1954 New Zealand Grand Prix, 1959 Australian Grand Prix, Ardmore, Charlie Dean, Doug Whiteford, Jack Brabham, Ken Wharton, Len Lukey, Longford, Maserati 250F, Maybach, Peter Whitehead, Repco, Stan Jones
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
~Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum~
The musty aroma of stale beer wafted through the Country Club Hotel. It was late in the afternoon and the carpeted room was dim. Muffled sounds of murmuring voices and clinking glasses drifted in from the adjoining bar. On prominent display was a large and grainy, black and white photograph. It depicted two cars…almost side by side…one with air visible beneath all four wheels, giving every appearance that it was endeavouring to imitate a rally car. It was the last lap of the 1959 Australian Grand Prix. The two drivers had just negotiated a hard right turn, in the process circumnavigating the very building I was standing in. The lead car was driven by Stan “The Man with a Plan” Jones, father of Alan Jones, the 1980 Formula One World Champion. Hot on his heels was Len Lukey. Looking out of the window next to the photograph a railway crossing could be seen in the distance…the exact same railway crossing…
I was at Longford, once the home of the Australian road circuit that rivalled Reims and the Nurburgring for speed and danger. Four tight right hand turns, three seemingly unending straights, two slippery and rickety wooden bridges, and one terrifying chicane under an immense and immovable brick viaduct. It also had a railway crossing that routinely caused the cars that traversed it to become airborne. Practice was suspended to allow the regular trains to go through. Races were timed so as not to coincide with the train schedule as those in charge of the railway were unwilling to alter the timetable for man, weather…or racing.
Stan Jones’s racing career had taken off in 1951 when he obtained the first Maybach Special…and the car was certainly special. Its designer and maker Charlie Dean was an avid racer, keen to build his own machine to pit against the other home-grown “Specials” that made up a significant proportion of the racing population in Australia just after World War Two. With imported race vehicles prohibitively expensive as well as in short supply, those on the quest for pace and manoeuvrability would extract a Ford V-8 from the unwieldy “tank” that engulfed it, transplanting it into sleeker, more tractable surroundings, such as that provided by a 1920’s Lancia Lambda.
Dean had constructed his first car at the age of 17, a three wheeled contraption powered by a motorcycle engine, its single rear wheel chain driven. He was far ahead of his time as he also built an electric powered truck. Unfortunately the market had not yet developed much interest or enthusiasm in alternative form of powering locomotive devices. After spending the war years in the Engineering Corps, he established Replex, specializing in manufacturing industrial size transformers as well as servicing automotive electrical components.
The construction of the “Maybach Special “ commenced in 1946 when Dean discovered a Demag armoured carrier in a war surplus wrecking yard…not exactly what I would have had in mind if I had been thinking of building a racing car. The wreck had been shipped to Australia from the deserts of North Africa for “technical examination.” Fortunately the engine hadn’t been examined so closely that it was no longer functional as Dean didn’t actually want the whole vehicle. An outlay of forty pounds furnished him with a prime example of precision German engineering…a 3.7 Litre Maybach engine with 6 cylinders, SOHC and water cooled…in its raw state able to put out 100 bhp. But it wasn’t going to stay in that state for long. After rebuilding the engine to enable it to deliver even more power, Dean fabricated a tubular frame to form the basis of the chassis. In it he placed a Fiat 525 gearbox with a steering-box from a Jeep. This was followed by Studebaker front suspension, wheels and brakes and Lancia rear wheels, brakes and axle. The metal that covered the frame was salvaged from the fuel belly tanks of an army plane…the tanks themselves ironically constructed by Ford.
Shortly after the acquisition of his Maybach engine, Dean sold his business to Repco, staying on as manager. This gave him more time to devote to his hobby of building cars…and then racing them. Those may have been simple days when you could collect odds and ends from every kind of vehicle imaginable and built a race winning car, but just like today the development of the Maybach was constant and ongoing. Over the course of the next few years the car eventually started to harness the speed and reliability required for success.
During 1950 Repco appointed Charlie Dean to head up “Repco Research”, a development and test bed for their new products. This promotion, along with increasing family commitments, started to impinge on Charlie’s available spare time for racing and for a nominal sum the Maybach Special was handed over to Stan Jones. Repco appreciated the publicity the Maybach gave them, its success on the track perfect for advertising the superiority of their merchandise for the everyday motorist. It also gave them a way to evaluate and test under extreme conditions many of their components and the car continued to have full Repco support behind it.
The highlight of the Maybach’s career was its win at the 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore, a race in which my father-in-law was in attendance as a marshal. Stan was lucky to even get to the starting line on Saturday. During practice on Friday his car had sustained what appeared to be a terminal event when a broken connecting rod punched a hole through the crankcase. It was impossible to fly in replacement parts from Australia in time for the race and not surprisingly there were no German tank engines languishing in any of the local junk yards. Stan went to bed that night and slept soundly in the knowledge that there was no possible way he would be an active participant in the race the following day.
His mechanics toiled tenaciously throughout the night, ingeniously paring back a connecting rod from a GM truck to the correct weight and fit, machining a new cylinder liner and patching the crankcase. The resurrected engine coughed into life shortly before eleven the next morning…and just over three hours later Stan started the race from fourth on the grid with strict instructions not to go over 4,500 rpm. Ahead of him were three overseas competitors, all in possession of superlative examples of European engineering excellence, at least when compared to the locally made “Specials”. On pole was British driver Ken Wharton, the sound of his BRM P15’s supercharged V16 engine reverberating around the track like a screeching banshee, drowning out his quieter and more retiring rivals. Next to him was another Brit, Peter Whitehead, piloting a V12 supercharged Ferrari 125 F1. There were also three Cooper-Bristols. Two were driven by British drivers; Horace Gould who was in third and Fred Tuck further down the grid. The third Cooper was in the hands of Stan’s compatriot Jack Brabham who was shortly to head overseas to the United Kingdom to attempt to break into Formula One.
Whitehead got the advantage over Wharton as the flag dropped for the start of the 100 lap race. The BRM’s V16 was prone to stalling at 7,000 revs and fruitlessly spinning its tyres at 9,000; flawless coordination necessary to keep it at the ear-splitting 8,000 revs required for the perfect start. Whitehead’s lead was short-lived when the BRM screamed past the Ferrari on the back straight. Shortly afterwards Jones passed Gould in his Cooper for third. Then on lap thirteen Whitehead spun his Ferrari. Although he managed to restart, his race was shortly bought to a halt when his clutch disintegrated, resulting in small pieces of metal flying through the cockpit. His only injury was a small cut above his eye – it could easily have been much worse. By quarter race distance the whole field had been lapped by the three front-runners of Wharton, Jones and Gould. An opportune shower of rain then helped to narrow the gap between Wharton and the pair in pursuit behind him.
Jones took the lead on lap 45 when Wharton came in for fuel and tyres, but it took only half a dozen laps before Wharton easily passed him to reclaim first place. It was lap 58 when puffs of smoke began to emanate ominously from the front of the BRM under heavy braking. This was due to vaporising brake fluid and he required an urgent and unscheduled pit stop to disconnect his terminally overheating front brakes, leaving only the gears and rear brakes as poor excuses for stopping power. Re-joining after an eternal three minutes in the pits, Wharton was able to recapture second place but catching Jones in front of him was a step too far. After two hours and 45 minutes of racing Stan Jones took the chequered flag for the win…53 seconds ahead of Wharton in his ailing BRM. I’m sure Charlie Dean was shocked that the Maybach’s bodged together engine actually survived until the end of the race!
Eventually it became more expensive to continue development of the Maybach Special than it was just to procure an already tried and tested European racer. Early in 1957 Stan gave in to the inevitable and Charlie Dean headed to Modena, purchasing a Maserati 250F for 10,000 pounds…the deal also including a spare engine. It was the chassis raced by Jose Froilan Gonzales in the 1956 Argentine Grand Prix, out after 25 laps with an engine failure. Stan’s nine year old son Alan was in attendance on the Melbourne docks when the car was extricated from its protective packaging and he later remembered his disappointment that though the car was red…and Italian…it wasn’t a Ferrari…which he thought would have been a far preferable option!
Despite lacking the innate glamor of Ferrari, the Maserati 250F was the ideal car for the competitive privateer. Easy to set up and exquisite handling, its only hiccup being that it was designed around the gentle hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and most of its other pilots weren’t as kind to fragile mechanical objects as he was. It had won its first race when Fangio piloted it to victory at the 1954 Argentine Grand Prix, capitalising on its handling advantages in the marginal weather conditions. It went on to take the honours for the 1957 World Championship for Fangio and it was still there for the last race of the 2.5 litre era in 1959. Sterling Moss had used it to get his first podium at the 1954 Belgium Grand Prix and so demonstrate his latent talent to Mercedes and Stan Jones had wielded it to good effect to become the 1958 Australian Champion. The 250F deserves an article all on its own…there isn’t enough space here to do it justice!
The 1959 Australian Grand Prix took place at Longford…its first appearance there. The race was held on a Monday, bureaucracy obviously having the upper hand in Tasmania as their “Sunday Observance Act” meant that no racing could take place on Sunday. After two race heats on Saturday to determine qualifying order for the big race on Monday, everyone could party on Saturday night with Sunday to recover…a bit like Monaco today when Friday is the day off and everyone can let their hair down on Thursday night. Young Alan Jones wagged the day off school to watch his father race. Stan was the reigning Australian champion after all – though he had yet to achieve his goal of winning the Australian Grand Prix.
Doug Whiteford had won the first heat on Saturday in his Maserati 300S sports car. Stan Jones’s Maserati 250F had won the second heat, but his race time had been almost twenty seconds quicker than that of Whiteford, thus giving him pole position. The railway crossing saw action very early. Whiteford had just passed Len Lukey, driving a 2 litre rear-engined Cooper-Climax, for second, and had accelerated hard to try to catch Jones who had shot into the lead. Whiteford’s car became air-born as it traversed the tracks at speed. The 300S weighed 110 kg more than then 250F but utilized identical suspension. Not surprisingly this extra weight, combined with a full tank of fuel, resulted in the complete collapse of the rear of the car when it “crash landed”. Oil went everywhere, including under Len Lukey’s wheels, and he was lucky to keep his car on the road and pointing in the right direction.
With Whiteford’s Maserati already out of the equation the race was then a battle to be fought out between Jones and Lukey. It would be one of the last head to head battles between rear and front engines before the former rendered the latter completely obsolete. They each had different strengths and weaknesses in regard to handling through the tight right hand bends and speed down the runway like straights and all in all there was little to pick between them. Several lead changes along with some good Australian argy-bargy while going through the corners meant there was no way to foretell the outcome until they both took the chequered flag. After 25 laps, 175 km and nine years of trying Stan Jones won the Australian Grand Prix a mere 2.2 seconds in front of Lukey’s Cooper. Twenty-one years later Stan’s son Alan would win the 1980 Australian Grand Prix driving his championship winning Williams FW07 to victory at the Calder Park Raceway. Unfortunately Stan was not there to witness his son’s success as, after suffering several strokes, he had died in 1973 at the age 49.
Longford remains a small and sleepy country town. The deserted roads are edged by eucalyptus trees and rusty barbed-wire fences. Lush green fields, dotted white with grazing sheep, stretch out into the distance on either side. Dust and leaves blow lazily across the tarmac. Although most of the roads that formed the original track still survive, the modern motorway dissecting it in two, combined with the demise of the now ancient wooden bridges, means driving a complete lap is no longer possible. Being late in the afternoon my children were keen to continue on to our destination and I had to settle with what I could imagine looking out of the window. We headed back to the car, did a U-turn, traversed Pub Corner at a pedestrian rate, and headed sedately over the now obsolete railway track…no possibility that the wheels of our ponderous Mitsubishi Pajero would be leaving the pavement…
“Time it was and what a time it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”
Simon and Garfunkel ~ “Bookends”
Photo Credits: Featured Image – Charles Rice
Further Reading: Maybach to Holden: Repco, The Cars, People and Engines by Malcolm Preston