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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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

CHELSEA HILLCLIMB
WAITEMATA branch VCC, NEW ZEALAND
10 NOVEMBER

Ian Garmey reports that the Waitemata branch VCC annual Chelsea hillclimb was held in the stunningly beautiful park surrounding the CSR’s Chelsea sugar refinery with no less than five air-cooled cars competing, four of which we have photos here.

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TACCOC Novemnber Chelsea Hillclimb 008

Cars above are JBS-JAP 52-10 (Laurie Callender, #37); Cooper-Norton Mk8 8/26/54 (Graeme Brayshaw, #5), 1958 Satellite-Triumph (Karl Rolfe) and the unique Ralph Watson-built BSA 1100 twin (LX 5504). Also competing but not pictured was Max Rutherford in JBS -JAP 52-10.

WAKEFIELD PARK, NSW,
HSCRA MEETING
19/20 September

Some great pics by Bob Ross. Here we have three twins racing, not a sight you would see often anywhere nowadays. The blue car is Garry Simkin’s Mk4 Cooper Vincent, the red car number 26 with black helmet is Brian Simpson Mk9 with #2 Derry Greeneklee, Mk6 Cooper JAP behind him. Keeping the 500 flag flying is #27,  Andrew Halliday Mk5 Cooper Norton.

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MORE EARLY POTTS

Here are some photos I downloaded years ago from an obscure website which had a number of albums of early ‘fifties Ulster motorsport including Dundrod 12 August 1950, when there was 74 miles handicap race over 10 laps. As well as Ron Flockhart who is pictured in the book, there were 500cc entries from Joe Potts jnr, Comish Hunter and Pat Prosser. Prosser was in a Cooper and crashed, I don’t think Potts started and Hunter, #31, was, like Flockhart ‘unhappy’ according to Autocar. These poor resolution but useful photos show the front and left side of the Flockhart car #22 (note the forward steering rack position) and Hunter’s #32. If nothing else these add a little to what is known of the early Potts cars. Also posted is the entry list from the programme courtesy Richard page.

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Dundrod entry

Power Without Glory: Racing the Big-Twin Cooper by Terry Wright was published on 2 November 2015. Here the author is starting to publish some of the mass of material  he has collected that didn’t find its way into the book.


MORE ON VINCENT ENGINES IN COOPERS

Following Kerry Horan’s comments (thank you, see  ‘Comments’ PREVIOUS POST/JOE POTTS MYSTERIES below) here are a couple of complementary lists of engines; they seem to be different ‘views’ of the same factory records. The spreadsheet came from Brian Greenfield. The John Marshall article is obviously from the VOC mag.

The two engines for P Monkhouse are a mystery. Peter Monkhouse was killed racing in Italy April 1950 spo assuming it is the same person the date on his two engines of 1.10.50 is strange

My best information on ex-factory Vincent-engined cars is as follows:

1948/9 prototype car reportedly for George Abecassis but raced by John Cooper at Goodwood September 1949 then this, or another car delivered to George in 1949 and first used at Goodwood.

1949 cars for  George Hartwell, Pat Fergusson and Eric Winterbottom

1950 car for John Green maybe using engine ex Pat Fergusson

1950 car supplied without engine for John Snow who fitted an engine in Sydney from a complete Lightning that he had bought.

It would be interesting to find out if anything is known about the Monkhouse engines #1485 and 1486. Maybe someone in the VOC can inquire of the Registrar.

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JOE POTTS MYSTERIES

Just as I was doing the final proofing on PWG I had some useful information from Vernon Williamson who owns the first of Joe Potts ‘JP’ cars. I had captioned a picture of one of the first two JPs at Dundrod in August 1950 as being driven by Mirrlees Chassels because that’s what it says in the programme and the race reports. But according to Vernon, Dr Chassels eyesight wasn’t too good that day (seems there was some sort of problem with the track doctor – a hangover perhaps?) and Ron Flockhart took over the drive;  Be that as it may, the caption was changed as more information emerged from Vernon about the JPs.

Joe Potts had hillclimbed a Cooper at Bo’ness and Rest and Be Thankful in 1949 and reportedly raced at The Curragh in Ireland. It is known from factory records that early in 1950 Vincents supplied him a Black Lightning twin engine (998cc)and a Grey Flash single engine (499cc). Later he had one of the rare speedway engines but I am not sure what car that was for.

His first race appearance with a Vincent was at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix meeting on 13 May 1950 with the dark, probably green Cooper as pictured below in the paddock. He was eighth in his heat and his finish in the final isn’t recorded .

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Several points can be noted about this car and readers might like to add their own observations.

It has the small brake drums which are believed to be the original aluminium wheels used before the magnesium type became available, maybe as an optional extra, sometime in late 1948. The wire-spoked steering wheel is characteristic of the earlier cars too. On the other hand the twin filler cap header tank which normally accompanied the recirculating oil systems of the Vincent and JAP big twins tends to suggest, maybe, a later car. Of course the later, or a modified tank could simply have been fitted to an earlier car when it had a recirculating oil engine installed. Or maybe it was supplied as a 500 (which is what Potts used in 1949) with the equipment and dimensions to suit a big-twin?

Note how low the two-exhaust pipe holes are. Being higher than the standard JAP and Vincent exhaust pipe holes, these can only be to accommodate a ‘low-slung’ Vincent with the semi-integral gearbox cut off so that the engine would sit lower without the Vincent clutch fouling the chassis rail. Usually an Albion gearbox was used and it is thought that is what Potts did. There is no record of him competing with the twin before this Silverstone photo, but it is probable that he had tried the engine in the car (wouldn’t you?); thus the twin exhaust holes that can be seen. Here is a Cooper Vincent with the engine in the normal ‘high’ position –  it’s John Green with a new car at Goodwood on 27 May 1950.

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Potts’ next outing, and his first with a twin, was at the Manx Cup race at Douglas Isle of Man on Thursday 15 June when a  host of Cooper twins competed and all broke down. Strangely Pott’s was entered with a JAP twin and there is no direct evidence what he ran but it would seem probable he would have used his Vincent twin.

There is a photograph of the other side of his car at Douglas in PWGl which shows he didn’t have the bulge in the engine cover for the front carburettor which Vincents normally required. That suggests he was running a JAP but on the other hand, if the engine was lowered he wouldn’t have had a problem with carburettor clearance. Starting from the back row, Potts only lasted for two laps of the 18 lap race over 69.81 miles.

He competed at Bo’ness hillclimb on 24 June apparently with the 499 Vincent when he was a poor second to Comish Hunter. He was  at Rest and be Thankful a week later again running second, but closer, to Comish Hunter’s Cooper JAP. There is film at http://ssa.nls.uk/film/2120?search_term=speed&search_fields=Film.*&search_join_type=AND&search_fuzzy=yes in the National Library of Scotland that shows him, if only briefly, in a bronze or gold coloured car and that seems to be the last we see of Joe Potts in a Cooper. Potts was the first car to start.

Within a few weeks the first two JPs were in action at Dundrod on 12 August 1950 with Ron Flockhart in a Vincent twin-engined  twin-tubular chassis and a distinctive steering rack position forward of the Cooper-type front suspension. The body could be Cooper or is more likely a replica with a slightly longer nose, maybe to accommodate the forward mounted steering rack. There is a photograph of this car in PWG, as is mentioned above, and when I find it I will add a picture of the other car at Dundrod where neither did very well.

TW