In a competition career lasting more than 14 years, the Maybach Special was repeatedly modified, updated, crashed and rebuilt. Although it was one car with a continuous history, historians usually consider it in four separate versions, as Maybachs I, II, Ill and IV.
In 1946 Repco experimental engineer Charlie Dean discovered the remains of a captured German half-track desert scout car in a scrapyard. It was powered by a beautifully made and very strong 3.8-litre Maybach engine, with six cylinders and a single overhead camshaft. Dean bought the vehicle for £40 and fitted the engine to a homemade tubular chassis, with Studebaker front end and wheels, Lancia rear end and Fiat crash gearbox, and set about terrorising local hillclimbs.
So far the Maybach Special was just another example of Australian backyard ingenuity, but Dean was a brilliant engineer, and the car developed fast. By the time he entered it for the 1948 Australian Grand Prix at Point Cook it had shed weight and had wire wheels, six Amal carburetters and a neat two-seater body made of alloy sheeting from aircraft belly tanks.
In 1949 the resourceful Dean obtained two more Maybach engines from Europe, and now, with spares to fall back on, built up a really potent 4.2litre unit, with Roots supercharger belt-driven off the front of the crank, blowing at 7lbs.sq.in. The transverse leaf ifs was lightened, Pontiac parts replacing Studebaker, and more weight shed with the adoption of quarter-elliptic rear springs. Dean even found a limited-slip diff from a 1922 American truck. And though a change in the Australian GP regulations later forced him to remove the supercharger, the car got faster and more successful.
By now Stan Jones, a rising star in Australian racing, wanted to drive the Maybach. Dean sold the car to him, but continued to prepare and develop it. Jones won a string of races over the next couple of seasons and led both the Australian Grands Prix in 1952, at Bathurst, and 1953, at Albert Park, until pitstops handed victory both times to Doug Whiteford’s Lago-Talbot.
In January 1954 came the Maybach’s finest hour. Jones took it south to the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore, where the impressive entry list included Ken Wharton’s works V16 BRM and Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari. But in practice the old Maybach blew up in a major way. A rod came through the crankcase, and parts could not be flown down from Australia in time.
It was time for Antipodean ingenuity. While Jones slept, expecting not to run, Dean and his crew toiled through the night. A GM truck con-rod was found and modified, a new cylinder liner machined up, and patches fabricated for the shattered crankcase. Just before 11am on race day the scarred engine coughed into life, and was hastily tuned on the backroads driving to the circuit. After 2hrs 45mins of racing the Maybach led the BRM home by 53secs to score a famous victory.
More victories across Australia followed. Then the original chassis was stored away and the running gear transferred to a new frame, shorter and lighter and with a narrower single-seater body, using drop gears to allow the prop-shaft to pass under the driver. This was the Maybach II. It was to be short-lived.
In November 1954 the Australian Grand Prix was held at a fast and dangerous new circuit in Queensland, using 5.7 miles of bumpy, narrow public roads outside Southport. There were several accidents, but Jones, driving at a blinding pace, had built up a huge lead when, around half distance, the Maybach’s chassis broke on a fast, bumpy 100mph sweep between trees and the car became unsteerable.
The ensuing accident was immense. The car was broken in two against a tree, parts of the engine cam cover, cylinder head, carburetters were smashed and the wheels torn off. But Jones was thrown clear, unhurt, and at once the irrepressible Dean set about building Maybach III.
Incredibly, this emerged just four months later. Mirroring the then-current Mercedes F1 car, the engine was inclined 60 degrees to the left, with the transmission passing to the driver’s right, and the body also echoed the Mercedes open-wheeler. The trusty single-cam six was stroked down to 3.8 litres in search of higher revs, and rather than buy new carburetters Dean developed his own fuel injection with Repco colleague Phil Irving (who later made the V8s that won World Championships for Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme).
Although Maybach III led the 1955 Australian Grand Prix at Port Wakefield before succumbing to clutch trouble, more sophisticated European machinery was now arriving in Australia. After Jones blew his engine trying to stay with the Maseratis, he bought a 250F himself and won the Australian Grand Prix at last in 1959.
Meanwhile the Maybach passed to Em Seeliger. As the stock of Maybach bits was running low he fitted a Chevrolet Corvette engine, and the chassis was lengthened to take a de Dion rear end, becoming Maybach IV in the process. Seeliger finished a remarkable second in the 1958 Australian Grand Prix to Lox Davison’s Ferrari after Jones’s 250F had retired! – and Jones used it to win a race at Port Wakefield in 1959. Then in 1960, 12 years after its first Australian GP appearance, the Maybach made its last, with Jones again, but lasted only four laps.
Thereafter the Maybach name slid into obscurity, Maybach IV with its Chevy engine still exists, but eventually Jack McDonald bought the Maybach I chassis and what was left of Maybach II, and the original car was rebuilt. Bob Harborow bought it in 1991 and has gradually returned the car to its 1954 New Zealand GP-winning form. Since I drove it the supercharger has been removed, as was done in 1951, and the exhaust, cockpit and colour (light blue) are now precisely correct. Half a century after Charlie Dean found an old German tank in a scrapyard, the Maybach races on.