Bryan’s car racing activities started in 1959 when he 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 Stillwell 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 Shepparton”.
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 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 memories.
Bryan enjoyed an association with Camaro driver Terry Allan and it was Terry’s mechanic, Claude Morton who built the engine for the Mustang.
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. 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 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, 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”.
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”.
The Torana 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 greater.
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.
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!
Between 1964 and 1990 Bryan competed in eight Bathurst 500/1000 races.
His co-drivers were Bruce Wilson, Graham Ritter, John Mann (twice), Gerald Kay, Kevin Waldock 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 be over, but we will see.
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.
Motor 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.