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Peter Giddings Racing


Our first antipodean historic racing adventure was in 1981 when we were invited to demonstrate our Maserati 250F (#2501/ 2523) at the Australian GP.

At the eleventh hour, Qantas, who were committed by contract to fly our red beauty to Sydney for a not insignificant sum, reneged on the deal, claiming that they were now out of the combi business.

As a result of this, the remaining airlines still carrying freight to Australia quickly set a “new” rate. This resulted in a best quote from Flying Tigers of $36,000! Clearly our eagerly anticipated adventure was well and truly scuttled.

Not ones to give up easily we enquired around, and Japan Airlines came to the rescue with a half way decent quotation. However, they could only get our car as far as Hong Kong! By the time, the Maserati was off loaded at Hong Kong airport and moved across to the docks (some say by rickshaw!) we had missed the scheduled sailing to Sydney. Umpteen telephone calls and faxes later, we managed to get the Maserati on to another vessel which was due to dock some 3 or 4 days before the GP. Accordingly, other arrangements had to be made for speedy customs clearance of the car in Sydney, and then an all night transporter to Adelaide.

The vessel put out to sea, only to be turned back twice due to Typhoons. To cap it all, there was then a “wild cat” Sydney longshoremens’ strike. Thus it was that Judy and I could actually see the “Asian Pearl” bobbing around in Sydney Harbor with our Maserati on board, but with no chance of getting our hands on it!

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time at the Australian GP with the full V.I.P. treatment.

In fact, I returned to Australia some two months later and raced the 250F at Amaroo against all kinds of wonderful, new (to me) cars, all of them well driven on a very wet track.

After the Amaroo event, I shipped 2501/2523 to New Zealand and in February, 1988 ran it at the “Country Gentlemens” meeting at Wigram.

So ... after much trial and tribulation, our first racing experience “Down Under” turned out to be harassing and expensive, but fun!

Gluttons for punishment, in September 1988 we decided to have another go and through the kind auspices and sponsorship of the Australian Grand Prix Association, The Australian New Zealand Shipping Line, and Alfa Romeo Australia, we were invited to send out our 1932 Alfa Romeo Monza.

Upon the arrival of our Monza in Australia, I trailered it over to the Oran Park circuit (a suburb of Sydney) for testing, and immediately discovered a split oil tank, a ruptured oil pump gasket, and. a boiling water radiator pressurization problem. So began the first of many all night sessions at the shop of my friend Don Wright, world famous restorer of Lancia Lambdas.

Don’s previous claims to fame have included several offshore power boat racing records, together with a colorful career in motor racing, mainly revolving around a fearsome Citroen “Light 15” based single seater … so typical of the wonderful specials that the Australians and New Zealanders have built over the years.

After the oil tank and radiator maladies were sorted, it was off to Oran Park again, only to discover severe problems with richness and irregular running. This meant another all nighter at the home of a semi retired Ansett Airlines pilot who was in process of opening a magneto repair and maintenance shop (concentrating, of course, mainly on aircraft magnetos). Even although his business was not yet officially open and, as a result, having little of the necessary test equipment set up, he agreed to have a go. My Bosch FH8 then came down to a thousand pieces and was meticulously rebuilt, resulting in a spark of arm straightening proportion.

In the meantime, I was busy assisting John Fitzpatrick with his Bugatti 35B which had just successfully returned from a long rally, and was clearly going to need much TLC in order to get it ready for Oran Park. Most of John’s problems were also concentrated around a recalcitrant magneto. However, fatigue cracks in the GP coachwork also had to be repaired, along with a rebuild of the water pump, and other sundry components.

John was one of several Australians amazed at the speed of Lord Raglan’s Type 51 previously witnessed by us all in Thailand earlier in the year. This impression had clearly made its mark, as John had converted over to methanol and thus some more time was spent on the necessary rejetting of the carburettor. Even the conversion to methanol did not help a similar boiling/radiator pressurization problem that John had. Therefore, just like the Monza, we had to back flush the 35B’s radiator in order to alleviate the problem. (Lesson — only use demineralized or distilled water in your radiator!)

John’s 35B (chassis #4814) was purchased by him as a kit of parts from Geoffrey St. John. John certainly wins the “Keep Plugging” award for what he has been through with this car. It is never easy reassembling a bunch of bits (all original I believe, except for the Peel manufactured body) into a homogenous being, particularly when said pieces have never previously shared the same chassis!

John’s problems had even continued in Thailand when his GP suffered the dreaded front axle twist, resulting in torn backing plate bolts, broken brake actuators, etc.

John was determined to do well at Oran Park, now that he was finally on a winning streak.

In sharp contrast to John’s “shade tree” mechanics was gem dealer Maxwell Lane, a recent member of the American Bugatti Owners Club and custodian of Bugatti Type 51 chassis #4847. Max was similarly impressed with the speed of Lord Raglan’s 51, not to mention the matchless driving abilities of Fitzroy’s number, he wanted to acquire a set of step up blower gears and a limited slip differential, a Brineton version of which I was able to supply.

Every day while John and I were laboring over (and under) our steeds, we would receive reports from Lane’s personal mechanic, at the rolling road dyno facility that Max had exclusively rented, with the latest results of his quest for more power. At the same time, coded faxes and scrambled telephone calls were flying backwards and forwards across the ocean concerning the hush hush characteristics of the special SU needle, together with other demon tweaks and tuning techniques cunningly employed. It was all very dramatic, and compared interestingly with our most sophisticated technique which consisted of spitting on each exhaust pipe in order to check spark plug efficacy!

When Max purchased his 51 (engine number l38T) from Lance Dixon, it had already been modernised with the fitting of a large SU carburettor, together with a distributor and sundry other switches and “improvements”. Thus the magnificent dashboard mounted Bosch Scintilla magneto is simply there for show. It is to be hoped that he will one day return his beautiful car to its original state. However, as Max displays a strong desire to win, I fear that for the time being at least, his 51 will sport all of the “go faster” goodies, etc. that some of the fleeter British prepared GPs exhibit — far quicker than they ever were in their day!

Richard I’Anson has told me that Nick Mason’s 35B goes just as well with or without a limited slip. Either way, the Brineton designed and manufactured ZDF type “chiclet” style limited slips as used by Max Lane and others are surely far more efficient than the original Type 51 limited slips which were I believe of cruder pawl and ratchet type design.

Max is still working on the history of his car which I believe started off in life as a 35A. 4847 was imported by Henry and Peter Dale in the early 1950s as a 51A. These brothers were responsible for importing most of Australia’s fine European competition cars (including the first of my GP Talbot Lagos — the ex Doug Whiteford Australian OP winning car).

When 4847 arrived in Australia it featured a streamlined body with cowled radiator and an outside exhaust system. Peter Dale claims that 4847 was previously owned by Marcel Balsa, but that when Balsa raced it in 1946 it was as a 51. It would, therefore, appear that 4847 started life as a 35B: was subsequently changed to a 51: then to a 51A and is now back in 51 form.

While Max has been able to confirm that Balsa did race a Bugatti in the 1939 Grand Prix du Pau, and also in the 1938 Corsa de Cote, together with the 1945 Coup de Paris, he has yet to confirm that Balsa did in fact compete in 4847.

At Oran Park (Oct. 27—30, 1988) we used the full grand prix circuit of 2.62 km, and while the racing was exciting, the weather was just awful. The heat was scorching and the gale force winds at one stage were so high that the resultant dust storm caused the meeting to be temporarily abandoned and all corner workers and officials rescued from around the track!

John and Jenny Fitzpatrick had arranged for a large hospitality marquee to be erected on one of the grass banks overlooking the course. As a result of the gale the tent did its best to become a hang glider, all of John’s workers hanging on to the guy ropes for grim death!

Armed with a fork, and whilst everything was air borne, I was able to stab at a couple of passing “bangers” which were quite delicious -- hence John’s reputation as the “Sausage King” - and chat with my old friend Stuart Saunders. Stuart and I had much to talk about, in as much as we had both competed in our GP Bugattis for the first time in a race at Oulton Park many moons ago. In those days Stuart was an impecunious medical student and I had barely started in business. Somehow we had scraped our pennies together and purchased a Type 35 GP apiece! Stuart subsequently emigrated to Australia. I stayed on in England for a few years, and then moved to America.

In the meanwhile, our minds must have been thinking alike, as we both independently updated our engines to roller bearing specification and then as our wallets allowed, added superchargers, cast aluminium wheels, etc. I eventually traded my first GP Eugatti for an Alfa Romeo but Stuart, to his great credit, has kept his car all of this time, and still regularly competes with it in Australian events.

Stuart’s 35C is chassis number 4903, engine 132A. He acquired it in 1961 fitted with a Gough engine. Stuart installed a Bugatti motor and in about 1970 he obtained the original crankcase and converted the engine to 35C specifications.

In addition to some awesomely quick specials and highly modified “square rigged” MGs, the Australians also campaign some wonderful original cars, including Amilcar, Salmson, Lea Prancis, Bentley, and Lagonda. Some of their Austin Seven specials outrun cars several times their capacity!

My Monza was placed in Group K (post vintage cars 1930—1940) and to help fill out the grid we also ran with Group J (vintage cars pre 1930) and Group LB racing which class was split into up to 1500 cc and above 1500 cc. As this meant that I would be running the Monsa against Don Orosco’s Scarab, I was not disappointed that he was a no show!

Also competing in Group K was another old friend, one Bob King, in his wonderful 1925/35 Type 35 Anzani Bugatti chassis number 4450. One of the surprising things about Bob’s GP is that the Anzani engine sounds very Bugatti—ish! Bob has raced this venerable machine all over the southern hemisphere for the last 25 years. I certainly had mixed feelings when he told me that after all of this time, the twin cam Anzani is about to be removed and replaced with a GP Bugatti engine. Bob’s Bugatti was I believe the very first Type 35 ever to be seen at Brooklands, driven by Glen Kidston. Later on it was fitted with the jewel like Anzani engine (the same as fitted to the Squire, but without supercharger) by a Mr. Lyndon Duckett.

Sadly all of the midnight oil spent on the Monza had not improved its running which was alternating between 5 and 6 cylinders, and as we had now rebuilt the carburettor and magneto we were out of ideas.

Practice on the Friday resulted in Brian Selleck making fastest tine in his 1939 side valve Ford special (in a previous year, a very similar Ford special to Brian’s had severely embarrassed a visiting Bill Morris in his ERA!). Second was Ron Reid in his 1948 Ford V8 engined (3950 cc) special and third an excited Max Lane, his pre race modification expenses presumably paying off from his perspective with a fastest lap of 1.36.79. The ailing Monza’s best lap was 1.38.51 (fourth fastest).

Other qualifiers included Rob Harcourt in his amazing Lancia Lambda based special fitted with a Meadows 5 liter engine, Graham Lowe in his freshly rebuilt and immaculate Alta (Graham had crashed his Alta at the aforementioned Amaroo event in January 1988), and John Fitspatrick still struggling with Bugatti ills, but by no means the slowest qualifier.

A generous amount of track time was afforded on the Saturday and Sunday with various mixes of class resulting in different cars to compete with, thus making it all the more fun. Some scratch races were organized, but most of the races were of a handicap nature. Unfortunately, the handicappers did not fully appreciate how off song the Monza was. Thus my starting positions were far back on the grid. Nevertheless, in one race I managed to improve on my practice time by a second or two, resulting in third fastest time out of 27 runners, the two cars ahead of me both being Ford V8 specials.

In another race, Peter Fagin in his 1951 “Bill Pile” Cooper got the checkered, followed by a rapid Riley special. Then came the aforementioned Reid special, and subsequently the amazing recreated 1928 Amilcar fitted with a supercharged six cylinder AC engine and running on lightweight Spanish Borrani like motorcycle wheels and tires!

After the Amilcar special, came the Dalro jaguar, one of the most famous Australian specials. The Dalro started off in life as an XK120 and after two monumental crashes ended up with a shorter wheel base and its weight reduced from 18 cwt. to 13.5 cwt, disc brakes, cast alloy wheels, and a new body. The Dalro has the distinction of being the fastest front engined open wheeled car at the Mt. Parramatta circuit, beating times set by the great, late, Stan Jones in his Maserati 250F!

All in all, I felt I was lucky to make twelfth place in a worsening Alfa Monza (running 3.42 seconds a lap slower). John Fitzpatrick finished in the middle of the pack, improving his best practice time by 7.8 seconds.

On the Sunday we had another great handicap race for groups J and K for the Sulman trophy. This time Nevil Webb in his 1926 Lea Francis, a replica of the 1926 factory car that won the 200 mile race at Brooklands, took first place with Ron Reid, once again making fastest lap and finishing in 10th position.

I finished in 9th place with a fastest lap some 2.5 seconds better than my previous best (more midnight oil having improved the running somewhat).

John Fitzpatrick, in the meantime, had pulled out all of the stops with a best lap of 1.38.62 (a whopping improvement of some 17 seconds) and finished a commendable 6th place on handicap.

Max Lane finished in 15th place, again improving upon his previous lap times, although still a way to go before being able to compete head to held with a healthy Monza Alfa or a Raglan spec. Type 51!

Bob King with an excellent fastest lap of 1.42.20 gained a third place, just pipped by Stuart Harper all the way over from the U.K. in his exceedingly rapid 1926 replica of “JAP2”, one of a series of three wheelers raced by E.V. Ware for the JAP factory in the early 20s. Harper’s Morgan has been timed at 120 mph at Silverstone and has become something of a giant killer in the U.K. While the visiting Harper and Philip Spencer Morgans were impressive, at the end of the day a number of the Australian built specials had the upper hand.

At the conclusion of this wonderful weekend I managed to coax all of the Bugattis into one spot for a photo session, the GP Bugattis being joined by the lovely Corsica touring bodied Type 57 shared by John Fitzpatrick and and his brother Cameron. This car is chassis 57134. It was owned by T.A.S.O. Mathieson and Ronnie Symondson before going to Australia. Cameron and John have owned 57134 now for nearly 30 years.

After Oran Park, we travelled to the beautiful city of Adelaide for the GP (November 10—13 1988) and were met by our friends John and Jan Blanden. John has done a lot for the vintage/historic car movement in Australia, and for some years now has master minded the vintage/ historic car display and demonstration at the GP. John himself has a wonderfully original road equipped Type 37 Bugatti which was once owned by a near neighbour of mine, Peter “The Bun” Newens — so nicknamed because his restaurant “The Maids of Honour” in Kew baked quite the best buns in the whole of England!

John was so busy with his organizing that he did not this year have the chance to run his type 37 (chassis #37256, engine #227). This car was delivered on November 25th, 1927 to Sorel in London where it was registered UA 7310. Prior to Peter Newens’ ownership, the other custodians of 37256 were Malcolm Campbell, F.H. Ambling, Lister Clark, Mr. Wray, A.E. Green, William Nock, Walton Motors Ltd., P.G. Guest, D.W. Hale, and C.P. Thrush. Peter Newens owned the car from 1963 to 1981 when it passed to G. Sandford Morgan and then to John Blanden in October 1982. In the 1950’s the engine was damaged and was rebuilt with a crankcase ex. 37344.

The sight that greeted us in the special display garage was nothing short of awesome. Mercedes-Benz had sent over a W.125 for John Surtees to demonstrate, along with a 1908 12-litre chain driven GP Benz.

Alongside one wall was a mouthwatering display of Bugattis, comprising of Art Valdez’ Type 39, chassis number 4607, engine #6. Art purchased this car from Bob King just over a year ago and used it as his ticket to Thailand. Although his arrival there was somewhat last minute and unannounced, the Thais graciously made all of the necessary arrangements for Art and his wife, Sherry. Certainly the Thai publicity machine got its money’s worth out of Art’s car as it promptly caught fire in front of the assembled masses, by the revered Statue of King Chulalongkorn.

Art’s wonderfully original beaded edge car was I believe first fitted with a high line touring style body and thus equipped came third in the French Touring Car GP. Subsequently it came third in the Italian GP driven by Foresti. impressively, it actually won the Australian GP of 1931, driven by Junker.

Sitting next to Art’s type 39 was Gavin Sanford Morgan’s recent creation (chassis #57627—23C) comprising of the ex King of Egypt’s Type 57C (originally bodied I believe as a Gangloff coupe), which is now fitted with a GP body in the style of a Type 59. Gavin runs a restoration business and there were several automotive examples of his handiwork throughout the exhibit, all of them displaying an extremely high degree of craftsmanship.

Next in line was young Adam Berryman who, at the age of 19, has inherited his father’s Bugatti Type 37A (chassis #37327). Adam is the luckiest young man on earth, and he knows it~ While Adam’s car was not completely “au point”, it was wonderful to see it run. To my eyes it is one of the most original looking 37As I have ever seen. Ex Chiron, this car almost certainly ran in one of the early Targa Florios, in as much as it features a large radiator and provision for a second spare wheel on the righthand side.

Next to Adam’s 37A sat Bob King’s Type 35/Anzani, particularly attractive in black -- such a pleasant change to the various hues and definitions of Bugatti blue! My thanks to Bob for helping me unravel the history of the various Bugattis encountered on this trip.

Tom Roberts’ 37A (37552) was also colored differently, in a kind of an off white. Tom’s car has recently been restored by David Rapley, another highly capable individual who was of considerable help in trying to sort my Monza ills. Tom’s car is the ex Tapper one: those of you who have not read Cholmondoley Tapper’s book “Amateur Racing Driver” should do so immediately. It is great reading, and Miss Eileen Ellison is also worth a second look.

1 believe that after Tapper’s ownership, 37552 ended up with Lesley Ballamy, whose workshop was in my old home town of Worthing, Sussex. Many were the occasions when, as a lad, I curiously put my head around the door of Lesley’s workshop. At that tine he had modified a Ford Prefect with his famous independent suspension. This car was the scourge of its class at Goodwood and elsewhere.

While in Ballamy’s ownership, 37552 acquired an early version of his independent front suspension, which the car sports to this day.

Rounding out the collection of Bugattis was Martin Tuck’s 37A, an exceedingly well put together and competitive car, largely replica, but utilizing some parts from chassis number 37105.

As if this display was not impressive enough, there were also a trio of MG K3s; a blower Bent1ey; a Mercedes—Benz SSK; a couple of vintage chain driven Frazer Nashes, and Diana Gaze’s (previously Diana (Lex) Davison) single cam 1500 cc supercharged racing Alfa Romeo. This Alfa was purchased new by the Davison family as a very pedestrian unsupercharged touring coupe and has been heavily modified over the succeeding years.

Due to the tight scheduling of the GP, our actual track time on Saturday and Sunday was somewhat limited. It was further foreshortened on the Sunday when Don Frazer’s 1927 Amilcar Whippet blew up to such good effect that when I rounded Fosters Corner a complete engine was laying there, smoking in the middle of the track!

Highpoint of the weekend for me was a separate high speed demonstration in my Alfa Monza around the GP circuit in tribute to the late Enzo Ferrari. At one point I was able to slip by the Ferrari F4O and finish ahead. The crowds around the circuit seemed to appreciate this, and the cloud of “Crocodile Dundee” hats being tossed in the air had to be seen to be believed!

Another fun event during the GP weekend was participation in the annual “Climb to the Eagle”. Quite how Blanden and his colleagues have convinced the police and other officials that this event can take place on open public roads is beyond me, but long may it continue. “The Eagle” is the name of a hill just outside Adelaide. During the normal working day with the streets full of traffic, all of the historic display cars are unleashed and make their way to the top of the hill with, let’s say, great dispatch!

My Monaa, along with the W.l25 were the honored marques. Thus, Judy and I got to drive behind John Surtees in the W.125 which, while impressive to behold, was somewhat of a mixed blessing as we quickly became quite ill from its potent exhaust fumes! At one point, due to heavy traffic, both of our cars stalled but in no time at all a crowd of bemused onlookers had push started us, and off we went again!

Traditionally, at the top of “The Eagle” everyone partakes of a Devonshire tea. Then, full of rich clotted cream, strawberry jam and delicious hot scones, one descends the hill at an even faster clip! John Surtees was not babying the W.125 one bit either up or down the Eagle or at the GP circuit. This sight was particularly evocative for me, as I had previously raced Yoshiyuki Hayashi’s W.125 at Laguna Seca in 1986.

After the GP celebrations, we drove east with the Blandens to Geelong via the Grampians where we were able to cuddle koalas, wobble a wombat, and canoodle with a kangaroo!

An interesting stop off was “Sovereign Hill” — a recreated gold mining town, and a must to visit. It features magnificent steam driven “walking beam” engines, a school which the local children attend in period dress — using not computers but slate boards, a haberdashery store, a blacksmith’s, wood turning and metalworking shops, etc. .... and not an automobile in sight!

Arriving in Geelong we visited our now somewhat travel stained Alfa, which again had been graciously and efficiently transported for us by our friends from Alfa Romeo Australia.

Geelong is the original home town of our good U.K. based friends, the Raineys. Murray Rainey, one of the founders of the Geelong Speed Trials back in the mid 1950s, was this year’s guest of honour. Murray’s exploits with Cooper 500S are legendary. His daughter, Joy, is now following in her father’s footsteps, hillclimbing a special that Murray designed and built with the help of a certain Ron Tauranac!

The Geelong Sprints — November 19, 1988 - consist of a standing start sprint along the promenade. Again we were struck with the range and variety of cars present.

In the Edwardian class, John Oulds (who has owned and restored a number of Bugattis over the years) had his magnificent 18,500 c.c. aero engined Hispano Suiza special, circa 1915. Matched against John was Max—Gerrit von Pein in the 1908 Mercedes Grand Prix car of 12,000 cc which had also travelled down from the Australian GP, and my favorite — Stuart Murdoch’s superb Delage GP car of 1914 — a mere 4500 cc!

In Group S (up to 1500 cc) we noted that 1924 and 1922 Bugatti Brescias had been entered, but sadly neither of them appeared.

In Group J (over 1500 cc) there were two GP Bugattis along with the 1926 AC Amilcar special which had gone so well at Oran Park. Stuart Anderson’s menacing black 1927 Bugatti Type 35C was appearing for the first time after a difficult four year rebuild. Stuart is still sorting out the history of this superb looking car but, as I understand it, it was first imported into England by Jack Lemon Burton and registered DOL 2. Subsequently owned by Mike Oliver and Brian Finglass, the car’s frame number is 468—5 with a still to be confirmed chassis number of 4963.

The other Bugatti in Group 3 was Tim Hewison’s 1929 Type 35B Bugatti, chassis number 3692. Tim really had this car moving, and it is a pity that he did not take it to Oran Park where I have no doubt that he would have shown everyone a clean pair of heels. Tim’s car features twin fillers a la Type 51. He has owned the car now for nearly a decade.

This car has had three custodians. The original Polish owner purchased it in late 1929. Hidden in Poland during World War II, some Germans retrieved it from its underground storage in 1969 and sold it to a Swiss banker in Zurich. By this time the body, etc. was badly corroded. Tim purchased the car unseen from the Swiss banker thinking that it was a Type 37 (lucky Tim!)

Although badly rotted, Tim believes that the car had less than 400 miles on it when he purchased it.

On November 20, 1988, Alfa Romeo Australia took our car to the Sandowne circuit which is just outside Melbourne. The Group C cars were performing that weekend and were very loud and impressive.

Sandowne is an interesting demanding course and in company with Terry Valmorbida’s pretty vintage 6 cylinder Alfa and Max—Gerrett von Pein in the 1908 Benz, I got to play in my Monza with the W.125 just one more time.

After Sandowne, Judy and I returned to the States where I had intended to catch up on business for about a month and then travel to New Zealand for a series of five historic races. Upon the Monza’s arrival into Auckland Harbor, the Giddings’ luck struck again as this time there was a dock strike by the New Zealand longshoremen. Thus it was that the “New Zealand Caribean” bearing our Monza was not allowed to berth and instead steamed north to Long Beach, California!

Even so, and despite two strikes now in a row, we have had enough fun to have already booked passage for Australia/ New Zealand again later this year -- this time we thought perhaps our ex Whitney Straight/ Price Bira 1932 Maserati 8CM #3011.

(Written 1989 )