$22,750 1977 PONTIAC SE BANDIT
VIC | Miles
JUST Cars 11/07/2012
One of Australia’s most significant racing specials, the ‘Ausca’ was originally created by senior Repco engineer, Paul England, in 1956.
When this one-off creation, which has Geelong Speed Trials pedigree, was recently put on the market, we spoke with the owner, Ian McDonald, who filled us in on this important vehicle’s back story.
Paul England may not be as well known as the likes of Brabham, Davison or Jane, but he was a significant player in Australian motorsport’s post-war golden days. When Charlie Dean created the famous ‘Maybach’ single seat racer in the late 1940s, England was alongside him at Repco’s Research Division. The success of the Maybach was no doubt a spur for England to develop his own ideas on racecar design and fabrication. These ideas came to fruition in the form of the Ausca, which was a joint effort between England and Bill Hickey.
By today’s standards, the Ausca was deceptively simple, featuring a twin-tube (75mm mild steel) chassis, modified Holden front end and live rear axle. In its initial configuration, the engine was a largely stock Holden grey motor, bored to 2350cc, and fitted with a trio of 1.25-inch SU carbs and extractors. A Fiat gearbox (later replaced with a close-ratio BMC gearbox), running to a modified Holden rear end completed the drivetrain. In this configuration – as a bare chassis – the Ausca won its first outing at a hillclimb event in Templestowe, but more was to come.
England’s position meant he had access to top secret “skunk works” products at Repco Research. One of these was a ‘Highpower’ crossflow cylinder head (designed by legendary engineer Phil Irving), and England secured the first one produced. When fitted to the Ausca’s Holden six, the Highpower head boosted power from around 100bhp (75kW) to 150bhp (112kW) in one fell swoop, instantly making England’s creation one of the most powerful cars of its type, and arguably the most potent locally-powered special. At the same time, an Austin-Healey 100S diff was fitted, as it offered more ratio options than the Holden unit.
Cloaking the Ausca’s advanced componentry was a striking one-piece fibreglass body, finished in racing red. While the sinuous shape has often been compared to Maserati’s A6GS, the body was all England’s work, essentially created “freehand”, but no doubt using Maseratis and other sportscars of the period for inspiration.
At the start of 1956, competitive runs at Fisherman’s Bend and Albert Park proved the potential of the Ausca, but fitting the Repco head took the car to a new level, causing quite a commotion when it made its debut in this configuration at Bathurst’s 1956 Easter meet. Pitted against highly-developed machines like Doug Whiteford’s Maserati 300S and David McKay’s Aston Martin DB3S, the Ausca’s performance was impressive, so much so that England received a personal letter of congratulation from Repco’s chairman, Sir Charles McGrath.
This kicked off a flurry of interest in the Ausca, with the car appearing in all the motorsport and enthusiast magazines of the day. England campaigned the car with vigour for the next two years, ably supported by Hickey, along with Clarrie Boswell and Bob Walker at many events. Five outright wins at Phillip Island, a 4th in the Argus trophy at Albert Park, a similar result at the Bathurst 100, and a string of records and class wins at hillclimbs, sprints and circuit events around the country were amongst the results England achieved in the Ausca.
England rated his best drive as 1957’s International Sports Car Championship at Ardmore, New Zealand, where he finished 3rd outright behind Bob Gibbons’s D-Type and Jack Brabham’s Cooper Climax. After a six month stint in Europe, England returned to Australia early in 1958 with new pace, equalling the sports car lap record at Phillip Island. Later in the year, at the same track, England crashed the Ausca coming out of the circuit’s Southern Loop, breaking both legs, and heavily damaging the car’s fibreglass body. As the chassis was undamaged, the car was rebuilt using a new body before it was eventually sold by England in 1960.
In latter days, the existence of a number of Ausca bodies has created some confusion. It’s estimated around 14 copies of the Ausca fibreglass body were produced in the late 1950s, and fitted to a variety of racing chassis. This is turn has led to some Ausca-bodied sportscars being mistakenly referred to as Auscas, but Ian’s advised us there is only one ‘real’ Ausca - England’s Holden-engined original.
Back in 1956, the Ausca was one of the stars at the first ever Geelong Speed Trials. The quarter mile sprint may have been much shorter than the long circuit races the Ausca was originally designed for, but England made sure his run was no less spectacular. Back then, the Ritchie Boulevard course featured loose gravel near the start line, which combined with rain on the day, saw England fishtail the Ausca down the quarter-mile. Reports in the local newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, described the run as a real eye-opener for the assembled spectators, as England weaved his way down the course! A best time of 16.6 seconds didn’t threaten Lex Davison’s 14.9 in a Cooper-Vincent, but was still the second-fastest sportscar and class winner in up-to-2500cc Sports.
After England sold the Ausca in 1960 to concentrate on other ventures (including a few tilts at the Armstrong 500), the car passed through several owners and suffered the ignominy of being modified for GT race competition. The Ausca later spent around ten years in the possession of former Repco Research engineer, Jim Madden, before it was purchased by Ian in 1997 and restored to its original configuration. Since completion, Ian and son Nick have campaigned the Ausca at a number of historic meets around the country.
When questioned as to what drew him to the Ausca and why he committed to thoroughly restore the car, Ian cited its significance as not only one of the most successful specials of its day, but also one of the most spectacular. Ian noted that while there had been Holden-engined specials before the Ausca, just as there had been fibreglass-bodied racers, the two hadn’t been combined to such striking effect before England first unveiled the Ausca in 1956. By the way, if you’re wondering where the Ausca name comes from, England reportedly named it as it was an AUStralian CAr – makes sense!
Like most racing enthusiasts, Ian is looking forward to the JUST CARS Geelong Revival 2012. A longtime racing competitor in his own right, the return of the Geelong Speed Trials has a very personal connection for Ian, as he punted a variety of machines up the Ritchie Boulevard course. Starting in 1959 with a Triumph TR3, Ian ran a diverse array of machines at the Speed Trials through the 1960s, everything from a Cooper Jaguar and ‘Repco Holden Mono’ open wheeler (with the same Highpower head as the Ausca), to the ‘Tarquin’ Lotus 11-bodied MG and Allard J2. Will Ian get behind the wheel again for this year’s Revival? Watch this space!
Engine: 2549cc Holden "grey" motor with Repco Highpower head.
Twin SU carburettors.
220 bhp. (150 bhp in period).
Transmission: Close ratio BMC gearbox. Austin-Healey 100S rear axle with L.S.D.
Chassis/Body: Twin tube chassis with modified Holden front end.
Live rear axle with radius arms and "A" bracket location. One-piece, lift-off fibreglass body.
Weight: 1390 lbs (632 kg)
Top Speed: 150 mph (240 kph)
RECENT COMPETITION HISTORY
1998 Winton: First outright and new Lb Sports lap record (1m09 sec)
1998 Sandown: Outright win and lap time of 1m26 sec. (pole)
1998 Wakefield Park: First outright and lap time of 1m12 sec. (pole)
1999 Phillip Island: Fastest pre - 60 sports car at meeting. Lap time 1m53 sec. - new record.
1999 Sandown: First outright
2001 Mallala: First outright in 3 races. Lap record 1m22 sec.
2001 Sandown: First outright in 2 races
2008 Phillip Island: First outright in all 3 scratch races.
Not campaigned regularly 2002 – 2008 and 2008 - 2012
2012 Phillip Island: First outright in all 4 scratch races. Pole position and fastest lap.
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