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Australian driver Bill Stephens


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#1 frecklefox

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 21:32

Hello All,

 

I am after some information about my grandfather Bill Stephens, i believe he was killed in a race at Hume Weir in 1967? My father was only 13 or so when he killed so i never met him, but its not a topic that is spoken about much and i would like to know his racing history, any articles written about him or just maybe what kind of man he was.

 

I hope somebody knows somethings about him, family history is important to me, but this is a pandoras box so to speak in our family.

 

Thanks in advance

 

Keesha 



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#2 Vitesse2

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 22:26

Welcome Keesha. I've taken the liberty of 'tweaking' the title of your thread to bring it to the attention of our Antipodean members, who should be able to tell you more.

 

In the mean time, are you aware of the entry about your grandfather on the Motorsport Memorial website? It's quite basic, but perhaps you could also help them by filling in some details like his date and place of birth?

 

http://www.motorspor...hp?db=ct&n=4449



#3 cooper997

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 22:30

Welcome Keesha,

 

I'm not sure if google brought you to TNF, but there is a bit on TNF about your grandfather, Bill Stephens. Shepparton-based Cooper-Peugeot driver at the time I believe.

 

I can scan and email you a Winton report from the 1/67 issue of Racing Car News where he is mentioned. I can also do the same for the 7/67 RCN where there's Vale after his passing.

 

In October last year there was a TNF member 'VFR65' who posted some great Hume Weir colour photos. Amongst them is a photo of your grandfather's accident. Fortunately from a distance, showing where it took place at the top end of the Hume Weir back straight. If it is likely to upset you don't look, but here's the page link if you do decide to. http://forums.autosp...to-70s/page-163 There is also some comments/information on the following page 164

 

It is also likely that you'll find TNF members who were racing or officiating in that era and may know something of his racing. But please be patient and check back regularly to see if someone has added any information to add to the Bill Stephens story..

 

If you would like the RCN scans mentioned above, please send me a PM with your email contact details.

 

Stephen


Edited by cooper997, 27 November 2014 - 22:31.


#4 275 GTB-4

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 23:42

Welcome Keesha...I suggest you search here for "Cooper Peugeot" to find out more about Bill's car. Cheers, Mick

[Edit: oops! comprehensively gazumped by Stephen!]

Edited by 275 GTB-4, 27 November 2014 - 23:44.


#5 frecklefox

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 05:18

Thank you everyone for your posts so far, i believe that there weren't many of these cars made? I am not a racing enthusiast by any means, except for tagging along to the V8's, and to find out such information about my grandfather i am finding very interesting. I have contacted a few members on here and look forward to their responses.

 

thanks again

 

Keesha x



#6 Ray Bell

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 07:09

Keesha, the best thing to do is to refer to Terry Cornelius' recollections...

I'll come back later with some links. Terry lives in Corowa or Wahgunyah if you ever want to go visit him.

#7 Ray Bell

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Posted 28 November 2014 - 11:06

No links... we'll do it this way... from...

 

1114_HRRmasthead.jpg

 

Hormones to Horsepowerthe secret tragedies of Terry Cornelius' life

 

In 1960, Laurie Knight was someone I had never heard of... Sabrina, however, was someone everyone had heard of. At fourteen years of age, and with my hormones in a tangle, I was lucky enough to be at the pit counter, directly opposite the VIP stand where she was the guest of honour, at Albert Park. I remember being part of the line of binoculars trained in her direction across the track.

 

I digress. I had never heard of Laurie Knight, who lived in Benalla, but two of my best friends were his cousins, as coincidence would have it. Not that that meant anything then, anyway.

 

From an early age, my Dad must have taken me to every motor racing fixture within a day's travel - and some beyond. By age 16 I had a very well developed appreciation of mechanical contrivances, and most of my private fantasies dwelt not only on girls, but also the svelte and sexy curves of the Maserati 250F. But here I was at Tarrawingee (history will show that it was November 6, 1960), and I found myself entranced by the sight, the sound and the glory of the nude Sabrina.

 

Se was everything I desired and I followed her every detail as she moved lithely across the pits and into the dummy grid area. I couldn't take my eyes off her two beautiful big jugs... SUs, of course... mounted on that big supercharger thrusting, phallus-like, in front of the Healey 3000 motor. Minus a body, she might well have been unfinished, but she was a mechanical delight!

 

After witnessing its hugely successful debut that day, I was part of the large admiring group gathered around Laurie Knight and his creation when someone asked him why he called it 'Sabrina.' Without hesitation he announced that it was because, "She was always so far out in front!"

 

Unfortunately, Laurie was to crash Sabrina at Hume Weir two months later, putting him and the car out of commission for some time. The story goes that, semi-conscious in the ambulance, Laurie's only concern was... "How is the supercharger?"

 

      *          *          *         *          *          *          *          *          *

 

Eskdale is a little town nestled amongst the hills in the Bright district and there Bill Stephens had built himself a nice little motorcycle-engined dirt racer. In 1961 he headed for the nearby dirt tracks - my domain!

 

He found that his car was also at home on the CAMS circuits, but he was having a lot of fun on the dirt. It wasn't long before he and I, having faced each other on the circuit on many occasions, became firm friends. Me? I was driving a Jeep-engined midget speedcar at the time.

 

     *          *          *         *          *          *          *          *          *

 

Winton, 1962 and I again beheld the spectacle of Sabrina, this time making her second debut, and this time with her clothes on. Laurie had repaired the Hume Weir damage and continued the construction process to its logical conclusion.

 

A smooth and delightful fibreglass body! Now the name matched the body - or did the body match the name? Certainly, both namesakes were very curvy.

 

The car seemed to be even more desirable because it was road-registered, and I couldn't help conjuring up images of terrorising the neighbourhood with tyres, supercharger, exhaust and passenger screaming in unison!

 

Back in Eskdale, Bill Stephens' business situation changed and, to my disappointment, he moved from the area about 1963, disappearing from my life. He sold his racer to Harry Lefoe from Albury and Harry drove this nicely-built little job mostly at Hume Weir. I used to see it and him at meetings over the years and I watched bemusedly as it changed like the proverbial chameleon from one thing to another.

 

It became the Hillman-powered Argit Minx, and I may be wrong, but I seem to remember Harry's fearsome Ford 289-V8-engined Hillman Imp Sports Sedan was contrived using parts from the Argit.

 

    *          *          *         *          *          *          *          *          *

 

Laurie Knight soon tired of Sabrina and sold it to John Mahoney of Wangaratta in May, 1963, still road-registered but with the supercharger removed. In its place he took delivery of a Type 43 Cooper which had been fitted with a Peugeot 403 engine, buy it wasn't very long and he tired of that also.

 

Enter Neville Renshaw from Wahgunyah, across the river from Corowa, an acquaintance of mine. He must have had a rush of blood because, without any history of being terribly interested in car racing, he bought the Cooper from Laurie. To be fair, Neville had previously driven around in an MGA for some years and displayed an interest in cars generally. The fact that I would marry his younger sister ten years later was completely irrelevant at that stage.

 

He obviously had no plans for the Cooper and it sat in his shed for a long time. When, one day, Neville found himself without transport for various reasons it began, without a doubt, the most bizarre chapter in that car's history.

 

1114cooperwithlights.jpg

 

Picture, if you will, a Type 43 Cooper with cycle guards all round and (probably motorcycle) headlights bolted to the cowl and stop/tail lamp up the back, and a numberplate at each end!

 

For months Neville delighted the residents of the towns (perhaps not all of them!) with the sheer spectacle of this diminutive single-seater dodging and weaving and seemingly streaking here and there. Lex Davison's description of them being 'mechanical mice' took on a whole new meaning! Whenever he needed a push to start there were always plenty of willing helpers available because there was always a crowd around the car wherever it was parked.

 

All good things come to an end, as they say in the classics, and the last time I saw Neville in the Cooper he had slid an umbrella into the cockpit and set off to a friend's place in Griffith, whereupon some sort of deal was struck and he returned in a Holden or something equally boring. The Cooper adventure became a fading memory.

 

   *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

Meanwhile, John Mahoney and Sabrina were being seen here and there on the road and on the track, although their track appearances were becoming scarcer. In a twist of irony, the combination appeared one day at Wahgunyah, my home outlaw dirt track, where at some stage during the day a so-called grudge match was set up between John in Sabrina and myself in my then-current offering an A-model Ford-based 272ci Y-block Ford-powered racer.

 

Part-way through the event the Healey motor suffered big-end failure, and so ended chapter one in the life and times of Sabrina. John took the car home and immediately advertised it for sale, albeit to no avail. After some time, and when the Healey gearbox was sold to an Austin A95 owner from Wangaratta, it seemed as though Sabrina had hit rock bottom. Especially when I actually bought the motor, complete with run bearings, and had no interest in the rest of the car.

 

   *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

So little interest did I have in this Aussie Special that I used to love that I was instrumental in it being sold off to a friend of mine from Yarrawonga. I physically paid over the ten pounds and arranged for Doc to pick it up! Not that I cared what Doc did with it, but he fitted a hotted-up 3.4 Jag engine and gearbox (after all, he had to put something in the hole!) and a Triumph Herald coupe hardtop and registered it once again.

 

When he sold it some years later, Sabrina became yet another fading memory.

 

   *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

I could tell about the Corvette-engined Cooper-Bristol and its owner, Bob Punch, whit whom I had struck up a gread friendship, but suffice to say that Bob had put me in touch with Murray Batson, and there I was one day in 1967 pit crewing at Hume Weir with Murray while he was enjoying himself at the wheel of the Goddard Special.

 

Now that was a fateful day! On that one day I would rekindle an old friendship, meet up with a significant car from our past, lose that same friend and become involved in a Coroner's inquest.

 

As Murray and I were unloading and setting up for the day's activities, my interest was casually drawn to the Cooper being unloaded next to us, but the real interest for me was in the identity of the owner. After all this time, there stood Bill Stephens!

 

We were so pleased to see each other and had so much to talk about that it was some time before we got around to discussing his Racing Car and having a closer look at it. There it sat, 'mechanical mouse' that it was... the lights and mudguards were gone, but there was no mistaking the identity of this Peugeot-powered Cooper!

 

Once again, refer to history and you will find that on that day in June, at Hume Weir circuit, Bill Stephens clipped a wheel as he was passing a slower car on the left-hand sweep in the main straight and lost his life when his Cooper rolled over into the infield.

 

His widow, also a friend of mine, subsequently pursued that the flag marshal failed in his duty to show the blue flag to the car being passed, with the result that Murray, who was following Bill at the time, and I became involved in the inquest also. That was a lesson on just how good and bad a person can feel in one day.

 

1114stephensobit.jpg

 

Wally Gates was a name I hadn't heard since the first Healey Club Interstate gathering at Albury in 1967, but  he contacted me in 1977, looking for bits of the history of his new acquisition... a Jag-engined, fibreglass-bodied car with a Triumph Herald hardtop. Once again, two old acquaintances, on human and one mechanical, in one fell swoop!

 

To cut to the chase, a year later I became the proud owner of the Sabrina Austin. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

During the latter stages of my ownership of Sabrina, which incidentally stretched over nine years, I developed an enthusiast to replace that racer with the same one which had replaced it all those years ago. After all, I reasoned, the two cars had woven a distinctive pattern through the years of my life.

 

I made many enquiries, but all to no avail, and even now, in 1999, the movements of the Cooper Peugeot, both before Laurie Knight and after Bill Stephens, remain a mystery to me.

 

   *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

In the period soon after Bill's death, one or both of his two race cars were raffled off in order to raise money for his widow, which brings rise to the possibility that the car may have passed into the hands of a non-enthusiast.

 

Terry Cornelius

 

 

 

 



#8 Ray Bell

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Posted 29 November 2014 - 16:12

Originally posted by frecklefox
Thank you everyone for your posts so far, I believe that there weren't many of these cars made? I am not a racing enthusiast by any means.....


The Cooper T43 was certainly one of few of these cars in Australia...

Alec Mildren and Bill Patterson drove them in the 'Gold Star' races and the Australian Grand Prix as front-line competitors in 1958 and 1959, they had been the Cooper Grand Prix cars in International competition (Formula 1 and Formula 2) in 1957 and it's hard to say how many were built.

Racing cars age quickly and these cars were from an era when changes were coming rapidly. This model won the first victories for rear-engined cars in Formula 1 in 1958 but were second string cars by 1960 even in Australia. By 1962 they were old hat, no longer front-rank cars at all.

Throughout the '60s, however, cars of this ilk were regularly raced all over Australia. They lost their expensive original Coventry-Climax engines, which were fitted to later model cars, and were re-engined with modified production car engines such as the Peugeot in your father's car.

Just as an example, the very car that won that first rear-engined Grand Prix win, driven by Stirling Moss to victory in Argentina in 1958, was in Australia fitted with a Ford engine and running in second-rank races by 1965.

So there was no great number of them in Australia, but they were a car of good pedigree and came from a company who won the World Championship for Drivers for Jack Brabham twice as well as the World Championship for Constructors in those same years.

I have heard from Terry Cornelius on the subject of your quest and he is excited at the prospect of getting in touch. As a close friend of your grandfather during his racing years, I think you should.

#9 frecklefox

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 00:47

Thanks Ray, I actually have broached this subject to my father and was met with interest which was good news as I think it needs to be addressed. Would it be ok to obtain contact details for Terry? We are still shepparton based and bills widow
Now resides in ballarat.

Very interesting to read about the car too... Will pass this onto my dad :)

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 01:14

Sure thing, sorry I missed your post last night...

My e.mail address is r@ybell.net

#11 MarkBisset

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 22:01

The mention of Terry brings a smile to everybody’s face! What a zest for life

 

I’ve had a couple of emails from him in the last fortnight, he is recovering well from a stroke

 

email, am sure he would love to hear from you all; corneliuspanels@bigpond.com

 

Here he is on the Murray on his 75th birthday, not too long before his stroke 

 

https://youtu.be/-mImddUwTCo