Bill Tuckey is one of many motoring journalists who raced at Mount Panorama in the heyday of the Series Production regulations.
He made three starts in the late 1960s, introduced Allan Grice to Mount Panorama, and was even an outright contender in a Monaro.
Things got going in an unusual way when Fiat staged a race for motoring journalists at the Warwick Farm circuit in Sydney in 1967, using the then-new Fiat 124.
“Memory says 11 identical cars,” recalls John Smailes, then a reporter and now the head of one of Australia’s most successful and respected public relations consultancies.
“I got the gig because David McKay (a successful racer and team boss who also wrote for the Telegraph in Sydney) was overseas and recommended me. Bill won, Max Stahl was second, with me third and learning from the only blokes in the field who knew how to race.
“The Farm event led to McKay running two of the cars for the state Fiat distributor, Grenville Motors, in the Bathurst 500. Tuckey and Stahl were in one and Mike Kable and I were in the other. The Tuckey/Stahl car finished laps ahead, two laps I recall, but we were in the same class as the Minis which had won the year before.”
The records show that Tuckey and Stahl qualified 31st for the Gallagher 500, finishing 20th overall and eighth in Class C.
The following year Tuckey was back for the first Hardie-Ferodo 500, with a twist. He brought Allan Grice to Bathurst for the first time in a Fiat 124 Sport which they qualified 30th, before running home18th and ninth in class D.
“I didn’t drive with Bill Tuckey, I drove with Romsey Quints,” Grice laughs now.
“David McKay of Scuderia Veloce saw me drive in an Elfin Mono F2 and offered me the drive. Yeah, it was my first time at Bathurst and I don’t even remember if we finished. The car was dead standard and, as I remember, boring.
“My only memory was David McKay drilling me for spinning the car in practice at the top of the mountain somewhere. It was actually Romsey who spun the car in the session before…
“Tuckey was easy to get on with and, as I remember, just wanted to finish. I don’t recall any breathtaking tips or secrets.”
In 1969, Tuckey was in a Holden Monaro GTS350 with Sib Petralia for his first genuine shot at outright victory.
They qualified thirteenth and for many years Tuckey maintained that they were a serious chance to win. But the car only managed 44 laps before the engine failed.
“As I finished speaking, he slipped a piece of paper into his typewriter and started tapping. Twenty minutes later, he delivered the column – all of 1250 words, no photographs in those days. It was exactly to length, required no editing whatsoever and was beautifully written.
“The bloke was a genius, a natural writer and a wonderful story teller.”
As Wheels editor, Tuckey was always looking for new ways to build the story, even if that meant sitting in a car’s boot to show the relative carrying capacity of rival vehicles.
On the book front, his first – and one of the most successful – which was called The Book of Australian Motor Racing, published by KG Murray in 1964 when Tuckey was 28.
John Smailes says it was “both textbook and a call to action” and remembers Tuckey’s description of a lose-and-save from its pages: “You sit, braced, and realise the car is lost, adhesion has gone, and the driver has snapped on instant opposite lock and slapped the car back into line like a man slams a door in a rage, and it’s all happened before you even register that all is not normal”.
There was drama with his next book, The Ultimate Excitement in 1967, when Customs officials thought it was a pornographic publication. But it was a compilation of excellent motorsport pictures by Nigel Snowdon with words by Tuckey.
For a while there was a diversion from writing in the early 1970s as Tuckey and his wife opened a delicatessen and sandwich shop in Neutral Bay, then moved into the entertainment business with the French Hell Drivers and a number of other club acts.
But it didn’t last long, and Tuckey forged a long-term alliance with Ray Berghouse and Tom Floyd that became Chevron Publishing, the umbrella company for AMC and many other successful business ventures from the annual ‘Bathurst book’ to Aero magazine and the Muscle Car Masters.
Somewhere he also found time for a spell at the George Patterson advertising agency, where he was one of the essential cogs that kept the Holden Dealer Team running at a time when General Motors had an official anti-motorsport policy.
He was also an on-thespot reporter through the craziness of the Repco Round-Australia Trial in 1979 and showed his commitment to the car business with a series of Motoring Year annuals.
Tuckey was in on the ground floor at Business
Review Monthly magazine and he used it as a platform to report, analyse, cajole and embarrass the good and the great across the business. It was a perfect match for a man who knew more than many of the people he was writing about.
Tuckey’s son, Stuart, says his father is proudest of a range of his achievements. There is the inaugural Motoring Journalist of the Year award from 1985, a CAMS motorsport media award, and the book The Rise and fall of Peter Brock.
“He put an incredible amount of research and effort into that book. It was a best-seller and went into a second repeat,” Stuart says.
“He was also very proud of the Bathurst books. He always said it’s about the emotion, not just the race.”
As for drivers, Tuckey was always a fan of Stan Jones but his personal favourite was Frank Matich.
“We lived in North Rocks in Sydney and they lived in Carlingford, and we used to socialise all the time. We saw what Frank did, all the way through. From an engineering and a driving point of view, he was one of the greatest apart from Jack Brabham,” Stuart says.
Tuckey had one last big tilt, after time as editor at Car Australia magazine, when he became a radio shock-jock in Melbourne. He wasn’t quite Derryn Hinch though, and it only lasted a few years, but his time on 3AW reflected the same opinionated and entertaining style that carried him through the decades of motoring journalism.
Tuckey and Marcie retired to Merimbula in 2001 but they eventually returned to Melbourne, which is where his health took the first of several dives in 2010. He won’t be writing any more books, but his irascible style survives and he is a keen student of the latest developments in Australian motoring and motorsport.
Bill Tuckey is not gone yet, but he has amassed an incredible body of work that will outlive him and provide a legacy that is a reflection of his talent, commitment and personal belief. “Motoring journalism, and possibly the motoring industry, would have been different without Tuckey. He made both better,” says John Smailes.
“Every Australian motoring journalist owes Bill Tuckey a debt,” says Mel Nichols.
But let’s not forget the many, many thousands of people who have enjoyed and learned from the work and words of Bill Tuckey, and Romsey Quints, over more than 50 years.
Tuckey’s writing drew on his own Bathurst 500 experiences as a driver, including a run with Allan Grice.
Tuckey gave Mount Panorama almost supernatural qualities in the 1981 AGMR, which spawned the yearbooks. His other seminal work was about a bloke named Brock.
In Tuckey’s day most motoring journalists covered anything with four wheels.