By Chris Meaden
the Monza man? One of Bryan's first race cars was the
Monza Holden sports car and one of his last was a Chev Monza Sports
Sedan. In-between were a variety of open wheelers, sports cars and
sedans that shaped his amazing, colourful career that spanned many decades of
racing in Australia, the UK and New Zealand.
Bryan's first interest in motor racing was actually
motorcycle racing and he rode at club events throughout Victoria.
His car racing activities started in 1959 when Bryan drove an Austin
Healey 100-4 at the long gone dirt circuit at Barjug. Bryan had planned
to continue the Healey theme by buying a Healey Le Mans, but the deal fell
through. He purchased the Lou Molina Monza sports car which was powered
by a 2.2 litre supercharged Holden engine. Bryan won the majority
of the many races he competed in with the Monza.
Next came the ex- Bib Stilwell Cooper in 1962. Bryan fitted a 2.2
litre Climax engine that he obtained from Austin Millar. He eventually
supercharged the Climax but by then the car was starting to become a bit
dated. Around this time Bryan entered under the entrant name of "Ecurie
Bryan transferred the some of the Cooper's mechanicals, including the engine,
into a brand new Elfin Mallala.
A Mini Cooper S kicked off Bryan's move to tin tops which he ran briefly
before Norm Beechey did a deal that enabled Bryan to acquire Norm's
Mustang. After campaigning the car with some success Bryan made
the incredibly brave and adventurous move of selling his Shepparton
truck business and taking his wife Loel and the Mustang on a motor racing holiday in
the UK! Bryan is certainly the typical Aussie battler!
Bryan competed with names such as Graham Hill, who drove a works Lotus Cortina,
Roy Pierpoint and ex-pat Australian Brian Muir. He
recorded many wins and lap records in the dozens of races he competed in and was regularly the top privateer
home. He returned to Australia with a lighter wallet but with many great
Bryan enjoyed an association with Camaro driver Terry Allan and it was
Terry's mechanic, Claude Morton who built the engine for the
After a small break from racing Bryan bought the Camaro of drag racing
champion Neville Thompson who ran a wrecking yard in Shepparton. Bob
Jane advised "Thommo" that the Camaro was the way to go.
This car was my first memory of Bryan's racing career. It finished
second on its circuit racing debut at Mallala.
This car was Bryan's biggest undertaking but he suffered much bad
luck with it and he did not really have enough funds to run the car properly.
However, he did have some tough battles with Bob Jane, Allan Moffat and Norm
Beechey and often finished well up the order.
The car was built by
Graham "Tubby" Ritter, father of V8 Supercar driver Greg
Ritter. However, Peter Fowler, fresh from his apprenticeship, was soon
to join Thommo in what was to be an association that lasted more than twenty
years! The Camaro was campigned from 1969 to 1971. Initially red in colour,
the groovy looking car was soon repainted "Alfa Yellow" in deference
to the Alfa Romeo Dealership that Bryan had established. The car
was sold to Don Elliot in Tasmania for Robin Pare to drive.
Bryan was friends with Alan Meaden (my uncle), the owner of the
Shepparton Chrysler dealership Harrison's Garage. Alan approached
Chrysler about a project that Bryan had in mind. It was a
supercharged six cylinder Valiant Charger. The project was named
"The Shepparton Super Charger". Catchy name!
However, the project did not proceed.
By this time Bryan was a Volvo
dealer, but certainly was not your typical Volvo driver! He also
had a thriving truck sales yard.
Bryan's next car started out as a more laid-backed attempt to put more fun
into his motor sport. Touring cars were getting very expensive so
Bryan decided to get into the burgeoning Sports Sedan scene. A Sports
Sedan was built from a LC Torana that was once owned by Judith Durham,
of "The Seekers" fame (but that's another story).
started out with a mild engine but was latter to become a very well developed
car thanks to Peter Fowler's fine engineering abilities. Thommo took many wins, including a very impressive win and a
lap record amongst thick fog at Sandown in July 1973 while being chased by
Peter Brock in the Holden Dealer Team Torana Sports Sedan nicknamed "The
Beast". This was the period of the Buckley's - Toby Lee Series at
Sandown and the similar Toby Lee Sports Sedan Series at
Oran Park. Also during 1973 Bryan bought Bob Jane's Torana XU1 to run in
selected rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship, in an effort
to get more track time to sharpen his driving.
Sports Sedans were becoming more high-tech
so the Torana was sold to Tasmania's Gene Cook as Bryan and Peter
started the next project, the famous Chev V8 powered VW Fastback !
The target was to win the new, rich $100,000 Sports Sedan Series at Calder.
The ex-Warwick Brown McLaren M10B was purchased and most of the
mechanical components ended up in a VW Fastback 1600 TL Type 3 body shell.
The car had a difficult debut at the Calder night meeting in January
1974 but Bryan ended up second in the Calder series, but not
before a controversial nudge from Bob Jane's Monaro in the last round.
It was the VW car that made Bryan a star. His popularity at the time in
Victoria was equal to that of Allan Moffat and Peter Brock, if not
He was the underdog betting the established stars in an
unconventional, wild VW and the crowds just loved it!
In 1975 Thommo was vying for the series win in the final Calder
round. He had to finish in front of Bob Jane to win the
series. He had earlier announced that he was retiring from motor
racing at the end of that meeting , after a year that had tragedy within
his family. He was leading Bob Jane in the final race of the
series and on his way to a race win when the VW's new experimental quad
valve engine developed a major problem. The disabled car smoked its way
to complete the final lap of the race, but Bob Jane won the race and the
series. Bryan pulled up after the finish line, got out of the car
and collapsed onto the ground. This had to be the most cruellest
luck of his career...
Fortunately this was not to be the end of racing for Bryan. He came out
of a long retirement with the purchase of the ex-Peter Fitzgerald Mazda
RX7 Series Production car in the early 1980's. Again in
partnership with Peter Fowler he latter came back to "Sports
Sedan" racing with the twin turbo Mercedes and the ex-Bob Jane
Chevy Monza (latter converted to a Toyota Supra). This climaxed
with winning the 1986 Australian GT Championship. Bryan had
finally achieved his long overdue national championship!
1964 and 1990 Bryan competed in eight Bathurst 500/1000 races.
His co-drivers were Bruce Wilson, Graham
Ritter, John Mann
and Garry Willmington.
After another break from racing Thommo returned with another Toyota
Supra to run in the Procar Nations Cup Series. In 2004 he had a
competitive run in the Targa Tasmania.
Bryan's son, Andre thinks Thommo's racing days may now over, but we will
Thommo is actually more interested in the technical and engineering side
of motor racing. Getting to actually drive the cars as well was a bonus. In that regard he is much like Jack Brabham, who he much
admired, and also the late Garrie Cooper.
A little know fact was that he was also a prime mover in the
establishment of Winton Raceway.
racing is the main interest in Bryan's life, other than his past
business interests that helped pay for it all! For him it was
motor SPORT not a motor racing business. A quote from Thommo at the time of the Torana Sports Sedan project went something like "We are just doing this
for fun, and the more we win, the funnier it gets!". This best sums up his
attitude to his racing. Bryan was sometimes irritated when at
times people suggested he should take his motor racing more seriously,
but to him it was always a fun sport.
Most importantly of all, I remember Bryan as being "Mr Nice Guy".
Long may his considerable contribution to Australian motor sport be
Thanks go to Bryan and Andre Thomson for contacting me and providing an
valuable insight into a enthralling life.
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