The Australian Speed record attempt was made at Gunnedah N.S.W on 19th January 1953, after repeated setbacks, by Jack Ehret, Mascot Speedster and leading Road racing rider, riding a Vincent Lightning 1000cc machine. The facts leading up to the actual attempt read much like a film script, and lent many an anxious moment to both Jack and the promoting body, as it was not left until the last moment that permission was really satisfactorily given. But to start from the beginning, we must mention the many months of late hours and hard work put in by Jack Ehret on his mighty Vincent.
For some time he had been toying with the idea of a record attempt, and after many discussions with associates etc, he made the necessary decision to “have a go”. This takes a lot of consideration, for besides the actual riding of the machine, there is the financial side of the business, the provision of a suitable machine, and always a chance that one may not be successful in any way. Knowing Jack though, that would not enter into the argument, for whatever the verdict, Jack would take the sportsman’s view, with that usual, “Well, what the hell”. Many months were spent in preparation, trials, and further modifications until he was satisfied that the machine would at least put up a good performance.
The Vincent was now ready for a real trial. Castlereagh was selected, but as only 9/10 of a mile was available, which included a large slice of bush, it was thought by Jack that it was not possible to open the shutter up to full bore. On this occasion the machine reached a speed of 132 MPH, and had more to spare. Results of this trial were the search for road. All states were checked but none were forthcoming, and in N.S.W it was even worse. In this state one was faced with terrific Police Department opposition.
At this stage I received a phone call from Jack, telling me the whole story, and the request, “Could I do anything about Road?” I chased some of our keen supporters and had a swift survey of the roads in the district, and settled on The Oxley Highway, either the Mullaley End or the Tamworth End, both a few miles each side of Gunnedah. Phone call to Jack brought him post haste to Gunnedah to inspect the sites, and we settled on the Mullaley piece. Next the City Engineer was called on the Job, and asked for a survey. With a slight down hill run each end, the road looked perfect, but alas, the last 200 feet on one end beat us for the grade allowed, 2% being the required percentage. Further calls to Ehret, and we had the Tamworth end checked, not that it needed it. It was a 2¼ mile of straight flat bitumen surface, 7 miles from Gunnedah. Location decided on, the Promoting Committee applied to The Shire Authorities for permission to use the Road and received the Green Light. Next, off to the local Sergeant, to get his opinion. They passed it this end, and asked that we formally apply. This being done, we sat and waited for the final reply.
First came a request for a road survey by the police. This was attended to, with just three weeks to go, and Jack applied to the A.C.U on the assumption that all would be well. But bad news was in the making, came the reply that the Department would not sanction the event. All hands to the pump at this stage and our local member was asked to intervene on our behalf but without success. Phone calls to the Department and the District Superintendent brought further refusals, so the Committee sent in a further application asking for a later date and setting all relevant points, and asking for an immediate reply, fully knowing what would be the answer. In the meantime, Jack had to prepare the Machine for Little River, which altered the machine from its record attempting state. With Little River over and about 12 days to go before the date requested came up, the Committee appealed to the Court for a decision on the matter, and had the matter brought forward at the next session, a few days away.
Urgent calls to Jack Ehret asking him to get to Gunnedah post haste, and a request for A.C.U Secretary Roy Joyce as well. A call to Roy made the matter clear, and Jack picked him up at 11 o’clock after an A.C.U meeting. An all night drive got them to Gunnedah at 5.40, I know because I didn’t sleep wondering if they were on their way. An early breakfast and out to the road for a final meticulous check up, back to Town and to the Solicitor’s Office, where Mr. Les Bubb, our solicitor, briefed us on the case and prepared final arguments for the case.
Then an hour’s break to sit and wonder before going to Court. Incidentally Les Bubb gave his service free of charge, a well-appreciated action I can assure you. After the fights of the Bathurst Grand Prix circuit, we did not have that much hope for success, but as I’ve always said, “Better go down fighting”. 10.30 and we were outside the Courtroom, and I was called first as the appellant. It was on. Police Prosecutor from Sydney had been well drilled and turned all the guns on with a vengeance. Next came Jack, and I still say to this day that the fact that he looked human won the case for us. Roy Joyce put in the official touch with his official opinions. Jack’s confidence and knowledge bolsted the case, and the Judge granted an adjournment for a discussion by our solicitor and ourselves regarding safety precautions. Back we went, and into the box I went for the final assault. Space permitted I could recall some funny incidents. Anyhow the Judge ruled that he did not require more evidence, and proceeded to sum up, with many objections from the prosecutor. What joy, we had been given permission, and not only for the date, but in the event of inclement weather, the use of the next day for a further two hours. A jubilant trio suitably celebrated, our solicitor as happy as we were. History had been made, for it was many years since a record attempt had been made in N.S.W owing to this same opposition.
No sleep for Jack and Roy and back to Sydney immediately after lunch and more frantic hard work. An urgent meeting of the Committee brought forth the required 39 officials for the event and road control, and we next saw Jack, and the A.C.U Officials on Saturday lunch time with all aboard for the Sunday morning. Final inspection of the road and a quick flip over the surface brought confidence for the morrow.
But on arriving back, Jack learned that to his horror, two much needed sprockets had been left sitting on the counter in his workshop. Talk about a panic. Off to the exchange and a request to keep a Sydney line open brought the required results. First contact Noel Bailey. He’ll get them through if anyone can. Now to get the shop open. All the keys were in Jack’s pocket. More phone calls to those who could arrange for the necessary breaking in tools. Called the Mascot police and acquainted them of the fact, after all it would not do much good if they locked Noel up for the night, and apparently they did their own checking too. Noel found the sprockets, got the bike, filled up and set off for Gunnedah within the hour. From then on it was a war of nerves this end, and no doubt the same for Noel tearing through the night. He had been given the hour of 4 am as a deadline, and he meant to do it. Throughout the night of course thoughts turned to the “Nightrider” That evening at a Social dance Jack was presented with a suitable inscribed trophy to mark the attempt at Gunnedah. Home to bed for Jack and the team, as we were to be up at 2.30 A.M. The alarm set off a train of reactions. I did the town and called all the boys from the Hotels. Breakfast at 3 o’clock, with 16 sitting to the table and off to the venue. Cool night air soon woke us all up, and on arriving at the site we found warming fires of the all night visitors who were here for the attempt. From then on it was an unusual sight to see myriads of car lights breaking the night as they made it for the seven mile peg. By car lights the A.C.U were fixing the clock to points already pegged that day, the pit end was full of interested people and the officials were getting their last minute instructions. Telephone Department linesmen were checking the sets of phones linking the whole two mile of road together and just before dawn all the white coated officials were in position and phones were picked up for a preliminary chatter. Ron Heusekel at the Clock and Joe Phillips assisting came in O.K, and the checking phones all along were on the beam.
The Local Police were on the job and did a wonderful job helping us, in every respect. In fact they beat our men to the clock on every run. All traffic was in the public area by this time, and the pits were flat out on the last minute details.
Jack assisted by Ken Hartman and of course Audrey Ehret, rolled out the model to the roadside, final cheerios, and the phone gave the signal he would be on his way. No trial run, straight into it. Down to the corner, turned and a change of plugs, and he was ready. The still morning air was rent with a tearing sound from the long twin pipes which vibrated through the surrounding bush startling the birds and animals everywhere. First gear to the dip approach into second down the dip and going well, hit third just before the little bridge, in top over the ridge and making for the tape. Just like a bullet, straight and firm, the machine raced over the cotton at 139.1 and the return trip made slightly less than that. Not quite good enough. Also plug trouble.
The trouble persisted throughout the entire Sunday morning event. The extra gears were needed now more than ever before, for the next run was not as good as before. The sun was coming up, and everyone was getting edgy. All except Jack. He still took it calmly, not me though, I’d had it already. Big sit down for a while waiting to see if Noel would turn up. We were all working out how long it should take him to get here, and all answers said he should have arrived here by this. If Audrey had anything to do with it he would have been hours before. The greatest bit of urging I’ve ever witnessed. Jack then decided to put on the megaphones and give it a go. So once more the road was closed and the clock was set and the beautiful note was heard again as he tore down the straight and on his way. The Clock said not good enough, still around the 139 mark, so a conference was held as Noel had not turned up yet with the lost sprockets. Worse still too, the plugs sent out for the attempt had not been opened until the morning of the attempt and they turned out to be short reach. What luck.
The Sergeant was called into the discussion at this stage and advised us that the Sun was causing a hazard, and we all prepared to pack up and go home…until tomorrow. We had been permitted to go again on Monday morning, and just as we knocked off, a weary looking individual arrived through the traffic in a taxi. Yes, Noel had arrived after an all night ride, running out of petrol twice. He hid the bike and thumbed a ride to Tamworth and then hired a taxi to Gunnedah. But he still had the sprockets. So well had he hidden the bike that it took them all of an hour to find it. Tired as he was, he returned immediately to Sydney. As it turned out he saved the day. Home to breakfast, and all to bed for a few hours, then up and work on the machine. Plugs cleaned and a few new ones collected in case of emergency, sprockets changed and after a late tea back for a few hours sleep. 2.30 again and the same mad rush getting everyone up and out to the course.
Plenty of speculation this morning. Officials and phones were in working condition early, everybody standing by, and at first light away went Jack on the run down.
Missing badly the run did not produce a great speed, the run back being little better. Change of plugs, and this time he decided he needed a longer run in and went back round the corner, negotiating it on his return at well over 90 MPH, a little drift which he corrected and made his line up on the flag and off down the course. Still a little miss and not quite good enough for perfection but he did gain the 3/100th of a second over the existing attempt. Came the call from Jack from the Carrol end. “Nearly out of fuel, and more plugs!!” Down went Ken Hartman with both, fill up and change and with the long run in from that end, he was really going when he hit the tape. Not a miss, just plain sailing, pulled in at the pits and waited for the phone to ring. At last it came, but with extra bad news. The cord had fouled the peg and shorted the works. Result, no register on the fastest run he head made. Jack’s words – “What will I do now?” Back round the corner, and once again peeling it off in many revolutions, but he slowed up and pulled into the pits. Great consternation, and a look at the gear stick, showed that it had sheared off a pin inside, and the net result was no selection.
Big panic by this time, with allocated time running away and apparently nothing could be done to effect repairs. But ingenuity is the call sign of the racing fraternity, and a tube spanner was called into service from the tool box. Off came the gear indicator, on went the spanner, much belting tight, plenty of insulation tape, much thought of how to change gear, and back down the road for a run from the Carrol end. All ears were tuned for the note, and finally we heard him take off, noticing the slower change of gear and attendant loss of revs. Much sinking of feelings, but the motor was going well and when he pulled into the pit end the clock said over 142 MPH. With light spirits he pushed off for another run down over the tape, and even with the wind playing havoc with his leg he was able to reach forwards and kick the selector forward with his toe. Had lots of trouble getting the leg back on the rest but was able to put up the mean time of 141.509 MPH for both runs.
Yes, at long last, Jack had turned in the required runs, and he now only waited the ratification from the A.C.C.A. We were 40 minutes over the allotted time, but we all were a happy team, Jack of course now being the possessor of the Australian Land Speed Record. News items had been prepared and the runner had already gone into town, and while packing up for the day with a car radio tuned in we were able to hear the National News Bulletin give the details just 43 minutes after it had been broken.
Back into town for breakfast, and believe it or not we cracked a warm bottle of Champagne. Tired but jubilant, they set sail for Sydney just before lunch, and I am told that Jack Ehret was challenged by a lad in blue for doing 38 MPH on the way home. Some things are really sent to try us. Moral for the event tends for me to say, “If you decide to have a go, you must have unlimited patience, a good sense of humour, the will to go on in the face of all opposition, and a complete control of one’s nerves.” Time passed from the first decision until the actual record attempt was just over 7 months.