Kevin Drage

Any­one who reck­ons there’s no point rein­vent­ing the wheel has not met Kevin Drage – an unsung hero of the lo­cal au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try and cre­ator of the most fa­mous al­loy wheels adorn­ing fac­tory mus­cle cars.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

If you reckon there’s no point re-in­vent­ing the wheel you should meet Kevin Drage – cre­ator of the most fa­mous al­loy wheels adorn­ing fac­tory mus­cle cars.

Kevin Drage is a quiet man whose de­meanour gives no clues as to the in­tel­lect or de­ter­mi­na­tion that hides be­hind his placid face. To say that he has been one of the great un­known achiev­ers in the Aus­tralian au­to­mo­tive scene is an un­der­state­ment. This softly spo­ken Ade­laide-born car en­thu­si­ast has a wealth of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence that un­til now has rarely been shared.

His in­aus­pi­cious start to em­ploy­ment was as a tool de­signer in the early 1950s at Iplex Plas­tics where he was in­volved in the nascent plas­tics in­dus­try de­vel­op­ing tool­ing for new prod­ucts and a glass re­in­forced plas­tic process. From there he spent two years as a de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer at Chrysler be­fore mov­ing across town to GMHolden where he spent an­other two years fur­ther de­vel­op­ing tech­niques for plas­tic prod­ucts.

While at Holden he was sec­onded to work at Pre­ci­sion Pressed Me­tals where he de­vel­oped fi­bre­glass boat hulls that sparked the fi­bre­glass leisure boat boom of the 1950s and ’60s.

Dur­ing this time Kevin be­came in­ter­ested in mo­tor rac­ing and built a su­per­charged Mor­ris Mi­nor in which he won his class in the Aus­tralian Hill Climb Cham­pi­onship. This led to pit crew­ing for Derek Jolly who was rac­ing a Lotus XV at the time, and later work­ing with such lu­mi­nar­ies as Bib Still­well, David McKay and Alec Mil­dren when they were rac­ing in Ade­laide.

His en­gi­neer­ing tal­ents were no­ticed by Harold Clisby, owner of Clisby In­dus­tries Ltd

in Prospect, SA, where he worked from 1960 through 1967. Their main line of busi­ness was in air com­pres­sors and ini­tially he de­vel­oped a new range of prod­ucts. Clisby was an en­gi­neer and a mo­tor­sport en­thu­si­ast who had trav­elled to Europe in 1960 where he vis­ited Maserati, Fer­rari, Porsche and Coven­try Cli­max and saw first-hand the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of rac­ing en­gines. Upon his re­turn home in Septem­ber, Clisby im­me­di­ately im­mersed him­self in a pro­ject to de­sign and de­velop a com­pet­i­tive 1.5-litre rac­ing en­gine (see break­out) that would com­ply with the forth­com­ing FIA rules. Work­ing closely with Clisby were Drage and Alec Bai­ley, a su­perb ma­chin­ist who also loved a chal­lenge.

When Clisby ul­ti­mately lost in­ter­est in the V6, Drage found him­self in­volved in an­other pro­ject – hov­er­craft. Two were built and demon­strated, with both gain­ing a sur­pris­ing amount of me­dia at­ten­tion at the time, but nei­ther went on to be com­mer­cial ven­tures.

Drage es­tab­lished his own de­sign and con­sul­tancy busi­ness dur­ing his time at Clisby In­dus­tries – Drage Au­to­mo­tive De­vel­op­ments. His first client was Globe Prod­ucts who wanted him to de­sign a dou­ble over­head camshaft con­ver­sion for the Ford 289ci V8 en­gine. The en­gine’s new cylin­der heads and other com­po­nents were cast at Clisby In­dus­tries and ma­chined at Globe; the com­pleted en­gine in­stalled in an Elfin 400 that was owned by John Hurd and driven by Noel Hurd. It was a beau­ti­fully crafted DOHC con­ver­sion.

Hurd raced the Elfin Globe-Ford in many events dur­ing 1967 and ’68 at Mal­lala. In 12 starts he achieved four first plac­ings, a trio of se­cond places, a third, a fourth and a fifth, a 12th and a DNF; on two oc­ca­sions he also set a new lap record. Hurd, in the Aus­tralian Tourist Tro­phy event at Mal­lala on Jan­uary 29, 1968, fin­ished fifth in the Group A sports car race to Frank Matich in his SR3 Repco-Brab­ham. Not a bad re­sult.

Then came a se­ries of events that should have had Drage’s name up in lights all around the world, but sadly did not. He was in Mel­bourne with the DOHC Ford cast­ings and had gone to Repco to catch up with Phil Irv­ing but in­stead spent time with Frank Hal­lam. The dis­cus­sion took on a new di­men­sion af­ter Drage showed Hal­lam the Globe-Ford DOHC cast­ings. Drage was im­me­di­ately in­vited to con­tinue their dis­cus­sion in Hal­lam’s of­fice where he was shown a set of cylin­der head draw­ings by John Judd, who at the time was work­ing for none other than Jack Brab­ham.

The prob­lem fac­ing Hal­lam was the huge dis­tance be­tween their of­fices in Maid­stone, Mel­bourne and Jack’s HQ in Guild­ford, Sur­rey. A huge con­cern was the time taken for draw­ings to be sent back-and-forth, plus once a com­po­nent’s de­sign had been ap­proved – a cylin­der head for ex­am­ple – it could take up to six months be­fore the cast­ing ar­rived back at Repco. Stir­ling Me­tals in the UK were up un­til then their sup­plier for the 620 head cast­ings. How­ever, hav­ing seen Drage’s ex­per­tise and his quick turn­around time of four weeks, Hal­lam asked him to sup­ply cylin­der heads for Repco-Brab­ham’s For­mula 1 pro­gram. Drage ac­cepted the chal­lenge, duly de­liv­er­ing the first four cast­ings in the promised four weeks. In his time at Clisby’s he pro­duced more than 100 cylin­der heads of four dif­fer­ent Repco-Brab­ham en­gine types over the next two years – but no­body was aware of it!

From 1968 Drage, now chief en­gi­neer at Globe Prod­ucts, bus­ied him­self with de­sign­ing and de­vel­op­ing Aus­tralia’s first com­mer­cial­lypro­duced one-piece alu­minium al­loy wheels. An early part of this pro­gram was the de­vel­op­ment of al­loy wheels for the fac­tory Ford Fal­con GT-HO Phase III as­sault and the Holden Dealer Team’s To­rana XU-1s for Bathurst 1972. Of course, in the fa­mous event Brock was the out­right win­ner

run­ning 13 x 6” Globe Sprint­mas­ter al­loys, while Mof­fat ran 15 x 7” Globe Bathurst al­loy wheels.

The Globe Bathurst wheels came about through Jack Brab­ham who owned a ma­jor Ford deal­er­ship in Bankstown, Syd­ney. As Drage re­mem­bers, “Jack ap­proached me in March 1971 and asked if Globe could de­sign a 15 x 7” al­loy wheel for use on the spe­cial ‘Jack Brab­ham Fal­cons’ that he was plan­ning. Jack, of course, had strong con­nec­tions with Goodyear and was well aware of the im­pend­ing re­lease of a 60 Se­ries, low-pro­file 15-inch road tyre.”

Un­for­tu­nately, there were de­lays with the Fal­con, and Brab­ham for­mally ad­vised Drage in May that he was can­celling the pro­gram. By Septem­ber that year Drage was well ad­vanced on the de­sign of a wheel be­cause as he said, “Globe had the op­por­tu­nity to be the first lo­cal al­loy wheel man­u­fac­turer with a 15-inch al­loy wheel suit­able for low pro­file tyres and so I be­gan some fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies.”

The 15 x 7 Globe Bathurst wheel (as it be­came known) was des­tined for the Phase IV but as his­tory notes was retro­fit­ted to the Phase III Fal­cons when the Phase IV pro­gram was can­celled. The 15 x 7 Globe Bathurst wheel was later of­fered as a fac­tory op­tion on the XB Fal­con and the Co­bra.

“[They were] loosely based on the Fer­rari Day­tona-style wheel which was be­ing made in Italy by Campagnola,” Drage says.

De­spite what was pre­vi­ously re­ported in AMC, Drage says there was no Ford Styling in­volve­ment with the de­sign of the Globe Phase IV GT wheel.

“Howard [Mars­den] ob­vi­ously dis­cussed the wheel pro­ject with Ford Styling and he sent me a let­ter which in­cluded a mag­a­zine clip­ping of a five-spoke ATS wheel say­ing that, “our Styling Depart­ment has a par­tic­u­lar lik­ing for” this de­sign”. How­ever, by this time my orig­i­nal de­sign work had al­ready been com­pleted.”

CAMS al­lowed larger wheels from 1973 and so Harry Firth con­tacted Drage and asked him to de­sign and make new larger and lighter wheels for the HDT To­ranas. He opted to stay with the Sprint­mas­ter de­sign but made them from mag­ne­sium cast by the Com­mon­wealth Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion and ma­chined at Globe. Some 60 or so wheels were made dur­ing 1973.

Ini­tially Ford showed lit­tle in­ter­est in new wheels for 1973, but then in mid-Au­gust, and with Bathurst loom­ing, Howard Mars­den ap­proached Drage and asked if he could de­sign and sup­ply some 24 15 x 9” front and 15 x 10” rear wheels for the XA Fal­con GT. De­spite the in­cred­i­bly tight time­line, Drage ac­cepted the chal­lenge. In fact, he de­liv­ered the fi­nal four wheels by light air­craft to the Bathurst aero­drome on the morn­ing of the race! It was worth­while, as Mof­fat and Geoghe­gan won the race, the first over 1000km and the last for the fac­tory Ford rac­ing squad.

Globe’s al­loy wheel busi­ness ex­panded con­sid­er­ably with Orig­i­nal Equip­ment Man­u­fac­ture (OEM) of al­loy wheels for Ford, Holden, Mit­subishi and Toy­ota. Globe’s Mon­tego al­loys were a stan­dard fit­ting on the Mit­subishi Sigma Wher­rett and the Sigma Turbo; Drage pi­o­neer­ing the poly­crys­talline ar­ti­fi­cial di­a­mond ma­chined-fin­ish with the Wher­rett Spe­cial. Drage: “I could see from my knowl­edge of over­seas trends that we were about to ex­pe­ri­ence an ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est and This page and right: The Ade­laid­ian has played an unsung role in so many suc­cess­ful Bathurst and Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship cam­paigns over a 30-year pe­riod. de­mand for ‘shiny’ al­loy wheels here in Aus­tralia and so I con­sid­er­ably ex­panded the ca­pac­ity of Globe by in­stalling CNC ma­chines, lathes and a ma­chin­ing cen­tre to cope with the de­mand.”

Globe Prod­ucts also raced a MkI Ford Es­cort for which Drage de­vel­oped a fuel-injection sys­tem for the twin-cam en­gine that had the pump in­cor­po­rated into the al­loy rocker cover and was driven by the tim­ing chain; ear­lier he had de­signed and de­vel­oped a fuel-injection sys­tem for the Ford V8 en­gine used by Pete Geoghe­gan in his Mus­tang.

Later, Drage also worked on the Fis­cher Ford RS2000 Es­corts fit­ted with his own de­sign mag­ne­sium al­loy wheels and high-per­for­mance rac­ing ig­ni­tion sys­tem. With Drage as team man­ager and driv­ers in­clud­ing Eric Bo­ord, John Bas­sett, Tom Ty­mons and Keith Poole, the team were Bathurst reg­u­lars in the mid-1970s. The gi­ant-killing squad won Class B in the 1976 Hardie-Ferodo 1000, fin­ish­ing 12th out­right.

In 1984 Drage be­came the Orig­i­nal Equip­ment Man­ager at the old es­tab­lished Ade­laide firm of Castal­loy Lim­ited who had pur­chased Globe and Mag­num Wheels. Through his con­sul­tancy busi­ness he de­signed all sorts of wheels and other race com­po­nents for var­i­ous race teams. This re­sulted in Castal­loy in­stalling a mag­ne­sium cast­ing plant to broaden the scope of of­fer­ings. He was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign of rac­ing wheels for the fac­tory Nis­san squad for its Sky­line DR30 race­cars of 1986/87 and then on the HR31 from 1988. As an ex­ten­sion of that pro­gram he de­signed and de­vel­oped cen­tre-lock mag­ne­sium al­loy wheels for Dick John­son Rac­ing’s all-con­quer­ing Ford Sier­ras, as well as for the Percy/Grice Holden Rac­ing Team VL Com­modore. Those two teams

won Bathurst in 1989 and ’90 re­spec­tively, on Drage-de­signed wheels made at Castal­loy.

Drage’s wheels were again used to win at Bathurst in 1991 and ’92 when Nis­san com­peted with the GT-R – the so-called Godzilla cars – and for th­ese he de­vel­oped the first hol­low-spoke mag­ne­sium al­loy wheels for Gib­son Mo­tor Sport that were the light­est in the com­pe­ti­tion. He also de­signed and made mag­ne­sium al­loy clutch and gear­box hous­ings and front and rear sus­pen­sion up­rights for the Nis­san GT-R. This tech­nol­ogy (but not de­sign) was car­ried over to the John­son Fal­cons de­vel­oped from 1992.

Con­tin­u­ing his con­nec­tions to mo­tor­sport, Holden Rac­ing Team ap­proached Drage to de­sign and make a com­bined dry-sump oil tank and clutch hous­ing for their early V8 Su­per­car­era Com­modores. He also de­signed and made mag­ne­sium al­loy sus­pen­sion up­rights for Nis­san as well as kit car man­u­fac­turer Roar­ing For­ties for its GT40 replica.

On the pro­duc­tion front, Tick­ford asked Drage Au­to­mo­tive De­vel­op­ments to de­sign the EB Fal­con GT wheels, front spin­dle and brake ro­tors; fol­lowed by de­sign­ing the EL Fal­con GT wheels.

He was also re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing a num­ber of sets of al­loy wheels for a va­ri­ety of con­cept show cars; for ex­am­ple, the Buick XP2000, Toy­ota Sportiva, Toy­ota TS-01, aXcess con­cept car, Dae­woo Ma­tiz, Ford Rap­tor and HSV Maloo ute.

For­mer Nis­san and Toy­ota de­sign chief Paul Beranger com­mis­sioned Kevin for many of th­ese spe­cial projects.

“He was al­ways the ‘go to’ per­son when you had any al­loy wheel is­sues. He was un­flap­pable and used to be­ing given very short time­lines,” Beranger says. “With the Buick XP 2000 pro­gram we orig­i­nally de­vel­oped a dou­ble three-spoke wheel de­sign which we be­gan mock­ing up in steel and fi­bre­glass. We had mul­ti­ple prob­lems with the at­tach­ments and the align­ment of the flush cen­tre-cap. Kevin had the an­swers and promptly made two sets of pro­to­type al­loy wheels for us, one set for each of the two cars built.

“With both of the Toy­ota pro­grams (he also made the X–Run­ner ute wheels) he was asked to achieve tight dead­lines, as is of­ten the case with con­cept car builds. Back in 2004 the 21 x 9” front and 21 x 10” rear Sportive Coupe wheels were mas­sive and the cen­tres had to be matched to a blue tinted acrylic cen­tre-cap.

“With the ‘aXcess Aus­tralia’ pro­gram Castal­loy was a key mem­ber of the in­dus­try com­po­nent sup­plier group that de­vel­oped the car. Work­ing from Steve Thomp­son’s de­sign sketch, Kevin en­gi­neered the wheels, with the dou­ble sec­tion spokes run­ning off the rim edge, ac­cen­tu­at­ing the wheel’s di­am­e­ter. This de­sign was func­tional, due to the in­tro­duc­tion of stick-on wheel weights which didn’t re­quire a me­chan­i­cal at­tach­ment to the outer rim edge. The ra­di­at­ing spoke de­sign idea has since been fre­quently copied.

“We also used Castal­loy, with Kevin’s ex­per­tise dur­ing the Nis­san Spe­cial Ve­hi­cle Divi­sion days, en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing wheels for our Sky­line GTS 1 and 2 pro­grams. This was at the time Castal­loy were mak­ing our race­car wheels, so it made a good fit.”

In his ‘day job’ Drage was re­spon­si­ble for the de­vel­op­ment of the spe­cial al­loy mo­tor­cy­cle wheels for Har­ley-David­son and Buell and trav­elled many times to Mil­wau­kee to work with Wil­lie G David­son. As well as the con­cept de­sign of hol­low-hub wheels, laced (spoked) wheels and alu­minium hubs, he also patented can­tilevered tyre bead seat that of­fered a num­ber of ben­e­fits and was first used on the 2001 Har­ley-David­son V-Rod ma­chine.

Ad­di­tion­ally Drage has de­signed and patented tube­less laced-wire mo­tor­cy­cle wheels, two-piece al­loy wheels that were joined by an in­no­va­tive fric­tion stir weld­ing process, a bolt­less brake ro­tor for a mo­tor­cy­cle wheel, swing arm con­cepts and rapid pro­to­typ­ing of wheel de­signs from con­cept to re­al­ity for Har­ley-David­son and Buell.

Un­for­tu­nately, like many other Aus­tralian man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries, the al­loy wheel busi­ness has now moved off-shore and from 10 or 12 man­u­fac­tur­ers in its hey­day it’s now down to just two – ROH and New Castal­loy.

In 2001 Castal­loy be­came part of the ION Group and through short-sight­ed­ness on be­half of man­age­ment the Group im­ploded in De­cem­ber 2004 with huge debts.

Drage re­tired from Castal­loy in 2003 where he was re­search and de­vel­op­ment man­ager.

“I can hon­estly say that my time at Clisby’s, Globe and Castal­loy was never dull or bor­ing!” said Drage with a wry smile.

To­day Kevin re­laxes in re­tire­ment af­ter a life­time of cre­ative achieve­ment. It’s a shame that far too few peo­ple know of his con­tri­bu­tion to our in­dus­trial his­tory.

Drage Globe 289 DOHC V8

Top left: From left Kevin Drage, Harold Clisby and Bill Jamieson. Cen­tre top and in­set: Drage sup­plied cylin­der heads to the Repco-Brab­ham F1 pro­gram. Bot­tom left: Drage raced a Mor­ris Mi­nor at Port Wake­field in 1958.

Above: The aXcess con­cept car of ’98 show­cased the de­sign skills of Aus­tralia’s au­to­mo­tive com­po­nents in­dus­try. Bot­tom: Tick­ford asked Drage to de­sign the EB GT’s al­loys; Buick like­wise for the XP2000.

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