, without further explanation, it was minuted, ‘Speedway car racing on loose cinder tracks did not constitute car racing as visualised by the RAC General Competition Rules.’ The Competition Secretary noted, ‘not to control’ and that a sub-committee was to ‘deal with what is required’.

Only a few weeks later it is briefly recorded that the ‘Committee considered a reference back from the [main] Committee of the Club re speedway’. It seems the status quo was to remain in place, and the RAC was to purport to have control of speedway car racing. Certainly an RAC permit was issued for a short lived revival of racing at Greenford on 5 May 1934 when Viscount Curzon was head steward.

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Dirt track racing at Barnet, north London, c1936. Left is Vic Gillow who was a well-known Riley driver at Brooklands. Right is Les White who later raced a Skirrow.

There was racing at Barnet on a track which had started out as grass in 1929 but eventually became a dirt track. On 28 July 1936, the North London Motor Club was held to account by the RAC for its activities at what it called ‘Barnet Speedway’. Again the minutes are brief, but the club had obviously (at last?) made an application for approval of the track, it had been inspected, a fence was required all the way round and if that were done it could be ‘classified as a permanent track for the purpose of General Competition Rule No.15’. In fact it closed down and the land was sold for housing.

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Even Bugattis did it. This was an unsuccessful attempt at starting up American-style dirt-track racing at Greenford, Middlesex in 1934. Photo courtesy Ivan Dutton.

While it lasted even Bugattis did it here and there but details are few and far between. Ivan Dutton has a photo of one racing, probably at Greenford in 1934 when competitors include “A.Baron 3 Litre Bugatti’ and ‘TP Cholmondeley-Tapper 11/2 Bugatti’. In his book, Amateur Racing Driver, Tapper reported that he won the final but instead of his two guineas starting money and £80 prize money he only managed to take home £20 and an IOU which he still had at the time of writing.

I have a photo I have wanted to use since I copied it 40 years ago. It shows Cec Warren’s type 37 leading two more Bugattis at Richmond, Melbourne sometime in 1932. There were also, as Pur Sang reported back in 1980 (V20,#2, pp26-27), two Bugatti-engined American midgets, one of which, at least, had a Brescia engine. I believe Ivan Dutton has one of these engines along with an interesting collection of dirt track cars. These include two of the three or four surviving Skirrows (I have another) and one of the cars built for Belle Vue speedway which has an Elto two-stroke outboard motor.

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Bugattis did it in Australia too; Cec Warren leads three of them at Richmond, Melbourne in 1932.

Meanwhile, organized car-only dirt track team racing on motorcycle speedway lines, independent of the RAC, made its British debut at Crystal Palace, London on Good Friday, 30 March 1934. There was a large crowd, said Light Car, giving it a smaller headline but equal space to its report of the Monaco Grand Prix on the same page.

There were three teams, each of three drivers and a reserve. Crystal Palace was captained by Jean Reville and drove Palmer Specials (front wheel drive BSAs), Wembley Park was captained by Victor Gillow and drove Rileys while ‘New South Wales champion’ Tommy Sulman captained Wimbledon Park driving a ‘Bitza Special’. Dick Nash in ‘The Spook’ made a record attempt over two laps. ‘Cutting-out on the bends and zooming with a roar along the straights’, he was said to be much faster than he looked, with an average speed of 40.81mph.

This team racing was initially concentrated on London and the Home counties. The cars still tended to be stripped-down sports cars but it was becoming clear that modified road cars didn’t provide the spectacle that made solo motorcycle speedway a big hit and car dirt-track sensational in America. The British motorcycle tracks, with a deep surface of cinders, short straights and tight turns were not suitable for the cars then being used.

What was needed was cars specifically tailored for the job and, as with the solo motorcycles, it took several years of trial and error for a suitable format to emerge. New rules were promulgated to define the midget racing car. Engine capacity was to be limited to 1100cc and superchargers banned. Wheelbase was to be no more than 56in and track was not to exceed 42in. Wheel diameters were to be between 12in and 14in and exhaust pipes were to extend to the back axle.

One of the earliest cars built to this formula was Jean Reville’s ‘Gnat’, and late in 1934 it was announced that it was to go into production with talk of a run of 50 cars. Most of these weren’t to eventuate, but at least four were made, and at least two had 500cc single-cylinder engines.

The twin-cylinder version of the Gnat was distinguished by having a fore-and-aft, big-twin engine with the rear exhaust exiting between the driver’s legs. It was every bit a midget, and was billed as ‘the world’s smallest racing car’, a clever claim which appeared in newspapers all over the world.

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Four of Jean Reville’s Gnats put on a show for the press at one of the London tracks in 1935.        

In late 1935 Jean Reville took a small team of drivers and three of his cars to race in Australia where he settled down, never returning to Britain. But others in Britain had realized the potential of the big-twin JAP, and better midgets were to follow his pioneering efforts. The 1935 season had seen midget car racing expand to more motorcycle speedway venues around Britain, not without a great deal of opposition from two-wheeled interests.

The following year the Eric Fernihough inspired JAP 8/80 engine was put into production for the dirt track Skirrow Special, Spike Rhiando raced one and, after the war, he put the engine in his Cooper. The rest, as they say, is history.

 Reynolds.jpg

Bill Reynolds took this JAP-engined Skirrow to New Zealand then Australia in late 1938. He raced a Cooper 500 post-war, amongst other cars.

By Terry Wright, 13 December 2015

 

GREAT REVIEWS OF POWER WITHOUT GLORY

John Staveley in The Bulletin of the Vintage Sports Car Club

On first opening this heavy, well produced book it immediately becomes apparent that it is … a vibrant story of motor racing starting before the turn of the twentieth century but quickly moving on to post World War 2 airfield circuits.

… an important work, written in an entertaining style, beautifully illustrated and great value. What a good book! Highly recommended.

Doug Nye, author of Cooper Cars on the Nostalgia Forum

… here’s a beautifully-designed, very well-produced, highly detailed and sophisticated piece of engineering and sporting history—really well worth the money. Respect!

He has spread his remit to cover the entire background story of small capacity competition cars after much diligent research, and deals with the nativity of the 500cc movement itself in really interesting depth. I rate it as an important, hefty, and good looking addition to any real motor sport enthusiast’s book shelf.

John Medley, author of Bathurst – Cradle of Australian Motor Racing
in The Oily Rag

This is a marvellous book. You should buy it. It is filled with fascinating detail, a clear story line, broad and deep in its history and humanity, astonishing in its memorabilia and automobiliana, the author’s research and footnoting a model for other writers, the author’s hands-on experience in the field impeccably unmatched … The book is well produced, thoughtfully designed, and too heavy to read in bed.

David Moore, Shelsley Walsh archivist in MAC News

This excellent book is so much more than the title suggests as it covers a wide motor racing history …  the JAP and Vincent units are fully illustrated by the author who clearly knows his subject in great depth … Interestingly, the author not only describes the origins of the cars themselves but also paints vivid pictures of the motor racing, social and political scenes of their eras.

Jerry Sturman in Speedscene, journal of the Hillclimb and Sprint Association

Fills a significant gap in motorsport history … All enthusiasts will want to have this one on their shelves … Entertainingly written and superbly laid out … the book is a visual treat as well as being a meticulously researched, in-depth survey of the history and development of the motorcycle V-twin engine in competition.

Mike Cooper, Managing Director, Cooper Car Company Ltd
I have been buried in the book all weekend. It is a fascinating read and I am sure many other motor racing enthusiasts will really enjoy it.