Me and my mo­tor

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Hinch­liffe

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.

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