What happened to the Lawrance 500?

An interesting addition to Loose Fillings’ ever-expanding knowledge of air-cooled cars in Australia and elsewhere has emerged with a letter, photographs and a press cutting which have been sent to us by once Melbourne, now Perth resident Allan Ould.

‘I served my apprenticeship as a motor mechanic with Peter Menere in Brighton, Melbourne’, Allan writes. Peter Menere Motors was always full of interesting European cars, including racing cars such as Bugatti, Cisitalia, Lombard, and later ones such as Cooper Bristol, Alta and BWA. We also prepared cars for the early Armstrong 500 races at Phillip Island and the Mobil Economy runs.

‘My enthusiasm for motorsport was further encouraged when I joined the 500cc Car Club. It was a revelation to meet people like Phil Irving, Charlie Dean, Murray Rainey, Bruce Walton, George Wade, Paul England and many more.

‘As soon as I was legally able to, I had my first taste of competition driving with Ron Edgerton’s BWA at the Templestowe Hill climb. Thus began a lifetime involvement in competitive motor sport. A friend who lived nearby (Bob Minogue) had bought the “Sidney Rudge” and I became interested in building my own 500cc race car.

‘I had become friendly with Murray Rainey, who was a brilliant driver, a very good engineer and a great person. He regarded being diminutive as something of an advantage in terms of being a “lightweight driver” and he made good use of that. His supercharged Cooper Norton was a sight to behold (and to hear) at Fisherman’s Bend. An interesting aspect to that car was the debate between Murray and Phil Irving in that Phil maintained that ‘Blown Nortons’ didn’t work well and Murray was determined to disprove that (which he did), winning the first race at Phillip Island (below)

‘Murray had in mind a project for a hillclimb car and had gathered parts for it before he decided to concentrate on other projects. In about 1960, I bought the parts from him for what was to become the ‘Lawrance 500’. These included a 500cc ohv Lawrance engine which was US-made and originally used as the engine for a ground generator (or APU) in a Catalina flying boat. The engine was beautifully made to aircraft standards, twin magnetos, two plugs per cylinder etc, but designed for reliability, not maximum power (below).

 ‘Murray had fitted a Roots-type cabin blower as a supercharger and added an SU carburettor, but had not developed the engine further. Also included were a modified ‘WD’ BSA gearbox and a final drive made up of some Ford Popular parts and special castings.

 ‘With great enthusiasm (and a lot of reference to the Costin and Phipps book “Racing and Sports Car Chassis Design”), I built a chassis Jig and proceeded to build my first race car. Eventually I was to learn that the real lesson from building the car was that this young man had a lot more to learn about racing car design and race engine development.

‘With the car completed in 1962, I turned to the not inconsiderable task of trying to develop the engine to produce hoped for horsepower. The combinations of unknown optimum cam profiles, ignition timing, 12 lbs + boost and jetting for methanol, presented a challenge to say the least. I do still remember sitting down with George Wade in deep discussion about cam profiles! It would be hard to access such knowledge, freely given, in this day and age!

Testing at Fishermans Bend (above and the finished engine, blower and gearbox installation (below)

‘There were endless test days at Fishermans Bend airstrip, with handfuls of needles and jets just to get the engine to run reasonably, but full success was never achieved. Fortunately, these were in the days when you could access the airstrip just by flicking the chain off the gate, so we weren’t paying for circuit hire

Front view of the finished car

‘I also clearly remember driving through the pits at Winton (which were pretty rough then) and feeling the chassis flex. That was my first lesson re weight vs torsional rigidity in good chassis design.

‘Some months after finishing the car and having raced it only a few times, I began a job with General Motors which entailed a lot of traveling and I didn’t ever have a chance to sort the car out. I sold the car (I think in 1963) at about the time I began work at GMH. At that point I lost track of the car, as I was away from Melbourne for most of my time.

 ‘After a couple of years with GMH, I fulfilled an ambition to work full time in top level motor sport and travelled to England where I worked for several years on the Brabham F2/ F1/ Indy and Tasman teams. Due to having the opportunity of working for that brilliant designer, the late Ron Tauranac, the young man eventually learned a LOT MORE about racing car design, (and engineering in general).’

So, dear Loose Fillings readers, do any of you know what became of the car? It must have been too good a chassis not to have survived for some time, maybe with a four-cylinder engine fitted? We would be interested to hear, perhaps via our Facebook page.

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