Early Australian Drag Racing

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Early Australian Drag Racing

Austin Freeway
The six-cylinder Austin Freeway/Wolseley 2480 was too-little, too-late to save BMC's market share in Australia.

1964 Australian Hot Rod
This rod example from 1964 proves the genre has not changed much over the years. The registration plate indicates this was a road car. Note the close fitting cycle guards and oil cooler.

Early 1960s example of equipment used to tune rods
Early 1960s example of equipment used to tune rods.

John English in a Ford Side-Valve Dragster
John English in one of his earlier creations. Powered by a modified side-valve Ford, this dragster was always in the winners circle. Worth noting is the elaborate water system, just enough to cool the motor through the quarter mile.

Hot-Rod Front End
A typical hot-rod front end from the early 1960s. It retains the transverse leaf spring, but hydraulic shock absorbers have been added.

Daryl Fingers 34 Ford Coupe
Daryl Fingers 34 Ford Coupe with what was 1964's ultimate in ram manifold. Even by todays standards, it looks mighty cool.

Riverside's First "Official" Australian Drag Meet

extract from 1964 Motor Racing Year book...

October, 1962, was the opening date for what could develop into one of the leading Motor Sports on the Australian Motor Racing calendar. With 15 competing cars and some 30 odd bewildered spectators, Riverside's first drag meeting got away to a heartening start. Star of the first drags was Greg Goddard's supercharged flathead (side-valve) Ford Dragster. Although it never actually saw competition Greg put in a couple of frightening practise runs.

Sounding more like a jet than a V8 the poor puffed ford gave an ear splitting performance for the first 100 yards or so and then popped a piston out one of the exhausts. Most hot rodders who witnessed this event will probably vouch that Greg was heading for at least a 10 sec. quarter. Things slowed down for a few meetings after that although the hot rods were strongly contested at nearly every meeting until about October 1963.

Daryl Harvey was king of the rodders with his little maroon 34 Ford Roadster turning consistently in the high 14 sec. bracket. Darryl was always pushed for class eliminator by Bruce (Rip) Kirby who was always out to "get him" to show that the side-valves can still give a big OHV a go for its money. Side-valve V8 versus Side-valve V8 as the Kirby-Scully duel continued meeting after meeting. Terry Scully's 48 Ford Mercury powered "A" model bucket was the ultimate in hot rod starkness.

The Big Dragsters

It was most interesting to see Rip removing windscreen, fitting up a tiny one gallon fuel tank and tuning his '32 "B" model roadster in an effort to catch the far lighter bucket. His ingenuity paid off, as time after time he managed to cross the line but a wheels length of the “Black-Terror”, which, at the last meeting that these two ever contested, was turning around 15.00 seconds flat.

It was these private duels that drew the crowd as people began to look forward to see the Harvey-Kirby duel, the Kirby-Finger duel, the Kirby-Scully duel, the Perfectune-Angelides duel, and the most closely followed of all, the English-Holder big dragster efforts. These were truly fights to the finish, for if one was to follow the ET'S that John English and Peter Holder posted, meeting after meeting in their efforts to shut one an--, other down for the Top Eliminator Title, one would find that events followed approximately along this line.

Peter Holder turned up in November, 1962, with his first creation, an extended Standard 10 chassis with the biggest roll bar you have ever seen. With times in the 17 sec. bracket, the dragsters were about the slowest things on the strip. Pete's first challenge came from John English. John turned up about December, 1963, with just the opposite type of car which was still classed as a dragster.

An immaculate rear engine rail running full independent suspension this car was quite a few hundred pounds heavier than Holders, but the weight difference was equalled out by a red hot '48 Ford Mercury, which John, an expert engine tuner, had worked over with the use of Waggott high comp. heads and twin Stromberg carbies.

Times Down to 11 Seconds

Turning in the high 17, the rear engined rail could not quite match the power to weight ration of lighter but less powerful car. Month after month the duel continued, with the addition of two more carbies and lots of experience John managed to lower his times to around 14.5 seconds., but Pete not to be outdone (ah la; Jane and Beechey) pulled a few more sneaky tricks from the old sleeve and he managed to hold English for some time until the date of the Geelong Sprints, where the beautiful rear engined dragster was wiped off against a tree.

With the potent combination of John's Ford Motor, which was still in one piece and the Goddard Dragster chassis, which Eddie Thomas now owned. Sneaky Pete was no match for the Flying English, who then proceeded to turn times in the low 13's. It wasn't till October, 1963, that Pete re-entered the challenge with a new light weight rail sporting the old side-valve mill in a slightly hotter form. With a best time of 13.6 it was on again until early in 1964 Eddie Thomas, under the guiding hand of Mr. English installed a 400 h.p. supercharged Chrysler in the now, well used chassis.

Times dropped abruptly into the low ll's with speeds up to the 140 m.p.h. mark. This was to mark a new era in Australian Drag Racing. With the now consistent arrival of the Mullin's and Bell Supercharged Chrysler Dragster from S.A. competition was more than willing. Spectators were now blocking their ears and staring in amazement at 'the vigorously smoking tyres from the ultimate in drag racing equipment.

Beechey's Holden Fastest

In the growing sedan classes their was one name that stood out in lights, Perfectune. Dave Bennett owner and driver of the two tone grey FX Holden was to hold the title of the fastest Holden ever to run at Riverside. This was one of the only sedans that had chassis modification strictly for drag racing and it certainly paid dividends as a class record of 15.7 sees, with a 150 h.p. motor will certainly show. The Perfectune record was to stand up until February, 1964, when a young driver, Graeme Ratcliff who had been consistently tooling his 6A Cusomline through the clocks in the high 17's made his move.

People didn't take much notice of the Ford Customlines up to date as this was a rather slow class considering the capacity under which they were running, then it happened, Graeme installed a 4.1-.1 rear end, modified suspension, tyres, motor and bang went the sedan record, 15.45 and 90.0 m.p.h. was nothing to sneeze at considering this car was still his daily street vehicle.

Then in June, 1964, Greg Goddard driving the Norm Beechy Speed Shop Holden (old PK| broke Perfectunes Holden record of 15.7 by only .05 sec., but that was enough. It was at this meeting that Eddie Thomas driving the Eddie Thomas Speed Shop Dragster now sporting 500 h.p., again shattered the strip record with a ear-splitting run of 10.7 sec. and 128 m.p.h. (some say he was still light-footing it) as this car should be now capable of over 150 m.p.h.

Blowing Clutches

July, 1964, was a record breaking meeting in many different ways. Record attendance, now around 4,000 compared to the first meeting of 30. Record entry around 100 compared to the first meeting of 15. This would go down in the books as the most mixed up, bashed up, nerve racking drag meeting ever to be run at Riverside.

With the Eddie Thomas Dragster making like a self contained hand grenade, Barry Ferraris elegant white Sunbeam Talbot ignorantly spewing the inside of its overstressed gearbox all over the starting grid and (Sneaky) Pete Holder guiding his misguided B/D missile between cars, barricades and leaping bodies, the spectators were in all treated to some very interesting fill ins between runs.

The time trials produced nothing startling in the way of record shattering runs, but they did produce a flaw in the clutch-plate of the Eddie Thomas Dragster, when on the cars first attempt to leave the line, the complete clutch assembly disintegrated, sawing the bell-housing completely in half allowing 500 h.p. of expensive supercharged snarling motor to writhe in frustrating agony on the asphalt. Thanks to the scatter shield, which is compulsory under V.H.R.A. regulations, an explosive mass of death dealing shrapnel was contained within the confines of the car.

Back to the competition, '.this meeting proved no different to past ones in the fact that there were Holden's galore, 35 of them in fact, 3 nice new 179 manuals running under B/S, 10 mildly warm ones battling it out in the street sedan section and the remaining 23 hot ones cutting one another's throats for C/MS eliminator. The fastest time for B class sedans was taken by Terry Allen driving a 179 manual Holden. His time was a respectable 17.11.

Customlines Popular

Class was taken by Graeme Ritter driving a Zephyr. Graeme shut down Lorren Dug-gan's 179 Holden in 17.2 sees. C Class sedans is meant to be a street section but times represent those of some pretty hot machines. Worst time for this class was 21.78, fastest was 17.11 at 65 m.p.h., class eliminator was run off between Lawrence Mills and Brian Giacer and although Giacer had the fastest time in the trials, Mills shut him down in 19.62.

The big sedans were represented by the inevitable Ford Customlines who are undoubtedly the biggest crowd pleasers of the day apart from the dragsters. The street section contains the more slower Fordamatics of Englishes and Coutie who were no match for the big black stickshift belonging to Graeme Baker. English is running his Customline whilst he finishes building his new competition roadster. In the C/MS class the result was a forgone conclusion "Fizzball" Collins piloting the Norm Beechey Speed Shop Holden proceeded to annihilate the opposition to win the class. Collins was only over the 16 sec. in two of his seven runs for the1 day and only two tenths of a second covered the other five runs. Quickest time was 15.85 and 90 m.p.h.

Another consistent driver would be Graeme Mudford. In his time trials only hundredths of a second covered his three runs, best time was 19.01 sec. and 71.4 m.p.h. Two cars fresh from the Sydney Show fought out the A/SC trophy. Neil Kelly making his first appearance in his immaculate '35 coupe had no trouble in shutting down Stan Baroutsis in the "Black Arab". Stan Baroutsis' best time was 17.55 secs, in the time trials against Kelly's best of 18.10 secs. However in the hot rod elimination Kelly got down to a very creditable 17.94 secs. Not bad for a stock OHV motor. With competition growing keener, cars becoming more specialized and faster, crowds becoming bigger, and above all, general knowledge of the sport of drag racing becoming much wider known, the drags can't help but be a huge success.

Also see: Australian Motorsport Pioneers | Legends of Track and Rally
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