Me and my motor
THREE near-fatal heart attacks won’t stop Ray O’Brien from trying to top 400km/h in his historic Jaguar V12-powered open-wheeler.
That’s the plan for this 67-year-old lover of ‘‘coffins on wheels’’, part-time magician, amusement ride operator and self-confessed ‘‘adrenalin junkie’’.
‘‘What I really want to do is take it to Speed Week at Lake Gairdner (South Australia) and go beyond 400km/h,’’ he says.
‘‘I thought I might have to sell it after the heart attacks, but my doctor says I can still race. All I have to do is get a sign-off and I can get my CAMS event licence back.’’
Getting the car to 400km/h could be more difficult since a V12 E-Type has only gone 350km/h and O’Brien is still not sure about the power output or gearing he would require.
O’Brien doesn’t have any idea of when or where the open-wheeler was built.
He believes it could have been built in the 1950s by British Formula One constructor Hersham and Walton Motors.
However, the 5.3-litre V12 fuel-injected engine is from a Jaguar E-Type that didn’t arrive until 1971.
It also features a turbo 400 semi-automatic gearbox, sus- pension and running gear from an E-Type.
‘‘It’s definitely factory-made because the aluminium body work is too good,’’ he says.
‘‘In those days these cars were bastardised with different engines and rear ends, so I’m not really sure about its history.’’
O’Brien says the car was complete but nothing worked, so he has spent up to $50,000 on restoring it to racing order, including a $2000 ceramiccoated exhaust system and computerisation so it can be tuned from the pits while it’s out on the track.
All that remains to finish the job is to fit a windscreen so he can go racing.
‘‘I’ve only just put the seat back in, although it has been done for ages,’’ he says.
‘‘If I’d put the seat in any sooner I would have been tempted to have a flagrant disregard for the law and have a run up and down the street.’’
O’Brien bought the Jaguar race car three years ago.
‘‘It was in a Rocklea shed and the owner didn’t want to part with it and it took a while to convince him,’’ he says.
‘‘I won’t say what it cost. Let’s just say lots. If I had to mortgage my house to get it I would have. I had wanted one of these silver bullets, as I call them, or coffins on wheels, ever since I was a kid.
‘‘I was always climbing telegraph poles as a kid and later I jumped out of planes and flew planes and raced stock cars in the 1960s in Sydney. ‘‘I was an adrenalin junkie.’’ It was through racing that he met his wife Veronica.
O’Brien was driving a pink Mercedes in the 1990 Endeavour Rally and Veronica was driving a Toyota van.
‘‘We didn’t get on at all when we first met, but after the rally I rang her and we ended up getting married and won the 1992 Endeavour Rally,’’ he says.
SPEED DEMON: Ray O’Brien with his lovingly restored 1950s Jaguar V12-powered race car.