29th August 1979.
Northland Auto Sport
The Northland Car Club, as such, must be now around 23/4 years old. It is a shame that we weren’t far-sighted enough right at the start to insist on a library of all club newsletters being kept to record the clubs history for posterity. I trust it is being done now.
I would like to submit the following articles written from memory – for publishing in your fine magazine. I hope some of the articles stimulate other members to writing in their viewpoint to correct some of my hazy recollections, as we will gain then some good controversial meat for the magazine.
The articles will be:
1. The Northland Special
2. Car Trials
3. Joe Lawton
4. Puhi Puhi
5. Waipu Gorge
6. D.R. Filter Grass Tracks
7. Roy Billington, Vic Simpkin and John Windelburn.
8. The Start of Rallies
9. Northland Specials
If these articles are published one a month in the magazine and they generate letters in reply, we will fill in gaps in club history.
signed. . . . . .
The Northland Special: Sept 1979 NCC mag
I first became aware of Car Club interest in Whangarei when around about 1955 I saw a racing car parked in Maunu Road outside what was then the Reliance Tyre Co. Depot, managed by John McDonald, service van driver Bruce Burling (now Brian Simpkins Auto Sales).
The car was the Northland Special which had been just purchased by Lionel Bulcraig of Kawakawa. It was, I believe first known as the Palmer Special after its builders and was fitted with a Ford V8 with Offenhauser heads and manifolds.
Lionel raced the car for several seasons until he got involved with Cooper Climax single seaters and finally with a very rare car, the Aston Martin single seater, specially built for the Tasman series (ex Lex Davison Australia) and fitted with a 2 ½ litre sports car engine.
(This car is now in England in Tom Wheatcrofts Donnington Museum, I think).
I was at Te Hana in 1962 when I saw Lionel drive through in the Aston Martin, which he had just taken delivery of. I think the chances of driving a Formula Pacific car from Auckland to Kawakawa today, would be fairly remote.
To return to the Northland Special, I remember at one of the early Puhi Puhi hillclimbs, the car was entered by a family of Australians with little or no idea of hillclimbing. They were negotiating to buy the car and had named it the Roo Special and were all decked out in bright red overalls with all the “Ocker” talk being how they were going to show us. However, their driving was pitifully slow and they faded from the scene.
Later around 1964, Johny Windelburn bought the car but before he competed in it, Ken McLennan bought it off him. Ken was the best thing that could have happened to the car because he was a fine mechanic, a good sportsman, and a very skilful driver.
Ken changed the engine to a Jaguar 20HC unit. I think a 3.4 out of a MKVII. It was a long narrow car with a lot of weight up front and the driver sitting near the back wheels, which must have made it a twitchy beast to drive, but Ken used to power slide the fast corners with a great style.
Eventually Ken sold it to Fred Courtney of Kaikohe another very determined driver who carried on in hillcimbs.
Article Two to be published next month.
Car Trials: Oct 1979 NCC mag
Seeing this racing car in Maunu Road in 1955 caused me to enquire and make the acquaintance of John MacDonald who invited me to a meeting which was to be held to form a car club. I’m a bit hazy about this meeting because my memory conjures up two pictures. One of a meeting in the Druids Hall in Bank Street, where John MacDonald was elected the first President and the other in a small room in the front of the Winter Show buildings in Lower Dent Street. I have a recollection that at this second meeting, designs for the Car Club badge were considered and one presented by a friend of mine, Geoff Ralls was decided on and remains to this day.
At this stage full of over-confidence and enthusiasm I volunteered myself as an experienced navigator into the crew of Tui Cameron, with an A70 Hampshire. I built a table for the back of his car with lights and an extra speedo and on our first trial demonstrated my complete lack of knowledge by getting us hopelessly lost. Tui lost interest after this but the club carried on with trialling and certain crews started to become quite a threat in N.Z. Championship events.
Members like the late Vic Simpkin, Graham Wright, Bruce Burling and Neil Johns carried the flag in those early days and our Club started to be noticed. Trials in those days were N.Z’s main motor sport (except for Ardmore) and were 24hr or 12hour practically non-stop marathons.
Mrs Dot Simpkin, Judy Burling, Shirley Scampton and others formed an all girls crew who had several successes. I joined Graham Wrights crew for the 1956, 7, 8, seasons for the first two years in VW and the last year in a 1956 MK1 Zephyr.
In this last season our crew was Graham Wright driver, Colin Fuge co-driver, Roy Billington time-keeper and myself as map reader / spotter.
After a very successful season we finished 3rd in the N.Z Gold Star Trials Championship.
Graham was a tremendously smooth polished driver who, even when speeding through rain or fog making up lost time placed the car through corners with polished precision.
As a Club we didn’t organise any major trails ourselves, but we did assist the Northern Wairoa Club with its Peugot Gold Star Trial.
More next month.
Joe Lawton: Nov 1979 NCC mag
George Lawton or Joe as we called him, was involved with the Club from the start. Firstly, with a Zephyr MKI convertible finished in a pale blue which he hillclimbed with some success. Joe was a stocky, good natured chap of around 17-18years old a son of George Lawton of Lawton Construction. He next brought an Austin Healy 100-6 (I think) and raced this at Ardmore, Levin and in hillclimbs, in fact wherever possible. Mike Clark of Micheal Clark Ltd, Khyber Pass, Auckland, and I were serving our apprenticeships at Weston Motors at this time and Mike and Joe were great mates. So I used to hear all the stories about the weekends away. One time trying the Healy on a new set of Michelen x radials, they were heading through the left-hander by Kamo Spa at a good 70+ when the car did a quick 360 without touching the sides and for no apparent reason. This it appears could happen on Michelen x’s which held on very well up to a point but when they let go it was all over.
Next Joe bought the Bob-tailed Cooper Climax Sports (x Bruce McLaren) and again covered the country competing in every event possible. He was a very forceful, determined driver and would have a go at anything. I was a tow-truck driver at a Waipu Gorge sprint one day when I had to pick up what was left of this car from the bottom of a bank in the bush after Joe had flipped it and I still remember the mud and grass stains on the back of Joes shoulders which made me think how lucky he was.
Dick Penny who was Westons foreman panel beater, then re-built the alloy body and did a beautiful job. Then for the 1959 season Joe got the X McLaren single seater cooper climax and set out to prove he was New Zealand’s top resident driver. The aim was to earn the coveted “Driver to Europe” award, won the previous year by Bruce McLaren. As secretary I wrote letters to the N.Z.I.G.P putting forward Joe’s name but it seems we had competition from as unknown (tous) namely Denis Hulme. After a hard – fought season, they were both chosen and took off in 1960 for a season in Europe. The season was a fairly hard grind for both drivers but towards the end team managers were noticing Joe Lawton because he was a hard trier. He had been signed as driver for one of the teams (I think Yeoman Credit) for the following season when in the end of the season meeting at Roskildering, Sweden, Joe was thrown from his cartwheeling car and died of his injuriers. He had spun out at the same spot in practice the day before but typically still gave that corner everything he’d got.
A quiet, good-natured guy and a true Northland sportsman.
Puhi Puhi: December 1979 NCC mag
The work we used to do on the Puhi Puhi road. As our one and only hillclimb course where we grew to hold Gold Star events, we took our responsibilities very seriously. Whole weekends were spent metalling and grading the road, forming spectator’s paths through the scrub, building a by-pass road through a farm etc.
On the day there would be a tent with p.a system in the pits, crowd control marshalls, with a rope fence at the hairpin, in fact all the drama. On our first day there we had Tom Clark HWM, Ross Jensen Austin Healey 100s, Jim Boyd super charged Buckler, Ivy Stephenson Riley Sorts and many club members in a variety of cars, like MKI Zephyrs, 2 ½ litre Rileys, A30s etc.
In one of the later meetings Bruce McLaren set the record in the 48s or49s range and I remember Joe Lawton and Lionel Bulcraig making determined onslaught on it. I think Joe cracked it in the end with a time in the high 47s.
As a hill, it had only two real corners although the hairpin near the top was a cracker with a deceptive entry. Ken Sagar competed here in his immaculate Cooper Norton with his father and spanners in attendance on the way to his N.Z title. Peter Elford and John Grant used to bring up their Cooper Bristol and Cooper Vincent single seaters on trailers behind the one car, a 1949 Super Snipe. I remember one year a Malaysian chap brought up a 250F Maserati but took one look at the metalled road and didn’t unload the car. It wasn’t Prince Bira, in fact I’d never heard of this chap before or since.
Many brave feats were performed and fine cars seen. Of notable memory were Dot Potter in the lumbering v* racing car, Ted Thompson, immaculate ’39 v* coupe with 8 Su cars, Neil Johns starting in reverse in his Mini Cooper then a quick spin and away.
But the most memorable mind bending feats of all were performed by Red Dawson and John Riley in V8 coupes. Red in a ’38 Ford V8 and John in a ’37 Chevrolet both with Corvette motors. Both were ex-stock car drivers, hard tough men with a rough sense of humour. When they buried their boot off the line they forget to take is off again and there would follow the shattering scream of a tortured V8 motor, the clang of rocks, a rooster tail of dust at least half a mile long and the car sliding sideways – this way – that way always an inch from disaster until the finish line was reached yet again.
Waipu Gorge: Feb 1980 NCC Mag
A sinuous but fairly smooth metalled road near the bottom of the northern side of the Brynderwyn Hill.
We started at the first old quarry about a quarter mile in on a slight down slope, through a right hander then up to a big left around a shoulder of the hill, down through a sweeping right, then up the straight to a sharp left around a big bluff with a big drop on the outside. Curve right down to a sweeping left then a short stretch through the trees to a fast right up a short straight to a big left then down and right over the finish line at the second quarry. Mainly flat but some slight up hill and down – no room for mistakes.
We use to run the wire out on the trailer, setting up phones at start and finish and two at intervals on the way through. Lousy job picking it up at the end of the day.
One of Northland Car Clubs greatest events were our speed weekends. Puhipuhi on Saturday and Waipu Gorge on Sunday. I remember Bruce McLaren in the Cooper Sports at Waipu Gorge, Ron Roycroft in a Bugatti Jaguar, one of the first appearances of the Lycoming Specials driven by the chap who’d built it, Ralph Watson, John Mansel Alfa Romeo Monza, Laurie Powell Ford V8 Special, Graham Harvey Ford V8 Coupe, Bob Highstead in an indecently fast Goggomobil Coupe and Allan Woolf in a 1937 Ford V8 Saloon.
Happenings of note that I remember were Johny Mansel in the Alfa entering the straight – full chat with the R.F wheel out in high paspalum on the apex of the corner. He didn’t know what was under that grass and he wasn’t getting out to look. Roy Billington Buckler Sports, upside down, down a bank above the river, stopped by a single tree. Allan Woolf Ford V8 – on its side – out of the car onto its wheels and away again. I forgot to mention that all the cars used to go through one way and wait and then we’d all come back the other way.
I remembered being on a start control one day at the northern end and this elderly gentleman in a Hillman Minx didn’t want to stop for the marshals. While we argued with him Joe Lawton came through in this Healy. He had to throw the car out in a full power slide to miss the Hillman – flashing past fully sideways. After that the elderly gent obeyed our instructions.
The last Waipu Gorge was a bit sad. John Grant a likeable Aucklander bought up this Cooper Vincent which when off the cam had no power and when, at about 4000 rpm, it came on the cam it had at all. It caught John out on one of the straight and veered off into a fence. The fence wires were criss-crossed each side of Johns head with one wire cutting in below the eye and through the nose – barbed wire too. I had to gently ease the wires away with the tow truck winch, while we carefully got John out. He recovered with much plastic surgery, but it was a nasty crash.
D.R. Filter Grass Tracks: March 1980 NCC Mag
The Dr Filter Grass Track Series was quite an enterprising promotion for our Club and in its time gained a lot of publicity. The City Council and the farmer who leased the land were very co-operative and club members worked like they had never worked before. We spent days setting up a big rectangular circuit – filling and levelling and pulling out fences. I remember that Club Captain Graham Wright had the responsibility of Clerk of the Course and on the Saturday most of the club worked and slaved setting up the track whilst Graham was competing at a Club Circuit at Pukekohe. On Sunday Graham came back, took one look at the track and added “Chicanes to both the straights”. Immediately as President I received a deputation headed by Dave Tindall demanding their removal. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I took the deputations side and at the ensuing committee meeting also demand their removal. As President I should have tackled the complaint and no doubt the ensuing discussions would have sorted the matter out with no feelings hurt.
However, the whole situation was rendered a waste of time by a deluge which left the whole circuit under water. Amidst cries of cancel I drove down the track the night before with a small hardy bunch and we found the next paddock out of the water. We immediately set out a track and out first grass track was under way. Ok the ground was rough – but the racing was lively and we were under way. We had some good seasons with good crowd attendances and a lot of fun. I remember a young lad in the spectators, drove his new Honda 90 into a drain and buckled the front forks so I took it home and fixed it for him which was very good Club P.R.
I also remember some chap (was it Graham Wright) in a VW driving over the same drain. He hadn’t seen it but his speed was judged right and the car didn’t even hesitate. We had some fairly dramatic rollovers.
A Cortina from down South which made front page news, as we hauled the driver out of the windscreen. Ken McLellan in the Northland Special which left Ken looking very seriously at the world around him and Fred Courtney in the Vauxhall Dodge Saloon which surprised Fred no end.
No doubt about that grass, it’s good while she slides but when they dig in it’s all over.
Most interesting competitor in a Land Rover with a Chev V8 in it. Not fair eh.
How about a rally sprint in the North?
Roy Billington, Vic Simpkin and John Windelburn: April 1980 NCC mag
Roy Billington: Roy was the son of a retired farmer and worked at the Whangarei Engineering Co engine reconditioning division as a crank shaft grinder. Roy was a very quiet but a perfectionist at his work. As a competition driver though, he was very determined and forceful. He started in a 100E Prefect but the built Whangarei’s first Buckler sports.
These were a fibreglass bodied Ford 10 Sports. Roy made a beautiful job of his, fitting an overhead inlet valve conversion to the motor – a four speed A30 gearbox and the car was a very competitive unit. I have photos of Roy spinning off at Ardmore and very sideways at Puhipuhi which all demonstrated his determination.
He left New Zealand in the early 60’s and joined Jack Brabham and finished up as Jack’s No.1 mechanic.
To those of us who knew Roy, this was no surprise because he would work all night to ensure perfection.
He is at present living in Australia, still I believe involved with Jack Bradham.
Vic Simpkin: The late Vic Simpkin was an inaugural member of our club. The most easy going, pleasant, likable chap you could ever hope to meet. Vic always had time to welcome you and try and help if you were in trouble. He was Whangarei Branch Manager for Firestone and started competing in a Vauxhall Velox. Vic built up a Buckler Sports – firstly with a Ford 10 engine, then with a Humber 90 engine and Rapier gearbox installed. His driving was always smooth and stylish but very competitive.
Vic left Firestone to buy the Dargaville Service Station and he was building up a very prosperous business in Dargaville, when he suffered a heart seizure due to a clot which resulted in his untimely death. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.
John Windleburn: John, a Maungaturoto garage proprietor, was perhaps the Northland Car Club’s best natural talent as a driver ever.
First in a Singer Sports, then in NZ’s quickest A35, then in a Lotus Eleven Sports, then in all types of Ford V8 and a Jaguar Mk VII saloon, John was fast and smooth.
In the A35, John was fighting for the top honours in NZ saloon car racing in his class. The Lotus was a bit temperamental and out-classed, but John still showed his talent. There is no doubt in my mind, that it is a great pity that when he was on the road to the top, the right car and the right backing were not available for John, because he could have gone all the way to the top.
The Start of Rallies June 1980 NCC mag
When was it, 1968 or 1969 when the first rally in NZ was run? The Shell Silver Fern which started in Taupo and finished 4? days later in Wellington.. Our club entered 3 cars. Neil Johns/Rowan McLean Triumph 2000 PI MKI, Bruce Pullman/Brian Skudder Cortina MKI, Noel Miller/Malcolm Pullman Isuzu Bellett, Max Atkins and Bruce Burling, Datsun 1600 (I think – Liz)
Speaking personally, we didn’t really know what this rallying business was all about, but, we sure soon found out. Bruce made a good job of building up the MKI Cortina into GT specifications, whilst I checked through all sorts of other components – like gearbox etc, Bruce also made up an oil cooler because of a slight oil pressure problem and off we went.
We had a slight problem with a leak at the oil cooler before the start which was quickly fixed and we were off.
The first stage everybody went through twice, which was a good way to settle in. Bruce P and I were driving alternate stages which was good fun but not a very professional way of behaving particularly as Bruce is such a dam fine driver, able to react instantly to sudden changes in the road, whereas I am a bit slow witted unless I’ve driven the road before.
However we were doing pretty well, definitely in the top 10 when disaster struck. Early in the second night with Bruce driving we were pulling top whack in top gear along a straight when the road disappeared. It veered down to the right, then hard left onto a one way bridge and then right angled right off the end of it. I tell you now, that if I had been driving, we wouldn’t have made the bridge. Bruce got us onto the bridge, hard dab on brakes, then tried to throw it within the confines of a one way bridge for the sharp right – but we hit the bank. Hands up all of those who have staggered out of a car in the pitch black and tried to find a road back for your triangle.
Much later we tied the sway bar to the bumper with fencing wire and we proceeded. Exhaust fumes resulted in violent car sickness for me but finished in 17th position due to Bruces great stamina.
Grady Thompson, Monaro V* finished 1st, Neil Johns was 2nd I think. I remembered seeing Paul Adams Cortina GT broken down in one stage – not sure whether he finished.
I can’t remembered where the Isuzu finished. I have been a co-driver for Greame Wright, Bruce Pullman and Neil Johns. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for all three drivers who I always felt were tremendously cable, competitive and safe.
Northland Specials July 1980 NCC mag
1. The Challenger Special built by Graham Walker of Kaikohe. Basically a go kart with a body on it. Used to win all our hillclimbs due to a very skilful driver and good power/weight ratio. No doubt its small size helped it to straight line a lot of corners too.
2. The Aeolus V8 Single Seater built by Lynn Armstrong of Kapiro. Later sold to Dot and Geoff Potter. Basically a Ford V8 with a homemade body. Doug Marsh bought this car and grafted a saloon body on top.
3. The Cooper 500 Hybrids. Ian Cullens nice conversion of a MK9 by fitting an Imp engine and transaxle. My MK4 to which I fitted a 1340 Ford with Imp transaxle later a 1500 Ford. The Imp transaxle never gave any trouble. This car is at present being restored in Auckland to original form. Also there was another JBS Ford being hillclimbed. I forget the drivers name, was it Clark? (Mike?)
4. At the first PuhiPuhi hillclimb Dave Henderson turned uo with a Hillman straight 8 special which was very slow and never reappeared. I remembered Doug Bullock of Webbs Motors driving a Special in this event too, but I can’t recall any more details of this car. I know that it had to be lifted out of a drain after the finish line when Doug miscalculated a spin turn.
5. Ken McLennan built a Riley Based Special with a very ugly fibreglass body which showed up at Austins Road one day.
6. There was also a Volkswagon Saloon which had been chopped and channelled and had a Peugot 404 motor where the back seat should be. This motor with twin side draught webers was a pretty potent unit but was written off on the Parahaki Road before it really showed its paces.
7. Ray Jordan built up an FJ Holden with a Jaguar engine and Peter Wenzlick built a MKI Zephyr with a 272 custom line engine and Jaguar gearbox. This car Peter wrote off in a Maungaturoto hillclimb and I purchased it and rebuilt it and had a lot of fun with it.
8. However, king of the special builders must be Doug Marsh. Give Doug a gas torch and some angle iron and a motor and he’ll make it go. He made Vauxhall J’s and EIP’s do things they never wanted to do and when that wasn’t good enough he started to experiment with Morris Minor with a side valve Ford V8 motor behind the driver’s seat and the gearbox bolted direct to the diff. He got the Aeolus V8 and welded a Lloyd saloon car body to it. But this anecdote I’ve got to tell.
Sorry Doug. I was told that Doug built a motor cycle engine special but on its first road test there was a design fault in the steering and when Doug turned right the car turned left into a fence at the side of the drive. Don’t despair Doug, I made the same mistake when I hooked the steering up on my boat. Trouble is on my first road test, the boat started to take in water, the carburettor was flat spotting and the steering was back to front. I only just made it back to shore.
LONG LIVE NORTHLAND SPECIAL BUILDERS.