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The Checkered Flag This is where we say goodbye to drivers, car owners, promoters, race tracks and other memorable auto racing fixtures that have passed away.

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Old 12-09-2016, 04:53 AM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2012
Location: Marion, South Australia
Age: 77
Posts: 19
Default Alexander Herbert ROWE, OAM 1913-2010



Alex was born at Rose Park (Adelaide), South Australia on 2 May 1913, a son of Alexander Patrick Rowe and Lily Rebecca Rowe (nee Gill).
His father ran a motor mechanics business at the time of Alex’s birth.

Alex was left handed and would relate story after story of the difficulties he faced at school being forced to write right-handed. It was obviously a difficult period but he overcame that and subsequently became a qualified motor mechanic and a qualified boilermaker. Also in his teenage years, he was diagnosed with Hodgkinson’s Lymphoma and the treatment in that era included taking arsenic. (He always joked that it would be useless to try and poison him). He overcame that setback.

(It is understood that Alex worked at his father’s business as a motor mechanic. I cannot remember accurately whether the Depression stopped that business because there are public records of Alex’s father being prosecuted for various issues in that era. (I do recall Claridge Motors of Unley being mentioned in the 1930s.)

Alex’s involvement in Speedway and in particular the Speedcar division of Speedway commenced in 1934 at Camden Speedway, Anzac Highway, Camden. He constructed and raced a Speedcar in the 1934-35 and 1935-36 Speedway season at Camden. His car was a rail chassis, a Twin, based on a 1927 - 28 Harley Davidson "Twin - Cam" motor cycle engine and chain driven. I believe a member of the Speedcar Historical Association has built a replica of this car in Adelaide. Cubic inches were gained by "stroking". It was believed to be approximately 70-80 ci.

Alex was a founding member of the Racing Driver’s Association of South Australia Incorporated (no longer a legal entity). He was a Seal Holder and a Life Member as well as a past President. The Association was founded in 1936 and records show that the Association throughout its existence recognised Alex’s contribution to speedway.

In 1936-37, he constructed a second car that went onto to win the inaugural National Speedcar Title, the forerunner to the current Australian Speedcar Championship. The driver was the late Bert Woodford (who later was the Manager of GM-H Engine Division.)

Alexander was also busy socially – he courted and married Miss Helen Johanna Smith (born 27 January 1916) on 30 January 1937 at St Saviours Church at Hindmarsh, South Australia. Helen Rowe was a very highly regarded dressmaker and seamstress undertaking various commissions from home.

Alex and Helen lived at 130 Morgan Avenue, Melrose Park (formerly Edwardstown). It is not sure when their house was constructed. A frequent visitor to the Rowe household (wherever it was) in the late 1930s was teenager Hugh Reskymer (Kym) Bonython*. Alex used to relate that Kym thoroughly enjoyed being at the house because Kym really liked Helen and was keen on Alex’s cars in the garage. (Alex and Kym remained lifelong friends.)

At the outbreak of World War II, Kym joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and trained to be a pilot. Alex also wanted to be in the RAAF and moved heaven and earth to get in. However, because Alex was a qualified motor mechanic and a qualified boilermaker, Alex’s papers were marked “Required Manpower” and he would never get into the forces.

Alex was the Maintenance Foreman at the Finsbury and Hendon Monition Works. He was engaged in the maintenance of war production machinery of varied complexity. He received awards for implementing changes that resulted in in increased efficiencies, production and safeguards. The awards were presented to him for developing and introducing an emergency procedure that safeguarded the brass foundry electric induction furnaces should an enemy action occur. He also developed a procedure for the servicing of the rolling machines where the machines themselves were used to assist the tradesmen to change-out and/or service the various rollers.

From the numerous stories he related, it is surprising the Munition Works survived his presence!

After hostilities ceased, he was a consultant with Lightburn Industries at Novar Gardens. He was involved in the design and evolution of the Lightburn Concrete mixer with its ‘’hit and miss (McDonald petrol engine). The concrete mixer was used extensively in housing and commercial construction after WWII in Australia. Alex also designed a light hydraulically operated stand press and the original was a feature in his home workshop. Evolved models of the hydraulic press are now an integral part of any mechanical and vehicular workshop.

He was also in business as a Motor Mechanic at a Workshop in 10-12 Eliza Street, Adelaide, initially in a partnership with Laurence Edward Smith. The partnership was dissolved on 14 January 1948 with Alex assuming full responsibility for the business. During this period, William (Bill) Ernest Wigzell was undertaking his apprenticeship with Alex.

The Eliza Street Workshop was a focus for many racers. One racing driver, Eldred Norman of Norman Superchargers used to service his double Ford V8 road racer and later his Maserati at the workshop. Alex’s business was across the road from a major engineering machining and repair workshop that Alex used regularly.

After the Second World War and when speedway had resumed, he was an Official for the RDA (Machine Examiner) at Kilburn Speedway and later at Rowley Park Speedway. (Rowley Park Speedway commenced in 1949).

When the joy of being an Official waned, he began again to design and construct speedcars. Some have been spectacularly successful and have attained Australia-wide and international recognition. He designed and constructed the OHV head for the famous South Australian SA10 Speedcar Old Smokey. The engine was a Ford A side valve in its original form.

In 1957-58, Kym Bonython, promoter of Rowley Park Speedway, secured a visit of New Zealand Ross Goonan and the Goldfinch Kurtis-Kraft Ford V8-60. After the season concluded, Bonython bought the racecar. In 1958-59, Kym contracted Robert (Bob) George Tattersall, US driver, for the season. The first outing of the car was dreadful (overheating) so Kym asked Alex to be mechanic on the V8-60. Alex checked the car out carefully and found that the fuel jets in the carburettors were undersized dramatically. With the fuel issues corrected, Tattersall showed his class.

Bill Wigzell was injured in a road accident in 1960 and his racecar, the Brabham-built Twin for Kym Bonython and re-engined with a lively Ford V8-60 flat-tappet Iskenderian camshaft was not being used. Bonython asked Alex to take over the car and secure a driver. Peter Spicer drove the car without any notable success and the car was badly damaged in collision with the safety fence in Turn 1 (Coglin Street corner) at Rowley Park Speedway. The car was written off and parts salvaged. The Brabham-built front hubs and spindles formed the front end of a new race car. It was initially fitted with a four cylinder Chevy II and Murray Hoffmann drove this new car. One night, the engine suffered irreparable (total) damage.

Alex re-engined the car and fitted a Ford Consul Mk I engine and an Eldred Norman supercharger. The car was reasonably successful through to about 1964-5 with Bill Wigzell as his driver.

It was during this period that Alex sold the business in Eliza Street Adelaide and opened up the service station on Magill Road, Stepney. A tenant in the workshops in the rear was Eldred Norman (making a range of vane-type Superchargers. Alex was making performance attachments for Holden cars. A year or so later, Alex opened a workshop at the rear of the Golden Fleece Service Station on Winston Avenue, Melrose Park (formerly Edwardstown) – very close to home.

Also in this period and a side issue from his Speedcar focus, Alex was commissioned, together with Eldred Norman to supply equipment and modifications for Andrew Mustard’s Elfin Catalina Chassis No 6313 engine. The Elfin (used as a tyre-test mule during Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird LSR at Lake Eyre in 1963) was to be used for the CAMS controlled Australian Record attempts at Weapons Research Facility, Edinburgh Airfield in October 1964 and October 1965. The 1964 engine configuration was 2 Norman Superchargers with 2 SU Carburettors feeding pressurised methanol into an Alex Rowe highly ported and polished head on a Ford 1499cc engine with a steel crank. The engine had a ‘life expectancy at full throttle of about 60 seconds – it lasted 9 minutes before it blew a head gasket. I drove the car In the 1965 attempts and the Elfin had single Norman Supercharger with AMAL carburetion. The Alex Rowe modified head was used again on this alcohol fuelled car.

For 1965-66 season Speedcar, Alex fitted a Peugeot 203 (90 ci) and the Norman Supercharger. He also added a triple set of Stromberg 87 carburettors and a customary Bosch Scintilla Magneto. With Bill Wigzell driving, this car and driver combination re-wrote the record books and was regarded as the most sensational car in Speedway during that era. Visiting USA drivers including the late Bob Tattersall and Sherman Cleland acknowledged publicly that they had utmost professional respect for the combination as it was, without doubt, a most competitive car that the others had to compete against in that period.

With the original car about to be sold, Alex set about building a Supercharged Renault. Initially the new car was fitted with carburettors, however after “consultations” with USA Hilborn, fuel injection was fitted in 1974-75. Bill Wigzell informed Alex that he had been offered the seat in the Kevin Fischer super-modified SA 88 “”Suddenly””. The second car was later purchased by the late Mr Cec Eichler so that Fischer-Eichler could enter Speedcars and Super-modified race cars for Wigzell to drive each meeting.

Alex had a complete mechanical and fabrication garage at his home in Morgan Avenue, Melrose Park. He built another car, this time powered by a supercharged Volkswagen engine. Some time was taken to overcome the crankcase issues with the VW – total through-bolts and heavy dowelling of the crankcase halves solved many issues.

It was during this period that Alex’s wife Helen passed away suddenly. (Johanna Rowe nee Smith passed away: 22nd February 1977, aged 61 years.). Alex and Helen were unable to have children so Alex was left with the family dog and memories. Alex felt the loss of Helen very deeply.

He put his energy into developing his Speedcar and then fitted a Mazda Rotary 13B engine. His initial driver was Steve Stewart, an experienced saloon car driver. Alex then set about getting a Murphy chassis from West Australia. Into that went an Ian Boettcher-ported 13B and bingo.

Steve Stewart, Phil Herreen, Ian Maltby and Grant Coombe were drivers of SA 2 Mazda Rotary. Alex had dry-sumped the engine, had incorporated a very efficient oil cooler, a very craftily constructed oil tank and had variable length induction tubes above his own design throttle body. The car was very successful. Alex was also given strong support in the shed and at the Speedway by loyal persons including the late Max Naulty, Bill Wigzell, Chris Jones, Rocky Wright and others.

In 1983, the Australian Speedcar Control Council Incorporated honoured Alex’s involvement with Speedcar racing by bestowing the prestigious “Service Award” to him. The Award was for national recognition of services to the sport. At that time, that Award had only ever been granted on 3 occasions.

In January 1987, Alexander Herbert Rowe was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his services to Speedway. He was very humble at receiving such an Award.

Alex’s Rotary-engined car was being challenged through noise emissions and so, at the age of 80, he decided to test a BMW 1500cc fitted with a Norman Supercharger. Preliminary test were made on John Boyles Dynometer at Enfield and the outcomes were encouraging.

In 1995, after some thought, Alex decided that he should call “Time” and so proceeded to liquidate all his cars and equipment.

I’ve concentrated on his commitment to Speedway but there are many instances where his expertise was sought. He was a very close acquaintance of Eldred Norman and his wife Nancy Cato, Cliff and Gary Cooper of Elfin Sports Car, Harold Clisby of Clisby Industries, Andy Brown, the O’Neill’s of Quarry Industries, the Vinalls and the Rainsford family (road racing and sport club racing) to name a few.

He would not suffer fools gladly, he would not countenance false premise. He would take a while to accept people into his confidence and he had an incredible breadth and depth of race engineering and race craft knowledge to impart.

He retired gracefully and Bill Wigzell would arrange to take him out to Speedway Park or Murray Bridge Speedway for a night’s watching from the VIP Room.

As age wearied him, he sold his house at Melrose Park and resided at an Aged facility at Hyde Park.

Alexander Herbert Rowe, OAM died on 5 December 2010, aged 97.

Additional Information and Notes

*Hugh Reskymer "Kym" Bonython, AC, DFC, AFC (15 September 1920 – 19 March 2011)

SA 2 Peugeot Speedcar Supercharged 1965 -

He then began the construction and development of a French derived Peugeot 203 (91 ci) supercharged engine. It was fitted with a eccentric vane Norman Supercharger which was fed by 3 dual throat Stromberg carburettors which had been fully modified for using methanol fuel.

He secured Bill Wigzell (OAM)* as his driver.

This car became the most successful Speedcar in the history of Australian speedway in that era.

The late Bob Tattersall publicly stated that when racing against that car, he had to follow it through traffic because if he didn't, he would find himself a lap down. Paraphrasing Tattersall, he said you had to watch "that little yellow bastard".

The car has been fully restored to its almost pristine original by the late Mr Peter De Mack. (It is now owned by Mr Ian Gear)

Since he recommenced racing activities in the 1950's, Alex's cars have won innumerable State and local titles, and his cars have been placed in many Australian titles.

He was a Life Member of the Racing Drivers Association of South Australia. He helped establish the club in 1936.

Mike McInerney
Marion, South Australia
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