I will start this article by providing you with a brief personal account of my experience this year.
Fond Memory – Personal account
Fortunately, i had organised for a couple of annual leave days to make the journey to Gold Coast airport on Thursday morning. Here i became chauffeur to two visiting guests once we hired a car. None other than Ron Touranac AO and John Cummins, both of whom i have the utmost of respect for. First, we had to find the car, and in true spirit Cummo had already forgotten what type of car we were looking for – just think about how big the car park of hire cars is at any airport!
Eventually time passed and in semi wet conditions we found the car and commenced our journey. I spent the entire 40 minute trip listening, soaking in the stories and banter coming from the mouths of both these legends of our sport. Ron mainly talking about overseas, in particular the UK and Cummo reminiscing about the golden days of Aussie specials.
All of us learnt a lot, particularly Ron who was reminded what a Humpy Holden is. Technology was a funny point – more dials and gauges on the dashboard of the Camary then the three of us knew what to do with, particularly when the interior windows fogged up as the rain started to pour down.
I soon pulled the chariot into the wonderful Northern Rivers town of Murwillumbah, our home for the weekend where we were greeted by the ever enthusiastic Roger Ealand (event founder and spirited historic racing competitor) and his Event Co-Ordinator Tania at their offices in the town. Further stories were told before re-commencing my brief chauffeur career and transporting Ron and Cummo to the Showgrounds – venue of Speed on Tweed.
Here we caught up with Noela and Tracey – Noela, (who along with Tania are the real organisers with Roger busy talking!) swept us away and took us to lunch in Main St. The amazing thing is how someone with achievements of Ron Touranac can go about his day without being harassed by admirers. Ron, of course design many of the successful Cooper cars, then formed MRD with Jack Brabham, which then took them to two World Championships as constructors. Later he founded RALT, another true success story.
VIP Cocktail Party
Custom on Thursday night is to thank the many supporters and sponsors of this event. The cocktail party is held at the Showgrounds underneath a large marquee. The list of notable guests was a mile long.
Before i go on i should make note that this year’s Speed on Tweed celebrated the history of Australian Grand Prix – 1928-present.
John Goss made a non-fashionably late entrance after their afternoon flight from Sydney was diverted to Ballina airport due to the inclement conditions at the Gold Coast. John Cummins enlightened us on the history of the grand prix in Australia before introducing his first guest Squadron Leader Tony Gaze DFC OAM. Tony and Diana made the journey from Melbourne and were well received. Tony flew Spitfres during WW2, most notably flying out of Goodwood Aerodrome and then raced Grand Prix cars, becoming Australia’s first international Grand Prix driver. Tony reminisced about these early post war days and his discussions with the Earl of Richmond, who at the time was researching a suitable location to replace the pre-war Brooklands circuit. Tony was the one who said to the Earl that he needn’t look further then his own estate – Gooswood. Hence, Goodword Circuit was opened.
Other speakers at the cocktail party included former international driver Tim Schenken and local grand prix winner, John Goss. The evening was then capped off with the 2007 fashion parade, which showcased the new merchandise.
The night was overshadowed by numerous periods of heavy showers, which set the scene for a muddy few days at the showgrounds.
Friday lunchtime parade
Around 60 cars took part in the lunchtime parade through the streets of downtown Murwillumbah. On their return along Main St they were flanked by thousands of onlookers, including yours truly.
Highlight for me was the appearance of the Chamberlain 8, which was heard for minutes before appearing in sight. The Chamberlain 8 was ahead of its time when built by the Chamberlain brothers – Bob and Bill. The powerplant is truly unique, a four cylinder engine running off eight pistons – four below the crank and four above the crank. Suspension at the front was nearly 20 years ahead of its time – wishbone, hand built by the brothers. John Cummins reminisced later to me how honoured he was to serve his apprenticeship at their Melbourne workshop, but only worked out years later that he was part of one of Australia’s great engineering duos.
Friday night street parade
Again, thousands of onlookers flanked the length of Main St as completion cars kept the rain away when arriving, and lining the street with a wonderful display.
My night started with a couple of drinks at the Court House Hotel with Cummo, Ron, Bruce, Joe and later Duncan – who primarily came to escort us over to the restaurant where we were to dine. This process then took a while, a couple more drinks, and plenty more stories including Cummo’s experience driving the Chamberlain tractor across Australia during the Redex trial – not sleeping for 12 days, covering almost twice the distance of competitors, but managing to stay with the pack.
Then, the 50 metre walk across the street – no traffic as the road was closed!, eventually took 5 minutes as we stopped and admired some of the cars including John Lawson’s Amilcar. Dinner was a relaxed affair amongst friends and legends of our sport. Legends included the Gaze’s, Vern Schuppan, Kevin Bartlett, Denis Gehry and John Goss.
Later i had a wonderful conversation with Diana Gaze where we remembered her many successes as a prominent female driver, particularly in hillclimbs including Rob Roy in desirable vehicles such as 1750 Alfa Romeo’s and SSK Mercedes.
As we finished our three-course vegetarian meal (yes, very nice, but a couple of us had thoughts of grabbing a pizza later!) and a few glasses of Shiraz the night came to an end as those who drove their cars in made their way out and back to the track. Fantastic sounds echoed through the forecourt of the New Leaf Cafe where we dined coming from the straight-eight engine Bugatti and Roger and Margaret Ealand and there impressive Alvis Speed 25.
Saturday – competition begins
And as Roger predicted, the skies lifted for competition and provided us with clear blue skies and a brisk morning – the first time since arriving that i didn’t wear a jumper!
First car on the track was an Amilcar CC, driven by Joe Wilson (who regularly competes in a 3-wheeler Morgan). Joe was the first of a superb collection of Grand Prix cars that took to the track. Next, and not seen/driven for more than 40 years was the Wanderer – a famous car of its day and quite a pretty one to look at and ably driven by third generation owner, Chris Terdich.
The organisers put in measures this year in an attempt to make sure competitors went the correct way on their first run. The background is that the startline sits only metres before the first turn – a left hander. Although we put out numerous calls to rectify this competitors still managed to confuse themselves and either go straight through (till there was nowhere to go due to barricades), or turn right. One competitor got very confused and took some time before working out where he was.
My advice would be to create a massive arrow pointing to the left – hopefully this would solve the issue. I actually wouldn’t be surprised that Roger Ealand and his quirky British wit would probably take me up on this offer as it would be very funny!
Particularly funny if a competitor next year doesn’t acknowledge it!
Joining me in commentary this year was the high-pitched larrikin voice of New Zealander come Queenslander Brain Ferrabee and Sydneysider Chris Smith.
A trailer accident whilst unloading his Bugatti T37A GP broke the leg of owner Kent Patrick from competing, but fortunately he had former Sports car driver Phil Moore there, who hoped in and drove a Bug for the first time – and did a mighty fine job.
A big spectator highlight was brought to us by flathead Ford V8 builder/driver Dick Vermullen, who stunned all of us with his car control – right the way around the street circuit. Dick ended up winning a number of awards for the weekend, including the Chippendall Memorial Award (for truly capturing the spirit of Speed on Tweed) and fastest pre-war car – a trophy donated by John Cummins.
Back to competition though, some 200 entrants so i won’t detail everyone, but lucky they didn’t accept the 450 or so entries that were received.
What i really like about these early grand prix cars and Aussie built specials is that you can really see the driver at work, appreciate the hard work they put into their skill – the emotion that fills their eyes through the helmet visor.
As we head through the running order cars start to come by that seem so unconventional in terms of competing at Speed on Tweed, including the 6.5 litre Pontiac GTO of David Quinn – a car in original type condition with its high-rude height. Another “unconventional” is Alec Lowe’s Ctiroen AME – never seen more body roll in my life!
Saturday night – Venetian Carnival Mystique
The stage was set for a wonderful night as the skies with clear and the temperature not too cold. Main St was once again blocked to traffic and the restaurants took their businesses outdoors and set up in the street. The large stage and lighting was put together for the evening entertainment – Opera and dancing. I walked through at 5:15pm to see dozens of local families set their chairs up in front of the stage – a free night of entertainment!
For the privileged we sat amongst friends in the VIP area dining right in front of the stage in perfect view of the evening’s entertainment.
Earlier i had caught up with Aaron Lewis and requested that he save me a seat, which i totally forgot about and sat nearby with Tom Roberts and Jocelyn and Alan Telfer. In what may have seemed rude to one, but nice to the other i left my table and took up position at Aaron’s – a much better view of the stage i must ad (sorry Jocelyn and Alan). I was soon introduced to Aaron’s crew for the weekend, Geoff and Rod and Pauline Harding. Rod manages the Bathurst Motor Museum at Mount Panorama. Adrian Brooks and his partner Liz (who brought up the Bill Pile MG TC Special from Melbourne) joined us, along with Ian Ross from Sydney.
A great night, my contribution to the organisers being with helping to dis-mantle the set up.
An unofficial after party was had at a nearby pub where all the event artwork, including the world-class program is put together by Toni of Barking Toad Advertising who let her hair down and was lead singer in a band performing at the pub.
Sunday – competition continues
A sunny morning geeted us, but with some threatening cloud cover. Competition was again to dawn on te circuit.
Notably, last year’s winner Ty Hanger was out in force posting sub-40 second times, some 2 seconds faster than his nearest competitor. I kept Brian dry throughout several periods of showers – i sat on the western side of our marquee.
Two cars of interest are ones that have been built in the spirit of historic motor sport. The first is a self-built Maserati 250F replica, which has been built from the ground up – chassis, bodywork, and exhaust – all with the insertion of a Nissan Skyline motor. The exhaust has been mutinously crafted allowing for a typical 250F scream.
The second is truly unique, and a true piece of workmanship. Australian and former Indy Car, Champ Car and Formula One designer Malcolm Oastler has returned home and become a farmer. His spare time for a few years has been in the creation of an Auto Union replica. Using his skills and contacts Malcolm has sourced a V12 Jaguar engine (yes, he worked for Jaguar Racing too) as the powerplant, sitting himself in front well forward in the design. The gearbox is a Porsche one, which has been turned upside down and around, thus allowing the rear axle to sit just above the gearbox and taking the weight of the vehicle – the gearbox only supports the exhaust pipes. This amazing car with its period style diamond patterned brand new tyres spun its rear wheels in literally every gear change, even though Malcolm was driving very cautiously.
The lunchtime parade will go down in history. After the initial parade of grand prix cars the track was made into a circuit and kept clear for one car – the Beatrice Lola F1. Ian Ross brought the car up from his collection after wanting to bring a suitable car to the year’s event – a suitable car in terms of the feature (Grand Prix) and not convention!
Ian continued to do about 5 laps, which took every gaze from the strong spectator crowd. We estimate he was doing 180 km per hour along the down slope of the hill, back past the showgrounds entrance – sparks flying all over the place from the titanium under skirts hitting the ground on the numerous bumps.
The afternoon continued to provide exciting on track displays, with numerous fly over’s. The trophy presentation quickly arrived with the presentation of the winner of the raffle – an original sculpture of a Lago Talbot to Victorian Tim Pyne. Fastest time of the weekend indeed went to Ty Hanger.
Report by: Charles Rogers / Historic Racing Australia