They’re getting old quickly
WIND back the clock, fingers on your stopwatches and drop the flag for the historic Leyburn Sprints next weekend on the Darling Downs.
The 14th annual Leyburn Sprints celebrates the 60th anniversary of the running of the Australian Grand Prix at the nearby Clifton airfield circuit.
One of the stars of this year’s event will be an entrant in the original race.
Eric Worner of Mittagong, NSW, will race the So Cal Ford V8 Special for the first time since the grand prix was run on September 18, 1949.
Driven by Dick Bland, the car completed only 26 of the scheduled 35 laps because of tyre problems.
The results of the 1949 race show Leyburn’s only Grand Prix attracted a fascinating array of cars, from exotic Delahayes, Bugattis and Jaguars to the humble So Cal.
Worner, the car’s 11th owner, races it regularly at historic events and is confident it will be competitive and reliable on the short round-the-houses track in Leyburn township.
The So Cal gets its name from the Southern California Speed Shop, a famed emporium of performance parts for the sidevalve Ford Mercury V8 fitted to Eric Worner’s car.
In the years after World War II, race tracks and racing cars were in short supply.
Enthusiasts created tracks out of airfields such as Clifton and Lowood and built their low-slung, lightweight singleseaters using parts scavenged from ordinary cars of the time. The So Cal Special uses a Ford Model A chassis.
These cars fell out of favour as more sophisticated vehicles became available, again from Europe, and many were lost.
But a surge in the popularity of historic racing and an appreciation for the ingenuity of post-war mechanics and constructors means they are now particularly prized.
They have also spawned a mini industry in manufacturing replicas.
Sunshine Coast racer Dick Vermuelen has constructed 18 such period-style vehicles for fellow drivers.
Worner, Vermuelen and drivers of around 190 historic, classic and sporting cars will compete at grass-roots motorsport event. Celebrities attending the event include Gold Star winner Kevin Bartlett, while Dick Johnson and Steve Johnson will share the driving of a Ford Falcon GT and Ford Escort just one weekend before their Jim Beam Racing V8 Supercar team lines up at Queensland Raceway.
The track has been returned to its earlier configuration, with the start again outside the pub owned by former Bronco and Australian rugby league forward Shane Webcke. It will finish at last year’s start line.
New electronic timing will allow additional cars to be on the track at the same time.
Tickets will be sold at the gate and prices are $10 a day for adults or $15 for a weekend pass. Children under the age of 14 are free. Campsites are $10. Leyburn is 220km southwest of Brisbane and 75km south of Toowoomba. www.leyburnmotorsprints.com.au
RACE RELIC: Eric Worner’s 1947 So Cal V8 Special will be at the Leyburn Sprints this year; (below right), the start of the first race at Leyburn airstrip in 1949 and (left) its winner, John Crouch in a 3555cc Delahaye. Only 10 out of the 28 starters...