Phoenix in waiting
A distinctive 1960s racer is coming under the hammer, but will need lashings of TLC
I will declare an interest. I offer consultancy advice (often justifiably ignored) to auctioneer Bonhams, whose Goodwood Festival of Speed sale includes some real rarities. Among these are the (hopefully) still restorable remains of a uniquely significant ex-Jim Clark sports-racing car – the once four-wheel-drive Felday-BRM 4.
The car was built by double British hill climb champion Peter Westbury’s Felday Engineering business at Holmbury St Mary – old name ‘Felday’ – in the Surrey hills, between Guildford and Dorking. A blooming relationship with Harry Ferguson Research Ltd persuaded him to build a 4WD sports-racing car using his own chassis ideas, a 2-litre BRM V8 engine and the FF transmission system.
It emerged as the Felday 4 – the innovative car whose remains I inspected recently in the late Graham Galliers’ Collection in Shropshire.
Its sheet-steel monocoque backbone chassis was first displayed bare at the London Racing Car Show in January 1965, but its racing debut was delayed until Boxing Day Brands Hatch. Westbury and team-mate Mac Daghorn – who had been working at Felday Engineering for some time – both then shone at club level during the team’s occasional race programme.
Denis Jenkinson was a great fan and reported how, for the new marque’s international debut in the 1966 August bank holiday Monday Guards Trophy race at Brands, Daghorn was to drive the brand-new 7-litre spaceframe Felday-Ford 5 ‘big banger’ while “Felday 4 was driven by none other than Jim Clark. Among the many reasons that led up to Clark driving the Felday 4 was the fact that Colin Chapman had been showing an interest in the Ferguson 4WD mechanism, and thought his number one driver should get some practical experience.”
Jimmy won heat one’s 2-litre class from Max Wilson’s Brabham BT8. Torrential rain then stopped the first attempt at heat two. After a long delay it was re-run over 20 laps instead of 30. Sadly for Felday, its BRM engine died on the grid and a push-start incurred a one-minute penalty. The car then emitted dense oil smoke and Jimmy was black-flagged – still being credited with fourth place on aggregate in the 2-litre class and sharing the class fastest lap with Innes Ireland’s Willment-BRM (1min 43.2sec, 92.44mph).
With the demise of major-league sports car racing in the UK at the end of that year, however, there was little future for the sports-racing Feldays. The ex-Clark ‘4’ would be campaigned by hill-climber John McCartney from 1967-70, with some success – but by April 1971 Low Cost Racing of Farnham was advertising it for sale as a rolling chassis.
I believe Sten ‘Tammy’ Aberg (formerly Dennis Poore’s man, caring for the ex-Ruesch/Seaman Alfa 8C-35 GP car) and John Head of Rosary Garage, Bramshaw, later converted it, fitting a Rover V8 and Hewland gearbox for autocross star Ken Piper.
The badly deteriorated remains of this fascinating – and significant – sports-racing prototype were retrieved from intermediate owner David Kendall in 2005, and passed to Galliers in 2006.
I recall this Felday-BRM vividly from that August Brands meeting 47 years ago, Clark’s dark-blue crash helmet and trademark white peak behind the wheel. But I could have wept when I saw it in that Shropshire store. I do hope someone has a heart big enough to save it.
Special start for a special man
With little budget but tons of talent, a young Brabham made the best of things – and how
Sir Jack Brabham has become – quite simply – one of the most widely underrated of all great racing personalities. Yet since his death on May 19, his family has been truly staggered by the global tributes they have seen. Our own is elsewhere in this issue, but there’s never sufficient space to give due credit to such an all-round racer.
The car that really launched him upon the international scene was his self-prepared, self-adapted Cooper-Bristol Mark II – the RedeX Special. Would-be racer David Chambers had ordered the car, but committed suicide before it arrived in Australia and well-known dealer John Crouch was asked to sell it on behalf of the estate. Dirt-track midget driver Brabham scraped together the $A4250 asking price, helped by his greengrocer father and Reg Shepheard, the very supportive competitions manager of the RedeX fuel additive concern.
The car was described as new – as Jack would say, “Wouldn’t you know it?” – but first time out on Mt Druitt landing strip its six-cylinder 2-litre Bristol engine just didn’t go and then alarmingly lost oil pressure. Jack tore it apart and found that – far from being ‘brand-new’ – it had been hard used, its bearings were shot and the crankshaft bent. The car had in fact been Cooper’s 1952 London Motor Show exhibit, before being shipped to Buenos Aires where John Barber drove it in the 1953 Argentine GP.
Jack wrote in complaint to John Cooper, 12,000 miles away in Surbiton, “without expecting much”, and that’s what he got.
A local Sydney firm straightened and reground the crank, the crankcase was line-bored and finally he went racing in his then even more expensive Cooper-Bristol.
But he’d been amazed by the immense weight of its flywheel and clutch. What he didn’t then know was that in Britain the Cooper-Bristols had regularly cracked their long, thin crankshafts because of the mass of the hefty clutch and flywheel on one end. Merely spinning the cars could snap the end off their crankshafts through the gyroscopic effect of that overhung rotating mass.
Instead, Jack therefore fitted one of his compact midget car’s Harley-Davidson clutches and machined pounds off the Bristol flywheel. The new assembly weighed about 15-17lbs against the original’s 75-85…
He adopted Aussie-made Holden Stromberg carburettors in place of the Solex originals, and was then contacted by a veteran British enthusiast engineer who had just emigrated from England. He was Frank Ashby, of pre-war Brooklands Alfa Monoposto fame. They got together and Jack was impressed by Ashby’s quiet knowledge. The older man advised that while the Strombergs seemed pretty good, their intake shape was lousy. He urged Jack to fit smoothly formed bell mouths to ease air entry, so Jack machined a set that nestled almost hidden, deep in each intake. Fifty years later he credited Frank Ashby with, “Opening my eyes to the wide and wonderful world of mechanical motor racing advantage. His input really added to my racing education.”
With its lighter crank assembly permitting his Bristol engine previously unknown revs, and its secret-weapon enhanced airflow, Jack’s Cooper – with RedeX Special lettering, sign-written speedway-style on its flanks – became a road-racing rocket ship.
It was at this point that he fell foul of the governing Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS). It was based in Melbourne, Victoria, and its edicts thereby irritated the hell out of New South Walians such as Jack. Don Thompson was the senior CAMS official involved in the RedeX Special affair and he proved implacably opposed to such overt commercial backing. Advertising on racing cars? They didn’t permit it in Britain and Europe, so CAMS would not accept it in Australia.
Jack’s pragmatic viewpoint was entirely different. He recognised Australian road racing as being stunted by lack of funding. All good cars had to be imported, which was immensely expensive. “So the only way Australian competitors could afford good state-of-the-art cars,” he said, “would have been to do what I’d done and get themselves sponsors.”
At the Orange circuit Thompson ordered Jack to remove the advertising or take his car home. Jack asked if covering the signwriting with masking tape would suffice. The CAMS man agreed. Jack taped it over lightly, on the opening lap the tape blew off and he raced on with RedeX lettering bright and bold for all to see. His sponsors were happy, but Thompson was enraged and CAMS banned him from reappearing with advertising on his car.
He had been invited to enter the 1954 New Zealand GP at Ardmore aerodrome, Auckland, and there he met the ‘internationals’ – Peter Whitehead, Reg Parnell, Ken Wharton (driving the lone V16 BRM), Horace Gould (running his British-spec Cooper-Bristol) and Tony Gaze – and stayed with ‘Pop’ McLaren and his son Bruce at their family garage in Remuera.
Back home Jack raced the unadorned RedeX Special through 1954 under CAMS rules, before returning to Ardmore for the 1955 NZ GP. There he met Dick Jeffrey of Dunlop and Dean Delamont of the British RAC. After a party at race organiser Reg Greason’s house, Jack gave Dean a lift back to his hotel. Both he and Jeffrey had been urging Brabham to try his hand at racing in Europe. They sat up most of the night talking about prospects there and, as Jack sailed home to Sydney, he was intent upon following that dream.
The mistake he made was to believe his RedeX Special must be inferior to what the Poms were racing. So he sold it to Stan Jones, Alan’s father, and fell for Peter Whitehead’s sales patter for a replacement twin-cam Cooper-Alta. Dean Delamont fixed an entry for Jack’s UK debut in the 1955 Easter Monday Goodwood meeting – and, despite a troublesome beginning, Jack would then go on to write real history.
Motor racing can be a boar
Among an onrush of significant events throughout 1964, one notable character played a small part, overlooked by history…
Wasn’t 1964 a momentous motor sporting year? It heralded the debut of the mind-bogglingly expensive – and initially woefully unreliable – Ford GT, the emergence of the McLaren-Oldsmobile sports car marque, the Lotus 30, Lotus’s latest Indycar being let down by Dunlop in the 500, John Surtees and Ferrari denying Graham Hill, BRM, Jim Clark and Lotus the F1 world titles in the very last race of the season at Mexico City, the launch of the Cobra Daytona Coupé, Ferrari hanging on to Le Mans and the endurance world titles of the era despite Ford’s (often brain-dead) dollars, Dan Gurney giving the Brabham marque its maiden Grande Épreuve victory in the French GP at Rouen, and Jackie Stewart’s explosive eruption onto the international scene in Ken Tyrrell’s F3 Cooper-BMCs, followed rapidly by myriad other cars up to and including his F1 debut in friend and mentor Jim Clark’s works Lotus 33.
But perhaps the most surprising emergence came at Le Mans that year, in the garage Ferrari rented as its workshop base for the illustrious 24 Hours. And that was the sight of the proprietor’s fearsome watchdog. On a long chain among the works 275 and 330Ps and the GTO/64s was Oink, his pet wild boar…