AUSTIN SPECIAL (Orr’s-Tin Special)
AUSTIN SPECIAL (Orr’s-Tin Special)
In 1952 Jim Orr was transferred in his job to Seymour. After a few weeks there he found a few young people were driving around in sports cars and after contacting some of them with their MG TC’s & TD’s had a meeting and decided to form a car club to run Trials and Gymkhanas. The Club was up and running so he decided to buy an Austin 7 to use as a club vehicle. Jim paid 40 pounds to his Brother in Law for the Austin which he used at the club.
After a few months Jim decided to modify this car and pulled the body from it . Seeing he had no shed to build the car in, the veranda at the back of the house in Seymour had its weather board wall removed and the chassis was lifted inside and the wall replaced. As he liked dirt track Speedway Midgets, he made a frame from electrical steel conduit which was duly fitted to the Austin 7 Chassis. The wall of the house had to later be removed to get the modified car out.
A BSA motor cycle tank was fitted in the tail of the car and the petrol supplied to the Stromberg 97 Carburettor by a hand operated garden spray pump, fitted to the outside of the body. The hand brake was also fitted to the outside of body. The steering wheel was the elevation wheel from an Anti Aircraft Gun.
The car raced in this format for about Four years, winning its class at Tarrawingee, Darley Army Camp & Lubek. In the Hill Climbs it did not do so well in its class because of a fellow named Bruce Walton insisted on entering. Bruce was Four times Australian Champion. At Hepburn Hill Climb in 1956 an Austin A30 Diff was fitted and used without being tested. As a result when the Austin reached the “S” Bend at the bottom of the hill the car over steered badly and caused the car to roll over once and then it went end over end. This threw Jim from the car and he found himself on the ground looking back up as he scrambled to safety to see the car coming down narrowly missing him. An expensive rebuild was required. Four Pounds to repair front wheel.
Getting Austin 7 cranks was getting harder so it was decided to purchase Trevor Wilsons BMC 803cc A 30 Motor and Gear box. The body then changed shape to accommodate these items. The motor was fitted with twin SU Carburettors. In 1961 it raced in this form in the first of the Austin 7 Clubs 6 Hour relay race at Fishermans Bend. Each team was allowed three cars, Jims Team was entered under the Australian Motor Sports Banner. The team consisted of Neville Mackay - Austin Healy Sprite, Brian Devlin - Lotus Streamliner, and Jim Orr - Austin Special. The Team started off Scratch and gave 97 laps start to the limit team. Jim Orr team won the race with the Austin Special running 3 hours 45 minutes of the alloted time of 6 hours.
The car continued to race at Phillip Island and Tarrawingee. It also ran at the last race meeting at Port Wakefield South Australia & ran the first meeting at Mallala in 1961.
In 1963 the car was again modified. The Austin 7 chassis was taken out and put aside and a homemade space frame replacement was built. The drive line was now alongside the driver instead of underneath. Earlier in the cars life during the changes to the Austin 7 a Ford Ten beam axle, Morris Minor rack and pinion steering had been fitted and these remained in the new space frame chassis. An 898cc BMC block was used to replace the tired 803cc A30 block. The only reason the car was modified was the handicappers put it up from Division Four to Division Three & then Division Two. A short time after this Harry Firth approached Jim and said “I have a motor at the garage that would suit you” as a result of this conversation Jim ended up with a Cooper S 1070cc motor out of Gavin Baillieu’s Mini Cooper S.
The motor was converted to in line using a Mk 3 Sprite crank that lasted 12 months before breaking in half. During this period the car came sixth in Gold Star race at Mallala. Peter Manton of Min Fame went to England at this time and being a gentleman and a friend brought back a Nitrided Sebring Sprite Crank, made from the same material as a Cooper S Mini Crank.
Putting the Sprite Crank in the 1070cc Block gave the car 1360cc and was probably one of the first BMC A Series 1275cc+ motors built. At this time the BMC factory was yet to release an in line 1275cc engine.
In 1966 Jim met Jack Clemmet an engineer who did his time at BSA England, he helped with the maintaining of the car. His help to refine the car showed improvements. His hand chopped the Ford Ten Axle from the front and replaced it with Unequal length wish bones, armstrong adjustable coil shocker units fitted to both Front and Rear, Trumph Herald Disk brakes to the front and Renault disk brakes were fitted to the rear. The Morris Minor Rack and pinion was retained. The next modification was fitting a Detroit Locker Diff. Further Chassis modifications saw the car now wearing a wedged shaped body.
The Engine Dynoed on an engine dyno in 1967 by Jack Hunnam and showed 98 BHP at 5000rpm, 113 BHP at 6000rpm, and 122 BHP at 7000rpm. It gave 100 ft/Lbs of torque at 5500rpm.During this period those pesky handicappers were still at work and if Division One Races had small fields the Austin Special was put up to fill the field. It still did not come last, and to the disappointment of some factory manufactured cars was beating them.
In 1969 it was entered in the Victorian Championships and finished 5th Outright and second under 1600cc. A good performance against factory manufactured race cars. Other good performances from the car were two third places in the south Australian Championships in the 1960’s. Also at the Mallala Trophy race during this period the car came Fourth Outright. Afterwards a car magazine wrote “Just how much longer is this car going to last. Who ever heard of a car with beam axles and other primitive forms of equipment being competitive in Division One. There was ORR finishing fourth with literally hundreds of sophisticated Elfins around him. Should be a law against it. The same day an event for the division one cars was held and there was ORR in the Austin Special in Fourth place again”.
In 1969 Jim and his wife Audrey had a son Paul and he curtailed his racing to have time with his family. In 1971 he sold the car to Ron Hackett who raced it at The Island and turned it upside down on the Armco along the main straight. The officials were amazed at how little damage was done to the car. Ron rebuilt the car and only raced a few times afterwards. It was then placed in his shed and left there for approximately 10-15 years. Len Nation a friend of Ron bought the car and got it running again. By this time the car was eligible for Historic Racing & Len ensured this happened. Len raced the car for some 15 years in Historic. Winning a Phil Irving Trophy and numerous handicaps.
Jims son Paul spoke to Len Nation early in 2001 and asked for first option to buy the Austin if at anytime he was to sell it. A fortnight later Len rang Paul and said it’s your’s if you want it. Paul sold his boat and bought the car. As a result the car ended up back in Jims garage and causing Jim to leave his daily vehicle outside. The car was ironically back in the same garage that it was in when Jim was racing it up until the time he sold it to Ron Hackett.
The car was taken up to Ballarat for a day for Paul to have his first drive on a disused section of the Ballart Air Field. Jim also used this time to have his first drive since selling the car some 30 years later and felt that it was not performing as well as it used to. A lot of notes were made and on returning home the next day Jim went to a tea chest in his back shed and pulled out all the his Dyno Sheets and notes of modification he had made to the car during his ownership. Then from these old notes Engine and Gearbox modifications were made to improve its performance to that of the days of old.
At Paul’s first race meeting of the car at Winton Raceway 2001 he took Eight Seconds of Lens best lap time. Since 2001 Paul has driven the car to nurmous first places in “O” Racing at Winton, Mallala and Phillip Island up to 2010. In 2004 at the annual Winton Historics Paul started the race in Pole position. After the race had started he was 20 metres in front on the first lap and it was amusing to hear the race caller saying that “you’ll soon see the factory built cars pass the Orr’s Special old front engine car”. The Austin only won the race outright by eight seconds. At this meeting the car won the Terry Kelly Trophy for the best Australian Special.
This year at The Phillip Island Classic Paul’s race was made up from a mixed field of cars consisting of “M & O” Sports and Racing cars and Formula Fords. This was a total grid of 44 cars with the Austin being the smallest capacity engine in the race Paul Qualified the Austin 14th outright & at one stage of racing made its way up to 7th place outright. The Austin finished 1st in its class under 1500cc, in every race. Paul’s Best Lap time for the meeting was 1min 51.19
At the Historic Winton race meeting 2010 there was 22 starters Paul Qualified the Austin 7th Outright. Finishing 4th Outright in first race, then Fifth and Sixth Outright in the other races of the weekend. Again 1st in class under 1500cc in all races.
Jim would like to thank Eddie Thomas, Harry Firth, George Wade, Peter Manton, and especially Neville Watts (Peter Manton’s Engineer) Len Brown from EMBEE, Jack Clemmet (Pommy Jack) for their help in the development of the car whilst he raced it.
Paul & Jim would also like to thank the people who have helped with the car since it returned home. Neville Watts 90yrs of age and still going, the same Neville Watts mentioned above. Reg Press, Hans Pedersen of High Performance Products, Simond McDowell and his Dyno Skills, Brian Pope - Link Automotive, Tony Bennetto Bugeye - Barn, Dave and Jason Armstrong - Armstrong Motors S.A, Ron Stasinowsky - National Lube, John -Alloy Race Components & John Lemm Photography and crew S.A.
At 83 years of age, Jim does all Paul’s race car preparation/setup and is still intent on getting the Austin Under 1 minute 50 seconds at Phillip Island and Under 1 minute 5 seconds at Winton Short Circuit, before he hangs up his spanners.