Ray Walmsley

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Ray Walmsley

The Hunter Valley Sporting Car Club

Ray Walmsley started driving his father's timber trucks at the age of 14. By the time he was old enough to apply for a driving licence he had completed 10,000 miles of hauling heavy logs. In 1949 he bought a new MG TC, and it wasn't long before he had enrolled as a member of the Hunter Valley Sporting Car Club.

One of the first club bulletins sent to the youngster gave notice of a closed race meeting on the Ringwood airstrip -18 miles north of Newcastle. Ray set his mind on competing. The week before the all-important day was spent scouting around Newcastle's workshops in search of hot-up gear for the M.G. But when Mr. Walmsley Sen. heard of the shopping excursion he sternly forbade his son to race.

The All Powers Handicap

The day dawned and one of the first drivers to present his machine to the scrutineers was Ray Walmsley. By the conclusion of the event, Walmsley had won the All Powers Handicap and two ciass events, as well as the trophy awarded to the mosl consistent driver. As he marched up to receive his trophies he looked into the crowd, and his heart nearly stepped beating. There was his father in the front row - but smiling. From that day on Ray Walmsley's father would become one of his strongest supporters

Through the summer of 1949 Ray gained more experience on the Newcastle airstrip, and when entries opened for the Easter meeting at Bathurst he sent off his form. But his first appearance at an open meeting met with failure. During practice, his motor threw a rod and he was forced to watch from the pits. Until then Walmsley had never tinkered with a motor, but on his return to Newcastle he set about learning the finer points. A week late - he had every part of the TC engine stowed in a crate, and he burnt the midnight oil acquiring the knowledge necessary to commence the assembly. Eventually the job was completed, the motor tested, and all was found to be in order.

During 1950 Golden Fleece ran a Newcastle 500-mile trial, which was conducted by the Hunter Valley Club. Ray entered and, with fiancee Fay Hore in the navigating seat, set off from the starting line full of confidence, but with little trials experience. Nine hours and 20 minutes later the TC returned, leading the field after 500 miles of shocking, secondary roads which were made worse by blinding rain and intermittent patches of fog. An overall average speed of 54 m.p.h. under these conditions was a remarkable effort.

The Alpine 500 and Redex 500

A few weeks later Ray started in the Alpine 500, but this time his luck didn't hold. Intermittent coil trouble, together with a wrong turning, ruined his chances and he did well to finish eighth. The last trial in which Walmsley started was the Redex 500, in which he navigated for Norm Crowfoot in a TR2 - one of the first seen in New South Wales. Despite overshooting a corner and toppling over a bank and changing a broken spring the pair had enough in hand to take out most of the prizemoney. But Ray Walmsley does not enjoy motoring over unknown roads at high speeds and damaging first class machinery. His love is for track racing, and it is in this sphere that he has gained most success. He sold his TC and bought a TD. He raised the compression to 10.5 to 1, stripped it to racing trim, and ente-ed it for an Open Race Day at Ringwood. Sydney enthusiasts Laurie Oxenford and George Pearce made the trip, but although their machinery ran well they could not match the local boy. Walmsley won a treble.

Next he appeared at Mt. Druitt, and at the next half a dozen meetings he had to overcome mechanical trouble to gain minor prizemoney. The best he could manage was a second in a handicap. Soon he fitted a Marshall Nordec blower to the M.G., and after weeks of playing about had the motor running well. But the jubilation was to be short lived, as when he drove into the metropolitan area, he heard that the meeting had been cancelled owing to rain. He was so disappointed that he sold the car soon after his return to Newcastle.

Alfa-Alvis challenges the faster Paul England car at Bathurst circa 1957The Alfa-Alvis challenges the faster Paul England car at Bathurst circa 1957.

Heavy Haulage with a G.M.C. Truck

His next vehicle was a G.M.C. truck, with which he hauled logs from the far North Coast to his father's Redhead timber mill, and it was during this period that he fully appreciated the possibilities of the G.M.C. truck motor. Later his opinion was confirmed by articles in the American "Hot Rod" magazine, which told of enthusiasts who had gained up to 300 b.h.p. from this power unit.

Naturally Ray began to tinker with his own engine, fitting twin carburettors, running a high compression ratio and fitting an overdrive gear. Towards the end of 1955 Newcastle clubman Gordon Gregg approached Walmsley with a proposition. He was the owner of a 4.3 Alvis Alfa which had been involved in a fatal accident at Bathurst. Gregg wanted Walmsley to drive the car and so prove to officials that the vehicle was 100 percent safe.

Ray, who had always wanted to handle a factory built car, grabbed the opportunity of piloting the Alfa and next day left for Bathurst, where the machine had been stored since that fateful day. Two days later Ray had repaired the slightly damaged front end and was ready to try it out at a Ringwood open meeting. This car, which Ray proudly towed to the meeting, was a machine with a history.

Imported into Australia around 1938 by Jack Saywell, it was one of the three Alfa Romeos which boasted a Dubonnet front suspension. Fitted with a 2.9 supercharged Alfa motor similar cars in Europe had recorded fantastic speeds, and there were few cars in this class to stand up to the Alfa in Australia.

An Alfa Powered By Alvis

Saywell quickly set up an Australian speed record of 147 m.p.h. - a figure which stood until 1958 when David McKay, and later Ted Gray, raised it. Just before the Second World War Saywell shipped the engine to Italy for reconditioning, and it was in the hold of an Italian ship when hostilities got under way in earnest. The ship was torpedoed and consequently the Alfa motor never returned to Australia. Rex Marshall was the second owner. He fitted an Alvis 4.3 engine, but it was left to Bill Murray, the car's third owner, to try it on a track. Murray did well with the Alvis-Alfa; he was placed in the 1949 G.P. at Leyburn (Queensland). But soon afterwards mechanical troubles became more and more frequent and he sold it to Gregg.

Walmsley, who had not had previous experience with a dry sump motor, soon found himself in trouble. Oil had spilled out, and as a result the clutch slipped badly. As starting time drew near Ray ran the Alfa into the pits, where the contents of a fire extinguisher were sprayed on the offending plate. Despite clutch bearings which became mangled on the plate and resulted in eventual failure, he was able to plug on and clean sweep the programme. Racing stewards in Sydney frowned on the Alfa. They were not convinced it was a safe car to allow on the track, and so when Ray lodged his entry for a Mt. Druitt meeting he was told to attend the track on practice day and complete 20 laps of the circuit. This he did without incident. The car was passed, and Walmsley took his place in the following day's fields.

Although the Alfa was a big, old fashioned car it proved itself a capable hill-climb machine. It held the New South Wales class title and the course record at Tamworth in its day. The field at Tamworth was hot; it included Frank Gardner in his D Type Jaguar, Jack Myers in the W-M Cooper, and Jack Neill in a Maserati. Walmsley won the climb by one and a half seconds - a big margin in such an event.

Racing at Mt. Druitt

Success in good company did not come quickly, and it wasn't until the 1956 Bathurst meeting that he first received the checkered flag. This was in the B Class Scratch race and the field included Frank Dynon's Holden special (later owned and raced by Norm Crowfoot) and Victorian Paul England in the Ausca. Two weeks later, again at Mt. Druitt, Walmsley had a narrow escape from injury - Frank Dynon was leading in his Holden Special, and with one lap to go Walmsley challenged. On the tight left hander, Dynon spun and Ray, who was about four lengths behind, had to swerve wildly to miss the car. As he passed, the front wheel of the Alfa clipped the Holden's rear wheel. It was a near call for Ray, but his car suffered no damage and he went on to win.

After a season's hard racing, the Alvis. motor began showing signs of wear. Walmsley decided to give the car one more race before fitting a G.M.C. motor to the chassis. At this meeting, again at Druitt, he won the B scratch race and was running second in the main event when a piston blew out. A hole as big as a man's fist showed clearly the passage of the rod. His choice of a G.M.C. motor for the car may have surprised many Australian followers of the motor racing game, but he knew what he was doing. Ray hoped to get about 200 h.p. from his unit. And that is unfortunately where our story ends. We do not know how successful the GMC powered Alfa was, nor the rest of Ray Walmsleys racing career. If you can help us out, we would love to hear from you!
Ray Walmsleys Alfa Alvis
Ray Walmsley's "Alfa-Alvis".
Ray Walmsley in a Jaguar XK120 during a hill-climb event
Ray Walmsley in a Jaguar XK120 during a hill-climb event.
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