14 May 2019

The tale of Australia's oldest racing car

Built from junk, including a toilet and now in a US museum
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They say over 70,000 people crammed into the Olympia Speedway at Maroubra in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney in 1925. It was a big occasion, after all, featuring Australia’s oldest surviving racing car.

That day in 1925 was the first Australian race meeting—dubbed our own Indianapolis. Those 70,000 spectators witnessed history that day, as two brothers wheeled out a vehicle that looked more like a warplane than a race car.

Geoff and Roy Wikner never set out to build racing cars. Their passion was planes and they desperately wanted to build their own to take to the skies over Sydney.

To reach this goal, they repaired and peddled Indian motorcycles but they couldn’t even come close to raising the scratch they needed for the expensive endeavour.

Financial backers wanted proof the brothers could do as they said, before ponying up the cash to help them fund the airplane construction.

So, they used what little money they had to cobble together a Model T speedster to impress the would-be backers.

The brothers were aged just 19 and 20 at the time and many believed the task was well beyond them. But the Wikner brothers shocked everyone with what they produced.

The Ford Model T four-cylinder engine was housed in a space frame made of two Model T chassis welded together. The wheels were way too small for the task and — as a nod of the head to the brother's love of airplanes— the tail of the car was shaped like the rudder of a WWI biplane.

It was a unique fusion of Ford parts and spare bits including copper exhaust pipes made from a toilet cistern.

While it looked unorthodox, the car was enough to secure funding for the brothers to build their first airplane, an Anzani-powered Wico Cabin Sports.

It would be the first of many and the Wikner Model T Special bounced around from garage to garage, owner to owner until World War II suspended racing in Australia.

Fast forward to the post-war era where Brisbane resident and car enthusiast, Doug Partington, made what would turn out to be an amazing discovery.

“It was in 1958 on one Saturday morning when I noticed in the [local] newspaper an advertisement reading something like this—Old Ford racing car complete but dismantled, twenty pounds,” he said.

"Every time I walk inside my garage today, I get that very same excited feeling just as I did 53 years ago, the Wikner Ford Special is one exciting motor car."

Unfortunately, the Wikner was in bad shape when it came into Partington’s possession. It took four years to assemble before he was able to parade it for the first time an historic parade at the Tasman International Formula One meeting at Lakeside International Raceway in 1962.

It was there that Partington came to the realisation that the Wikner special’s racing days were well behind it.

"Boy was my Model T racing car slow," he said.

"But instead of trying to hot it up or change the engine I took my wise old fathers’ advice. Dad convinced me that I had a special old car worthy of preservation."

It was a painstaking process, with Partington getting touch with the Wikner family for early photos to ensure every rivet, every weld was authentic.

It has since passed the Confederation of Australian Motorsport seal of approval as Australia's oldest known racing car and is also the only remaining car from the 1925 line up at Maroubra.

Partington previously drove the car at vintage races and had it displayed at the Queensland Transportation Museum, but in 2013 the Model T Ford Club of America inducted the Wikner Special into its Speedster Hall of Fame.

It is currently in America for two years where it will remain on display until the end of 2020.

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