Dear Colleague, Client, Car Club Member and Friend,
Yesterday afternoon I had a most sad 'phone call from Ruth Woolley to say that her father Paul had died yesterday.
This is very sad indeed.
Paul for many years had trouble with an arrythmic heart that on all previous occasions had been corrected by an hospital visit. Not so yesterday.
Paul was monumental in the low volume vehicle industry in South Australia and the very essence of what it takes to build and sustain an industry.
By 1983, the South Australian low volume sports car industry had lost it prime contributors. Tony Alcock of Birrana Racing Cars had been working with world champion Graham Hill when Graham's aeroplane crashed while returning from a Grand Prix. Gary Cooper of the famed Elfin Sports Car had died from an heart valve failure and Colin Trengove had died in a Formula 5000 private practice at the Adelaide International Raceway. The Asp Sports Car company was in recess and Rory Thompson was working full time for Tubemakers Australia. Thus by 1987 there had been at least 4 years since a supply of locally build sports cars had been made available in South Australia.
When supply of a genre of vehicle ceases, the ways by which that genre was once brought to market get lost, forgotten or overlooked by lack of consideration in administrative matters.
And so, when Paul Woolley came from Western Australia in 1986, he was faced with a problem. He had build a Cobra sports car from a kit and hoped to get it registered and to build his own version with improvements and modifications for local conditions and parts.
One objection to registration of such vehicles was "What? That car has 200 horsepower and it only weighs a ton. You wouldn't be able to drive away from a kerb without spinning its wheels."
Paul had the gift of grace and quietude and he let such comments wash over him.
Fortunately for Paul, the Manager of the Vehicle Engineering Section at the time was Chris Coxon who had been my boss on the design and development of the E38 to E49 Valiant Chargers that were homologated for the Bathurst 500 mile races in 1971 and 72. Chris understood high performance vehicles and the market they served. He was personally comfortable with such vehicles provided but was emphatic that they should be well constructed.
Only recently, I discovered that Chris had actually taken Paul's Application for Approval in Principle to the Minister, Gavin Keneally. It was truly Section 163AA of the Road Traffic Act in action and Ministry at work on behalf of Paul.
Paul's future hung in the balance.
Chris Coxon's words are etched in my heart. "We are not here to stifle the flamboyance of individuals, or to curb their creativity. However we must know what we are approving and I (the Manager of Vehicle Engineering) must be able to stand up in a Coroner's Court and explain why I have taken your recommendations and you (the Engineer), must be able to justify them,"
They were Chris's words but Paul was the stimulus. An industry developed on those two sentences and Paul initiated it.
Paul went on over the years to produce hundreds of Cobras with the brand name changing as business arrangements were tried and tested -- Classic Glass Cars, Woolley Component Cars, WE Sports Cars and finally the long standing AC Adelaide Cobra. Paul's constancy through thirty years placed him at the centre of all who built Cobras regardless of kit origin. No-one was turned away.Paul's flamboyance was quiet. He advertised modestly and never overstretched his investment. For years he did not even have a fax machine but he was able to stay in business and produce cars while others came and went. A quiet achiever indeed.
Paul added to the income and wealth of South Australia and gave many an incentive to work long hours in mines or in desolate places overseas or in dreary jobs, knowing that once home their creative energy could be channeled into constructing one of the most famous genre of vehicle in the history of motor cars.
In prayers at the burial of the dead, it is common to hear "there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body, it is sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body". I find that particularly meaningful with respect to Paul. He was a very deep thinker with great insight into the ways of the world. He understood why cars and Cobra sports cars in particular are so important, not just important to people, but so important full stop. He imbued individually constructed vehicles with rich meaning and significance, even more richly with his passing.
I have lost a very dear friend as have many others. South Australia has lost one of its foundation stones of quiet enterprise and first principles production.
My deep condolences go to Inge and Ruth.