On the Saturday of the Bathurst 1000 this year (October 6) it will be exactly 60 years since the ARDC ran the 23rd Australian Grand Prix at Mount Panorama, Bathurst. At this fabulous meeting not only was the 1958 Australian Grand Prix decided but the 1958 Australian Tourist Trophy was run and won. This was the quaint old name given to the Australian Sports Car Championship. At the time Australian Motor Sports magazine described it as “the best motor racing meeting for some time”.
The Tourist Trophy was run over 26 laps of the 3.8 mile (6.115 kilometre) circuit at 3.10pm on Saturday October 5.
Many of the fancied entries were Jaguar powered such as Ron Phillips (Cooper Jaguar), Frank Cantwell from New Zealand (Tojero Jaguar), Bill Pitt (D Type), Jack Murray (D Type) and Frank Matich (C Type). There were 3 current model DB3S Aston Martins for David McKay, Tom Sulman and Warren Bloomfield. Another car which could not be discounted was Doug Whiteford’s 3 litre ex-works Maserati 300S.
Bill Pitt pushed the D Type Jaguar into the lead at the start from David McKay (Aston Martin DB3S), Derek Jolly’s little 1500cc Lotus 15 and Doug Whiteford (Maserati 300S). Whiteford easily worked his way up to the lead but on lap 10 he was caught by a gust of wind on the second hump on Conrod Straight. There was no Chase chicane in those days. Whiteford spun out of control straight through Murrays Corner and down the escape road to Bathurst. He bounced off four fences as he went almost being flung out of the car. Fortunately he suffered only bruising.
This left McKay comfortably in the lead from Jolly and Phillips. After a brief rain shower this was the final order after 26 laps.
Up until 1958 the Australian Grand Prix had always been a classic Formula Libre run what you brung type of race in which sports cars were often highly competitive. As an example of the increasing sophistication of Australian racing and the increasing number of competitive sports/racing cars in the country sports cars of any type were banned from the 1958 AGP. Even though the field was made up of open wheelers only there was tremendous variety in the best Formula Libre tradition.
There were big cars like the Alf Harvey 4.5 litre V12 OSCA which had run in the 1951 Italian GP. There were small cars like the Ralt Vincent of Noel Hall that finished third in heat 1 but failed to start in the GP itself. There were old cars like Ray Walmsley’s 1934 Grand Prix Alfa Romeo P3 whose original straight 8 supercharged engine was long gone. Like the Ern Seeliger Maybach, the Curly Brydon Ferrari and the Ted Gray Tornado Walmsley was relying on a new 260 cubic inch Corvette V8 to provide reliable lightweight power. Merv Neal’s Cooper (chassis F2/20/58) was probably the newest car – it even had disc brakes all round!
The field for the AGP was split into two heats which were held on Saturday afternoon. Heat one appeared to be for the slowest half of the field and heat two for the fastest.
Heat 1 was initially led by Allan Ferguson driving the spectacular Holden powered MG Special known as “Isk”. He was chased by the little air-cooled twin cylinder Ralt of Noel Hall and the Jaguar Special driven by Jack Robinson. Alf Harvey started slowly from pole position in the ex-Prince Bira OSCA 4500G. This car was famously fragile but as the heat progressed Harvey gained confidence and speed. He won the race with a fastest lap of 2.59.5 and a registered speed through the flying quarter mile of 133.33mph (214.573kph).
Heat 2 was for the fast cars. Gray was on pole in the Tornado Corvette but Jones’ Maserati led the field through Hell Corner from Mildren (Cooper) and Davison (Ferrari). On lap 2 Jones dropped oil on the exit of the cutting. Mildren spun on it and was hit by New Zealander Tom Clark (Ferrari Super Squalo). Gray hit the lead on lap 2 and won easily from Jones and Davison. Gray’s fastest lap was 2.50.0.
At the start of the Australian Grand Prix Jones jumped into the lead from Davison and pole man Gray. These three were 7 seconds clear of the rest after only 1 lap. New Zealander Clark passed Neil’s Cooper Climax on lap 2 and settled into a lonely 4th place.
By lap 10 Gray was 8 seconds clear of the battling Jones/Davison duo. 50 seconds behind was the Clark Ferrari with the Seeliger (Maybach) and Hawkes (Cooper Holden) fight another 4 seconds back. Clark dropped back and pitted on lap 18 with overheating. He continued but was much slower.
Alf Harvey in the OSCA was getting faster (2.58.0 fastest lap) but blew a spark plug clean through the bonnet and had to retire. Having led from lap 3 Gray pitted to report strange handling on lap 22. Fuel was sloshed around the fuel filler with only a small proportion going in. Gray was shouting at the mechanics but he was sent back out with no correcting action. He returned to the pits next lap after glancing off a barrier to have some chassis bolts tightened. After 2 slow laps the car was retired after achieving a fastest lap of 2.45.5 and a top speed of 155.17mph (249.722kph).
With the Tornado out Stan Jones was left in the lead. Lex Davison was all over him but Jones held him off even with a non-operating clutch in the Maserati. Coming down the mountain on lap 26 the Jones Maserati trailed thin, then thick blue smoke out of Forrest’s Elbow. Davison swept by and then slowed to coast to victory. He was just over 2 minutes ahead of runner up Ern Seeliger in the Maybach Corvette with Tom Hawkes 6 seconds back in the Cooper Holden.
In his victory speech at the presentation dinner Lex Davison referred to the Cooper Climaxes as “Anti-Climaxes”. History would show that a small rear engine car was the way of the future, even in Formula 1.
Incidentally it has been 20 years since the ARDC last ran a race meeting at Mount Panorama, Bathurst. That was the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000. Also it was just over 20 years ago, in August 1998, that Amaroo Park hosted its last meeting. The registered office of the ARDC was at Amaroo Park in Annangrove from 1970 to 1996.