New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Jac­qui Madelin Pho­tos: Jac­qui Madelin / Sup­plied


Most folk asked to build an ex­act, run­ning replica of a his­toric one-off race car from scratch in just ten days would laugh you to shame. But there must be some­thing about aged-car nuts, for Vin­tage Austin Reg­is­ter ( VAR) mem­bers Richard Mcwhan­nell, Joss Campbell, and Ian Williams sim­ply knuck­led down and got on with it.

It all be­gan on March 23, 2016, when art di­rec­tor Roger Guise rang Richard, a friend of his, to talk ur­gently about cars for Roger Don­ald­son’s Mclaren film. “He wanted to know if my 7 Spe­cial was the same as the Mclaren Ul­ster. Apart from the wheel­base, it wasn’t. Clearly, he had to find one, ur­gently, but there is only one, in a mu­seum in the UK.

“I told him the only way to get one is to make one, and I know a man who could make a body. So, we had a chat to Joss, who said, yes, he could build a body but it’d take four to six weeks. Roger rolled his eyes, and Joss said three …”

String and card­board

Roger Guise went to Roger Don­ald­son and his team, and put the prospect to them. Mean­while, Joss got in touch with Ian, who has the me­chan­i­cal skills to make the project a run­ning car, “but they said the only op­tion was to dress up Richard’s car,” as the trio put it, “in string and card­board” — some­thing that moved and looked kind of right, to pass muster in the back­ground of shots, “and we had a week and a half to do it”.

I can imag­ine the re­sponse — these guys are en­thu­si­asts, all three have built Spe­cials, Ian has a tool­mak­ing back­ground and Joss is a sheet-metal ma­gi­cian, and they knew their work would be minutely ex­am­ined by ev­ery Mclaren and Austin anorak watch­ing the film. “There’s no way you can do that. It’d be a sham­bles.” Easter was com­ing up, four days when you can’t get ma­te­ri­als, and, by Good Fri­day — March 25 — they fig­ured all bets were off. But, that night the phone rang, and they were told to go ahead, with $1K cash float.

By then, they’d de­cided if all they had was 10 days, then by golly they’d build a work­ing, race-wor­thy replica in that time, one that “had to look right, not over­restored”.

Richard’s car was apart at the time, the body was off and the mo­tor “in thou­sands of bits”, but Ian had a run­ning en­gine from his Spe­cial, which was be­ing re­built af­ter a crash at Hamp­ton Downs, and they knew they could cob­ble to­gether a work­ing car.

Joss says, “We knew it was built on the re­mains of an Ul­ster floor­pan. There were ru­mours of trac­ings in Al­gies Bay, so Richard went and got them, but they were use­less. We then got hold of Ian Wat­son, who has a replica Ul­ster with a Gould body, and took pat­terns — which ob­vi­ously didn’t have the unique Mclaren body.”

Us­ing that car as a guide, they pored over pho­to­graphs to pro­duce scale draw­ings, and, first thing Satur­day, they hit three Mitre 10s in quick suc­ces­sion to get enough tube for the body, than ran back­wards and for­wards, try­ing to get ma­te­ri­als. On Satur­day night, they had a project meet­ing to pin down what had to be done.

Don at Fa­gan and Han­nay had some sheet aluminium and or­dered more in a rush. Joss made a ply base, and, by the end of Sun­day, the trio had bent out the el­e­ments of the tube frame.

Mean­while, Richard had sweet-talked a Ruby bon­net out of the VAR spares shed on Easter Day, but they rapidly dis­cov­ered it was seized in the folded po­si­tion. “We cut this off; that off; wres­tled with it; and fi­nally, had to call the VAR and say [that] we needed an­other.” For­tu­nately, the VAR had one that folded nicely and went in eas­ily. It was the right length and just needed a trim, while Ian had a lou­vred sec­tion from a Box Sa­loon bon­net, so, by the 30th, the frame was fin­ished and about half the aluminium was fit­ted.

Fi­nal push

On the 31st, Ian and the VAR’S Richard Bamp­ton col­lected the chas­sis to take it to Joss’ garage, which, as al­ways, was al­ready packed full of cars.

Mean­time, Richard Mcwhan­nell had shot over to Brian Blackie, the en­gi­neer who had the block for his Dieppe. “He worked his tits off to get it ready.” Richard says he had to wait for Brian to fin­ish the mods to the block and crank­case be­fore re­assem­bly, “which I did in one sit­ting, plus break­fast!”

Mean­while, Joss worked on the pan­els, us­ing the rough tech­niques likely to have been used on the orig­i­nal, bend­ing the aluminium “over old pipe, and my knee”, be­fore do­nat­ing his trouser-re­ten­tion de­vice to strap the bon­net shut while Richard scoured op shops for an­other for the rear.

As all this went on, Ian was con­struct­ing a man­i­fold. “We knew the ex­haust man­i­fold was a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the car and it had to look cor­rect, so, while Joss

worked on the pan­els and Richard on the en­gine, I fab­ri­cated the ex­haust,” he says.

The trio wanted to get the colour right, a bit tricky given the qual­ity of old pho­tos, but the paint shop no longer used Pan­tene colour match­ing, so they got it as close as pos­si­ble, and took the fin­ished body­work over to Fa­gan and Han­nay, where Don let them spray it, be­fore it was put out­side to bake in the sun to dry as fast as pos­si­ble.

It was then carted back to Joss’ work­shop, where they put the body on the chas­sis. It was ap­par­ent that the Dieppe rear springs were the wrong cam­ber, so the back of the car sat too high. For­tu­nately, Ian had a spare set with the right cam­ber, so these were hastily fit­ted.

Richard took the cor­rect ra­di­a­tor core — he had a spare — and repli­cated the dis­tinc­tive num­ber 58 seen in many pe­riod pho­to­graphs, do­ing it late at night to calm his nerves, be­fore work­ing on the patina. Ian bor­rowed the seats off the Spe­cial he’d crashed at Hamp­ton — “We robbed bits and bobs off all sorts of cars, we no­ticed the tyre tread on pho­tos matched the tread on my Nippy, so those were the fronts,” he says — and they took the Dieppe’s rac­ing 16 rears.

Richard, an artist, says by this time, “Roger Guise kept email­ing. I had a ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion on at the same time and was try­ing not to panic, Ian was re­cov­er­ing from a head in­jury from his rac­ing ac­ci­dent, and Joss was de­ter­mined to fin­ish the car to the sort of qual­ity he ex­pects. I was ex­ert­ing stress on Joss, no one was try­ing to stress Ian, then Joss started say­ing, ‘if we don’t fin­ish in time, we’ll be re­ally close’ — but close wouldn’t be good enough!”

Bad noises

For­tu­nately the en­gine started first time — they were im­pressed with how well it went, but “[t]hen it made bad noises, and stopped”. Thank god for Ian — “he quickly found the dis­trib­u­tor drive gear in the gen­er­a­tor was stripped, and did a quick re­build.”

Roger Guise turned up at that point, look­ing wor­ried, “but hav­ing seen the car, he looked hap­pier; when it started and we took it up the road, the look on his face was tremen­dous.”

Richard says, “We were meant to have it fin­ished on April 7, but a shoot­ing de­lay meant we had un­til 11th, when we had to de­liver it at Muri­wai for film­ing Bruce driv­ing it down the beach.”

It got there OK, “but the first thing Roger Don­ald­son said was ‘wrong colour’, and Ian said ‘right, let’s go, on the trailer, we’re off!’” They calmed him down and started it, “And Roger said, ‘It goes!’”

Richard had to teach the stunt driver, Gareth, how to drive it. “He went very se­dately, so we swapped and I gave him audio on the rev range, took it to 5000rpm, so he took it a bit higher — but on the beach he took off, and had 6000rpm in three sec­onds, I said ‘whoa!’” Mind you, “He went to grab third gear [the top gear] right in front of the cam­eras, and missed it.”

“They did some track­ing shots with Roger Don­ald­son and the film crew of five in the back of a ute, and it was go­ing down the beach at 100kph with Roger shout­ing ‘ faster faster’ and this lit­tle red Austin came shoot­ing down the beach and passed him, and into the dis­tance. Then they all dis­ap­peared to­ward South Head. We could hear it, some­times.”

It’s safe to say the crew was im­pressed.

The World’s Fastest Austin

“Gareth said in the hill-climb scenes he loved it — it was his favourite of the cars he drove in it, and Roger Don­ald­son ended by call­ing it ‘The World’s Fastest Austin’ and that’s how he signed the body­work.”

It sounds as if the car ap­peared more of­ten than ini­tially planned. Af­ter Muri­wai they did work­shop in­te­rior and gar­den shots, and the garage scenes gave Ian his di­rec­to­rial de­but. “Bruce and his dad were meant to be work­ing on the car, and I waved and said ‘ hang on a minute, you can’t just wave a span­ner, you have to do some­thing!’ So we showed them a job to do, chang­ing a spark plug or some­thing.” And half­way through, some­one said, “Hand me a no. 10, Bruce,” and three Aus­tin­istas stuck their hands up and said, “B-b-but, it has to be Whit­worth!” — they weren’t record­ing; the crew were hav­ing them on …

Luck­ily, the trio had in­sisted they’d re­tain own­er­ship of their work, so they could put their cars back to­gether. Joss says Roger Don­ald­son asked, “Whose is this, any­way?” and he replied, “Which bit?!”

At the fin­ish, “[t]he crew asked what we were go­ing to do with the car. ‘Oh, we’ll rip it apart,’ and they said, ‘you can’t do that!’” But it was stripped a week later. Af­ter all, Richard wanted his Dieppe to­gether; Ian’s Nippy needed its wheels; and, a week af­ter film­ing, their cars were on the road and the body was sit­ting in state at Fa­gan and Han­nay.

“Then it turned out they didn’t have any sound,” Richard says, “but the car then didn’t ex­ist, so they wanted a sound­track us­ing my Dieppe. But it had the wrong man­i­fold on, and we weren’t go­ing as fast. Still, that’s what they used.”

I think all three guys winced at that, for, by all ac­counts, they’d even got the sound­track right. “Jan Mclaren and her hus­band were there when we un­loaded it at Muri­wai, and, when we fired it up, she said, ‘Oh, that sound!’ and told us [that] it brought back mem­o­ries, as it sounded just right …”

By now, the ket­tle was back on, the ta­ble was strewn with sketches, and the talk had moved on to their next project. Seems these guys don’t re­al­ize just how epic their feat was — let’s hope at least some of the in-the-know view­ers appreciate their hand­i­work.

“Jan Mclaren and her hus­band were there when we un­loaded it at Muri­wai, and, when we fired it up, she said, ‘Oh, that sound!’ and told us [that] it brought back mem­o­ries, as it sounded just right …”

Above: Get­ting the frame un­der­way Be­low: Joss check­ing the seat­ing po­si­tion

Left: Richard Mcwhan­nell, Joss Campbell and Ian Williams mak­ing progress

Above: Richard teach­ing the stunt driver a thing or two

Above: Ian plac­ing lou­vred sec­tion

Above: Stunt driver in place Left: Roger Don­ald­son dur­ing a work­shop scene Be­low: Test­ing the cam­era­man’s po­si­tion — Ian sup­plied a metal re­tainer to hold him in while film­ing along­side Be­low Right: The fi­nal scene shoot at Muri­wai

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