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William (Bill) Pitt

Patron, Jaguar Drivers Club of Queensland

 

Some brief highlights of the racing career of William (Bill) Pitt. 

Reproduced and edited with the kind permission of Les Hughes, Author and Editor, 

Australian JAGUAR MAGAZINE,  July 1987,  Edition #15, p34.

 

The Early Years

Born in Brisbane, Bill served in the Australian Navy during the Second World war, but it was his cousin, Bill Petrie, who asked him to act as a timekeeper during the Australian Grand Prix meeting at the Queensland Leyburn track in 1948 - and Bill agreed. He still remembers how rough the track was, and how the airstrip/main straight turned into a dirt track at the corner, before linking back with the bitumen. The Leyburn circuit was so rough in fact, that Keith Thallon had to remove the running boards from his newly acquired SS100 because the large stone screenings were going straight through the metal.

From the Leyburn meeting on, all forms of motor sport became a passion for Bill, his friends, and later his family. He became a competitor with increasing success and played a vital part in the direction of motor sport both in his Queensland base, and later on a national level. His friend Charlie Swinburn, and several other MG drivers formed an active group and later Bill, Charlie and Ray Lewis had a motor garage called LPS Motors where their cars and other racing machinery were prepared.

The first Pitt car bought for competition was a humble 1938 Morris 12 Roadster, which provided his first trials win. But from humble beginnings next came a serious racing car in the form of one of the revolutionary rear-engined Coopers. The Cooper had been recently imported by Les Taylor who had just stunned the motoring world by running his brand new XK120 from Darwin to Alice Springs in under 11 hours. Actual travelling time for the 954 miles was completed at over 100 mph, the final corrected speed was 90.62 mph which allowed for stops for fuel, kangaroos and other wildlife. Taylor was selling off some of his property and one of the items for sale was the Cooper which Bill bought, and soon fitted it with a Manx Norton Engine.

The engine which Bill bought came via the Queensland Manx Norton distributor, Cyril Anderson, a former international dirt bike racer. Cyril's other business interests included Mack Trucks, Western Transport and several motor car distribution networks, including Jaguar cars which sold under his Westco Motors banner. Cyril's wife Doris - better known as 'Geordie' - made a name for herself by racing their aluminium bodied XK120 (chassis no 11).

The Anderson XK120

That first contact through the purchase of the Manx Norton engine led to Cyril's inviting Bill and Charlie Swinburn to partner Geordie in their XK120 Fixed Head Coupe (their earlier aluminium XK120 had been destroyed in a workshop fire) which he had entered in the first, and only, 24 hour race in Australia, to be held at Sydney's Mt Druitt circuit (31-Jan-1954).

Despite having to replace a cracked carburettor with one from a spectator's car, their XK120 went on to win the race against  entries which included a Jaguar C-Type, Aston Martin DB2, aluminium XK120, Bristol 400, Alfa Romeo 6C. This win gained an enormous amount of publicity for Jaguar, Westco Motors and the three drivers.

Bill was then working for the Queensland Nuffield distributors, Howard Motors, and had married Sherry, so between all these activities, life was very full indeed. Bill and Charlie then set up the running of the 1954 Australian Grand prix through the streets of Southport. Bill entered his second Cooper which he bought from Jack Brabham, But the real contenders were Stan Jones in the Maybach, Lex Davidson's HWM Jaguar, Rex Taylor's Lago Talbot and several Ferraris.

For this race Cyril Anderson had stripped the body of a black XK120, shortened the chassis, over which he then placed an aluminium body. Known as the Anderson Special, he entered the car for himself, whilst Geordie was to drive the XK120 FHC in a support race. Saturday practice proved to be very bad indeed. Bill blew the engine of the Cooper, Cyril was very slow and obviously uncertain of the Jaguar Special, and Geordie had an accident, hit a tree, and the FHC burst into flames! As a result Cyril then asked Bill to take over the Jaguar Special for the Sunday race.

Bill readily accepted, but as he sat on the grid he was trying to become familiar with a car he had never sat in before - not the most comforting way to begin a Grand Prix. After spearing off  at over 100 mph at the end of the straight, rejoining only to have to stop and replace a deflating tyre, Bill was classified 12th. Lex Davidson in the HWM Jaguar went on to win. The Anderson Special never raced again and was eventually broken up.

Bill's employer, Howard Motors, used his sporting talents also, and for the 1955 ReDex Trial, they entered a specially hand-built Morris Oxford for Bill, Dick Howard and Bill Anderson.

D-Type XKD526

The major decision for Bill and Charlie Swinburn in 1955 though, was whether or not to take up the offer from Cyril Anderson to become partners in the ownership of a brand new D-Type Jaguar. In Melbourne, Bib Stillwell, who had raced XK120's and was a Jaguar dealer, had placed an order for one through Jack Bryson. After a long and careful deliberation, Bill remembers he and Charlie parted with 2,000 pounds each for the car. As it turned out, Charlie never drove the D-Type, and Geordie did only briefly: so virtually all of the competition was done by Bill.

He recalls that there was friendly rivalry between he and Stillwell, and they would stay at each other's homes and house each other's cars when interstate.

Bill rolled the D-Type (XKD526) on the first outing. That was in Melbourne at the 1956 Olympic Games meeting at the very fast Albert Park Circuit. The 'greats', including Stirling Moss, Jean Behra and Ken Wharton, were out from Europe with their latest machinery. (The circuit today is vastly different than it was in 1956. No run-off areas, no safety barriers, no smooth curbing. Plenty of period hay bales. It was a tree lined public road that went around the lake with parts of the road having bluestone curbing . The current F1 circuit now runs on the opposite direction than it did then.)

Bill Pitt in XKD526 - Albert Park, Melbourne 1956

However, for Bill Pitt the competition was most fierce against Bib Stillwell, and in that near fatal race, Stillwell got the jump at the start and lead Bill into the fast, first left-hand corner. He recalls how he closed quickly under braking into Melford Corner before realising he had gone into it far too fast. The car was still under control, and as he continued the power slide and concentrated on the short burst into the next corner, suddenly it was all over before he knew what had happened. As the D-Type slid wide, and the power was applied, the back wheel touched the stone curbing and at those speeds the car simply twisted into the air and slammed down on its back.

As the beautiful green D-Type lay upside down the scattered hay bales caught fire and quickly spread to the car. The marshals were convinced that the driver was squashed under the car, but couldn't right the car till the fire was out. When that was done, and the car was back on its wheels, they were shocked to find the cockpit empty. Bill had been thrown out while the car was in mid air, and in a state of shock, and worry about Jack Brabham's Cooper which was following, he jumped a six foot wall of hay bales before anyone had seen.

The damaged D-Type was returned to Brisbane for a rebuild which was completed in time to return to Melbourne for a meeting in February the following year, this time painted bronze (only for a short while).

In the pits. Albert Park 1957. Painted bronze after the rebuild following crash the previous year.

 

 

Leading a 300S Maserati around the Golf Course corner, Albert Park, 1957.

 

NOTE: Cars circulate the modern Albert Park circuit in the opposite direction to that in the 50's. Also the hay bales have been replaced with removable concrete barriers, gravel run-off areas, grand stands and corporate booze boxes.

 

Photos: Ian Richardson

The D-Type was sold in 1959 to Leaton Motors for Frank Matich to drive, and shortly after was fitted with an aluminium hardtop for GT racing. This is the only time a roof is known to have been fitted to a D-Type. Today it is one of the very best D-Types in the world, and is now owned by Kieth Berryman, The car was restored back to original specifications in Sydney at Steve Sulis' Classic Autocraft alongside Ian Cummins' D-Type XKD510 (now owned by  Warren Daly).

Keith Berryman (and family) with XKD526 at the 1988 Gold Coast Jaguar Rally, together with the

 excellent replica built by Classic Autocraft for Don Biggar (now owned by Frank Moore)

 

 

Mk VIII Rally Car

Bill was approached by Cyril Anderson to drive a Jaguar Mk VIII automatic in the forthcoming 1957 Mobilgas Round Australia Trial. Geordie would partner him, and so too would Jimmy Abercrombie who was workshop foreman at Westco.

The big cream and grey Jaguar was shipped to Melbourne for the start on August 21, 1957. A field of 94 entrants competed in this, the last of the major round-Australia trials of the era. The toughest opposition would came from the all conquering Volkswagens of previous winners, Eddie Perkins, Laurie Whithead and Greg Cusak: whilst Porsche entered three of their cars. An automatic had never finished such an event, let alone a Jaguar, or even a car as big as the Mk VIII.

On the return to Melbourne at the end of the trial the Volkswagen of Laurie Whithead was the victor ahead of five more Volkswagens - but sensationally, next came the huge Jaguar automatic in seventh place outright, making what Bill Pitt still believes is one of Jaguars greatest competition triumphs - but which outside Australia, was virtually uncovered. Of the 94 starters, 52 cars finished. Geordie was awarded the Woman's Prize, and the Jaguar was first in Class D (over 2500 cc), giving the team the total prize money of 760 pounds.

Saloon car Racing

Lofty England disuaded the Brisbane team from buying a Lister Jaguar, suggesting to them that he would build a 'works' specification Mk 1 3.4 saloon. When Bill and Cyril ordered the 3.4 they didn't know that David McKay was having an identical car built to replace the less modified 'Grey Pussy'. By the time both had their new cars, Ron Hodgson had bought the first McKay machine. The crowds flocked to see the Aussie Holdens take on the best of British, firstly the Jaguars, then the Mini Coopers and the Lotus Cortinas, and that set the scene which was later taken over by the Ford versus Holden halcyon days of touring car racing in Australia.

Bill Pitt and the British Racing Green 'Mk 1' were star attraction everywhere they went, and soon the Geoghans bought the Hodgson 'Mk 1'. Hodgson built a brand new Mk 2 and then, of course, Bob Jane arrived with his famous white Mk 2. Bill won many titles and important races, but probably his second place to David McKay in the very first Australian Touting Car Championship, and then his own victory in the second title (1961) were the highlights.

The life of the saloons was much shorter than the old D-Type, however, and with the arrival of the big US V8's, Bill could see the writing on the wall and in 1962 the car was sold. 

Bill's racing career was over, although he continued to work within CAMS, and for Westco Motors until 1965.

 

Confederation of Australian Motor Sports (CAMS)

Bill Pitt was involved in many facets of  motor sport from the outset, and as Queensland delegate to the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) he put a lot of time into the betterment of the sport. It was during his time with CAMS that touring car racing was raised to the status of this country's leading category. It was he who fought the more established delegates to move single seat and sports cars, down the ladder a rung or two. Believing that touring cars were the future of the sport here because of the crowd pulling capacity (when he was still driving sports cars) Bill Pitt could be hailed as the father of the successful touring car racing in Australia.

 

Retirement

It was not until Lofty England's first visit to Australia in 1981 that the two met for the first time, despite the many phone calls and letters exchanged during their racing and business contacts.

 

Bill and his wife Sherry now live on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. Australian motor sport, and the Jaguar marque in particular, owe a great deal to this quiet, unassuming and very pleasant man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill and Geordie meet again - March 1993

 

 

 

 

 

.........presenting trophies, JDCQ Concours

 

 

 

 

 Bill Pitt at Queensland Raceway GTP Nations Cup Race meeting. 22nd July 2001.

 Celebrating 40 years of the Jaguar E-Type and....

 40 years after he won the Australian Touring Car Championship

 

 

At the 25th Anniversary Dinner of the Jaguar Drivers Club of Queensland held on 27th May, 2000, Bill Pitt donated his old Racing Helmet, Goggles and Gloves to the Club. The gift of these significant items of racing memorabilia is much appreciated and the club extends their  thanks for this most generous gesture by their patron.

Thank you Bill

 

Bill Pitt with President and Past Presidents of the JDCQ

on the occasion of the opening of the clubs display at

Brisbane City Jaguar's Showroom.  20th April, 2004

 


 

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