I really had no chance of ever escaping from the call of racing some sort of vintage cars. It just took me a long time to get there!
Dad ‘rescued’ his Singer Le Mans from a farm outside of Swan Hill in 1978, where it was living out what seemed like its last days as a farm hack by the kids with a Holden motor living where its original Singer 4-cylinder once lived. The fact that it even made it to that point of its life was impressive given it had spent some 15 years as the instructional unit at the Swan Hill TAFE campus where who-knows how many apprentices had learnt how to make mistakes and then fix them!
Dad and his Dad slowly rebuilt the car over the next few years and traced the history of the car. The body came from a farm out the back of Lake Boga (a boat tail body that was lying next to the remains of some of the war-surplus Catalina flying-boats!) And pretty much they rebuilt/crafted the rest of the car back into life.
By mid-1980, it was finished, and rather than the original body, now took on its life as a purpose-built vintage racing car, which in 1980, was beginning to develop rapidly. Its first outing was at Sandown in the later part of the year, followed by a run at the first-ever Historic Mount Tarrengower hill climb (keep an eye on the full circle coming up!)
Historic Winton, Historic Sandown, Phillip Island (including the Anniversary meeting that included a run on the original course used by the earliest Australian Grand Prix, Eddington and Mount Tarrengower.
By the early 1990’s, the car had morphed from its original Brunswick Green (not British Racing Green), into a white on green car, and then was rebodied again into its current form after snapping a clutch cable on the dummy grid at Albert Park’s celebration of the return of the Australian Grand Prix to Melbourne which meant that the front of the Singer met with the rear of a Le Mans Bentley. The scarred nose cone still hangs in the shed.
My grandfather’s hand-written notes to ready her for the 1995 season were only removed from the car in September this year (and we’d ticked most of them off too!)
The ensuring 23 years kicked in, and I started venturing to a few of the Historic meetings. Places like Eddington, Winton and Geelong were all still running (and thriving) and armed only with my camera, I started getting an itch. The more I attended, the more the itch needed scratching. And despite trying to twist Dad’s arm, I could not get him keen enough to let me into the shed and get started. The excuse was our “engine-man”, his Dad/my grandfather, had passed away in the ensuing years and we’d lost the skills we needed to make it work. So – I backed off, but the itch kept itching……
The itch had got so bad that it came to the point that I was actively looking to buy a car of my own to get into racing. And that was when Dad caved in. So – the process began! As a high school English and Humanities teacher, my skills as a mechanic were pretty limited. But between Dad, myself, and a liberal dose of skills and information supplied by Google, we set off on getting the old girl running again and turning “his” Singer Le Mans into “Our” Singer Le Mans.
Our biggest worry was that having sat for so long, we’d be fighting against a seized engine. Some oil here, some lube there, we removed the head and everything looked pretty good. “I wonder if it will start?” The fuel system was terribly gunked up, but a quick rigging of a temporary setup, and a few minutes of cranking and priming, and the thing roared back into life! I don’t know if it was Dad or I that had the bigger smile of disbelief! We might actually get this thing going yet!
Over the next 9 months, I snuck home to my folks whenever I could spare the time away from my wife, a 2 year old and the impending arrival of #2. The brakes, fuel systems, oil systems, cooling all received plenty of attention with either completed rebuilds or complete replacement parts. The deadlines of running at Eddington, then Winton flew past with no chance of having her appear. Then Mount Tarrengower loomed. I rang Dad and said, “What do you reckon? Should we try?” Little did he know, I had already filled in the entry form and paid my money!
And so “Our” Singer re-emerged! After being dragged to all of the events as a kid, then by my own accord as an adult, I sat in that seat in “Our” Singer on the start line of Mt Tarrengower, hoping, PRAYING that not only would it run in anger, but that it would make it to the top! I’d also realised that at no point up until now, had I actually changed out of 1st gear! And by then it was too late – I was off the line and up the hill! Man is that hill long and steep when you’re in a car that may or may not actually make it to the top!
And not only did it make it up the hill in practice on Saturday without any major issues – she behaved the whole weekend! 4 runs; all within a few seconds of each other! “Our” Singer managed a 1:23 as her fastest run up the hill that day, which meant a class-win for Group K: Under 1500cc. Every time we needed to move it, Dad was in the seat before I could even turn around. I secretly think he enjoyed the outing more than I did!
So what next for “Our” Singer? Well, although she behaved impeccably for an 83 year old, there are still a few minor tweaks required, so Dad and I will keep tinkering, and probably teach each other some more swear words. Nevertheless, she’ll be back to get around her old haunts again in 2018 if all goes well.