“It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany of her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.”
With those words, uttered by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies on September 3, 1939, Australians found themselves involved in a war on the other side of the world. Within months, troops had embarked for places with names like Libya and Palestine. On the home front it wasn’t long before rationing commenced, with everything from leather and fuel to food stuffs becoming available only if you had the correct ration cards.
Of course, any form of motor sport was out of the question as all work and play was devoted to the war effort. Eyes were on the rising casualty figures coming back from the Middle East, and Australians were dedicated not only to assisting the government of the day but to providing money to what was known as the “Patriotic Funds” or charities established to care for servicemen.
It would probably never happen again, but in Perth, Western Australia, an idea was conceived to stage a motor race to support the “Patriotic Funds.” It was to become known as the Applecross Grand Prix and was staged through the then-sparsely-populated suburb of Applecross. Today, Applecross has an air of genteel affluence with mansions lining what was once the circuit and, just a stroll away, are the broad reaches of the Swan River. While Western Australia is known for its “round the houses” races, the Applecross GP, also dubbed the Patriotic Grand Prix, is the only circuit race that was held in metropolitan Perth.
With fuel rationing in full swing it’s hard to believe that approval was ever given for such an event, but it was this shortage that actually made the races possible. Access to the Applecross area of Perth was straightforward, meaning that a relatively low amount of precious fuel was needed by spectators. Race organizers also justified the wartime event as many of the cars would use methanol instead of gasoline.
The 2.5-mile circuit was triangular, consisting of a long straight and a series of corners that ran along the Swan River. Besides events for racing cars, there were races for motorcycles, sidecars and cars fitted with gas producers. These were curious devices normally attached to the rear of vehicles that used burning coal or charcoal that gave off a gas that was used in the engine.
Appropriately, the Patriotic Races were held on Armistice Day, November 11, 1940, and the main event attracted a large field of competitors who were no doubt yearning for a little motor sport during such serious times. Besides the numerous MGs and Wolseley Hornets, there were the deceptively quick supercharged Austin 7 of Aubrey Melrose, two Plymouth-powered specials of Barry Ranford and the legendary Clem Dwyer, as well as Jack Nelson’s Ford 10 Special called the “White Mouse” that he had constructed in the six weeks prior to the event. Also lined up was Allan MacKintosh for his first drive of the ex-Brooklands, Salmson-powered Bartlett Special, Harley Hammond behind the wheel of his Marquette Special and the Ford V-8 Special of Ron Posselt with riding mechanic Gordon Davies. However, without doubt the fastest of all the entrants was Duncan Ord’s ex-works Bugatti T57 that had been previously driven by Earl Howe in the 1935 Irish Tourist Trophy and later in the Marseilles Grand Prix by the ill-fated Pierre Levegh.
While race day fell on a Monday, it was also a public holiday and the crowds arrived in droves. The entry fee was set at a shilling (10 cents) and it was a further sixpence (5 cents) for a program. Depending on what reports you read, between 20,000 and 40,000 spectators lined the track. Looking at period photos, Armco and crowd control was very much in the future.
Like many races of the period, the Applecross GP was a handicap event with the slowest car away first. Practice commenced at 6:30 a.m. and the first race was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. following a 2-minute silence for Armistice Day.
The first race was for bikes/sidecars, but the crowd had really come for the 25-lap main race set for later in the afternoon. The Austin 7 of Aub Melrose was flagged away first, almost 10 minutes before Ord’s Bugatti. Unfortunately, the DOHC Salmson engine of MacKintosh’s Bartlett Special performed at its usual standard causing it to soon become an also ran. It wasn’t long before Ord’s T57 started to carve up the field with lap times of around 2 min 40 secs—some 9 secs quicker than his practice times.
However, Melrose’s lead was looking unassailable until his engine started to overheat and he had to stop to replenish the radiator, allowing Hammond’s Marquette Special into the lead. Meanwhile, the two Plymouth-powered specials of Ranford and Dwyer were having a dice of their own until the Ranford Special lost it on a corner. With 17 laps down, the Bugatti looked as if it was set to pass the field when Ord suddenly slowed with ignition problems, but not before setting a fastest lap of 2 mins 39 secs.
Hammond was still in the lead, but Clem Dwyer was close behind in the Plymouth Special. However, history tells us that he was not destined to close the distance between them. In 3rd place was Jack Nelson in the Ford 10 Special, and lucky to finish in 4th was Barry Ranford, whose car was experiencing serious brake problems.