1961 Year In Review

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Although only a facelift of the FB, the EK was the first Holden to be offered with an Automatic transmission.

AC Cobra
AC Cars and Carroll Shelby, it would seem a match made in heaven.

When you have finished laughing, check the prices these cars now fetch.

Volkswagen Type 3
The Volkswagen Type 3 sedan.

Falcon vs. Holden

Although the Falcon was launched in Australia in September 1960, it was not until 1961 that sales figures began to indicate that Holden had a serious challenger on its hands. Its Holden rival was the uninspiring FB/EK series - and many were disappointed that GM-H did not fit electrically-operated windscreen wipers and an internal bonnet lock. And the overall performance was virtually identical to the original Holden 48/215.

The marginal power increases were swallowed up by the extra fat the later models carried. By 1961 you could see that GM-H was growing complacent. The company had been on a winner for too long. With the Falcon you could chose either a manual or automatic transmission. GM-H began to listen to criticism. The 1961 EK Holden incorporated electrically-operated wipers and an internal bonnet - and the EK also introduced an automatic transmission.

Australians, however, weren't about to switch cars in mid-road. The Holden had been the established favourite for too long. Falcons sold well and would have continued to improve but for a couple of major Ford blunders. The local Falcons were almost identical to the ones sold in America. On our roads they ran into difficulties and began to acquire a reputation for being unreliable. Sales quickly suffered. GM-H heaved a corporate sigh of relief.

The EK Holden - with Hydramatic

1961 would see GMH release the facelifted and revised new "EK Holden" model, the major change being a new optional automatic transmission. The introduction of the three-speed Hydramatic provided the first taste of automatic motoring for hundreds of thousands of Australians. Other FB differences were minor: exterior badges and mouldings were changed and a redesigned grille featured wider-spaced parking lights/flashers. The Hydramatic was a fully imported American unit used in several GM vehicles overseas. The Hydramatic still allowed the auto Holden to maintain respectable performance figures although the power of the Holden engine was not increased for the automatic versions. Economy was also closer to the manual than many expected.

EK refinements included revised interior trim, an electric wiper motor (replacing the vacuum unit) and a new fresh-air heating unit. At the time Holden were using 4000 suppliers across Australia and operating ten plants, but Holden knew the Australian public favoured the more American look of the Falcon, and so the new model EK would stay in production for just over a year. It was in 1961 that Texan racer Carroll Shelby would approach AC Cars, with the idea of putting a Ford 4.2-litre V8 engine into their Ace sports car. The result needs little introduction, the legendary AC Cobra remains one of the fastest and most famous muscle cars of all.

Most Europeans had grown accustomed to quirkly cars eminating from Germany, such as the Messerschmitt Bubble Car and BMW Iso Isetta. But the Amphicar was to set a benchmark for the bizzare. Not without merit perhaps, particularly if you enjoy a spot of fishing while you drive, but the compromises needed to make a car suitable for both road and water travel resulted in a car that boasted poor roadholding and even worse sea-fairing ability. On the road the Amphicar could almost reach 100 km/h, but at sea it was capable of a blistering 7.5 knots, although rust and leaks soon plagued those dedicated to taking their car "off road".

The Type 3 Volkswagen

In September of 1961 Volkswagen would release their very popular Type 3, suprisingly sharing very little in common with the Beetle. Sure, the engine was air-cooled and mounted at the rear, but in the Type 3 the engineers had set about designing the engine bay to maximise space in the rest of the car. And apart from the engine configuration, the Type 3 more closely resembled more mainstream automobiles than any previous volkswagen, until the release of the Golf.

In other motoring news, the Australian designed plastic weathershield would be sold for the first time in Great Britain; Plans are announced for a world land speed record attempt by Donald Campbell on Lake Eyre; Ferrari's first rear engine Formula One car would win its debut race (the Syracuse Grand Prix); the newly launched Australian version of the Mini Minor is described by Modem Motor magazine as 'Car of the Year'.

Australian Land Speed Record Set In Launceston

Tasmanian hotel proprietor Austin Miller raced across the loose sands at Baker's Beach, near Launceston late In November 1961 to set a new Australian land speed record of 163.94 mph - several mph faster than Ted Gray's previous record of 157.5 mph in a car aptly named the "Tornado". Miller's bright-yellow Cooper-Corvette flashed through the measured kilometre at 172 mph on his first run and covered the return run in stiff headwinds at 156 mph, to the jubilation of officials of the Light Car Club of Tasmania, which organised the attempt. The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, which gave full approval for the attempt, confirmed the speed as the new official record. Miller made his runs on a four-mile stretch of sand along Tasmania's East Coast complying with the regulations which stated that the rise and fall of the surface could not vary by more than one percent.

Miller had been preparing the Cooper for many months prior to the attempt, and fitted the car with a 400 bhp Corvette engine on loan from speedboat personality Keith Hooper, of Melbourne, earlier in the year. The bodywork was altered slightly and the cockpit covered with a Perspex bubble to assist streamlining. The Corvette was stripped and reassembled with American speed equipment - Iskenderian camshafts, Offenhauser manifolds, six double-choke carburettors, an aluminium flywheel and special heavy-duty clutch assembly. After the record runs, Miller said he did not exceed 6000 rpm because of the soft sand. He said he had 1000 revs in hand and that the car was geared for 200 mph, a figure which he said he hoped to reach in a future attempt.

During his first run, Miller set a Tasmanian flying quarter mile record of 154.1 mph. He and his mechanics, Geoff Smedley, Bruce Burr and Bob Ford, were delighted with the success and the potential of the Cooper-Corvette. Miller's first real trial with the car was at Symmons Plains, the racing circuit built on the Youl brothers' property 10 miles south of Launceston, during October 1960, when he reached 140 mph in third gear. However, there were several delays before everything was in complete readiness. Miller, then proprietor of Launceston's Hotel Monaco, was a former BAAF pilot and drove speedway midget cars in Sydney and Melbourne before taking up motor racing.

VW's New Record at 1961 Lithgow Climb

In a setting more typically European or English than Australian, Lithgow District Car Club ran its 1961 Hillclimb Championships on a tricky half-mile stretch which was once part of the Great Western Highway near Lithgow. While sheep, horses and cows grazed on nearby lush pastures, competitors began their runs under the shade of a row of magnificent fir trees. The course began on a slightly downhill run leading to an easy right hander and there was a short straight before the next curve, a long left-hander sweeper which tapered off in a steep straight culminating in a wide, sharp right-hander. Around this, there was another straight, a second left-hander and a short run to the finish.

For this meeting, the Lithgow Club invited Bathurst Falcon and Southern Sporting Clubs and were swamped with entries - 58 in all. At the time the track was becoming one of the most popular courses outside Sydney and spectators had a good view from several excellent vantage points overlooking the road. There were about 1000 people at the 1961 championship, and reports post the event claimed it was smoothly organised and a credit to the club. The fastest time of the day went to Bathurst driver Dale Riddiford, who broke his own record with a run of 36.85 in his stripped Volkswagen. Next best, and second in the racing car class, was Jim Hazelton, of Orange, in the ex-van Schaik VW special, fitted with a neat Cooper-style fibreglass body. His best run was 39.1 seconds.

Sensation of the meeting was the performance of Les Schwebel's modified Sprite. Schwebel spun the super-tuned black Sprite on the hairpin on his first run but on his third attempt put in a sizzling time of 42.0 seconds to equal the best sports car time of the day, made by Lindsay Walker (Sydney) in a Triumph TR3A. The sports car record of 40.2 by Derek Netting in an MGA was not broken. Winner of the under 2-litre sports car class was Graham Slade who turned in 44.7 with his MGA to beat Max Phillips' run of 45 seconds in a Triumph TR3A. Phillips was hampered by the nasty habit developed by the TR of refusing to stay in low gear. Gran Turismo winner was another Bathurst driver, Warren Blomfield, who took his Pronta-Holden around the course in a creditable 39.2 seconds to set a new GT record.

Second best was Brett Sowerby with a run of 42.6 in a white Buckle while the quickest touring car was the FJ Holden of Allan Ward (Sydney), whose winning time was 45.5 seconds - almost a second slower than the record held by the Holden of Andy Selmes. The under 1000 cc touring class was a triumph for the Triumph Heralds, which filled the first three places, ahead of a 105E Anglia and a brace of Fiat 600's. Fastest was Col Merrick (Lithgow) with a time of 49.3. Bob Rollinghoff took out the trophy for under 2000 cc touring cars with a best time of 46.5 seconds from his Simca, while Grahame Ward in a Millicento Fiat was second with 47.4.

Indianapolis No Longer A Part Of F1 World Championship

1961 was the first year that the Indy 500 was not on the F1 Season Calendar. Fred Pearse, well known to Australian Motorsports fans though the 1950s, decided to witness the event anyway, particularly as Australia's own Jack Brabham was a starter - and he filed the following report. Speedway is quite an education. There's so much pageantry on the morning of the big day that you're left wondering whether you came to see a motor race or a display of massed bands and marching girls. Practice is much more businesslike and there's a real air of efficiency about the place. I can't say the same for the race day, or at least the daylight hours that precede the legendary words "Gentlemen, start your engines." However, the place becomes alive very early - not with the noise of motors or mechanics tuning cars, but with band music and the loud buzz of voices from the grandstands and spectator enclosures.

At 7.30 am, mechanics were already pushing the silent cars to their respective aprons in the pit bypass. The weather was sunny and warm and the grandstands half full, with all five entrance gates jam packed with people. Bandsmen were lining up on the main straight. They told me each of the 50 US States was represented by a band or group of marching girls - that wouldn't surprise me. The line-up must have been three-quarters of a mile long, longer in fact than the length of the main pit straight. When they began marching up and down to the traditional number "On the Banks of the Warbash" it was quite a sight. Thao tune, incidentally, was the signal for the 33 competing cars to be wheeled out on to the grid into 11 rows of three. But we still had quite a long time to wait for the real thing. The next half-hour was occupied in seeing a procession of 33 gold-painted Ford Thunderbirds circulating the track. They carried literally dozens of film and television stars and personalities. If nothing else, it was a good advertisement for Ford!

Then the photographers had their go, popping off pictures of the drivers in their cars. There were swarms of them and flashbulbs were going off like machineguns. Meanwhile, officials went off on a track inspection, seeing that the roadway was in order and everyone safely behind the barricades. The hour of 10 o'clock was drawing near, but there was still time to play the US Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner and the US Army theme, The Taps. Indiana's' Purdue University Band then struck up with "Back Home in Indiana", while thousands of multi-colored balloons were being released. At exactly 9.53 am, with seven minutes to go, Tony Hulman, the owner of the speedway, broadcast the traditional command "Gentlemen, start your engines." That little message changed everything - the pageantry was forgotten and we started to get down to the business in hand.

There was a whine of inertia starters and a roar of engines for the first time that day. The organisers strictly forbid any car to be started on the morning of the race until Hulman gives the word. That's all very well in its own way, but it wouldn't do out here or in Europe. I don't need to remind people in Australia how many cylinder heads have come off and been put back on in the pre-race periods! When everyone signified that they were ready, one of the Thunderbirds appeared on the scene and led the cars away on a parade lap. When this finished the pace car shot off the road and the race was on. Surprisingly enough, the spectators showed little reaction to this fact. In a little over a minute the field re-appeared. The cars were really operating now and passed us at about 175 mph. I suppose they were spread over about i of a mile. Quite frankly, I wasn't very interested in what was going on up front, I was that intent on watching for Jack.

The Cooper was really bottled up and he had dropped a couple of positions from his original place on the grid. He must have felt quite strange in the company of such a different bunch of cars and on such a different kind of circuit. However, I saw enough to realise that Jim Hurtubise was the leader. All the boys in the pits were settling down to tuning the cars and everyone was thinking of the 199 laps to come. Things were most uneventful until the 35th lap when Hurtubise came in for a scheduled pit stop. Meanwhile Jack had managed to get out of the tight spot and was running about tenth. By 60 laps, the field had been in for tyres and fuel. Oh, I forgot the excitement in the 52nd lap, when Don Davis spun in sight of us. When the car stopped he hopped out and ran for his life. With other cars bearing down on him at 175 mph, I didn't envy him.

He made it - but not without leaving chaos behind as four other cars pranged into each other. An Indianapolis prang is an awful thing. You can see the inevitable about to happen and it seems to take hours to finish. All the while you're hoping that nobody gets hurt. At these speeds, that seems impossible but this time everyone escaped. There was little excitement after that. Jim Rathman, the 1960 winner, had taken over the lead from Hurtubise, but retired soon afterwards. Rodger Ward, the 1959 winner, wasn't far behind. All the while more and more cars were dropping out, their engines killed by the excessive speed at which the race was being run. It was a great thrill to see the little Cooper touring around consistently with not a miss in the beat of the engine. At 100 laps, the half-way mark, Jim Foyt, the eventual leader, was out in front and engaged in a struggle with Eddie Saciis and Rodger Ward. We could see now that the result was more or less dependent upon the speed of the pit stops to come.

Sachs went to the front and held the lead for 20 laps, when Foyt again took command. Then he screamed in for the pit stop which nearly lost him the race. His fuel filler cap jammed and the pit crew changed tyres and sent him out again with orders to come in a couple of laps later. Sachs had the lead and I think at that stage could have comfortably won the big purse. But he was one to play to the gallery and thinking he had enough lead on Foyt to indulge in this whim, started taking a set of unusual lines around the course. These imposed extra wear on his offside front tyre and he had to come in for an unscheduled stop. Meantime, Foyt's car had been successfully fuelled and he took the chequered flag on the 200th lap to win a cool 111,000 dollars. Jack's car was still running beautifully and he took ninth place. He should have finished seventh, or even sixth. The Americans in his pit-crew bumbled things on two of his three stops. The way that they carried on in one stop I watched nearly made me cry. At one stage the wheelmen had finished changing wheels and tyres before the fuelman had filled the tank.

Then another time they stripped the threads of one light alloy nub cap by the almost inexcusable folly of crossing threads! It seemed to me that they had not taken the time to master the thread patterns of the Dunlop centrelock discs. One stop I timed on my watch took over a minute, compared with the normal 20-second Indy stop for tyres and gas. As the average lap times are just over a minute, you can see how much this sort of thing cost him in the matter of precious seconds. Anyway, the strategy was all wrong. Had it gone as it should have, Brabham would have placed better. It was bitter experience but it might put them in better stead for next year. But these kind of things shouldn't happen. I had been watching the race for quite a while in the company of Bib Stillwell, who was en route to Le Mans to co-drive an Aston-Martin DB4GTZ with Lex Davison. After all the fuss at the end of the 500 was over, we strolled over to the garages in "Gasoline Alley", and sought out Jack's group. About the first person we ran into was Betty Brabham, who was more than pleased to see a couple of Aussies!

Betty had been watching from the grandstands opposite. She told us she didn't think much of the race and said her heart was in her mouth when the big prang happened. After a couple of hours Jack eventually got away from everybody and slipped back to his motel for a swim, bath, rest and feed. He took everything, particularly the pit bungling, rather well and said he had enjoyed the dice. Although longer, it certainly had not been as gruelling as the Monaco GP. Jim Kimberley, head of the Kleenex Tissue organisation, who sponsored Jack, was quite happy with the result. Well, that's about all I can tell you of the race itself. I wouldn't have missed it for worlds. In its own right it's a most stirring spectacle, even if it's not exactly our conception of a real motor race.

Other World Events of 1961

The concept of cotton growing was introduced to Australia by two Americans who set up farms in the Namoi Valley near Wee Waa in New South Wales. Their commercial crops were immediately successful, and arose interest in both Australian and American farmers. In 1961 Commander Alan Shepard would make the first US manned flight into space (three weeks after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space); South Africa would withdraw from British Commonwealth and declare itself a Republic, while Queen Elizabeth would meet with Pope John XXIII.

Formula One Championship:

Phil Hill (United States) / Ferrari

1961 Bathurst Winner:

Bob Jane and Harry Firth / Mercedes 220SE

NRL Grand Final:

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Melbourne Cup:

Lord Fury (R. Selkrig)

Wimbledon Women:

Angela Mortimer d. C. Truman (4-6 6-4 7-5)

Wimbledon Men:

Rod Laver d. C. McKinley (6-3 6-1 6-4)

The Movies:

  • West Side Story
  • The Hustler
  • Judgment at Nuremberg
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Spartacus
  • Ben Hur
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • The Millionaires

Gold Logie:

Bob Dyer (Pick A Box, ATN7)

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - West Side Story
  • Best Actor - Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)
  • Best Actress - Sophia Loren (Two Women)

The Charts:

  1. Moon River - Henry Mancini & Jerry Butler
  2. Exodus - Ferrante & Teicher
  3. A Scottish Soldier - Andy Stewart
  4. Wooden Heart - Elvis Presley
  5. Let There Be Drums - Sandy Nelson
  6. Asia Minor - Kokomo
  7. Crying/Candy Man - Roy Orbison
  8. I'm Counting On You - Johnny O'Keefe
  9. Travelin' Man - Rick Nelson
  10. When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart - Cliff Richard


  • Sir Thomas Beecham (English conductor)
  • Ty Cobb (Baseball Player)
  • Carl Jung (Psychologist)
  • Chico Marx (First of the fabulous Marx Brothers to exit, stage left)
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