South Australian circuit, scene of the 1955 Australian
Grand Prix, had a history almost as short as it's
length of bitumen. It's not widely remembered at all.
An even less flattering nickname for it might be "Lobethal's
un-loved love child".
Walker, author of the 1994 book "Fast Tracks"
points out, as much as it was less known and less
loved than it's contemporaries of Albert Park, Longford,
Bathurst and others, Port Wakefield deserves it's
place in history. It was Australia's first postwar
purpose-built full time motor racing circuit.
It would have been the first ever purpose built track,
but that honour goes to Aspendale in Victoria, the
track owned by the Crooke family. Aspendale was the
first ever motorsport track outright, built in 1905
after James Robert Crooke ran the first ever motor
race meeting at Sandown the year before. Actually,
the two tracks have in common the circumstances leading
to their birth. In 1905, Aspendale grew from Government
legislation very hostile toward this new invention,
the motor car.
Wakefield was born out of a similar beauracratic neccessity.
Postwar motorsport was becoming more and more popular
and the need for regulation was increasing. The much-loved
Lobethal circuit's days were numbered as fatalities
in the late 1940's put pressure on the SA State Government
to ban circuit racing on public roads. So they did,
just as the Lobethal Carnival group were trying to
resume racing on the great road track in 1951.
ironically this ban lasted until 1985 when the first
World Championship Grand Prix was held in the Adelaide
city parklands. But that's another story.)
Alec Mildren in his Cooper Climax rounds Stonyfell
Corner during an SA Trophy Race. Interesting trivia
on Alec Mildren: He had earlier bought Alan Tomlinson's
Lobethal AGP winning MG TA, separating the body from
the chassis chassis and replacing the 1300cc TA motor
with a TC motor. The revamped car rolled out at Gnoo
Blas in 1953. It changed hands again and came second
in the 1954 AGP at Southport. Alec Mildren was a prominent
driver and team owner well into the 1970's.
had breathed it's last on New Years Day 1948. Alarmed
at the prospect of being unable to host another AGP,
The Sporting Car Club and various other South Australian
motorsport enthusiasts found some land east of the
Port Wakefield township, around 80km north of Adelaide.
Rather quickly a 1.3 mile ribbon of bitumen was laid
down on this drab, featureless saltbush country. It
was a simple layout with five right hand corners and
one left hander.
watch from the rudimentary pit canopies. The car in
the foreground is a BBM ("Bakewell Bridge Motors")
special with a supercharged Holden FC engine.
plain 1.3 mile design was earmarked for an extension
taking it to double it's length, but it never happened.
Stan Jones in his magnificent Maybach Special on
a parade lap in the 1959 Gold Star meeting. He sure
looks like Alan in this pic.
were initial problems with the surface, as saltbush
and tarmac don't mix. However things got underway
in 1953 with
South Australian Trophy races. Alan
Jones' dad Stan won this event in his Maybach Special
open wheeler with Studebaker suspension and a 3.8
litre supercharged Maybach engine (in 1958 it became
a 4.3 Litre Corvette engine). Stan competed here many
SA Trophy attracted many names, and the associated
sports/ saloon car races was a who's who of 1950's
personalities including current Mallala owner, Clem
hotted-up FJ Holden of Clem Smith, well known as the
current owner of Mallala, hence he ultimately ended
up owning some of the infrastructure from Port Wakefield
what would have put Port Wakefield on the map, if
indeed it ever made it onto the map, was the 1955
Australian Grand Prix. The AGP was now working on
a rotational system, meaning if it was a state's turn
to hold the AGP, they held it, whether they had a
suitable venue or not. Coupled with the SA Government's
ban on public road racing, this system meant that
SA had hastily built a circuit which would date very
Mildren in a Cooper Climax lines up for a scratch
race, 1959 Gold Star
Port Wakefield was the shortest track ever to host
an AGP until 1980, when the local event was in it's
death throes at the woefully small Calder Park track
before the World Championship came to Adelaide.
it happened nonetheless. Jack Brabham piloted the
awkwardly unreliable number 6 Cooper T40 Bristol S6
to victory, 3 seconds ahead of Reg Hunt in a Maserati
A6 GCM. Some joked that it was the first time the
Cooper had actually finished a race. It wasn't quite
true. It DNF'd in the British Grand Prix earlier that
year, followed by three more consecutive DNF's, then
a fourth place at the Redex Trophy at Snetterton,
beating home Stirling Moss in the rain. Then it was
shipped to Australia.
Jack in the Cooper Bristol, 1955 AGP. Photo courtesy
in the entry list for that 1955 AGP included the legendary
Doug Whiteford (Largo Talbot), Stan Jones in the Maybach,
Bill Patterson (Cooper Jap), a couple of Austin Healey
1000's (one piloted by local Clem Smith), Bob Burnett-Read
in the evergreen MG K3, and a few home built specials.
Jack Brabham and Reg Hunt tied on the lap record with
1 minute 3 seconds. Over the little 1.3 mile circuit
this made an average of 74.28 mph (or 119.5 kph) over
in his Maserati 250F in an SA Trophy race of 1959,
followed by Len Lukey. This driver and car later won
the AGP in 1959 at Longford.
Racing continued over the following years with the
main event being for the Australian Gold Star. Locally
the event was called the SA Trophy. The big names
still came and won. Lex Davison in a Ferrari 625 (1957),
Len Lukey of Lukey Mufflers fame in the Cooper Coventry
(1958), Bill Patterson also in a Cooper (1959), and
Bib Stilwell in yet another Cooper Climax in 1960.
South Australia's turn to host the AGP was coming
around again in 1961, but there was a "small"
unusual sight of a Morris Major leading a Porsche
1600, Stonyfell Corner during an SA Trophy Race Saloon
1960 CAMS had decreed that the AGP had to be run over
circuits of a minimum size, and 1.3 miles wasn't up
to it. The Sporting Car Club of SA did not have the
time nor the inclination to extend the track as per
original plans. It's also quite possible that CAMS
were reluctant to go there for reasons barely different
to those you hear from V8 Supercar promoters today;
too far from a capital city and not enough fancy hotels
Lotus 11 spins exiting Stonyfell
little closer to Adelaide, the RAAF had just vacated
their base at Mallala (my grandfather, Wing Commander
James Gooch, being one of the last to leave) so a
plan was cobbled together to run the 1961 AGP there.
Much of the infrastructure such as grandstands, carports,
PA towers and signage was pilfered from Port Wakefield
following it's final race meeting in early 1961, and
used to hurriedly set up a circuit on the access roads
(not the runways as is often believed) between the
hangars at Mallala.
Len Lukey in the Cooper Climax rounds Stonyfell
corner in the 1959 Gold Star event
A well known 50's and 60's driver, the late David
Mackay, was outspoken about this issue: "The truth
is that...Mallala wasn't ready for a major race, but
under the present ridiculous rotational system.. SA
was forced into a premature GP... it was too late
to do anything, and so the show went on - as shows
have been going on all over Australia for the last
decade, on circuits that are always going to be better
but never are (Longford being the outstanding exception)..."
it was pokey, and short, and flat. It didn't have
the crests, blind curves, constant high speed and
sheer heart-in-mouth effect of Lobethal or Mount Panorama.
But it was built from the sheer need for, and the
love of, going motor racing. The big names went there,
drawing huge crowds, because it was the hub in a state
which has always fostered motorport.
so Port Wakefield was left to die, forgotten.