John Sheppard's Maybach 2
Image Courtesy Neil Hammond
There I was wandering along pit row on Thursday at Phillip Island when I saw this glorious pale blue front engined racing car. Trying to identify it I thought it looked like a Maybach but it was too small. I stood there drooling and John Sheppard came up and I asked him whose car it was. “Mine” he replied. What is it I asked “ Maybach 2”. Where did you get it? “I made it”.
If you are reading this then there is a fair chance that you know about Maybachs and you have probably heard of John Sheppard. However for those not in the know and or newcomers read on.
Maybach 1 1949-54 (owned and campaigned by Bob Harborow), was built by Charlie Dean as a sports/racing car. The name Maybach comes from the engine that was used by German half-track vehicles in WW2. One was brought to Australia for evaluation & then scrapped; Charlie Dean bought the 3.85 litre engine. Dean ran it for a short time & then it was bought by Stan Jones who extensively campaigned it with great success .They decided to build a mark 2 version as a straight out single seater racing car. Running gear from the mark 1 was used but a new chassis and body was built. With its lower weight and 285 bhp it had a very competitive power to weight ratio it was immediately successful. However in November 1954 whilst leading the AGP at Southport Queensland Jones crashed it. He was unhurt but the car extensively damaged. A complete rebuild was needed hence the mark 3.
John’s first sojourn into motor racing was with Peter Manton then Eddie Thomas and Gavin Youl. In 1963 he was poached by Geoghegans, moved to Sydney, and for the next six years engineered the Geoghegans’ success in cars like Lotus 22, 27, 39,7, and 23. Touring cars, GT Cortina ,Mustang – both ATCC winners.
Now with a family he decided to give racing a break and returned to Melbourne. He was picked up by Norm Beechey for a brief period before he went to Bob Jane as general service manager for Southern Motors and the Bob Jane Used Car yards. In 1971 he took over the huge Bob Jane racing team and looked after such cars as Brabham BT36, McLaren M6, Camaro, Monaro, various Production Touring Cars and the fearsome Torana Repco Brabham Sports Sedan.
In 1978-79 he owned and ran the Holden Dealer Team.
In 1986 he ran the Volvo Dealer Team and won the ATCC and in his words was “the original white haired boy because that was the only championship Volvo had won, that year, in the known universe”.
Since then John, has among other things, restored and engineered cars mainly historical, owned and driven a Lotus 22 & 23b and been heavily involved in the historic movement.
On intense questioning from the author John could not give a defining moment when he thought, F…. it lets build Maybach 2. There were several reasons that he had to do it. 1. It was a very fast car. 2 It is a significant Australian racing car. 3. He was fascinated by it as a kid when he saw it at the Melbourne Motor Show in 1954. 4 At this time CAMS had a policy that you could build an “APPROVED RECREATION”, not, repeat not, REPLICA. An approved recreation must be absolutely identical and the original car non existent. John received the last approval of this kind.
Building a car it is amazing how things fall into place. First thing he had to do was find a motor. Speaking to Graham Howard about his plans, Graham mentioned it in his column in Auto Action. Subsequently John received a phone call from a bloke in Griffiths saying he had two. One had been shot by a cannon so that wasn’t much chop. The other they had dragged to a dam on his property intending it to run a pump but had never got around to it. John thought that being from Griffiths if the bloke wasn’t smoking his crop John was on his way.
Next the gear box, a Fiat 525. John happened to be talking to a long term friend who reckoned one had been recently sold at the Bendigo Swap meet and he knew the bloke who bought it. John contacted said bloke who had since ascertained that it was not what he wanted and parted with it for what he had paid for it.
Rear Axle - Experts said it was Lancia but it wasn’t, it was completely fabricated using a Championship Sprint Car crown wheel and pinion.
Other Stuff. Talking to Gavan Sala about the project Gavan said that he had a radiator, he wasn’t sure that it was the right one but John was welcome to it. John looked at it and said it is the one. He had photos of the wreck and there a small dent in the top right hand corner that confirmed that this was the original. Gavan also had a fuel pump which turned out to be the original with the tacho drive.
The Dean Family provided John with photocopies of the original chassis drawings and these coupled with the photos he had meant he could fabricate the chassis. Over the entire period John often had conflicting opinions from “experts”, one even doubted the colour but John had a sample of the original on the radiator.
To me the making of the front suspension shows what you have to go through to resurrect something. The front end was said to be Pontiac. John scrounged the wreckers, internet etc. and found it wasn’t Pontiac. Thinking that Studebaker had a transverse front end he went through the search criteria again - Bingo. The shockers allegedly Oldsmobile – Chev bodies with Cadillac arms.
Brakes. Made up from photos, water pump – a pattern made from photos and cast.
So started in 2000 and finished last year this glorious piece of work is a tribute to Australian Motor Sport, our previous mechanics, engineers and drivers and not the least of all John Sheppard. I would urge you if you are at a meeting where this car is to make an effort to have a good close look at this car, it is stunning!
For more information on the history of Maybachs see “Australian Motor Sports Review 1958 – 59” and “Australian Motor Racing Yearbook 1953 (No. 3)”
For more information on John Shepphard try various police files.
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