Tracks in Time Huntley Hill Climb
While never as popular here as in Europe, hill climbing on tar-sealed roads nevertheless flourished for a while in New South Wales, with the main cities of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong all hosting such venues.
The Wollongong Sporting Car Club has been conducting hill climb events for cars of various classes at Huntley Hill since 1953, and the Wollongong Motorcycle Club began negotiations with the car club in the late 1950s to determine if it was feasible to run such an event for motorcycles.
Huntley Hill is situated at the western extremity of Avondale Road, at the southern perimeter of Dapto, which is around 20 kilometres south of Wollongong. The hill is part of the road formerly used by coal trucks to access the old Huntley mine, an area now destined to be a Greg Norman-designed golf course, plus town houses and other facilities. The part of the road used for hill climbs is approximately 4/10 mile in length. At that time, there were few road racing events in N.S.W. and the local motorcycle club members believed that a hill climb on a bitumen track would be well supported by the road racing fraternity. After protracted negotiations, the Wollongong Sporting Car Club invited the Wollongong Motorcycle Club to promote a number of motorcycle events for the first time as part of the programme for cars on Sunday, 6th August 1961. Only eight riders were listed on the official programme, but late entries were accepted. Riders who competed on the day included Alan Byrnes, Fred Hamilton, Terry Sruhan, Nev Stumbles, and Peter Fackender. It was reported at the time that “the motorcycle brigade created an excellent impression as all machines were immaculate, thoroughly prepared, and neatly ridden”. The best times for cars were 29.3 seconds for Jack Myers (Cooper fitted with two supercharged Thunderbird motors) and 33.1 seconds for Tom Sulman (Aston Martin DB3S), while local Wollongong club rider, Alan Byrnes distinguished himself with a 29.51 second ride on a standard road Triumph Bonneville. Following a report of the event to the Auto Cycle Union of N.S.W. Ltd, the General Secretary, Alan Veness wrote to the Wollongong club complimenting the members for the day’s success and their subsequent comprehensive report. The impetus from this first foray resulted in Wollongong MCC being granted a date for an all-motorcycle event, which took place on Sunday, 6th May 1962, although the Wollongong Sporting Car Club members assisted on the day with timing equipment and telephones. This event attracted a much bigger entry, with some big name riders in the list,
notably Eric Hinton who had returned to Australia after many seasons in Europe. Eric rode the card, on a 125cc Honda Benly, a 250cc NSU, and his 350cc and 500cc Manx Nortons. On the 500 Norton, he set the fastest time of the day at 29.36 seconds. In his report for the
Motorcycle Clubman magazine, Paul Giles, who also acted as announcer at the meeting, and described the climb as follows. “With a short fast approach on level ground it starts with a tight sweeping right hand bend leading into ‘the Esses’, out of which a rather tight left-hander around a tree precedes the last very steep climb to the finish line.” After the finish line, the road becomes unsealed, then turns a full left to return to the start via the main Avondale Road. As expected, Hinton was the star of the day, winning the 125 class from Alan Akers on the Clem Daniel special, and Kevin Cass on his BSA. In the 250 class, Hinton’s colours were lowered by Jack Saunders on the ex-Sid Willis Velocette, who narrowly edged out Hinton. In both the 350 and 500 classes Hinton won comfortably, from Phil O’Brien and Gordon Hunt respectively. A 650cc class saw Hinton take on the big twins, and with a record run of 29.36 he led home Brian Coomber’s Triumph and Vince Tierney on the Norton 650SS on which he had won the Bathurst Production Race just 3 weeks prior. The Sidecar class was a tight battle between Nev Stumbles and Max Evans, both Triumph mounted, with the verdict going to Stumbles by 1.5 seconds. At the presentation of awards, Eric Hinton received a special trophy donated by the Dapto C.W.A. for achieving the fastest time of the day. Such was the success of the event, a second date for 1962 was set for 12th August, and this event was given the status of New South Wales Hill Climb Championships, under A.C.C.A. patronage. Officials on the day included Bob Keen, Paul Giles, Jon Van Bockel, Clem Daniel, and Warren Stumbles. A record 126 entries were received and even with miserable wet weather, plenty of spectators turned out. Despite the rain there were no accidents but naturally slower times, with the day’s fastest time recorded by Eric Hinton at 31.60. Kevin Cass took his Bantam to victory in the 125 class, while Jack Saunders beat Allen Burt and Stan Ogden in a Velocette trifecta of the 250 class. Hinton defeated Saunders and Burt in the 350 class while the 500ccc class was won by Sid Lawrence on his very fast Velocette. Two
extra events, the 650cc Championship and the Production Championship, were won by Brian Coomber (Triumph) and Bob Alston (Triumph) respectively. Sidecar winners were Neville Stumbles (650cc) and Ron Young (1200cc). The fourth Huntley Hill Climb was held on Sunday, 16th June 1963, and this also was given the status of “N.S.W. Tar Hill Climb Championships”, authorised by the A.C.U. of N.S.W. Entries were slightly less than for the previous event, but did include some of the best riders of the time. Good weather favoured fast times, and Eric Hinton duly dropped the motorcycle record to 29.61 to win the 500cc class, and make it a double by taking the 350 as well. Peter Bauskis won the 125cc class on his Honda, while Stan Ogden took his NSU up the hill fastest in the 250 class. Stan was fortunate to escape serious injury when his car was destroyed in a head-on collision on the way home from the meeting. The Junior Sidecar class received only one entry and was cancelled, but perennial winner Ron Young set a new record to win the Senior Sidecar on his Vincent with a time of 33.39. Late in the day a fault developed in the timing gear transmission lines, and with darkness decending, the 650cc class was not run. Again titled the NSW Hill Climb Championship, the fifth and final motorcycle event at Huntley took place on November 8th, 1964. Throughout the runs, Sid Lawrence (Velocette) and Ron Toombs (AJS 7R) battled it out for the fastest time of the day, breaking Eric Hinton’s previous record of 29.57 seconds on no less than five occasions. Lawrence eventually got down to 28.45 but in a late burst, Phil O’Brien took his 7R to a scorching run of 27.13 seconds - an absolute record for both cars and bikes at Huntley. Lawrence won the 500cc class, Kevin Cass the 125 and 250, and the Senior Sidecar once again by Ron Young on his Vincent. For numerous reasons, this was the last motorcycle event on Huntley Hill. By now the state was flush with road racing circuits, with Oran Park holding up to six meetings per year and both Catalina
Park and Amaroo Park coming on stream. However cars have continued to use the venue and the immediate future for car racing on the hill appears to be secure. The current outright record for the climb is held by Tim Edmondson at 18.54 seconds. The car club has a current lease with the Wollongong Council, but any future development of the old mine site could see increased public use of the road which would undoubtedly constrain the council to re-visit the present leasing arrangement. However, for the five events that were so well organised by the Wollongong Motorcycle Club, it was a wonderful time of close competition, good fellowship, and building relationships with the local sporting car fraternity. Recently I walked up the hill and took the coloured photographs that accompany this story. The demountable canteen can be seen at the bottom of the hill and the tower at the finish line is also visible.
TOP Eric Hinton on Brian O’Connor’s 125 Honda. ABOVE Eric Hinton blasts his 350 Norton off the line in 1962.
At the base of the hill, spectators and competitors await the action. BELOW Program cover from the 1963 event.
ABOVE Prominent Wollongong tuner and sponsor Clem Daniel (white overalls) beside Vince Tierney on the 650SS Norton owned by Barry Ryan.
ABOVE Gordon Hunt waits for his turn on his Manx Norton.
RIGHT Ron Toombs prepares to depart on his 7R AJS.
BELOW Nev Stumbles and Terry Sruhan negotiate the first right hander on their Triumph.
Most successful sidecar exponent at Huntley, Ron Young on his Vincent. Kevin Cass gets under way on Geoff Martin’s Cotton Telstar. Eric Harrison and Ron Ward on their Vincent outfit.
ABOVE On his 500 Norton, Eric Hinton heads for fastest time in 1963. ABOVE Noel Manning and passenger Les Johnson await their turn on their Vincent outfit. BELOW The same spot 56 years later.