All Aussie Adrenaline: Australian Racing Cars

By National Motor Museum, Australia

Australia has a proud history of building race cars. With few established local car manufacturers, a long tradition exists of building 'Australian Specials' - single-production-run vehicles assembled from bespoke or off-the-shelf parts, often by amateur engineers. Even Australian Formula 1 Champion Jack Brabham built his own Australian Special.

1965 Lightburn & Co, The Zeta Sports (1965-01-01/1965-12-31) by Lightburn & CoNational Motor Museum, Australia

1965 Zeta Sports

In 1963, whitegoods manufacturing company Lightburn & Co decided to diversify their business to automobile production. Lightburn had previously only produced cement mixers, fibreglass boats and washing machines. Harold Lightburn’s vision was to manufacture an affordable and practical car. The company began to produce a ‘micro car’, the Zeta, made of fibreglass and steel. 

1965 Lightburn & Co, The Zeta Sports 1965 Lightburn & Co, The Zeta Sports by Lightburn & CoNational Motor Museum, Australia

Lightburn boasted of its lightness and efficient fuel economy. Despite the low sales of Lightburn’s first car, the Zeta Sedan (also known as the runabout) the company decided to go ahead with its plans to release the next series: a sports car.

1965 Lightburn & Co, The Zeta Sports (1965-01-01/1965-12-31) by Lightburn & CoNational Motor Museum, Australia

Lightburn obtained the rights to the Frisky Sprint’s design of a microcar. They made a few changes, for example Lightburn did not include doors to ensure the vehicle was strong. Its 4 speed dog clutch gearbox has no reverse, so the engine must be switched off and started backwards, which provides four reverse gears.

1965 Lightburn & Co, The Zeta Sports (1965-01-01/1965-12-31) by Lightburn & CoNational Motor Museum, Australia

Made of fibreglass and steel the Zeta Sports is incredibly light, weighing only 400 kilograms.The entire Zeta range never captured Australia’s hearts, and it is believed that only 28 of the Sports model were sold. The Zeta has remained a curiosity, rather than a marvel of design.

Specifications:
Engine: ZF Sachs FMR 500
Capacity: 498 cc
Power: 21 hp
Weight: 400 kg

1968 Leyland Mini Moke Rally Car (1968-01-01/1968-12-31) by Richard KeaneNational Motor Museum, Australia

1968 Leyland 'Mini Moke' Rally Car

Danish-born Australian Hans Tholstrup and John Crawford drove this Leyland Moke in the 1977 London-Sydney marathon. The 12,000 km journey was an adventure across 11 countries, and was first run in 1968. 

The event was so successful that it inspired an intercontinental rally competition known as the 'World Cup Rally', which eventually was transformed into the famous Dakar Rally.

The route, which spans many thousands of kilometres and crosses dunes, rocks and other difficult terrain, is notoriously difficult and dangerous. The Dakar Rally, which formerly crossed Europe and Africa and is run in South America since 2009, is the world's premier endurance rally.

Tholstrup and Crawford's Leyland Moke (known as the 'Coke Moke' due to its sponsorship by Coca Cola) placed 34th in the event.

1953 WM Holden Racer (1953-01-01/1953-12-31) by Cooper; Holden; Jack Myers and Merve WaggottNational Motor Museum, Australia

1953 WM Holden Racer

The WM Holden Cooper Bristol passed through numerous hands and in many forms during its life as a race car. It is most significant for its connection to Jack Myers, a legend in the history of Australian motor racing. In 1956 Myers purchased the green damaged Cooper Bristol. With the assistance of Merve Waggott, an engineer, Myers re-modified the vehicle.

1953 WM Holden Racer 1953 WM Holden Racer by Richard KeaneNational Motor Museum, Australia

It was refitted with an engine of Waggott’s conception onto a Holden 6 cylinder engine block. Myers painted it orange because his wife insisted she be able to spot his car on the racetrack.It was renamed the WM Special
- WM stands for 'Waggott Myers'.

1953 WM Holden Racer (1953-01-01/1953-12-31) by Richard KeaneNational Motor Museum, Australia

The WM Special was in several race meets, including the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in 1956. A few years later, during a practice drive at Bathurst in October 1960, Myers drove the Special into a ditch, damaging the chassis and suspension beyond repair.

1953 WM Holden Racer (1953-01-01/1953-12-31) by Cooper; Holden; Jack Myers and Merve WaggottNational Motor Museum, Australia

In 1962 Syd Fisher purchased the remains of the WM Special and fitted it with a Chevrolet Corvette engine along with many other reparations. Over the next few years the vehicle passed through several hands and in 1972 was rebuilt by volunteers at the National Motor Museum following the original specifications of the 1956 WM Special, including the Waggott engine.The repaired vehicle made its return to the track at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix.

1953 WM Holden Racer (1953-01-01/1953-12-31) by Cooper; Holden; Jack Myers and Merve WaggottNational Motor Museum, Australia

Credits: Story

All photographs from the National Motor Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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