Meanwhile, Beven has been in contact with Dick Willis, up in Coffs Harbour, who was the original owner. Dick has sent down a few photos of the car from the old days and also an article on the car that he did for "The Oily Rag" a few years ago.
First outing, Inverell Sprints 1964
Forty Bends Hillclimb at Lithgow, 1966
Silverdale Hillclimb 1966
of the famed under 40 club.
And now for the article............
MILANO HOLDEN GT179
The first car to be raced by Dick Willis, a young motor mechanic of Coffs Harbour, was an FX Holden, which was well modified in line with early 1960's standards, and was raced at Lakeside and Lowood as well as local hillclimbs and sprints. However, the old Holden's body was rather rusty, and scrutineers were making unkind comments, so Dick became attracted, through adverts in the motor sports magazines of the time, to the Milano GT body and chassis kits with which he could use the modified mechanicals from his tired racer.
He made the trip to Brookvale in Sydney to inspect the JWF factory and meet Ian Johnson and subsequently ordered a kit which duly arrived in Coffs Harbour by train in December, 1963. While waiting for the body to arrive, a dramatic new car had arrived on the Australian motoring scene, the Holden EH, with the exciting new 179 engine. A new engine could be bought through the local Holden dealer for 125 quid so this was ordered.
With the assistance of his employer, Don McInnes of Precision Rebores, Dick spent most of his spare time and weekends over the next six months working on the project, using as many of the parts as possible from the old FX, a Singer 4 speed gearbox and modifying the 179 engine with 3 one and threequarter inch SU carbs and all the other tweeks they could think of as tuning information on the 179 was non existant in those days. In fact, when JWF wanted to fit 179 engines to their own race cars it was Dick to whom they turned for information, as his car had by far been the first Milano to be so fitted, 18 months before their own cars.
Finally in June, 1964 the Milano was running and registered (DKA 726). It weighed just over 600kg. Painted Hawthorn Green it looked magnificent, just like a miniature E Type Jag, drawing crowds everywhere it went.
First competitive event was a quarter mile sprint at Inverell where it took FTD, a promising start. However the Singer gearbox was hopeless and was soon replaced by a BMC B Series box fitted with close ratio gears, available over the counter from your friendly BMC Dealer, which was a great improvement and has stayed with the car ever since.
During the remainder of 1964 and 1965 the Milano competed in every possible sprint or hillclimb in the northern NSW area, usually setting FTD and creating a new outright record at the then new nearby Grafton hillclimb.
Early in 1966 Dick decided to move to Sydney to contest the NSW Hillclimb Championship, in which he finished second in the sports car section to Ron Thorpe's legendary AC Cobra, setting many class records and an under 40 at Silverdale, and finally beating the Cobra in the penultimate round at Newcastle's King Edward Park.
Highlight of the year was winning the NSW Sprint Championships at Castlereagh, then a very prestigious event, against stiff competition with a time of 13.535 secs. At a previous Castlereagh drag meeting the Milano had narrowly defeated the Lister Corvette, later to become well known as VPP9.
During the 1966 season Dick's Milano was never beaten by another Milano, a continual source of frustration for the JWF facoty cars. At the conclusion of the year the Milano was offered for sale and was bought by Bevan Hill of McLaren Vale SA, for $1700. Bevan proceeded to terrorise everyone on the roads of SA, and raced the car at Mallala on several occasions, eventually managing to wrap the Milano around the only tree anywhere near the circuit when a rear trailing link broke, fortunately escaping without serious injury, a sad end to a great car.
The remaining bits were dispersed to various "friends" etc. however the Milano wasn't completely dead yet, as Dick Willis, on eventually hearing of the car's fate retrieved some of the parts and managed to be able to assemble enough components to be able to commence a restoration. By 1983, with the project reasonably well advanced Dick became distracted with Coopers and work halted, until in 1994 he offered it for sale.
The buyer was Ken Mitchell of Melbourne, who, with the assistance of Paul Trevethan, spent the next four years completing the project, his first race meeting was at Winton in 1998. Since then the Milano has been regularly raced at most Eastern States Historic Race Meetings and was featured on the cover of the 2000 Winton Historics programme, a welcome return for a great car!