In 1954 I acquired my first Austin 7, a 26-27 model two seater. In 1955, on a visit to London, I was strolling through the book department of Selfridges when the title and cover of a book caught my eye. Yes! It was P.J. Stevens book Building and Racing My 750 This same book is still to be found on the bookshelf in my home. So it was from Stevens own efforts that I found the inspiration to build my first A7 Special. Working on the principle that if he could build a racing car without any prior training then so could I.
Some months after my return to Australia I purchased a tired 35 model roadster and co-opted an old school pal, Jeff Grabert, to help me build up our first special. Also it was necessary to house the car at his place in order not to strain family relations too much; at the time mother did not approve of motor racing in any shape or form. She was always quick to draw attention to newspaper items reporting the untimely end of a driver and would say thats what happens when you speed. Of course questions were always asked in these early days as to how I managed to get my clothes so dirty. Eventually the lid was blown off the project when one day Jeffs mother mentioned to mine about the growing pile of junk in her back garden. Needless to say things were a little strained for a while but when it became clear that the special was going to be built one way or another the blockade was lifted and the pile of junk was brought home. I do not intend to describe in detail how we built this first car, because we did nothing right - in fact it is amazing that it was ever finished. I am sure that had it not been for Jeffs driving force it would not have been completed. It is therefore desirable to have two people working on a project such as this as it is seldom that both will lose their temper at the same time when things do not go according to plan.
This first car used a standard boxed chassis, engine mods were minimal, with two Solex side draught carbs and a 4 into 2 exhaust system. A 37 model head was used and the fly-wheel was lightened. The braking system on this car is worth a mention if only to tell you how not to do things, which is just as important as how to do things. It was decided to fit hydraulic brakes to the front only and to retain the cable operated rear brakes. Let there be no doubt there is no substitute for doing things properly the first time. We never did get the brakes balanced and as a result much backwards type motoring was done from time to time.
Our first race was at a combined club meeting on the old Darley Circuit, which merely utilized the in, out and around roads of the ex-world war two army camp. This meeting held in mid-winter had its humorous moments despite the intense cold. During the last session of practice on Saturday afternoon the weather really began to turn sour and we had light snow falling to add to the confusion. While motoring through this murk down the back straight I was passed by a 500cc F3 car going like the clappers into the gloom, only, as I observed, to take the wrong turn. As I have already mentioned there were a number of roads throughout the camp site. It was some miles down the road before he realised his mistake and made the necessary navigational adjustments.
Race day was sunny but still cold which was just as well as had it been warm I would have had to admit I was shaking with fright not cold. Once the flag fell it was better and I got down to the job of chasing the chap in front, he in turn chasing someone in front of him, and so round and round we all went til eventually someone held out the chequered flag and it was all over. The result? We came in last and that in itself was reward enough.
Car No 2 in the Whitehouse stable of specials was much more in keeping with the concepts of a racing car. It was first started in 1959, but not completed til 1961, due to 1960 being devoted to getting married and travelling to England. It was on this occasion that I made the acquaintance of Colin Peck, Bud Smith and other 750 Club members. It was an offer to let me do some laps in D.E.B 11 that made me determined to complete the second car on my return to Australia, with added improvements.
This new car was most distinctive in appearance, sporting a Ferrari twin nostril type nose (designed in 1959, two years before Ferrari) and it was finished in a bright metallic Tangerine enamel.
When first built it was fitted with a swing axle front end which after a season was replaced with a strut and radius rod type arrangement, the steering wheel was also changed to rack and pinion. This proved to be 1 cwt lighter than the swing axle. At first the new front end did not do all the marvellous things that were expected. The cars cornering was improved but it would not travel in a straight line. At first this was thought to be due to insufficient caster, but an increase in caster did nothing for the handling. After one or two hair raising meetings and numerous councils of war the penny finally dropped and the fault became obvious. There was too much difference in roll centre heights between the new front end and the back The answer was to lower the Panhard rod pick up points on the rear axle. This was done and, wonder of wonders, the car handled like a dream by comparison with the old set up. The cars handling was further improved at a later date, in fact after the car had been sold to Lachlan Sharp. As an after sales service to the new owner I improved the chassis stiffness by welding in some additional tubes. This plus the removal of a leaf out of each of the rear springs had been tasks that had been long overdue.
Engine mods on the car were numerous. The major ones that differed from everyone elses were the change over from belt drive Ford 10 water pump to direct drive via camshaft, of a small alloy pump from a German made Goliath car. This was lighter, neater and used less power to drive. The other change was to drive the distributor off the crankshaft. Both these jobs were remarkably simple, two distributor gears of 2:1 ratio being the only things that had to be specially made. The helix was changed from left to right hand on these so that the same distributor and tacho could still be used. All other bits such as distributor drive case shaft and bearings etc came from an early model A7 generator that was u/s. At about this time a change in carburation was made from two 1 1/4 S.U.s to a twin throat Weber DCO-40-E2. Please note that no increase in power was gained, in fact a loss in torque was noticed. However the Weber proved much more stable and did not require the constant fiddling demanded by the S.U.s, which were adversely affected by the dusty conditions often found at Australian race meetings, and were always needing cleaning and resetting.
Between 1961 and 1965 the car had numerous successes and records to its credit- most of the latter were short lived as Dale Shaws latest creation the Dalshaw was soon to prove hard to beat, particularly on circuits where handling was of prime importance. Dalshaw was by far the most advanced A7 Special in Australia at that time and it was soon to capture most of the lap and hill climb records with one notable exception, Templestowe Hill Climb.
Although Dale had many wins at this venue he only once succeeded in breaking the record, on the last run of a meeting. On the next meeting at this climb he was to lose this record and the conquest of Templestowe was once again mine, and at a new time of 59.9 secs - the first Austin to break the magic minute.
So it was that this car won for me the Austin 7 Clubs 1965 road racing and Hill Climb Championships. The same car took its new owner Lachie Sharp to victory in 1966 Hill Climb Championships
With the sale of Special No 2 a vacuum was created in my way of life - no more late nights in the workshop, long drives to meetings etc, but most of all the sense of achievement in building something was gone. This state of affairs did not last long and Special No 3 was under way. This new car was later to become known as the Whitmor Austin.
Construction of the Whitmoor Austin , the product of John Whitehouse and Bill Morling, was started on New Years Eve, 1965 and in three short months was ready to do battle for the first time.
Clad in a somewhar makeshift body, it had its first outing on Easter Saturday at Collingrove Hillclimb in South Australia and on Easter Monday its first road race at Mallala, also in South Australia. Looking back it was a long way to take a new car (500 miles) that had not been tested except for starting the engine in the garage the night before we left. However the faith we had in the cars abilities was justified and it scored a class win at Collingrove.
Oil surge was causing some concern, so Sunday morning saw Bill and myself being most un-Christian and instead of resting from our labours, we removed the sump and proceeded to install some baffles. It was noted that the markings on the dip stick did not correspond to the actual amount in the sump, and this was promptly rectified.
Monday proved fine and mild and practice was approached with high hopes; alas all sorts of things went wrong. The position of the brake and accelerator pedals was not 100% and resulted in several hair raising excursions off the track when ones foot became stuck under the brake pedal. Overheating was also somewhat of a problem as was the lack of brakes. Still, thanks to Bills efforts we managed to sort out the pedals and duct the radiator before the race.
The race was a formula Libre event with a special section for Austin 7s with prize money and a magnificent trophy donated by the Austin 7 Club of South Australia. Our chances did not look good, as due to our poor lap times in practice we were on the back row of the grid. Bill gave me his usual team managers type pep talk about making a good start and whistling up the outside of the field on the grid; so being a good lad I did what I was told, making up seven or eight places before everyone really got moving.
Arriving at the first corner I could see that one of the lead cars had spun and was in the process of taking several cars with him. I had no sooner started to throw out the anchor when one of the South Australian Austins cannoned off the rear wheel of my car into the back of Trever Coles Austin, demolishing the front end of the South Australian car and modifying the bodywork of Trevors car.By leaving the track , I somehow managed to get round the mess only to find myself in 4th place, not too far behind Peter Turner in his rather quick Sprite. The two leaders having been clear of the shambles were nowhere in sight.
By lap two I had closed on the Sprite to slip past coming out of one of the corners, which put me in 3rd place. The positions remained the same for the remainder of the race. The car proved quite successful if just a little hectic - 1st A7 and 3rd outright was to prove a good omen for the cars future.
After Easter we set about completing the bodywork including making guards, fitting a starter and generator and lights to comply with the 750 Formula regs and generally getting the car sorted out for our assault on the Goodacre Series in 1967. All work on the car had to be completed by October 66 in order to make the ship on time. Much Midnight oil was burnt including an all day and night session the day before the car was due to be loaded. Bill was still welding bits on the trailer as I coupled it up to the car to take it down to the ship.
When Bill and I got on board next day we were so tired that we literally slept for three days. In that last month we had both lost something like 15 lbs in weight. (so to those of you who have a weight problem, try building a special to a near impossible deadline)
On December 13th 1966, after some six weeks at sea, all three of us - the car, Bill and myself arrived in London and the car was christened by H.M. Customs. Up until this time the car had no official name except Austin 7 Special, though it had been called many things (mostly rude) during construction. The Customs people insisted it have a name other than Special. We wanted to call it something with an Aussie flavour, but names such as Tasman Austin and Austral 750 just did not sound right, so back to the old method of using part of each of the constructors names. The Customs clerk seemed satisfied and the name WHITMOR was duly entered in the files and that made it official.
Of the English circuits on which the Whitmor competed, I think Brands Hatch must rate as No. 1
The car was ideally suited to this track, the gearing being just about right to the extent that with the torque available it was only neccessary to make one gearchange per lap or two at the most depending on traffic. Next in preference, Lydden Hill ; this circuit being most like our own Winton circuit in Victoria - surface, width, or lack of and a most enjoyable casual atmosphere, free from high pressure commercialism. Silverstone I like least of all due to a number of reasons. The Circuit is a high speed one, being merely three flat out straights connected by three nasty corners, not ideal 750 racing. In order to preserve the engines we restricted the revs by using single valve springs, valve bounce was at 6250 r.p.m. Thus we relied on torque and high gearing, the result being that at Silverstone I could stay with the quick boys but not beat them, local knowledge giving them the advantage in the corners. Also, at this circuit the weather always seemed to be against us
Of the races in England worth note, the one at Lydden Hill was the most exciting. Starting from the back row, I executed one of those starts to lead the field into Pilgrims with Dick Hurtle a coat of paint behind. On lap 5, near disaster when we were about to lap the Across; Charlie Wen tried to do the right thing and move over to let us through just as I started to pass on one side and Dick on the other. Unfortunately Charlie moved my way. As I stood on the stop button and dived in behind the Across, Dick shot into the lead with me hot on his tail. I managed to slip by Dick going into the left hander before the hairpin on lap 9. In the remaining laps Dick never let up for a minute. Although I could get away under acceleration he had me beaten through the hairpin but by holding a tight line round this corner I managed to hold the lead til the finish by .4 secs
I was pleased with the cars performance but disappointed with my driving which could only be described as ragged and erratic. Our team of Bill Morling, myself, Bill Mallet, Tina and Mike Peck duly celebrated the win at the local.
All our outings in England as well as in Australia have had their highlights and their moments of near disaster, and one could go on boring the reader for ages, but for those readers interested in the technical aspects of Whitmor, such as they are, the following are the main points of interest in construction.
Engine 1937 3 main bearing type, fitted with a Dalshaw alloy head of approx. 7.5:1 c.r.1 1/4 inlet valves, lightened flywheel, Eddie Thomas cam. light weight pistons with one comp ring and one oil ring. Carburation is via a DOC 40 E2 Weber, Exhaust id 4 single pipes. In order to get rid of hard to get at manifold studs etc., studs were brazed into the block for the exhaust pipes. The inlet manifold was also brazed in.
Gearbox: Austin 7 with modified ratios
Rear axle: Austin 7 ratio 4.9:1 offset slightly as is the engine, to compensate for the weight of the driver.
Suspension: Front: Triumph Herald uprights and hubs Wishbones with long trailing rear arms. Coil damper units, home made steering is by rack and pinion.
Rear: Live axle on elliptic springs (to comply with formula) tele dampers. The axle is located by radius rods and a Panhard rod to keep costs down in the suspension layout including radius rods etc.
Heim joints were used one end and silent rubber bushes the other.
Wheel base: 69. Front track 48, rear 45
Wheels: Spun steel rims on alloy centres. Front 6, rear 7 fitted with Dunlop white spot 4.50 x 13 fronts and 5.00 x 13 rear 5.50 x 13 are also used for high speed circuits.
Brakes: Standard 10 shoes and wheel cylinders, Fiat 600 Alfin drums are used on the front while A7 drums and Morris cylinders are used on the rear.
Body: Two piece lift off with stressed alloy under tray.
Weight in Australian trim: 5 cwt without driver
Lap times and records:
Oran Park 57.7 secs
Mallala 1 34.9
Winton 1 16.9
Phillip Is 2 2.7
Brands Hatch 61.2
Lydden (old Circuit) 41.8
Costs to the nearest $50 about $1000