1954 saw the release of the wondeful and nimble handling Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint
. While the chassis was involving and quickly gained respect from motoring journalists of the day, it was the wonderul twin-cam engine that really made the Sprint a stand-out. The first ever mass-produced twin cam engine was to not only revive the reputation of Alfa, but make the Sprint one of the stand-out cars of the decade.
The International Stuntmen's Association's Tournament of Thrills
In the USA the world's most dangerous drivers were, by 1954, risking their lives in an orderly fashion. Well, more or less orderly. After years of haphazard performances and uncertain pay-checks, the International Stuntmen's Association set up an amazing Tournament of Thrills which finally gave the world's top auto-daredevils a chance to win big prizes in above-board competition. Auto maniacs from all over the world were making plans to get into the fender-rumpling race for profits and thrills.
But it wasn't always that way. There was no such thing as an auto stunt show until 1934 when a daring young man in a flying old Ford stepped on the gas, picked up speed and deliberately rolled his car over. His name was Lucky Teter and during the years after he took his first bow until he killed himself trying out a new stunt, the crash-for-cash profession really got rolling. There were plenty of growing pains, however. The main beef among stuntmen, before 1954, was that there was no added compensation for unusual risks and therefore no initiative for a daredevil to take any more chances than they had to. The only recognition a star got for their extra pains was a bigger round of applause.
This sad lack of organized competition was fully taken care of, however, when prominent stunt drivers formed the official Stuntmen's Association and set up the yearly International Stunt Contest. This stunt bonanza was run off more or less in the manner of a rodeo. Any member of a sanctioned team could compete for the world's-championship gold trophy donated by the Ford Motor Company or for part of the US$10,000 purse which was accumulated during the season. Scoring depended on a carefully graded point system according to the danger of each stunt. With the added spirit of competition, a spectacular profession had finally become a full-fledged sport as well.
During 1954 there were three Argentinian drivers setting the motor racing world alight. Froilan Gonzales, Juan Fangio
, and Onofre Marimon. All three were cleaning up the major prizes in Europe. Gonzales drove for Ferrari
, and took out the 1954 Le Mans 24-hour race
also drove for Italy, until he joined the German Mercedes-Benz team
in July 1954, to win the Rheims Grand Prix.
Marimon, youngest of the three, was with the Italian Maserati stable. On June 6 1954 he scored his first big victory in the Rome Grand Prix, held on what used to be the Italian Royal Family's hunting reserve, south of Rome. Driving a 2.5-litre un-supercharged 6-cylinder Maserati
, Marimon, a pupil of Fangio
, took the lead in the third lap and kept it. Distance set for the race was 242 miles (60 laps of the 4.033-mile circuit). Marimon covered this in 2 hours 18 minutes 48 seconds, averaging just under 107 m.p.h. He also set a lap record of 109.21 m.p.h. for the new course.
His nearest rivalóHarry Schell, driving another Maseratiówas two full laps behind when the race ended. The finish would have been much closer if British ace Stirling Moss
, also in a Maserati
, hadn't been outed by a broken differential after tagging Marimon most of the way. After the breakdown Moss was told that 11 of the 17 starters had dropped out so he pushed his car the rest of the way to complete his 53rd lap, and took the sixth prize by substituting manpower for horsepower. The crowd cheered him in.
Graham Hill Makes His Debut
One day in 1954 all the leading motoring writers in Great Britain plus all the leading racing car manufacturers and team managers received a copy of an identical letter. It read: "Dear Sir, At Brands Hatch next Monday a new star will make his debut at the wheel of a Cooper 500. I would be pleased if you could witness his performance personally and take note of his development, I remain. Yours sincerely, G. Hill, P.S: The name of the driver is G. Hill.
" The significant thing about this was not the letter itself, motoring journalists received literally hundreds of such letters from young aspirants back then. But only few of the authors of such letters did ever become stars and indeed Graham Hill
became a star.
He admitted later in his career that he blushed every time he thought about the letter, and those who received it probably never remember it because such letters were automatically condemned to the waste paper baskets. Perhaps it is a pity that they didn't witness Graham's first drive, as he put on a splendid show and finished in fourth place. If they had realised what promise he had, his hard climb to the top might well have been easier.
Graham had never been interested in motor racing until 1953
, in fact he had never driven a motor car of any description until 1952
when he was 23 years old. His chief interest had been rowing. In 1953
he stroked the first eight of the London Rowing Club, Britain's premier club, in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. But his first car - a Morris 8 convertible of all things - convinced Graham that motor racing was the life for him. So he left his job at Smith's, the famous instrument makers, where he had worked ever since he left school except for a two year stint in the navy as an engine room artificer.
Jobs in motor racing weren't easy to get, but this did not deter young Graham - he worked for nothing. He went on the dole and got £1/12/6 per week so that he could go down to Brands Hatch circuit and work on the cars which belonged to a racing drivers' training school' that was based there. Thus, his first drive, and three more that season, were in one of the school's cars. Towards the end of 1954 he was looking after a Lotus Mk VIII and the next year he had charge of a C-type Jaguar.
He co-drove the Jaguar
with its owner in one of the series of Continental races they attended and on their return to England Graham was permitted to race the car. Graham had met the Lotus designer and manufacturer towards the end of 1954 and had worked at the Lotus shop on odd occasions. In the middle of 1955
he went to work for Lotus
full time and, on the strength of this, he married. His wife Betty was an old acquaintance from his rowing days. She was a skilled oars-woman and had represented Great Britain in the European Games! In October, 1955
, Team Lotus took the new Mark IX Model down to Brands Hatch where a number of leading drivers tested it. Graham was also given a try and a number of people were quite surprised that a virtuali'y unknown G. Hill was a good deal quicker than some of the stars.
Then in 1956
, Graham raced a Lotus XI which he built and maintained himself. He was quite successful with this 1172 cc Ford-engined car and it became known as the "Yellow Peril." At Brands in April he won the 1100cc Sports Car race, driving Cliff Allison's car. In the process he broke Colin Chapman's lap record - surely a poor way to treat his boss! In 1957
, John Willment persuaded Graham to leave Lotus and help him develop a Formula II car. The car never came to anything, but Willment got John Cooper to give Graham a drive in one of his works Formula II cars. Graham acquitted himself well as third member of the team, Jack Brabham
and Roy Salvadori being the two top drivers. Colin Chapman realised he had let a good man go.
He invited Graham back not as a mechanic but as a works driver. He drove Works Formula I and II cars and Sports Cars for the rest of 1957, in 1958 and 1959. But always the cars suffered mechanical failures, though very often they were technically superior to their rivals. Graham gradually developed into a first class driver and when the cars kept going he really acquitted himself well'. Graham said: "You can't write about my successes because I haven't had any." Unfortunately at the time this was true, but nobody would have hesitated to name Graham Hill as one of the world top six racing drivers.
His exploits at the wheel of the BRM during the 1960 F1 season
were remarkable. At Monaco he was disputing second place with Bruce McLaren when he spun off, demolishing the steps of the timekeeper's hut as well as modifying the BRM beyond drivability. At Zandvoort
he drove a very sensible race to fill third place, despite acute pressure from Stirling Moss
. At Spa
he was second to Brabham
throughout the race until his unfortunate retirement with only one lap remaining. At Rheims his first practice time put him on the front row of the starting grid, where he was shunted when he could not get the BRM to engage low gear at the start.
Jack Brabham's Hat-Trick at Druitt
Jack Brabham's Cooper-Bristol dominated the field at Mt. Druitt on June 27, 1954. Brabham won three of the 11 races, including the main event and the Champions' Scratch Race, and also clocked the day's fastest lap, covering the 2J miles in 1 minute 42 seconds. The record crowd of 30,000 saw some close finishes and got a couple of unscheduled thrills when Stan Coffey's Cooper-Bristol and Dick Cobden's Ferrari spun off the track in two of the races. Neither cars nor drivers suffered much from these mishaps. Cobden was tipped as Brabham's hottest rival, but his car was hampered by a faulty gearbox. With only first and top gears operating, Cobden did all right on the straights but was seldom out of trouble on corners.
In the main event his Ferrari spun wildly on Castle Curve, rocketed backwards across the field and finished up astride a fallen tree. Cobden got it back on the track, but decided to play safe and pulled out in the sixth iap. Surprise of the day came from Bill Ford's ancient, canvas-bodied Hudson Special. Ford never got the flag, but he drove his old-timer at spectacular speeds to snatch three second placings and one third. The under 1500 c.c. handicap went to J. Madsen's Cooper 1100 and the over 1500 c.c. race to Brabham, but the final event for the combined classes was won by F. Tobin's Riley, with Bill Ford second, and C. Nicholls' Salmson third. Most successful sports car was J. Martin's MG-TC
. Martin won the sports car handicap, the all-powers handicap, and came third in the sports and sedan car handicap. Two Simca Fiats dominated the sedan car section, B. Walker winning the class race and F. Dent the sports and sedan car handicap.
“Gelignite” Jack Murray
Car two hundred and fifty-six, driven by Jack Murray," said the loudspeakers. "No points lost..." A roar from twenty thousand cheering throats drowned the rest of the announcement. The crowd at the Sydney Showground didn't need to be told that Murray was the leader and probable winner of the 1954 Redex Around Australia Trial
- the longest, toughest car trial ever held. They went on cheering as Murray nosed his dust-covered 1948 Ford V8 across the finish line and into the glare of the Cinesound News-reel unit's Klieg lights; they cheered still louder when he and his co-driver Bill Murray clambered on the roof of their car and Jack donned his famous gorilla mask before bowing right and left.
It was a popular win. Open-handed, devil-may-care Jack Murray had rollicked his way around Australia in a deceptively effortless manner that made the punishing 18-day grind look like a picnic. It wasn't that by any means easy - not even for Murray. He got his share of the dust, the bog-patches and the bone-shaking outback roads; his shock absorbers packed up halfway along the course and he finished up disconnecting them; and, like all other drivers, he got little sleep after leaving Perth. But he didn't let any of it interfere with his sense of fun - the same sense of fun that made him paint on the side of his car: "Crew: Bill Murray, Jack Murray (no relation)." No matter how tough the going, Jack always found time for a joke. Jokes like these:
-Stopping at the dusty roadside in the insect-ridden North-West, lifting the bonnet and standing dejectedly by his car. When other contestants stopped to ask if he was in trouble, Jack would say: "Yes, I'm afraid I've lost the flies off my flywheel. Got any spare flies on you?"
-Tossing out sticks of gelignite, to liven up his entry into towns along the way. Some opponents didn't think this was respectable and the police considered it dangerous, so Jack was finally told to cut it out - but not before he had earned the nickname "Gelignite Jack."
-Leaping out of the car in the snow country on the final Melbourne-Sydney run to build a snowman, then pelting other contestants with Snowballs as they drove by.
-Wearing a hideous gorilla mask while driving through towns along the route. (He claims he was approached by a talent scout from Mirth's Circus in Melbourne.)
This unconquerable sense of humour had its part in helping Murray win. So did Jack's physical strength and stamina, as the steering of the car became very heavy and called for real manhandling shortly after the shocks had been disconnected. But, having twice been amateur welterweight wrestling champion of New South Wales, Jack was well qualified for wrestling with the wheel. Lone experience in competition driving also helped both Jack and Bill Murray; They had driven racing cars for years and were hot rivals on the tracks until they teamed up for road trials. Jack himself gave most of the credit to Bill's navigation. He said conditions of the trial demanded exceptional navigating ability, and "you couldn't find a better navigator than Bill."
Another big factor, of course, was Jack's 1948 Ford V8, which he considered ideally suited for outback roads. In addition to the 1954 Redex Trial
it had already won two minor trials for him in the previous 12 months, and he believed it would win many more. "A few bob will cover all the damage it had in the trial.'' claimed Jack. But perhaps the biggest factor in Jack's victory was the charmed life he had as far as secret controls were concerned. Three other cars lost no points through mechanical trouble, poor navigation or failure to negotiate a section within the allotted time - they were penalised only for being early at secret controls, because they had gambled on building up extra time to negotiate the tougher sections. Jack had his gambles too, but he was more shrewd in estimating where secret controls might be placed.
Murray's win netted him more than £5000 pounds in prizes, including £2000 first prize from the promoters, Redex Oils, an additional £500 for using Redex in his car, a £1,300 prefabricated home from Leichhardt Constructions Pty. Ltd., and cash prizes from a number of manufacturers or agents whose products he used. Altogether more than £10,000 was distributed in prizes - roughly £1 for each mile of the 9,600-mile route.
Other Redex Placegetters
The cars that got the first three places were all driven by very experienced trial drivers, who had also been prominent in car racing. This demonstrated that driving skill played a great part in a trial like this. Enthusiastic newcomers had a chance at top honours, of course, but it was a slim one. Victorian G. W. Patterson, who took second place with a Peugeot (car 29) for a loss of 8 points, and Queensland or "Duck" Anderson, third in a Holden (car 176, 14 points lost), had years of racing and trial experience behind them. Both lost their points through exceeding the time allowed for the gruelling Cloncurry-Mt. Isa run.
E. Nelson, of N.S.W., who was placed fourth in a Vanguard Spacemaster (car 30, 19 points), also had plenty of trial experience. A secret control 28 miles out of Cloncurry accounted for his entire points loss. The same control cost veteran Sydney racing driver Tom Sulman the 22 points that relegated his Humber Snipe (car 31) to equal-fifth place with Victorian Stan Jones' Holden (car 260). Jones, famous for the racing successes of his May bach Special, lost 1 point at that control, thr» other 21 on arrival at Mt. Isa.
The other car that lost points only at the secret control outside Cloncurry was the Daily Telegraph's Ford Customline (car 33) driven by Sydney journalist Tom Farrell, who covered the trial for Modern Motor. Penalised 25 points, Farrell finished equal seventh with two others. If it hadn't been for this, Nelson, Sulman and Farrell would have clean-sheeted together with Murray, and the Australian Sporting Car Club would have had to introduce a horror stretch between Melbourne and Sydney to select a winner, as they did for the 1953 Redex Around Australia Trial
The Australian Automobile Association
There was some hope in 1954 that the Federal Government would adopt a more progressive policy towards the vitally important subject of road planning, which had been studiously neglected both prior to and after World War 2. This was thanks to the Australian Automobile Association, a co-ordinating body that represented various State motorists' organisations on the national level. A four-man deputation from the association submitted plans for a conference on road development to Prime Minister R. G. Menzies on July 9, 1954.
The deputation comprised A.A.A. Deputy-President R. Thompson, M.L.C. (N.S.W.), Immediate Past President S. Wilmott (Qld.), National Roads Sub-Committee Chairman L. King (Qld.), and A.A.A. Secretary L. Strudwick (N.S.W.). They pointed out that Australia's road system lags far behind the requirements of road-using vehicles, which have more than doubled in number since 1939, and asked the Prime Minister to arrange a national stocktaking of all resources available to meet these requirements. In conjunction with the stocktaking, they suggested a national conference of all interested parties to discuss the administrative, technical and educational aspects of the problem.
They also asked that a Road Research Laboratory be set up within the C.S.I.R.O., and that universities be encouraged to train students in road research and traffic engineering as carried out in Britain and the U.S.A. The delegates summarised their proposals in a three-point "plan of battle": 1óA reconnaissance in the form of a conference; 2ó An appreciation of the various factors, to determine what must be done; 3óA master plan, setting out how it can be done. Prime Minister Menzies expressed keen interest in the proposals, but stressed that success of the conference would hinge on a clear definition of the matters it was to deal with. He invited the A.A.A. to submit a detailed agenda for the conference, covering all related matters, including current practices and developments overseas, and undertook to bring the proposals before Federal Cabinet.
New Rules for Victoria in 1954
Three new traffic regulations came into effect in 1954. They were:
- Adoption of the "centre of the road" right-hand turn, except at tram intersections, where the old rule of pulling over to the extreme left and waiting for the light change will still apply.
- Compulsory stop at all railway crossings where there are no gates and stop signs have been erected.
- Thirty m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas.
Both the police and R.A.C.V. supported the new right-hand turn, but the Tramways Board opposed it. The "built-up area" blanket definition applied to roads with street lighting; de-restriction signs were installed where the limit was not considered necessary by the Country Roads Board and the police. The R.A.C.V. was pressing for a speed limit on trams below 30 m.p.h., because there was, at the time, already a rule forbidding the passing of stationary trams - and unless cars could pass moving trams they considered the tram would effectively become a moving traffic block, “perhaps for miles”.
New Zealand Reliability Trial
While 1954 saw the famous Redex Trial
here in Australia, the other side of “the ditch” a father and son team won the 500-mile New Zealand reliability trial organised by the Hamilton Car Club and held the first weekend in July. The team - L. and B. McLaren - drove a Ford Pilot V8 and lost 199 points, which shows just how tough this trial was, even if it was considerably shorter than the Around Australia version. In second place was R. E. Buckthought and P. J. Strong (Volkswagen), with 226 points lost; third, I. R. Jones and N. Kirton (Ford), who lost 279 points. The three-car team award went to the Morris entry, and the Vintage Class division was won by Alan Johnson and Dawson Donaldson in a 1924 Standard, this combination also amassing the amazing total of 23,113 penalty points.
Ninety-nine cars entered for the event, which carried a first prize of NZ£100. Ninety-two started, of which 80 finished the course. Only one car - the Volkswagen - was sponsored by a firm; all others were privately owned. There were 40 controls, where drivers received route cards, and 20 secret checks. Starting from Hamilton at two-minute intervals, the cars began to leave at noon. Tool kits were sealed; only puncture outfits could be used without loss of points. Fog, frost, rain, mud and difficult back-country roads were encountered. Halts included a meal stop at Te Awamutu, a midnight break at Te Kuiti and a breakfast stop at Wharepapa South. One of the highlights of the trial was a section 18 inches deep in mud, with a sheer drop to the sea on the right-hand side. Several cars failed here; one, a 1938 Morris, broke its chassis.
Austin Motors Electronic Speed Assembly
assembly plant in England had “the most up-to-date electronics assembly of its type in the world” in 1954. This increasing use of automation featured a system whereby the planning department, having decided on the production schedule for a particular period, translated details of the various models on to “Hollerith Cards” in the form of punched holes. These cards were fed into a machine, electrical contacts were made through the punched holes, and, by means of electronic devices, the sub-assemblies were sorted out and shunted about on the overhead conveyer systems so that they arrived at exactly the right time and place on the assembly lines for the different models. Most think todays practice of “just in time” manufacture can be attributed to the Japanese, but they are wrong. It was the Brits, and specifically Austin
, that perfected the system.
Road Noises Recorded
Another famous British marque, Morris Motors Ltd
., undertook research into road noise from tyre treads and suspensions during 1954. These “on-the-spot” recordings were of course conducted in England using E.M.I magnetic tape-recording gear carried on a Nuffield research tender. Any and all sounds from various parts of the car were measured. The tender housed the car under test and made it possible for the microphone to be sited near the wheels or inside the vehicle. A loudspeaker amplified the noises to ensure that nothing escaped notice. The post war British Car Industry was proving, in so many ways, to be a genuine leader.
New Nash Hard-top
It was in 1954 that Nash-Healey
launched their LeMans
model – a hard-top sports car has coachwork by crack Italian designer Pinin Farina
. The car was powered by a six-cylinder O.H.V. engine developing 140 horsepower at 400 r.p.m. Equipped with an aluminium cylinder-head, it had a compression ratio of 8 to 1. Two side-draft carburettors
worked in conjunction with an oversized sealed-in intake manifold
. The seven-bearing crankshaft
was fully counter-balanced
. The three-speed synchromesh transmission
was operated with a floor-type shifting lever
in keeping with sports ear tradition. Overdrive
was standard equipment, and could be operated and controlled by the accelerator pedal
or by a control button on the steering
The independent front suspension
was by trailing links
and coil springs
; rear suspension utilises direct-acting shock absorbers and coil springs in conjunction with a "torque tube" drive system. Major mechanical parts for the Nash-Healey were manufactured by Nash Motors in the U.S.A. The special sports car chassis and front suspension were made by the Donald Healey’s
Company at Warwick, England. Farina's plant at Turin, Italy, hand-built the custom bodies. The U.S. price was $5128.
Repair Industry Examined
There was raft of complaints from motorists against the repair industry, so much so that the entire repair industry received an airing at the 1954 annual conference of the Institute of Automotive and Aeronautical Engineers in Melbourne. The occasion was a discussion on "How to Develop Public Confidence in the Automotive Repair Industry." Then R.A.C.V. General Manager, N. McPhee, produced an impressive array of specific complaints against repairers, large and small – in the preceding months and years irate owners had bombard the R.A.C.V. Technical Department.
The complaints were concerned primarily with the standard of workmanship, including such elementary things as leaving cylinder-head and wheel nuts loose, and the refusal of many firms to make good the deficiencies in their service. Estimates were often refused altogether, or proved so misleading as to be useless or worse; accounts were frequently rendered in a form that made checking impossible. Many repairers would go far beyond the work authorised by the customer, and whereas there were many cases in which this was essential, the customer at least should have been informed beforehand.
In the same category was the neglect of repairers to advise their customers honestly. Often the owner of an old car would be advised that extensive repairs needed to be carried out which were totally uneconomic, approaching or even exceeding the market value of the vehicle. The cost of crash repairs, even when made under supervision of insurance assessors, had become extremely heavy. Estimates given, especially to uninsured owners, were often fantastically inaccurate, both as to cost and time of completion.
Mr. McPhee quoted a case in which the owner of an uninsured car had been quoted £150 and two months, and then had tried elsewhere and had been quoted £120 and one month. He accepted the second quote, but it turned out to be £500 and six months by the time he got his car on the road again. A good deal of the trouble, he considered, was the responsibility of the manufacturers, who had complicated and "dolled-up'' their cars to such an extent as greatly to increase most servicing costs, particularly crash rectification.
Members who replied to Mr. McPhee said that the problems he had mentioned were largely the result of lack of competent organisation in many repair shops, combined with a severe shortage of adequately trained mechanics. Chamber of Automotive Industries President, R. M. Jacka, said he believed that the whole question of satisfactory charges and estimates could best be tackled by the adoption of a standard-time system, as developed successfully overseas.
In this, the manufacturer of the car worked out an average time which should be sufficient for the completion of any specific normal maintenance operation on their car. In the absence of such a system a great deal of time was wasted by mechanics; overseas checks had made it an average of 34 percent. Another time-wasting factor was the absence of modern tools and equipment. Practically all Australian shops in 1954 were deficient in this respect owing to the combined effects of taxation and import restrictions.
Holden's Export to New Zealand
1954 would also see the first Hoidens being exported to New Zealand. By year's end some 321 would be shipped. Unfortunately for the environment, and particularly Bikini Atoll, nuclear testing would commence when the US detonated the first hydrogen bomb.
Formula One Championship:
Juan Manuel Fangio
(Argentina) / Maserati / Mercedes
NRL Grand Final:
VFL/AFL Grand Final:
Rising Fast (J. Purtell)
Maureen Connolly d. L. Brough (6-2 7-5)
Jaroslav Drobny d. K. Rosewall (13-11 4-6 6-2 9-7)
- On the Waterfront
- Rear Window
- The Caine Mutiny
- The High and the Mighty
- Best Picture - On the Waterfront
- Best Actor - Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront)
- Best Actress - Grace Kelly (The Country Girl)
- Lionel Barrymore (Silent Screen actor and Drew's Grandad)
- Henri Matisse (French artist)