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ult

ut the permission of the site owner or unless otherwise specified

*Race reports and sundry articles are written for promotional purposes and to inform Lagler Racing's sponsors, customers, suppliers and other interested parties. It is not for the purpose of informing the superkart community on technical, club-related or administrative issues. Such information should be sought from the applicable club, association or technical sites.

Whilst every effort has been made to be demonstrably factual, creative licence is used and no correspondence will be entered into over any detail as a result

 

 

 

 

 

 


Australian motor racing heritage is often overlooked in the shadow of European and American legends. Words like Rosemeyer, Nuvolari, Brooklands, Nurburgring, Fangio, and Auto Union, can be the ingredient to make any motorsport recollection take on mythical proportions.

Think of it like this; it's 1935, and you're a young German peasant who's father has finally agreed to take you to Berlin to watch automobile racing for the first time. You arrive at the huge gates at AVUS. There's 300,000 people. You stand at the kink into the massive North Loop, which stands at the end of 8 miles of straight track. Appearing out of nowhere is the sleek, metallic Auto Union Streamliner. It is violently loud, and it is moving at almost 200 miles per hour. You can't believe there's a human being in it.

I don't think we have the capacity to know how that would have felt. But for the "backwards little Colonials" down under, would it have been much different? Hardly. At Lobethal, the Australian public would have been treated to an experience much the same

Lobethal is a pleasant little hamlet nestled in the Eastern Adelaide Hills, a leisurely 20 minute drive off the South Eastern Freeway at the exit for heavily-touristed Hahndorf. Like many SA regional areas it was settled by Prussians and Germans in the mid 1800's. The name "Lobethal" translates as "Valley of Praise".

As with many major racing venues, it all began with a community used to dabbling in small time motorsport pursuits- there had been hillclimbs on the outskirts of town in the 1930's- and they wanted more.

The suggestion was to utilize the public roads as Australia's first fully sealed public road circuit. There had been Vale in the 1920's, a massive 10km complex of mostly dirt roads, adjacent to what is now Mount Panorama. Indeed they also used the now-famous Bathurst layout, but unsealed. This would be bigger, longer, faster.

In 1937 Victor Harbor, on the South Australian coast, had hosted the Grand Prix and this prompted the formation of the Lobethal Carnival Group later that year. Along with the Sporting Car Club of SA, and Motorcycle clubs, plans were hatched to launch a golden era of motorsport on these majestic roads. The plans came to bear in 1938 with the South Australian Grand Prix and with it the legends began.


Raymond Curlewis in yet another MG T special, heading up the hill from Kayannie corner to Lobethal town. He finished 9th in the 1939 AGP (photo courtesy pre-war MG Register)

There was Colin Dunne, Frank Klenig, Britain's Alan Sinclair, and later, Doug Whiteford. There were amazing cars, signature cars for the era- the mighty MG K3's, MG T specials, Alfas, Morrises, Hudsons, Singers, and weird, hybrid specials. In that race, on those roads, these heroes cracked 6 minutes around the 13.8km, brushing on 90mph average. Average.

The 1938 Australian Tourist Trophy for bikes was also held there, with hordes of BSA's, Nortons and Velocette's creating Australian motorcycle racing's own legends and folkloric stories.

Sure, it's no Nurburgring. The land is not as dramatic as the Eiffel Mountains in Western Germany. It is undulating, by no means featureless. It's uniquely Australian. Perhaps Spa Francorchamps from the same era draws the closest comparison. Today you can drive the 14 km Lobethal circuit, exactly as it was, save for some newer tarmac. Despite the stupifyingly slow nanny-state speed limits this, surely, is the only way you can appreciate it. This will explain why it holds, or should hold, the same mythical status as the more famous and notorious European counterparts.

From the old start-finish and grandstand area north of Charleston you could be forgiven for thinking it's nothing special. No really challenging corners, just sweeping curves. But put it into context; these cars had spindly wires and tyres, cart springs and beam axles, and near useless drum brakes. These "curves" are all blind. There are crests preceding all of them, particularly the bridges, which funnel into chutes. Think of these machines dropping on to their suspension, in mid-air, whilst turning, at 100mph.

Through the little town of Charleston, with it's pub (still there) the crowds were thick. Stories abound of drivers stopping, mid practice sessions, for a pint or two.Out past here are frightening kinks, all blind, all crests and dips. Then a blind right hand kink sucks you into Kayannie corner, the tight right hander leaving the Woodside Road and heading towards the township of Lobethal. Here the spectators got off the train from Adelaide straight into spectator areas at the side of the track, driver's left.

The climb up the hill is significant, mostly straight for almost two km, but at the top, this track steals straight from the soul of Nurburgring. Lined by trees, the blind crest plummets away left, bottoms out, right, drops away again, into a rollercoaster left. Then it flattens, raises slightly, then another drop into the braking area for the hard right hander (Mill corner) into Lobethal's main street. Even the main street isn't straight. Past the pub on the right, there's now a little ribbon of paving (Indianapolis-style) across the road and a plaque to commemorate the racing era.


The famous esses photo courtesy of www.tasman-series.com

Up the hill it funnels between shops and houses and then there is the blind, off-camber Gumeracha Corner, which claimed lives. The stretch from here to the start-finish hairpin has to be experienced. 5 km of crests, blind curves, feature changes and major undulation. Here is where the truly great drivers would have made up time on nothing more than sheer bravery. Indeed they did, and one in particular.


# 2 Reg Nutt in a Day Special lines up alongside eventual winner Colin Dunne in the dominant MG K3, at the 1938 SA GP (photo courtesy of www.lobethalgrandcarnival.com.au)

Lobethal's big event, one the eve of WWII, was the 1939 Australian Grand Prix, held on the new years' weekend. It was the early years of the event becoming nationally rotated, having been at Phillip Island on unsealed public roads (long before the current circuit was built) from 1928 to 1935. In 1937 the AGP was at Victor Harbor, also on public roads, also still there today. In 1938 the event was run at Bathurst, and won by Briton Peter Whitehead in an ERA. Whitehead went on to win Le Mans in 1951, but died in a crash a few years later.

There are countless stories from the 1939 event to tantalise the nostalgic amongst us. However, the most charming and inspiring tales surround the eventual race winner, Alan Tomlinson.

The little West Aussie came over on a ship, with his car. It was an MG T special, supercharged. Evidently Tomlinson's engineering capabilities, at a mere 22 years old, were exceptional. This is hard for us to imagine, in an era long before one of kids racing karts to learn vehicle dynamics. His preparation was more befitting of a modern F1 star, without the minders and PR people. He walked the circuit in the weeks prior to the event. and drove a spare MG T around it, practising section by section. He paid particular attention to that 5km stretch from the perilous Gumeracha corner to the Start-Finish hairpin. He knew that this section would be the key for a driver in an outclassed car, if you were brave enough.


Start of the 1939 AGP. Leading is Russell Bowes in the Magnette (#24). Behind in third is the Morgan Monoposto of Jack Boughton, the car which eventual race winner Tomlinson tangled with the following year

Fastest lap went to Alf Barrett with 5min 40sec. Barrett caught the Lobethal bug at the SA GP the previous year in a Morris Special, but fronted up to the 1939 AGP in the fancied Alfa Monza. He flooded at the start and never featured, coming home 8th. During the race Jack Saywell, also in a very quick 2.9L Alfa, would blast past Tomlinson's little MG in the straight sections. But, as they were blasting along that 5km stretch from Gumeracha Corner to the Start-Finish hairpin, Saywell was "in my way" according to Tomlinson. He owned that piece of track.

Tomlinson won by over 2 minutes from Bob Lea-Wright in a Terraplane Special. Lea-Wright had won the 1934 AGP at Phillip Island in a Singer. In third was Jack Phillips in a Ford V8 Special.

A A typical stretch of Adelaide Hills road- except this one taken full throttle at 130mp/h...in 1939!

From 1940-1946 the AGP was not officially run but many of the same racers returned to Lobethal on New Years' day 1940 for the SA trophy- it was won by Jack Phillips in his Ford Special but more significantly, the event almost claimed the life of the 1939 winner:

"Alan Tomlinson... was in a handy sixth place at the end of the tenth lap when his MG Special touched the rear wheel of (Jack Boughton's Morgan monoposto, going in to the esses). The MG swerved violently and careered across the road, hurtled down a five foot bank, passed narrowly between a guide post and a light pole, broke through the fence, and struck a tree stump in the camping reserve. The impact threw Tomlinson clear as the car stood on its nose, turned over several times and came to rest embedded in the three-foot bole of a gum tree. Tomlinson was rushed to the Lobethal Hospital and later to Royal Adelaide with fractured ribs, possible internal injuries and severe shock. He had been lucky that the fence had not decapitated him". (Courtesy Jasper Peterson, www.mgnuts.com. original source unknown)


Tomlinson's MG after the 1940 accident (www.mgnuts.com)

The good news is, not only did Alan survive, he is still with us today, a spritely 91 year old who is still regularly involved in his consultancy business in WA. When asked about what terminal speed they actually reached in that 1939 event, he will tell you 130-140mph. It's hard to believe. But the figures don't lie. 13.8 kilometres, lap times below 6 minutes, 89mph average. When you drive the circuit, it's even harder to imagine. If you want to know how on earth did they take those blind corners with such dramatic crests before the apexes- Tomlinson will tell you "we turned the cars before they were airborne". Brave doesn't begin to describe it.

Doug Whiteford raced here, ten years before his triplet of AGP wins at Nuriootpa, Bathurst and Albert Park. He even continued into the Trans-Tasman series in the 1960's and came out of retirement to race at Bathurst in the touring car event. Despite all this, he regarded Lobethal, without doubt, as the greatest track.

WWII engulfed Australia, and stifled the momentum of the AGP. It also claimed the lives of some of it's faithful, including Russel Bowes and Raymond Curlewis, both of the RAAF (pictured in this article). However, race meetings were held there again in 1940 and 1948. But already the spectre of crowd control, safety and general administration contstraints was closing in on these majestic big tracks. Some events were held down the road at Woodside, on a shorter track, still wonderful roads, but not the same.


The amazing Alan Tomlinson in 2008, next to a picture of him taking victory in the 1939 AGP. Photo courtesy of the Vintage Sports Car Club of Western Australia

Lobethal brought the best from all over, such was the lure of the place regardless of the status of the event. Later multiple AGP winner Lex Davison raced in the final event in 1948, crashing his MG TC and earning himself a stint in hospital.

And that was it. In the early 50's, state governments banned public road racing. The irony of that- when you consider the street race revenue greedily chased by modern promoters today.

Motor racing journalist Ray Bell wrote of the place in words that I quote here because I relate; It's still there...Daunting, charming the enthusiast, whispering into your mind the thought that some brave men raced here, what it might have been like to have been there. Lobethal sleeps today...It s like a grave that has been visited by a doting family a thousand times, getting older ... The coming of each New Year adds another year since its quiet end"


True words to a true enthusiast. I lived close to this place for most of my life. I'd heard echoes of the era mentioned, I remember when the plaque was laid in the main street, but I never fully appreciated the depth of it's history. Perhaps I didn't have much time for those really old race cars. But growing older does funny things to you. At my most recent visit to the beautiful Adelaide Hills, I drove Lobethal with a new outlook, and it changed everything. It was 1939, and they took these curves how fast?

But before we mourn too much, it may yet be awoken from it's 70 year slumber.

Adelaide is often the butt of many an eastern states' joke, but there's no denying it has an active motorsport spirit which is sorely absent elsewhere. From the highly popular Clipsal 500 to the internationally-renowned Classic Adelaide tarmac rally, South Australia is not backwards in honouring motorsport heritage, despite modern trends toward green fanaticism and frenzied speed-kills fearmongering.

The "Lobethal Carnival Group" has been resurrected, in principal at least, by motorsport enthusiasts and locals. In October 2008, those very roads will be closed to allow historic race cars to play again. It will not, as far as is known, be a full speed event, but we have been assured of "spirited demonstrations".

And attending the event, as official patron- Alan Tomlinson himself. It will be worth a visit just to see this underrated hero, and to
hear those engines sing again in the Valley of Praise.

Lobethal Grand Carnival 2008

 

Acknowledgements:

My utmost gratitude to Ray Bell for a majority of the information. His own eloquent Lobethal article can be read here

The nostalgia buffs, with particular thanks to John Medley, on the Atlas F1 Nostalgia forum

The Pre-war MG Archives Register
www.mgnuts.com




 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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