Excerpt from The History of the Rob Roy HillClimb
Excerpt from The History of the Rob Roy HillClimb
Producer Darren Jones for Penrite Oil Co.
Courtesy Penrite Oil Co.
All rights reserved
All rights reservedCopyright
Penrite Oil Co.
This video is an excerpt from a 49-minute documentary “The History of the Rob Roy Hill Climb” produced by Darren Jones for the Penrite Oil Co. which features rare film footage and photographs, and commentary from six times Australian Hillclimb champion Bruce Walton. It is available in full on DVD at Rob Roy Books.
The Rob Roy Hillclimb, Australia’s oldest purpose-built Hillclimb, was established in 1937 at Christmas Hills, about 30 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne. Hillclimbing, in which cars are driven uphill one at a time against the clock, is one of motorsport’s oldest events and was first held in 1897 in France.
Cut out of the bush, the Rob Roy course included an uphill, half-mile, graded dirt road. In 1939, the track was sealed and became one of only three bitumen-surfaced purpose-built hillclimbs in the world, the other two being the Shelsley Walsh and Prescott courses in the UK.
The Rob Roy Hillclimb attracted professionals, enthusiasts and amateurs, along with their often specially modified Bugattis, Elfins, MGs and Holdens, and has a special place in Australia’s motoring history. Drivers who competed here include Jack Brabham, Harry Firth, Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Reg Parnell, Stan Jones, Lex Davison, Bill Patterson, Doug Whiteford, Peter Whitehead, Reg Hunt and Len Lukey, drivers who also tackled and in some cases vanquished the Formula One circuit.
In 1962, bushfires ravaged the Rob Roy course, and it lay in disuse for 30 years until the MG Car Club of Victoria secured a lease on the property and faithfully restored the track to host a bustling schedule of Hillclimb events every year.
Sources: Leon Sims, A history of Rob Roy Hillclimb - 1937 to 1961 - The Hill, The Drivers, The Cars. And, the MG Car Club of Victoria
NARRATOR: At the very first meeting on the 1st of February, 1937, there were many notable drivers of the era, including Les Murphy, who'd won the Australian Grand Prix in 1935, driving his P-type MG.
Jack Day was on the racing committee of the RACV at the time, and also, a Light Car Club member. Jack was a real motivator of motorsports, as far back as 1911. He drove his Bugatti with an American V8 engine of that first Rob Roy meeting. Finishing behind Jack Day was Tom Luxton in his Luganda. Tom Luxton actually started the McEwan retail stores throughout Melbourne. And of course, that must've financed his motor racing to a large degree.
-But it was Jack Day who set the fastest time of the day in 1937 at 37.39 seconds. But remember, the road then was unmade.
MAN: Bill Lowe drove at Rob Roy in that first event, and I've got photographs of him coming up through Tin Shed Corner, and there's great plumes of dust coming from his wheels. It must've been fantastic. Of course, Rob Roy, at the time, was just purely dirt. It wasn't until later that they put pitchmen on the track for the 1938 meeting.
Just prior to the Australian Hillclimb championship in 1938, George Martin, the Light Car Club president at the time, was over in the UK. He was able to entice a couple of internationals to come to the race at that meeting. One of them was Peter Whitehead, who raced at the Bathurst Grand Prix in '38, won there, and then came down here, to Rob Roy to compete.
With Peter Whitehead and Alan Sinclair coming to the meeting, the crowd was fantastic. Documented crowds of several thousand came to the Hillclimb on that day. Two of Peter Whitehead's main competitors were Jack Day and Tim Joshua.
-Unfortunately, for those two drivers, they had accidents on their second run. Peter Whitehead kept improving on each run. And as he came around skyline, you could see the dust just coming off the wheels under full pressure.
-As kids, we'd been very interested in motorsport, because our father was a member of the Light Car Club and had done several trials. And we've got the English magazines. And I'd realized that Peter Whitehead, who I've been reading about, was coming out. And my father said, OK. Well, I'll take you to Rob Roy Hillclimb, where he's competing this weekend. He was pretty casual about everything. Of course, he wouldn't wear a crash helmet, and he managed to make fastest time of the day.
It was a very impressive sound. I'd never had a noise like it before.
Ted Gray, in the Male Special, introduced a new car to Rob Roy. It had smaller wheels. It was a dirt track type of car. And of course, that's what Rob Roy was at the time, a dirt track. And these guys were able to handle that service so much better than the proper cars. In 1939, The Sun ran an ad that said, expect Hillclimb records to be broken. And that's when Frank Kleinig, called Dirt Track Charlie, came down from Sydney.
To see him on the day, in the Special, which was an MG chassis with this great Hudson motor in it coming around through skyline with the dust flying off his wheels. It must've been fantastic.
-I was a spectator at Rob Roy when Frank Kleinig came down from Sydney in the Hudson special, Kleinig's special. And he had the bonnet off the car, and I just could not believe that a Hudson engine could be so developed. It had four barrel carburetors on it, chromium-plated exhaust pipes going over the top. It had everything that made it go fast-- aluminum head, all heavily finned for cooling. I just could not believe it. And I went back and had a look at my Hudson engine, which looked so sedate, with a single carburetor and a cast iron manifold and an iron head.
I said, I'm going to copy Kleinig, his car.