‘CLIMBED YOUR LAST HILL’
So concluded Camille, wife of the great Bruce Walton, in 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.
Under 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 Then followed Templestowe, Rob Roy, Albert Park, Templestowe again and Altona, with the 8-80 JAP eventually being superseded by a more manageable and reliable 500 JAP
Fully 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).
Chasing 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.
Hepburn 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.
Bruce 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.
It 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?”
Absolute 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.
Postscript: the Walton Cooper is still competing today
Photo by Katy Wright