Earl Davey-Milne lines up his Bugatti Type 37 Chev ‘37104’ at Alexandra, Victorian Quarter Mile Sprint Championship, 24 November 1963…
The car started life as a 1926 model Type 37 four-cylinder Grand Prix Bugatti car which raced on New South Wales speedways and in several Phillip Island Australian Grands Prix before being fitted with a Hudson straight-eight engine- and later a 283 CID Chev V8 after Earl blew the Hudson motor at this very event in 1957.
The Alexandra Branch of the Victorian Sporting Car Club ran meetings here, near Eildon Weir for about a decade. Alex, 130 kilometres north-east of Melbourne is well known to skiers as a gateway town to Victoria’s high country and to the boating set who use Lake Eildon. It is otherwise a quiet farming community and home to around 2600 people.
Colin Hyams, Jaguar E Type and Norm Beechey’s Chev Impala 409, which was also shared by Dick Thurston on the day.
Colin ruefully recalled that ‘the meeting was the morning after the assassination of JFK.’ The President’s death at the hands of assailants unknown was on 22 November 1963, which makes the ’63 meeting date Sunday 24 November.
Bugatti T37 ‘37104’…
Whilst the Brescia and Type 30 were widely used in Australian motorsport ‘…it is the Type 37 that is indelibly linked in the older enthusiasts mind with Bugatti racing success here’ wrote Bob King.
‘The association is entirely justified as these 4 cylinder versions of the Grand Prix Bugatti were to win three of the first five Australian Grands Prix with a further victory falling to the visually identical Type 39 of Carl Junker’.
‘It is fortunate and remarkable that these splendid cars had such a high survival rate’ including the much raced ‘37104’.
The car was the fourth T37 built according to King and came to Australia to the order of Russell Taylor who, together with former Australian multiple Olympic medallist swimmer, Frank Beaurepaire, had an international tyre business ‘Advanx Tyres’ based in Sydney.
Whilst owned by Taylor the car was raced for him by Charlie East who had made a name for himself as a tuning wizard whilst apprenticed to, and employed by Phizackerley’s in 1904 at the same time as AV Turner, who later held the Sydney Bugatti franchise.
East evolved from tuning the cars to running in car trials, funding provided by his car hire business- his career in track racing followed.
Charlie East and ‘37104’ outside Advanx headquarters in Sydney with one of his many trophies. Note the road registration, what a supreme road car the Type 37 was, is! (B King)
Charlie East at Gerringong Beach, on the New South Wales South Coast circa 1930 (B King)
East with a pair of T37’s place unknown. East is leaning against ‘37104’, registered ‘1903’, a plate he used on several cars- the other T37 is Bill Thompson’s 1929 AGP entry ‘37209’. East tuned Thompson’s 1930 AGP winning Type 37A ‘37358’ (B King)
East’s battles with Hope Bartlett in his Bugatti Brescia become a major spectator drawcard for the venue. Charlie had many successes there although Bob notes that by 1927 ‘the handicappers seemed to have the measure of him’. The car was also raced at Penrith- East won the October 1930 ‘World Championship’ for under 1500cc cars on dirt, at Gerringong Beach and in New Zealand during 1929- by that stage owned by East who acquired it from Taylor for the modest sum of 150 pounds. Mates rates indeed!
Whilst East could earn 75 pounds a night at Maroubra, ‘he tired of hurtling around the track and started entering grass hillclimbs with his wife as passenger. He established records at Robertson, Prospect and Kurrajong…’ wrote King.
He sold the car for 500 pounds to Keith Macmeikin of Malvern, Melbourne in in 1933 with King rebutting claims made for a Sydney-Melbourne record time claimed by racer Cec Warren and Clive Smith during the delivery drive south.
The duo claimed a time of 11 hours and 10 minutes for the 575 mile journey ‘but a time of 10 hours 5 minutes had already been recorded by Don Robertson’s Graham Paige in 1930. Nor was it a Light Car Class record which was then held by Jack Clements and Wal Warneford with a Type 30 in 10 hours 53 minutes’ King wrote.
‘37104’ the Sydney-Melbourne record holder, not! Photo believed taken in the rear yard of Sporting Cars, City Road, Melbourne (B King)
The much used racer contested AGP’s at Phillip Island in the hands of Cec Warren in 1933, DNF big-end bolt, JO McCutcheon in 1934, DNF with oiled plugs after making a dash back to Melbourne on the night before the race due to engine trouble in practice.
McCutcheon raced the car quite a lot at the Island including the 1935 AGP where big-end failure intervened. ‘…the car was still highly fancied, being fourth car off in the twelve minute bracket…it’s disappointing performances in the Australian Grand Prix came to an end’ wrote Bob.
It does make you wonder why Taylor and East did not contest some of the earliest AGP’s given Charlie’s skill and the national nature of the Advanx Tyres business and resultant promotional opportunities of any success they may have had.
The Macmeikin clan with the car- Trevor third from the right, Andy at the wheel, place unknown- (A Macmeikin via B King)
David Macmeikin, who bought the car from his brother in 1934, hill climbed it at Rob Roy in 1938, selling to Jim McDonnell of East Kew in July 1939.
He contested the Interstate Cup or Grand Prix at Albury in 1940, one of the last racing events held in Australia in wartime- the motor blew, Jim died of injuries during the conflict.
Ron Edgerton was the next owner, buying the car in 1941- the racer was still in Victoria, Glen Iris, here he is at the wheel, probably during Nar Nar Goon Speed Trials at the local racecourse. Who is alongside him I wonder?
There were a number of meetings organised by the Light Car Club of Australia, and other car clubs on a grass course outside the little village in the thirties and forties.
Nar Nar Goon is an aboriginal expression meaning ‘native bear’ and is on the Gippsland railway line 65 kilometres east of Melbourne.
Edgerton at Rob Roy Hillclimb in outer Melbourne’s Christmas Hills with ‘37104’ still, seemingly Bugatti engined, perhaps one of you Rob Roy experts can tell us the probable date of this meeting. By the end of its competitive career the car would have been able to ascend the climb on its own given the number of times it raced there.
There is an article to be written on ‘Racing Ron’ given the truly vast number of racing and high performance cars the man owned in a lifetime of competition. I’ve a list somewhere!
Not the least of his racers is the ex-Alf Barrett Alfa Romeo Monza I wrote about some years ago which Ron sold to Earl Davey-Milne in 1951- another car the family retains albeit in unrestored, but complete, original state.
A damp, soggy road event for the occupants- Edgerton and passenger probably during a Melbourne-Geelong Road speed trial- note the missing headlight.
‘Geelong Road’ events official- run ‘just off the Geelong Road (where exactly?) were run by the Australian Motor Sports Club and unofficial events went on for decades, most of us of a certain age may have done a top-speed run in a car or two in the very early hours of the morning along the Geelong Road whilst Mr Plod was hopefully tucked up in his Werribee bed!
I would love to know what is going on here! It’s Aspendale Speedway in Melbourne’s bayside- probably a promotional ‘race’ to extol the virtues of the ‘Males Gas Producer’- so we are immediately before or perhaps just after the start of WW2. What are the other two cars with Edgerton’s T37?- Ron McCallum thinks the big car is possibly an American ‘REO’ and Bob King suggests the open tourer is a Terraplane? From 1938 to 1940 these gas producers cost between 45 to 70 pounds per unit at a time the new price of small Austin was 250 pounds and a big Buick 525 pounds- these ‘Producer Gas’ units were a response to wartime petrol rationing. For those with a technical interest in the topic, see the fascinating article link at this pieces duration (B King)
After the engine was blown again during speed trials in Tooronga Park, opposite Scotch College, Hawthorn, Melborne Edgerton fitted a Hudson eight cylinder motor having failed in attempts to weld the delicate Bug block which had distorted from extensive competition use and previous repairs.
William Sinclair of St Kilda owned it in 1941-1942, nothing is known of his use of the old stager.
Speedway racer ‘Stud’ Beasley, who, together with father Arthur or ‘Pop’, and brother Alf were the ‘first family’ of speedway racing into the late fifties- then acquired the car in 1942, fitting the Willys ‘Winfield’ speedcar motor from his Midget after the Hudson continually boiled using the standard Bugatti radiator. It would be intriguing to know where Beasley raced the car.
Bugatti T37 Hudson, note the Ford radiator and ‘Davey Milne Special’ badge (Dacre Stubbs)
Note the chrome ‘up and over’ exhausts, fuel tanks are ex-Liberator bomber as are the seats, cable brakes still fitted (Dacre Stubbs)
Davey-Milne bought it in January 1943, sans Willys motor and soon re-fitted the Hudson 8 which was fed by Amal carburettors, mating it to a Lancia Lambda gearbox. It would be interesting to know the artisans who worked on the car.
The car was always notable for its immaculate preparation and presentation, first appearing- as it always did, in chassis only form at a Cape Schanck Hillclimb on the Victorian Mornington Peninsula in September 1946 where it set fastest time of the day. The car then competed regularly at hillclimbs and sprints well into the early seventies.
At the 1957 Alexandra meeting Earl had completed a 16 second pass only to have two connecting rods protrude through the side of the Hudson block in a most un-welcome fashion. Whilst the Hudson 8 was a cost-effective ‘specials’ motor a decade before the equivalent then was the small-block Chev V8 which had not so long before made its appearance in the Corvette.
After fitting the Chev V8 the car recorded a standing quarter time of 12.06 seconds which won him the Victorian Sprint Championship at Alex in 1964.
Other significant performances at the time were a class win during the Australian Hillclimb Championship at Silverdale, New South Wales and the Horsham, Victoria, Speed Trials in 1963 at 12 seconds.
Note that after fitting the Chev engine, Bob King wrote that the Bugatti steering box was replaced with one from an Alvis 12/50 due to lack of space.
Charlie East had reset the front axle to suit the particular needs of Maroubra’s banking in the twenties with Cec Warren replacing that original fitment with a hollow axle in 1933. Earl’s sprint demands bent that axle under braking at Geelong’s Eastern Beach Sprints in 1965- a Type 35C unit was fitted in 1966.
King notes ‘37104’s gearbox is now fitted to ‘37145’ and the sump of the original engine, number ’15’, is in Dean Smoker’s Type 37A replica.
In Chev engined form the car achieved 25 fastest times of the day from 34 starts- not bad in 1970 for a car which started its life at Molsheim in 1926.
The photographs above are of the car outside its Toorak home, the sight of Earl squirting the car around Melbourne’s most twee suburb startling the local squires and matrons would have been amusing. I am reliably informed that these occasional Toorak test sessions still take place, I must ask Troy Davey-Milne for an invitation to one of these early morning pre-Rob Roy blasts!
The fuel tanks started life as water tanks in a Liberator Bomber, the not particularly comfy looking seats are from the same source.
Eastern Beach, Geelong- best time there 13 seconds, on that occasion bested only by Lex Davison’s Formula Libre Brabham BT4 Climax 2.7 FPF, 1964? (Dacre Stubbs)
We have lift off. Earl grabs second gear at Geelong‘s Eastern Beach in 1964 (Davey-Milne)
An Earl fried tyre and wire wheel detail (B King)
Calder 1970, note the Bugatti badge on the dash (B King)
The car is a most significant Australian racer in its various forms with a continuous competition history from 1926 to the early-seventies. Earl is still alive, the Davey-Milne’s still own the car, I’ve a feeling it’s last outing was during the 2000 AGP meeting at Albert Park when Lindon D-M gave it a gallop- an awesome sight it was too!
Etcetera: 1964 Alexandra Sprint Meeting Program Excerpts…
‘Bugattis in Australasia’ Bob King, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Ron Simmonds, Dick Denvil
Wartime ‘Producer Gas’ powered cars…
Photo and Research Credits…
Ian Liddell, Davey-Milne Collection, Dacre-Stubbs Archive, Colin Hyams Collection via Stephen Dalton, Graham Edney Collection, Bob King Collection
The sprint site stretch of road will only be of interest to we Victorians I guess.
Dick Denvil picks up the locale, ‘The track was a leftover piece of road created when the Eildon Weir pondage dam wall was put in.’
‘It was the continuation of the original road straight north-east towards the cross bridge into Eildon (from the bottom left corner- the side road which ends at a T-intersection and which then ran on to Bourke Street) The main road as seen above, then moved east away from the Goulburn River course to higher ground.’
Dick Simmonds lived in the area for a while, ‘You can still see part of the track which is now on a private property just past Thornton going towards Eildon…I looked at running a revival meeting, the owners of the land were ok, but the O,H & S issues got in the way of it…if only!?’
Dick concludes ‘The honour boards of the Victorian Sporting Car Club Alexandra Branch are in a building used by the Lapidiary Club within the Alexandra Railway Yards’ if you are passing by and want to have a look.
Tailpiece: Rob Roy, 24 July 1960…
Lets finish as we started, with a rare colour photograph of this marvellous Australian Special- the first competition outing of the Bugatti in its Chev engined form- note the dual rear wheels.
Earl won his class that cool Victorian day with a run of 29.73 seconds from a Lancia-Austin on 30.41 secs.