Thursday, April 2, 2009

Another Milano GT 179

Beven Young, inspired by the posts on early Milano GTs, has been reminiscing about the times when his old friend from the University Car Club days, Bevan Hill, used to race a 179 Milano in SA. The two Bevs (BevAn and BevEn) also used to terrorise the streets of Adelaide in the very same car but I'll let Beven tell you about that some other time.
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

Silverdale 1966 where it became a member
of the famed under 40 club.
And now for the article............
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!


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


John L said...

Thank you Ann.
It's nice to know people enjoy reading what you enjoy writing.

Anonymous said...

This car now has new owners, Clark Watson and Matthew Liersch from Albury Wodonga, the car will be kept in its current "ken Mitchell" specs, but may at a latter stage be reverted back to Dick Willis configuration, the car has been well cared for and is in good condition. Ken campaigned this car with good sucess in Group M.
We are excited to be the current custodians for this important Aussie Special. It will be displayed at the Winton Historics 2009.

david said...

Just love these cars - there are two which race in Historic Road Sports with 3 litre staight 6 Hudsons??? did they ever make a 3.5 litre Buick Model?

david said...

I thre anyway I can post an image of these cars
Dave N

John L said...

How's it all going, Clark and Matthew? Any updates?
David, where are you? UK is my guess. Do you mean a Holden 6 (not Hudson)? If you want to email me your photos at I'll certainly put them on the blog. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

Clark Watson said...

The last chequered flag for Kenny!

Some sad news today folks,
Ken Mitchell who campaigned the Milano for many years after restoring the car to it's past glory has sadly passed away while enjoying the Belgian Grand Prix late last Sunday Night 29/8/10 . While the Doctors will no doubt say it was due to a heart attack or stroke I'm fairly confident it was caused by Mark Webber slipping from 2nd to 6th place before the La Source Hairpin on Lap 1.

For those that didn't know, it was Ken's engineering prowess that helped Peter Brock become a household name when they famously built and campaigned the Austin A40 together and remained close friends until Peters untimely demise. Kenny loved a Beer, a Smoke and a laugh. He was a fierce racer and cooked a mean potato.
Ken will be sorely missed by all.


Clark Watson
Vintage Fiber Restorations

areopagitica said...

Bolly Blog has been a source of many interesting leads on neat cars of the sixties which is the focus of my own Facebook blog, Looking Back Racing. Please feel free to visit and comment if I have been necessarily vague on some of the details of your cars that I have never actually seen. I think it is better to be vague than erroneous, but would prefer being accurate. If I have walked on anyone's copyrights I need to know that as well! Thanks, and keep the faith!

areopagitica said...

First serious question: what is the wheelbase of a Milano? Not frivolous, I have coded a thousand brands and models of cars using their wheelbase in inches as the first part of the cataloguing number. Lacking that I cannot properly place a Milano. From all appearances I have to imagine about 90 inches, which is 2350 mm or so, which further takes 523 pixels in my chosen scale for graphical representation. I am at Looking Back Racing, a blog in North America that you can reach on Facebook. Thanks.

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