During the late 1960s and 1970s, the names of Leo and Ian (aka Pete) Geoghegan became known thoughout almost every household in Australia. In the case of brother Leo, a string of successes in Lotus open-wheelers, back-to-back Australian F2 championships and an Australian Drivers Championship gave him not only Australian, but international notoriety as one of Australia’s leading hot shoes. This month our South Pacific Editor Patrick Quinn speaks with Geoghegan about his very diverse motor sport career and how he got Jim Clark to mow his mother’s lawn!
What started you off in motor sport?
Geoghegan: It was my dad. He had originally run taxis and had a car yard in Liverpool, southwest of Sydney. There was a service station in front, where Pete and I used to pump petrol in the morning before school. Dad used to race motorcycles at Bathurst before the Second World War, prior to the tarring of the circuit. Later after I finished school, I took over the running of the petrol station as Dad wasn’t well, and he eventually sold the taxi business.
Dad bought an MG TC in the middle of the ’50s, took the windscreen and guards off, made up a set of 16-inch wheels and entered it in a race at Bathurst. I remember the race clearly as it was a handicap event with 70 cars running, including 26 MGs on the same handicap. Going down the Dipper, I thought the right-hand front wheel was going to come back and knock his head off. He had already taken the precaution of putting a couple of hooks on the doors so they wouldn’t fly open. The blokes who persevered came up with some pretty elaborate arrangements for the wheels, but the simplest solution was just pieces of wire from the front of the springs so they couldn’t move.
Back then there was next to no communications, as all our information from overseas was a couple of months old. Anyway, Dad saw a couple of Jowett Javelin Specials and thought it was the way to go. So he got to know the blokes who were selling Jowetts. The MG had gone down the straight at 91 mph, which was pretty fast in those days, and had probably gone up at around 50. The first all-sedan car race was held in 1950 at Bathurst, before that they were part of other events. So they got together around 15 cars and Hercules Motors loaned Dad a demonstrator Javelin, which was quicker than a Buick we had at the time. However, the Jowett was a long time getting here, expensive and, in the end, Dad used the chassis and put his own body on it.
By then we were using Holden cabs in the taxi business, so soon a couple of blokes were racing Holdens, and I was busting to go racing. A new Holden was only available in three colors, black, gray and cream. They were perfect for cabs and, while English cars like the Ford Anglia and Triumph Mayflower became available, they were fine for England but not here.
What was your first drive?
Geoghegan: Dad saw something in the newspaper about a 100-mph Holden. It was Jack Myers driving his at the Gnoo Blas circuit at Orange. As a test, Dad said that I could follow him around the circuit in one of the Holdens while he drove the Jowett. I made some remark and in the end found myself in the Jowett while he drove the Holden and came 2nd.
The petrol station was doing well as it was normal for the time that we sold about six different brands with each fuel company proclaiming what marvelous quality their product had. Soon, the oil companies decided to follow the American trend of having one-brand stations. It took a while for people to accept this as many thought it was taking away their freedom of choice. Back then you had to close at 6:00 p.m. as there wasn’t any night trading, plus you weren’t allowed to open until 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning. Was I glad, as that was my day to work!
I became involved in club motor sport which was held on deserted emergency airstrips. We used to race down one side, around the straw bales and back again. The Australian Racing Drivers’ Club was formed and then the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport. The Australian Sporting Car Club was the leading club in New South Wales, but it was more rally oriented.
What about Bathurst?
Geoghegan: I drove at Bathurst for the first time in 1956 in the Holden. Bathurst was marvelous, all that I expected and more. I loved it! Loved the challenge. To cut a long story short it was a handicap race and we started at the back but managed to win the event with Bob Holden not far behind in a Peugeot.
We kept the Holden until 1960 as there was nothing else to buy. We were into sedan cars and back then the Holden was the way to go until David McKay brought in his 3.4-liter Jaguar. We continued on with another Holden but, eventually, David sold the Jaguar to Ron Hodgson. It wasn’t long before we sold the Holden and ended up buying the Jaguar from Ron for Pete to drive. Then in 1964 we bought a Lotus Cortina in which brother Pete won the Australian Touring Car Championship.
How did you start out in open wheelers?
Geoghegan: It all came about with our association with Lotuses. I had been driving a Lotus Elite and I managed to win the 1960 Australian GT Championship. Then in 1961, Jamiesons who were a Sydney-based Lotus dealer, imported a Lotus 18 Cosworth Formula Junior which they entered at the international race at Warwick Farm in January for Paul Samuels to drive. Stirling Moss was also entered in a Lotus 18 2.5-liter F1 car but, as it was late being unloaded from the ship, Geoff Sykes of the Australian Automobile Racing Club asked if Stirling could familiarize himself by driving the F-Junior. Eventually, Paul got the car back on Saturday and practiced in a car that he had never driven before.
The same car was entered for a meeting at Catalina Park in February for both Paul and me to share, with both of us winning a race each. Jamiesons entered it again at Warwick Farm for me to drive, and I managed another win. Next was the annual Bathurst Easter meeting where it again was entered by Jamiesons and, after that, we bought the car and entered it in our own name and repainted it in our family black, the same as the Holden. Sadly, Jamiesons eventually went under financially but not before they brought out another two Lotus 18 Formula Juniors.