Research discloses that the Lycoming Special appears in a newspaper report quoted in the book, “The Tahunanui Beach Motor Racing Years of the Nelson Car Club, 1949 - 1977,” by Mike Stephens. Extracts are quoted as follows:-
“The potent veteran Lycoming Special, driven by Nelson's C. Benseman, was a little disappointing. Benseman appeared to be having handling problems with the road-racing machine.”
“Third all the way was Charlie Benseman in the famous Lycoming Special, which he has just rebuilt for owner Don Peddie, but the car was overheating and under steering badly at Nelson.”
It is believed that Don Peddie had purchased the car in Wellington from Jim Boyd by way of an exchange for a Jaguar XK120.
During Don Peddie's ownership, Keith Thompson of Tuatapere, a man with a strong love for New Zealand racing car history, arranged to borrow the remains of the Lycoming in order to create a replica. When he travelled to the Peddie farm at Dunback to pick up the car, he found that all the components of the car were in a paddock scattered along a marcrocarpa shelter belt. Many of the items were partly buried due to farm animals and fallen foliage.
How long they had been left there is unknown. Keith painstakingly collected up all these items and transported them to his home, where he examined them with the intention of building a replica. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending ones point of view, Keith achieved only minimal progress due to business commitments and poor health which restricted his physical activity.
After the car had languished for several years in Tuatapere, Don Peddie said time was up and that all the components should be returned to his new property in Amberley and from here Don started to negotiate the sale of the car to Lindsay Neilson. It was at this point that my association with the Lycoming began as a result of a tragedy and a little luck.
Lindsay Neilson was a friend of mine who originally initiated me into classic cars and he was tragically killed in a car versus train accident. Our families shared many social activities as well as an interest in motor racing, so that it was natural for Lindsay's wife Olive to discuss with me some of the problems she faced following the death of her husband.
She had been contacted by Don Peddie who was insistent that Lindsay had made a deal with him to purchase the remains of the Lycoming and all that remained to complete the transaction was for a cheque to change hands and the car was hers. Olive was not at all interested in the car and asked that I intervene and advise Don Peddie that no such deal could be honoured, due to the untimely death of Lindsay. After given the subject considerable thought I asked Olive if she would be happy if I acquired the car for myself. Olive endorsed the idea and it was not long before another friend of mine Graeme Currie and I were away north to Amberley to inspect what was left of the Lycoming. As I recall, this was about 1981/82.
On arriving in Amberley, in order to hide our enthusiasm, we left the trailer we had in tow, back in town and proceeded out to the old horse racing course, where Don and family lived at that time. We were greeted by Don, who promptly took us to the garage. Here he had set up what remained of the Lycoming bodywork, with a tyre propped up in each corner, in an attempt to show what it looked like.
The chassis along with several tea chests of bits and pieces, most of which were parts and spares accumulated over a period of time, were scattered around the garage. My enthusiasm took a considerable knock back at this point, as what we surveyed was definitely in graveyard condition. How was I going to convince my wife that this definitely was a sports car?
Following a cup of tea and a general discussion, I went and had a further look at the items that would once again be assembled into New Zealand's most historic racing car. Negotiation started and after considerable haggling we agreed on a settlement figure, not far off the mark that I considered a fair price to both parties. Back to Amberley we went to collect the trailer and loaded up what we could. Don agreed to bring the balance of the parts down to Dunedin in a horse float the following weekend.
The gearbox for the car had to be picked up from Fred McLean's garage in Christchurch where Don had taken it to have it assembled. Fred was not keen on the job and had not got around to completing assembly, so we were left no choice but to collect the bits and pieces and take them home with the other items.
Editor:- Further research has since disclosed -
26/10/68. Bridge Pa standing quarter mile. Lycoming, fastest of the day at 14.4 seconds. Driver, John Whiffen.
02/01/71. Tahunanui Beach. DR Filter Cup, placed second.
Nelson Provincial Championship, placed third.
09/01/71. Tahunanui Beach. NZ Championship, third.
Invitation Scratch Race, placed first.
Driver in the above beach races, C. Benseman.
With all the components of the car under one roof, we could approach the problem of a complete reconstruction and restoration. The first job was to sort the boxes and group items into sections i.e. gearbox parts, suspension parts, engine parts, back end parts and so on. Once this was completed I had to select which items were usable, which were spares and what to discard.
At this stage I made contact with both Jim Boyd and Ralph Watson to see what information they could contribute in respect of the restoration. There were no workshop manuals for reference other than a very lengthy script on how to tune the fuel system.
Editor : - Ralph Watson did write a detailed manual for the car, but this must have become lost. Ralph Smith would be exceedingly grateful for any information regarding same.
Both Ralph and Jim were very encouraging in their comments, with Jim explaining that he still had many spares for the engine, including several final drive ratios, which he was prepared to sell for a considerable sum. Later, while in Auckland, I purchased these items at a negotiated price.
A complete new motor had to be rebuilt and Ralph was very forthcoming with information on what was required in regard to preparing the motor. Requirements were well outside what the standard Lycoming service manual recommended. The engine runs in an inverted position and this required the crankcase to be modified for oil drainage, so as to work as a dry sump. The valve timing has been altered and a unique, special fuel injection system, designed and made by Ralph Watson is fitted.
The support of Jim and Ralph, although in different ways, was very much appreciated and further encouraged me to complete the project in such a way that they would be proud of the result.
The only other outside support required, was for the alloy body panel work, which needed complete rejuvenation. This was entrusted to Ray Larson, who at that time was in Invercargill, but later relocated to Queenstown. Ray was instructed to retain as much of the original bodywork as possible. This was achieved with the complete tail section behind the seat and front bonnet section remaining original and as built by Ralph Watson.
The tyres and wheels which came with the car had been modified by Jim Boyd and were much wider than the originals. These made the car appear to be on steroids, particularly with mudguards fitted. I settled for fitting five-inch wide rims at the rear and four-inch rims at the front i.e. slightly wider than those originally used by Ralph Watson. These were fitted with radial tyres due to the delay in getting the Dunlop racing tyres, which were eventually fitted, 550 X 15 at the rear and 500 X 15 at the front. Most people view this slight modification favourably, because as the car is near original, it looks more in proportion.
During the course of restoration, some minor changes were necessary, mainly due to the fact that the motor I had was not the original 290 cubic inch unit. The original, in 1960, had the crankcase bored out to fit type 320 cylinders, but what I had was a later 320 cubic inch capacity unit. This meant some of the accessory drives were not original. For example the dry sump pump and the generator/alternator drive were different, but overall these were of a minor visual nature and definitely not performance related. The progress of the restoration was fairly slow but reasonable, considering that I was only working on the project after business hours and when family commitments had been taken care of.
The Dunedin Road Race was our target for the first public outing, but before that we were hoping to have some of the teething problems cured as a result of a testing programme. Jim Boyd was keeping in touch on progress and was invited to have a drive during the Dunedin Road Race. Jim arrived three to four days before the race and stayed with us, assisting where he could, in preparing the car for the road race.
Prior to the race we only had the car out once for a road test, in an attempt to adjust the fuel system. This road test took place up the Outram to Middlemarch road, after first checking with the local Constabulary that he would not be in the area that particular evening as we had some very noisy business to attend to. As a result of the test we found two faults. The car had a tendency to jump out of gear in second and the engine had a flat spot in the mid rev range. We were convinced that the engine problem was only a matter of fuel mixture settings but the gearbox had to come out in an attempt to correct the problem of jumping out of second gear. Jim, keen to assist in correcting or at least improving on the problem, declared that the car had this tendency to jump out of gear when he raced it, but the other contributing factor was probably the use of second hand parts in rebuilding the gear box.
Editor : - When the original gearbox had been built up by Ralph Watson, this problem had been attended to, as is referred to in his account covering the cars construction.
Come race day, as you can imagine, there was a lot of interest in the car from spectators and enthusiasts alike. All had their own recollections of the cars past history and in some cases the part they had played in assisting car or driver during a very extensive race history. Jim took the car out for a warm up practice to see if he could improve on the fuel system settings. At this stage we were burning Av-Gas to keep fuel supplies simple, but later we were to use some of Ralph Watson's special fuel cocktail, as per my later comments. After the practice run Jim came in with a grin from ear to ear, obviously very pleased to again be associated with his old friend even though he was unable to improve much on the flat spot, in the time available.
First race up was mine. From memory I was on the second row of the grid but as the flag dropped I was away to good start and leading into the first ninety degree left hand corner. I narrowly missed a lamppost on the right hand side, which gave me a considerable fright as I could not take the corner any tighter, due to the speed at which I had entered the corner. By the second lap I had a sizeable lead and as the back of the circuit was a series of ninety-degree bends with short straights, there was no one in my sight. As a result of this, I slowed down thinking the race must have been stopped, but this assumption proved to be wrong, as a visiting Australian driver in a Lotus 15 appeared in my rear vision mirror in hot pursuit.
I restarted my race, attempting to keep ahead of my fellow competitors, but by this time the oil temperature was 110 degrees C., the cylinder head temperature over 300 degrees C. and the brakes appeared not to be releasing properly causing excess drag. Eventually I had to let the Lotus 15 through and I ended up second, after competing in the Lycoming for the first time. I remember Jim giving me an ear bashing and wanting to know why I slowed down after having such a commanding lead during the first lap.
The first time out in any new car generally provides lasting memories. Other than on one or two special occasions, such as an off shore event, I have never been one for recording lap times, places etc. I live and race for the day, measure up the competition, mentally assess my ability with the car I have and determine whether or not I should beat them. Circuits have changed extensively over the years, so that gauging how one rates against past performances has no relevance. If the car has been problem free and we both end the day still intact, I have had a great time. After a day of racing, I thoroughly enjoy sitting back and having a beer with my fellow competitors and pit support crew. Socially, classic motor racing is a great sport. You can be as competitive as you like and socialise to the extent with which you feel comfortable. You meet all kinds of people in all walks of life, but I have yet to meet a rat bag within the sport of classic motor racing, with whom I would not socialise. Sure, one does meet people whose ideals and views differ from your own, but this should not get in the way of every one having fun and enjoying themselves
To some extent the problems I have had have been self-inflicted, partly due to my frugal approach to classic car maintenance and the difficulty of obtaining spares in good condition. The gearbox is a classic example of this. The gearbox is unique having been specially built for the car by Ralph Watson so as to provide stepped up gearing to compensate for the relatively low engine speed. Many of the internal gears and components are out of a Warner T 86 D gearbox, which is a steering column change type from a 1941 Studebaker Commander. The gearbox forms part of the Lycoming transaxle unit. Many of the parts are interchangeable with other Warner gearboxes. After collecting numerous spares over a period of time, most of which are in only fair condition, I have been using these with reasonable success. However occasionally I have been let down due to mismatched wear patterns and fatigue in the gears. Presently I am at the end of the line in this approach and am now looking offshore for replacements. If anyone out there knows of a supply source please let me know.
Engine problems have not been major, other than excessive temperature build up and oil leaks. The fuel system has caused considerable problems with adjustments and settings. Sometimes there appeared to be a fuel problem, which later turned out to be spark plug carbon build up and fouling. This was due in part to the generous cylinder clearances which resulted from using cylinders not to aircraft specifications. The spark plug situation has been much improved since going back to twin contact spark plugs. If a miss develops, the rule is to first check the spark plugs before changing any fuel settings and this has proved to be the best sequence of approach. Ralph Watson says the problems can result from excessive fuel pressure. The result is lean mixture and overheating at high speed and a rich mixture at low speed fouling the plugs. Any alteration of fuel pressure requires a readjustment of the cockpit mixture control during a high-speed road test.
When I first acquired the car, one of the few pieces of written information that I received, was a procedure written by Ralph Watson, regarding setting up the fuel system. It was this data that I had been using until I took the car to Laguna Seca in the United States of America in 1991. I showed it to Ralph who was there with us and he acknowledged that there had been some confusion regarding these instructions. Jim had taken the tuning data with him on a South Island tour but had no success in applying the information, but even so and with only 2,900 r.p.m. available, he won the Dunedin Road Race. Ralph pointed out that a replacement nozzle was fitted after Jim Boyd's Southern tour and the fuel pressure reduced from 19 p.s.i. to 12 p.s.i. so that the information I had been using no longer applied. The revised fuel pressure setting has since been used to good effect.
Editor : - Ralph Watson advises that the answer to the problem was to lower the fuel pressure, readjust the idle pressure on the nozzle, then road test at high speed. Apparently the nozzles, made from injection pump parts, are not identical and each requires a different fuel pressure, hence the change when a replacement was fitted. Refer here for further information regarding the injection system and mixture adjustments.
Ralph well remembers a mixture testing session, when Jim Boyd drove him at high speed up and down the local motorway. Ralph had his head down concentrating on fuel settings completely ignoring overtaken traffic rapidly dropping behind, otherwise the experience could have been even more exciting.
It came about through a casual comment from Peter Giddings, who said to me, “How would you like to bring the Lycoming to a meeting at Laguna Seca, at Monterey?” I replied that I would give this idea considerable thought. Peter then qualified his invitation by explaining that the event was by invitation only, and that he would first have to approach the event organiser, Steve Earl, who he was sure he could convince to extend me an invitation. Peter told me to leave it to him and he would contact us following his return to the States. This gave me time to consider the costs involved and who might like to join me at this most prestigious classic motor racing event. This would be the first time the Lycoming would compete overseas.
Bill McCabe was the first to confirm that he was definitely a starter, subject to his wife giving her blessing. I then approached Ralph Watson on the subject of international travel, outlining the full details and assuring him that we would look after him, should he decide to come. His initial reaction was one of controlled enthusiasm and excitement, qualified by the cautious comment, “I will have to think about that.”
Time passed quickly and not long after Peter Giddings returned to the States, following his participation in the N.Z. Southern Festival of Speed events, he contacted me confirming that all was arranged. The Lycoming was indeed invited to compete at Laguna Seca and that full details would be mailed to me shortly. I phoned Ralph Watson to advise him that all was arranged and that we were definitely going. Ralph's response was that he had already made some travel enquiries and had applied for a passport. This all but confirmed that he was going.
Organisation, preparation of the car and associated spares, as well as shipping details, accommodation requirements and the co-ordination of meeting up with Ralph Watson was unexpectedly complicated. Time was marching on with entries, which included a detailed vehicle description and historical record of the Lycoming, closing on the 15th March.
In total there were four cars from New Zealand entered for the 1991 Monterey Historic Automobile Races, but three were rejected due to modifications, and being of more modern vintage than Steve Earl wanted, or he may already have had similar cars available. With my entry confirmed, preparation work started in earnest, including some minor items I had to attend to for the event. The American Race Standards, under the Historic Motor Sport Association, required the fitting of a brake light and the upgrading of the safety harness to three-inch wide section. No major mechanical work was considered necessary, other than plugs, points, general routine maintenance with special attention to oil leaks and grooming.
The shipping date for the car was confirmed for the 18th July and about two weeks prior to this, I had a considerable set back. While cleaning down some oil residue, following resealing the top manifold cover plate, the cleaning brush I was using, shorted across two terminals of the alternator and ignited cleaning fluid in and around the engine. What is more, a bowl of petrol I was holding in my other hand, spilt down my arms and over my hands.
My first reaction was to get rid of the bowl of burning petrol by throwing it out the door. Unfortunately, I spilt it in the process of opening the door, further spreading the fire, but fortunately I had a CO2 fire extinguisher in the garage. My next priority was to extinguish the fire in the Lycoming, then attend to the fire around the exit door in the garage. As you can imagine time moves fast under those conditions. My wife Ellen, had already called emergency services and placed a bucket of cold water out for my arms and hands. At this point I had the fire extinguished and could see that fortunately there was virtually no damage to the Lycoming, other than some panel rubber belting being burnt.
I did not escape so lightly, as my wrists and hands suffered first, second and third degree burns, and I was hospitalised for two weeks undergoing skin grafts. Plans remained as they were for shipping the car. Bill and Ellen attended to shipping details and other necessary documentation. All that remained was for my burns to heal well enough for me to be able to drive. It was impossible to get a progress report on my recovery from hospital staff, but I decided that I would be fit, providing that I did not get an infection and this was something receiving special attention. Bill visited regularly, giving me an update on shipping, Customs and insurance detail and the odd can of Speights, to which I attribute my burns healing so quickly. Bill had been in touch with Ralph Watson assuring him that all arrangements were proceeding as previously arranged, with us meeting him at Auckland Airport.
We took off on the 11th August, four or five days before race date, in order to give ourselves time to clear the car through Customs at Oakland Port, and prepare the car for the meeting. As normal, we arrived a little jaded following the fifteen hour flight. As the local time was 4 15 p.m. we decided to stay up for another five or six hours, in an attempt to adjust to the time zone. After settling into our hotel, we contacted Peter Giddings who invited us out for lunch the following day. In the afternoon we were to go to the wharf to clear the Lycoming through customs.
The next morning following Peter's directions, we made our way to the train system and found the train to take us to Walnut Creek, which was approximately an hour from Central Station. On arrival at Peter and Judy's we were greeted and taken on a conducted tour of the garages. Most of these were individual units of a period style and housed Peter's collection of cars. Some were under various stages of maintenance or awaiting restoration.
Following a most enjoyable meal we took off to the Oakland Wharf. Peter explained on the way that Stan Peterson, a fellow racing enthusiast who had previously raced in the Southern Festival of Speed Series, was going to lend us a tow vehicle for the duration of our visit. We were certainly most grateful. We arrived at Oakland Wharf and lined up in a queue to complete the customs clearances etc. which cost about US$550.00. That completed, Peter explained that our receipt and a further US $200.00 cash (Mafia graft) was required to get any further action from container handling staff. Should we not co-operate our container would be lost in the system for several weeks, or simply listed as missing. Having no other option but to co-operate, we were greeted by smiles and we were out of there in twenty minutes.
Peter dropped us off at a train station and went home with the trailer and car which we were to collect next day on our way down to Monterey. After being dropped off by Peter, we contacted Stan by telephone and arranged to have an evening meal with him at his regular dining house, not far from his residence.
Bill and I arrived by taxi at a place called “The Cactus Bar and Grill” to find Stan quietly drinking a cool beer, while awaiting our arrival. The beer was most welcome, especially following an enjoyable typical Mexican meal, which was somewhat hotter than that to which most Kiwis are accustomed. Following general discussion regarding Stan's exploits of late, covering his motor racing and work hobbies etc., we called it a night and arranged to pick up the van the following day from Stan's house.
Stan's house, which doubles as his place of work, is located on a very steep faced section, with a driveway entrance steeper than Baldwin St. in Dunedin, the steepest street in the world. On walking down the drive, following the refusal of the taxi driver to drive down, we saw Stan's tow van backed to one side, with the wheels chocked. Stan obviously did not trust the hand brake. Stan greeted us from his basement workshop, which was very cramped for room due to the extensive range of lathes, mills and grinding machines, which he used for the engine rebuilding operations he undertook for a few selective clients, as well as his own personal needs. One definitely had difficulty in walking around the area without stepping sideways and over items of interest, along with accumulated machine swarf, most of which had been there for a very long time.
Stan explained that he had many jobs in various stages of rebuild, because some of his clients ran out of funds and progress was relative to cash flow. Some jobs looked as if they had been several years in progress. Out in the yard Stan had an extensive collection of his own cars, as well as many spare chassis and body parts, some of which were stacked on top of one another in an irregular fashion. We spotted Stan's Yardley B R M, which looked complete, sitting under a lean-to with other gear stacked on top of it. On closer inspection the lean-to had about a sixty-foot drop at the rear, so Stan again took the precaution of placing a block under a wheel to prevent its exit.
Following a tour of the work and yard area, we were invited inside for coffee. Here Stan had an amazing collection of antique clocks and books. These items totally occupied every conceivable space. After handing us coffee he asked us to have a seat, but then realised this was not practical due to all seating being occupied by his collections of books. Therefore we stepped outside to enjoy the air and at the same time we gathered our thoughts regarding the surroundings and Stan's amazing collections.
Stan Peterson lives alone with his hobbies and interests. He is a most generous and likable character, well set in his ways and most respected for his long history in racing and ability to rebuild racing engines. On the subject of lady friends during one of our discussions, Stan explained that he had thought about it at one time, but decided against it, as it would restrict his life style and would necessitate changes in his habits. A woman might want to tidy things up a bit and he would never be able to find anything. We had yet to pick up the Lycoming at Peter's and travel to Monterey therefore we thanked Stan for his hospitality and the use of his tow van and headed off to Walnut Creek.
Stan's van is another story in itself and typical of the easy going, laid back character of the person. Stan did explain that he did not have time to groom the van prior to our arrival and there was a bit of junk left in it. He commented that it was a big van and if we put our junk on top of his junk there would still be plenty of room. With this in mind we climbed aboard and slammed the door immediately setting up a cloud of dust, which took several seconds to clear. The dust accumulation was mainly due to Stan's habit of smoking cigarillos while driving and flicking the ash onto the floor, because the ashtray was full to the brim, as well as a jam tin that he kept sitting on top of the engine cowling between the front seats.
On leaving Stan's place we picked up the Lycoming from Peter Giddings at Walnut Creek where we related our experiences with Stan. Peter commented with surprise that Stan had invited us into his home, as very few people had ventured into this private domain, although he was one who had shared the same element of surprise and pleasure. Stan had also given us permission to photograph his workshop area and his collection of cars. This later proved to be of great help to him in sorting out an insurance claim when his property was destroyed in the fires that devastated San Francisco in the 1990s.
We arrived at Monterey about five p.m. and checked in at our accommodation, which was four or five kms out of town. Peter declined our invitation to dine out, settling to eat some food that he had brought in so that he could get his head down early. Bill and I decided we would take Stan's van to town and have a light meal before checking out some fellow Kiwis from Dunedin, representing the Southern Festival of Speed Classic Race Series and with whom we shared accommodation bookings. As the Motel had no social or bar facilities, we spent some time in their unit, toasting good health, success and an enjoyable four day race meeting at Laguna Seca.
We picked up Ralph Watson the following morning at about eight and headed, with the help of a map, to the race circuit secluded in a valley inland from Monterey. On arrival, it was obvious that many of the competitors, as well as marketing and promoting companies, had already settled into their allotted locations, probably a couple of days prior to our arrival. Huge areas were set aside for various car club organisations. For example, the Ferrari Car Club had a paddock of about two hectares for parking Ferraris. It really was spectacular by the end of the first day, as the momentum built up for the four-day event. The number of huge transporters and trailer homes, would exceed most international Grand Prix events, with excess being the order of the day.
The annual Monterey Classic Meetings always have a theme, given special emphasis throughout the four-day meeting. This particular year was a tribute to Juan Manual Fangio, who was there in person over the four-day weekend. There was a special display marquee housing some of the vehicles he drove. These included, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis, Ferraris and Mercedes Benz. Photos, paintings and memorabilia and other items were professionally displayed, in keeping with what is regarded as one of the most prestigious Classic Motoring Events in the world.
Our duties for the morning, included setting up our site, registration for the meeting and scrutineering. All went well except that at scrutineering they were not happy with my M series Dunlop racing tyres in respect the class I had entered. Fortunately I had been forewarned of this possible situation before leaving home, and had brought a spare set of wheels with me, which were somewhat narrower and were fitted with standard radial-ply road tyres. Exchanging the wheels and tyres kept everyone happy, even though these would be inferior to the L series tyres most of the other competitors were using.
The engine had a miss when first started. Oil can transfer to the bottom of the crankcase and flood the cylinder barrels so that some oil by passes the rings and fouls the plugs on first starting up. Changing plugs using the spares we had available, rectified this problem. However Ralph was still not happy with the way the engine was running. He set about reducing the fuel pressure to about 12 p.s.i. and compensating for this by opening the main jet orifice. Apparently on Ralph's advice Jim Boyd had used these settings with good success, so that he considered this the best option.
It was compulsory for all new competitors to attend a Jim Russell driving instruction course, which I thought was good value, as it covered all aspects of the track, corner by corner and identified potential hazard areas. The course commenced in a lecture room, then all those attending got into their own cars and followed the instructor around the circuit. On the completion of each lap, the car directly behind the instructor dropped off to the back of the line, so as to give each trainee the opportunity to sit behind the car driven by the instructor. The purpose of this was to learn the correct approach angle and exit for each corner. While I was attending the drivers training lecture, Bill and Ralph carried out final tuning and grooming, as well as attending to many enquiries from people passing by, regarding the car and its history
After being driven during practical circuit instruction, the car was performing in much the same manner as previously, but may have been a little more responsive, although at this point it was hard to judge, as we were in a slow training session rather than racing. The first real test for the car was to come with the first practice session, scheduled for later in the morning.
Over the four-day meeting at Laguna Seca, there is only one proper race and this is the last event for any given class. All other races are considered as heats used to set up the fine-tuning of the cars and finalise grid positions for the major race. We lined up on the grid on the Friday with group 7A, which represented Sports Racing cars over 2.000 c.c.
Our group included vehicles such as three American Ol' Yaller Specials, Hagemann Chrysler, Hagemann Jaguar, Scarab Mk 1, Ferrari 250 TR, 625 TRC, 290 Mk 1, Maserati 300s, T-61, Jaguar D type, Corvette and a Ford Thunderbird. The line up was particularly interesting from my point of view, as I had no idea of the performance of the various cars, or of driver potential in relationship to the Lycoming and myself. This situation was new to me at the time. In New Zealand I had been exposed to the same cars and drivers at most meetings, and became aware of each cars performance and the habits of the driver. A little local knowledge is generally an advantage and helps you plan your tactics
We were flagged off for the first heat and I took a passive approach for the first lap or so, checking on my competition potential and what car could be a serious threat. As the practice session progressed, I developed more confidence and passed a number of cars although the radial street tyres did not make me feel as comfortable as when using Dunlop racing M series. By the end of this first practice I had a better idea of the circuit except the very steep, twisting, descending section at turns 8, 9 and 10.
This was unlike any circuit that I had raced on and required maximum confidence on the steep downhill section to achieve a good lap time. The rest of the circuit was similar to others I had raced on and did not require particular attention. My intention was therefore to focus on this downhill section if I was to show reasonable form with the Lycoming. The following day was our first heat building up to the final race. At this stage lap times recorded meant that I had qualified fifth fastest at practice and I was confident that there was considerable room for improvement during the build up to the final race.
The following morning we lined up in a grid formation according to practice times. I made a reasonable start and held my position into the first corner without incident. We had all been warned that if any vehicle made contact with any other, there would be a full enquiry and the offending driver stood down for the rest of the meeting. What is more it was more than likely that he would not be invited to any future meeting. Without being over aggressive, I kept on the tail of an American Ol' Yaller Special, waiting my opportunity to pass.
From memory, it was during the third lap at turn eleven, while in second gear prior to entering the main straight, that there was a distinctive bang from the gearbox and I ceased to have any drive. I coasted to a standstill on the left side on the main straight cursing my luck, as I suspected the worst with limited spares available. I was pushed off the circuit into the pits, very handy to where I had stopped. On explaining what had happened to Bill and Ralph, they also showed their disappointment after all the effort we had put in trying to acquit ourselves well at this meeting.
Changing from my race suit to overalls I started stripping out the gearbox for inspection in order to see what items were damaged. While undertaking this task we were approached by various individuals aware of our mechanical problems, offering assistance and possible contacts for parts. However both the second gear and the corresponding gear on the cluster had stripped teeth, as a direct result of fatigue fractures at the base of the teeth. As it was Saturday afternoon parts would at the latest, have had to be flown in overnight, machined to match the modified gear train Ralph had developed from the 1941 Studebaker Borg Warner gearbox, then assembled and fitted. Even without supply and delivery hitches, we would not have had time to make the final race on Sunday. As a result we reluctantly became spectators for the rest of the meeting, but were able to enjoy the hospitality of other competitors and the organisers of the event.
There was a memorable incident when Fangio was invited to complete a lap of honour in some of the cars which he drove during his time as world champion. He went out under the control of a pace car, a 500 SL Mercedes which doubled as a camera car complete with a photographer, seated in the rear with fixed tripod and gear. The pace car was progressing round the circuit at a reasonable clip considering that Fangio was only equipped with a cloth cap and sports gear, but the crowd loved every moment of it and demanded more. The result was that the pace car really started to extend itself to the point where it spun out coming down the steep incline around turn nine. This gave Fangio a real opportunity to crack on the pace. He passed the pace car and accelerated for a couple of uncontrolled laps of the circuit, much to the ire of controlling race officials, who were waving black flags in an attempt to stop him. He ignored all, playing to the crowd who were on their feet in the stand cheering and clapping and encouraging him on faster, for a further lap or two. It was just as well that he was Fangio and the guest of honour as the consequences of anyone else ignoring the officials would have been rather serious.
That evening all competitors and crew were invited to a social in honour of Fangio, where all competitors met him personally, as well as Gonzales, who was also autographing posters marking the event. The atmosphere, the people involved, the displays and hospitality, made the whole event something I will never forget, as I am sure Bill and Ralph will confirm. Several American drivers, who had participated in the event on numerous occasions and considered this particular meeting, to be the best to date, reinforced this view.
Sunday was the final day of racing and because we were relegated to being spectators, we had the opportunity to move around the circuit to view the event from different locations. This confirmed the unique design and challenge the circuit presented, with the main straight being the only section of the circuit that was on a horizontal plane. After the last race we had to pack up the Lycoming and all the gear ready to go back to New Zealand in a container.
However first we were to attend the competitors' prize giving, which proved to be a very informal affair and of relatively short duration. We were offered glasses of wine from suitably labelled bottles to mark the occasion, while we listened to the speeches followed by the various class results. The winner of each class was selected by drawing, at random from a hat, a marble that had a competition race number on it. We all agreed that this was the fairest way to select a winner by not over emphasising those who crossed the finish line first. All prizes consisted of one of the specially labelled bottles of wine.
During the course of the day we had been invited to various parties, some within the pit area and others some distance out of town. The pit party was at Stan Peterson's, where we found him with a group of people of similar age, who all competed in Formula Junior cars. We advised Stan that in the course of organising his van prior to putting our gear aboard, we had found a copy of his Tax Return that should have been filed some years back. Stan said not to worry about it as the Tax Dept. had already informed him that it was missing. We also confessed to emptying his ashtrays and the jam tin, which quite upset him and he asked us why we had to do that!
After a social ale or two with him and his mates, we were asked to attend another function and barbecue in Carmel Valley, where Clint Eastwood was the local mayor. Several other Kiwis were invited as guests of Tom Gurney, who had participated in an early Southern Festival of Speed, driving a Morgan. Denny Hulme was also invited and was the only other New Zealand driver that weekend, as the result of an invitation drive in a Can Am car. Denny explained during a discussion that evening, that he was returning from Germany where he also had driven by invitation at a Classic Meeting. Therefore picking up an extra drive at Laguna Seca, had worked in well with his travel arrangements. Later in the evening, after a very enjoyable time, we thanked our hosts and returned to our hotel some thirty miles away.
The following day one thing we had to do before heading to San Francisco, was visit the Annual Classic car concourse at Pebble Beach. This event is internationally recognised as world class and entry requirements are similar to those for the Laguna Seca Classic Races, i.e. strictly by invitation, following very close scrutiny of the car and the quality of presentation, which must be to the highest standard. Crowds attend this event in the tens of thousands. On arrival spectators are directed to a parking area, picked up by bus and transported to the event centre at the Golf Clubhouse.
A wide range of cars of up to approximately 1960 vintage were on display, including vintage Cadillacs and Thunderbirds. A 1920 Rolls Royce, specially built for game shooting, included a cocktail cabinet, as well as two Purdie shotguns of similar vintage, and had the interior decorated with pheasant feathers. Some of the cars competing at Laguna were also present. Having enjoyed lunch and sampled some of the local beer, we decided to head back for a final walk around the town centre, before returning to San Francisco the following morning with the Lycoming and trailer.
We had arranged for Peter Giddings to ship the Lycoming back to New Zealand and therefore returned the car to his place at Walnut Creek. The van was returned to Stan's place and he gave us a ride back to our Hotel in the city centre. When it came time to say good-bye and thank you; Stan said that he was pleased we had not cleaned his van as if we had, he would not be able to find it in the hotel car park to drive home.
The whole trip to the USA was a rewarding experience even though the problems experienced with the Lycoming were a little disappointing. We all enjoyed Ralph's company, although we wondered where he had got to half the time. Ralph had his own daily routine, starting with his special cocktail of muesli in the mornings, the routine continuing until he turned in early in the evenings. This allowed Bill and me to venture out after dark. Ralph remained rather independent throughout the trip, but the times we did spend with one another were mutually rewarding and enjoyed by all. As previously mentioned, involvement with old cars, opens many doors to new and interesting acquaintances all around the world, and this has enhanced the pleasure of owning and competing in New Zealand's own most historic racing car.
John Dymond of the Penrite Oil Company in Australia was the catalyst in arranging a sponsored trip to Australia at the invitation of the Austin Seven Club and the club met the cost of shipping the Lycoming over to Melbourne. Travel over and the first night was uneventful for Bill McCabe, our wives and myself.
The following morning we arranged the hire of a rental vehicle and travelled out to the Penrite factory and warehouse, where we met up with John and Mark Dymond, who had already cleared the Lycoming through customs. Peter Giddings was also visiting and participating at the same meeting. John had also assisted Peter in clearing his car, the Alfa Romeo Monza, through Customs ready for towing to Winton. Considerable time was spent at the CAMS office in Melbourne arranging a full season CAMS racing license and a full medical certificate had to be issued. Fortunately I had made prior arrangements and a Motor Sport New Zealand doctor had forwarded my medical results. It is interesting to note that MANZ and CAMS have since co-operated in recognising their licensing requirements.
We took off the following morning to travel to Winton, which is about 150 miles from Melbourne. As we were unable to hire a vehicle with a tow bar, a kind motor sport enthusiast from the Austin Seven Club towed the Lycoming. The Dymonds, Peter Giddings and their crew all travelled independently, but we were all staying at the same place so we were to catch up with them later. On arriving at Benella we checked into our motel, which was prearranged by the organisers of the Winton Austin Seven Club meeting, Brenda and Grant Campbell. These two people almost solely organise this whole event annually and this is well recognised by members of the Austin Seven Club. They hold these two people in very high regard for their organising ability and the success of the meeting, including all social events, year after year.
On Friday evening there, was an evening meal for all competitors and crew, where we were able to catch up with old and new friends. The latter included Russell Greer from Blenheim who had brought over the Stanton Corvette, also sponsored by the Austin Seven Club. At most of these social events before a race, even the best of lies are believed by all. That is until the social following the race meeting. This was a great social event, fully confirmed by a personal medical check the following morning. Bill reported a headache and a mouth and throat that he described as being drier than a buzzard's crutch. Our general health condition improved greatly after a couple of Disprins and a full breakfast. After completing a weather check, we proceeded out to Winton about five miles from Benella. The meeting was run over two days, with a wide variety of vehicles grouped into specific period classes, rather different to what we are able to achieve in New Zealand. Total vehicle entry was in excess of 250, dating from 1925 through to 1975.
The Lycoming performed very well in practice and in the first race was well matched with Graeme Snapes' blown Zephyr Special. We exchanged positions several times at different sections of the circuit. All was going very well until the Lycoming clutch disintegrated, which brought the car to a shuddering halt on the side of the circuit.
A rapid strip down and removal of the clutch after being towed to the pits, revealed that a clutch finger and its mounting point on the pressure plate had broken. The damage was beyond repair as the component was cast iron with some sections missing. Several Australian drivers were ready to assist by making phone calls to Melbourne to see if a replacement could be found and freighted as soon as possible to Winton. As it was Saturday late afternoon we were up against it and were not able to locate one in time to compete the next day. However I must say that the locals made every effort possible.
They say it is Murphy's Law that if one is going to have problems it will happen when far away from home without spares, as happened in both America and Australia. I can't remember any other occasion when the Lycoming has failed to compete at a race meeting because of a mechanical breakdown while in my ownership. The following day was spent spectating, enjoying the company of other competitors and checking their cars, many not having previously been seen. The post race function was very similar to those we have in New Zealand, commencing shortly after the last race and of limited formality, with a special welcome for overseas guests, followed by plenty of fine food and fluids to elevate the spirits.
Following discussions with John Dymond of Penrite Oils, we agreed to leave the Lycoming in their hands for necessary repairs to the clutch assembly.
We intended to return to compete in two more meetings, the Geelong Sprint, which was timed sprint sponsored by Ford Australia and a race meeting at Eastern Creek, a racing circuit just out of Sydney.
John and his son Mark are very much into Classic Motor racing, using it very effectively to promote Penrite Oil products throughout Australia and New Zealand. They also have a well-equipped engineering and mechanical workshop to restore, maintain and support their classic car collection. They are also involved in some outside work for other clients and overseas visitors such as us and a more frequent visitor, Peter Giddings from the U.S.A.
John sees mileage in assisting overseas visitors as a means of promoting Penrite products and they are always looking for cars they have not previously seen. As a result of their experience and the quality of their workmanship, I had no hesitation in trusting them with the necessary repairs. Following confirmation of these arrangements, Bill and I gathered up luggage and wives and took off for the airport to return our rental and catch a flight home to Dunedin.
Our trip to Eastern Creek was complemented by the presence of Ralph Watson and his long time friend and motor sport competitor Trevor Sheffield. They travelled independently and Bill McCabe and I met them at the circuit on the first day of the two-day meeting.
This was a meeting that required very little arranging and preparation as the Penrite Oil Company was very supportive in towing the Lycoming from Melbourne to Sydney and returning it to their Melbourne base at the conclusion of the meeting, involving over 1,200 towing miles. They also arranged our accommodation close to the circuit and race entry preliminary details. All that was left for us to do was sign race indemnities and pay a few bills. I felt really spoilt just like a professional driver. My only chore for the day being to drive the car, enjoy the atmosphere of the meeting and socialise.
All that special feeling changed very quickly when about an hour before our scheduled practice I spotted a damp patch under the car. A water leak was out of the question so it had to be a fuel leak. A quick investigation traced the leak to the fuel pump which Ralph Watson had so meticulously modified to give variable fuel pressure delivery to the intake manifold nozzle. Back to reality, a quick change out of racing overalls and my sleeves rolled up. Off came the fuel pump for further inspection.
A carbon seal proved to be the problem and luckily enough, this time I had a spare part with me. Ralph Watson was showing some concern at this stage, with practice time fast approaching. There I was squatting on the ground feverishly stripping down the pump assembly, bits everywhere, far removed from the clinical conditions one would expect when servicing aircraft engines. Ralph looked on for a brief moment to see what was up. From the corner of my eye I saw him shake his head and walk away looking very dejected. He no doubt thought that I was not going to make the deadline for practice and would be out of action for the weekend.
On this occasion luck was on my side as the repair proved successful. After starting the car for testing and leaving it running while I quickly changed back into my racing overalls, then drove the car to the marshalling area to form up for the first practice for our group. Shortly after firing up the car following the hasty repair, guess who showed up to conduct his own personal inspection of the repair? Ralph withdrew his head from under the bonnet grinning from ear to ear, but said not a thing. However I got the impression that we both knew that his first trip to Australia was not to be in vain.
Practice went well. I concentrated mainly on learning the circuit and the correct approach to the corners. The circuit is unusual in that it has a very long main straight that is slightly down hill with a moderately fast left-hand corner. Coming out of the straight you then start climbing progressively through a series of slower to moderately fast corners to maximum elevation. Here you start to descend rapidly, in a fast to moderate left handed sweeper, followed by a right on entering the main down hill straight where maximum speed can be achieved.
The field of cars in our first race was a relatively mixed bunch of sports cars and single-seaters of varied engine capacity and performance. The grid was set up in reverse order with the faster cars and larger engine vehicles at the rear. I was not certain as to the format, but was off the back with the Carter Corvette, which was out for its first public meeting since a total rebuild by the Penrite Oil Company. Mark Dymond, who was driving, led the way through the field, with me trying to hang onto his tail. With his previous track experience and a car with superior performance, he gradually left me behind together with most of the field.
We were on about the third lap and making reasonable headway through the field in front of us when a black flag with my race number on it appeared from the start finish line. The normal reaction to this is to stop racing and pull into the pits at the completion of the next lap. Having done this I was approached by the flag marshal who advised that the Lycoming had exceeded the sound level reading. This was considered a very serious offense and could lead to the meeting organisers being fined in excess of $100,000 by the local authority, if they received a notified complaint. As a result I was initially told that unless the problem was rectified, I would be unable to participate in the remainder of the meeting.
Robin Snape, wife of Graeme and editor and secretary of the H.S.R.C.A. publication, made an appeal to the organising authority on my behalf. She was able to convince them that as a visitor to their country they should bend the rules, especially as the location of the decibel monitor was not correctly located for the Lycoming and directly faced the side discharge of the exhaust system. It was also pointed out that silencing modifications would require extensive work. Her appeal had reasonable success, which allowed us to participate in the rest of the meeting, but I was not to use full power in case someone should make a public complaint. The effect of this took the competitive edge off our participation as we were very mindful of further upsetting any officials.
The event concluded with the usual social hour or so with prize giving and special thanks to overseas entrants. I guess this included us along with Peter Giddings, who I think was the only other foreigner present. The car was returned to Melbourne courtesy of Penrite Oil staff, and we offered them our heartfelt thanks.
After 20 years of regular classic car racing, averaging about seven races per year, the car needs some further tender loving care, mainly in the front suspension, motor and gearbox departments. I have purchased some gearbox items from the U.S.A. and hope to rebuild a spare motor. The bodywork is still in good condition, although getting very thin due to some early incidents and repairs while in the hands of other people. During the restoration which I undertook in 1984 there was also some filing for body finish, as I tried to maintain the original body work as far as possible.
Fortunately there have been relatively few incidents during racing and very little damage to the car. In any racing situation there are a good many near misses, some the direct result of the mistakes of other competitors and some due to unforeseen circumstances such as oil spills. One near miss in the Wellington Street Race was as a direct result of an oil spill at a dog leg corner. The Lycoming swapped ends and just stopped short of hitting the Armco barrier with its tail end, by 150 m.m. This circuit left no room for error due to the continuous Armco barriers installed to protect spectators.
Wigram is a circuit everyone enjoyed, fast and open with plenty of escape areas to avoid incidents. This is in fact how most people view it. However two incidents resulting in damage to the Lycoming both occurred at Wigram. The first occurred towards the latter part of 1980 when I was approaching the slowest bend on the circuit, the left hander just in front of the dummy grid. Dave Silcock was driving the Cooper Bristol belonging to Rodney McPherson, a competitor from the U.K. Dave either stalled, or had a gear selection problem, at the apex of the corner and was all but stationary while I was fast approaching the corner, assuming that he would have cleared that position.
I left it a little late to avoid him and we made contact, with the Lycoming front left wheel hitting his left rear wheel at the hub centre. This resulted in the Lycoming front cross member being bent and the steering rack damaged, but there was very little body damage. The Cooper faired considerably better, the only damage being a slight bend in the rear bottom swinging-arm. It was later discovered that the Lycoming dual circuit brakes had a frozen master cylinder and effectively had no rear brakes at the time and this no doubt was a contributing factor.
The second incident also occurred at a meeting held at Wigram, in February 2000, which was to be the final meeting at this circuit. This occurred in a handicapped event while overtaking Rob Boult's Allard around the hangars. Rob was approaching the hangar bend, driving in the centre of the track. He saw me approaching and indicated to me to pass on the inside. Unfortunately I never saw his signal and knowing Rob's competitive nature i.e. never give an inch unless forced to, I decided the only way around him was on the outside. The result was that Rob moved over to the left-hand side to make room, thinking I was coming through on the right hand side. This left me nowhere to go and resulted in the Lycoming hitting a large motor scraper tyre at a considerable rate of knots. Moderate body damage was sustained including the left-hand guard, and once again the steering rack suffered.
Considering the racing miles completed, the Lycoming has fared very well in the damage and incident stakes. Repairs had been minor to moderate in both incidents and the cost fairly modest. One hopes this situation may continue, or better still the future be incident free.
Whenuapai. Airfield Circuit.
Ardmore. Airfield Circuit.
Pukekohe. Racing Circuit.
Hamilton. Street Race.
Christchurch. Ruapuna Racing Circuit.
Wellington. Street Race.
Christchurch. Wigram Air Field Circuit.
Timaru. Levels Racing Circuit.
Waimate. Street Race.
Dunedin. Street Race & Hill Climb.
Invercargill. Teretonga Racing Circuit.
Queenstown. Street Race, Hill Climb & Bent Sprint
Southern Festival of Speed Series.
Invercargill. Ryal Bush Anniversary Road Race.
The Lycoming has also been on display at numerous motor shows and on one occasion travelled unaccompanied to Levin for a reunion motor show, much to the delight of motor enthusiasts. The Lycoming has competed on a regular basis year after year at most of the South Island circuits, although lately appearances have been less frequent as I have used other vehicles at some events
Ralph Watson and the late Jim Boyd:
Their knowledge provided me with the confidence that any technical problems associated with the restoration would be solved. The support they gave and the information made readily available is fully appreciated. My thanks go to both Ralph and Jim.
My long time friend and confidant who has supported me through thick and thin and tolerated my short fuse when things did not go according to plan. He has run, fetched, documented, cleaned, polished, handled spectator and journalist interviews, when I have considered other matters to take priority. He has changed plugs, drained catch tanks between races and attended to whatever the car needed. Bill has been 100 percent supportive from my first race meeting in the Lycoming. He has accompanied me on many overseas trips as well as most of those in New Zealand. His unique sense of humour and his ability to respond to my line of thought, without a word being spoken, is amazing. Many thanks Bill, for your support and friendship.
My Wife Ellen:
When I first mentioned that I was going to buy another classic car, her only stipulation was that it was not to be a single seater and that it would be nice to have a sports car that she could run around in. I quickly assured her that it was a sports car and was more suited to shopping than a single seater. You can imagine her disgust when we arrived home with a trailer load of bits and pieces.
Ellen has yet to drive the Lycoming and probably never will, even though the car has been road registered. Therefore this challenge remains. Thanks Ellen for understanding my passion for old racing cars.
Ralph Smith hopes that there may be a reader, who can provide, even a small clue, regarding the missing Lycoming workshop manual, as written by Ralph Watson and mentioned in the preceding article. He can be contacted care of,
The Classic Car Club, P.O. Box 318, Dunedin.
Since the preceding article was published in the first edition of this book, Ralph Smith has been annoyed to discover that the special dual points distributor fitted to the Lycoming, had been twice incorrectly set up for him by a firm claiming to be specialists. This fault has recently been corrected by one who knows what he is doing and the cars performance has been transformed. Furthermore much of the previous frustration regarding tuning, has been laid to rest.
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