Bathurst

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Scribe -

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.

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