The racer

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

“I sup­pose I was in my early twen­ties, strangely enough I had made a bit of money. I al­ways had a car then – not a flash car – but I got into Hud­sons and I used to drive them pretty hard and pretty fast...”

Clem Smith’s mem­o­ries of his first days in rac­ing are clear and it is here, not in the mun­dane busi­ness world of car deal­er­ships and cor­po­ra­tions, where it is ob­vi­ous his true pas­sion lies. And de­spite his long at­trac­tion to the Chrysler brand, it was in an­other Detroit-based Amer­i­can mar­que, Hud­son, where Clem truly made his name as a rac­ing driver in his na­tive South Aus­tralia. In par­tic­u­lar, a unique 1934 Hud­son Ter­ra­plane Road­ster.

“I used to fol­low the rac­ing, I would go as a spec­ta­tor,” he re­mem­bers. “My fa­ther used to go to all of the races, in Nu­ri­ootpa and those sorts of places. Even as far back as Lo­bethal when I was a kid, I went to some of the races there as a spec­ta­tor. I first went rac­ing com­pet­i­tively when I heard about this new track at Port Wake­field which started on Jan­uary 1, 1953.”

With the rac­ing bug bit he was in boots and all. First of all there were Hud­sons, then Hold­ens and then, in­evitably, the Chryslers fur­ther down the track.

“I went to my first race meet­ing at Port Wake­field in the Ter­ra­plane Road­ster and did fairly well. We ran against MGs and those other sort of open top pro­duc­tion cars, they used to call them. It went on from there: I had car af­ter car, you get hooked on it, don’t you? I went through a se­ries of cars af­ter a while, but I al­ways had the Hud­sons there. I used run them at the speed­way as well, and tri­als. I was into ev­ery­thing with the cars in those days.”

The ‘trial’ that Clem ca­su­ally men­tions was no less an event than the orig­i­nal, 1953 Redex Trial, all 10,460 kilo­me­tres of it. An ad­ven­ture and a half, quite lit­er­ally, as in ad­di­tion to cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the con­ti­nent, he had to get his ag­ing Ter­ra­plane Road­ster to and from the start/ fin­ish in Syd­ney.

But the era of the re­li­a­bil­ity trial soon passed. Be­sides, he found him­self pre-oc­cu­pied with the rough and tum­ble of speed­way, ini­tially rac­ing a Holden-pow­ered Vaux­hall two-door coupe. In the trusty Hud­son Ter­ra­plane he won Row­ley Park’s first 50-lap stock car derby, in the 1959/60 sea­son, be­fore re­tir­ing from the ‘skids’ a cou­ple of years later.

It was in cir­cuit rac­ing where he re­ally made a name for him­self. He con­tested the 1955 Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Port Wake­field in an Austin-Healey 100, re­tir­ing from the event due to

sus­pen­sion woes. There­after, Clem mostly raced tin-tops.

“The FJ Holden was one of the fast cars; we came third at Al­bert Park in 1958 with it and it went pretty well. Later on we went to the Valiants, in the 1960s. I re­mem­ber dis­tinctly Al­lan Mof­fat and Jimmy McKeown go­ing head-to-head with two Lo­tus Corti­nas and I was fol­low­ing them in the R-Se­ries Valiant. They even­tu­ally col­lided with one an­other, dam­aged their cars and left the race open and I won the South Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship.”

Smith proved an ex­tremely ca­pa­ble and ver­sa­tile driver. He fin­ished third in the sin­gle-race 1963 Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship at Mal­lala, be­hind Bob Jane (Mark II Jaguar) and Ern Ab­bott (Chrysler Valiant) in his own R-Se­ries. How­ever, de­spite the po­ten­tial, na­tional suc­cess never truly fol­lowed.

“I al­ways spon­sored my­self, did all my own en­gine work and car, with very lit­tle help from the staff, and was try­ing to run a busi­ness at the same time,” he ex­plains, em­pha­sis­ing time and money as the two ma­jor fac­tors that went to­wards lim­it­ing his ca­reer mainly to South Aus­tralia.

“I was pay­ing my own way every­where and I could not af­ford to go to places like Bathurst. Calder and Sandown were my favourite tracks be­cause that is where we went to get ex­tra races. We ran at all the lo­cal ones, but to go to New South Wales and then Queens­land it is ex­tra days away from work: I just couldn’t af­ford it.”

Nonethe­less, he did get to Bris­bane’s Lake­side cir­cuit for the 1964 ATCC, but his ef­forts were in vain as he punched his S-Se­ries ‘Val’ into an earth bank on lap two. He was fourth in the pre­lim­i­nary race to give an in­di­ca­tion of his po­ten­tial.

The fol­low­ing year he made it to Sandown and fin­ished ninth, three laps down on new na­tional champ Norm Beechey’s Mus­tang.

Sandown was also the scene of Smith’s pi­o­neer­ing role in Pac­ers, as high­lighted last edi­tion. He en­tered the Dat­sun Three-Hour in 1969 in the VF’s first en­durance race, back­ing up the fol­low­ing year, for sev­enth over­all and sec­ond in class, in the VG model.

His last ATCC start, in 1972, was in an E38 Charger at the Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way round. Sports Sedans then be­came his fo­cus (see break­out) and he raced on un­til he was nearly seventy, hav­ing had a tilt at Group N in a Mus­tang, in­clud­ing in AGP sup­port events in the Ade­laide park­lands. Heart is­sues de­vel­oped and Smith de­cided it un­wise to con­tinue as a driver, though he would con­tinue to put younger driv­ers in his cars for some time.

He main­tains a replica of his Ter­ra­plane amongst his collection of clas­sic cars.

Top: Clem Smith was in ev­ery­thing but a bath in the 1950s and 1960 in South Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport. He en­tered events as di­verse as the 1953 Redex Trial, speed­way stock car races and the 1955 Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Port Wake­field. Note his Austin-Healey (#18) is about to be lapped in the AGP by Jack Brab­ham’s Cooper Bris­tol and Reg Hunt’s Maserati. Left: Clem trav­elled to Mel­bourne to race, in­clud­ing to Al­bert Park, but not much fur­ther. He’s in #14. Be­low: Smith’s Val (#46) on the 1963 ATCC’s grid. Lit­tle did he know then he would later own Mal­lala.

Lake­side 1964

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